Guess who came to dinner?

The chef made a repeat visit, which I found pretty flattering. I also invited a couple of friends whose company I enjoy—as easy to cook for five as for three. I made bruschetta with roasted baby tomatoes, a cucumber, jicama and citrus salad, a southwest chicken stew and peach crème celeste for dessert.

I wanted to use as many ingredients as I could that are not available commercially. This included calamondins–a small orange, Filipino lime–from my neighbor’s tree, and shiso leaves and white alpine strawberries from my garden. The chef noticed and appreciated each one—it’s so much fun to cook for someone who really tastes his food. As I made the stew the day before, I had time to play around with the salad. I put a big shiso leaf on each salad plate, and chopped some mint and shiso together to add to the vegetables. (Shiso is from the mint family and tastes slightly minty.) I sliced the cucumbers and jicama on the mandoline, and made some long cucumber slices, added some sliced orange pepper, pink grapefruit sections and a chunks of ripe peach, and sprinkled it with black sesame seeds. I used the long thin slices to make a cucumber bow on top, with a nasturtium leaf and a leaf of orange mint. I made a citrus vinaigrette with calamondin and grapefruit juice, champagne vinegar, olive oil and a little sugar.

For the southwest chicken stew, I cooked some garbanzos in chicken stock the night before, adding some tomato, onion, a chipotle pepper and garlic. When they were done, I drained off the broth, and pureed the chipotle, garlic and tomato with some leftover roasted cauliflower and added these back into the broth to thicken it I bit.  In my grill pan, I grilled chicken breast and merguez sausages in chunks and added them to the broth, along with some calamondin and orange juice. Then I sautéed onions, garlic, turmeric, chili flakes and some squash and threw those in with some grilled corn and chopped Romano beans. I let this simmer about half an hour, added some salt and a spoonful of lime infused honey. I put the garbanzos back in, added some chopped shiso, and and let it all cool in the fridge till an hour before dinner.  If there had been a layer of fat, I would have removed it, but there was no need to defat, as there wasn’t much fat in it. I reaheated slowly, and made the salad while it heated. 

The crème celeste is a simple cream, yoghurt, sugar and gelatin dessert. I added one small, peeled and pureed peach and served with peaches simmered in sugar and brandy and topped with the alpine strawberries.

The wine, the food, and the conversation were all a delight. This was an easy meal, and lots of fun to make, especially the salad. The leftover chicken stew was also delicious. There wasn’t any leftover salad or dessert, not even a cucumber slice for the chickens.