My first thought, when inviting friends for lunch during the summer months, is to set the table outside under a jasmine and stephanotis arbor overlooking a perfectly manicured garden. I walk around the garden hoping to find such site, and every time I am disappointed that, overnight, my garden has not turned into my dream place. Instead, I look into a pool covered with plastic toys and crocodile floaters, uneven flat stones and wilting pots of geraniums. So my solution, albeit imperfect, is to splurge on two huge umbrellas; that way, I can have my perfect spot anywhere, and all it takes is moving them around to find an appropriate spot.
When entertaining outside, think about your guests’ comfort and bring a small auxiliary table to place extra drinks and glasses. As hiding from full sun light is a must, take the time to notice the shadows and how the sun moves around your chosen spot. You don’t need to keep a meticulous diary, just peek out the window the day before. Have a few hats handy for whoever might need them and remember that when it is hot outside, everyone drinks more, so be prepared with large pitchers of iced tea or chilled wine.
Meals that involve no cooking (or at least very little) are best for summer entertaining, and this menu is perfect for those occasions. My sister in-law, Chessy Rayner, used to serve this at her house in the Caribbean, and I have to admit I always thought it was a fantastic menu: elegant, delicious, effortless to prepare and easily enlarged for last minute guests.
And while we are on the subject of last minute guests, and especially during summer months when friends of friends are a common occurrence, planning menus that can be easily enlarged is just a good plan. Without doubt, FHB (family hold back), whispered around the buffet table has always been an acceptable way of enlarging whatever meal is planned, but throwing a few more potatoes in the stew or making a bigger bowl of pasta works a little better.
When I am in a pinch, with no time to go to the store and purchase more food, I organize a buffet or add dishes to those already planned. I always have a few canned beans that turn into a cool and crispy salad with the addition of finely chopped onions or celery, and red peppers or some tomatoes from the garden that add color and a touch of freshness to any buffet, sprinkled with salt, olive oil and pepper. Some of my favorite staples are sour cream and mayonnaise that dress pasta or white rice to make flavorful salads, and cold cuts like baked ham and salami that make little sandwiches that are great crowd pleasers. And I must say that these last minute additions are always the ones that seem to disappear first.
The menu for this buffet is a wonderful combination of tastes and textures. The saltines of the smoked salmon combines beautifully with the potato salad, the tartness of the marinated onions with the smooth sour cream and chives; and the Boston lettuce salad, adds color and freshness to an easy and elegant menu. The yogurt ice cream is cooling and refreshing and the tangy citrus flavor is an excellent ending to the meal.
And if your group gets bigger, a platter of cheeses, a warm baguette and some sliced tomatoes are all you need to enlarge the buffet table.
Being hospitable, welcoming friends, house guests and visitors should not be a hassle, after all they know that you know… and if they really mind the crocodile floaters and plastic toys in the yard, just tell them to imagine a manicured garden and pretend they are sitting under a glorious tree with ocean breezes (a portable fan might work just as well!).
My favorite Potato Salad
1 garlic clove, peeled
1-cup olive oil
white pepper (optional)
6 white potatoes, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf
half cup of milk
6 celery sticks, finely diced
6 scallions, finely sliced
1 cup parsley, finely chopped
Place the garlic in a small bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Let it marinade while you make the potatoes. In a large pot of boiling water, add the bay leaf, milk and potatoes. Cook over high heat for 15 to 20 minutes until the potatoes are soft but not mushy. Remove from the heat and drain, removing the bay leaf. Place a group of potatoes in a serving bowl and layer alternating with the celery, scallions and parsley. Remove the garlic clove from the olive oil dressing and pour the oil over the potato mixture. Toss well and chill until ready to serve.
Sour Cream and Chives Sauce
[Makes 1 cup]
1-cup sour cream
the juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
half cup chives, finely chopped
In a bowl, mix all the ingredients until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to eat.
Marinated Red Onions
2 red onions
half-cup good quality balsamic vinegar
quarter cup chopped parsley
Peel the onion and using a mandolin slice very thin. Place in a shallow bowl and cover with the balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle chopped parsley to serve. Marinade for at least one hour.
2 heads Boston lettuce
quarter cup olive oil
the juice of one lemon
pinch of salt
Open the lettuce and wash it; pat to dry completely. In a small bowl combine the olive oil, lemon juice and salt; whisk to combine well. Place the lettuce in a salad bowl and toss with dressing. Serve at room temperature.
Blood Orange Yogurt ice cream
6 Blood oranges
1 egg white
2 cups whole milk yogurt
half-cup heavy cream
quarter cup grated orange peel
Squeeze the juice of the oranges. Grate one-quarter cup of orange peel and set aside. In a double boiler, place the orange juice, sugar and eggs and beat with a wire whisk until foamy (about 5 to 7 minutes). Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the yogurt, heavy cream, one tablespoon of sugar and grated orange peel. Incorporate the orange foam into the yogurt mixture and place in the ice cream churner for about twenty minutes. Freeze until ready to serve, but thaw a few minutes before serving. Serve with store bought orange scented cookies, if you like. ■