Why does the word "entertaining" strike fear in the heart of even the bravest would-be host? Maybe because it summons images of scorched chicken, water-spotted goblets, and stiff gatherings.
You can blow old-time entertaining out of the water by moving it outdoors. Entertain in your backyard and suddenly the mood is casual.
Here are some tips to help you plan your outdoor party:
Will you invite kids to your party or not? It's your decision, but be sure to be specific to prevent misunderstandings. Formal events usually preclude the 14-and-under crowd, but informal events outdoors make little ones easier to handle. Go with what you prefer.
If you're going to have more than two children under age 6, consider hiring a sitter, especially one who will take the kids to the park or organize games in the front yard. That way grown-ups at least have a change to chat.
Before the meal, give kids a paper tablecloth and crayons or nontoxic markers and let them decorate it. Be sure to fill a basket with supplies such as chalk or bubbles for the little ones to make their own fun.
Here's some advice to help you set the perfect outdoor table.
Add a touch of elegance to your party with these decorating ideas:
Serve up party perfection with these tips:
Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Salad Serve this summer chicken salad with with your favorite bottled salsa or salad dressing.
Roasted Pepper and Chevre Pizzas To simplify this Greek-flavored pizza, substitute 1-1/2 cups bottled roasted red peppers for the fresh peppers.
Jalapeno Pie with Red Salsa Serve homemade or bottled salsa with this Mexican quiche.
Pesto Pasta Salad To simplify this recipe, substitute 1/3 cup purchased pesto and 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar for the homemade pesto.
Here are some menu tips that will help make your party go more smoothly.
Let simplicity rule. Try to select make-ahead dishes except for whatever you'll grill.
How much to fix? The number of servings listed in recipes is usually too modest, and people tend to eat more at parties. Use the rule of one-and-a-half: Make 50 percent more than you think people will eat. If you have eight guests, make enough for twelve. For large parties, rely on dishes that will freeze well afterward so nothing goes to waste.
Ask people if they have any special food allergies or preferences (vegetarian, kosher, diabetic, etc.) when you invite them. For parties with guests under age 35, offer at least one vegetarian dish. For older crowds, offer at least one low-fat, low-sugar dessert, such as fresh berries with fat-free, sugar-free ice cream or whipped topping on the side.
Children 8 and over usually eat some of what the adults are served, but when plans call for younger children, put out plates of sliced mild cheddar, crackers, and fresh fruit for them to nibble.