A Late Supper Outdoors

In August, there’s no reason to heat up the kitchen. TINA GOMES BRAND shares tips for elegant midsummer entertaining, away from the stove.

Do these strident hot days make you wilt at the thought of an evening meal with friends? Tackle summer’s oppressive heat with a dinner outdoors involving minimum effort. These simple steps will add up to an elegant, fresh and satisfying meal enhanced by personal touches to make it all memorable.

What to cook? It is just too too hot to cook or eat a full-scale meal, and anyway, you don’t want to be slaving over a stove when its 90 outside. Dainty bits of green on a plate won’t satisfy either, so cast your mind to a salad whose main ingredient is slow cooked shredded beef, a citrus dressing with a flavorful Oriental zing and a medley of fresh herbs and vegetables that will burst with flavor in the mouth.

Plan on a late meal, when the sun is truly down and your backyard is bathed in the deep afterglow of a shimmering hot day. Drag an old table out and set it with your most colorful tableware. The combination of playful and elegant has a wonderful carefree feel that you and your guests will remember, so don’t be shy to mix bright glass plates with pretty plastic tumblers. Give your cutlery a quick buff before you put it out and be rewarded with sparkly silver, catching the twinkle of candlelight.

Talking about candlelight … set citronella candles everywhere to combat your greatest detractors, bugs. In fact, dot the edge of your garden or outdoor space with the time-tested trick of tea lights set in brown paper lunch bags filled with a cup of sand. By nestling your little candles this way, you can rest easy that a candle tipping over will extinguish itself in its little circle of sand. As dusk slips into darkness, your dinner party will glimmer in the light of candles surrounding you. Instant fairyland!

Pick delicate leaves or vines and a flower or two, and pop them in tall drinking glasses or champagne flutes scattered around your table for a relaxed look. A sprig or two of fresh herbs left over from the preparation of your salad will add whimsy. If more formal is your style, try a couple of pots of phalenopsis, wrapped in tissue and tulle and tied with a silk cord. The graceful orchid sprays are sturdier than they look and will happily survive a summer night out.

For least effort, put your efforts into creating just your main meal from scratch, then plan on assembling store-bought items for a memorable desert with no preparation time. If you do have an ice cream maker and still have the energy, try your hand at a cool sorbet (recipe included). For a change, serve champagne with the meal, and enjoy the crispy effervescence keeping your guests cool and complementing a tasty salad. Keep lots of water close at hand flavored with fresh mint and lime wedges in ice-packed jugs to chase it all down.

No more to do now than to turn on your favorite cool evening music, let it waft gently out onto your twilit setting and bring out your dinner to enjoy this magical evening.

Get the recipes:

Thai-Inspired Beef Salad

Coconut and Lime Gelato

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