Summer is a time for vacationing by the ocean, lounging by the pool, going to summer cottages on lakes, and more casual entertaining. Summer also means warm, warmer, and hot. Simplicity rules the days and nights of summer entertaining, unless, it’s a special event planned with just two in mind. Get ready, get set, goÃ¢Â?Â¦plan an evening around all things cold, try an evening picnic on the beach, or a romantic after dark dinner in celebration of Midsummer’s Eve.
Cold Party with Friends
Everyone loves company even during the misery of a heat wave. Now is the time to get out the ice, stir up some frozen drinks, and think cool. Invite a few a friends over for a Cold Dinner and no, I don’t mean toss the bologna and bread on the table and ring the dinner bell, but do keep it simple and definitely keep it cold. A menu with make your own sandwiches using deli smoked turkey, an assortment of cheeses like sliced provolone, cheddar, or Swiss accompanied by a relish plate of big kosher dill pickles, sliced Vidalia onions or another sweet onion, olives of all kinds plus condiments; mesclun au chÃ?Â¨vre salad, cold cucumber burnet soup, inebriated watermelon and the biggest cookies you can find from a local bakery rounds out the food end. Serve frozen daiquiris, frozen margaritas, or icy cold white wine spritzers. Set your cold bounty out in potluck, help yourself style.
You’ll need to pick up a couple loaves of Artisan bread or rolls, fresh deli meats like smoked turkey, and a selection of your favorite cheeses. You’re going to need a whole watermelon and a couple bottles of good Beaujolais along with the makings for a crisp salad loaded with flavor. Don’t forget to stop at your favorite bakery for HUGE cookies.
The night before the party prepare the Inebriated Watermelon:
Cut a paper-thin slice from the bottom of the melon to make it stable.
Plug the watermelon with a sharp knife making a 2-inch wide and 2 inch deep opening. Begin by pouring the Beaujolais into the opening. If you have problems, use a turkey baster. Add as much wine as possible. It may not take an entire bottle, but it’s best to have a second on reserve. Once the melon will take no more wine, place the plug back in, seal it with packing tape, and refrigerate it. To serve: unplug the melon and pour into a pitcher any remaining liquid and save. Slice or chunk the watermelon and arrange in a bowl or on a platter. Serve with the watermelon wine.
The day before or early on the day of the party prepare the Cold Cucumber Burnet Soup:
Ã?Â½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 medium-sized cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
Ã?Â¼ cup all-purpose flour
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups lightly packed chopped lettuce
1 cup chopped salad burnet leaves
Ã?Â½ cup chopped watercress
Ã?Â½ cup chopped chives
Ã?Â¼ cup chopped parsley
Ã?Â¾ cup heavy cream
Herb sprigs and thin cucumber slices, for garnish.
1.In a heavy large pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often until it is soft but not brown. Add the cucumber. Cook stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
2.Stir in the flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. In another pot, bring the stock to a boil. Gradually stir the stock into the onion mixture. Mix well and simmer for 15 minutes.
3.Stir in the lettuce, salad burnet, watercress, chives and parsley. Simmer for 5 minutes.
4.Puree the soup in a blender or food processor in several batches. Pour into a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate the soup until cold, at least 4 hours.
5.To serve, stir in the cream. Garnish the soup with fresh herbs and cucumber slices.
You’re cooking is done for the day. The rest is smooth sailing into a Cold Party to beat the heat. Later in the day pull together the Mesclun au ChÃ?Â¨vre Salad:
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
Ã?Â¼ teaspoon salt
Ã?Â¼ teaspoon coarsely cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Ã?Â¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
6 cups mesclun or a variety of baby lettuces
4 ounces aged chÃ?Â¨vre (chÃ?Â¨vre is a soft, creamy goat cheese)
1.In a screw-top jar, combine the herbs de Provence, Dijon mustard, garlic, salt, pepper, wine vinegar, and olive oil. Cover and shake to blend.
2.In a salad bowl, toss the mesclun with the vinaigrette. Arrange the mesclun on 4 chilled salad plates. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the chÃ?Â¨vre in a pattern on each plate. If the cheese is not firm enough to shave, crumble it on each salad
Pull the entire dinner together with casual flair. Serve in simple, well-chilled crock bowls and platters or bright colored plastic summerware, if you have it. Use baskets for the bread, cookies, and silverware. For napkins pick up large red and blue handkerchiefs, roll them up and tie with jute. Toss them in a basket beside the silverware. A large round metal tub like the ones used on farms makes a great ice buffet. Before adding ice put the tub on a bench or table, fill Ã?Â¾ of the tub with ice. Place the bowls and platters of soup, salad, meat, relish, cheese, and watermelon on the ice. If you have room, push the pitchers of frozen drinks in the ice as well.Spend the warm summer evening in great conversation, eating and drinking to stay cool.
A Beach Picnic
On hot balmy days and nights the best place to be is on a beach that catches the cooler winds off the ocean. By day the beach is crowded with colorful umbrellas, families with children carrying buckets and shovels, the din of noise, and sweltering sun. Once late afternoon makes an appearance, the crowds thin out, as evening approaches with the dazzle of sunset the beach takes on a quiet aura and now is the time to set up your beach picnic.
Grab your picnic basket, a cooler, your favorite beach chairs, or a blanket. If this is a get together with friends, make it a potluck. Everyone brings a different dish to pass around. If it’s just a family affair it’s all up to you. Keeping it simple makes it fun for everyone.
Food suggestions: Your favorite lobster salad, shrimp cocktail, a hearty bread, like Portuguese bread, a citrus bowl.of fresh orange and grapefruit sections laced with fresh squeezed lemons and lime, toss freshly cut peppermint leaves on top along with a sprinkling of sugar. Place food in lidded plastic containers. Don’t forget the iced tea or wine to drink and you’re ready to go. Simple, easy, delicious.
Spread your feast out on a blanket or just open the cooler and serve. While you’re catching the soft breeze and dining on simple tastes from nature you’ll be able to watch one of the most spectacular shows in nature, a dazzling sunset of pink and lavender, as it deepens into night time blue.
Midsummer Eve of Magic and Romance
Midsummer, somewhere between June 21st and June 24th, is the longest day of the year with the shortest night. Midsummer’s Eve was a celebration of the sun and it’s life-giving force with ancient people lighting fires, driving cattle over the ashes to protect them for the coming year, and fashioning head wreaths of mugwort, also called St. John’s wort, to bring them good will and protection. Why not base an intimate romantic evening on the magic of Midsummer Eve?
The ideal scenario would be to create a flowery bower or mead.
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,/ Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,/ Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,/ With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”
– A Midsummer Night’s Dream Quote. Act II Scene 1
– William Shakespeare
Begin by gathering any and all flowers, grasses, and leafy boughs you can find early in the morning. Place them all in buckets of water in a dark cool place. If you’re fortunate enough to have a roofed deck, porch, or gazebo you’ve the perfect spot. Even a table with an umbrella will do. In mid June there are two things in abundance, roses and strawberries. Use both to full advantage.
Menu: Grilled Cornish Hens, Parsley Potatoes, Tomato-Mushroom salad, Chocolate Dipped Strawberries, and champagne served with strawberry on the side of the flute. If dinner must always include some sort of bread, purchase a light type of roll or a baguette and slice thin to add to your dinner.
Grilled Cornish Hens
Choose your favorite grilled chicken recipe and adapt it to the Cornish hens. You’ll need to split each hen in half. Cut along the backbone and through the breast to divide. A suggested marinade is simply one stick of butter, melted, 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, onions diced as small as possible, a bit of chopped fresh thyme, parsley, and rosemary. Put the marinade and Cornish hens into a zip lock bag and let marinate all day. Before grilling you can add a decadent touch by pushing small pieces of cold butter beneath the skin of the hen. This keeps the inside moist while creating a crisp skin on the outside.
Parsley potatoes are red bliss potatoes boiled. While hot place olive oil or butter over the potatoes along with salt, pepper, parsley, and grate Parmesan cheese over the top just before serving.
You’ll need 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, a half pound of small mushrooms, 1 small red or sweet onion, 1 garlic clove, minced fine, and 1 tablespoon of chopped chives. Place the tomatoes, mushrooms, and onions in a serving bowl. Mix together chives, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and Ã?Â½ teaspoon of sugar. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and 2 teaspoons of whit wine vinegar over the herbs over the mixture and stir well. Pour the dressing over the vegetables, toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving.
Chocolate Dipped Strawberries
Melt a Ã?Â½ cup of good semi-sweet chocolate over water with 2-3 tablespoons of butter. (I’ve used Ghirardelli chocolate, Dutch chocolate, and just plain old Nestle Semi-Sweet morsels) Once the chocolate is melted, add a Ã?Â½ teaspoon of vanilla and small splashes of heavy cream until it has the consistency that you desire. It should be dippable, but not too runny. The chocolate should take on a silken shiny sheen. Wash the strawberries but leave the green tops on. If the chocolate is kept warm during dinner there’s no need to have a sterno on the table while dipping during dessert. Keep a few strawberries off to the side for garnishing the champagne flutes or wine glasses.
Much of the dinner can be prepared in advance, even the day before, freeing you to create a romantic ambiance. Late in the afternoon you’ll want to prepare your flowery bower. Drape white tulle from the posts to give an ethereal quality to your setting. Tie the tulle back with wide ribbon, if necessary. Set candles and/or lanterns of every size and shape about the gazebo and keep a means to light them close by. A round table would work best, but any table can be made lovely using your best china and crystal. A summer white Damask tablecloth with napkins creates a scene of polished pleasure, but if you only have white cotton, that will look just as sweet.
You’ll need pearl-headed pins for the next task. Once the tulle is hung to your romantic satisfaction begin pinning flowers, leaves, light boughs and whatever else might catch the eye in the glow of candlelight such as strings of faux pearls or white Christmas lights. You can create a garland effect or cluster flowers here and there. Let your floral muse guide you. If you are fortunate enough to have scads of roses blooming, toss rose petals about the floor and table. You’re creating a magical, mystical Midsummer Eve for your beloved. The only thing left to do is delight in the moment of romance and love.
Summer offers so many entertaining options that are not open to us during the cold months, so take advantage of hot sunny days and warm calm nights. Call some friends, surprise a loved one, or just spend an evening with family sharing in good food, great conversation, smiles, laughter, and love.