Saturday, July 4, 2009

Dinner on the Deck

With the wonderful weather we have been having, dinner on the deck was an enticing thought. And with friends Harold and Janet Wood visiting from California and Sally Soest willing to make the trek down here from Seattle, the perfect opportunity presented itself.

I found a menu from Sunset magazine which I had saved (I do have a system!) and decided on the Hawaiian-themed meal. Not pictured, because it was largely devoured before the camera came out, is the bowl of Maui sweet onion chips with a sweet onion dip. For the first time, I was truly successful in caramelizing onions - no burning, just beautiful, golden brown, soft, caramelized onions, which were pureed with buttermilk and sour cream into a simple but tasty dip. I think the trick is to slice the onions pole-to-pole rather than crosswise and to cook them at a VERY low temp for a very long time. I ignored the recipe, which said to use medium heat for 20 minutes and put them on a lower setting and did not look at the clock. It was much longer than 20 minutes, but I honestly don't know how much time it took because I decided they would be done when they were done. And who wouldn't enjoy the aroma of sweet onions turning into gooey goodness?

The salad was easy and just right for a warm evening. Slices of avocado (God's gift to us) and papaya on butter lettuce right out of Bob's garden, topped with a Hawaiian vanilla vinaigrette. Just champagne vinegar, olive oil, infused with a Hawaiian vanilla bean. Nummy.

Our dear Sally is not a seafood fan, so this course subbed chicken for the prawns in the original recipe. Worked great! I marinated the chicken in a coconut milk/garlic/ginger/lime mixture, grilled the tenders on the stovetop grill pan, topped with a little lime juice and toasted coconut. The chicken was tender and the coconut added some crunch.

Entree number two was a pork tenderloin/grilled pineapple sandwich on Hawaiian sweet rolls. I actually found these rolls in our local Safeway - totally unexpected - so I didn't have to find a substitute. The pork was brined in a brown sugar/salt/Hawaiian vanilla mixture for several hours. While the recipe called for grilling it, I roasted it inside (I couldn't face dealing with a hot grill in the hot weather - wuss). After about 20-25 minutes, I basted it with the sauce - hoisin, ketchup, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and soy sauce. I grilled the pineapple slices on the grill pan and basted them with the same char-siu sauce. I cut the rolls on the top and put slices of pork and pineapple in each, topped with a little more sauce. Another success!

I really used Hawaiian vanilla because we had visited the Hawaiian vanilla plantation on the Big Island last year and brought home vanilla and vanilla beans. They use nothing but alcohol and vanilla in their extract, unlike most extracts which add sugar and water. I think the flavor is a bit stronger, but I can't claim to have the world's best palate. I just like the idea of vanilla being purely vanilla - no added sugar.

All these recipes are in the June 2009 issue of Sunset magazine and undoubtedly on their website. None of them was difficult or particularly time-consuming (other than brining/marinating time) and it was a pretty low stress meal to put together.

And the company was even better than the food~truly a wonderful evening of friendship and conversation. Lots to talk about - Sarah Palin's resignation, the woes of school districts around the country, trips and travels. A great way to kick off the July 4th weekend.


  1. This truly was a memorable meal - good friends and good food! Bob & I sharing nerdy appreciation for all things iPhone/iPod Touch, and everyone violating shamelessly that old rule that "politics" is not proper dinner-time conversation! (Maybe because we are all on the same wave-length.) We all love travel, too, so we managed to keep the conversation light and fun anyway!

    But you forgot to mention the dessert - or did you deliberately leave that out since it wasn't a "recipe"? Nonetheless, it was a splendid end to a wonderful meal and being famous for my sweet tooth on seven continents, I just have to say the four kinds of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream really topped off the evening! :-)

    - Harold