I don’t throw dinner parties as often as I’d like, since it costs money, and quitting your job has certain financial ramifications. So when I do make dinner for guests, I try to keep costs down (one of the main goals of this blog). Keep it simple, but novel. Seasonal as possible.
It is also convenient when you can make dishes ahead of time. I sifted through newspaper clippings scattered around the dining room – from the NYTimes: Almond-Grape Gazpacho. Simple, good for late summer (it was going to be 80 F that day), and I had a ton of blanched almonds in the pantry. (yes, I said pantry, and I know that makes me sound like an old woman.) Since it was the beginning of fall, Ben requested the Harvest Cocktail. Both recipes are below.
We followed the first course with grilled fresh-off-the-boat swordfish with a spice blend of sumac, fennel seeds, and maras chilies, along with grilled summer squash, and spicy green beans. Dessert was perfect for the heat: Butternut Squash Granita. With the rosemary whipped cream, it tasted like a cold pumpkin pie.
Sadly, last minute, the guests cancelled. With gazpacho, granita, and still-moving swordfish, I had to find replacements. Sara stepped up right away, but finding another person proved impossible. If you got a call from me last night and I didn’t leave a message, I was inviting you to dinner. Answer your phone. (Don’t give me a hard time if I didn’t call you – I only called a few people who I’d been trying to have over for dinner for a while.) No worries, now we have leftovers.
The gazpacho was fun for the new combo of almonds and grapes, which work perfectly – the butteriness of the almonds, sweetness of the grapes, married by the salt, and acid of the vinegar – this soup hits all the spots. And the oil (all 1.5 cups of it) slams your umami sensors. I found it too rich, though Ben and Sara loved it. I also wish that it hadn’t been so grainy from the pureed almonds, but again, Ben and Sara liked that, too. Different tastes… But this is my blog, so I’m right. I’d surely make it again – crowd-pleaser, easy to make, novel, inexpensive.
Almond-Grape Gazpacho (Adapted from the NYTimes, Anthony Sasso, Casa Mono)
3 large garlic cloves
2 cups diced stale bread, crusts removed
2 cups peeled, fried, salted marcona almonds (you can get them just like that at Whole Foods) or whole blanched almonds (also at WF – otherwise blanching them yourself is a giant pain)
1 cup white/green seedless grapes, halved
1 cup red seedless grapes, halved
1.5 cups etra virgin olive oil
1.5-2 Tbs sherry vinegar (you could use red wine vinegar)
1/4 cup diced bread (not stale this time)
1/2 cup mixed grapes, small dice (or whatever size you want)
1/4 cup blanched almonds
oil, vinegar, salt
Make the gazpacho at least 2 hours before serving, though you can make it the night before. Place garlic in a small saucepan covered by a cm with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, remove garlic and set aside. Pour water over stale bread cubes and let soak for 10 mins. Squeeze the bread to get as much water out as you can (it will always be wet), and add to a blender (only a good one. Mine stinks. So I used the food processor) along with the almonds, grapes, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Puree until smooth, like mashed potatoes. Add water if it needs help mixing. In one cup measure 1 cup cold water, and in another, the 1.5 cups olive oil. While the processor is on, drizzle both liquids through the opening at the same time. Then you’ve made something almost as rich as mayonnaise. Which is wonderful. Taste for seasonings – add the sherry vinegar, salt, pepper, as you like. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
For garnish – drizzle the bread cubes in oil and toast at 400 degrees for 5 minutes, until the cubes are brown and toasty. Mix them in a bowl with the grapes, almonds, oil, salt, vinegar as you like. Ladle the soup into bowls, add garnish to the top, sprinkle with some more oil.
We’ve been in love with this cocktail for a year, waiting to have it again this fall. It is on the sweet side, the fault of the cider syrup, and the Licor 43. So sweet, in fact, you don’t notice how alcoholic it is until after your fourth and you’re singing songs about pumpkins, and not wearing pants. Please enjoy responsibly.
3 parts vodka
2 parts Licor 43
2 parts cider syrup (see below)
2 parts brandy
1 part lemon juice
Add the ingredients (except the apple slice) to a shaker with several ice cubes, and shake it. Strain into chilled cocktail glasses. Garnish with apple slice.
Cider syrup can be bought, but that is a waste. Make your own. Buy some apple cider and maple syrup (or honey). Add 1/2 – 1 cup cider to a saucepan along with some maple syrup (depends on how sweet you want it. play with ratios). Add a cinammon stick and bring to a boil. Reduce the liquid by a lot (50-75%) until it resembles a loose syrup. Refrigerate. Keeps in the fridge until you’re drunk.