Good News: It’s not too late to throw one more (at least) dinner party before the summer’s over. Make it easy, make it delicious, make it a team effort by giving your guests a job to do. Casual classics with a few special touches is a good way to go.
- A mouthwatering menu featuring everyone’s summer produce favorites – sweet corn, ripe juicy tomatoes, plump blueberries, and herbs right from the garden. With a little advance planning you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the party as much as your guests do. It’s time to fire up that grill!
- We’re sharing our top tips for party planning – especially the casual, good vibrations, hot-fun-in-the-summertime kind of parties. You’ll find our ideas after the recipe and food photos below. Please share your own party planning tips in the Comments!
We recently hosted a small group of friends for a patio party featuring Grilled Surf and Turf dinner – super-easy and extremely delicious. Our guests crowdsourced a cheese plate for the appetizer course, each bringing a chunk of their favorite fromage. It was a fun way for folks to participate in the meal without causing too much work, and it helped to break the ice conversationally. Personally, I could talk about cheese all day! Click on the photos to enlarge them and read the captions.
- Grilled Marinated Flank Steak – from Simply Recipes (recipe linked here)
- Grilled Shrimp Salad with Avocado and Tomatoes – from Better Homes & Gardens (read and print the recipe below)
- Green Bean Salad with Garlic Dressing – we’ve blogged about this heavenly dressing before
- Fresh Corn Sautéed with Butter and Basil – the perfect non-recipe
- Blueberry Upside Down Cake – recipe from LifeIsGood; we blogged about it here
What makes this menu so special? High-quality ingredients, simple treatments, and get out of the way. That’s it.
The flank steak is a perennial crowd pleaser at our house and couldn’t be easier: marinate the meat overnight, grill it up but don’t overcook it, no more than medium. Let it rest before carving, and cut against the grain.
Tangy lime dressing added a little zest to the grilled shrimp salad while letting the fresh veggies shine through. I placed it all on a bed of arugula to make the dish a bit more substantial. We grilled the shrimp right before guests arrived and grilled the steak about 30 minutes before we served dinner.
Click on the photos to enlarge them and read the captions.
|Printable Recipe- Grilled Shrimp Salad with Lime Dressing|
|File Size:||505 kb|
Recipe source: Better Homes and Gardens
- 1-2 limes
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 pound uncooked large shrimp in shells, peeled and deveined
- 2 avocados, halved, seeded, peeled, and sliced
- 1 large tomato, cut into chunks
- ½ sweet onion (Walla Walla or Vidalia), thinly sliced (1 cup)
- ½ cup packed fresh cilantro or flat parsley
- For Lime Dressing: Remove zest from 1 lime; juice the lime(s) to get 3 tablespoons.
- In a small bowl combine zest, juice, cayenne, and 1/4 teaspoon of the kosher salt. Slowly whisk in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until combined.
- For the Salad: In a medium bowl toss shrimp with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt.
- Thread shrimp onto skewers that have been soaked in water for several hours.
- Grill shrimp on the greased rack of a covered grill directly over medium heat 3 to 4 minutes or until opaque, turning once halfway through grilling.
- On a large platter arrange shrimp, avocados, tomato, and onion. Drizzle with dressing and top with cilantro and/or parsley.
- Guest list: Determine the magic number. How intimate do you want the party to be? How many can fit around the table without too much furniture moving? In our case the answers were: conversation-friendly, and 8. Mix and match from your inner circle of friends/family with a few “wild cards” aka new folks who don’t necessarily know everyone. Aim for a group that will generate interesting conversation or at least a few laughs.
- Set-up and Décor: A few years ago Ilise and I discovered our ideal patio layout for an outdoors party and have pretty much stuck to it ever since.
- Main table and enough chairs for everyone.
- Separate table nearby for drinks and appetizers. Guests may serve themselves, then take plates and glasses back to the main table.
- Staging table near the grill. I like to set out everything in advance that we could possibly need. Bug spray and sunscreen. Candles for after dark. Dishes and grilling tools. Extra glasses and napkins. You get the idea.
- Put the music source (cuz every party needs a playlist!) some distance away from the group so that the music is audible but doesn’t impede conversation.
- For larger parties we serve the food buffet-style from the kitchen or dining room rather than find room for serving dishes on the crowded dinner table. Guests carry their plates to the outdoors table and may go back for seconds (and thirds!) as they please.
- We don’t do much by way of décor, just a few low vases of flowers and greenery snipped from the garden. Of course we do have twinkle lights hung around the yard year-round which adds a festive flair.
- Make Some, Buy Some, Delegate Some. The Make and Buy parts are self-explanatory. And by Delegate I mean that when your guests ask “What can I bring?” you should take them up on the offer and provide an assignment. If Guest A enjoys cooking, ask them to make a dip to go with chips or veggies. If Guest B is not a kitchen whiz but offers to assist, maybe they can buy some fruit to go along with dessert.
- Make Ahead, Make in the Moment. If I tried to make everything in real time, just before serving, I guarantee it would be a disaster and no one would eat before midnight. My party menus always include at least 1 dish made entirely in advance. For other dishes that require last-minute preparation, I do as much advance work as possible so that assembly and/or re-heating goes quickly. For items that will be grilled à la minute, as the chefs say, choose a simple preparation and have everything staged nearby, ready to go. Pro tip: I make myself a timed to-do list that I refer to during the party – what time to bake the rolls, or pre-heat the grill, etc. Once the party starts it’s easy to get carried away and lose track of your master plan unless it’s written down.
- Hot, Cold, Room Temperature. Related to the bullet point above, but important on its own too. Even if time weren’t an issue it’s nice to surprise the taste buds with a little variety.
- And finally, Clean-up: Everyone has different sensibilities about this, but my advice is: Keep it to a minimum while the party is going on. Sure, cover and store leftovers appropriately with food safety in mind. Yes of course, stack the dirty dishes out of the way. But everyone will have a more enjoyable party experience if you are present in the moment – laughing at jokes, sharing stories, celebrating with a toast – rather than loading the dishwasher or scrubbing pots. It’ll keep.