Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sunday night: Friends al fresco

I've been talking about having friends over since before summer. My building has a nice backyard, but there was no patio furniture. I finally took care of that, and still, general busy life was preventing it. I finally pushed through, and boy was it worth it. It comes down to: I love my friends. I love summer. I love entertaining. Such a great night.

There's something magical about being outside on a summer evening, and the magic is intensified by candlelight. I had about 10 of my closest friends over for drinks and appetizers. I made a couple things: pita triangles with labneh and mashed garbanzo beans, a slaw of jicama, cucumber, and nectarines, and a pitcher of drinks that, as the night progressed, was christened the 'spa tonic'. Well... if vodka is your idea of a spa treatment, then yes, this fits the bill. the guests helped fill the table -- several bottles of wine, 2 dozen Diddy Riese cookies (Diddy Riese is a beloved cookie place in Westwood with a steady line out the door because they sell decadent cookies for 35 cents each), some totally smooshy pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, hummus, and more.

Aside from the setting and the food though, the people were the thing. As I moved from conversation to conversation, I was never disappointed. Alon had brought an advance copy of his book (!!), so race and culture were hot topics. In another corner, Dave and Jason waxed intellectual about music ranging from John Coltrane to Fiona Apple, from Tori Amos to Dr. Dre. In yet another, Rachel had turned a sock into a hand puppet, and Alan was trying to eat its head. I love my friends.

It was a school night, so we wound down pretty early, but everyone helped clean up, and a small crew stayed to kept me company in the kitchen with our own variety of amateur psychoanalysis and master dishwashing stylings. What a way to cap off summer's most perfect weekend.

Pita Triangles with Labneh and Mashed Garbanzo Beans

For the garbanzos:
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans
1 clove garlic
juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 Tbs ground cumin
salt and pepper

4 pitas (I use whole wheat)
1/2 C labneh
1 1/2 Tbs paprika
1 1/2 Tbs zaatar
16-24 cherry tomatoes

Prepare the garbanzo beans: mix all ingredients together with a food processor. Add more olive oil to smooth out the mixture if necessary.

Cut each pita evenly into 4-6 triangles. Toast triangles in toaster oven until dry and slightly browned. Allow to cool. Meanwhile, cut each cherry tomato in half.

Spread half of each pita with labneh, and the other half with the garbanzo mixture. Sprinkle labneh with zaatar; sprinkle garbanzo with paprika. Top each triangle with 2 tomato halves, flat face down.

Makes 16-24 appetizers.

Ingredient notes:

- Labneh is middle eastern yogurt cheese. Except it's not really cheese. It's yogurt, strained of much of its water, until its consistency is like a creamy spreadable cheese. It's available in middle eastern stores, and here in LA, they have it at Trader Joe's, packaged as Mediterranean Cheese-style Yogurt. In a pinch, you could drain the water from plain yogurt by hanging it in a cheesecloth or sticking an end of a folded paper towel into the yogurt, and letting it sit for several hours with the other end in a bowl to catch the drained liquid.

- Zaatar is a middle eastern spice blend consisting of sesame seeds and various herbs. You can find it in middle eastern stores. In a pinch, quickly toast some sesame seeds and dried thyme and/or oregano in a pan, and use that mix instead.

Jicama, Nectarine, and Cucumber Slaw

2 large firm white nectarines
4 persian cucumbers
~1/2 jicama (2 cups julienned)
1 lemon (for juice and zest)
1 Tbs fruity olive oil
1/2 C minced cilantro
1 Tbs pepitas
pinch chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

Peel jicama. Cut nectarines, cucumbers, and jicama into matchsticks. Mix in a large bowl with lemon juice, lemon zest, and the rest of the ingredients. Serve chilled.

Cucumber Spa Tonic with Minty Sugar-Salt

This was going to be a blended drink, but my roommate's blender has never been used in the 4 years I've lived with her, and as I found out on Sunday, will never be used again. No matter, it's super-summery, and very cool and refreshing. It's based on this recipe. Pitcher after pitcher were a huge hit on Sunday night.

for the Minty Sugar-Salt:
4 Tbs coarse salt
5 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs finely minced fresh mint

2 Tbs sugar
a handful of fresh mint
1 lemon, thinly sliced
2 C ice
1 inch of hothouse cucumber, sliced
1 C vodka
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 C water

To make sugar-salt, mix all ingredients together in a small plate.

Muddle mint, sugar, and lemon slices in the bottom of a pitcher with a wooden spoon. If you have a minute, let it sit a while. Add ice, then cucumbers, vodka, lemon juice, and water.

To serve, wet the rim of a glass with lemon, dip in sugar-salt to cover, and fill glass with tonic, making sure to get a couple slices of cucumber into the glass.

A final note: This post marks a milestone for this little blog, as I'm entering it to be a part of not one, but two food blog events. I'm new to all this, but from what I understand, you make some stuff that fits the theme, you write it up, you post it with some pictures, and some gracious food blogger acts as 'host', posting a round-up on his or her site. The first is called Blog Party, and requires an appetizer and a cocktail. The theme for this round was Cool as a..., and the idea was to minimize cooking as much as possible. The only cooking on the pita thingies is toasting the bread, and the spa tonic is certainly cool as a cucumber. The second is Summer Salad Days, and the jicama slaw is both summer and salad. So the guest list for my little backyard party has grown a bit. Welcome to the party, blogosphere!


  1. Some us are old enough to remember when Diddy Reese cookies just cost a quarter. Ah, those were the days.

  2. SO GOOD!!! I am just down in Seal Beach by the way.

    Thank you for joining us in summer salads! The round up will be up in a few days.

  3. Pita triangles looks delicious ! Sounds doable even though I don't have all the ingredients .


  4. God! what a wonderful looking evening...and all that wonderful food. Lucky guests!!!

  5. tsp - yes, i am one of those old-enough people. 25-cent cookies, buck-fitty subs, in-n-out, and noah's chococolate chip bagels. too many cheap simple pleasures in good-old-westwood (and sak's teriyaki! and 1.25 margaritas! i could go on and on!).

    gabriella - thank you for hosting! this event was right up my alley. and you live by the beach... makes summer even summerier!

    foodie's - true, a couple of the ingredients lean towards the exotic, but you can get creative with stuff you have on hand -- any 2 complementary spreads would work great.

    thanks ruth! We had a great time, and I must say, in this case, the host was the lucky one =)