Summer is quickly approaching. With the season change comes long, hot, lazy days, visits from out of town company, a family reunion, and if you’re very lucky, a vacation at the beach or trips to your lake house. How do you feed all your friends and family for these occasions and still enjoy your own martini by the pool?
When you are hosting a large group of people, I suggest planning breakfasts and dinners only. During the day, let your guests explore, have picnics, eat delicious leftovers, try local sandwich shops or visit local farmers markets. I like to taste as many unique specialties of the area as possible to really experience a new location.
Overnight guests? Plan easy breakfasts that can be put on the counter buffet style. Don’t forget to put out mugs, sugar/sweetener and cream/milk for the coffee. Let guests serve themselves when they are ready. The first one up makes the coffee and pre-heats the oven, and the last one up has to help clean the kitchen.
Yogurt Parfait Bar
Fill pretty bowls with a selection of toppings like granola, fresh berries, honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, nuts, chocolate chips, dried cranberries and toasted coconut. Don’t forget a large bowl of plain Greek yogurt. Let your guests get creative!
Bacon, Berries and Croissants
If you haven’t cooked bacon in your oven, you will be shocked at how easy it is: Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees, place racks in the bottom of a sheet pan, lay bacon strips across the racks and bake for 15 – 20 minutes. For a different twist, take the bacon out a little early, brush with maple syrup and freshly ground pepper, and pop it back in the oven for 2 -3 more minutes. This method yields perfectly cooked flat bacon strips without the hot mess on your stovetop. Serve with seasonal berries topped with honey and lime juice and fresh bread or breakfast pastries.
Potato Basil Frittata
Try Ina Garten’s hearty frittata recipe: www.barefootcontessa com. You can prepare it the night before and pop it into the oven in the morning. If you are assembling it ahead of time, omit the flour and baking powder until right before cooking.
There are endless combinations to make a wonderful salad. Serving a salad as an entree with a loaf of crusty French bread reduces your time in the kitchen and allows your guests to enjoy the fresh produce of the season.
Tips for creating your own masterpieces:
• Make sure your greens are completely dry. Salad dressings do not stick to wet leaves.
• Use a variety of greens, vegetables and even fruit.
• Add texture with toasted seeds and nuts like sunflower, pine nuts, almonds and hazelnuts.
• Look in your refrigerator; leftover meats and roasted vegetables pair well with fresh greens.
• Don’t forget about grains and pasta. They add bulk to a salad.
• Add fresh herbs for unexpected flavors.
• Do not dress your salad until just before serving, and make sure you are not drowning your salads.
Here are a few of my favorite combinations:
• Lobster, avocado, bacon and bib lettuce
• Orzo, feta cheese, tomatoes, parsley, red onion, European cucumbers, olives, toasted pecans
(Optional shrimp or chicken)
• Steak, purple potatoes, peas/pea shoots, arugula
• Spinach, goat cheese, toasted hazelnuts and bacon
I love to use fresh fish and shellfish in the summer months. It cooks very quickly so you spend less time in the kitchen.
Pat fish dry and season liberally on both sides with salt, pepper, garlic, fresh dill and lemon zest. Heat skillet and add a small amount of olive oil or butter. Place fish into pan, presentation side down. Do not move the fish, but watch closely until you see a lovely brown color appear on edges. Carefully flip fish and cook for another minute or so. Remove from pan and place on a bed of raw spinach. Drizzle with olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and chopped fresh dill. The cooked fish will wilt some of the spinach, and the juices from the fish and lemon will act as a dressing.
This one pot casual meal cooks quickly and is delicious with any seafood you can find. Place new baby potatoes in a large soup or steamer pot, and cover them with a cup and a half of beer or wine and one cup of water. Add salt and pepper. Bring liquid to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Add fresh corn that has been cut into 2 inch coins and sliced Andouille sausage. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add lobsters or crabs and bring back to a boil. Add additional cooking liquid as needed and adjust seasonings. Add “Old Bay” seasoning or a combination of garlic, lemon, salt, pepper, paprika and fresh thyme. Add clams and mussels and simmer until their shells open. Using a large spoon, remove everything from the pot except the cooking liquid and place on a large serving platter. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve with crusty farm house bread.