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December 28, 2014
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Planning an Outdoor Dinner Party

Hosting outdoor parties during the summer months can be successful and enjoyable by sticking to some basic tenents: make ahead, make it simple, make it flavorful, make it colorful.


It’s July, mid-summer: the lush green time of ease and plenty. The sun glints off the water as dusk approaches, that magic hour when the light bounces off the water’s surface. A breeze comes up as I put the finishing touches on the makeshift table placed on the grass in front of our house. This table, made elegant with a few simple touches, was cobbled together from sawhorses and old doors and covered with vintage linens. I set the four handblown cruets down the center of the table, each filled with flowers from the garden. All is perfect for our 30th wedding anniversary party as family and friends gather to help us celebrate.

Hosting outdoor parties during the summer months can be successful and enjoyable by sticking to some basic tenents: make ahead, make it simple, make it flavorful, make it colorful. Summertime entertaining should be easy; plan a menu that can be made ahead of time so that you can be part of the party with your guests.

The setting is key. Don’t stick to the same old patio barbecue; move the party to the lawn, or under a tree; use your imagination. Add colorful linens; red, white and blue is perfect for summer, but bright greens are fun, too. Vintage cloths look good anytime, and you can even use old Indian print bedspreads for a festive, fanciful look.

I’ve planned a menu that you can prepare at least a day ahead (except for the actual cooking of the meat) and brought to room temperature before the guests arrive. Brined meats are perfect summer fare because the meat soaks in a flavorful brining (sugar and salt) solution while you attend to the rest of the menu. Brining is an old technique for preserving foods. It works well in modern times to infuse meats with deep flavor with little fuss from the cook.

The dishes offered here are simple foods with a twist: cilantro and lime juice in the cole slaw, asparagus in the potato salad and salsa made from mangos instead of tomatoes. Check your local farmers’ markets for ingredients. Add a salad of fresh summer greens and you’re done!

Summer Brined Turkey

1 14-15 pound turkey, giblets discarded, rinsed

1 cup sea salt or kosher salt

1 cup light brown sugar

½ cup honey

½ cup white wine vinegar

4 bay leaves

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds

1 tablespoons allspice berries

2 tablespoons black peppercorns

2 onions, peeled and quartered

3 to 4 stalks of celery

3 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly smashed

Oil for roasting pan

Place turkey in a large deep pot that will hold it snugly.