I had invited some new Hudson friends to dinner and thought they would mix well with some old Kingston friends - and then, I thought I'd add in a fairly new Kingston friend. He readily agreed, but with an offer. "Why don't you bring the whole dinner to my house," he asked. Well, it was an offer not hard to refuse. This friend, a painter of some renown, lives, from time to time, in a very eccentric Second Empire house complete with a concave slate roof, iron roof cresting, a columned veranda, and a jaw-dropping view of the river. The lavishly painted and decorated rooms change every time one visits. Houses are this man's avocation. There are others - not just the Ulster County perch.
We began our trip to the Left Bank with a drinks stop at the old friends' mid-century modern home - also fairly eccentric - in Kingston. James and Mark call their place, Ringtop Ranch after the street on which it's located. They served their summer of 2012 signature drink, the Ringtop Blackberry Breeze.
Mark makes the base for the cocktail with:
1 1/2 cups simple syrup
1 pint blackberries (or blueberries)
a handful of fresh mint leaves
Blend 1/2 cup simple syrup with the berries and mint. Strain into the remaining simple syrup. Pour into a pitcher and chill.
Make the drink by adding ice to a capacious glass then the guest's choice of gin or vodka - or another clear spirit such as white rum or tequila - mix in an equal amount of the blackberry mix. Float the top with tonic or sparkly water. Garnish with fresh mint.
The drink looks spectacular in their vintage gold-embossed Gucci glasses.
After drinks we caravaned down to the other end of Kingston and our host's home, Cordts Mansion.
Remember, we catered dinner. I made chicken tonnato. This is my kinder and gentler version of the classic northern Italian summertime dish, vitello tonnato - veal with tuna sauce. I poached the chicken - place the breasts in a saucepan and cover with chicken broth and white wine, bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer - until the flesh seems tender and springs back into place when you press a finger on the thickest area. Remove the breasts from the pan and place them in a dish with sides. Soak some paper towels in the broth and cover the breasts with them. Let cool until ready for slicing. Meanwhile puree a can of olive oil-preserved tuna (Italian, if possible) - drained - with a few capers in a food processor. Remove the puree to a medium mixing bowl. Make a mayonnaise in the same, unrinsed food processor with 1 egg (or two) the zest and juice of a lemon. Run the processor until the mixture becomes pale and frothy, then slowly drizzle in a mixture of canola oil- or another neutral oil, and olive oil - until a loose mayonnaise is achieved. Combine the mayo with the tuna puree and reserve.
To serve: Very thinly slice the chicken breasts against the grain. Arrange the chicken slices like cascading dominoes up and down a large serving platter. Smoothly, and generously cover the top with the lemon-tuna mayo. Sprinkle capers over the top to garnish. You might want to frame the platter with lemon slices or wedges as well.
I also made a roasted eggplant dish. I used the slender Asian eggplant from Blue Star Farms. I cut them in half and then into quarters. I rubbed them in olive oil and roasted them in a 400 degree F. oven until they were golden brown on all sides - about 15 minutes. While they were cooking I made a mixture of goat milk yogurt ( R &G, from Cheese! at The Hudson Farmers' Market), extra virgin olive oil, chopped fresh dill and mint, sea salt and a bit of chopped fresh hot pepper. As soon as the eggplant came out of the oven I dumped it into the yogurt mixture and tossed it to coat and let the eggplant absorb the flavors. Serve at room temperature with fresh herb garnish.
James made a delicious panzanella. The bread and tomato salad is having its season right now due to the abundance of heirloom - and other - tomatoes overflowing market bins. He also made a just-right corn and potato salad.
Mark made what is my personal favorite summertime dessert, peach crumble - his is particularly melt-in-your mouth because of the way he manufactures the seemingly simple dish. The rich flavor comes from letting the sliced peaches macerate for a bit in sugar and lemon juice. They are topped with mixture of oatmeal, whole wheat flour, cinnamon, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt which is added to softened butter and mixed together until small clumps form. Cover the fruit with the clumps and bake in a 350 degrees F. oven until the top is golden and the sides are bubbly - 45 -50 minutes. The whole wheat flour and brown sugar give the crumble topping an almost nutty taste.
Mark reheated the crumble and served it with pomegranate molasses, and blackberry ice cream from Lick brought to the party by the Hudson contingency.
Like characters from a Victorian novel we moved from room to room in the grand house in order to find just the right spot to eat our meal. We began on the veranda but were soon covered in mosquito bites. Then we tried one parlor after another 'til we found the coolest one - temperature and setting.
Never refuse a last minute suggestion.
SUSANSIMONSAYS: "Elegantissima" Louise Fili's monograph has just been published. For those of you who love design, food, all things Italian and a good story need to get a copy of this book SUBITO - immediately. As you look and read through the book you will delight at her designs for book covers, food packaging and restaurant logos that you recognize. Although this is Louise's work to date - I hope that she is now busy filling her files with new work for monograph part II.