SOLUTION: Prep the day before and morning of, so you are left with minimal to do when guests arrived.
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The perfect summer menu for al fresco entertaining at home would be (for me):
- Cocktail – Either Aperol Sprits, Gin and Tonic or a Pimms and lemonade (for a delicious AS, mix 2 parts Aperol with 3 parts prosecco and 1 part soda. Serve in a large cocktail class with a wedge of orange and loads of ice)
- Nibbles – Sourdough “croutes” with 2 different toppings e.g. smashed avocado with sweet pepper salsa on one, and tomato/basil/mozzarella on the other. Make the croutes and toppings the day before, assemble just before guests arrive. For the avocado smash, you can make it the day prior, put in a jam-jar, smooth off the top, cover in a layer of water, and it will not go black. Don’t forget to pour the water off before using to top your croutes!
- Salads – 3 types, 1 x starch (potato/rice/pasta) and 2 x veg – prepare whatever elements you can the day before (including washing and prepping all the vegetables and toppings as you want them to appear in the salad), and then assemble before guests arrive. There are loads of recipes out there for the kinds of salads I mean – below I have included uFoodie’s recipe for Asian Slaw with Apple & Caramelised Walnuts - a real crowd pleaser!
- Proteins – 2 types (some lovely roast salmon served at room temp; pomegranate chicken thighs, piled high and garnished with pomegranate seeds and parsley), citrus chicken or Moroccan lamb kebabs; BBQ chicken wings etc. Do all prepping and marinating the day before, and cook on the day. Ideally this is done on the BBQ by someone else while you assemble nibbles, salads etc., but oven works too.
- Sweets – fruit (platter/salad/simply some strawbs); something chocolatey (mini chocolate mousse “shooters”) or something ice-creamy (I make a layered cake by mixing nut brittle into 1 litre of vanilla ice cream and mixing coffee/chocolate or baileys into another litre, and then layering up in a loaf tin). Definitely make the ice cream/mousse element the day before, and do the fruit on the day.
After all this all you need do is kick back on the deckchair and relax, while someone else does the clearing up - at least that’s the deal in our house whoever cooks doesn’t clean!
uFoodie’s Asian slaw with apple & caramelised walnuts
For the walnut brittle:
For the salad:
For the dressing:
Caramelise the walnuts:
- Roughly break up the walnuts into largish chucks (1/4 size)
- Line a baking tray with an baking parchment paper
- Put caster sugar into the middle of a small pan (sieve it first into a bowl and then place in the pan not getting any on sides)
- Turn on to med heat until the sugar starts to dissolves and turn golden brown.
- Stir with a heat-proof spoon to distribute the caramelisation
- When a nice golden colour, add the walnuts, stir to coat in the sugar syrup and quickly turn out onto the lined baking sheet
- Get the pan and spoon into hot running water as soon as possible so the caramel doesn’t stick to the pan – it will come off this way
- Allow the caramel to cool completely
- Make the dressing
- Finely grate/mince the ginger and put in a jam jar
- Add the vegetable & sesame oils, rice vinegar, soy, mustard, brown sugar, juice of half a lime, salt and pepper – shake to emulsify – check seasoning and adjust as needed
Prep the salad:
- Finely slice the cabbage, greens, apple (skin on) and carrots (latter using julienne peeler) and place in a bowl
- Finely chop the spring onions (keep the green tops for garnish) and add to the bowl
- Strip the coriander leaves from the stalks, chop, add to the bowl
- Add the black and white sesame seeds
- Add the dressing and mix thoroughly
Assemble & Serve
- Just before serving, break up the walnut brittle into nice sized chunks and mix half into the salad in the bowl
- Transfer the salad to a serving platter and scatter over the remaining walnuts and the spring onion tops.