Sunday, July 26, 2009

Southwest Meets Northwest...

If you've been reading my blog, you might know that I absolutely love summer. Even those hot, humid days we tend to get here in NJ (I prefer to think of them as "sultry"). I think everything is better in the summer - people are more relaxed (no annoying snow and ice to contend with), no need for bulky coats, bounties of fresh fruit and veggies, and a few more hours of daylight to enjoy your favorite outdoor activities. We took advantage of a beautiful midsummer's night this past Friday when we had a few friends over for dinner al fresco. We had a lovely evening and the forecasted rain held off until we were just finishing up dessert.

In case you're wondering about the "Southwest Meets Northwest" title, that was the theme of our dinner. Appetizers from Mexico and the Southwest US and dinner and dessert from the Pacific Northwest. Everything was sublime.

A casual first course as people gather helps ease everybody into the evening. A selection of different salsas with some interesting chips is always fun. But a new (and oh so simple) entry into the appetizer arena is fried Queso Blanco. This versatile cheese from Mexico is similar to mozzarella in texture, but to enjoy it you need to do nothing more than slice it in about 1/2 inch sections, add it to a non-stick pan, and fry until it's toasted a golden brown. Absolutely delicious! Dipping into the salsa adds a nice dimension.

After appetizers, we quickly traveled to the great Northwest - home of wild salmon, Pinot Noir, and blueberries. We are kind of obsessive when it comes to salmon - no farm raised for us, thank you very much. So when our local Costco had fresh Alaskan wild salmon available, there was no doubt that would be our main course. Barry selected a beautiful piece of salmon and I selected this recipe from the August issue of Gourmet. We've done cedar-plank salmon before, but we usually just season it with fine sea salt and pepper. This recipe called for a mixture of lemon zest, rosemary, grainy mustard, and maple syrup to be spread on the salmon before grilling. Grilled to perfection in about 15 minutes, after soaking the cedar plank for about 2 hours, it was definitely the centerpiece of our dinner. Complementing the salmon nicely was a lovely Pinot Noir (there are so many delicious Pinots from the Oregon wine growing region, you almost can't go wrong with any choice). Our friend, Noreen, brought a terrific pasta salad dotted with Kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes, and capers - like herself, it was perfectly dressed. Grilled asparagus, romaine hearts (have you tried grilled romaine yet? if not, you should), and fresh Jersey corn rounded out our dinner. What could make this meal even better you might ask?

Well, I'll tell you: Blueberry Pie with Almond Crumble Topping. Yes, I'm kind of on a pie kick and a blueberry kick (see last week's post here) but really, when you can get gor-
geous, fat blueberries you must avail yourself of them. And I made my own crust this week - I had the time and it was well worth it. I was pretty pleased with myself when it came out of the oven, but when I served it with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and tasted the sweet blueberries with the delicious marzipan crumbs, I thought this recipe might be a keeper. When one of our friends had two pieces, I knew it was.

You should plan a midsummer's night dinner soon - it's almost August and you know what comes right on the heels of August...that's right, Fall and Winter. But I'm not thinking about that now. I'm savoring the many tastes and joys of summer.

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