Saturday, May 2, 2009

Ladies Who Lunch

May 1 is Norway's Labor Day and we all have the day off. I used this opportunity to have a lunch amongst friends to celebrate spring and maybe to celebrate labor? The day for a celebration of the appearance of spring could not have been more perfect. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, the breeze was cool and the sun was incredibly warm. To put it in one word: gorgeous. The perfect day. In attendance was the usual cast of international and ecclectic characters. We had Spicy Dog, Nina, Oslo Eva, and our new friend, Victoria. The highlight of the day was when Oslo Eva recounted the story of how she came to wear a box on her head for a week to disguise her identity. Classic story.

I thought an informal luncheon spread across a buffet would suit the mood, the food, and the group well. I set up a little buffet station in our dining room and it looked perfect. The pictures do it no justice. Our dishware is a pale yellow, antique-retro Californian set and I have some yellow and green serving dishes that were a gift from when my kitchen was themed in "green." The pale yellow and green nicely complemented a pretty bouquet of pale yellow, white, and green flowers. We had a chilled bottle of proseco, chilled water, and enough flatware for all my guests. It was the prettiest table setting I have ever put together.

How was the food, you ask? It was a great lunch. The food was light and ample enough for everyone to eat to their heart's content. I made a wild rice salad, a roasted shrimp salad, and chive biscuits with a lemon-scented goat cheese spread. The roasted shrimp salad and chive biscuits were recipes of Ina Garten but the wild rice salad and the goat cheese were all mine, and they were fabulous.

To finish off the luncheon, I made Art Smith's Hummingbird Cake and while it was deliciously sweet and had great flavor from the roasted pecans and bananas, I took issue with the texture of the cake. It was far more dense than what I was expecting and very filling. His recipe for the frosting was way too sweet and I had to cut the sweetness with additional cream cheese. While it was a nice way to celebrate the coming of spring with an American South tradition, I don't think I will be making this cake again.

I love having the girls over at the house for a fun and relaxing meal with good wine and good company and if I can find a way to celebrate small things like the coming of spring, I am sure I will have many more occasions for gatherings like these.

Wild Rice Salad
Serves 4-6

3 cups wild rice
1 c. diced cucumber
1 ½ cup diced chicken breast (I cheated and bought a roasted chicken from the grocery store)
2 scallions, finely chopped
½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup roughly chopped toasted pecans
2 tbs champagne vinegar (or a white wine or sherry vinegar would be fine too)
3 tbs fresh squeezed orange juice
2 tsp honey
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Cook the rice in a large pot of well salted water. To salt the water, add 1 tsp of salt for every quart. While the rice is cooking, dice the cucumber, chicken, scallions and pecans and add them to a large mixing bowl.

For the dressing, blend all the ingredients in a blender or a food processor. Using a blender or a food processor emulsifies the dressing and really mixes everything up really well. If you don’t have either of those, you can also use a whisk and mix it by hand.

When the rice is cooked to your preferred doneness (I like my rice cooked through but not soggy), drain the rice in a colander. Let the rice cool for 5 minutes before adding it to the mixing bowl with all the other ingredients. Add about ¾ of the dressing and all of the cranberries to the warm rice and toss well. Check for seasoning. If the rice is a bit dry, add the rest of the dressing but if it’s moist enough but lacking salt or pepper, adjust the seasoning only. The rice will soak up quite a bit of the liquid so I like to reserve a quarter of the dressing to add in before serving.
Put the salad into the refrigerator and let it sit for at least an hour before serving. This allows the rice to absorb the dressing and makes the flavors all come together. I like to take the rice salad out of the refrigerator about half an hour before serving to take the chill off. At this point, I also add the remaining dressing and check for seasoning once more. This can certainly be made a day in advance. In fact, it will probably be better that way.

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