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Slow Foods Dinner in August

Our friends, David Mervis & Donna Musarra, invited us to cook for a fund raiser dinner for the Slow Foods Convivium in Fayetteville, AR. David & Donna's newly remodeled fabulous Victorian farmhouse includes an incredible kitchen and so I volunteered Josh, Adam and myself for the event. Having been one of the 5,000 participants in the first Slow Foods international conference in Turin, Italy in 2004, I have a strong interest in the movement toward eating locally grown produce and supporting area farmers.

Our goals for the evening included using locally grown food, from our own garden as well as items from the Fayetteville Farmer's Market. We wanted to demonstrate some of the food items while people watched and ate. And we wanted to use as few dishes as possible. It was enough work preparing and demonstrating 8 courses of food for 25 people, washing multiple courses of dishes would not have been fun.

My choice for "dishes" were freshly washed redbud leaves, basil leaves and canna leaves cut into napkin-sized portions. For serving the menu items, we used whole canna leaves with the exception of the cold cucumber soup and the dessert, which was Black Tea and Rose Sorbet served with Lavender cookie.

The menu list included the following:
Josh's freshly baked Swiss Bread Braids with Rose Butter (Josh churned butter in his grandmother's antique butter churn, while people watched and drank wine. He had a 3 pound block of freshly churned butter ready to serve).

After bread and butter, we served Dirty Cheese, a quick and tasty appetizer made of chopped fresh garlic chives, oregano, sweet marjoram and parsley. Cubes of farmer's cheese, tossed with the freshly chopped herbs and a teaspoon of olive oil, were displayed on a large canna leaf with toothpicks.

Next came Heirloom Tomatoes and Goat Cheese, with balsamic vinegar, served on red cabbage leaves.

Then The Great War Cucumber-Dill Soup, a recipe from my childhood that was a result of 2 neighbors who fought an entire summer over a mistakenly thrown yellow cucumber that thoughtlessly went flying over a neighbor's fence. With that we served a Parmesan Cracker from my Homemade Crackers Using Herbs book.

Next were Vietnamese Summer Rolls, served on heart-shaped redbud leaves, with an Achocha and Cucumber Dipping Sauce.

I'd made Curried Cracker bowls by rolling out the cracker dough and putting over the outside of large cupcake tins and baking until crisp. In those we served Adam's mixture of basils with a bit of baby lettuces, some begonia flowers and rose petals, and a few red currant tomatoes, drizzled over with a Red Raspberry Vinegar I'd made earlier in the day. Since time was running short (we cooked and ate for 4 hours) we topped the salad with locally grown Bison Meatballs, on skewers with shiitake mushroom and tiny, baby potatoes with a tomato preserve sauce over.

The next course was Cucumber Sandwiches. They were made by slicing baby cucumbers in half lengthwise, hollowing out slightly and stuffing with a mixture of cream cheese, chopped French marigold blossoms, basil and pecans, with a basil leaf sticking out the end. These were served on canna leaves which Adam (you can see the B.A. in Art coming to life, he just can't help himself) had arranged skillfully.

The favorite course of the evening was the Baby Summer Squash, stuffed with Cajun Bread Stuffing, topped with fresh Crawdads from Table Rock Lake, with a white wine sauce over that. Adam had worked for weeks catching and cleaning crawdads for the meal and we had enough left over that he made a curried crawdads and rice for dinner the next evening.

The evening ended with Black Tea and Rose Sorbet (from my book, Sensational Sorbets), served with a Lavender Cookie on the side.

For beverages we had lots of local organic wines that were donated for the event, and cold-pressed mint tea for those who wanted something other than wine. All in all it was a delightful evening and there were 2 comments that stand out in my mind:
1-"This is the most basil I've eaten in 5 years," said one guest, and,
2-"We paid $50 a person and I think you should have charged $100 a person, it's so good!"

Cucumber Sandwiches
8 baby cucumbers, sliced lengthwise
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
4 French marigolds, yellow parts cut off and chopped,
green bases discarded
6 basil leaves, lemon or Thai if available, chopped
4 tablespoons coarsley chopped pecans

Combine cream cheese and marigolds and pecans. Pat dry the insides of the cucumbers, then generously spread the mixture on one half of the cucumber. Put on the top and insert a fresh basil leaf.

Stuffed Baby Squash with Crawdad

(You can substitute shrimp for crayfish tail)

12 - 15 2 inch size baby patty pan squashes, or substitute zucchini (slice crosswise into 2 inch thick slices)
4 cups dried bread cubes
1-2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
12-15 crawdad tails or shrimp
(about) 6 tablespoons butter

With paring knife, cut out the center of each squash or squash slice so that you have a funnel shape (don't cut all the way through the bottom). Save the interior of the squash that you've removed, and chop it in the food processor with:
1 green onion or small shallot

Saute the shredded squash innards and green onion in the butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the bread cubes and chicken broth and mix until the bread cubes are soft. Add water if needed until the bread cubes and squash is slightly mushy. Set aside.

In a steamer or pan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil and place the baby squashes inside. Cover and let steam for about 3 minutes. Check with a fork. You want the squashes to be just barely tender but not soft. Remove from pan and cool.

Stuff each baby squash with the stuffing, piling it up on top and firming it into the center of the squash. Top with a crayfish tail or shrimp and bake for 6-8 minutes or until the stuffing is firm and beginning to brown slightly.

Serve with the following sauce:

1/4 cup butter
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon flour, dissolved in chicken broth.
1/4 cup chicken broth

Melt butter in skillet add white wine and heat, then adding the heavy cream and continue simmering. Dissolve the flour in the chicken broth and add that to the simmering sauce. Continue stirring until thickened. If it gets thick too fast, add a bit of water.

Serve a tiny spoonful over each stuffed squash.