Let's get the party started
I recently returned from a week-long “vacation” with my family up at the house my mom shares with her husband on Lake Michigan. The whole Karle clan came, including my brother and his boyfriend Brian from NYC, and my Michigan brother with his family, plus my mom and her husband Tom. Since my two brothers and my sister-in-law all have birthdays around this time, we usually celebrate when we are all together in the summer. I had separately decided to plan ahead this year and take a day to cook a special meal for the food-lovers among us. As it turned out, the foodlover dinner ended up being combined with the birthday celebration, for the major food event of the week.
I knew off the bat I wouldn’t make everyone happy with every offering, as the group included two children, one diabetic on a strict diet, and one all-around lifelong picky eater. Happily, there were four of us who are genuine foodie-types, and two others who love good food – they are just married to diabetics/lifelong picky eaters. So I wanted to indulge us adventurous types but not make the others feel left out of the party.
Clams and Oysters (not from Lake Michigan!)
I decided the basis of the meal would come from my longstanding favorite summer menu, which appeared in a piece called “Picnic In The Vines” in the May 1995 issue of Gourmet magazine. (I keep my tattered, splattered copy in a box of old cooking magazines in the basement – one of the few issues that didn’t get weeded when I moved from NYC to Michigan.) I usually try to do this menu once a year in some form as it is great for entertaining. Since it is meant to be for a picnic, all the dishes can be made ahead and served at room temperature. For this particular incarnation I decided to only make four of the cornerstones of the menu. The add-ons (deviled eggs; clams and oysters cooked on the grill, crabmeat dip, and a store-bought ice-cream cake for dessert) were a bit of a mishmash, but they added to the celebratory vibe – again, I wanted to make sure there was something special for everyone present.
For the main dish, I served spiced poussins. Well, they were not really poussins, since it would be a challenge to find poussins around Ann Arbor, let alone up north. In any event I was able to procure some very nice whole chickens from a great market in Traverse City called Burritt’s, which is also where we found the oysters and clams (fresh from the Atlantic – not the Great Lakes! Brian is from Boston, so it’s become his little tradition to make the midwesterners eat shellfish). I had the butcher cut the whole chickens into serving pieces, and after marinating for several hours in the Moroccan spice mixture, we (well, Lenny) cooked them on the grill. I chose the grill over the oven (as instructed in the recipe) as the size of the pieces varied greatly, so “we” needed the freedom to move them around to cook them all evenly.
The sides included fingerling potatoes with green beans, and eggplant with a basil vinaigrette. For the potatoes/green beans, I used a mixture of parsley, mint, thyme, and oregano for the herbs. My sister-in-law has since asked me if she thought it would be ok to do this recipe without the potatoes, which I’m sure would be great. I think the key is to make sure you add enough herbs, enough salt, and then let them sit at room temperature for a few hours before serving so the flavors can really blend. (I might think about adding some toasted nuts or maybe even some prosciutto, depending on what else you are planning to serve along with them).
Green Beans and Fingerlings
The eggplant, which is drizzed with a basil vinaigrette and topped with chopped fresh basil and some toasted pine nuts, tasted great – although as a primarily-brown-food-thing I realize maybe the photo doesn’t look so enticing. We also did those on the grill, although I’ve also followed the recipe and done them under the broiler and they are just as good.
And finally, the piece de resistance, the tomato onion tart:
Tomato Onion Tart
The keys to the tart are 1) use uniform size tomatoes so they lay out evenly, 2) cook the onions until there is no moisture left in them (otherwise you end up with a soggy crust), and 3) use a good quality gruyere. People seem to love this tart for its combination of sweet and savory, and it goes great with those spicy poussins. Now I have to confess my dirty little secret: if I don’t feel like making pie crust (I’m not the pie crust queen that Shana is), I just use one of the Pillsbury pie crusts that you find in the refrigerator section of the grocery store (in the long red box). You can just thaw and unroll, place in the tart pan, and you are ready to add the filling.
Vincent's Ice Cream Cake
For dessert we had an ice-cream cake that my sister-in-law purchased in Manistee at a little ice-cream shop called Vincent’s. I personally would probably have preferred the Plum Almond Cobbler that is part of the Picnic in the Vines menu to finish off this meal, but I have to admit, as ice cream cakes go this was pretty wonderful.
The items that make up this menu all seem to be available on Epicurious, they just aren’t associated back to that “Picnic in the Vines” article. Here are links to the recipes for all the dishes I made, plus a couple others that are part of that menu that are also great.
Green Bean and Fingerling Salad
Tomato Onion Tart
Fig, Ham & Nectarine Salad
Plum and Almond Cobbler