Summer Party Time!

by Zehorit Heilicher, Tastemaker in Residence

My glorious peonies are ushering summer with their vibrant colors and delicate perfumes. Yet I know, that like the peonies, summer is short lived in Minnesota and both aught to be celebrated for the gifts they offer us.

Nothing makes me quite as happy as having friends and loved ones join together for a meal to enjoy food, share moments and connect in fun and rewarding ways.

Here is a strategy that works wherever you might live: (recipes included below)

  1. Who is on your guest list? Do they have food allergies, strong likes or dislikes, or any other food restrictions?
  2. What is the style you prefer to entertain and what does the occasion call for: indoor or outdoor, sit down dinner, buffet or family style?
  3. Think of your table setting, colors, flowers, candles, décor and attempt to have them coordinate with your menu or the occasion, location or even all of them.
  4. Now consider what is in season in your region: seasonal fresh produce and herbs lend themselves to creating a colorful, healthy and flavorful menu without much effort.
  5. You are now ready to create your menu. Make sure the items are ones you are comfortable with and have tried before. Items that can be made in advance or mostly prepped ahead and then finished at the last minute are good as well. Attempt to keep the menu cohesive in style: Asian, Mediterranean, southwestern, etc.
  6. Start with a cocktail that everyone can enjoy; a light punch or summery mixed drink such as a mojito. Lubricating everyone (responsibly!) helps to get the party started. Now have an easy finger food appetizer ready to be served; dips are great, such as a zesty guacamole with corn chips and veggie sticks. Other light and fun options can include goat cheese stuffed cherry tomatoes, peach salsa and pear slices with Stilton cheese drizzled with honey. (I try to stay away from bruschetta and such, since so many people are Gluten free today).
  7. Choose your protein for ease and speed of cooking and have it already marinated and ready to be grilled, roasted or baked when your guests arrive for the juiciest results. Pre-make a sauce to be served a long side the finished protein. Some of my favorites include Argentinian style skirt steak with chimichuri sauce, Shawarma chicken skewers with Tahini sauce, oregano-lemon halibut with Kalamata olive-tomato salsa. Basically your imagination is the limit!
  8. Plan on light sides that can be served at room temperature or cold from the fridge: a quinoa pilaf, crunchy marinated root vegetables, tossed salad, pre-roasted and placed on a platter seasoned vegetables.
  9. Make dessert with the same guidelines in mind – prepare ahead or just add finishing touches right before serving: a platter of pre-cut fresh fruit with a sprinkling of freshly minced mint, Affogato (hot coffee poured over a scoop of ice cream) sophisticated and oh, so simple… You get the idea!
  10. Last but not least – don’t be shy about asking for help! Working together in the kitchen breaks the ice, creates the intimacy of a shared experience and is just plain fun!! (And - less work for you!!)

Below are links for some of the recipes:

  1. Easy Mojito
  2. Zesty Guacamole
  3. Goat cheese-cherry tomatoes
  4. Skirt Steak with Chimichuri
  5. Quinoa and Cranberry Pilaf
  6. Affogato