Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dinner In The Garden ~ A Summer Dinner Party

In true Minnesota summer fashion, it drizzled almost all day long. It was the day of our Dinner party and normally it wouldn't be that big of a deal, but this dinner party was planned to be outside, to celebrate summer, or what was supposed to be our summer. Then it broke. No more rain, a warm evening with just a light breeze. No bugs in sight and then the sun even broke out of the clouds and poured over our beautiful garden, providing the perfect evening to sit on the patio, surrounded by lush greenery and celebrate the fresh foods of the season.

Wherever you live, it's the time of year where fresh produce is coming into season and here in Minnesota we have no shortage of farmer's markets that allow us to celebrate the bounty that our area has to offer. We also have our own family garden that features beautiful strawberries, sweet onions, crispy peas, broccoli, asparagus, zucchini and pumpkin. Surrounding our patio we also have herb gardens that include basil, thyme, rosemary, cilantro and chives. All of this allows us to create some pretty amazing things right from our own garden and then supplement it with additional produce from area farms.

This event started out on Thursday by visiting the farmers market that happens each week in downtown Minneapolis. I ended up with 8 bags of fresh produce, bread, cheese and meats. Then Saturday morning, the cooking began. I wanted to prep as much as I could so that I could enjoy the dinner along with our guests. Creme Brulee was cooked and chilled, veggies were chopped and partially cooked so they could just be finished off right before plating. Everything was ready and setup, including moving the dining room table outside, lanterns hung and places set. We only had to wipe the table down once before the rain stopped.

As guests arrived, we enjoyed the first of five courses, Bacon Wrapped Asparagus as we worked on creating house made soda's from the ingredients they were asked to bring with them. These included a Strawberry-Lemon-Basil Soda as well as Lemongrass-Lime Leaf. While both were very good, the Lemongrass-Lime Leaf was so amazing. It was light and refreshing, just barely sweet and then a touch of cream adds a smooth finish.

Guests were then seated for the remaining courses:

Grilled Flatbread with Caramelized Onions, Manchego Cheese and Micro Greens

Butternut Squash, Rosemary and Parmesan Risotto

Prime Rib with Crispy New Potatoes

Creme Brulee with Fresh Berries

While I think the whole meal turned out pretty amazing, the Creme Brulee was probably the crowning glory. Perfectly creamy, with the telltale crust on top. All I heard was the clinking of spoons and then there were empty dishes. I'll include the recipe below.

Overall it was a beautiful evening spent with friends and great food. I don't think I could have asked for much more.


Creme Brulee
4 cups chilled heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
12 large egg yolks
Demerara or other coarse Sugar

Combine 2 cups of the cream, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean and put seeds and pod into pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to make sure the sugar is combined. Remove from heat and let steep for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Set the oven rack to the lower middle position. Set eight 4 to 5 ounce ramekins on a kitchen towel in a large roasting pan.

When the cream is done steeping, add the remaining 2 cups of cream to cool it down.

Whisk the egg yolks to combine.  Add about 1 cup of the warm cream to the eggs and whisk to combine. Repeat with another cup. Add the remaining cream, whisking until the mixture is combined and a uniform color.  Strain the mixture through a fine meshed strainer. Pour the strained mixture evenly in the ramekins.

Place the roasting pan with the filled ramekins in the oven. Add boiling water to the pan until it is about 2/3 of the way up the side of the ramekins. Be careful not to splash any water into the ramekins.

Bake until the centers of the custards are just barely set, about 20-25 minutes. They should be just barely past the liquid phase. You may have to take them out one at a time.

Let them cool on a rack for two hours and then chill for four hours in the refrigerator.

Sprinkle the top of each custard with 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of Demerara or other coarse sugar. Using a kitchen torch, caramelize sugar slowly to create a crispy shell.

You can eat them immediately or chill for up to 45 minutes uncovered and still retain the crispy shell


  1. I love your lanterns and the menu. I need to have a dinner party. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. What? Creme Brulee and the click of spoons? What about the furtive swipe of flesh on ceramic? Did no one lick out the bowl in sheer food lovers delight? Sad state of affairs.....

    Seriously.... nice going Matt.

  3. It was an amazing night with great people and great food. The Creme Brulee was picture perfect and would definately be a winning 3rd dish on my favorite show, "Chopped"! Thanks for a great evening, Matt. I look forward to an "Iron Chef" night!

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