My sister-in-law's (Emily) birthday is this week, so last weekend we decided to throw her a birthday barbecue. Emily knows how to throw a good party. She was the one that surprised me on my 40th birthday by decorating our house with streamers and balloons. She planned and organized my bridal shower which was a huge hit. She is extremely organized and thrifty and this was my attempt to do something special for her.
Whenever I have Emily and family over I see it as a culinary challenge because their food repertoire is limited, in the sense that they like plain, lightly seasoned food, plus there are two little adorable munchkins in attendance, a 9 and 4 year old. Being who I am, I work hard to come up with a menu that I know they'll like. When it comes to feeding and entertaining people, I don't do anything halfway as my husband knows. I usually cook too much food (which he enjoys the rest of the week) and even though I don't consider myself a perfectionist, I expect everything to be perfect. After the many parties that we've hosted, my husband knows the drill. Stand at attention and wait for commands. I couldn't do it without him!
This was the menu for the evening. The appetizers included homemade parmesan cheese sticks, chips and onion dip (Emily and kids favorite), fresh fruit (pineapple and strawberries), pigs in a blanket - I knew the kids would like these, Almond Punch - to which the adults could add their preferred alcohol. For dinner I served this panzanella, a Basil Corn Salad and marinated chicken - stay tuned for these recipes in the following weeks. The birthday cake was a Texas Sheet Cake with M&Ms on top, served with a scoop of Cookies and Cream ice cream. I knew it was a success when at 10pm the kids left saying, "Mommy, I am so full."
Panzanella is an Italian bread salad or sometimes called "leftover salad" popular in the summer months. It includes day to week old sliced bread, fresh tomatoes, basil, olive oil and vinegar but can be made with any of your favorite ingredients. The original recipe came from Ina Garten but I have made a few changes to the ingredients.
Grilled Mediterranean Panzanella (adapted from Ina Garten)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
Salt and Pepper
1 large ripe tomato or 1 pack of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
10 large basil leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
1 red onion, sliced into 2 inch pieces
1 red pepper, seeded, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 yellow pepper, seeded, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 jar of marinated artichokes, drained - can substitute regular canned or frozen artichokes
1/2 loaf of french or country loaf bread or about 6-8 slices
Mix cut onion and peppers with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper. Place on a hot grill or grill pan. Grill on low for about 10 minutes, turning after 5 minutes. Remove from grill and cover with aluminum foil. Cut sliced bread into 1 inch cubes and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Place on grill and toast them until golden brown.
In a small bowl, mix Dijon, garlic, vinegar and 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.