The Gleeful Gourmand: August 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Neighborhood Patio Crawl!

I live in a great neighborhood. I hate to brag, but I do. We've lived here for 9 1/2 years, and we've made some amazing friends, not only in our neighborhood, but also the two small neighborhoods that flank ours. What's so great is that it's a nice mixture of young families, newlyweds, and empty-nesters who all have a really good time together.

We've had lots of parties, festivals, and impromptu fire-pit hangouts together, but this past July we decided to try something totally different and new: A neighborhood Patio Crawl. With four participating houses with four different themes, it was a wonderful, crazy, fun night. Here's how we did it (and how you can plan your own!):

Bourbon Ginger Snap Punch, and a "Caesar" cocktail. Pic on right by Allison Shumate Photography.

1) We started early at 6 p.m. This was an adults-only party, so those of us with kids got babysitters. My house was the first house, so I had our babysitter actually take our kids out to play at the playground, and then for a treat of frozen yogurt afterwards, so that by the time they came home for bed, we had already cleaned up and were on to the next house.

2) We set a limit for exactly 45 minutes at each house (except the last house - more on that later), and stuck pretty rigorously to that. There are a couple of reasons you'd want to consider doing this: a) It kept the party lively, and didn't overburden any one of the houses (again, except the last house); b) It didn't keep the host or hostess at the next house waiting too long, wondering if anyone was going to show up. Designate someone willing to keep everyone on track and who has a really loud voice for this job.

3) Each house had a different theme, complete with cocktails and food. Ours was "The Bourbon Trail," and we served a Bourbon Ginger Snap Punch; Chicken Kebabs with a Sweet Bourbon Dipping Sauce; and fun Watermelon Skewers with cherry tomatoes and basil. The other three houses featured:

"New York, New York!" - Manhattan cocktails, a giant cheese pizza, and antipasto platter
"Canada: Party On, Eh?" - Caesar cocktail (like a Bloody Mary but made with Clamato juice - a blend of tomato and clam juices), Poutine (fries with gravy and cheese curds), and smoked salmon with cheese curds
"Margaritaville" - Margaritas, Sea Breezes, chips and salsa, and slow cooker tacos with all the fixins.

4) Four houses turned out to be the absolute perfect number for our crew, and the last house was crucial. Someone has to step up and be willing for the party to kick into high gear at their home, and also be willing to let people stay longer than 45 minutes. This is also going to be the house you're most likely to get into trouble in as far as pacing the alcohol goes. At least, that was my problem. I was doing just fine until I got to Margaritaville!

Watermelon, Tomato, and Basil Skewers; Chicken Kebabs with Sweet Bourbon Dipping Sauce. Pic on right by Allison Shumate Photography

The great thing about a Patio Crawl is that it keep things interesting. It was so much fun discovering what each house had come up with. The weather was beautiful, and a grand time was had by all. The next morning? Not so grand, but that's another story for another time.

Here are the recipes we used for our theme, "The Bourbon Trail."

Bourbon Ginger Snap Punch - click here to get the recipe!

Chicken Kebabs with Sweet Bourbon Dipping Sauce: We took 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, dusted them with salt, pepper, and paprika, and then had them sit overnight in a marinade of Italian Dressing. Then we grilled them on medium-high heat until done, and cut into bite-size chunks, with three chunks on a skewer.

You can find the recipe for the Bourbon Dipping Sauce by clicking here.

Tomato, Watermelon, Basil Skewers

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 (4 to 5 pound) watermelon cut into 32 cubes
32 small basil leaves (or large leaves torn into smaller pieces)
16 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher Salt

1. Combine balsamic vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Turn off heat and set aside to cool.
2. Skewer the watermelon, tomatoes and basil, arranging on a plate. Drizzle with balsamic syrup and olive oil (I typically use only 1 Tbsp.). Sprinkle with Kosher Salt.
3. Serve immediately, or refrigerate. If not serving until much later, reserve syrup to drizzle on at the last moment.

Yours truly on the left; the gang mid-crawl to Margaritaville.
Pics by Allison Shumate Photography (P.S. - Her house was Margaritaville. Told you she's fun!)


Friday, August 8, 2014

Cooking With Friends

Last weekend I had so much fun with my college friend, Mel, who came down to visit. We hadn't seen each other in 14 years, literally since we graduated college! Thanks to Facebook, we've been able to keep in touch and share our passion for food and wine. Mel writes over at the blog Mel's Mosaic and is so knowledgeable about wine. After months of talking about getting together, she was finally able to come down to Richmond so we could catch up and cook together.

She arrived armed with a couple of recipes and a couple of bottles of wine. We discussed which recipe we wanted to tackle and then headed to Whole Foods prepared to shop for Health Magazine's Zucchini "Pasta" with Shrimp, and a thrown-together couscous salad. Once home, we continued with the theme and munched on fig halves smeared with goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto (and a dollop of honey), and opened the first bottle of wine: Sokol Blosser Rosé of Pinot Noir, which I loved.

Shredding the zucchini into "pasta"

It's always so interesting to cook with people I've never cooked with before. First of all, it doesn't happen that often, but when it does, I find it to be really fun. We all have different styles of cooking, and Mel and I talked lot about that (she's more inventive whereas I tend to not stray to far from a recipe).

Mel, hard at work. Her awesome shirt says, "Pain now…wine later."

I had never made a zucchini pasta, so I found the preparation fascinating. The recipe is super easy, and Mel taught me how to peel the zucchini into strips. What I loved most about this recipe is how packed with flavor it is. With strong bright notes from both lemon and wine (we used an open bottle of Chardonnay), it really takes over your senses with that perfect summer essence: light and luscious.

I threw together a couscous salad with splashes of olive oil and fresh lemon juice, cracked pepper, parsley, mint, quartered grape tomatoes and finely diced shallots. The flavors married well to the Zucchini Pasta and we had a magnificent feast with a Penner Ash Pinot Noir. For dessert we had chocolate-chip meringues from Whole Foods, and a yummy Pear and Almond dark chocolate bar.

Zucchini "Pasta" w/Shrimp, and couscous salad

We had so much fun, and I can't wait to do it again! Thanks for coming down and cooking with me, Mel! You can find the recipe for Zucchini "Pasta" w/Shrimp by clicking here.