It's the potluck dilemma. You could go with your usual -- beer and a bag of chips. But that's so lame. Next time, surprise your pals by bringing one of these foolproof crowd-pleasers. Your simple secret: premade ingredients -- packaged salads, rotisserie chicken, bottled dressings, white wine and sparkling water -- that you toss together with your own fresh fixings.
Sparkling Sangria Blanco Quench your thirst. Get your vitamins. We've taken the official summer drink of Spain and made it even more refreshing (if not nutritious) by substituting white wine for red, adding orange juice and orange liqueur, pouring on sparkling water just before serving, and packing in sliced summer fruits. Tote the wine mixture to the party in colorful plastic jugs, and make sure everyone gets a paper umbrella, or two or three.
Island Slaw Chopped jalapenos make this one hot coleslaw. But don¿t call the fire department just yet, because mango slices and a splash of bottled citrus vinaigrette cool things right down. Chop cabbage? Why bother when you can buy packaged coleslaw mix in your produce section?
Grilled Steak Wraps with Triple Dipping Sauces Indulge our inner caveman and eat grilled meat right off the stick. Or, if you prefer things a tad more civilized, wrap it in a lettuce leaf and top it off with one of our three dipping sauces: Salsa-Sour Cream, Honey Mustard-Yogurt, or Horseradish-Mayonnaise. Marinating the meat in bottled Italian dressing makes it tender and flavorful.
Greek Chicken Salad Too hot to turn on the oven? Keep your cool and pick up a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket or deli. Mix chicken chunks with bottled Greek dressing, then pile them onto romaine lettuce, mint leaves, kalamata olives, and feta cheese for a savory summer salad.
Rum-Berry Shortcake Big, chewy store-bought cookies are the shortcut to this simple shortcake. Pick the freshest berries you can find from the grocery store or farmstand, then drizzle them with dark rum, honey, and lime. A sprinkling of toasted coconut and a squirt of cool whipped cream make scrumptious toppings. Gather all the fixings on a single serving tray and let guests assemble their own.
Food poisoning will kill a party even faster than an unannounced visit from your in-laws. Stomach cramps, cold sweats, a long line for the bathroom...not a pretty picture. Keep your summer bash alive and well by following these simple food safety tips.
- Don't even think of cooking until you've cleaned out the refrigerator. Food shouldn't be kept for more than seven days, so start pitching. When in doubt, throw it out. And while you're at it, move the meat and eggs to the bottom shelf so they don't drip on other food.
- Remember mom's lectures on washing your hands? She was right. Scrub them vigorously for at least 30 seconds before you serve or eat food. Keep food preparation safe by separating raw meats from other foods and by washing work surfaces often.
- Thaw frozen foods by zapping them in the microwave oven or setting them on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Don't leave them out at room temperature. Cook meat thoroughly -- medium doneness or at least 170 degrees F. (Use a thermometer with a metal stem to check.) Cold foods should be served "refrigerator cold" and nothing should be left at room temperature for more than two hours. After that, cool down hot foods to 40 degrees F within two hours using a shallow pan on the top rack of the refrigerator.
- 1999 Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Dry Riesling (California and Washington) $9.99 Imagine bobbing for grapes that float in honey and wild flowers. This wine goes with gooey white cheeses, creamy sauces, and sushi.
- 1999 Fetzer Vineyards Sundial Chardonnay (California) $7 Think of lying on a bed of citrus blossoms while you're massaged with honeysuckle. This tangy wine is a nice dinner date with fish or fowl on the spicy side.
- 1999 Fortant de France Chardonnay (France) $7.49 You've tripped on loose pears and splashed into a bathtub of champagne. Match this one up with seafood, chicken, and light sauces.
- 1999 Navarro Vineyards Edelzwicker (California) $8.50 A golden retriever -- sweet, a little dumb, and irresistible. A blend of Gewurztraminer and Riesling, you'll hit high notes matching this with fruit and soft cheese.
- 2000 Santa Rita Chardonnay D.O. Lontue Valley (Chile) $7.99 Picture sitting in front of the fridge feeding each other fresh summer fruit and red licorice. Try this one with oysters or sautéed mushrooms.
- 1999 Trinchero Family Estates Trinity Oaks Chardonnay (California) $9.99 The Frances McDormand of wine -- remember her in "Fargo"? -- sweetly understated. A potato salad wine if there ever was one.
1995 Casa Cadaval Pinot Noir (Spain) $8.99 A sporty convertible purrs by a fruit stand in Barcelona. This gentle red creates nice sparks with red or white meats.
1999 Francis Coppola Presents Rosso (California) $9.99 Your berry truck ran into my plum tree. This blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Cabernet is light enough to go with popcorn, but has enough body to go gracefully with grilled steak.
1999 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Merlot (California) $9.49 Spend a cool night in a black cherry orchard. This robust wine is a delight with red meat off the grill, from flank steak to hamburgers.
2000 Rosemount Estate Grenache Shiraz (Australia) $7.99 Here's a zingy shirtload of crushed raspberries with ¿ wow ¿ a clean snap like a pair of new suspenders. Try this with tree fruit and a variety of cheeses.
Before you toss the cooler in the car and head for your favorite picnic spot, gather a few essentials to make your outing complete. Better yet, keep them in a tote bag in the trunk, so you'll be ready to go at a moment's notice.
- Blanket big enough for two
- Bug repellent and/or citronella candles
- Wet wipes
- Corkscrew and bottle opener
- Extra drinking water
- Trash bags
Rosemary Roasted-Potato Salad Hot sun and cold mayonnaise: a potentially bad combination. Instead of the usual mayo-based potato salad, try one made with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Oven roasted potatoes, fresh rosemary, and toasted pine nuts also hold their own in the summer heat. In fact, this dish tastes best served a tad on the warm side.
- Croquet, lawn balls, Frisbee, kite, or horseshoes
- A good book (preferably for reading aloud)
- Rod, reel, and bait (who cares if you catch anything)
- An adorable dog (your own or a loaner -- excellent for starting conversations with strangers)
- Inflatable pool toys