Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Savor Summertime in the Slope

"Go often to the house of a friend, for weeds choke an unused path."
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I hope you had a lovely Labor Day weekend! I'm home for a much-needed extra day. Below is my final post on August entertaining, following "Last of the London Olympics Get-Together" and "Summer Sunday Brunch and Brooklyn Cocktail Party with Home Blessing."

Savor Summertime in the Slope

On the last weekend of August, we invited some of our oldest and dearest friends -- which included my bridesmaids and my husband's hometown pals -- over for a colorful night of summer-inspired food and drinks. And when I think of summertime, I often think of Tex-Mex, cold picnic salads, juicy watermelon, ice cream, and refreshing sangria; but of course, I would enjoy all of these any time of year.

Chicken Fajitas with Guacamole and Pico de Gallo
Slider-Style Beef Burgers with Cheddar Cheese
Lemon-Garlic Grilled Shrimp Skewers
Picnic-Perfect Potato Salad
Miniature Watermelon, Tomato and Basil Salad
Tortilla Chips with Mango Salsa
Manchego and Pepper Jack Cheese with Crackers and Grapes
Neopolitan Ice Cream with Sprinkles
White Sangria
Red Sangria

Main dish preparation

I made the chipotle-lime chicken fajitas simply by caramelizing strips of white onion, red bell pepper, and a green poblano pepper, cooking strips of boneless chicken breast, and adding Chef Rick Bayless' Frontera Classic Fajita Skillet Sauce, which my sister had given me to try. It's a real timesaver and has great, authentic flavors since it contains all natural, fresh ingredients (no dried spices or powders), with no preservatives. I prepared fresh guacamole and pico de gallo to pile on top of the fajitas in flour tortillas.

Chicken fajitas, tortillas, guacamole, and pico de gallo

The mini buns of our first batch of sliders got burnt because the oven dial was somehow turned up to 500 degrees when it should have been at 350; but after that little mishap, Sam ran out for more potato rolls and all was good. Our beef sliders -- reminiscent of White Castle, but better -- were made by browning ground beef with onion soup mix (which I had from the onion yogurt dip I made for our cocktail party), draining the excess grease, and baking in the mini rolls along with some shredded cheddar cheese and light mayonnaise, topped with pickles.

Sliders are so cute

I had shrimp in the freezer from the previous weekend, so I wanted to use it for this get-together, but in a different way. I decided to make My Recipes' Lemon-Garlic Shrimp Skewers with lemon zest, garlic, parsley, and olive oil, which I put on the grill -- our "grill" being a Calphalon nonstick panini pan.

Lemon-garlic shrimp skewers
Side dish preparation

The Ina Garten Potato Salad I made as a summer-inspired side dish was a big hit. It tasted fresh and light -- perhaps partly because I used light mayonnaise and light buttermilk -- and bright with both Dijon and whole-grain mustard. I also found that Ina's method for boiling and steaming potatoes yields great results and is worth the extra step.

Picnic-perfect potato salad

Earlier this summer, I made chicken accompanied by a salad of fresh sliced watermelon and tomato with basil leaves in a red wine vinaigrette. I became mildly obsessed with the combination, but wanted to serve an easier-to-eat version, so I put together summery watermelon cubes, heirloom grape tomatoes for color contrast, and basil leaves soaked with red wine vinaigrette, on cocktail picks.

Individual mini watermelon, tomato and basil salads

I think the first mango salsa I had was probably years ago from Stew Leonard's, but I had never tried making it before 10 days ago. I followed Ellie Krieger's Mango Salsa recipe, and loved the way it turned out: sweet and spicy, with mango, cucumber, jalapeƱo, red onion, lime, and cilantro.

Tortilla chips with mango salsa

We picked up some Manchego and pepper jack cheeses from the grocery store to go with the Spanish-style sangria and peppery flavors of the food, and put out crackers and grapes.

Manchego and pepper jack with crackers and grapes

Question: What's a great, no-bake crowd-pleaser of a party dessert? Answer: Ice cream with sprinkles! Or in this case, Neopolitan chocolate, vanilla and strawberry frozen yogurt. Some people love vanilla, others don't, so guests were able to have any or all of the classic flavors, and add orange cream crunchies, chocolate sprinkles, or rainbow sprinkles. I found the Meri Meri ice cream cup and wooden spoon set at Sur La Table, as well as the green paper straws. Our friend Paul brought an assortment of Baked by Melissa mini cupcakes, which I can always go through much too quickly.

Neopolitan frozen yogurt with sprinkles

There are myriad variations of sangria, but the basics almost always include wine and citrus. One of our friends is allergic to apples and stone fruits, so I left those out. Sam bought a bottle of Pinot Grigio for the white sangria, and Cabernet Sauvignon for the red sangria, and we mixed each with club soda, orange juice, a splash of vodka, and slices of orange and lemon.

White and red sangria

As of today, summer is unofficially over. I always have bittersweet feelings about the transition from summer to fall, as I love warm weather and vacation brain, but look forward to the promise of a new and exciting "back to school" season. With friends, I've started taking a series of makeup classes -- very informative -- and signed up for my first cake decorating class!


  1. Love all these ideas for entertaining! Especially the mini salads. Great post


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