Are you staying home this July 4th, or planning on entertaining this summer? Perhaps you are throwing a family fest, or barbecue with all your pals? Well, we’ve got you covered from burgers to ‘dogs and everything in between. Here are a few tips to keep your summer entertaining easy, stress free, and enjoyable for everyone.
Shopping and Prep: It can be hard to estimate how much food to buy. Does everyone eat hamburgers, or will they all want chicken? What do I serve on the side that will satisfy a crowd? Ideally, before shopping, try to get as accurate a head count as possible. Then you can estimate how much of the “main courses” you will need. Its also good to have an accurate “kid” headcount, so you are covered with hamburgers and hotdogs. You will always have a few kids who won’t eat anything but a hotdog, so its a good idea to have extra franks in the fridge. Another tip is to get a box or two of veggi burgers, in case anyone is vegan or vegitarian. You can buy a variety of meats to satisfy your crowd, but try not to overbuy. If you are shopping before a holiday weekend, don’t wait until the day before to hit the food stores, or warehouse stores. You might not find everything you need. If you are really pressed for time, you can always use the online shopping services. Some good bets are Peapod- Stop N Shop’s service, or Fresh Direct. As for produce, hit your local Farmer’s Markets! You will be assured of the freshest produce, cheese, and breads…and you might score some really fantastic chutney or fresh salsa that will make your table come alive! Be sure to remember things like paper goods and buns (hamburger and hotdog, that is!), and dessert. Fresh fruit is always a winner on a hot day, and the kids love Italian ices.
In preparing your meats and sides, remember that safety must come first. You are serving food to others, so you have to make sure no one gets food poisoning! Its best to keep separate cutting boards for meat and veggis (I have a red cutting board for meat, so I know which one to use – or you can mark it with a Sharpie), and make sure you wash your knives with hot, soapy water if you are cutting your meats or chicken before you are using them to cut veggis. When you get home from food shopping, attend to your meats first. Do you have large pieces that need to be portioned? Do it right when you get home from the food store, so it makes it easier later on when you are preparing the day of your party. Heavy Duty zip lock bags are great vessels for marinating meats. Remember to keep everything separate – don’t mix your beef and chicken!
You can prepare some of your sides the day before. Some great sides are the more traditional fare such as potato salad and coleslaw, but you might want to throw a kick into things with some Tabouleh (a Middle Eastern dish made with bulgar and lots of lemon and parsley, garlic and olive oil), or a tomato-cucumber-sweet onion salad. Don’t forget all the condiments – pickles, mustard, relish, ketchup, mayo and perhaps a nice hot and sweet chili sauce, or horseradish sauce. Another great side is grilled veggis. Some good ones to grill are portabello mushrooms, eggplant and Zucchini. Be sure to slice them thick, and coat them in olive oil and throw a bit of coarse salt and pepper on them and you are good to go!
Party Day: The day has arrived, and you are all prepared. So, what can you do to get your party started, and keep your guests happy? The morning of the party – get ice, and plenty of it! Get your liquids into coolers with the ice. Keep on hand PLENTY of bottled water. Your guest will enjoy a beer, malt beverage, glass of wine or sangria, but at some point, they are going to be looking for that good old H2O. Have it ready, and have it cold. A great idea is to have pitchers of water with fresh lemon and lime slices – very refreshing!
Keep food inside until you are ready to grill and/or serve. Its best to put your “good eats” out buffet style in the house if you can. Serve in the kitchen or dining room, and then everyone can get their plate of food and move outside to eat. If you don’t want people trekking throughout your house, you can serve outside, but keep the food in the shade and keep it covered. Bring anything mayonnaise-based out at the last possible second, and bring it back inside promptly when everyone is done eating.
Practice Safe Grilling. Watch loose clothing, because sometimes the flames can get high. Keep the heat on the grill at medium, and have some water and a fire extinguisher close by. Keep the kids away from the grill at all times. If you are doing any Kebobs, be sure that you have soaked your wooden skewers in water for a few hours prior to skewering your meat and grilling.
If you are having a pool party, remember common sense and pool safety. Make sure there is at least one adult with the children in the pool at all times. Its best to keep pool safety equipment close by, and also rescue equipment and a first aid kit. Keep a telephone near the pool in case anyone has to call 911. And, don’t forget sunscreen…for the kids and the adults.
And if you are having your cookout for July 4th, please leave the fireworks to the professionals. See our 4th of July Guide for local listings.