We had a bunch of visitors in town over Labor Day weekend, so Betsy and I planned a fun daytime party to celebrate the end of summer. It has been abnormally hot in Denver this year so it was very important that the food I made for our party was easy to make in advance and also tasted good cold. I didn’t want to be slaving away over a hot oven all day!
A lot of times people think picnic during the summer, but if it’s abnormally hot or rainy, you may not want to venture outside. Whether you celebrate inside or outside, the key to making a success of a daytime party though is to make sure the food you serve can be made in advance. That ensures that your oven is off and the house is nice and cool and inviting for your guests.
Anytime I’m planning a party, it’s always a good idea to have a solid list of who is attending so you can make sure there’s something for everyone. For our event this weekend, there were a few different dietary restrictions I needed to keep track of, but knowing about them in advance made it easy to plan around them.
Your goal here isn’t to make sure that everyone can eat everything, but that everyone can eat something.
Dress It Up, Cool It Down
If it’s hot outside, it’s nice to try to create a cool environment inside. Betsy is great with indoor plants and we have a bunch of them that add some lightness to our dining room. Try to fill the corners of the room with one or two big leafy plants and then maybe some fresh flowers as a centerpiece!
I also like to make sure there are plenty of cool drinks for people to drink so I refrigerate a few liter bottles of water in advance. These have a great look to them and make serving water easy so people aren’t running back and forth from the kitchen constantly.
There are a few features of dishes that I think make for a good late-summer party:
- It tastes good cold
- It can be made almost 100% in advance
- It’s light and flavorful
I don’t really think heavy foods work well in summer, except for desserts, so I like to keep stuff light and easy.
For my base recipe, I made a cold soba salad. It’s very flexible, but it’s basically cooked and chilled soba, scallions, carrots, red chiles, and cilantro, tossed in a light dressing of rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and a dollop of peanut butter.It’s a great chilled noodle dish!
Something Substantial – It’s a good idea to have a filling dish ready for your party. I made these roast beef wraps and cut them into thirds for easy eating.
Fruit fruit fruit! – I made a delicious fruit salad that couldn’t have been easier. It included balled honeydew melon, fresh figs, fresh blackberries, and mint, all stirred together. You don’t even need a dressing for it!
Something Sweet - I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, but it’s always nice to have something sweet to end. I made a quick half batch of these awesome brownies. They are decadent and rich — exactly what I want in a brownie.
Something Interesting – I like to have at least one unusual (to me) dish This time, I made these cool little sesame salmon spring rolls which were light, great chilled, and easy to eat!
1) Sprinkle salmon with sesame oil and coarse salt. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Sear salmon in a large skillet, skin-side up for 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Then flip and transfer to oven and roast for 5-6 minutes until salmon is cooked through.
3) Remove from oven and let cook, then slice skin off of salmon and flake it into large pieces.
4) Prepare other spring roll ingredients: chop lettuce, grate carrots, mince mint, cook rice noodles and run them under cold water to stop cooking. Whisk together sauce.
5) TO make a spring roll, add a rice paper wrapper to a plate with hot water and flip a few times. Let soak for about 10 seconds until the paper loosens up.
6) Transfer wrapper to a clean surface and put a small handful of noodles in the middle. Top with 1.5-2 ounces of salmon along with lettuce, carrot, and mint.
7) Fold ends over filling and roll it tightly, trying to keep tension on the wrapper as you roll it so the filling stays nice and tight in the spring roll. When done, store on a clean plate and repeat until your filling is done. You should get 8-10 spring rolls.
8) You can either chop the spring rolls in half or just leave them whole and serve them with the dipping sauce!
To start the spring rolls, just season the salmon with a drizzle of sesame oil and a sprinkle of coarse salt.
Sear the salmon skin-side up for about five minutes over medium-high heat. Once it is seared, transfer it to a 350 degree F. oven for about 5-6 minutes to let it finish cooking through. You don’t want to overcook the salmon. It’s actually okay if it’s still slightly red in the center.
To make the spring rolls, just add a rice paper wrapper to a plate with hot water to make it flexible. Let it soak for about 10 seconds until it’s very flexible. Flip it once or twice as it soaks to make sure it’s absorbing the hot water evenly.
Then add the rice paper to a clean surface. Add a small handful of rice string noodles to the center and about two ounces of cooked salmon.
Top the salmon with some grated carrot, chopped lettuce, and fresh mint and then roll it up like a burrito! You want to get it nice and tight so the filling doesn’t spill out.
You can either keep these rolls whole, or chop them in half. Your call!
As you can see, we ate really well on this picnic. Here was my first of a few plates!
From Inside to Outside
These dishes also work great as an actual picnic if you did want to venture out, but there are a few things to remember if you do that. Remember to bring plenty of plates, glassware, and napkins. Sometimes I like to class it up and bring cloth napkins which cuts down on the paper usage. Be sure to bring plenty of ice also to keep the food cold. If you aren’t going far (backyard picnic?) then you can just use cold beverages to keep the food cold.
Do you have a picnic recipe or tip? Leave a comment and share it!
This post is part of BlogHer’s Kitchen Entertaining editorial series, made possible by KitchenAid.