My pals and I hosted a local, local organic, local biodynamic organic dinner for 20 people (16 adults and 4 teens) total. The whole theme was having a dinner with all local ingredients. Beverages, appetizers, main dishes, and dessert were all locally sourced. Despite the 7 weeks of no rain and drought, we are actually having a decent yield from local farmers and the backyard.
Veggie Center Piece
The menu and dinner started out with happy hour including drinks and appetizers. The appetizers included cantaloupe (Pikeville) wrapped in TennShoeToe smoked air dried ham (Hamery M'boro), a cheese board including smoked cheddar (Sweetwater Valley) St Jerome and a St Jerome with blue veins (Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese), awesome pickles including grapes, butternut squash, plums, turnips and carrots (Pickle Me This, East Nashville), caprese salad skewers with purple and yellow tomatoes (The Farm Summertown) basil (my organic backyard) and fresh mozzarella balls (Lazzaroli Pasta Shoppe), and gazpacho (Swafford Farm Pikeville). The guests were arriving and mingling and enjoying themselves. The pickles were the favorite of the crowd. These pickles are not like cucumber pickles from the grocery store, rather they are spicy, sweet and sour in all the right places on the tongue.
Watermelon Agua Fresca
We started off with the beverages, both non-alcholic and alcoholic. Henry, one of the teens at the dinner is a real chef. He loves trying interesting things, and he likes making plates and food presentations look great. Look at the watermelon aqua fresca bowl. Henry carved the top of the watermelon with a paring knife, one cut at a time. He made the aqua fresca with no added sugar or honey, and the watermelon water was just delightful.
Other beverages include water, filtered from the tap (Cumberland River water via Metro Water), Yazoo porter, Jackelope saison, and Beachaven Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Everyone enjoyed and partook in the Cumberland River water, and felt refreshed drinking it. We liked the beer. We enjoyed the wine too, except the Zinfandel. We were not expecting the Zin to be so sweet like a grape syrup. So, off the Zinfandel went into my crock of vinegar to become vinegar.
Yellow and Purple cherry tomatoes
After about an hour of sipping and snacking, it was time to move to the dining room and have our sit down dinner portion of the evening. The main courses included vegetarian and meat eating options. The pasta course included a vegetarian pasta dish made of small shell pasta (Lazzaroli Pasta Shoppe) mixed with basil, thyme, oregano, garlic, cayenne (my organic garden), garlic scapes, garlic, butternut squash (Barefoot Farmer), water (Metro Water Cumberland River) and soy sauce (Bluegrass Soy Sauce). The meat eating pasta is just like the veggie pasta, but small diced Benton's Bacon was added to the mix.
Caprese Salad Skewers
The meat course was a dry rub roasted brisket (Wind Acres via Porter Road Butcher East Nashville). The dry rub, was made by the gourmet chef of the house, my pal's 12 year old son. The kid is already reading gourmet cooking magazines like Gourmet, Cook's Illustrated, and others. He has learned how to sugar crystallized basil leaves, mastering Jeni's Ice Cream recipes, and combining herbs and spices for the brisket dry rub. OK, do I admit this, the kid cooked most of the dishes, yes he did. He was the one who made the cantaloupe and smoked ham, the caprese salad, the brisket dry rub and the ice cream. He just might be the next Eric Ripert. Kid, invite me over anytime for your culinary creations!
The vegetable portion of the dinner included a ratatouille (Swaffords Farm, Smiley Farm, Nashville Farmer's Market) and a fresh cucumber salad with onion (Barefoot Farmer, Bells Bend Neighborhood Farms) and my red wine vinegar (27 year old starter Northampton MA).
The ratatouille was a work of art. The host got all the veggies or the ratatouille with all being about the same diameter. He has a small handheld mandolin and he sliced all the veggies one slice at a time. Then in a huge roasting pan, he arranged all the thinly sliced ratatouille veggies in a beautiful spiral pattern. We oo-ed and ah-ed at the lovely dish. The best part about the dish is that is is pretty and delicious at the same time.
The cucumber salad is the 1st cucumber salad I ever made. I called my Iowa pal, for how to make it because she is the master of diced fresh vegetable yumminess. She offered up her recipe and I ran with it. So, I diced up cucumbers and onions (Barefoot Farmer and Bells Bend farms) and added salt and fresh ground black pepper and stirred the diced veggies. I let that sit for a minute while I mixed up the vinegar portion in a bowl. I mixed red wine vinegar (my crock) and water (Metro Water Cumberland River) with fresh dill (Barefoot Farmer), thyme, cayenne (my organic garden), and honey (my friend's bee hive). At the time I was done making the vinegar portion, the salt allowed the cucumbers to give a little moisture. I put the cucumbers in a Ziplock baggie, and Ipoured the red wine vinegar mix over the cucumbers and I mooshed them around. I tasted it right away, and it was kind of bad. I crossed my fingers, and let the cucumbers marinate for about 4 hours in the fridge to be ready for dinner. Thank goodness, it all worked out and the cucumbers came together. It was actually one of dinner guest's favorite dish.
Ratatouille before baking
The dessert portion of the meal included two desserts. Blueberry bars and basil lemon ice cream. My pals did such a nice job making the desserts.
Ratatouille after baking
The blueberries I picked in early July and froze them. When I went to pick the berries, it was about 103F and at the end of a 7 week drought with not one drop of water. These berries are a secret little feral blueberry patch that does not get irrigated and are completely natural. We actually had an early spring, so the berries peaked about a month earlier, so what was on the bushes were a lot of dried up blueberries. There were some that were ripe, but very small, meaty and quite flavorful instead of plump and juicy because of the lack of rain. So, I went out in early July at about noon and it was hot. I thought I would be ok if I were just out there for an hour or 2, because heck, I actually worked outside all week in heavy clothing and it was a piece of cake. Picking berries was going to be a walk in the park with shorts and flip flops on. So, as I picked the berries, there were quite a few briar thorns from some other opportunistic plants intermingled with the blueberries, and my hands and arms were getting ripped up. Some briars were catching in my hair and clothing. Sigh, I slogged on. Then after about two hours, I called it quits, and was so hot, did not have cold water in the car and I was miles from civilization. I was by myself and in trouble. Since I work outside a lot in the summer, I recognized my own symptoms I was in heat exhaustion and heading down the path to heat stroke. Dumb me, I know better. At work, we are quite serious about worker safety, and NEVER EVER let anyone get to this point, we have annual training about this, and unsafe behavior is not allowed! At this temperature, policy at work is to take mandatory breaks in a cool area, drink plenty of cool water and gatorade. I have worked outside in the summer for over 20 years, and I have never been in heat exhaustion before. Anyway, I got myself in the car, sweating (a lot - gross but at least a good sign) dry heaving (bad sign), and got myself safely to the closest convenient store with AC and gatorade, ice and water. I stayed there sipping water and gatorade until I felt better. Well, you know it, I am never going to make this mistake ever again. Hydrate, shade, rest in a cool place BEFORE any heat exhaustion symptoms show up!
I just hope that everyone thought the blueberry bars were the best blueberry bars they have ever eaten! I know they were the best I have eaten!
And the dessert that everyone thought was quite unique, the basil lemon ice cream made with a Jeni's Ice Cream recipe. The basil is from my pal's backyard, and the milk came from Hatcher and JD Dairies. The three flavors were lemon with a little basil, a lemon-basil, and a basil with a little lemon. The trio of ice cream was served with the kid's crystallized basil leaf as garnish. But, the back story is that the ice cream was made in 4 batches. But you say there were only 3 flavor profiles. Yes, you are right. The 1st batch, the whole kitchen was able to enjoy the flavored cream. As the ice cream base was whirling in the the blender, the blender decided to give way and splash basil cream all over the kitchen! Ah, the kitchen never tasted so good! My pals, they wanted a new blender anyway, so day two with a new blender they created these creamy desserts.
Basil Lemon ice cream
The evening came to a close, and we were all stuffed. The company was great, conversation was great, and the food and beverages were great. It was really fun to see people with a look of surprise with some of the flavors they never had before, like the smoke air dried ham, the basil ice cream, and the pickles. It was fun to hear people say how pretty the ratatouille platter was. We enjoyed critiquing the wine. I decided that I don't get to see some of these guests enough during the year, and I hope to enjoy their company more in the up coming months and years.