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The Summer Garden Party

by  Maria C. Hunt on May 31, 2012
The Summer Garden Party

Summer is the time for backyard entertaining, lazing by the pool and dining under the stars. But even if you live in condo or apartment sans outdoor space, that doesn't mean you can't have a garden party.

Bring flower power to your space with fresh blooms, floral plates and other accessories with a nature-inspired theme.

For Cuisine Noir's first Design & Dine™ feature, I decided to celebrate the start of summer with a colorful table design inspired by a garden in full bloom.

A great design trick is picking one element in a room, such as a patterned rug or pillow, and then using its colors to select all the other hues in that room.  That same idea works when planning a harmonious look for a table.

For your party, choose a favorite napkin, tablecloth or plate and then let it be the guide for everything else. I fell in love with these floral salad plates blooming with red pansies, blue violets and fern fronds on a creamy background.

They'd be perfect for dressing up your plain white dishes, but I decided to bring out the pale turquoise in the plates by setting them on base plates in that same hue. Delicate bubble goblets with fluted edges, twig-patterned cutlery and napkin rings shaped like chrysanthemums echoed the natural theme.

Feel free to get creative with your napkin color. I loved the lacy, feminine look of these creamy cotton napkins trimmed in eyelet. To create an even bolder look, choose a napkin in coral red, gold, pink or one of the other colors in the plate. 

This look would work on a natural wood-topped table, but I chose a linen tablecloth with soft splashes of flowers that look like they were painted on with watercolors. Tucking a round place mat under each plate softened the look of the table and tied everything together.

A table like this needs some real flowers too and the salad plate offered inspiration for a rustic bouquet of wild sweet peas, orange-red and pink ranunculas, purple irises and yellow daffodils. To make it feel more casual, I displayed the bouquet in an old favorite cobalt blue glass pitcher and dressed up a plain window sill with extra blooms stuck inside mini carafes.

When your guests see this cheerful, garden-inspired table, they can't help but smile. Make them even happier with this easy caprese appetizer with roasted tomatoes, fresh pesto and golden bread and strawberry smash cocktail I created for Cuisine Noir readers. Recipes are also located in the Chef's Corner so you can save to your favorites in your CN member profile.

Caprese Appetizer with Fresh Pesto, Roasted Tomatoes and Golden Bread


1 basket organic mixed cherry tomatoes
1 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups fresh basil, washed and pulled from the stems
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 cloves fresh garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
juice of ½ to 1 lemon
1 pane rustico (Trader Joe's)
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 balls burrata mozzarella di bufala (Trader Joe's)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the cherry tomatoes out in a casserole dish, drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Put them in the oven and roast for about 15 minutes, until the tomatoes are slightly puffy, but have not burst.  Remove the tomatoes from the oven and set aside.
  2. Open the bag of pane rustico and place bag to the side to use later.  Using a bread knife, slice the pane rustico cross-wise in 1 ½-inch thick slices. Then cut each slice into roughly equal thirds.
  3. Coat a heavy-bottom frying pan with oil and heat over medium-high heat. When drops of water pop when splattered onto the pan, it's ready to brown the bread. Add as many slices of the bread to the pan as will fit comfortably, placing the largest white side down in the pan. Watch the bread carefully as it will brown quickly — in a minute or so. Then turn the slices and brown the opposite sides for the same amount of time. Remove the browned slices to a plate to cool.
  4. Keep adding more olive oil to the pan as needed for you to finish browning the other pieces of bread.  Once you're done, put the browned cubes back in the paper bag the pane rustico came in.
  5. Once the bread is done, it's time to make the pesto. Add the basil leaves, garlic cloves, pine nuts and 2/3 cup olive oil to a food processor or blender. Process until the leaves are incorporated and you have a chunky green paste. Now add the juice of ½ lemon or more if you need it to make the mixture thinner. Scrape the pesto out of the food processor or blender into a serving bowl. As a final step, stir in the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
  6. About 30 minutes before serving, assemble the appetizer by setting out a bowl of pesto and the dish of roasted tomatoes.  Pile the bread in a basket or a bowl. Transfer a ball of mozzarella into a small bowl, leaving the liquid in the container behind. Use a spoon to crack the outer skin and expose the creamy center, then add a drizzle of olive oil.  Place each item on a plate and enjoy.

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Strawberry Smash

Strawberries say summer and they're the perfect accompaniment to our favorite new rum.  Pink Pigeon is a spirit distilled off the African coast on the island of Mauritius and infused with Madagascar vanilla.


3 ripe organic strawberries
6 leaves of a fresh herb such as basil, mint, cilantro or lemon balm
1 ½ ounces Pink Pigeon rum
1 ½ ounces natural sour mix
2 ounces Gruet Brut Rosé sparkling winesprig of basil or strawberry for garnish


Add the strawberries and herbs to a sturdy cocktail glass. Muddle until the berries are a pulp and your herb is fragrant. Add ice, rum and sour mix, then stir to combine. Top off with the rosé sparkling wine. Garnish and serve.

All rights reserved.

Design Resources:

Styling credit: Maria C. Hunt

Photo credit:  James Knox

Shoot location courtesy of George Kitzmiller and Jennifer Venceller

Maria C. Hunt

Maria C. Hunt

Maria C. Hunt is an award-winning food and drink editor and the author of The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion (Clarkson Potter, 2009). full bio



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