There is something magical about entertaining outdoors. Whether hosting a barbecue under a pergola or poolside, entertaining in the garden or setting a table under the stars, and it immediately puts everyone in a festive mood. With Summer 2015 just beginning, I am offering tips to help pull off an easy outdoor summer celebration with panache. Please note, outdoor entertaining can be more relaxed and casual so it adds to the experience when adding a little bit of whimsy and drama. Don’t be afraid to experiment with creativity in this relaxed setting, and your guests will swoon!
Prepare as much of the food as possible in advance
Before guests arrive and to alleviate any stress, prepare most of the food including chopping, dicing, grilling and arranging the ingredients for salads and entrees, and then all there is to do is simply combine just before serving. For this afternoon pool party we made a grilled corn salad. For easy assembly, grill the corn on the cob earlier in the day, cut it off the cob and have it ready on-hand when making the salad, which is a combination of grilled corn, thinly sliced basil, lettuce, chopped cherry tomato and a soft Mexican cheese called Cotija. When it is ready to serve, toss all the ingredients in a large bowl and squeeze a fresh lime then a touch of white wine vinegar and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. For entrees that require grilling, like ribs or chicken, they can be grilled ahead of time and simply warmed in the oven just before serving.
Set up a self-serve bar table or cart
This preparation helps to create a festive mood and allows for guests to help themselves. Create a pretty vignette in an open area, either on a table, chest or bar cart arranged on a tray with all the accouterments from chopped lemons and limes to ice in a bucket, and offering a variety of choices with non-alcoholic options as well. Guests can linger here and make themselves a drink at their leisure.
Create an easy to serve and festive signature cocktail
A signature cocktail instantly makes the event special. We whipped up a spicy jabanero margarita, then served it in an over-sized glass cookie jar with a lid, and a ladle beside, which allows for easy serving and keeps the bugs away when outdoors.
Shop for and prepare in-season, local ingredients
In summer, there is nothing more delicious than fresh fruit served simply with a bowl of creme fraiche or ice cream or a watermelon arugula salad (sprinkled with pine nuts and bits of feta cheese). If you shop locally from farm stands nearby your home, the fruits and vegetables often taste the best prepared simply, and because of their in-season freshness, the flavors will make these dishes the star.
Bring your design style outdoors with objects from inside the home
When setting up for an outdoor party, create small vignettes and areas to cozy up the outdoor space. Add throw pillows, vases and objects from inside to the outdoor tables, bar carts and chairs in order to give the space warmth. Feel free to use statues and urns from your garden on the table to create a little bit of drama.
Offer nibbles to guests as soon as they arrive
One of my favorite appetizers when hosting a summer party is a chopped fresh tomato bruschetta served with toasted parmigiana bread. It’s easy to make and has all the flavors of summer packed in one bite. It can be a quick snack for hungry guests as they arrive and puts everyone at ease before dinner is served.
Mix and match linens and tabletop patterns
Once scouring the pantry and linen closet, it is surprising how many items there are to work with when entertaining outdoors. I am not a fan of the popular plastic or melamine plates, but, rather, like the weightiness and luxurious feeling of eating on ceramic or porcelain outdoors. Because it is outdoors, mixing a combination of patterns that otherwise may not necessarily work together can be stylish and fun.
Serve dinner Family Style on an indoor table
This allows guests to go back for seconds without the worry of the food sitting outdoors for a long time. This style works well with large family gatherings. We set the outdoor dinner tables, then ask guests to take a plate from the table and help themselves indoors to an array of prepared dishes then everyone dines outside on the beautifully set table.