The term "soiree" conjures up the notion of something secret, magical, and special. Your party may not be secret, but it surely can be magical and special.
Invite a group of good friends and plan to enjoy a balmy summer evening together under the brilliant night sky.
Set the Stage
Plan ahead and keep the menu simple. Consider a meal that is cooked entirely on the grill, or serve a room temperature buffet.
If you grill exclusively, your guests will pitch in with the cooking. If you prepare a meal that can made ahead of time and served as a buffet, you will only have to arrange the food on platters once the party begins.
Use a festive tablecloth and napkins for your table décor. Candles on the table and in every corner of the porch, deck, or dining room -- even hanging in the trees -- add to the magical ambiance of a soiree (take care they are safely enclosed in lanterns to avoid the risk of fire).
Small white or pastel twinkle lights also add a festive touch. String them along railings, over shrubbery and trees, and around door and window frames.
Serve a cool sparkling wine, such as Italian Prosecco, to get the evening off to a spectacular start. A nice dry rose wine is a good accompaniment to nearly any summer meal, and cocktails guests can make and serve themselves are always fun.
One of the all-time quickest grilling menus is comprised of fish, grilled vegetables, and bananas grilled in their skins (the "Australian method") with an easy rum sauce. Add a simple green or grain salad -- or a pasta salad purchased from you favorite gourmet take-out shop -- and you're done.
Fish cut into individual steaks or thick fillets cooks in minutes on the grill. Best on the grill are sturdy fish, such as salmon, tuna, swordfish, tilapia, Atlantic char, and haddock. Choose whatever is fresh at the fish store.
Slice vegetables into fairly thick slices for grilling. If they are sliced too thin, they will disintegrate. Vegetables on skewers cook quickly, too.
Some of the best vegetables for grilling include tomatoes, fennel, yellow squash, zucchini, onions, bell peppers, portobello mushrooms, and eggplant.
Brush them with a little olive oil or herbed oil and give them a sprinkle of black pepper. They grill in minutes - some take a little longer than the fish, some are done a little sooner. Set them on a cool part of the grill or over a medium-low flame so that they don't burn.
Grill the bananas in their skins until completely black. Peel away the skin to reveal caramelized fruit. Serve the warm bananas with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a good splash of dark rum. Easy and delicious!
Summer Buffet Menu
The great thing about a room temperature menu is that you can cook nearly the whole meal ahead of time. Refrigerate the food overnight and then place it on platters about an hour before serving so that it can reach pleasant room temperature. If the day is very hot, take care not to leave the food out for any longer than an hour.
A marinated flank steak is great for this sort to menu. Marinate the flank steak for at least 12 hours to give it great flavor. Experiment with flavored marinades - you might prefer one seasoned with Italian herbs and spices one day, and on another want to try one with Thai peppers and spices.
Marinated flank steak cooks in less than 30 minutes on the grill or under the broiler. Let it cool and then before serving, slice it on the diagonal.
Grilled or roasted vegetables have great flavor which is as tempting at room temperature as when warm. If you oven roast the vegetables, add some carrots and potatoes to the pan along with the peppers, eggplant, and squash. Served with some fine olive oil and fresh herbs, these are perfect. Everyone loves them.
Cook noodles ahead of time and while still warm, toss them with flavored oil, or garlic-infused olive oil (sauté garlic in the oil first).
Let the noodles chill and then return to room temperature before serving. At the last minute, sprinkle them with fresh chopped herbs or grated Parmesan cheese - or both.
Freshly baked fruit pies or just-picked summer berries are the ideal ending to a delightful summer meal. Serve them with ice cream, crème fraîche, or whipped cream. Don't forget the mint sprig!