Here is my beautiful friend Sophia on our dear friend Peggy’s patio! It was a special occasion and we all pitched in to make good food with a pretty decor. Summer dining is lovely.
I love formal dinner parties too, with heavy china and perfectly plated courses, but summer inspires something else: Casual elegance.
This particular night, we made a gourmet buffet style feast, with fresh, seasonal ingredients: figs stuffed with mozarella and wrapped with prosciutto(broiled), leg of lamb in a honey-mint marinade, vegetable charlottes (recipe found in first post below), arugula parmesan salad, lemon risotto inside hollowed out lemon cups, among other things…yes, we ate a lot…:)
There is something naturally festive about passing shared dishes around the table. One way to combine buffet style dishes with the delicate artistry found in more formal parties is to create individual bites. Each piece can be its own work of art, prepared in advance and served all at once. This way you don’t have to be in the kitchen half the time your guests are over trying to make everything look pretty at each course!
Francois Payard’s amazing book Bite Size further enthused this idea in me. I strongly recommend this book. The pictures alone are enough to excite more creativity in the kitchen.
Here are some simple but great ideas:
One of his ideas which is super simple, is to take cherry tomatoes (and they are in season now!) hollow them out, and stuff with either feta cheese, goat cheese, etc. you can even mix some fresh herbs into the cheese before stuffing. Save the tops of the tomatoes to top off the overflowing cheese. (Don’t make too far in advance, otherwise it could get soggy-1 1/2 hrs before at the most).
Putting anything on a toothpick or skewer is another simple way to create artful small bites:
One of my favorite salads is an Arugula, Prosciutto, small balls of Fresh Mozarella, Sun Dried Tomato, Pine Nut Salad with a Honey Vinaigrette. Instead of serving this in a big bowl (which is still great), make it prettier and arrange one of each ingredient in a decorative fashion on individual short skewers. I might even add fresh basil and drizzle with the vinaigrette. (dont drizzle with the vinaigrette until just before serving). Easy, but special.
Once I was at a formal function where one of the offerings was: a thick slice of lamb tenderloin on a garlicky crostini, with a generous helping of meyer lemon zest on top. It was am-A-zing. A real explosion of flavors. And simple!!
Something impressive that takes a little more work is to make PARMESAN CUPS and fill with salad or ratatouille, etc. Here’s how:
(you need 1 1/4 cups parmesan makes 20 small cups or 8-10 bigger ones)
1) Preheat the oven to 400F (200c) and line a baking sheet with silpat
2)spread 1 tbs of parmesan in 2-inch rounds on the silpat
3) bake for 5 minutes or until the cheese begins to bubble and turn a light golden brown
4) remove and let cool for one minute- then lift the rounds and place them in the cups of a miniature muffin pan to form a cup shape.
5) let the parmesan cool and harden for 3-4 minutes
I’ll post more advanced techniques another time…
In my next post I’ll share small bites of dessert! (We must never forget dessert). 🙂
Here are some silly pictures of me and sophia cooking and cutting ourselves…oops! hope theres no blood in the strawberry syrup…:)