A couple of years back, Mieke ten Have a Manhattan native and her husband, Tyler Graham hosted an alfresco lunch in their former Brooklyn home. With a very loose plan in mind, they went to their local farmer’s market and let what they found there dictate the menu.
Mieke telling us about her old neighborhood _"Park Slope, Brooklyn is full of beautiful brownstones on tree-lined streets, and overall has charming proportions—it feels like a proper neighborhood, which one doesn’t take for granted living in New York".
"There are two farmers markets in Park Slope, and we generally try and make it to the Grand Army Plaza location at Prospect Park. It has a diverse selection of purveyors, and one of my favorite little cheese stands—Cato Corner" she says.
Tyler on how to choose your vegetables _ "It's easy to buy corn without pulling back the husk. First look for tassels that are brownish and stick. You want entire husk to be moist. If the tassels are dry and the husk is papery, then it's an old ear. Make sure to feel the kernals through the husk and make sure they are all there and that they're firm and plump."
"When you talk to the farmer you learn all kinds of things. These peppers were found on his farm and are much hotter than a habanero. He has no name for them. Chilies are promiscuous and are always spawning off new breeds. One of these dried out is enough heat for a whole bowl of chili" he adds.
Mieke also loves throwing a couple of nasturtiums on the top of a salad plate. "Just make sure you don’t mix them with the dressing or they’ll wilt" she says.
In the Fall, Mieke often makes a nice, bright squash soup with ginger and leeks but like this particular version made with bacon, garlic, and crushed dried chili peppers.
Here is her recipe: Preheat oven to 375. Halve a butternut squash, scoop out seeds (which can be roasted and eaten later). Lay the butternut squash cut side down on a baking tray. Let roast for 30 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the squash. Once a knife can easily pierce straight through, it’s finished! Cut up 5 strips of bacon into 1-inch pieces. Dice 3 shallots, and one yellow onion (this of course can be altered by preference). Finely slice 2 large garlic cloves. In a large pot—I prefer a coated cast iron, like a Le Creuset—let the bacon cook down for 2 minutes (careful not to burn it). Throw in onions, shallots, and garlic. Add a tablespoon of butter or lard. Let sweat until onions are completely soft. Throw in crushed dried chili pepper (watch out, seeds are hottest part!) add to taste. Add fresh cracked pepper. Stir often. Once squash is finished, scoop out and add to pot. Add 3 to 6 cups of chicken stock (preferably home made). Let simmer for 45 minutes. Let cool, and then pour into blender and mix until smooth and velvety. Return to pot and reheat. I like to serve it with shaved gruyere or a lump of Roquefort on top!
To Mieke's delight the farmers market abounds with locally grown flowers. "I adore many a flower, but I never seek any particular kind out. I like seeing what is available, what looks fresh and beautiful that day, and what will go well with my table. Today I picked boldly saturated dahlias, but I love muted, more sedate tones as well" she gushes.
"I go about my food shopping the way I pick my flowers—I buy what looks good, though in September I have a tendency to hoard the last of the seasonal tomatoes and peaches. I also make sure to load up on fresh basil, which I freeze bag-fulls of to last the winter" she adds.
Tyler's cooking rules? _ "We don't follow many rules when smoking meat but we do have a few. We only use hardwood charcoal. We always let the meat rest for hours at room temperature before it goes on the grill and we always salt and pepper the meat.
Also remember to experiment with the types of wood you use. We loved getting to know the subtle flavor of alder this summer" he tells us.
Lunch is being served in the beautiful backyard...
And it was delicious.
And to conclude "en beauté" as the French say, here are some of Mieke's tips for a beautiful outdoor table:
1- Outdoor Table Setting = Nothing's Set in Stone. "I do not have a separate set of china, linen, or glassware for eating al fresco. It's amazing the difference beautifully patterned tablecloth can make!" she says.
2- Fresh Cut Flowers Centerpiece. "I use all different kinds of vessels—I love my Frances Palmer vases, old jasperware pieces, and even egg cups! Whatever is charming and fills the right amount of negative space on the table. I relish the unstructured and slightly chaotic."
3- A Great Salad Dressing. "Whisky 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar with 2 and a half teaspoons of dijon mustard. add half a teaspoon of freshly grated garlic (or slightly more, to taste), and finally 3 tablespoons of olive oil. add salt & pepper. whisk until it".