Monday, June 29, 2009

Picnic in the Park

Okay my dear readers, I owe you a big entry since it's been awhile! I know you're out there, I've got a new way of seeing you and I want to hear from you! I love comments and I'd love to know who you are. Think about it at least?

Alright, let's just get to business. This last weekend Around the Table, the gourmet cooking group I belong to, had it's monthly dinner and it was all about the picnic. This was the first event where we were not having the dinner in some one's home and that made it different and fun. So we set up in a lovely park just a bit north of here and enjoyed a creative and delicious meal amid charming gardens, fields, and trees. If you go check out Mallory's blog soon I think she'll even have some photos of turkeys, cows, goats, and bunnies. I got a pretty hard time at the dinner for having my face behind the camera so much so I feel it necessary to share lots and lots of photos here.

Hovander Park was so serene and there were numerous amazing views whether it was open grassy fields under a big blue sky or Mt. Baker herself. I loved all the neatly manicured gardens and beautiful trees and flowers! The little white picket fences also added lots of charm.

We started the evening off with a cocktail from Miss Laurel. She made us a watermelon concoction with cucumber, rum, and sparking water. It wasn't too sweet and was quite the refreshing little drink. I have beverage for the next dinner which happens to center around the BBQ so if you have any ideas I'd love to hear them...

Laura had appetizer and made us grilled skewers of chicken, shrimp, and vegetables. The real winner of this course was the dipping sauce! It was a tzatziki of sorts and had lots of feta and scallions. I made a meal for my mom this last Mother's Day weekend which also happened to be her birthday weekend and I also did skewers, lemon-marinated blackened chicken kebabs with a lemon yogurt mint dipping sauce. I don't think a kebab would be complete without a cooling, cold sauce like this. Tasty indeed.

Alexis, our budding little vegetarian (meaning she keeps trying more and more meat and seafood) brought along a delightful salad with lots of goodies from her garden. It was a pretty mix of arugula, lettuce, and parsley and came topped with the cutest little flowers which happened to come from from her arugula. I told my sister about this and she knew all about it, I'd never seen them before and fell in love with their daintiness and muted tones. I've been known to pull out the "edible" flowers for fancy occasions, but can we just agree that though they are safe to eat they really shouldn't be deemed edible? If you don't know what I'm talking about, the next time you happen upon a marigold just pop it in your mouth and let me know if you'd like them on your next salad? These little barely-green flowers are so delicate and you can eat them right along with the other ingredients and not experience any off tastes or textures. She also pickled some carrots, beets, and zucchini from the farmer's market, can you get over those colors? I felt like I should have been saving them to hang up on my wall instead of eating them! Nature can be gorgeous.

The ever-delightful Mallory never disappoints and this dinner was no exception. She hit it out of the park (pun intended) with two mouth-watering sandwiches. When she took them from her basket they looked like little Christmas presents. When a sandwich arrives on your lap looking like this you know it's going to be good. And it was.

The first one I tried was the langostino roll. I wish I had one now. Langostinos for those of you who aren't familiar with them, is the meat from a Squat Lobster which is neither a lobster or a prawn but more like a little crab closely related to the hermit or porcelain crab. This works for me because I actually prefer crab and really don't like lobster!

Perfect soft rolls, delicate langostino filling that tasted like just the right amount of ocean. The mayonnaise wasn't overpowering and there were subtle hints of lemon here and there. AMAZING!

I took a small break to have some of Ashley's (she's back in the group after a couple months of being with her new and adorable baby Aurora) potato and pasta salads. Her potato salad was studded with green peas and chives and her pasta salad involved lots of tomatoes - regular and sun-dried, olives, capers, basil, and mozzarella. Yum! You just can't have a picnic without the requisite pasta and potato salads!

One more present to unwrap...

Local artisan foccacia with grilled flank steak, Gorgonzola, arugula, and garlic mayonnaise. At this point my mouth was overwhelmed with joy and I was left trying to decide if left on a deserted island with one of these sandwiches which one I'd choose. I just couldn't pick a winner. These two sandwiches were so wonderful, in fact I made a version of this one for some friends who took us on a boat road this evening. There is something very perfect about a good white bread, beef, and bleu cheese. Slather the whole thing with garlic mayonnaise and I don't know what could be better!

My turn.

I brought along dessert which I was very excited about. I found a recipe for peach creme caramels over at Cannele et Vanille and just couldn't resist. Our co-op had some amazing organic peaches in from California and I decided to pair the custard with a batch of Ina Garten's Ultimate Ginger Cookies.

For a good peachy measure I also served peach rings and peach-flavored Jelly Belly Beans. I really thought this whole dessert and presentation would be a major score but truth be told there were some major issues! The biggest issue being the creme caramels. They were so darling to look at in their little mason jars, topped with minced pistachios and dried rose buds. Their looks were mighty deceiving, after we sunk our spoons through the firm top we discovered the contents below were very watery and the caramel was rock hard. I came a bit unglued and quickly tried figuring where I went wrong. I emailed the Aran, the author of Cannele at Vanille (which is a stunningly beautiful blog of pastries and treats) and she agreed that the peaches were the culprit and that perhaps roasting or sauteing them first would help lock in their moisture. You can find the recipe over at her site.

Even Ina's cookies weren't a total home run, as picture-perfect as they were with their crackly little tops, they were a bit to gingery for most. I even cut the crystallized ginger in half from what the recipe suggested. Next time I would reduce or eliminate the ground ginger in the recipe. I'm not a huge ginger fan, you might be and would probably like the full amount. You can find the recipe for the these cookies here.

I will try to attempt these again sometime. I love the idea of a jar of peachy, firm custard rich with vanilla beans and heavy cream sitting on top of a layer of sweet caramel. I will definitely start making some of these simpler recipes for the dinners in advance! You can't always go right it turns out! The girls cut me some slack thankfully. They said it was like dipping your cookie in peach milk and they still claimed to love it. They're good people! It was a wonderful meal and evening as usual. To picnics!


Laura [What I Like] said...

Oh my lord how delicious does that look...that steak sandwich is just killing are the to eat now!

RachelleLouise said...

Thank you for commenting, Laura! I checked your profile and saw that you are from New York City! I lived for there for about six months attending a fairly obscure culinary school in the Chelsea area. I lived in Gramercy Park. I think I was pretty much just in shock my entire time there, I never could get over how big, intense, and happening it is! This was about five years ago and I'm dying to go back! What part of the city do you live in? So glad you stopped by! : )

michaela said...

those barefoot cookies always look great but i have a betty crocker recipe that has always been my standby so i've never tried her version.

sandwiches look great!

RachelleLouise said...

Michaela, thanks for stopping by! You gotta love Betty Crocker! You know, I'm not a huge ginger fan and Ina's were too much for me. But I have to give it to her for filling them with such intense flavor, ginger lovers would go nuts for them I'm pretty sure.

The sandwiches WERE great! I've taken to making that beef one for all of my picnics. My hubby goes nuts for it. The real kicker is that mayo spiked with caramelized onions and fresh garlic. My friend Mallory is genius in the kitchen!

Come back soon! : )