Food Ontario Select Guide: Summer Entertaining Tips
In this edition of Food Ontario Select Guide we offer some quick and simple tips for summer entertaining. Our motto is simple: when it comes to entertaining the secret to success is to keep things basic, casual and fun. Forget the fancy dinner settings with matched china and silverware; formal floral table arrangements and 5-course menus, make use of what you have (plates, glasses, tablecloths). For table ornaments put out bowls of lemons or fruit or small glass jars filled with fragrant herbs like rosemary, mint or parsley. Simple doesn’t have to mean cheap or tacky; it can be elegant and memorable. After all summer entertaining should be about having fun – and that includes you!
If barbecuing, here are some ABCs: Always Be Careful. Practice safety first. Wash hands thoroughly; make sure your bbq is sparkling clean; keep all meats properly chilled until ready to cook. Cook meats thoroughly – you don’t want to give your guests an unwanted dose of food poisoning. Avoid cross-contamination between raw and cooked food and ensure that ground-beef burgers, pork chops or chicken are cooked to the required temperature. Cut meat portions into small and manageable sizes – they’re easier to cook.
Most foods taste great in summer so choose menus you can handle: quick and easy appetizers (making sure you have enough to go around for each guest); simple main dishes, meat or vegetarian - that don’t have you sweating in a hot kitchen while your guests mingle elsewhere; add tasty sides and delicious, refreshing desserts that use local produce. Consider varieties of fresh veggies, artisanal breads and cheeses; olives or tapenade and other tasty spreads for an antipasto-style appetizer platter. Use fresh fish like scallops, prawns, salmon or halibut for your main dishes. These can easily be sautéed, barbecued or skewered. Incorporate grains like quinoa, couscous, bulghur or lentils and greens like swiss chard, kale, broccoli rabe or spinach in your side dishes. Fruits like mangoes, melons and berries are plentiful in summer so use them in your desserts. Citrusy flavors make for a light, refreshing and perfect end to an evening of fine food and friendship.
If serving alcohol don’t overstock your bar. Remember, as a host(ess) you have an obligation to ensure that your guests are okay to drive when they leave. Most guests nowadays usually bring a bottle of wine but do serve a popular white, a red and a couple of different types of beer to cover all bases.
If you want to showcase your favorite cocktail e.g. Just Peachy Cocktail or Great Escape Cocktail this is a good time to do so. Just click on the name to see the recipe.
When it come to entrees or main dishes make sure that there’s something all your friends can enjoy whether they’re heavy-duty meat eaters or vegetarians. Don’t forget to take into account your guests’ food allergies. Make sure everything you put out is safe for consumption for nut-wheat-egg-milk or other allergy sufferers. That means absolutely no cross-contamination whatsoever. Can’t cook, small condo dweller with tiny kitchenette? Pick up a rotisserie chicken from your local grocery store. Slice, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice and finely chopped herbs. Serve on a platter accompanied by a variety of veggie salads, fresh fruit, cheeses, breads and dips and you have a party.
If you don’t have the space to barbecue opt for quick pan-grilled fish. Make sure to have lots of fresh greens and veggies to complement your main dishes. Shop at your neighbourhood farmers market; it’s a great way to support your local food growers. Veggies (eggplant, zucchini, red pepper, baby potatoes, asparagus, red onions, sweet potatoes) can easily be oven-grilled the day before and marinated in light vinaigrette overnight. Top your salad greens with ‘shoots’ - broccoli, lentil and pea to give them a crunchy enhanced flavour. You can find them in the salad section of your local grocery store. For vegetarians, choose easy-to-make dishes like red peppers or tomatoes stuffed with chickpeas, lentils, herbs, rice and cheese; multi-grain pasta or noodle dishes loaded with colorful vegetables. Avoid pre-packaged, frozen items or heavy cream sauces. Opt for extra virgin olive or grape-seed oil. Do use lots of fresh produce - asparagus, rapini, endive, radicchio, zucchini flowers and fresh herbs like mint, sage, oregano, rosemary - the summer sun has a way of making everything taste better!
Ask your family, friends, and neighbours for ideas or suggestions. If friends offer to bring a contribution, let them. There’s no rule that says you have to be in charge of everything for your party to be successful. Just make sure you have enough of everything: appetizers, food, drinks, dessert, bottled water, plates and cutlery - so nobody has to do without! Wherever possible prep everything ahead of time so you have lots of time to mingle and enjoy your guests.
No fuss, no muss - summer entertaining is about going with the flow, relaxing, having fun with friends and making memories. So open up the windows and doors, turn up your favorite music, grab a plate of mouth-watering food and chill out with friends as you watch the sunset. And don’t forget to take lots of pictures for a lasting memory of a fabulous summer evening.
At Food Ontario we encourage all our readers and fellow foodies to improvise, experiment, savour, be creative and conjure up all sorts of exciting dishes this summer. The only rule is that you must have a wonderfully relaxing time with your friends – and remember: drink responsibly.
By Sheila LoGuisto
Images by Foodie Photography
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