It's no secret that I love a good gathering, and I have plenty of plans in place for a few get togethers this summer, including my annual Canada Day party and end-of-school-year barbecues for the boys, and their friends. How about you? Are you planning a big backyard bash? Wanting to entertain but don’t know where to start? Looking for a few shortcuts to add to your arsenal of hostessing know-how?
Here are twenty-nine of my best secrets (or in other words, tried and true tips that are completely subjective) for easy, simple summer entertaining:
1. Have an excellent recipe for fruit sangria and spiked punch tucked inside your back-pocket, and serve one of them with chilled flat/sparkling water and beer. These are the only drinks you need to know how to serve, unless you're a cocktail mix master in which case, go-ahead and make plenty of fun libations for your crowd.
2. For the kids, forgo juice and soda and keep lemonade or iced tea cold and close at hand.
3. Keep your drinks tucked into an ice tub. Any galvanized container works well for this, but you can also use a cooler in a pinch. Fill it with ice, and let your guests serve themselves. If you don't have a tub or a cooler, use a large beach bag and line it with a plastic garbage bag. Fill it with ice and insert bottles.
4. Whether you call them tartines, crostinis, or bruchetta, grilled or toasted bread topped with goodies like store-bought jam and a slice of aged cheddar, assorted spreads, cured meats, or fresh produce that’s paired with fragrant herbs and oils, are the only appetizer you'll need to make all season.
5. Plan something fun for the kids. In the past we've done pillowcase races, donut eating on a string, and a faux photo booth with the cousins. This year we're making lawn Jenga for the backyard, and busting out the croquet for a little family friendly competition.
6. Serve a DIY anything. This can be a taco bar, burger bar, bruschetta bar, potato salad bar, ice cream sundae bar, or even booze bar. Just set out the components and let your guests help themselves. It's fun, interactive, works for picky eaters, and those with dietary restrictions. Plus, it's easy to execute which means it'll work for you, the hostess.
7. Don't try any new recipes the day of your party. Instead, make foods that are simple and uncomplicated.
8. On that note, only grill what you're familiar with. If you've never made salmon on the barbecue, your important dinner party isn't the time to try it.
9. Make sure your dishwasher is empty before your guests arrive. Same goes for the trash can and sink.
10. Play fun music! It fills in the gaps in conversation and creates atmosphere.
11. Be green in your décor; use pretty outdoor plants in place of vases of fresh-cut flowers, or buckets of water filled with rocks and floating candles.
12. Never underestimate the power of a potluck. People like to pitch in, so invite your friends to contribute to the meal.
13. Use what you've got. Make a centrepiece from the potted plant on your porch, or the lemons and limes that are sitting on the counter.
14. I don't believe that all of the cups and plates need to be coordinated. Mix and match pieces based on what you have in the house.
15. Keep cookie dough batter and ice cream in your freezer at all times. When impromptu guests pop by you'll be able to make homemade ice cream sandwiches for dessert.
16. If dining outdoors, keep a garbage/compost/recycling bin near by; someone is always looking for it.
17. Cut back on your disposables. Mason jars make excellent drink glasses and bandanas purchased at the dollar store work well as colourful cloth napkins.
18. If you have a charcoal bbq invest in a charcoal chimney. Lighter fluid is a party no-no.
20. Everyone looks good with a little lighting. Whether you use votive candles, tiki torches, fairy lights, or patio lanterns, add a little extra glow to your dinner table.
21. When serving corn on the cob to a crowd offer a small container/bucket of melted butter for dipping in lieu of a serving butter in a dish with a knife. It's easier, not too messy, and takes less time to liberally coat the cobs.
22. You can never have enough swing-top bottles. At less than $4 each, these are the ideal serving vessel for flat and sparkling water, lemonades, and iced teas. Fill them with your favourite homemade or store-bought drinks and store in a bucket of ice (see point #3).
24. If you're serving perishable foods outside in the heat, nestle bowls and plates in larger containers filled with ice to keep everything cool.
25. When it comes to s'mores you need to take a lesson from the Boy Scouts and always be prepared. Keep your cupboards well supplied with graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows. And if you don't have a backyard firepit don't sweat it - a barbecue works just as well.
26. You can never have too many condiments. Stock up on ketchups, mustards, chutneys, relishes, marmalade, aiolis, sauces, seasonings, and pickles and use them liberally to fancy-up ordinary grill fare like burgers and hot dogs.
27. Make sure your menu is mostly comprised of make-ahead elements, leaving you more time to have fun with your guests.
28. Uses plenty of seasonal produce in your menu. It's inexpensive, tastes great, and looks fantastic on the plate.
29. When in doubt make pulled pork; and serve it with coleslaw, pickles, potato chips, and crusty buns.