Dinner parties happen with some consistency and frequency in the house. Usually it’s to commemorate a special occasion but sometimes we have people over to thank them for their friendship and fill our house with noise and cheer. It’s the kind of noise reserved for good friends spending time together, laughing and sharing stories. Each menu is crafted for the occasion, focusing on local, seasonal goods brought to the table one course at a time. Food and friendship brings us together, but there’s always something special waiting for them when they get here.
In the days leading up to the dinner, I start taking notes relating to the season. A pen and stack of paper sit on my lap as I plan out the meal and ingredients needed. I turn to magazines and books for inspiration, but often the only inspiration I need can be found at the market down the street. So I scribble down anything and everything that comes to mind and slowly narrow it down. I head to the market and start crossing items off the list, occasionally altering my choices depending on what is stocked and fresh.
Saturday starts off slowly. Over a coffee I begin breaking down the day. Time issues, cooking schedules, prep and planning. As the day winds into the afternoon the main is usually ready for the oven and resting until needed. Dessert is well under way as is the soup, which is simmering away and building flavour on the stove. By mid-afternoon I’m putting the finishing touches on the hors d’oeuvres and things are moving along nicely.
With a couple of hours to go until our guests arrive I start muddling, mixing and making the cocktail for the night. I pull out my shaker and bar tools and start muddling the cucumbers and agave nectar. Almost methodically I work step by step until I have the flavour just right. I pour myself a glass and settle in. The first taste hits all the right notes. Now, with my glass still close by, I make a pitcher full, altering the quantities to make enough for everyone. And seconds.
The last minutes of the day feel like the calm before the storm, when things get silent and still before the clock reminds us how little time we have left. We are moments from a flurry of activity in our house. My wife has the mood set, table prepared and night’s music in rotation. She dims the lights and tries the cocktail. Instant love. We share our last moment alone together over a drink. And then the doorbell rings and the ritual settles in.
She heads to the door while I stay in the kitchen, stirring the pots and looking over everything one last time. I can hear the voices in the distance and the mood is light and cheerful. I line up ten rock glasses and pour the contents of the pitcher into them, each one the same as the last. I top them all with a dill sprig and add a quartered lime. I load them on a tray and wait while they continue to filter in.
By now some of our guests approach me. I smile. “Hey! Welcome to our home! Glad you could make it tonight. Help yourselves to a cocktail, it’s especially made for tonight!” We like to start things right. We let them know all our dinner parties begin with a drink. It sets the tone for the evening and lets them know they’re in good hands and they’ll be taken care good care of.
Yield: 1 cocktail
Glassware: Lexington Old Fashion Glass
Jigger or a shot glass
2 oz (60 ml) Vodka
2/3 oz (30 ml) Agave Nectar
1/4 cup cucumber, roughly chop
2 sprigs of dill
1/2 lime, quartered
pinch of coarse salt
2 tbsp. infused simple syrup (recipe below)
sparkling water, to top
sprig of dill, for garnish
cucumber slice, for garnish
1. Muddle the cucumber, dill, lime and agave nectar and coarse salt in a shaker.
2. Add the infused simple syrup and ice to the shaker. Shake well for 30 seconds.
2. Press the cucumber slice inside the top of the glass. Fill the glass with ice and the mixed drink. Top the drink with mineral water and garnish with a dill sprig.
Infused Simple Syrup
Yield: 1 1/2 cups
1 cup (235 ml) sugar
1 cup (235 ml) water
A handful of fresh dill with stems, cut into large pieces
1/2 an English Cucumber, chopped
1 lime, chopped
1. Place the dill, cucumber, lime, sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Simmer the mixture, stirring until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.
3. Allow the mixture to cool. Strain, reserving the liquid.
4. Place the strained liquid in the fridge until chilled.
This syrup can be made up until 1 week ahead of time and kept in the fridge until ready to use.
Mike is the boy behind the blog Verses From My Kitchen.