Dinner party number twenty-six. Do you know what that means? It means we’re half-way there! Half-way through this year-long, dinner-party-a-week venture. I can hardly believe it. The time’s gone by so fast. And you know what - so far, so good. And if I do say so myself, that’s pretty darn good, because after twenty-six weeks, seventy-five dinner guests, and one hundred and forty-eight recipes,‘so far’ is, I think, officially pretty darn far!
I’ve also got to say, in these last six months, Ben and I both have had an astonishing amount of fun. Sure, it’s been a crazy amount of work. And sure, there have been a few instances, when in the hectic hours just before our guests arrive, I suddenly realize that the last thing I want to do that night is have another dinner party. But funny thing is, those nights, when I’m kind of dreading being the hostess, and have a serious case of being just not-in-the-mood, those nights somehow always turned out to be the most fun of all.
In fact, every single night I think, has turned out to be even more fun that we’d even expected. And this night, this Fourth of July night with a eight of our wonderful friends, a spread of great summer food, and a 360-degree rooftop view of all of Chicago’s fireworks, was perhaps one of the best nights of all. This incredible night could have surpassed even the highest expectations!
The menu was simple. And darn good. In fact, I do think deviled eggs are the epitome of darn good food. I’d made some for an afternoon snack a few afternoons before, and when Ben and I polished off half a dozen eggs without even blinking, I knew they’d be the perfect start for our Fourth of July barbeque. I think deviled eggs are coming back in fashion, too. And in a serious way. I’ve been seeing them on menus in some pretty fancy schmancy restaurants. And they were one of the biggest hits at a party I’d catered a few months ago. I’d made three different varieties – smoked salmon with dill, fines herbs, and curry-cumin deviled eggs. They went like crazy! People couldn’t get enough of these guys. For this dinner party, I thought about maybe doing another twist, but decided in the end to stick with the basic deviled egg. And I’m glad I did, because there’s something magic about the simple combination of egg yolks, mayonnaise and mustard. So creamy and comforting and addictively delicious, it’s absolute perfection just as is. And that’s the thing about perfection – you can really improve upon it.
Along with the deviled eggs, we laid out some cold slices of juicy red watermelon, a bowlful of pretty Rainier cherries, and a platter of fresh summer vegetable crudités with a creamy herb dip. A recipe of Ina Garten’s (She alone makes me wish we had cable), this cream cheese based sauce is easy to whip up, and utterly tasty. Chock full of chopped parsley, green onions and dill, it’s a perfect summertime dip for veggies or chips or anything at all.
In honor of the Fourth, we made red, white and blue burgers. Representing red were thick slices of heirloom Brandywine tomatoes, thin rings of red onion, crisp leaves of deep purply-red radicchio, and of course the juicy red interiors of the medium-rare burgers. For the white and the blue – creamy, pungent Roquefort blue cheese. Oh man, these burgers were good! A couple people even said they were the best burgers they’d ever had. That totally made my day. But I can’t take all the credit – our new charcoal grill had a lot to do with it too!
The potato salad was really delicious too. Not one of those creamy, full-0f-mayo potato salads, these tender red and white baby spuds were cloaked in an herb-flecked vinaigrette of fresh lemon juice and peppery extra virgin olive oil. Tossed with lots of crispy smoked bacon and a good dose of finely chopped rosemary, there was all sorts of wonderful stuff happening with these potatoes. The huge flavors of rosemary and lemon mingled together harmoniously, a perfect combination of earthy warmth and zesty coolness. And the bacon… well, bacon never hurts anything. And it certainly didn’t hurt this dish one bit either!
And for a second side, a quick salad of some of summer’s best vegetables – Tender green beans, slices of sweet tomatoes, fresh corn off the cob. Tossed with some thinly sliced red onion and a few dashes of red wine vinaigrette, this beautiful salad tasted as good as it looked. It’s such a nice change from the ubiquitous pasta, macaroni or potato salads. And it’s just so tasty too. I know I’m going to be tempted to serve this delicious salad with just about every meal for the rest of the season.
Ten of us around the table meant that one pie would be a little too little, but two pies would be a little too much. When it comes to dessert, I always like to err on the side of too much. And so two pies it was. The first pie – the raspberry, blueberry, blackberry pie – came about for two reasons. One, because it looks fittingly patriotic. I satisfies at least the red and blue requirements. And two, because it’s totally easy. With a graham cracker crust and a no-need-to-bake filling, this is my kind of pie! I always get a huge kick out of those cooking magazines that come out every July with pictures of very red white and blue, flag-inspired desserts, all structurally correct with a blueberry rectangle up in the corner and the right number of raspberry stripes. I always think that someday I’ll make a flag tart or cake like this, but this year, it just wasn’t in the cards. This year I was after easy. And this pie was certainly that. What’s more, it was as delicious as it was easy. Flag shaped, round or triangular, red white and blue, or pink orange or green, delicious is always a must.
The grand finale for this festive dinner, my S’more pie! This was a big hit all around. I’ve been toying with the idea of a s’more pie for a while now, and finally decided to try it out. A buttery graham cracker crust, a rich filling of dense bittersweet chocolate ganache, and a poofy topping of homemade marshmallow fluff. A quick stint under the broiler (or spin under a blowtorch if you’re lucky enough to have one of those) and you’ve got a perfectly golden browned s’more pie. S’mores have got to be one of my all time favorite summertime desserts. Without a campfire on our back deck, this pie was a great substitute, with all the delicious charm of the original fireside treat. A perfect dessert for watching fireworks!