Summer foods don’t have to be boring cold cut sandwiches or the same old, same old. Check out these delicious summer foods that are designed to wow your guests, your family, and your friends.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher, and today I’m here with Chef Ned Grieg, Executive Chef at Woodman’s and the Essex Room in Essex, Massachusetts. Today we are talking about creating the wow factor with summer foods. Welcome, Ned.
Ned Grieg: Good Morning.
John: Ned, when we are talking about the wow factor, we’re thinking of, maybe not the just food itself, but maybe the presentation of the food and some ways to punch things up and really make people go, “Wow, this is a really remarkable presentation of food you have given me today during the summer.”
What are some things that people can do to really create that wow factor?
Color Makes the Difference
Ned: Think color. Especially in the summertime, we have such an abundance of beautiful flowers and edible herbs and things that are growing or available to us. The other thing is, you want to make sure what you’re going to select make your presentation look more spectacular than what they had at your tasting, you have to make sure the heat and weather is not going to affect it.
If I was garnishing some passing trays, I would not be using pansies. I wouldn’t be using bachelor buttons, though both of those flowers are edible. They will weep and they will wilt. They won’t last more than one turn. That is not cost effective for us, nor does it look pretty the second time around. There are certain types of herbs and flowers that don’t perish under heat.
There is this one herb that you can grow in your garden. It’s called shiso. To me, it taste like a cross between basil and ginger. There are two different colors. There is a purple one and a green one. The leaves are about anywhere from three and a half to four inches long. They are kind of triangular shaped.
Those look really, really pretty. I have actually seen them go through the dishwasher and they never turn color. Which is kind of interesting, but those work really well.
I use lots of herbs that flower. Lemon thyme will flower for you. Lavender, it’s sturdy, it looks really pretty, you can put that down there. Rose petals look really pretty. Primrose, they are small, you can make a nice little posey out of that and put it on your passing tray.
Unlike what we are doing in the springtime, where we were using lilacs that were coming out of the ground and tulips, which are edible, we have to find things that are growing right around the corner for us.
Behind Woodman’s, in the Essex Room, the grapevines are growing, and just little beginnings of the baby grapes are showing themselves. I’ll snip those and put them on the side of a passing tray for hors d’oeuvres and canapes. That looks really pretty going that way.
Presentation of Summer Foods is Key
John: What else?
Ned: Say that you’re going to be serving that wonderful blueberry scented lemonade. It’s going to be a self service, or it’s going to be out there with your stationary fruit and cheese and crudites. It’s going to be in a big, champagne punch bowl. You take water and boil it. By boiling the water, when you freeze it again, it will freeze crystal clear.
I’ll take edible flower arrangements and I will submerge them in the water. You have to tie a bunch of them and tie it to both sides of a half of a milk carton that you cut in half and put the water in and freeze it. Once it’s frozen, you will have this beautiful, crystal clear ice cube with flowers in it, floating in your bunch bowl. It’s just one more thing when people come up to see it they say, “Wow, OK, somebody took the time to do something a little bit nicer that I wouldn’t have thought anybody would do.”
John: Clearly you took the time to do it, because you have this flower frozen in the ice, you can’t do that at the last minute.
Ned: Another thing that I have done, I will make different flavored sorbets. If we’re doing that blueberry lemonade, I will make a lemon sorbet and I will make them into small balls, I have all these different molds. Those will be floating in the lemonade. You are using the same product, but you are just enhancing it and making it look really pretty. That is a really neat thing to do that we do on a regular basis.
Also, with our stationary displays, we do lots of what we call double tier glass racks. We will take one glass table, put a piece of glass down, and then we’ll suspend it with martini glasses. Underneath it there will be a layer of fresh fruit or fresh citrus and then another clear glass top over it. It looks like it’s a living composition of what you put together. Then you can build your crudites on top of that glass table, or all your fruit and cheese displays.
It just looks brighter, fresher, that somebody took one more level, instead of just putting it out there. To me, that looks really pretty.
Ned: When we do our crudites in the summertime, we don’t put them in baskets. I will use different types of food vessels. In the fall that is easy to do, because you have all these different pumpkins, but in the summertime, Woodman’s and the Essex Room we have all of these miniature lobster traps that we use for presentation.
What I do is open those up and fill them with red leaf or green leaf lettuce. Then I put the vegetables in and stick them into the leaf lettuce to make it look like it’s growing. There will be asparagus that are blanched off, tricolor baby carrots, roasted miniature golden beets.
Then I will take portabella mushrooms and make all of these little slivers on them all the way around, without cutting it off. Then you peel back each other piece and it goes brown, white, brown, white. It looks like an umbrella on a beach.
I put it on a little stick, and then you stick it onto your crudites. That makes it kind of fun. Everybody thinks that they’re centerpieces so they don’t eat them. Most of the time, I have to go out there and tell them that, “Yes, you can eat that.”
Another wow factor that we do, a lot of people aren’t doing the wedding cake anymore, they will do the traditional take one bite and serve it to my wife or my husband. They are doing different types of desserts in the end.
One thing that we do that we have had significant luck with is our gourmet miniature ice cream sandwiches. We will use French macaroons. I make my homemade Oreo cookies. Then we always do a chocolate chip, because everyone loves them. Then we do a lace cookie that is made with oatmeal.
Then we make different flavored ice creams. Cinnamon, ginger flavored ice cream may be in one. A lemon vodka may be in another one. Maybe a fresh strawberry ice cream will be in the other one. We pass around little miniature ice cream sandwiches.
Also, we make adult libations for after dinner. We will have four or five different types of blenders up there. We’re make all of these unbelievably colorful fruit smoothies. We will have kiwi and mango and papaya and blueberries and strawberries and watermelon. Then we will have different flavored vodkas. You’re having all these unique smoothies, made for adults, no doubt about it.
That is fun to do also. It’s like what they call a digestif, that which you consume after you have had all of these wonderful things to eat. Those are some ideas you could do, even at your own home and just bring that wow factor in. Use what is available, plant your herbs outside the back door. Make sure that you use them. Eat those edible flowers, they are good for you.
John: That sounds great and that is really good advice. I think I will go home and make some little miniature ice cream sandwiches, and maybe an adult smoothie right now.
Ned: That’s right. Take care of daddy and the children.
John: Thanks again for speaking with me today, Ned.
Ned: You’re welcome, John.
John: For more information, you can visit Woodman’s at woodmans.com or, the Essex Room at essexroom.com.
Wow Factor With Culinary Offerings For Summer
· Think Color!
· Yet, Think About How The Heat Will Affect Your Selections.
· Garnishing With Flowers On All Passing Trays Of Hors D’Oeurves.
· Possibly Going to The Degree Of Placing The Posy In Floral Foam Soaked With Water.
· The Grapes Growing Out Behind The Essex Room Are Turning Color So Why Not Use Them!
· We Have Planted A Multitude Of Edible Flowers & Herbs Bloom On The Compound. It Would Be Silly If I Was Not Going to Put Them To Good Use.
· Boil Water, Cool It & Freezing Edible Flower Bouquets For A Lovely “Show” For Punches Or The Berry Scented Lemon Aide – By Boiling The Water It Will Freeze Crystal Clear!
· On Another Note, I Will Make & Rake A Japanese Sand Garden On To A Plate Surface; Then, Cover The Design With Another Clear Plate On Top Of The Design.
· In Similar Fashion When We Do Stationary Displays On 60 Inch Round Tables I Will (With Donna’s Help), Line The Table With Colored Apples, Or Citrus, Or Whatever Then Place Another 60 Inch Round Glass On Top Of The Reusable Display.
· Self Service Interactive Dessert Stations Like A S’Mores Bar, Ice Cream Sundae Station, Colored House Made Petite Fours Offered With Adult Libation Smoothies Or Coffees.