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kick back
easy summer entertaining 
by Yee-Fan Sun
1 2

Even now, long after the words "summer break" have ceased to have any real meaning in my life, June hits and my brain sends a signal that it's time to kick back and chill. Part of it has to do with living in a university town; spring semester ends, and the smart kiddies clear out of town to enjoy their summers in locales less hellishly hot than Tucson. Meanwhile, those of us who live here year-round find our energies so zapped by the heat that the whole town seems to slow down. So never mind that work demands my attention no matter what month is showing on my calendar; there's something about the smell of the summer sunshine that feels like vacation. I may be home, I may be working -- but I'm still all about the easy living. And when it comes to having friends over to hang out, I don't want it turn into a big fussy shindig. Summer's meant for relaxing -- even when you're playing host. A few tips for easy summer entertaining…

1 Keep the cooking casual. Save the formal 5-course dinners for the colder months, when spending all day puttering about in a toasty kitchen actually sounds cozy and nice. Come summer, go the potluck route, enjoy meals family-style, set up a buffet -- anything that doesn't require you to run back and forth like a madman between kitchen and dining table works dandy. Make sure you provide plenty of little bites for folks to nibble on into the wee hours of the night, even if it's as simple as chips, nuts, a bowl of grapes. The best summer parties are blissfully lazy, luxuriously long, and wonderfully unstructured.

2 Fake the fancy. Even if you're cooking's pretty casual, you can dress up the offerings with barely an effort -- which means there's absolutely no excuse not to serve up your food pretty-style. First things first: save the plastic ware for picnics at the park. The disposable plates and cups might be fairly standard at summer cookouts, but they're really very ugly. Use the good dishes and the real glasses, even when it's for something as basic as burgers. As for chips, dips and other store-bought appetizers you might be serving up, take the extra two seconds to transfer them to an attractive serving vessel.

3 Grilling for dummies. Even if your idea of cooking usual involves opening a can and dumping it into a pot, trust met: you can manage the easiest of grilled goodies, the sausage. Brats and Italian sausages are a big step up from the hot dogs you loved as a kid, and just about as idiot-proof to cook. The key to good grilled sausages is simple: boil them in beer first. Just dump the sausages in a big pot and cover with beer (add a roughly chopped onion, if you like, for more flavor). Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a gentle bubble and cook for another eight-ten minutes or so, until the sausages have firmed up. Throw the beer-boiled brats on a hot grill and cook until they're nice and browned on all sides. Serve with plenty of condiments, good sturdy bread, and if you're feeling industrious, sautéed onions and peppers.

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