Friday, August 23, 2013

Two summer dinners

On Wednesday of this week we hosted one of my long time clients, Julia Forte of 800Notes along with her young family, and made a summer dinner that included two standards for our household (gazpacho and baked salmon with cilantro sauce), as well as a baked peach dish that I have been wanting to try.

I pulled together a cold soup the night before.  Gazpacho is a standard around our house as soon as summer begins.  For each batch, I add to a food processor maybe two or three cups of coarsely chopped tomatoes, a handful of chopped cucumber, a handful of chopped red bell pepper, and a handful of fruit — whatever is inexpensive at the markets that week—as well as a dollop each of olive oil and basalmic vinegar.  Early in the summer, it tends to be grapes, but peaches, mangoes, pineapple also do well.  In full summer, when gazpacho is planned, I can buy “seconds” peaches at the Dupont Circle farmers market, where the prices are high because the shoppers are largely upper middle class urban folk, but even the slightest bruise on a peach puts it in the seconds bin for $1.49 or even $.99 per pound.  That is what I had bought this past Sunday; but the cucumbers I had bought the previous week got used for one thing or another.  So, all the into the food processor, all with the skins still on (although I do generally peel and indeed de-seed the cucumbers, removing parts that would otherwise tend to make the soup bitter); then each containerful is blended to a puree.  Ready to serve, although on hot summer evenings it is better if it can spend at least a few hours in the refrigerator first.

I also made dessert the night before.  I had gone a bit crazy buying seconds peaches on Sunday, and because they were bruised they needed to be used quickly.  I halved the peaches and cut off the places where the bruises had started to morph into bad spots, pulled out the pits, and stuffed the cavities with chopped candied ginger.  I put the peaches in a large baking dish and poured in a bath that was part triple sec and part brandy.  I put this in a 250̊ oven, and left them there for about three hours.  They spent the day in the fridge, but came out as I arrived to make dinner, so they had been sitting out for about 90 minutes by the time we got to dessert time.  I spooned the cooked liquor over the peaches and served with vanilla ice cream on the side.  It was excellent, and the planned-overs were even better the following day after they had been sitting, more thoroughly immersed in the remaining bath, for another day.  I am making the dessert again tonight, in preparation for tomorrow's tailgate before the DC United game.

The main course consisted of corn on the cob and salmon baked with cilantro sauce.  The latter has become another staple in our household.  I begin by making the marinade in a food processor – a bunch of cilantro, maybe a half cup of onion, a few cloves of garlic,  a couple tablespoons each of brown sugar and basalmic vinegar, a quarter cup each of olive oil and lemon juice, and tad of finely minced hot pepper – thankfully by this time of summer the Thai pepper plant on our back porch, although still small, has plenty of prik – and one is certainly enough for this recipe

After the sauce is pureed, I put it on the salmon fillets, ideally for a few hours, but today they only had enough time for me to walk over to the supermarket to get ice cream and corn, then get the rest of dinner ready.  I heated the oven up to 450̊ and, after the table was set and we were ready to sit down for gazpacho, I put the salmon on a baking sheet and into the oven.  After five minutes, I upped the oven temperature to 500̊.  Usually another five minutes are enough, but today’s salmon fillets were especially thick so I gave them another couple of minutes.  The salmon came out just barely cooked enough to flake – perfect.

On Thursday was a summer dinner of a different kind.  Every year for my birthday, we head out to Riva, Maryland to enjoy blue crabs and other seafood at Mike's Crab House, on Riva Road along the South River.  My birthday was last week, but Sam and Nafisa were in Zanzibar then and Joe was in New York; on the actual birthday Nancy and I finally made it to Little Serow (quite a disappointment, but that's another post).

We almost always go out on a weekend, when Mike’s is jammed and it usually takes an hour or two to get a table.  Scheduling considerations this year pushed us to Thursday; because it was mid-August, the traffic out of town was bad but not nearly so bad is it would be other times of the year.  And the extra time in traffic paid off at Mike’s, because we were able to walk right in, and if we hadn’t had too many people for the standard table of eight, we would have been able to sit right at the very edge of the eating deck next to the river.   We will have to think about mid-week visits in future years!

Part of the attraction is the crabs, but the location is also important: the eating deck extends out into the river, with lovely views in all directions. 


As it was, it was just too crowded with nine people, so we sat instead we were seating in the covered-but-open-air part of the deck, with a fine atmosphere and view.

We were exceptionally lucky with the weather – the usual DC afternoon thunderstorms had been predicted, but the sky stayed clear and we were treated to an exceptional sunset, looking west past the Riva Road bridge.  We had a visitor who grew up on the West Coast and had to be educated on the technique of eating blue crabs 

We got two platters of a dozen crabs each for nine people, plus fried calamari, mussels (only because they were out of fried oysters) and shrimp wrapped in bacon (the consensus was that I make them better – here they were in a sweet sauce, while I generally grill them with a bit of cheese as well as home-made old bay seasoning). 

As the sun went down, we took turns strolling out the piers; on the weekends they are full of boats that have arrived to eat at Mikes, but today there were only a few boats.  The view of from the pier back toward Mike’s was nice

but the view toward the fading sunset was the best.

We enjoyed desserts: Joe, Avita and Celia shared the cheesecake, and I tried the nutty buddy, but Sam and Nafisa went with the peanut butter chocolate cake and this old standby on the dessert menu was still the best in my book.

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