Looking back on it, when I've written for What's for Dinner? I've written a lot about entertaining. Maybe it's because I like to do it, or because I've always seemed to have friends who's idea of a good time is the revolving cocktail or dinner party so I've entertained a lot. Even when I was in my mid 20's everyone I knew could cook and while we were the dirtiest of dirty hippies (IIRC only a handful of us put on a tie to go to work) we couldn't shake the bourgeois urge to put out a plate of crudites or homemade salsa fresca on the coffee table between the ash tray and the stack of unread mail. We were hippies, but we were civilized about it.
Now the thing I like about summertime entertaining is that it tends to be highly informal, and I'd rather have friends over for nibbles and drinks or iced tea on the deck than try to give them dinner. Over the fold, a few things I like to put out when I'm hanging out with family or friends on the deck.
I joked about crudites in the introduction, but by all means, put out raw vegetables, especially as they begin to come into season at your farmer's market. Lots of people seem to like heavy dressings for them, but a simple vinaigrette on the side or even just vinegar, water and a little salt, is a refreshing way to enjoy these vegetables on a hot afternoon.
It has become popular to scoop up hummus with raw vegetables, and hummus is one of my go-to summer entertaining foods. I never buy it in the store. It's cheaper, easier, and tastier to make it at home. I learned to make it from an Armenian chef friend of mine. Here's how:
1 can chickpeas
3 large cloves garlic, more or less to taste
juice of one lemon
Kalamata or other olives
Drain chickpeas and reserve brine. In the large bowl of a food processor, chop garlic cloves. Add chickpeas and a little bit of the brine and process about 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides and add about 1/4 cup of tahini. Process until smooth. Add lemon juice and about 1/2 tsp. cumin and a little salt. Process for about two minutes. Correct for salt. Add more liquid if necessary. Final mixture should be quite creamy. It will set up a bit in the fridge, but this will be a less dense hummus than the ones that come pre-packaged.
Refrigerate over night. Serve garnished with black olives, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle lightly with cumin and paprika.
For a variation, roasted red peppers preserved in olive oil can be added in the processor.
I also like to put out pickles. I make pickles in September, but my own never seem to make it past Christmas. However, sometimes in the spring I make pickled fiddleheads and they can be ready for late-summer entertaining depending upon the recipe. Fiddleheads are an edible fern and they're plentiful here in Maine. I promised someone my basic fiddlehead pickle recipe, so here it is:
Commonmass' Pickled Fiddleheads
For six pints of pickled Fiddleheads:
Take one quart of cider vinegar
Three to five cups of sugar, depending on how sweet you want them to be
Three teaspoons of salt
An heaping tablespoon each of black peppercorns, mustard seed, turmeric, plus about five whole cloves. (Alternately: add red pepper flakes or curry powder).
Boil these ingredients and allow to cool to a medium-hot temperature. Blanch the fiddleheads in water for a few minutes and drain. In the meanwhile, you will have pint canning jars, lids and rings sterilized in your water-bath canner. Working quickly, bring the vinegar mixture back to a boil while you fill the jars with the blanched fiddleheads. Pour mixture over the ferns up to about a quarter of an inch of the top. Cover with covers and rings. Process in water-bath canner for ten minutes. Be sure to check your seals after the jars cool. These pickles will be ready to eat in about three months.
Corn chips and salsa are always popular. I learned to make this very basic Tex-Mex salsa from my Texas ex's grandmother. It's extremely good and because the garlic and the onions and the peppers are blanched, it's gentler on the stomach.
CommonEx™'s Tex-Mex Salsa
1 large (28oz) can of good crushed tomatoes.
1/2 large white onion
4 large cloves garlic
2 to 3 Serrano peppers
Salt and pepper
1/3 to 1/2 a bunch of well-washed cilantro.
Coarsely dice onion and place in a saucepan with the Serrano peppers. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. This process may sound strange, but as a result of parboiling the onions and peppers you can eat this salsa all day and get plenty of flavor and heat and no heartburn.
Drain onions and peppers and place in bowl of food processor. (For milder salsa, remove the seeds from some or all of the peppers). Add garlic cloves, mashed with the back of a knife. Coarsely chop the cilantro and add to processor. Add tomatoes, sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Process until smooth. Check for seasoning.
You can eat this the same day, but it gets better the longer it sits. When checking for seasoning, remember it also gets hotter and more "garlicky" the longer it sits, too.
With all of this salty, spicy food you're going to want to serve something to drink. Here are two nice options, one of which is non-alcoholic.
GreenMountainBoy02's Best Iced Tea
Terun made the best iced tea I've ever had, and also the most unusual. You wouldn't think so, but how this all comes together is so subtle, it will really surprise you.
1/2 gallon cold water
5 tea bags
1/2 cup sugar (or to taste--this will add just a hint of sweet)
several pieces each lemon, lime and orange rind
Mix in pot and bring to a rolling boil for a few seconds. Turn off heat and allow to cool. Remove rinds and pour over ice in pitcher garnished with lemon and lime slices. A sprig of fresh mint may be added.
Commonmass' Sangria with Port
Sangria is lovely out on the deck on a Summer afternoon. This recipe is a little different, but very tasty. It can be served over ice.
6 large, juicy oranges.
Sugar to taste
One bottle of light-bodied red wine
1/3 cup of port, or more to taste.
Juice the oranges and the lemon. From the lemon and one orange remove the zest first with a paring knife, paring in a spiral all the way around. Put the juice in a large pitcher and add a couple of tablespoons of sugar. Add port and red wine and mix well. Garnish pitcher with the lemon and orange zest spirals and a couple of slices of citrus.
So, good luck with your warm weather entertaining. What are you serving on your deck? What's for dinner?