Coming off a weekend of entertaining, I have a few secrets that work every time. Not everyone loves to entertain, but with a little planning and organizing, you can actually join the party too. Here’s the roundup on how to throw a memorable gathering, and have a great time while you’re at it:
Plan the menu ahead – think simple and in your wheelhouse. This is not the best time to experiment with elaborate dishes.
Shop what you can ahead – it’s the running around for mint at the last minute that will put you over the edge. I am a big fan of a thorough shopping list. Then when you hit the farmer's market, you will be calm and will only need to grab a few fresh seasonal things.
Prep ahead – pick a few items you can have done well in advance. You can marinate your meat ahead of time so it is ready to cook whenever you need it. My favourite boneless butterflied leg of lamb feeds about 12 and I marinate it 3 days before.
Pick a mix of warm and room temperature dishes – room temperature dishes like these salad ideas below don’t require sweating over the stove. Think like a caterer.
Designate – the barbecue is a natural place to do the hand off. They may be your co-host or another bbq keener or wing person who will lovingly tend to the meat you have marinated for days.
Say yes to offers to bring something – we all know the great appetizer queen or Betty Crocker. Say yes to their offers to execute on the party vision and elevate the meal.
Lights, Music, Action – get it right and dim the lights and set your playlist. Don’t have your nose buried in your phone trying to sort music mid-gathering.
Let it go and enjoy – there’s always a few kitchen angels who will step up to clear and clean. Graciously let them, and sink back and enjoy the night.
Here’s our menu from last weekend’s fete (note the happy hand offs):
- Nuria + Zach’s Lobster Salad on Corn Cakes
- Nuria + Zach’s Shrimp and Fennel Ceviche
- Roasted Asparagus + Wild Leeks with Balsamic + Parmesan
- Spring Green Salad with Peas + Pistachios (recipe below)
- Beet, Rhubarb + Pickled Onion Salad with Watercress + Gorgonzola
- Boneless Butterflied Leg of Lamb
RECIPE: Spring Greens with Creamy Vinaigrette (SERVES 6)
1/3 cup (75 mL) baby peas (If you time it right you may be able to find flowering pea shoots. They make a beautiful addition to this perfect springtime salad)
1 bunch thin asparagus (about 12 stalks), ends snapped off
1 head red leaf lettuce
1 small head frisée or chicory
1/4 cup (60 mL) shaved pecorino cheese
¼ cup pistachios, shelled
3 tbsp (50 mL) sour cream
2 tbsp (30 mL) red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil
1. Blanch peas in a pot of boiling salted water for 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer with a slotted spoon (don’t drain the water) to a bowl of ice and cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well.
2. In the same pot, blanch asparagus until tender-crisp. Drain and plunge into a bowl of ice and cold water, then drain and pat dry.
3. Cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch (1 cm) pieces.
4. Wash, spin dry and tear the lettuces. Set aside.
5. To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl whisk together sour cream, vinegar and salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in olive oil until emulsified.
6. Drizzle some of the dressing into a salad bowl. Add the lettuces and toss to lightly coat, adding more dressing if needed.
7. Season with salt and pepper.
8. Top with asparagus, peas, pecorino and pistachios.