As the seasons change and the cool breeze starts to rustle the leaves off the trees, I am reminded of the great memories this summer has brought. Weekends with friends, days at the lake, and too many record heat days to count! The time has come to welcome a fresh and new start. The world gives us four times a year we say “goodbye” and start over with a new season. What better way to bid this adieu than to throw a Goodbye Summer dinner party with the friends and family who helped make the season one to remember!
For many, exquisite dinner parties are a thing of the past. It seems that having company has become too much of a chore. The time has come to start entertaining people! Start small and invite a few close friends that you do not feel pressured to impress but only to enlighten with your hospitality.
This week I hope to bring you some simple and fresh ideas to throw a wonderful (and light) dinner party that will enrich guests with iced drinks, foods to enjoy, and an unbeatable atmosphere where time will stand still just for a bit.
Usually I like to plan the menu way ahead of time to make sure I will be able to find everything I want and have it ready to go.
- Fresh Tomato Plate with basil on a bed of arugula
- Cheese Plate
- Breads with dipping oils
- Freshly-brewed Iced Tea
- Sparkling Lemonade
- Mixed frozen fruit drizzled with Limoncello
All too often we try to have an over-the-top meal that takes hours to prepare and forces us to be in the kitchen all evening while our guests are dining. For a simple summer dinner gathering, I try to keep the menu light and full of items that local farmers markets (or your own garden) would have. The easier you make the menu, the less stress you endure.
For the Tomato Plate, I try to find a variety of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes. Different varieties do not only offer various colors, but different flavors and acidity as well! Purple, yellow, green, zebra, and red make the plate look inviting. Slicing the tomatoes in layers over the arugula base seat the entree on a green throne. Arugula has a great peppery undertone and adds a little zest. Sprinkle the top with basil leaves and a few dashes of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (optional). Make sure to have salt and pepper on the table, as many people will want them for tomatoes.
Tip: If you (or your guests) are not fond of tomatoes, substitute them for any of your favorite vegetables. Or, as a precaution, try an assortment of different vegetables to ensure that guests leave satisfied.
The Cheese Plate is easy and completely up to you! Use your favorite cheeses – you do not have to be fancy or over-exaggerated. Personally, I always choose a variety consisting of: Gouda (for me, smoked), Brie (double crème brie is amazing), Gruyere (my favorite!). Just mix and match your favorites!
The breads are the hardest thing on the menu but you should not have to look too far. If you can, bake some amazing homemade bread (if you’re feeling adventurous). But, if you’re anything like me, you don’t have time. So just hit up your favorite bakery (Panera has excellent, inexpensive choices) or the local market for some wonderful crusty breads. Ciabatta, focaccia and baguettes – there are so many to choose from. Try a few and see what you like. Have simple dipping oil for the bread: just olive oil, crushed black pepper and some dry Parmesan cheese.
I know many people think sun tea is the best, but I do not usually think of that in time. Instead, I resort to brewing a quick batch of my favorite Iced Tea. For a gallon of tea, I steep four bags of rose tea and two bags of Twinglings Black Currant blended tea in two cups of boiling water. After steeping 15 minutes, pour into a gallon jug half full of ice and fill the rest up with water.
Tip: I do not like to sweeten my tea that way each guest can do so to his or her liking (and you will have a chance to use your sugar dishes!).
Sparkling Lemonade is a favorite here at The Gray Boxwood. The name sounds enticing and exotic, but it could not be easier to make. I like to make fresh lemonade, but you can of course use your favorite store-bought brand. For one fresh gallon, I use eight lemons and six oranges to make a gallon of prepared lemonade. Squeeze these into your pitcher and add one cup of sugar (or to taste). For the sparkling component, you have two options: champagne or sparking juice. I enjoy adding a bottle of Bellatorre’s Gran Spumante champagne. If you prefer a nonalcoholic beverage, add your favorite flavor of sparkling juice (Meyer’s or any other variety). Pour your choice into your pitcher and fill the rest up with club soda. To garnish, add some fresh raspberries and slices of lemons.
Tip: Make sure you check whether your guests prefer alcoholic beverages. Or, if you are a truly accommodating host, whip up a batch of both!
To keep with the light theme, dessert is a simple mixed fruit combination. Buy bags of your favorite frozen fruits and do not let them thaw fully. Mix them together (for an extra punch add a few diced mint leaves) and put spoonfuls into individual bowls. I like to drizzle Limoncello over the top to add a unique and wonderful flavor (available in any wine and spirits store). Grandma would always say a sweet dessert needs something salty, so I like to set a glass of honey and wheat pretzels on the table to enjoy with the fruit.
This is not a menu that takes hours on end to prepare, but will leave guests comfortable and satisfied. There is something extra special about enjoying foods that are in season (and possibly grown locally). In this way, we are able to enjoy the time of year and what it has to offer.
The menu is just one exciting component of this week’s Dinner Party Theme Week. Check back on Wednesday for how to set up the perfect outdoor table!