There are few things I love as much as cooking good food for good people. I recently had friends over for a summer garden party on my flagstone patio. We played croquet, drank wine and champagne, and enjoyed each other’s company.
For the table, I chose a simple white tablecloth. Since I had an umbrella in the center, I chose an umbrella candelabra and individual roses at each place. I used my Emma dishes from Pottery Barn and purple wine glasses (“borrowed” from and never returned to my parents) that I thought added gorgeous color to the otherwise simple table. I also threw ice in a galvanized bucket for a chic drink solution on a hot night.
I completely forgot about napkin rings and didn’t have any that really fit the look of the table. I did have kitchen twine though so I tied twine around the napkins and added a spring of mint in each. All of my guests commented on how cute the napkins were. I’m definitely using this idea again – and next time on purpose!
To start, I served my own version of chilled cucumber soup. I’ve served Holland chilled cucumber soup before, Ina’s recipe. At my summer garden party, Holland told me that the evening’s chilled cucumber soup was the best she’s ever had. “Better than Ina’s?!” I said. She assures me it is. I hope you enjoy this easy starter as much as Holland did! I made it the night before and kept it in a pitcher to serve it in style.
8 oz chicken broth
16 oz Greek yogurt
2 hothouse cucumbers, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup white onion, chopped
6 green onions, white and green parts chopped
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp dill
2 Tbsp italian parsley
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 lemons)
3-4 strips cherrywood smoked bacon, cooked and crumbled
Drizzle olive oil
Drizzle balsamic vinegar
4 small spoonfuls Greek yogurt
- Using a blender or handheld immersion blender, blend first eight ingredients until smooth.
- Stir in lemon juice just before serving. Garnish with avocado, bacon crumbles, a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and a spoonful of greek yogurt.
Before my friends arrived, I wrapped prosciutto around cantaloupe to serve as a side dish.
Prosciutto Wrapped Tuscan Cantaloupe
1/2 Tuscan cantaloupe
8 oz prosciutto
- Buy the juiciest cantaloupe you can find. The cantaloupe should be shockingly heavy for the size and should smell slightly sweet. I vastly prefer Tuscan (striped) cantaloupe. I find they’re juicier in general.
- Carefully cut rind off and cut cantaloupe into spears.
- Wrap prosciutto around cantaloupe spears.
I chose grilled salmon for the main course because it’s so simple to put together. I excused myself from the party for just about five minutes to put together these foil packets. Toss them on the grill, grab your glass of wine and croquet mallet, and play a round while your grill does the work!
Rosemary Grilled Salmon
4 6-oz salmon filets
1/4 cup olive oil
4 sprigs rosemary
- Preheat grill to about 350 degrees. Cut 4 piece of aluminum foil and spray with non-stick cooking oil.
- Lay a salmon fillet on each piece of foil. Drizzle generously with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Lay 3 slices of lemon on top of each salmon then lay a sprig of rosemary on top of the lemon slices. Securely wrap each foil packet so that the juices don’t run out while cooking.
- Toss foil packets on the preheated grill and cook for about 10-15 minutes, until salmon can be easily flaked with a fork. Remove foil packets from the grill and let rest for a few minutes while you prepare the heirloom tomato bruschetta.
- Top salmon with grilled onions. (Recipe follows!)
Party tip: Serve mini champagne bottles with dinner. Having your own tiny chilled champagne bottle feels so luxurious. It garnered many oohs and ahhs from my friends!
Grilled Mixed Onions
1 white onion
1 yellow onion
Herb du Provence
- Preheat grill to about 350 degrees. Spray a piece of aluminum foil with non-stick cooking spray.
- Cut onions and shallots into thick slices. Toss with olive oil, salt, herb du Provence and set on foil. Wrap up tightly so that juices won’t run out.
- Toss foil packet on the grill for 30-35 minutes. Check them after twenty minutes so they don’t burn!
One of my summer go-to dishes is grilled bread topped with…well anything really! I like to switch it up between goat cheese and ricotta and the topping varies nearly every time. I decided to go classic with this pairing to let the tomatoes sing. This is a quick dish to put together after you pull your main dish off the grill.
Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta
1 loaf Italian white bread or Ciabatta
16 oz goat cheese
1 lbs heirloom tomatoes
Handful torn basil
Garlic sea salt
- Heat grill to about 350 degrees. Slice bread in half lengthwise. Brush with olive oil and place cut side down on the grill. Don’t walk away from the grill. The bread needs babysitting! I like my bread slightly charred on the edges but still soft on the inside. This takes about 2-3 minutes. Check it every minute by lifting up a corner.
- Remove bread from grill and spread with goat cheese. Slice tomatoes evenly and arrange on bread. Tear basil on top of tomatoes and sprinkle with garlic sea salt.
The real show stopper of the evening was dessert. There’s quite a bit of history to this dessert. The base of this recipe is a cheesecake that’s titled “Chocolate Cheesecake That Mom and Aunt Cat Gorged On” in my blue binder. The original is just the crust and filling and suggests serving it with kiwi but you know me, I have to make every recipe my own, so I added an almond whipped cream layer and piled it high with red berries. My friends agreed that the almond whipped cream balances and complements the deep, dark chocolate filling well.
Chocolate Cheesecake with Almond Whipped Cream
8 1/2 oz. package chocolate wafer cookies (I found organic ones at Whole Foods)
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
12 oz. package semisweet chocolate, cut into pieces
3 8 oz. packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
8 oz. sour cream
Whipped Cream Layer:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 lbs whole strawberries, rinsed and pat dry
6 oz. raspberries, rinsed and pat dry
- In a food processor, blend cookies until fine. Add butter and blend until the consistency of wet sand. Pour into a 9″ spring form pan. Press about 2/3 of the crumbs onto the sides of the pan to within 1″ of the top. Press the remaining crumbs onto the bottom of the pan.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in cooled chocolate. Adds eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sour ream and beat until smooth. Pour into crumb crust. Bake about 1 hour. Remove to wire rack and cool completely. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.
- With a mixer, beat whipping cream on low until thick but not in peak form. Add almond extract and powdered sugar. Continue beating on low until soft peaks form. You don’t want stiff whipped cream but rather a soft, pillowy cushion for the berries. The true test is if you pull the beaters out and the cream stays lifted. If it falls back, continue beating on low until soft peaks form.
- Remove sides of pan from cheesecake and carefully slide off of the springform bottom and onto a cake stand or serving platter. Slather almond whipped cream on top.
- Garnish with strawberries and raspberries piled ridiculously high. Dust with powdered sugar for a finished look.
More pictures from the evening:
Thank you to my fabulous photographer, Katie Nixon, for capturing the evening on camera! I could not be more thrilled with how the photos came out.
A few snaps from my phone: