For our menu & recipes, see links at the end of the article.
By Suzanne Virgilio
There is nothing better than enjoying food and drink with friends during the month of August. The mid-summer nights are perfect for entertaining in the yard and setting a long communal table for dinner. That was the plan for our first ever “Savor The Season” event We would invite 25 of our good friends, set a table in the grass and light the fire to make paella.
Let me start by saying that our family loves to cook and entertain. Cooking great food for ourselves is always nice, but seeing others enjoy our recipes is what makes entertaining worth the effort. And when you are hosting a dinner party for 25 guests, there is a lot of effort that goes into it.
Dea and Lisa prepare appetizers before the guests arrive.
Calvin lights the candles just before the party starts. For the communal table, keep things simple. Small floral centerpieces and candles on a white tablecloth give the perfect summer feel.
Our first appetizer, toasted crostini with goat cheese, figs, Serrano ham and fresh mint.
My daughter-in-law, Lisa, took care of table settings and decorations while we cooked in the afternoon.
Gathering recipes for a menu, grocery shopping, prepping the food, setting tables and stocking the bar. Fortunately, we have son our Calvin and our baker and friend Dea to help with the cooking. Calvin’s wife, Lisa, would take care of decorating and setting up the outdoor ambiance.
Every party, whether indoor or outdoor, revolves around the kitchen. Make sure your entertaining space is clean and ready when guests come through the door.
Ceviche is an easy, make ahead appetizer. It allows for less cooking during the party and more mingling with your guests.
The warm brie with roasted red peppers, pine nuts, olives and golden raisins was easy to make and the most popular appetizer at the party.
The seafood paella, cooking on the fire. The lobster and shrimp were added at the end. Once you’ve added the lobster, you can cover with tin foil and finish cooking on the stove top so that it is easier to prepare for serving.
Bunky and Calvin’s friend Brien play quoits, a popular picnic game in the Lehigh Valley. Quoits is a mix between cornhole and horsehoes.
Since we’d be cooking paella, I wanted the menu to stick with Mediterranean theme. I decided that a crostini with goat cheese, figs, Serrano ham and mint would be a tapas style dish that could be prepped ahead and served quickly. We also made two other appetizers, a salmon and dill ceviche, and warm brie with roasted red peppers, pine nuts, olives and golden raisins. For the salad, I made a Spanish mixed green salad with toasted almonds and a citrus vinaigrette. For dessert, we would finish the evening with a light and simple recipe for a salted caramel panna cotta.
Our neighbors John and Lisa talking on the porch with my daugther-in-law, Lisa. The porch serves as a great setting for cocktail hour.
You can always count on our friend Bunky to be the best dressed at the party.
Set a small table in the yard for serving the salad and paella. This makes it easier for guests to go back for seconds, rather than walking back into the kitchen.
Paella for 25 people is a lot of paella! We cooked two batches of paella before the party started, making it easier to cook only one pan’s worth on the open fire.
Keeping with the Spanish theme, I made a Spanish mixed greens salad with toasted almonds and a citrus vinaigrette.
This was going to be a lot of work, of course, but cooking to us never feels like work. As soon as we start mincing our aromatics and sautéing them in olive oil, the work ends and the enjoyment begins. We’ll of course be tired by the end of cooking everything, but that is when the party starts and the wine is corked. And all of the sudden, we get our second wind when guests arrive. It’s now Saturday evening, and the sun is shining, the fire is lit and the table is set. We’ve been blessed with a perfect mid-summer night for entertaining, and we’re going to savor every last bit of it before it ends.
Paella and appetizers is a lot of food, so keep things simple for dessert with salted caramel panna cotta.
Friends of mine from teaching at Easton High School. From left: Ruth, Brenda, Nancy and Cheryl
Preparing the panna cotta for serving. Most of the dessert was made ahead of time, and only the whipped cream and garnish have to be made during the party.
Dea and her husband, Hugo, helping themsleves to paella before joining everyone at the table.
Combine a few 3′-4′ tables and cover with two white tablecloths to make one-long communal table. It looks beautiful and makes it easy for guests to converse.
By the end of the night, we had the fire burning down and the moon shining bright. Summertime at its finest.
The Menu & Recipes:
Crostini with Goat cheese, Serrano Ham, Figs & Mint
Salmon and Dill Ceviche
Warm Brie with Pine Nuts, Olives & Golden Raisins
Spanish Mixed Green Salad with Toasted Almonds and Citrus Vinaigrette
Salted Caramel Panna Cotta