By Samantha Schwalm
Nancy Kabat, Caroline Schwalm and Frannie Garvey at a ladies summer cocktail party on a sunny porch, 1000 Islands, New York .
With the long days of summer upon us, it is the perfect time for outdoor cocktail parties. Whether hosting an impromptu get together such as neighbors popping in for a drink, running into family friends in the park, or a more organized evening, I always recommend keeping some meats (salami or summer sausage), couple of cheeses and crackers as a staple in my fridge and pantry. Regardless if the party seems to spontaneously happen or is a planned affair, remember to keep things simple.
The Bar: Keep it Simple
While a full bar offering is great, often it is not practical and can complicate a simple affair. An offering of chilled rosé and white wines is perfect to serve on hot summer evenings alongside a few varieties of beer. I find a large pitcher of water with lemon is often a refreshing starter for guests. Serving the drinks in a nice bucket with ice allows guests to serve themselves, and frees hosts up to socialize and enjoy their own party. If cocktails are your fancy, a great way to keep things simple is to have one specialty drink prepared. The drink may be made ahead of time and served in a pitcher or punch bowl. This could be anything from a traditional mojito made with mint, or non traditional mojito, with cucumber and basil. Having the bar simple, organized, and accessible will keep your stress level down and guests happy.
Appetizers with a glass of rose garnished with a strawberry. St. Lawrence River in the background.
The Food: Cool it down
When things are heating up out side, cool things down with chilled appetizers. If your affair is an impromptu party of neighbors stopping by, grab those staple meats and cheeses from your refrigerator for a meat and cheese tray. To make the tray more interesting, I like to serve olives out of martini glasses. This adds some height to the tray, for a nicer presentation. Then place crackers, a hard cheese, perhaps a Parmesan, and a softer goat cheese around the glasses. Finish it off with a few slices of sausage and salami, and you have the perfect appetizer. For a planned event, a nice variety of food is key. Think about who is coming to the party. Place appetizers on smaller trays, which can be made ahead of time. Keep the trays in fridge and bring out to serve or place on tables at key times during the party. One of my favorite cold appetizers is ceviche served in little juice or shot glasses that can be picked up and eaten with a small fork. Individual sized peach tarts with goat cheese, are also a crowd pleaser. I also like to have one or two hardier appetizers, for example, beef tenderloin sandwiches or chicken satay with a fun dipping sauce. Finally, consider a mix of meat and vegetarian appetizers to accommodate all dietary needs.
A smaller, replaceable appetizer tray.
The Host: Enjoy your own party
I am sure we have all hosted a party and gotten to the end and realized you have done a ton of work and did not even get to enjoy your own party. Having an accessible bar and foods which can be placed out ahead of time allows you to be the host, but also importantly enjoy your own party. This is why multiple smaller trays of appetizers that can easily be replaced quickly instead of having to manually add, are so important. Being organized and keeping things simpler provides the host with time engage in conversation with their guests. While there will always be times where you will need to attend to host duties, mingling and making sure your guests are enjoying themselves is the most important roll of the host.
Remember you are throwing a party, parties are fun. The more organized and less stressed the host or hostess are, the more relaxed your guests will be. Simply, give your guests some lovely appetizers, a specialty drink, and you will be the hit of the season.
Goat Cheese and Peach Tart:
3 peaches sliced with skin on
1/4 of balsamic vinegar
A pinch of salt and pepper
Cut puff pastry sheets into 2 inch rounds, and tap small holes into the pastry with a fork
Spread room temperature goat cheese on top of puff pastry. Then toss peach slices in balsamic vinegar, with salt & pepper.
Place 2 slices on top of each puff pastry, goat cheese round, and bake in a 350 oven for 15 minutes. Serve warm or cold!
Samantha Schwalm is owner of Paris Kabat Catering, providing personal chef and cooking services in Chicago. She can be followed on Instagram: paris_kabat_catering and at FB: Paris Kabat Catering.