When Foodbuzz put out the call for event proposals for the 24 Meals in 24 Hours on 24 Blogs the first and only idea that came to mind were my enormous tomato plants and the abundance of gorgeous Jersey tomatoes I had at my fingertips. So, a tomato garden party seemed in order. Click here to watch the Video.
When I got the news that my proposal had been selected it was time to get moving (panic). I called on my friends and fellow Jersey Biters, The Party Bluprint Girls, for a plan of attack. Within one day they had a complete blueprint including table setting, invitation, music and wine suggestions.
I knew there were five key ingredients to making this party a success; the weather, the setting, the food, the logistics and most importantly the people.
Dining alfresco is always a gamble. As it turned out, Mother Nature cooperated beautifully. The day was a perfect mid-70’s late summer – early fall day. A bit breezy early in the day which had me worried (candles you know) but the wind died down and the night was perfect as far as the weather was concerned.
The party was to be held in my back yard right next to the Tomato jungle I have growning. You can click here to see how those tomatoes got the way they did. I knew my guests would be impressed by these beauties. I just needed to keep them alive and healthy until the party. This was not as easy as it sounds with the hurricane threats we had just a couple weeks ago. Luckily, they survived and thrived and provided the perfect backdrop for an authentic Tomato Garden Party. Check out our video and you’ll see the whole crew in front of these monsters.
The Food: The menu was part of the proposal and one of the reasons why “A Tomato Garden Party” was selected, so we already had that mapped out. As you can see, I had a quite a bit of work ahead of me.
A Tomato Garden Party
Grilled Tomato and Smoked Cheddar on Ciabatta Bread
A variety of fresh tomatoes with Buffalo Mozzarella
Creamy Tomato Basil Soup
Grilled Tomato Marinated Flank Steak with Sundried tomato sauce
Orzo with Tomato, Feta and Basil
Fried Eggplant with Tomato and Goat Cheese
Baked Bean & Tomato Cupcakes with Tomato Cream Cheese Frosting
Another first on the menu is the Creamy Tomato Basil Soup. I have to say, I think it was my favorite dish of the night. This was a new recipe created on the fly the night before. Someone commented that it tastes like vodka sauce. I have a lot left over and I think I may just try it as a pasta sauce tonight.
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 (28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes) If you can find the canned Jersey Fresh Tomatoes which I just discovered definitely use them. I think this really made the recipe.
10 cups tomato juice
1 head of roasted garlic
2 cups packed sweet basil leaves, torn or chiffonade
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute onion in olive oil until tender. Add tomatoes and juice and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. Add basil and garlic and puree with stick blender. Stir in heavy cream and butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Yummo! Serve with lots of crusty bread for dipping.
As luck would have it, Foodbuzz selected the one day of the entire year that my town is over run with 60,000 tourists. Point Pleasant Beach hosted its annual Seafood Festival yesterday, and my guests, some I’d never met mind you, were coming into a mobbed town with no parking. To top things off my house has a shared driveway and my neighbors were having a party too. Sweet. So, logistically speaking, not the best circumstances, but we prevailed. Luckily, some of my guest could walk to the party.
In addition to the parking issues, I also realized very late in the game that I do not have enough dishes for a 4 course meal for eight people. So, I had to beg, borrow and steal (well, not steal) to put together the table scape I had in my head. I think it turned out beautifully. Some fun additions that were born out of necessity were the purple basil bouquets in tomato cans you see above.
The People: While the food was definitely the star of the evening, an equally important ingredient to a successful party are the people. I am fortunate to be a member of a great group of New Jersey food writers and enthusiasts on Jersey Biters. I thought this party would be the perfect opportunity to get together with some fellow food lovers and bloggers I had never met. The guest list include Bill from House Hubbie’s Home Cooking and his wife Christine and John and Lisa from John and Lisa are Eating in South Jersey. Unfortunately, John and Lisa’s son was not feeling well, so Lisa couldn’t make it. As predicted, it was a great night of getting to know each other and trading stories only food bloggers get.
My wonderful boyfriend, Peter, who has his own blog at history-geek.com, was in charge of grilling the ciabatta bread, tomato and cheese and the steaks. As always, he did a stellar job. He was also in charge of the tomato research. Check out the video for the history of Pizza Margarita. My best friend Jill and her husband John were here for moral support and to witness the tomato dress. You’ll see what I mean below.
Another first for the menu was the Sun Dried Tomato Sauce. The original recipe came from a blog called Closet Cooking and was served with Veal Scallopini. It was very flavorful and an easy sauce to throw together so thank you to Kevin from Toronto.
The last newbie on the list was the Fried Eggplant with Tomato and Goat Cheese. Talk about your risk taker. I waited until the day of the party to give this a whirl. My guests and I tasted it for the first time together, and it was delicious. I sliced pink eggplant in half inch thick slices, salted one side and let stand on paper towels to drain. After about 20 minutes, I dipped them in egg and then Italian Panko bread crumbs. Browned them in Canola oil and drained on paper towels. I did this a couple hours in advance. When it came time for serving, I sliced yellow tomatoes, salt and peppered them and placed a slice on each piece of eggplant. Put them on a cookie sheet and broiled for a few minutes. Next, cut a goat cheese log into 1/4 inch thick medallions and place on each eggplant/tomato stack and back under the broiler to slightly melt the cheese. The pink eggplant was so tender, no bitterness, very few seeds. You don’t need to peel them because the skin is so thin. The Panko held its crunch beautifully too. This one was a yummy one and very elegant looking too.
Remember to check out the video of the night. Great shots of all the dishes.
In the end, the Tomato Garden Party was a big success. You’ll see in our video we were out there way past sundown. I didn’t wear the tomato dress my mother lovingly made for me because it was a little too chilly, but everyone insisted I put it on for entertainment purposes at the end of the evening. As you can see, I must be quite the devoted fan of Foodbuzz.com. I’ll be selling the dress on ebay, any takers? hmmm?
Special thanks to Mom for making me the dress and custom making the table cloth for my extra large patio table. Thanks to my boyfriend Peter for running here and there and everywhere in preparation for this party. Thank you to my BFF, Jill, for watching my kids while I frantically got things together yesterday and for loaning me her dishes. Melissa, thanks for the dishes too. Thanks to my guests for humoring me and wearing red to the party. And thanks to my dog, Bailey, for not trying to relieve himself in the middle of my party. Big worry, let me tell you.