SIX SUMMER ENTERTAINING HACKS FOR SUMMER 2021
Six Tips To Throw a Stress-Free, Dramatic Outdoor Fete
While Keeping It Light and Fun
This summer holds a special importance to many of us since last year was an enigma with many friends and family separated due the worldwide pandemic. Over the years, we've entertained friends and family under our pergola al fresco. When rain is forecasted, this does prevent a bit of stress (especially when it's a large crowd and we've already prepared the tables outside), but we have had to quickly change course and bring it all inside our dining room. It happens, and summer weather is finicky in the East End of Long Island. However, weather permitting, hosting outdoors after a day spent at the beach or working in the garden, can be a wonderful way to casually entertain. Today, I'm sharing six key hacks (things to do ahead of time) I've honed over the years while hosting both small and large events. To me, the number one key to successfully hosting outside is to plan ahead. Making it pretty, and cooking delicious food are added bonuses but planning puts you in a stress-free state of mind for a successful party. It takes time before the event to organize yourself, but if you do you will have built-in time to relax. spend time with your guests and enjoy your own gathering. These are easy hacks and things you can do to give your guests a great time while you relax and enjoy the fun!
1. SET UP A BAR CART
place a table or bar cart outside and allow your guests to self serve themselves a glass of wine or iced tea. Set up your cart or table with glassware, ice, accoutrement and opened bottles and if you're feeling ambitious a signature cocktail that is ready to pour complete with ice and lemons/limes. I use my own indoor bar cart (which is on rolling casters so I set it up ahead of time and simply roll it outside for the party), but you can use any table- here above I used our outdoor teak table.
2. SERVE FAMILY STYLE
While I almost always serve the food inside (self serve, family style) by laying it out on my dining table then inviting guests to take their plate from the outside set table then help themselves, it allows the food to stay bug-free and later I do not have to bring the mess indoors. I set up the outside table with all the accoutrements- bottles of water, cutlery, plates and table linens with all guests will need already on the table. I like to offer a variety of foods to eat to account for food allergies and constraints. I load up my table with lots to choose from usually a medley of grilled meats and vegetables, a variety of cold salads, fruit and cheese plates and sauces/dips.
3. DO YOUR COOKING AHEAD OF TIME
Summer food can be easy because many items can be eaten cold. I buy fresh produce from the farmer's market, and locally grown so it's extra delicious and needs very little spices or seasoning. Summer cooking to me, is best light allowing the freshly, local grown produce to shine. Not much has to be done to a beautifully ripe, locally grown ear of corn in June or a ruby-red heirloom tomato in July. However, I prepare all my food before hand and any grilled or hot food I prepare earlier in the day then simply warm up before serving. This allows me free time to chat with my guests and not be overly focused on my tasks and stressed with cooking while everyone is gathered around my outside table.
4. BECOME KNOWN FOR YOUR SIGNATURE APPETIZER AND SERVE IT EVERY PARTY
(you'll be famous for this and guests will come to expect it without it appearing you're repeating yourself)
I have a couple go-to appetizer recipes I create every party (my homemade hummus is a hit, my flat bread with carmelized onions and olives, and my tomato basil bruschetta and my hand rolled mini hotdogs) and many friends have come to expect my signature "welcome food"- so much so that they often rave about. This is a great way for me to whip it up without much thought to offer nibbles when guests walk in.
RECIPE: Garden-Fresh Tomato Bruschetta
1. Cut your cherry tomatoes in quarters (I like small cherries because they're less watery and pack more flavor). Have a bowl nearby to squeeze them in your hand and discarge a lot of the seeds and juice. Put your squeezed cherry tomatoes in a large bowl. I use sometimes two cartons of tomatoes. Cut ribbons of basil (I roll the basil and slice. 2 fresh garlic cloves in a garlic press. Really good and green olive oil. A splash of aged balsamic vinegar (lately I've been using white but I also use red). Flake Salt and pepper to taste. I make the morning of the party so it marinates all day in the fridge. I use a day old baguette cut into thin slices on a cookie sheet- I drizzle it with olive oil and put fresh herbs on it (thyme, oregano and a pinch of red pepper flake) then cook the bread on 400 degrees for a few minutes till the bread is browned and crisply. I serve the Bruschetta in a big bowl on a try surrounded by the crispy bread.
5. DO VERY LITTLE CLEAN UP DURING THE PARTY
Although I do clear the plates between the main course to the dessert course, I do not clean up during the gathering. I will often solicit a friend or one of my kids to help quickly clear the plates. When a host cleans up during the party, guests immediately feel uncomfortable. You're goal during a party is to relax and enjoy yourself while putting your guests at ease. A nervous and overly busy host cleaning up sets a negative tone. So, I do very little clean up until my guests leave (other than clearing the dinner table and readying for dessert).
6. WOW THEM WITH A SIMPLE, BUT DRAMATIC DESSERT
Dessert does not have to be time consuming (especially in summer) to impress- it should be beautiful to look at and have a bit of drama. If you're a fantastic baker, then whip up a strawberry shortcake or a farm fresh blueberry pie. But, I like to keep it low maintenance- my favorite is to make homemade ice cream sandwiches and pop them in the freezer then serve them on a beautiful large platter. To create- I start with one of those extra large tubs of vanilla Haagen Daz ice cream and my favorite cookies (the old fashioned chocolate refrigerator wafers I find in the supermarket) and create my sandwiches the night before (make certain the ice is soft or the thin cookies will break) then freeze them in a large tupperware container lined with wax paper. I serve them on a large platter alongside a big bowl of fresh cut strawberries or sliced watermelon- no fail, my guests gush and are immediately transported to childhood memories with the ice cream sandwiches!