Food — Dining at the “Your House Bistro”

Dining at the “Your House Bistro”

By Amy Diaz

Want outdoor dining for less? Try a bistro-style dinner on the back porch

Food tastes better outdoors.

A nice glass of pinot grigio and a salad of fresh greens is lovely regardless of location. But once it gets warm enough to set up a table and chairs al fresco it’s hard to believe that fresh air won’t add to the dining experience.

In these early days of spring, however, planning a date at an upscale, outdoor-seating bistro can be a touchy thing. It looks like sunny, pretty-skirt-wearing weather today but tomorrow could easily bring rain or even, gasp, that s-word we will not mention aloud. Restaurants themselves don’t always know what the weather will be like for the dinner crowd, which means in perfect balmy twilight you could find yourself no closer to the outside than a seat by the window. It also means that you could go to the trouble of dry-cleaning your favorite cute outfit and getting a babysitter and wind up watching the rain pour down on your table for two. A surefire option for a last-minute date in the fresh air? Move the bistro to your porch and have your al fresco experience at home.

Quick Prep

A day can look beautiful in the morning but it’s not until mid-afternoon that you can really be sure it’s going to be safe to have supper outside. Keeping this in mind, keep the You Bistro simple, with dishes that can be pulled together in a relatively short time and with only a few items that have to be purchased on the way home.

Generally, for a relaxing, non-frozen-foods-style date, I like to go with about four courses:

• Appetizers

• Salad

• Main course

• Dessert

You can create an optional fifth course by adding coffee and a light cookie (like biscotti) after the dessert.

Also, make use of that most wonderful of spring-through-fall cooking practices, grilling. This cuts back on the post-dinner clean-up and allows you and your date to hang out outdoors even while you’re cooking.

To set the mood for an outdoor date, give a quick five-minute makeover to your deck/ porch/ fire-escape furniture.

• Clean off tables and chairs with disinfectant.

• Throw a paper tablecloth over the table (speedy clean-up and it fancies up even the most yard-sale-reject-like of patio furniture).

For wine choices, go with something light that won’t overpower the relatively light flavors of the food. I would recommend a light white — a sauvignon blanc or a pinot gris.

Appetizer

The meaning of bistro is essentially a small restaurant with a relatively limited menu and simple foods.

Why then do we generally pay $40 per person at a bistro?

In restaurants as in fashion, the more streamlined and simple something is, the more it will usually cost. The bright side of this trend is that emulating the high-end restaurants is not as hard or as costly as it looks. Picking good-quality ingredients limits the amount of effort you have to put into dressing them up.

Take, for example, the appetizer. A good, springy appetizer needn’t require any more of you than a few moments of slicing.

As always, I like to start with a cheese plate.

Spring cheese & olives

4 slices per person of a hard Spanish cheese (try manchego or idiazabal)

4 slices per person of a semi-soft sheep’s or raw cow’s milk cheese

sesame crackers

green olives

Vaguely Mediterranean, this combination brings together the fresh and pungent—but still light tasting—cheeses with the tartness of olives. Also, this plate serves as a hearty complement to (and an edible distraction during the preparation of) another one of my favorite, springtime appetizer items.

Tomatoes & avocados

1 large or 2 small/ medium tomatoes

1 avocado

half a lemon

olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

Slice tomatoes and avocados into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Drizzle olive oil on the bottom of a plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay the tomato and avocado, alternating the slices on the plate so that they slightly overlap. Sprinkle with the juice from half a lemon (or lime) and sprinkle lightly with pepper and salt (if desired) again.

Serve both appetizers with one fork per serving plate and two small plates.

Salad

During the winter, I always have an urge to load up my salads with stuff.

Meat, cheese, olives, big bready croutons, more meat—it’s as though I’m compensating for serving this warm-weather dish by turning it into a pizza. Spring salads need no such apology. The result is a dish that can be almost totally constructed from pre-chopped, pre-packaged fresh ingredients.

Vaguely Asian peanut salad

1 bag lettuce (fresh herb mix works well for this salad)

3/4 cup snow peas

3/4 cup grated carrots

1/2 cup peanuts or sesame seeds

For dressing: 1/3 cup ginger soy sauce (or add 1 teaspoon of ginger, fresh ground is best, to regular soy sauce); 1/4 cup sesame oil (or olive oil); juice from one lime; salt and pepper to taste. Combine all ingredients but oil. Add oil while whisking.

After assembling lettuce, snow peas and carrots in a bowl, toss with dressing. Top with peanuts or sesame seeds, sautéed over medium high heat for about two minutes just until nuts get a glossy appearance.

Accentuate the vaguely-Asian-ness of the salad by serving with a few fortune cookies.

Main course

Here’s where a grill really comes in handy.

Spring inspires light eating and there is nothing as filling and satisfying, yet feather-light, as a good piece of grilled, delicately flavored whitefish. Never fear—this is not as difficult as it sounds.

Grilled white fish with green onion butter

2 white fish (haddock or the like) fillets

1 cup finely chopped green onions

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 tablespoon butter

extra olive oil for the fish rub-down.

salt and pepper.

Remove skin if desired (though skin helps to keep moisture in). Rub fillets with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

On an outdoor grill: Set the grill to medium high. Cook the fillets for two to three minutes on each side.

In a indoor oven: Preheat the broiler. Cook fillets under broiler for about four minutes per side until cooked throughout.

For green onion butter: in a sauté pan, sauté garlic in olive oil for a few minutes on medium until garlic is very lightly toasted. Add butter and green olives and sauté (taking care not to let either garlic or green onion burn) until butter is melted and mixed with green olives. Remove from heat and drizzle over fish.

Serve with fresh green beans, which can be lightly steamed with butter and/or olive oil. Fold a length of foil in half and place fresh green beans, washed and cut, in the center. Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil over the green beans or add three pats of butter. Sprinkle salt and pepper Fold foil so  green beans are sealed and all sides are closed. Cook on grill or in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes until beans are al dente.

Dessert

Angel food cake with citrus sorbet

Six slices of angel food cake (about 1/2-inch thick)

orange sorbet

lemon sorbet

vanilla, lime or ginger sorbet

Leave out the lemon and orange cartons of sorbet for about 20 minutes to get the sorbet soft.

On each plate, place one slice of angel food cake. Top with a few scoops of slightly soft lemon sorbet, carefully spread to cover cake slice. Place another slice of angel food cake on top, followed by orange sorbet. Place the third layer of angel food cake and top with two scoops of vanilla, lime or ginger sorbet. Serve with a wedge of lemon and a sprig of mint to garnish.

- Amy Diaz

 
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