Sunday, June 29, 2008
Perfect summer supper
We had such a nice evening last night with some friends who are visiting Ottawa from Helsinki, where they live. Neither of them is Finnish; he's a Canadian who's working on his Ph.D at their music academy; she's an Estonian kantele player. They're in town visiting his parents; we hadn't seen them for several years and we all just had a blast hanging out. We really wish they lived closer, but with any luck we'll get over to Finland sometime soon to visit them.
One of the things I love about cooking in the summertime is the sheer abundance of things that can be grilled. The other is how casual entertaining becomes when it's warm out. For appetizers I just put out some cheeses (aged cheddar and Ermite bleu), olives, and nuts, which we snacked on while enjoying a delicious New Zealand pinot gris that our guests brought.
We had moved onto an Angel's Gate rosé from Niagara by the time I remembered the merguez sausages I'd bought for Chris to grill and slice up as finger foods, so we did that and ate them standing in the kitchen while I put together an insalate caprese for starters and a soba noodle salad to go with the marinated flank steak. I love it when guests hang in the kitchen with me, because it means they feel completely at home. Also, I like the company!
That noodle salad turned into the big hit of the evening - everyone wanted seconds and it was all devoured, along with all the gorgeously grilled steak done in my standard Asian marinade: soy sauce, ginger, garlic, lime juice and a little brown sugar. It could have marinated longer, but it was perfectly grilled by Chris and enjoyed by all. A side of snappy green beans tossed in a little sea salt and toasted sesame oil rounded out the plate, and somehow I managed to cook the beans to perfection without giving them my full attention (I was busy slicing the steak).
We drank the Oregon pinot noir that I was gifted last weekend in Portland with our main course, and I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised. I tried that particular wine at the winery and it tasted over-oaked and thin to me, but in hindsight I felt that the wine was too warm, which can be death to delicate reds. This was fruity and pleasantly medium-bodied but also complex and weighty enough to stand up to a lot of strong flavours in the meal.
After some sitting and chilling out and digesting, we ended the meal with bowls full of freshly picked strawberries from the U-pick farm five minutes from our house (I think we might have to go back and pick some more tomorrow, that's how delicious they were) with lightly sweetened whipped cream and a square of 70% Lindt chocolate. Strawberries and cream completely epitomize summer to me; there's no better way to end a meal in June or early July.
It's hard to know whether the food tasted so good because we were having such a great time, or vice versa, but it was a fantastic meal and one I'd make again for company. Simple, but full of bright flavours and interesting textures; easy, but not lazy. I wish all my entertaining could feel that effortless.
Chilled Soba Noodle Salad
1/2 of a 250-gram package of Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles
1/2 an English cucumber, pulp removed
2 small carrots, peeled
2 green onions, sliced
4 large basil leaves or 1/8 cup coriander leaves, chopped
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
3 tbsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp sweet chili sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
Cook soba noodles 5-6 minutes in boiling water; drain and run under cold water and set aside.
Using a mandoline, julienne the cucumber and carrots. Place in a large serving bowl with the noodles, onions and chopped herbs. In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together, Pour over the noodles and vegetables; toss well to coat. Refrigerate one hour; toss again before serving. Serves 4-6 as a side dish.