Monthly Archives: August 2012

Take Advantage of Veggies

When I interviewed catering chefs recently about the growing prominence of vegetables on their menus, some spoke about how they love taking advantage of the flavor, texture, and color diversity of heirlooms and other varietals. Last week, when I needed to create a dish for a town potluck dinner but had no time to shop (stores here are many miles away) or cook,  I began to understand first-hand what they meant.

Taking a mental survey of the available ingredients, I thought of the garden produce at my disposal (thanks to my husband’s hard work), and realized what I could do. I grabbed a large white china platter and set to work arranging a dish.

I laid out thick slices of our gorgeous, tasty Black Krim tomatoes, which are deep red with touches of purple and green, and I topped each one with a slice of red onion followed by a slice of crisp garden-fresh cucumber. For a floral effect, I tucked slices of smaller red-orange tomatoes standing up at the center. Finally, I showered feta cheese crumbles, ribbons of basil, and chopped parsley (the herbs from pots on my deck) over everything, and drizzled on a quickly-made balsamic vinaigrette.

The whole process took no more than 20 minutes (if you don’t count all the time my husband put into growing everything), and I must admit that the platter was a picture. I couldn’t have come up with a better solution, if I’d had lots more time and ingredients. So when you’re in a pinch (or even when you’re not), think about picking (from your garden or your grocery store) a variety of vibrant vegetables (beets, carrots, and squash need cooking but present some amazing presentation possibilities) and letting them show their stuff.

Pesto Pointer

With pesto-making season upon us, I’ve been reading up on the subject, and  in several places I came upon this pointer to help the mixture retain its bright green color. Once you’ve put it into a storage container, top it with a thin layer of olive oil (about 1 tablespoon). Mark Bittman also advises adding the cheese as you use the pesto, not when you first produce it.

Sparkling or Tap?

Until I read a promotional piece recently called “Entertain at Home (and in Style) with These Sparkling Ideas” in an online newsletter called All You: Inspired Ideas, it never occurred to me to offer my guests sparkling as well as tap water, although the waiters in every fine dining spot I frequent invariably do. And while the suggestion actually came from the makers of Perrier and San Pellegrino, I thought it had merit.

It got me wondering whether there were other niceties I should introduce, since they wouldn’t require a lot of extra work and might make guests feel a bit more pampered. While I enjoy dipping good bread into fruity olive oil in restaurants, I never think of setting out little dipping plates at every setting. And a bowl of mints or nicely wrapped chocolate candies might be a sweet touch at the end of the meal.

Would these amenities seem agreeable or pretentious? I’d love to know what you think.