I had some ideas for something summery. I sell produce for a living, so knowing what was in season was already covered. When I think about something summery, I think about grills. I think about fish. I think about fruit and booze. Unfortunately, whenever we get together for these multi-coursed Dionysian affairs it tends to be on a Friday, which happens to be my day off. This means that rather than going to Wheatsville, where I work, we go to a more centrally-located market down south. The selection is good, but it is never the same. At least for me, being mostly concerning the produce.
Shaddley came by and scooped me up and we headed down to the grocery store. I had a few ideas, but wanted to see what kind of proteins they had to work with. I was thinking strictly seafood. I wanted to keep this thing light. I wanted to do several courses and have the ladies be able to keep up. This mostly means that I didn't want to bog them down in the first two or three courses as we have done a few times in the colder, distant past.
We spent a good amount of time in the produce section, selecting seasonal varieties of squash, eggplant, stone-fruits, berries, rhubarb, figs and snap peas. After that it was off to the meat market. Unlike my place of employment, this centrally-located market offers seafood that is not sustainable. I try and eat seafood in good standing according to the list generated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium—I even keep one of the guides in my wallet—so Chilean sea bass was a big no, as were a few other delicious looking items.
We sampled some wild caught sockeye and picked out some halibut, Gulf shrimp and Gulf red snapper (red snapper is on the avoid list, yet the piece was so small they gave it to us for free and I imagine it would have been thrown away otherwise—to me throwing away food is a greater atrocity then helping it go extinct). After our brief stint in the seafood section, we only had a few odds and ends to get from the rest of the maze-like cavernous expanse that is this southern, centrally-located market. This had Shaddley a bit freaked. "That's it? We don't need any _____ or _____ ?" Nope.
As soon as we got to YogaMarketingBrownieGirl and Shaddley's house, I got to work on sauces for the meal and dessert. After all the veggie prep was done, it was time to get started on individual dishes. Since 'something summery' was the goal, a good portion of this meal would consist of cold dishes that could be made in advance. The grill was lit, wine was poured, gazpacho strained and chilled. We were on the track for a great meal.
The ladies arrived, more wine was poured and I started to plate up the first course: cherry gazpacho. I really like gazpacho. I like it both ways that I've seen it served, strained with a velvety texture and chunky like salsa. I'd say the latter is the more commonly seen option around town. For this celebration of cherry season we went for the former. The result was a cooling, creamy, delicately-flavored soup that had a near bisque-like quality to it. It was very rich for a mix of vegetables, fruit and herbs. If I hadn't have made it myself I would have been certain there was some heavy cream in it.
Following the pallet-piquing gazpacho, we had a small portion of sockeye sashimi served with a sweet red miso-shozu sauce, toasted nori and a small slice of fresh Texas peach. I would have preferred the more subtle Coho salmon for this dish, but the option at the centrally- located market was farm raised and I don't play that either. The result was beautiful. I was a bit worried about the intensity of the red miso, yet didn't see the reasoning to purchase white miso when I knew that Scotts had the red on hand. All in all, it was good so I'll stop complaining about what-ifs and could-have-beens.
We had a small salad of snap peas, red onion and garlic dressed in a simple white wine vinaigrette. This was a delicious and crisp little salad, yet you can see from the photograph that I probably should have either cut back on the raw garlic or minced it. Some found it to be a bit too 'spicy'. I had one bite in particular that pretty much wiped out my palette for the rest of the dish. Fortunately, we had plenty of dry, salty Spanish white
Raw garlic all up in yo face.
After the salad, it was on to some lovely red snapper and strawberry ceviche. This was a really fresh ceviche, tossed with valencia orange juice and a sploosh of extra vigin olive oil right before serving as to not tense up the snapper and allow for its taste to still stand out. I love the combination of fruit and fish. This may be the islander in me, but for some reason it just makes sense. We had moved on to the Albarino and it was delicious and complementary to the subtle acidity of the ceviche. This dish was a hit.
Just about the time that we finished up the ceviche, the paprika-rubbed halibut and summer veggies were ready to pull from the grill. Continuing with our theme of fruit and fish, the halibut was dressed with a spicy Texas peach relish and a grilled Gulf shrimp. The grilled eggplant and baby zucchini were dolled up with a little dollop of creme fraiche. This dish was a hit as well.
Well, it wouldn't be a meal with Shaddley without fromage. The funny thing about this course was that we ate the cheese we bought for it before we started our meal. Good thing he is such a cheese head that he had an extra wedge laying about in his fridge. Grilled figs and balsamic were served with this chunk of semi-hard cheese. I had drank some wine by then, so I have no clue what we were having.
Normally, I don't eat ice cream because it causes me to pass out in about thirty minutes, but I was feeling ballsy. After all, we live in Texas and nothing says 'something summery' like Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla. This lovable treat was served along side some nice fried plantains with a strawberry-rhubarb compote. Shaddley had said he'd never had something with rhubarb that was done 'right', so I endeavored to do so. When he and YogaMarketingBrownieGirl went back for a larger bowl of seconds, I knew I had won.
As usual, we drank way too much wine. I don't have any fancy list this time to prove it, but trust me, we did a damn fine job. This meal was the gateway to a summer full of culinary promise and seasonal revelry. The company was great and the food spectacular. It was yet another great night at the North Buda bungaloo. I sat on the couch eating my ice cream as the sustained notes of Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain put the finishing touch on a meal that fused Spain, Japan and Texas into a refined taste experience. Content, I went back for seconds too. I sat there on the couch amongst great friends, full from a fantastic meal and was able to stay awake to enjoy the rest of an evening that was a testament to everything I love about the life I am able to live.