Keeping Cool in the Heat of Entertaining

I adore entertaining, and from where I perch, the heat is still on and the dry evenings of a waning summer are perfect for hostessing a gathering. Seeking any excuse to issue an invite, the serendipitous arrival last week-end of out-of-town family provided the perfect occasion to throw a party.

Executing a dinner party for 14 can test the most capable hostess, but over the years, I gleaned that the trick to all entertaining is advance preparation of everything. And staying true to this particularity avoids the last-minute insanity that leads straight to Hostess Meltdown. Having been there, I never want a return trip.

This party was such fun, I enjoyed it as much as our guests. If you’ve been thinking of doing a party but not certain you have the know-how, the steps to keeping your cool in the heat of entertaining are not complicated and as you’ll see, are easily adaptable to all manner of occasions. So tie one on…an apron, of course (!) and get to entertaining.

Here’s a collage of pics from the party, posted as possible inspiration for your own gathering. My time frame for this party’s preparation was 3 days before the event.

Summer Dinner Party Collage Final www

This dinner party included cocktails on the patio. An ironing board covered with a vintage cloth is the food station.

Ironing board covered_serving station pic www

A second serving station for the beverages was atop an old kitchen table.

Prep_serving station_old table www

A piece of plastic is beneath the cloth to protect the wood from further moisture damage.

Old Table Covered_beverage station www

An absolute must: food accompanies alcohol. Assorted plates and mismatched napkins will add to the casual setting.

Summer Dining Collage_5 6 7 www

Appetizers:  Pimento Cheese (which can be purchased or easily made in a food processor or mixer) as a spread on boxed, flavored crackers and a dip for celery sticks.

1 lb grated sharp cheddar cheese; 8 oz jar diced pimentos, drained; 8 oz cream cheese, softened, 3/4 cup mayonnaise; 1/4 tsp cayenne

Put ingredients in the bowl, beat/process until smooth. Cover. Chill until serving.

Speared Veggies – Cherry Tomatoes, mozzarella balls in marinade, basil leaves, petite cucumbers

Cut tomatoes and cheese balls in half. Tear basil leaves into pieces. Slice cucumbers. On a cocktail skewer, stack tomato, basil, cheese and dip in mozzarella marinade. Arrange on a platter with cucumbers in the center. Cover. Chill until serving.

Sit-Down for Dinner: I first set the table with a cloth, but when I stood back and looked at it, the covering emphasized how squished one setting was to the next. Plan two worked much better – using placemats and large napkins (as stand-in mats) visually opened up the space. The beverages were moved inside to the small table on the left wall.

Dining Table total room view www

Rather than a line of candlesticks, I use votives. The colorful holders are settled inside old crystal ashtrays. A primary school flash card offers a simple instructive. Print your own on colored cardstock. I never leave seating to chance – napkins are topped with a place card.

Dining Table scape_ashtrays as votive holders www

Serving buffet style eliminates the passing of platters and bowls and guests can refill plates without interrupting others.

My made-ahead menu included seasoned Turkey Loin (cooked, sliced, packaged in foil, and stored in the refrigerator) served at room temp; purchased Sauces (cranberry/raspberry chipotle and peach/mango) chilled and poured into little bowls; a Broccoli & Cauliflower Salad (a favorite potluck, this recipe is so easy. Look for it in 1950s cookbooks, as well as on the internet. I leave out the bacon and add raisins and shredded carrots.), and a Squash Casserole (double for 12+ servings)

1 large onion, cut into smallish pieces; 3/4 yellow squash sliced or chopped; 2 cups cheese blend; 8 oz can mild diced green chiles; 10 oz can cream of celery soup; optional panko crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spritz bottom and sides of a casserole with spray oil.

In a pot of boiling water, cook the onions and squash until soft. Pour into colander and allow liquid to drain. Push with side of a large spoon or spatula to really get the liquid out. Sprinkle with potato starch (or corn starch). Combine the onion, squash, cheese, green chiles, and soup in the casserole dish. Stir. (Can make ahead to this point, cover and store in refrigerator) Bake until heated through and cheese is well melted. Remove from oven, sprinkle panko on top. Return to the oven and bake until bread crumb mixture is golden.

When it comes to dessert, fruit is not dessert. Cake is dessert.

I’m all for displaying dessert on its own little table and serving it freshly cut, plate by plate. This Glazed Orange Coconut Cake is from and it is absolutely delicious. Should baking a cake push your limit, just purchase a pound cake, top with the Orange Glaze (2 cups powdered sugar, 1/4 cup fresh orange juice: whisk together until smooth, pour over cooled cake) and accompany with fresh fruit.

Dessert Side Table set up www

The guests stayed late – always a good sign! – and the hostess stayed up even later to run Summer Dinner Party Collage_next day table scape wwwthree dishwasher loads, tidy the house and set the table for the morning’s  breakfast – a crustless quiche casserole, made two days earlier! And that’s how it’s done.

Stay cool and Entertain!