The relaxed pace and longer days of summer lend themselves so well to hosting more dinner parties and casual gatherings, but … summer, relaxed, casual… perhaps the work involved in entertaining is off-putting. Not so! Easy, easy outdoor entertaining needn’t require lots of work nor the appearance of slacking at the hosting. The key factors are ease of preparation, little hands on time when guests have arrived, and portability– all without sacrificing the wow factor. Below are suggestions for a casual dinner, from cocktails to dessert, that are a cinch to pull together and that will see you spending more time with your guests than preparing amazing food and drink for them.
Teapigs Lemon Ginger Collins
While shaken cocktails are dear to my heart, they are a lot of work for a crowd. I suggest, instead, making something that can go into a pitcher. Think batches rather than single servings, and you will have a drink in your guests’ hands in an instant.
We recently had the great good luck to try some tea-based cocktails with Teapigs, and this Lemon and Ginger Collins is a keeper. I made it for my annual Mad Mums’ Martini night, and it was a huge hit. Make the tea and simple syrup a day ahead of time, and then when guests arrive, just add garnishes and the booze of your choice. Bonus: without the booze it’s a wonderful iced tea, and can be served to guests who are not drinking alcohol.
Lemon Ginger Collins (serves four, but go ahead and double it because it’s really delicious and seconds will be in high demand)
Prep Time: 10 minutes the day before to brew tea and make simple syrup, 2 minutes to slice lemons and mix
Created for Teapigs by Brad Gubbins, head bartender at FIGO, this is effortless to make and dangerously effortless to drink! I wanted a bit more punch to the recipe than his original recipe called for, so I added vodka. It would also taste fabulous with gin.
10 oz Chilled Teapigs Lemon and Ginger Tea (four tea temples)
5 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
5 oz vodka
2 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
3 1/2 oz simple syrup (Pour equal parts water and sugar in a saucepan. 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water will make 1 ½ cups of simple syrup once dissolved. Stir the simple syrup and place the saucepan over medium heat. Heat ingredients until dissolved.)
lemon slices for pitcher and for garnish
Brew 4 cups of tea with 4 teapigs lemon & ginger tea temples. Steep for a bit longer than you would for a cup of tea to make sure the flavour stands out, about 10 minutes. Remove the tea temples, add the simple syrup, stir and chill. When you are ready to serve, add all the ingredients, except the soda water, into a pitcher filled with ice. Stir until all ingredients are mixed. Pour into a Collins glass garnished with three lemon wheels to serve, and top with ice and soda water.
Kim Crawford Frosé Cocktail
Appetizer: Goat Cheese and Olives
Prep Time: Five minutes
The simplest dish with the biggest wow factor: goat cheese, rosemary and olives on baguette. It’s heavenly, and all you have to do is spread cheese on a plate and garnish it. A friend brought it to a party at my house once, and I’ve made it often since.
a package of goat cheese (plain, herbed or peppered–whatever you love)
1/8 cup best olive oil
1/4 cup pitted black and green olives
4 sprigs of rosemary for garnish and one tablespoon chopped rosemary
one baguette or crackers
Spread the goat cheese in a thin layer over a platter. Sprinkle chopped rosemary and olives over the cheese. Drizzle olive oil over all the ingredients. Frame the plate with four sprigs of rosemary. Serve with baguette or crackers.
Main Course: Try Something from HelloFresh
HelloFresh recently sent me a family box of three family meals to try, and I was blown away by how easy and delicious the meals were. HelloFresh sends out a recipe card and all of the pre-measured ingredients you need for the meal, with some of the ingredients pre-chopped for even faster prep. I decided since some of the work was already done that my kids (9 and 12) could do the rest, and I just supervised. That’s how easy it is. They made and loved the meals (beef tacos, stir-fried pork, Mediterranean chicken), and I was amazed at how eager they were to try new foods (jicama slaw!) and how proud they were to serve them. Each meal serves four and took less than 30 minutes to prepare (and that was with the kids cooking), so they are designed for speed as well as taste. Check out their recipe archive, and see what appeals!
Dessert: Summer’s Salted Caramel Ice Cream Truffle Bombs
July is Ice Cream Month, and nothing says summer like ice cream, Toronto’s own Summer’s Ice Cream, especially. The Yorkville favourite is now available in retail stores, so you can take home the ice cream store treats to enjoy in your own back yard. You could just serve scoops of Summer’s amazing flavours of ice cream and be done with it, but if you do have the time and the freezer space, these truffle bombs are the bomb. Made a day or two ahead, all you have to do is take them out of the freezer and serve.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Ingredients (makes 24 truffles)
For the ice cream truffles:
1 x 500ml container of Summer’s Sea Salt Caramel ice cream
3 cups (20 oz.) quality dark chocolate
1 cup caramel drizzle
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
For the caramel drizzle:
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
6 Tablespoons (90g) salted butter, room temperature cut up into 6 pieces
1/2 cup (120ml) heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
For the caramel drizzle:
Heat granulated sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a high heat resistant rubber spatula or wooden spoon.
Sugar will form clumps and eventually melt into a thick brown, amber-colored liquid as you continue to stir. Be careful not to burn.
Once sugar is completely melted, immediately add the butter. Be careful in this step because the caramel will bubble rapidly when the butter is added.
Stir the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted, about 2-3 minutes. A whisk helps if you find the butter is separating from the sugar.
Very slowly, drizzle in 1/2 cup of heavy cream while stirring. Since the heavy cream is colder than the caramel, the mixture will rapidly bubble and/or splatter when added.
Allow the mixture to boil for 1 minute. It will rise in the pan as it boils.
Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon of salt. Allow to cool down before using.
Make ahead tip: You can make this caramel in advance. Make sure it is covered tightly and store it for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Warm the caramel up for a few seconds before using. This caramel is OK at room temperature for a day.
Avoid doubling or tripling this caramel recipe. The added volume could prevent the sugar from melting evenly and properly. Make a couple batches instead.
For the ice cream truffles:
Line two small baking sheets with parchment paper, wax paper, or foil. Freeze the baking sheets for 10 minutes.
Remove one of the lined baking sheets from the freezer. Working quickly, use a 1½-inch ice cream scoop, melon baller, or round tablespoon to scoop out round balls of ice cream. Place the ice cream balls on the prepared baking sheet. Return the baking sheet with the ice cream balls to the freezer, and repeat this process with the second baking sheet.
Freeze the ice cream bombs for 30 minutes or up to overnight until firm.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave for 30 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until the chocolate is completely melted (90 seconds or more depending on your microwave).
Using a small spoon, drizzle the frozen ice cream bombs with the melted chocolate.
Drizzle each ball with caramel sauce and top with coarse sea salt. Work fast, because the chocolate will harden quickly. Repeat this process with the remaining ice cream bombs. You may need to re-melt the chocolate in the microwave at regular intervals during the process to keep it in liquid form.
Freeze the decorated ice cream truffles for 30 minutes or up to overnight until firm.
Store the ice cream truffles in an airtight container and keep frozen.
Plenty was provided with samples of some of the products mentioned in this post. The opinions are our own.