I was recently invited to cook a multi-course dinner for a friend’s birthday party. It was a classic market dinner fueled, by creative inspiration from the early summer produce at the farmer’s market.
Although nobody at the party had this dietary restriction, somehow the meal turned out completely gluten-free. I wasn’t trying to do this; it just happened. So it’s proof that you can have a great dinner party for your gluten-free diet friends, no problem!
Our host decorated the table with beautiful flowers from the market, which looked lovely with all the food I prepared.
Fresh Berry & Lavender Goat Cheese “Milkshake”
I knew I wanted to do a dessert with fresh berries, so I decided to incorporate them into the amuse as well to bookend the meal. I blended together raspberries, blackberries, golden rasberries, cherries and mulberries, then strained out the seeds. I took the fresh berry juices and blended it with a lavender infused fresh goat cheese to create a creamy, sweet, yet slightly savory “milkshake.” I topped it off with champagne, a dollop of fresh whipped cream and a sprinkle of merlot salt.
The slightly salty cheese was actually the dominating flavor in this liquid course, but it was punctuated by the flavor of berries and cherries in every sip. The effervescence from the champagne helped deliver the different flavors and added another playful component to this course.
The bright pink color matched the table setting and the birthday girl’s outfit! Also a match with the light pink Rosé that was paired. A perfect introduction to the meal.
Grilled Heirloom Lettuce Salad
At the market, we found some attention grabbing lettuces that I hadn’t seen before. Beautiful red and green raddichio that looked like bok choy and a long slender lettuce called “sword leaf” lettuce that smelled of basmati rice.
With the discussion of grilled salad fresh on my mind from recent episode of my podcast, The Table Set, I decided that to grill the lettuces.
The sword leaf off the grill tasted like buttered basmati rice. It was great with homemade blue cheese dressing, shaved baby squash and peppers and sliced sweet cherries.
Corn Chowder with Fried Speck
Early summer sweet corn seemed like a fun ingredient for the next course. To really infuse the dish with sweet corn flavor, I first made a corn stock by simmering the naked corn cobs with onions and garlic. Then I cooked the corn with chopped sweet potatoes in the stock, puréed it and finished it with shredded cheese.
Crisp pan-fried smoky speck made a lovely garnish, as did the corn kernels that I fried in the residual speck fat in my frying pan!
Sautéed Morrel Mushrooms with Poached Quail Egg
Seared Halibut with Lemon Caper Sauce
Morrel mushrooms are quite possibly my favorite type of mushrooms. They are harvested wild from the mountains in Northern California at certain times of the year. Seeing them at the market, I knew they were a must for this meal.
I simply cooked them down in ample butter and salt and nothing else, to let their flavor shine through. Topped with a single soft-poached quail egg, the beautiful yolk oozing into the mushrooms.
Seafood was a request of the birthday girl, so I decided to go with a simple halibut topped with a classic lemon caper sauce. Fresh lemon juice, shallots, garlic, butter and salt-packed capers.
I also decided to highlight the fish by letting it be the only thing on the plate. No vegetable, no rice, just fish. It was a good choice, because it let everyone have room for dessert.
Flour-less Chocolate Cake with Fresh Berries, Cream & Raspberry Honey
Because it wouldn’t be a birthday without cake!
I decided to go with a dark, intensely chocolatey flour-less cake, paired with the beautiful fresh berries, whipped cream and a drizzle of sweet-tart raspberry honey (yes, that’s honey from raspberry flowers!).
We finished the meal with a little champagne, another wink back to the amuse at the beginning of the meal.