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Cooking for a weekend crowd: keep it simple and tasty

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Last weekend's summer celebration at Sweetlife Farm included planning meals for a crowd, since several of the artists who joined us, and my brother who came out for a visit and to help out all weekend had long travel times and were staying over. One even brought his bed with him, in the form of a handmade gypsy wagon which was available for tours throughout the weekend. With long days and lots to do, I searched for ways to keep the menu tasty but simple. 

The first night featured a pork loin which had been blanketed with a spicy rub for 2 days; before putting it on the grill at 400 for about an hour, I poked it all over with a sharp knife, inserted bits of fresh garlic, then draped bacon over the top and secured it with toothpicks. We stuck a thermometer in it, closed the lid and sipped cocktails on the patio while we waited for it to come out at 140 degrees, all succulent and juicy. 

Well, some of us sipped our cocktails in the kitchen while we chatted and made a roasted potato salad with cubed potatoes, turned cauliflower and onions into pieces, chopped herbs and julienned green beans picked from the garden. The potatoes, onions and cauliflower roasted in the oven with a bit of olive oil while the pork loin cooked, and then were tossed with the herbs, uncooked beans and a lemon-tahini dressing to accompany the lovely pork roast. I love the flexible no-rules approach to cooking that Heather Burger used in her blog "More, Please" for this recipe!

For dessert, I baked off some raspberry-cranberry scones my friend Lynn Green brought over earlier in the week. Instead of using them as intended for breakfast items, I turned them into shortcake served hot out of the oventopped with a dollop of Bob's new Raspberry Preserve with Meyer Lemon, sweetened whip cream and a dusting of grated lemon rind. They were gone in short order.....

The second night was the biggest challenge, since we had 15 hungry mouths to feed. Here's the menu:

Chicken thighs thrown on the grill, basted several times with a melted mixture of a jar of our Smoked Poblano Pepper Jelly, a half cup fresh lemon juice and a half cup of butter. This makes enough to baste 20 pieces of chicken....

Hasselback potatoes: yummy baked potatoes 

Preheat the oven to 350F. Wash and dry potatoes, trim off any eyes or unsightly bits. Leave skins on.Trim a thin bit off the bottom of each potato, enabling them to sit flat without rolling.Place on a cutting board two chopsticks, one on each side of the potato to avoid cutting right through.Cut slits through each potato until you hit the chopstick. Cut approx 1/4 inch.In a saucepan, add the olive oil.Add the whole garlic, crushed and peeled.Add the rosemary to the oil and heat up oil to sweat the ingredients a little.Open up the potato slits and pour some of the infused oil or brush it on generously.Season with salt and pepper.Place in oven for 60-70 minutes (edges should be crispy).Melt the butter in the same saucepan with garlic and rosemary. Remove the potatoes from the oven and brush generously with the melted butter. Sprinkle with chives.

Watermelon, Cucumber, Fresh Mint and Feta Salad

  • 1 small red onion, halved and sliced into thin half-moons
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice, or more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 seedless watermelon, cut into cubes
  • 3 baby cucumbers, seeded and cut into cubes
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves, sliced thinly
  1. Mix red onion with lime juice in a bowl; set side to marinate at least 10 minutes. Stir olive oil into mixture.
  2. Toss watermelon, baby cucumbers, and feta cheese together in a large bowl. Pour the red onion mixture over the watermelon mixture; toss to coat. Sprinkle mint over the salad; toss.

For dessert I got out the yellow plum sorbet I made with very ripe plums given to us last weekend by friends and served it with The Barefoot Contessa's favorite Cookie loaded with oatmeal and chunks of chocolate made by my dear friend Lynn. Everybody went to bed fat and happy.....

Third night. We were all dead tired, with no energy for being gourmet chefs. Luckily, I had made and frozen a big batch of meatballs, which we heated up on the stove in our new Cook on Clay 4 quart casserole, and served it with our go-to pasta we learned how to make after eating it in Italy years ago: tossed in olive oil heated with lots of fresh garlic and red pepper flakes, then finished off with chopped fresh parsley and/or basil from the garden and grated parmesan cheese. The secret to this dish is to not skimp on the ingredients, so there is plenty of tasty stuff to mop up with some of Bob's chewy Italian style bread you happen to have on hand. A big garden salad finished it-and us-off. Dessert was an absolutely scrumptious chocolate walnut pie made and given to us by neighbor and chef Heater Andrus of Intentional Table. It was the perfect ending to a great weekend.

I have to say that it is most satisfying to feed a crowd who eats every last morsel. Keep it simple and tasty, and it works every time. Help in the kitchen from your friends makes it even nicer! Thanks Lynn and Sherry!