Summertime, outdoor BBQ, sunshine, cool breeze, champagne, friends, laughter, gifts, food, laying out on the grass…
All of these wonderful elements came together for my friend Emi’s baby shower that I co-hosted this summer. I was genuinely excited to throw this bash and make it a special day for her. Emi, wife of the chef and owner of The Curious Palate, has been my good friend since the 6th grade. I brainstormed for weeks about the food spread for the joyous occasion. I wanted to keep things simple and fresh, and I wanted to use farmers market ingredients that were at their summer peak. I also needed to simplify the preparation, garnishing and plating, in order to minimize my time in the kitchen and maximize my time having fun at the party.
For starters, I made a watermelon gazpacho. I used plump heirloom tomatoes to deepen the flavors, blanched almonds to add texture, Spanish Jerez Reserva sherry vinegar to add a subtle kick, and a nutty French extra virgin olive oil to bring it all together. Garlic and red peppers were thrown in for some underlying zest. Garnished with edible flower petals, chopped chives and drops of basil oil that I made the night before, it was the perfect cool concoction for a hot summer day.
Roasted red and yellow beets were flavored with Jerez Reserva sherry vinegar, olive oil, ginger and slivers, zest and juice of Valencia oranges. The snapping ginger and citrus flavors balanced out the deep sweetness of the beets, and the vibrant colors of the edible flower garnish really popped out against the crimson background.
For the main course, we decided to do the obligatory BBQ. What’s an outdoor summer party without slapping some meat on the hot grill? I marinated kalbi short ribs in my own secret recipe, and let it absorb the flavors overnight. Italian zucchini and eggplants cut lengthwise were brushed with olive oil and flavored with fleur de sel. What a sight to see 3 chicks (the 3 hosts) running the hot smoking grill in heels and summer dresses! Sorry, no photos of the meat, it went too quickly. They were tender, succulent, juicy and delicious.
I wanted to do something special, original and cute for dessert. A store ordered cake with a messy ‘Congratulations’ in chocolate inscription? Boring. Cupcakes from Sprinkles? Been there, done that. After numerous revisions, I decided to make a playful plate that featured ripe summer white peaches.
I found this interesting fruit called a honeyloupe at the farmers market in Santa Monica. As you can guess by the name, it’s a cross between a honeydew melon and a cantaloupe. I used cookie cutters to cut the flesh into star, leaf and flower shapes, and marinated it for a few hours in lemongrass syrup. Lemongrass syrup is easy to make- boil equal parts water and sugar in a pot with bruised lemongrass stalks for a few minutes. You can drizzle it over ice cream or yogurt, and it marinates fruits really well. It also keeps in the fridge for a long time.
I made a chocolate fudge sauce that I painted onto the plate with a pastry brush, and sprinkled the honeyloupe pieces along with edible flower petals and mint leaves to create a shooting star effect. Using a cardboard stencil that took me only a few minutes to cut out with an exacto knife, I sprinkled a Valrhona chocolate powder teddy bear onto each plate.
I poached the white peaches the evening before in water and sugar with: cinnamon, cloves, black peppercorns, vanilla beans, honey, star anise, ginger and lemon zest. To make the peach foam, I puréed some of those peaches with the poaching syrup, then added bloomed silver gelatin sheets before pouring it into my Espuma gun. For those of you who don’t own an Espuma gun, I highly recommend getting one. You can turn anything into foam or cream, and it’s so fun to use. Load it with a couple of CO2 cartridges, and you’re ready to foam away.
It all came together nicely for a colorful and cute summer dessert plate.
My friend Emi had a healthy and beautiful baby boy, and I’m already thinking of the desserts that Auntie Tomo can spoil him with.
Random trivia: Did you know that lemongrass oil enhances milk production in breast-feeding mothers? It’s also believed that babies who drink this milk will have a better immune system, making them less prone to infections.