Host an Intimate Garden Gathering

It’s summertime, and smaller gatherings this year are the norm. For this August Invite, I’m staging an evening of al fresco dining in a series of revolving outdoor rooms. Divvy up those dishes! Think fountainside whiskey sips and chips, heirloom Caprese salad served from the kitchen garden, and grilled whiskey steaks on the patio. Wind down with fresh apricot cake by the mini apple orchard. For slightly larger gatherings — revolve and switch! It’s the dog days of summer — just ask our new pup, Maximus. Let’s go!

Whiskey + Peach Sips

Makes 2 cocktails

Whiskey sips infused with fresh white peach and garden mint are poured in the fountainside outdoor room. Peaches and mint are muddled together, then bathed in brown sugar simple syrup and whiskey. Sparkling water adds a bit of effervescence. Served on big ice. Garnish with mint and a delicious slice of fresh white peach. Serve alongside simple chips in fancy silver.

Whiskey + Peach Sips

Ingredients

  • 1 small peach, diced
  • Handful fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar simple syrup (see below)
  • Fresh lime wedges
  • 4 ounces whiskey
  • Ice
  • Sparkling water

BROWN SUGAR SIMPLE SYRUP

  • Add 1 cup brown sugar to 1 cup water, in a stovetop pan.
  • Simmer until dissolved then chill. TIP: Leftover brown sugar simple syrup is yummy in iced tea!

Method

  1. Muddle the peaches and mint in a cocktail shaker.
  2. Add the simple syrup and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
  3. Muddle once more.
  4. Add the whiskey to the shaker.
  5. Strain, and pour over ice.
  6. Top with a good splash of sparkling water.

Movable Feast + Al fresco Extras

Carve out easy outdoor dining “rooms” in your garden: sips in one corner, appetizers in another, a main course, and dessert setup. It can be something as simple as a cool tray, topped with a beautiful salad, grab a blanket, and dig in. Summer striped pillows and throws, lanterns, and garden-scented candles are just a few of the extra details that make for a memorable evening of al fresco summer entertaining. Pretty mini bouquets of select garden herbs double as all-natural insect repellent. Lavender, mint, oregano, and calendula are just a few of the fragrant garden stems that help fend off unwelcome garden visitors.

Heirloom Caprese Salad with Shaved Fennel and Basil-Lime Drizzle

It’s a summer sunset salad full of mouthwatering color and freshness. This is why I have a kitchen garden: fresh basil, chives, and edible blooms, plucked from the beds, just before serving! (Sometimes I put guests to “work” gathering the edible blooms.) Spicy calendula petals; blue borage blooms; which taste like cucumber; thyme; chive blossoms; and basil flowers and leaves, all sprinkled atop juicy, sliced heirloom tomatoes and shaved fennel. Fresh (Ovaline) Mozzarella is tucked about; and the salad is topped with lemon zest, drizzled with basil-infused olive oil, and a squeeze of fresh lime. Salt and pepper to taste, and dig in!

Fountainside Sips + Chips

Fountainside extras: a looking glass and glass fishing floats bobbing in the water, a cool pewter tray and vintage ice bucket, candlelight, and bouquets of old-fashioned English garden roses — with names like Rosa Cream and Rosa Violet — are casually arranged in an unexpected container.

Tasty Summer Parting Gifts To Go

What is it about garden tomatoes straight from the vine? I remember toddling after my Italian-born grandmother Nettie, as she grabbed the salt-shaker and wandered out into her tomato garden. They were so sugary sweet! This year, I grew dozens of organic tomato plants from seed — heirlooms, tomatillos, cherry tomatoes. Soon they will be ripe for the picking!

Whiskey Steaks Sizzle

Boozy New York steaks are on the barbecue: soaked in a whiskey marinade, grilled, and slathered with a whiskey and cream sauce made right on the grill and then heaped with roasted red peppers that were tossed with garden oregano and crumbled goat cheese.

Ingredients

  • 2 New York steaks

MARINADE INGREDIENTS

  • 1/3 cup chopped red onions
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 3 garlic cubes, sliced in half
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ¼ cup whiskey
  • 2 pours Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon chopped Fresno Chili Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons seed style mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey mustard
  • Roasted red peppers (see recipe on below)

Method

Combine the marinade ingredients in a shallow dish. Add the steaks, and cover. Marinate in the fridge for 8 hours or overnight, turning occasionally. Allow the steaks to come to room temperature. Remove the steaks from the marinade, and pat dry. Heat the grill to high. Brush the steaks with olive oil, on both sides. Place on the grill, and cook for approximately 5 minutes.

Once they are a bit charred, turn and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes. Tent with foil, and let rest. Top with whiskey and cream sauce,
and heap with roasted peppers.

WHISKEY AND CREAM SAUCE (See below)

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup chopped shallots
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons cream
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1/8 cup whiskey
  • Salt and white pepper

Method

Grab a heavy-duty barbecue mitt. Place a grill-proof pan directly on the grill over medium heat. Melt the butter, and add the shallots and thyme.

Carefully stir, until the shallots soften. Add the cream, and sprinkle on just enough flour to thicken the sauce. It is best to pull the pan from the heat before adding the whiskey, to prevent it from flaming. Add the whiskey, cool a bit, add salt and pepper, and spoon atop the steaks.

Roasted Red Peppers, with Garden Oregano and Goat Cheese

“Food is memories,” to borrow a line from the movie The Hundred-Foot Journey. Dishes and ingredients we are drawn to often come with a cool family story. I have a thing for roasted peppers, born of childhood summers spent picking peppers in Yakima fields with my family, and then roasting them once we returned home. Roasting peppers brings out their sweet, smoky flavor. Below is a quick method.

Ingredients

  • Combination of 5 orange, yellow, and red peppers
  • ¼ cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 1 teaspoon chopped oregano leaves
  • Good splash olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Paper bag

Method

Crank up the oven to broil, with the grate about 9 inches from the heat.

Place the whole peppers on a baking sheet.

Oven roast for 20 to 25 minutes until the pepper skin is slightly charred, giving each pepper a quarter turn, every 5 minutes or so.

Place the hot peppers in a paper bag, and roll down to seal.

Cool completely.

Remove and discard the skin, tops, and seeds.

Slice and add the cheese, oregano, and olive oil.

Toss to combine.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Fresh Apricot Cake

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs, separated
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup vanilla bean sugar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 apricots, halved and pitted
  • Powdered sugar
  • Apricot fruit spread for topping

Method

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Line a 9-by-11 inch deep-dish baking pan with greased parchment paper.

Using a stand mixer, beat together the egg yolks and sugars. Add the oil and sour cream, and mix to combine. Set aside yolk mixture in a separate bowl.

Clean the mixing bowl, and whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks.

Combine the flour and baking powder. Slowly fold the flour mixture into the egg yolk mixture, and combine. Fold in the egg whites until just combined. Spread the batter into the greased baking dish. Gently arrange the halved apricots in the dish, cut-side-up.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan. Dust with powdered sugar before serving. Add a teaspoon of apricot fruit spread atop each serving.

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