Monday, July 23, 2012

A Dreamy Mid-Summer Night

On Sundays my thoughts frequently turn to cooking. There is nothing I like better than to spend a Sunday afternoon in the kitchen, whipping up something delectable for dinner and for all the busy weeknights to come. With my weekend errands out of the way and the weather still unseasonably cool, yesterday was a perfect day for testing several new summer recipes I’d been dying to try. Trouble is, when I cook a big feast it seems a shame for it to immediately become portioned leftovers for the following week. I needed some dinner guests!

Fortunately, finding willing Guinea pigs in need of Sunday supper is not that hard to do. My buddy, Jesse, who recently won a substantial bid to build an architectural model of a shopping center proposed for downtown Washington D.C., has rented warehouse space, purchased supplies and equipment and hired a number of old friends and previous employees to help him construct the model, which has a due date of September 1. Several of his "peeps", as he affectionately refers to them, were working for Jesse Sunday and would likely be quite hungry by dinnertime.

So I set about putting together a festive mid-summer menu to reward the model-making crew for all their hard work. I already had two kinds of homemade Sangria in the fridge, as well as a nice assortment of tiny frozen puff pastries stuffed with delightful fillings like shrimp, mushroom and spinach pesto. I decided to roast a five-pound capon and offer a number of fresh summer sides that would carry me well into the weeks ahead. I focused on two items at their delicious peak right now: peaches and tomatoes.

With the rooster in the oven, a variety of salads assembled, my roasted corn soup chilling in the fridge and a fresh peach cobbler ready to go under the fire, I turned my attention to the the rest of the meal. I had both ovens and all four burners going full steam for most of the afternoon as I simmered fresh peaches with onions and garlic for tangy barbecue sauce, par-boiled colorful fingerling potatoes and charred juicy peach halves under the broiler.  I placed summery wicker chargers beneath each dinner plate and arranged a seating area on my patio with chairs and a table for drinks and appetizers.  I lit candles inside and out and dressed comfortably in a simple black cotton romper and sandals.
When my seven dinner guests sat down to supper at a large glass table in my yard, I presented the first course: broiled peach halves filled with goat cheese and chives, drizzled with a savory peach barbecue sauce and dusted with chopped hazelnuts. Once the peaches were ingested (heartily, I might add), I served a chilled corn soup with homemade cornbread croutons I’d baked the night before. My tomato salad, assembled from six pounds of heirloom and Campari tomatoes and dressed simply with olive oil, lemon juice and salt, was a hit, as was a potato salad tossed with bacon, peppery watercress and a light yogurt-horseradish sauce. My guests were surprised at how well an unexpected combination of blueberries, cucumber, mint leaves and crumbled feta worked together to create a savory and refreshingly cool summer salad. Fortunately, everybody saved room for bubbling peach cobbler just out of the oven, topped with vanilla ice cream.
From left to right: Marco, Dave, Nick, Charlie, me, Alex and Seth
There wasn’t much more I could have done to make my midsummer garden party any better. With tiny tree frogs serenading my guests from the nearby woods, bats swooping gently overhead on mosquito patrol and fireflies dancing above the lawn, the ambience in my yard had a magical quality.  My guests were satiated and happy and I was comfortable and relaxed.  It doesn't get much better than that!

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