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Chefs Molly Hawks and Michael Fagnoni entertain with good friends in a last hurrah before the kids go back to school.
As summer draws to a close, local restaurateurs Michael Fagnoni and Molly Hawks like to get together with good friends Geoff and Aimee Griffin for an end-of-season family barbecue. It’s a collaborative affair: Mike and Molly, owners of Hawks in Granite Bay and Hawks Public House in Sacramento, plan the menu and prepare the food. Geoff, a commercial developer, and Aimee, an interior designer, supply the venue: the backyard of their Roseville home.
The two couples met four years ago when their oldest children were in preschool together. When Molly first visited Aimee’s house, she was so enchanted with the decor that she hired Aimee on the spot to consult on the design for Hawks Public House. (Now, Aimee is working on Mike and Molly’s soon-to-be-completed custom home in Granite Bay.)
Between them, the couples have six children under the age of 9. So when they get together, they have to walk a fine line between casual and elegant, making sure the kids are happy and at ease while the grown-ups enjoy adult food and conversation. The solution: a menu of assembled, make-ahead and simple grilled dishes that are delicious and easy to pull off.
The Griffin kids are always thrilled when Mike’s in charge of the food. (They call him “the good cooker.”) For the youngsters, he supplies unfussy fare like fried chicken strips, corn on the cob and ice cream cones. Aimee oversees logistics, placing a low table on the lawn and using throw pillows for seating. After dinner, she sets the children up with a movie or a game like Kids on Stage (a version of charades).
Meanwhile, the adults relax with a glass of rosé while Mike puts out a rustic wood board filled with an assortment of cured meats for nibbling on before dinner. For the main course, Mike and Molly serve a “mixed platter”—in this case, grilled Maine lobster and andouille sausages with a melange of vegetables. “We like to set out big platters of food and let everyone dig in,” says Molly. To add to the abundance, Mike also prepares grilled St. Louis-style ribs and cheddar biscuits with Fresno chili jam.
To end the meal, Mike and Molly serve homemade peach and blackberry pie, sourcing ingredients from a farm stand near their Granite Bay restaurant. Each slice of pie comes with a scoop of homemade sweet-cream ice cream. “It’s old-fashioned and memorable,” says Molly.
Before dinner, kids and adults graze on a platter of charcuterie. This one features ciccioli, country pate, liverwurst, salami and pork rillettes, along with pickled vegetables and grilled country bread.
PARTY LIKE THE PROS
Michael Fagnoni and Molly Hawks offer these party-giving tips:
Grilled Maine Lobster With Cilantro-Lime Butter
4 1/2 -pound live Maine lobsters
Kosher salt to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil
Cilantro-lime butter (see make-ahead recipe)
To humanely dispatch the lobsters, stick the tip of a knife through the head and cut down toward the tail. Pull off the claws and knuckles, then cut the lobster in half lengthwise.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, season with salt and simmer the large claws for 6 minutes. After 1 minute, add the smaller claws and simmer for the remaining 5 minutes. Plunge in ice water to cool, then break the claws off the knuckles, remove the shells and rinse the meat in ice water seasoned with salt to remove any shell fragments. Reserve the claw meat in the refrigerator until later. (Eat the knuckles now.)
Heat the grill to medium high. Season the lobster tails and claws with olive oil and salt. Place the lobster tails on the grill meat-side down for 1 1/2 minutes, turn them over and add 1 tablespoon of cilantro-lime butter to each. Place the claws on the grill and cook with the tails for 4 1/2 minutes. Remove the lobster from the grill and toss the claws with more butter.
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, washed, spun dry and chopped
Zest of 1 lime
1 teaspoon salt
Place all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture is green and fragrant. Transfer the butter to a container and reserve for use.
Grilling adds a bit of smokieness and char to lobster.
Buttermilk Biscuits With Aged Cheddar
Homemade biscuits are a nice, homey touch, says Molly Hawks.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
4 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
1 tablespoon grape seed oil
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place the dry ingredients into a large bowl and whisk together. Using a box grater, shave the butter into the dry ingredients.
Add the shortening and grape seed oil to the dry ingredients. Using your fingertips, lightly combine. Add the cheddar, then pour the buttermilk over the mixture. Stir until moistened.
Place the dough onto a floured surface. With your hands, lightly press the mixture into a rectangle about 2 inches thick.
Cut the biscuits with a biscuit cutter dipped in flour. (Do not twist the cutter, which will influence the way the biscuit rises.) Place on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the sheet and bake for another 10 minutes until the biscuits are golden. Serve with butter and Fresno chili jam.
Fresno Chili Jam
2 Fresno chilies, washed, seeded and diced
4 red bell peppers, washed, seeded and diced
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
Place all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 45 minutes. (Do not boil.) To test the jam for doneness, put a small amount on a dish and refrigerate. If the liquid becomes thick and tacky, it’s ready.
Sweet Corn, Roasted Peppers, Wild Arugula and Grilled Nectarines
“The combination of produce is a little unconventional,” says Molly Hawks, “but they all say summer.”
3 nectarines, washed, pitted and halved
2 cups sweet white corn, removed from the cob
1/2 cup roasted peppers, seeded, peeled and cut into 1/2 -inch strips
2 tablespoons finely diced shallots
1 bunch wild arugula, washed and spun dry
1/2 bunch basil, picked, washed and torn
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces red wine vinegar
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Heat the grill to medium. Brush the nectarine halves with a little olive oil and season with salt. Grill them for 1 minute, rotate 45 degrees and grill for 1 minute longer, then remove from the grill and set aside.
Toss the corn, roasted peppers and shallots together in a medium-size mixing bowl. Add the arugula and basil and toss gently. Whisk together the oil and vinegar and add to the vegetable mixture, tossing gently. Season with salt and pepper. Place on a serving platter. Cut the nectarines in quarters and place around the platter.
Ribs, shellacked with gochujang barbecue sauce, can be cooked a day ahead and heated on the grill just before serving.
Grilled Pork Ribs With Gochujang Barbecue Sauce, Fried Peanuts and Herbs
The secret to these tender ribs: Roast them slowly in the oven using—believe it or not— Coca-Cola.
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 racks pork spareribs
2 cups Coca-Cola
1 cup gochujang barbecue sauce (see make-ahead recipe)
3 tablespoons roasted salted peanuts, crushed
1/2 cup each fresh cilantro and mint, washed, spun dry and roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine the salt, coriander, cumin and black pepper in a small bowl. Rub the mixture on both sides of the ribs to season. Place the ribs in a rimmed baking sheet and pour the Coke into the bottom of the pan to about 1/2 inch deep. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 4 1/2 hours. Remove the ribs from the oven and let them cool. The ribs can be made a day ahead and refrigerated overnight.
Heat the grill to medium. Place the ribs on the grill to sear on both sides. Brush on the barbecue sauce and continue grilling briefly until the sauce is caramelized. Remove from the grill; cut the ribs apart and arrange on a platter. Garnish with crushed peanuts and chopped herbs.
Interior designer Aimee Griffin on setting a kid-friendly table:
Use a coffee table; it’s low to the ground, making kids more comfortable.
Place the table in the grass. “If they spill something, it doesn’t matter.”
Instead of chairs, use large, comfy throw pillows.
Set the table with pretty plates and flowers. “Bring in a little bit of fancy,” says Aimee. “It adds to the fun.”
Serve strawberry soda or pink lemonade in miniature milk bottles with paper straws.
The kids' table
Gochujang Barbecue Sauce
Gochujang is a Korean fermented chili paste. It’s available at Asian markets and Whole Foods.
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup tomato puree
1/2 cup sweet chili sauce
1/4 cup gochujang chili paste
1/8 cup sesame seed oil
Place the soy sauce and brown sugar into a saucepan over medium heat and reduce by half. Add the tomato puree and simmer for 10 minutes, then add the chili sauce, gochujang and sesame oil. Simmer the mixture briefly to combine. Refrigerate until use.
Peach and Blackberry Pie
Kids and adults go wild for this old-fashioned pie.
Crust for a 9-inch double-crust pie (see make-ahead recipe)
8 medium peaches, washed, pits removed and cut into thin slices
1 pint blackberries, washed
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ounce lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons melted butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
To make the fruit filling, combine peaches, blackberries, cornstarch, ⅓ cup sugar, salt, lemon juice and zest in a large bowl. Mix well and set aside.
Roll one half of the dough on a floured surface to about ⅛-inch thickness and place in a pie dish. Add the fruit filling, mounding the fruit in the center of the pie. Roll the other piece of dough to the same thickness and cover the filling with the top crust.
Using scissors, trim the edges of the dough to about 1 inch over the edge of the pie dish. Tuck the top crust under the bottom edge and crimp using your fingers. Make several 1-inch cuts in the top of the pie to let steam escape. Brush the top crust with melted butter and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.
Place the pie in the oven. Check the pie at 60 minutes; the filling should be simmering vigorously. You may want to continue baking for an additional 15 minutes, depending on the color crust you like. Remove the pie from the oven and let cool.
A homemade peach and blackberry pie is the perfect ending to an end-of-summer party.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup ice water
Place the flour and salt in a large bowl and stir together. Add the butter, toss to coat and pinch with your fingertips. Add the shortening, toss to coat and pinch with your fingertips again. You want the butter and shortening to remain in small pieces about the size of a pea.
Sprinkle about three-quarters of the ice water over the flour and very gently toss together. Using a spoon or spatula, press down to hydrate the flour. Do not mix. If more water is needed, add a few drops more.
Once the dough holds together, form it into a ball and divide in half. Flatten each half into a disc approximately 1 inch tall and wrap with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for about 2 hours.
The adults’ table: Even for a backyard barbecue, Aimee Griffin uses straw placemats, real linen napkins and good china and silverware.
STRAWBERRY SHRUB SODA
You can make your own summery soft drinks based on a sweetened, vinegar-based syrup known as a shrub.
2 cups strawberries, washed and cut into quarters, plus extra strawberries for garnish
1 cup sugar
2 ounces champagne vinegar
1 lime, quartered
Place 2 cups quartered strawberries and sugar in a medium-size bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and bring to a boil. Place the plastic-covered bowl on top of the water to create a double boiler. Simmer for 25 minutes. (This will extract the juice from the strawberries.) Strain the liquid and cool, then add the vinegar.
Fill a 12-ounce glass with ice and add 2 ounces of the shrub. Top off with 6 ounces of sparkling water. Garnish with fresh strawberries, lime and mint.