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Easy dishes for outdoor entertaining!

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Posted by : Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite, Mon, Jun 13 2011

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Ah summer - the daylight lasts a little bit longer, entertaining is taken outdoors. The living is easy…

Somehow, entertaining seems so much more simple when one can eat outdoors.  Everything seems a little less effort, the pace is more relaxed and so is the mood.  Guests are happy to pick at appetizers with their fingers and linger over a barbecue or outdoor meal over a number of hours. So what to serve them to preserve that relaxed feeling for you, the host, as well?

One of my most successful outdoor party ideas was a "BLT from Scratch" party.  Everyone brought a component - home-baked bread, mayonnaise, tomatoes, lettuces - and we supplied the home-cured pancetta. People built their sandwiches according to their preference and because everything was truly from scratch, the satisfaction was enormous! 



Even if you don't make everything from scratch, a pot-luck sandwich party is always fun too!

Salads are easy to throw together at the last minute, using what you have on hand…  Shallow fried pucks of creamy goat-cheese in panko crumbs make a meal out of fresh salad leaves with asparagus spears. Toasted baguette spread with goat cheese and topped with chopped fresh tomatoes and basil make a wonderful appetizer.  Or how about salad leaves tossed with blueberries, grapes, feta and watermelon with your favourite vinaigrette?

One of the easiest salads you can serve to impress your guests is tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella.  Whether you serve one large mozzarella with rough-cut tomatoes or individual servings, it's a sure-fire crowd pleaser!

A play on the fruit and cheese theme is thin slices of watermelon sandwiching salty slices of feta cheese. Topped with some caramelized onions, these are a unique appetizer that will have people thinking differently about watermelon - it's not just a dessert!

Or how about some Sugar-and-Spice-Baked Shrimp adapted from The New York Times

Ingredients (for 6 people)
?1 cup sugar (plain white sugar is best - it caramelizes well)
2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons Penzey's Black and Red Spice blend (or regular chili powder)
2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
1 1 1/2-inch slice fresh ginger, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Zest of one lime
Vegetable oil
24 large shrimp, peeled and deveined (with tail on)
Juice of 1 lime

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 500F. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, salt, Black and Red, garlic, ginger, allspice, turmeric, flour and lime zest. Grease a large baking sheet with the vegetable oil or line a cookie tray with aluminium foil.
2. Dredge the shrimp, 2-3 at a time, in the sugar and spice mixture.  Try to coat the shrimp thickly with the mixture.  Place place on the baking sheet. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, until the sugar is caramelized.
3. Remove the shrimp from the oven, turn over with a spatula and squeeze lime juice over them.

And what's a summer party without drinks? Take advantage of the wonderful selection of fresh fruit available and make your own fancy drinks.  How about a watermelon agua fresca?  Simply blend a cup of cubed watermelon and mix into club soda or lemonade to taste. A squirt of lime juice and you're good to go.  You can make any number of agua fresca type drinks with fresh fruit blends - how about a peach/ mint combo?  The possibilities are endless.  You can make them kid-friendly or adult-friendly with a spash of your favourite alcohol, as you wish.

The main thing to remember for summer entertaining is to keep it easy for yourself and relaxed for your guests.  Use what's in season locally for the tastiest options. And enjoy!

Mardi Michels is a full-time French teacher and part-time food blogger based in Toronto.  Her blog,eat.live.travel.write   focuses on culinary adventures both near and far because she travels as often as she can! 

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Posted: Mon, Jun 13 2011 by Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite

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