Monday, July 21, 2008

Summer nights

One of my favorite things about summer is the way the heat of the day transitions into the most pleasantly warm summer evenings. It’s the perfect weather for an array of night time summer activities such as going to fairs, beach bonfires and strolling around town late into the evening without having to wear a jacket or scarf. It’s also the perfect temperature for dining al fresco. Nothing says summer more than packing a blanket and basket full of scrumptious goodies and dining outdoors. This past weekend I did just that only better! How on earth you may ask can one possibly improve upon something as wonderful as a summer time picnic? With a musical stage production of course! (not just for pizza parties!). The Moonlight Amphitheater in Vista has been putting on fabulous summer stage productions since the 1970’s. You can buy an actual assigned seat for the show but I recommend buying a seat on the lawn. Not only are the lawn spots cheaper but they are the perfect area for a pre performance picnic. When you arrive they give you lawn chairs (which are much more comfy than the assigned seats if you ask me) and then you get to go claim your spot. I recommend getting there super early to stake out a prime spot on the lawn and give yourself plenty of picnicking time. Last summer I caught the last showing of one of my favorites Little Shop of Horrors. The show was spectacular, excellent cast, great music, and a different twist at the end than in the movie. The only down side was that since it was the last show the summer the weather was most definitely starting its transition to fall so by the end of the performance I felt like a popsicle. Luckily the café at the amphitheater has hot chocolate so I was able to warm myself with a cup during intermission. This year I decided to beat the start of the fall chill and attend one of their first shows of the summer, Guys and Dolls. As anticipated it was fabulous and equally fabulous were my picnicking/musical watching companions



Kate and Mark



Stevie B and me

Prior to the start of the show we shared a delicious picnic dinner. Our spread for the night consisted of:

- Herby flatbread
- Gazpacho
- Stilton cheese with apricots on Pecan Nut thin crackers
- Humboldt Fog goat cheese on strawberries
- Roasted red pepper hummus with veggies
- Oatmeal cookies
- Newman’s chocolate bars
- Santa Cruz Organic Lemonade
- White wine

The show for the night did not start till 8pm and we arrived at 6:30 to claim our spot on the green, this gave us plenty of time to enjoy a nice leisurely picnic. Everything was delicious, the hummus and veggies were light and flavorful and easy to pack, the apricot stilton from Trader Joes was scrumptious as always, and the combination of pungent and creamy Humboldt Fog with the sweet strawberries never fails to please. Prior to our summer evening outing my day had been spent in my favorite place, cooking up some of our scrumptious picnic goodies. The herby flatbread was the first on my list of recipes to tackle. I wanted it to be a cross between two of my favorite breads, Indian nann and focaccia. I used mild flavored and finely milled flours for the most part as to not distract from the flavor of the herbs in the bread and give the bread a lighter texture. I decided to make it a flat bread because I thought it would be better suited for dipping in the soup and spreading cheeses on but it could be easily make into a fluffy loaf like traditional focaccia as well. Likewise if you wanted to use this to serve with an Indian dinner or if you wanted to make something more like a pita bread you could leave out the Italian herbs and add others or serve plain instead.

As I combined all the different ingredients in my mixer, waited patiently for the dough to rise, and then finally shaped the breads and cooked them up I had butterflies in my tummy. Could this specific combination of flours, yeast, and binders really turn into the scrumptious bread I had imagined or would I be bringing extra crackers to the picnic instead? I was so pleased to find that the bread turned out perfectly! Texture wise it was spot on to what I had hoped for and the flavor of the herbs and olive oil reminded me of all the delicious focaccia breads I use to make in my gluteny bread making days. I will say though that this bread like many gluten free breads is tastiest when served warm. Not to say that it tastes like rubbish after it has cooled but if you have the option and the means (reheated on the stove, in the microwave, over a fire, or eaten straight from the oven) please do try it warm, you won’t be disappointed.

Herby Flatbread
Makes 6 flat breads or 1 not so flat bread

Ingredients

¾ cup millet flour
½ cup sorghum flour
½ cup cornstarch
½ cup tapioca flour
¼ cup super fine brown rice flour
1 ½ teaspoons xanath gum
1 packet quick rise yeast
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups warm water
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped herbs (I used rosemary, oregano and a smidge of basil)
extra oilve oil and sea salt for topping with

Making the bread

Combine all of the flours and whisk together until combined. Add your flours and all of the other ingredients except for the herbs and oil in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed for 2 minutes then slowly add the oil while you continue to mix for another minute. Once the oil has fully combined with the dough add your chopped herbs of choice and mix on low until the herbs have been evenly dispersed throughout the dough. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with a towel and let the dough rise in a warm place (such as an oven, turned off of course!) for 1 hour. If you would prefer to make this into a loaf of bread instead of flat breads at this point you should put the dough into a greased 9 inch cake pan and let it rise in the pan.

After an hour has past remove the bowl of dough from its warm cozy place, it should appear to have puffed up and risen just slightly. If you want to bake a loaf of bread brush the top of the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Put the bread in an oven preheated to 400 degrees and bake for 15 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and cooked throughout. To continue on making the flat breads grab a plate or pie tin and sprinkle it with 1/4 cup of tapioca flour and set aside. Divide the dough into 6 pieces and using floured hands shape the 6 pieces into balls. The dough will be pretty sticky so using the flour will keep it form clinging to your hands and keep the balls from sticking to each other too much. Place the balls in a bowl and let sit for 15 minutes.


After the dough has rested use your hands shape a few of the balls into a flat pancake shape.


You may need to flour your hands again to keep the dough from sticking to them. Place the flattened balls onto a baking sheet sprayed with a non stick spray. Lightly coat the top of the bread with a smidge of olive oil, this will help prevent the bread from burning and also remove any of the flour residue that was left behind from shaping. Broil the breads in the oven for 2 or 3 minutes on each side, watching to make sure that the bread does not burn.


Once the breads are done remove from the oven to cool and repeat process until all the breads are done.


Enjoy your bread straight from the oven or save for later, they will keep for 2 or 3 days if stored in the refrigerator wrapped tightly in plastic and foil.

Next on the list of picnicy goodies to whip up (literally) was a gazpacho soup. This was another culinary first for me. I had tried gazpacho a few times before so I had a pretty good idea of what to add to it. With gazpacho it’s best to use organic and most importantly fresh ingredients in order to make your soup as flavorful and healthy as possible. It’s easy to make this soup as spicy or mild as you like, I made a very mild soup for our picnic since the spice tolerance of my picnic companions varied. If you find this is the case for your dinner party as well you can always have chili powder and hot sauce on the side for guests to add to their soup as they please.

Gazpacho
Serves 4 or 5 hungry friends


Ingredients

3 heirloom tomatoes, cut in half
3 roma tomatoes, cut in half
2 cups V8 (or other tomato juice mix)
½ red bell pepper, roughly chopped
½ green bell pepper, roughly chopped
2 sweet roasted red peppers
¼ cup red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon basil, chopped
3 tablespoons cilantro leaves
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon jalapeño, chopped (if you like it spicy)
juice from ½ lime
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (if you like it spicy)
salt to taste
1 cucumber, peeled seeded and chopped
1 cup frozen sweet corn

Add all of the ingredients to your blender except for the cucumber and corn and blend until all of the veggies have been pulverized to a thick soup consistency. Add the cucumber and blend for a couple seconds to break it up a smidge but not completely then add the corn and mix by hand. Pop the soup in the fridge to chill until ready to serve. For the picnic I pre portioned the soup into 4 containers and then packed them in an ice chest to keep cool until we were ready to eat.

After all the food was prepared I packed everything up in the ice chest and picnic basket and headed out to enjoy our picnic dinner. Check out the super cute basket I got at Cost Plus: World Market.


This was the first picnic outing for my new basket and it worked like a gem. Light yet sturdy and the perfect size for a small dinner. It even has a spiffy spot to put your wine bottle too!

The picnic was a delicious success and one that I look forward to repeating soon on my next visit to the Moonlight Amphitheater.

1 comment:

Jamie said...

Your blog looks so delicious! My mouth is watering!