Both our teenagers were out of town this weekend, so I had the time and the freedom to plan a quiet supper for two this Sunday (a preview of our life to come, I should note).
And even though it’s mid-summer, our state has been blessed with rain and moderate temps (78 at 7:00 pm last night) so I arranged a table featuring many shades of green — a nod to the lush foilage that surrounds us on our modest acreage.
I usually set my table first thing Sunday morning when the house is quiet and I have time to putter. This week’s arrangement had my mouth watering before I’d even eaten breakfast.
The key to an interesting table, I think, is layers. This week, mine had six: Runner, place mat, charger, dinner plate, salad plate, napkin.
Some say you don’t need chargers when you use place mats. I’ve always believed more is more and it shows on my tables.
And flowers are a must for me. Mine are usually simple, but something doesn’t feel quite right without them. Grocery store sunflowers and a few sprigs of wildflowers from outside my kitchen door made this week’s arrangement easy. By the way, the vase is vintage (McCoy pottery purchased in a thrift store in Colorado two years ago) and is the perfect size for one of the two vintage flower frogs I purchased last weekend).
When my kids are home, I serve Sunday Supper family style for the sake of convenience. But because we were alone this weekend, I decided on a three-course menu. We had plenty of time to savor this meal so there was no need to hurry it along.
A Sunday Supper for Two
Classic shrimp cocktail
Grilled peach salad with shaved country ham and summer herbs
Crab cakes with buttermilk-basil dressing and marinated tomatoes and corn
Classic Shrimp Cocktail
I happened to be in St. Louis on Friday (which was handy, because I doubt I could have found fresh crab meat in our small town). But faced with a 90-minute drive home, I also picked up a pound of frozen shrimp to keep my crab meat cool. With an extra bag of shrimp on hand, I figured why not serve it as an appetizer?
I steamed my shrimp for less than five minutes, then chilled it for several hours. I always make my own cocktail sauce and it couldn’t be easier. For two people, start with 1/3 cup ketchup, a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, and a tsp of horseradish. Mix well, taste, and adjust according to your preferences, adding a bit of lemon juice and/or hot sauce if you like. I prefer my cocktail sauce with a bite, so I probably add more horseradish and hot sauce than the average cook.
Grilled Peach Salad with Shaved Country Ham and Summer Herbs
(from the July 2011 issue of House Beautiful)
1/4 cup plus 2 TBLS olive oil
1 TBLS balsamic vinegar
4 peaches, halved and pitted
2 ounces country ham, thinly sliced
6 cups baby arugula, washed and drained
1/2 cup chopped mixed fresh mint, parsley and basil
Juice of one lime
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled soft goat cheese
Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal or gas grill and let the coals burn to gray ash with a slight red glow; if using a gas grill, heat the grill on medium.
Combine 2 TBLS of the olive oil with the vinegar, stir to combine, and brush the mixture on the cut sides of the peaches. Grill the peaches, cut-side down, until golden-brown grill marks appear and the skins start to loosen, about 3 minutes. Remove from the grill. When cool enough to handle, peel and discard the skins, which should slip off easily.
Heat 1 TBLS of the remaining olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium high heat until sizzling hot. Add the ham and cook until cripsy, about 2 minutes per side. Remove and drain on a paper towel.
Place the arugula, herbs, remaining 3 TBLS olive oil, the lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl and toss to mix. Chop the peaches into large chunks or quarters and add to the salad, tossing to mix. Transfer the salad to a large platter or individual serving plates.
Break the ham into large pieces and scatter on top. Sprinkle evenly with the goat cheese and serve at room temperature.
Serves 4 to 6.
Crab Cakes with Buttermilk-Basil Dressing and Marinated Tomatoes and Corn
(from the July 2011 issue of House Beautiful)
For the crab cakes:
1.5 pounds jumbo lump crabmeat
1.5 cups fresh bread crumbs (made from 4 or 5 slices white bread with the crusts removed and processed in the food processor)
2 TBLS mayonaisse
1 large egg white
1/2 lemon, juiced
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
For the dressing:
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
2 TBLS olive oil
A few drops of fresh lemon juice
Sea salt to taste
For the marinated tomatoes and corn:
2 ears of fresh corn
2 vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 cups grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 TBLS Old Bay seasoning
2 TBLS fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 fat TBLS of tiny fresh basil leaves
Seal salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Mix crabmeat, bread crumbs, mayonnaise, egg white, and lemon juice until just blended. Season with salt and pepper. Shape into six large cakes. Put them on a plate, cover loosely, and place them in the refrigerator to chill.
To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a blender and puree on high until smooth; salt to taste. The flavor should remind you of classic ranch dressing. This sauce should be served at room temperature, so pull it out of the refrigerator 15 minutes before you plate up.
Soak the unshucked corn in a bowl of water for a half hour, then grill on a the hot grill for about 20-30 minutes. If preparing both the peach salad and the crab cakes in one meal as I did, grill your corn first, then your peaches. If you are only preparing the crab cakes and don’t want to light the grill for just two ears of corn, you can roast the corn in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes (unshucked, and after soaking).
Once the ears are cool enough to handle, peel the husks back, remove the silk, and slice the kernels from the cob using a sharp knife.
Cut up the tomatoes, but don’t make them too small or delicate. Toss the tomatoes and corn with the Old Bay, lemon juice, olive oil, basil, sea salt, and pepper, and let it marinate in the fridge to chill. (Don’t do this more than an hour in advance or the salt will pull too much water out of the tomatoes.)
Take the crab cakes out of the refrigerator. Heat 3 TBLS olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the crab cakes and cook for about 4 minutes on each side until they are nice and crisp. To assemble, spoon some dressing on each plate and place a crab cake in the center. Sprinkle tomato and corn mixture over the top and serve immediately.
There’s only one word for this meal. Ohmygod.
Or this: totallyworthit.
Just look at this salad:
The combination of the salty country ham and the sweet grilled peaches, combined in a light lemon dressing is sublime. My husband liked the tang of the goat cheese, but I would have left it off in favor of some crunchy walnuts for contrast.
Still, it was as good as salad gets.
And the crab cake? Lordy, lordy, they were heaven on earth.
I added 1/8 tsp of cayenne pepper to the recipe, so my crab cakes had the tiniest of bites. They were tender and moist and sweet and the perfect compliment to the corn/tomato relish and the buttermilk dressing.
The dressing was like a perfect ranch recipe, with a dose of pesto. It reminded me a bit of Green Goddess dressing, only so much better.
Next time, I’ll dial back the Old Bay seasoning by half in the relish. Still, it was fresh and sweet and a lovely, fresh contrast to the fried crab cakes.
This recipe isn’t as involved as it seems. The dressing could be made a day or more in advance. The relish would keep at least a day, I’m certain, if you waited to add the Old Bay right before you serve it. And I’m convinced you could make and reheat the crab cakes with little difference in quality. Next time I have a dinner party, I’m making these crab cakes (in advance) for an appetizer. They’re a showstopper, sure to win the favor of anyone who tastes even a bite.
This was an adult supper to swoon over. Perfect for a table for two.