A Summer Bonfire Feast

A Summer Bonfire Feast

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Maxwell Ryan
Sep 7, 2014
Putting together baked pot au chocolate (from Fresh Direct) with vanilla ice cream in the Tiki Bar after dinner
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

Right before Labor Day Weekend, I helped to kick off a new feature here on Apartment Therapy, called Gatherings, which has been running on our other site, The Kitchn, since last year. The idea is to hold a party with friends and then blog the setup, recipes and the evening. This is one I've wanted to do for years: a summer feast with hearty, easy, grilled food and bonfires on either side of the dinner table. With a few weeks left of summer, I hope this inspires you! Enjoy.

THE INVITE

(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

My friend, Jenny, a wine consultant, wanted to throw a wine dinner highlighting the wines of Napa Valley, and together we decided it was a perfect launch for gatherings. I wanted it to be an easy dinner, but with twelve people coming, it's a lot of food and cooking either way.

I also ONLY wanted twelve people as my table only sits that many comfortably, so I used Paperless Post (love the new Marimekko designs) to send out the invites and then watched who was going to make it. I invited a few more than twelve with a week to go and then watched, ready to round out the number if necessary, as the returns came in at a perfect twelve.

Morning of the dinner. I use Fresh Direct in the summer whenever possible to avoid trips to the crowded, tourist town here. These guys are great.
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)
While I prepped, Ursula and her friends from the neighborhood set up a lemonade stand and made $30 in two hours! I think the cuteness factor helped them a lot, though the lemonade was good.
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

THE MENU & RECIPES

For a simple but yummy menu, which would accommodate most food preferences (with this many, I couldn't get too custom), and which I could easily prep ahead of time and cook up without too much concentration, I chose:

Nibbles
- Hummus and crackers

Paired with 2013 Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc
I collected tomatoes from the garden. The best summer for them ever!
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)
Starter
- Fresh caprese salad with tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and oil

Paired with 2013 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc
I love asparagus as a vegetable during the summer because it's firm and crunchy with life.
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

Main

- Grilled Asparagus with salt and oil
Wash and cut feet off of asparagus. Dry well and then coat with oil and salt. Let sit until time to grill. When grilling, grill on outside of the fire. A longer, slower grill is better here.

Paired with 2011 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay
To soak the corn, I threw them all in the hot tub, which I had just rinsed and refilled with clean water!
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)
- Grilled Corn on the Cob
Peel back the outside leaves of the corn so that you can pull out all of the hair. Recover with leaves and tie at the top with string. Soak in water for two hours. When grilling, place on the outside of the fire for a long, hot steam. Turn once.
- Grilled Ginger-Soy Chicken
This is an awesome, easy crowd pleaser. Finely chop scallions and ginger and add to soy sauce in a large bowl. Add bone-in chicken breasts and marinate for four hours.

Paired with 2010 Saintsbury Pinot Noir
Cheese Course
- Gruyere & Blue Cheese with fresh, warm baguette

Paired with 2007 Cliff Lede Poetry
Dessert
- Baked Ramekins of Chocolate Mousse with Vanilla Ice Cream

(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

THE SETUP

Whenever possible, I like to prep the food and set up the table early, so I spend a leisurely afternoon in the kitchen and then trucking everything down to the garden for the twelve guests. I wanted the table to be clean, full of feasty raw elements and to leave room for the food, which would be served family style in the middle of the table.

(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

Getting rid of placemats or a tablecloth, I put a long runner down the middle of the table, placed large beeswax candles in the center, used freshly bleached and washed IKEA Tekla towels for napkins, and stretched my Gio Ponti flatware to the limit. I also used my Pallares Solsona knives from Heidi's shop instead for dinner knives. The table and chairs here are reproductions and all from Bobo Intriguing Objects.

Just at 6pm, I had everything out of the house and down in the Tiki Bar so I could continue cooking. Jenny was there early to help me, but it was easy peasy until the guests came and then I realized that between chatting, cooking and trying to take photographs, I was cooked! Luckily a few friends are great photographers and they took over for me.

You just can't take enough photographs of ripe tomatoes.
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)
Emily and Ursula helped with the relighting of the candles as the summer breeze kept blowing them out.
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)
I love doing a little cooking as guests arrive. This was a favorite moment of having my hands deep in caprese.
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)
I love the rig that I've built over the last few years: a Weber Ranch Kettle is in the background for grilling tons, and a newly restored commercial Garland Range that I bought from a friend handles pot and oven cooking.
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

THE DINNER PARTY

Some folks came early and some got lost and didn't make it until the sun set (@7:30), and the evening proceeded from a gathering around the tiki bar, to a walk to see the water and then back to sit down for a good two plus hour dinner, right from tomatoes to chocolate mousse.

(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)



NIGHTFALL

It quickly became dark at 7:30 and as I scurried around the grill many photographs were taken by myself and my friends, but a great deal of the food went missing. Now I know how to do a better job next time! Nevertheless, it was an amazing evening that was most notable for the new and different conversations that sprung up with this group of new and old friends, as well as how relaxed everyone was. It was a lovely summer bonfire feast.

(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)


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