You probably have a lot of your indoor plants outside on the deck or patio anyway, so why not use them as a backdrop for a summer dinner party? Perhaps you don't have potted palm trees or crotons or the like, but you can put lights in and around what you have, crank up the Bose with some retro Harry Belafonte, Bob Marley or just some steel drum music and set the mood for a Caribbean-style dinner for eight.
We take advantage of summer's bounty, using local produce as much as we can and getting "imports" from the supermarket, our favorite specialty markets and, of course, our local vintner.
To begin with, to really set the Caribbean mood, serve some rum punch: In a large pitcher (or two), combine 1 1/3 cups fresh lime juice (8 to 10 limes) and 2/3 cup superfine and stir assertively until sugar is dissolved. Add 2 cups gold (dark) rum, 1/3 cup grenadine (at your liquor store) and 1/2 cup Grand Marnier or Cointreau. Chill well.
Just before serving, pour into a punch bowl. Add 2 bottles sparkling wine (try prosecco). Ladle into punch cups (or larger). Provide fresh pineapple spears for "stirring." Makes at least 8 drinks.
Caribbean shrimp cocktails
You'll need to start this the day before so it can marinate overnight. We cook the shrimp a bit before marinating, otherwise it would be a ceviche (a kind of Spanish sushi), and some of our guests might be rather squeamish about "raw" seafood.
Fix some homemade tortilla chips to go with. Cut flour tortillas into wedges, brush with a bit of olive oil, and bake in as single layer at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with some freshly ground sea salt if you wish.
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 4 large limes)
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup tomato juice
Freshly ground pepper, and salt (if you must)
Bottled hot sauce, e.g. Tabasco
2 pounds medium shrimp, shelled, deveined
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 to 1 pound blue crab meat (good quality claw meat is fine), kept chilled until serving time
2 pounds tomatoes, halved, seeded, finely diced
2 ripe Hass avocados, peeled, seeded, finely diced
4 scallions, white and green parts, sliced thinly, crosswise
1 small red onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh cilantro
1 tablespoons chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley
For the marinade, in a large, zip-top bag, combine lime juice, orange juice, tomato juice, pepper, salt and hot sauce. Keep handy.
In a large, non-stick skillet, over medium-high, heat vegetable oil until hot but not smoking. Add shrimp and saute, stirring, for 2 minutes. Immediately remove from heat and place in a bowl, set over a larger bowl filled with ice (to chill shrimp as quickly as possible).
When shrimp are cool, add to marinade in bag and move them around to get the maximum amount of marinade on them. Refrigerate until ready to assemble salad; turn bag occasionally.
For the salad, about 40 minutes before serving time, transfer shrimp from bag to a bowl. Gently stir in crab meat. In a large bowl, stir together, fresh tomatoes, avocados, scallions, onion, cilantro and parsley. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed. Add shrimp/crab mixture and stir again. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
To serve, scoop salad into stemmed glasses (preferably martini) and serve with nacho chips.
Mango roast pork
It's a bit messy to brown the pork on top of the stove, but the process cuts the oven time to about 45 minutes. Then the meat is glazed either under the broiler or on the grill. You can roast the pork ahead of time, refrigerate, bring to room temperature, then finish it just before serving.
You could buy a jar of your favorite mango salsa or chutney to go with the pork. Or, serve a fresh melange of cold, juicy mango, papaya and honeydew chunks on the side. To keep the fruit from discoloring, toss with a little melon liqueur or some of the prosecco you're using for the rum punch.
Ask your wine merchant for a red with fruity backgrounds. Serve at cool room temperature, that is, slightly chilled.
1/2 of a large mango, peeled, in half-inch dice (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons tamarind paste (Middle Eastern or Asian market)
1 teaspoon white wine Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon reduced sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, in paper thin slices
Freshly ground pepper, and salt (if you must)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 (3-and-a-half- to 4-pound) pork loin roast, tied
1/2 cup dry white wine (try vermouth)
3/4 cup reduced-fat/sodium chicken broth
For the glaze, in a blender, combine mango chunks, sugar, tamarind paste, Worcestershire, soy sauce and crushed red pepper and puree until smooth.
In a small saucepan, over medium, heat vegetable oil until shimmering. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add mango puree. Add freshly ground pepper. Taste for salt. Bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes, until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally.
For the pork, heat oven to 300 degrees. In a large, ovenproof skillet, over medium-high, heat peanut oil until shimmering. Add roast (at room temperature), and cook, turning occasionally with tongs, until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes.
Transfer skillet to oven and roast pork about 45 minutes, until it registers 130 degrees on an insta-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of meat.
Brush glaze all over roast and continue to roast until thermometer registers 135 degrees, about 5 minutes longer. Remove skillet from oven to the top of the stove.
To finish, the roast is now ready to be broiled or put on the grill set on high. To finish pork, brush some of the pan drippings (from skillet). Broil 8 inches from heat source (or on grill) for about 5 minutes, until glaze is sticky and golden. Transfer roast to a cutting board and let rest 15 minutes.
For the "au jus," while roast rests, pour fat from skillet. Place skillet on top of the stove. Add wine and stir up any browned bits, then pour into a small saucepan. Heat wine over medium-high and simmer until reduced by about half (4 minutes). Add chicken broth and simmer mixture until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes longer. Taste and season with pepper, and salt if using.
To serve, discard strings from roast. Carve into half-inch slices and arrange on a serving platter. Drizzle some of the au jus over slices. Serve remainder on the side.
Hearts of palm salad: In a blender, combine 2/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, 2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar and 2 teaspoons honey. Add 1/2 cup olive oil in a slow steady stream (with blender running) until mixture begins to thicken. Taste for salt and pepper.
Use to dress a salad made from 3 navel oranges (peeled, pith removed, sectioned and halved crosswise), 2 (14-ounce) jars hearts of palm, drained and in half-inch diagonal slices, 8 cups torn mixed greens (mesclun, baby spinach, etc.), 3 cups red grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise.
Toss the dressing with oranges segments and hearts of palm. Arrange over the mixed greens. Garnish with grape tomatoes.
Fried Plantains: Peel and cut half-inch slices from 5 or 6 very ripe plantains. Deep-fry in peanut oil, a few slices at a time. Keep warm on paper towels on a baking sheet in a 300 degree oven. Or, fry in the morning of the party, then reheat at 350 degrees before serving. Add coarsely ground sea salt just before serving.
Coconut panna cotta
Make this the night before so it has time to chill.
3/4 cup sifted cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups cold (whole) milk, divided
3 cups unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups sugar
6 ounces fresh raspberries
2 teaspoons raspberry liqueur
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Lightly toasted coconut, garnish
In a medium bowl, whisk together cornstarch and salt. Slowly whisk in 1 cup of the milk, whisking until smooth.
In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, combine remaining 2 cups milk with coconut milk and sugar and bring to a simmer, whisking until sugar dissolves. Gradually whisk in cornstarch mixture and cook, whisking constantly until very thick, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk 1 minutes longer. Spoon into 8 to 10 (1-cup) custard cups, cover and refrigerate until chilled and firm, 6 hours over overnight.
To serve, in a blender, puree raspberries with liqueur, lemon juice and sugar. Strain though a fine sieve. Serve coconut pudding with raspberry glaze on top. Sprinkle on a little toasted coconut.