“Go To” Menu Items

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            As our summer entertainment schedule began to take shape, it looked like we would be hosting about five big dinner parties, of about 20 people each, within two weeks.  It has long been our motto here on the island: If you will come, we will cook.  This way we get to see the people we want to spend time with without running off to town and missing a day on Lummi.  I like to learn to cook some new things in the summer, but I’ve finally convinced myself that I don’t have to create a completely unique menu for each party nor, probably, should I.  I’ve also made a summer vow to be a guest at my own parties instead of frantically pulling some complicated meal together in the kitchen. 
            I think for a menu item to become truly useful, you need to know it well enough that you can make it without pulling out any recipes.  It also needs to allow for variation, depending on what you can find in the market.  Following are my three anchor recipes for the 2011 summer season narrated in the way I’ve crunched them in my mind.
Mocktails or, as my sons point out, ….juice.
I wanted to put as much thought and effort into a nonalcoholic beverage as is put into selecting beer and wine.  We bought this giant novelty pitcher for the presentation.  It was handblown in Romania and has a charming seal on the side.  I only wish I knew what the glassblowers who made it thought it would be used for.  Anyway, it makes a statement and I’ve pretty much forced all of our guests to hydrate and antioxidate at some point in the party.  I think they’ve felt the better for it.
Process:
1.     Puree four pints of berries in a blender
2.     Press the puree through a sieve and collect the juice
3.     Juice enough lemons and/or limes to match the amount of berry juice
4.     Cook a simple syrup of equal parts sugar to water.  For this amount of juice, I would make 4 cups of sugar and 4 cups of water.  Steep any herbs or spices you like in the hot syrup like mint, basil, crushed cinnamon, or cardamom.  Strain the syrup and cool. 
5.     Pour juice into a large pitcher.  Add enough syrup to sweeten.  Top off with a liter of chilled sparkling water.  Adjust flavoring.  Serve over ice.
Pulled Pork Sandwiches
I know, pulled pork is ubiquitous this summer, but that’s what makes it a pretty good party item.  It’s more thoughtful than hot dogs and hamburgers, but familiar to most people.  If you have a slow cooker, you toss it in and then spend the next 7 hours doing something else, possibly sleeping. 
Process:
1.     Stem, seed, and chop a variety of fresh chili peppers (adjust for heat and flavor) to equal 8 cups.  Place in bottom of cooker.
2.     Rub the largest pork loin that will fit in your pot with 2 tsp. sea salt and 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper.  Place on top of peppers.
3.     Drizzle the loin with ½ cup agave nectar.  Drizzle another ½ cup nectar around the peppers.  Pour 1 cup of water over the peppers.
4.     Slow cook for about 7 hours or until peppers are mushy and pork is falling apart.
5.     Remove pork and shred.
6.     Transfer peppers and liquid to a pan and cook over med/high heat until liquid is reduced by about 1/3.
7.     Puree pepper liquid in a blender, pour over shredded pork, and reheat if needed.
Grilled and Stuffed Flank Steak
 
This one looks a little fancier, but once you make it once or twice, you can do it from memory and include some variations.
Prepare:
Two large flank steaks pounded into rectangles of consistent thickness
Gremolata
1 cup finely chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
¼ up finely chopped basil or other herb combination
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup bread crumbs
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp sea salt
Moisten with 2 tbsp. olive oil
3 bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, cut into wide pieces
8oz. Fontina cheese (or any cheese) sliced
2 cups sturdy greens (spinach, chard, kale) washed and dried
Process:
1.     Layer over the steaks the greens, cheese, peppers, and finally the gremolata, reserving ¼ cup for a garnish
2.     Roll the meat, carefully keeping the stuffing inside.  Tie at intervals with cotton twine
3.     Rub with olive oil, salt, and pepper
4.     Sear steak rolls on a charcoal or gas grill.  Move to a cooler part of the grill or finish in a 350 degree oven until internal temperature is between 120 to 130 degrees F. 
5.     Allow to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing.  Sprinkle with reserved gremolata.

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