Celebrate After The Monsoons With Food, Family, Friends, Fun

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Andy Towle photo

A bounty of fresh produce is available from local growers each Saturday at the Farmers Market, 800 W. Main Street.

photo

Andy Towle photo

The vendors at the Payson Farmers Market, held Saturdays through October at 800 W. Main St., can help you choose perfect produce and other fresh foods for your summer parties.

It is the time of year when the stretch between holidays is on the long side. We have had the 4th of July, and Labor Day is more than six weeks away. So, what to do in the way of a celebration? Well, July is just packed with “national” celebrations: it’s National Blueberries Month, National Grilling Month, National Horseradish Month, National Hot Dog Month and National Ice Cream Month.

But who needs a national whatever month when we can celebrate our off-and-on monsoon season. Most evenings these days cool off following our late-afternoon showers, making the nights just right for entertaining.

When hosting a dinner party, arguably the most difficult decision a host must make is what to serve for dinner. Because guests’ lifestyles can differ so greatly, hosts must consider a variety of things before they settle on the main course.

For those about to host their next dinner party, consider the following menu-related tips to ensure every guest (and host) has a good time and avoids going home hungry.

• Don’t be afraid to ask. Because lifestyles can be so varied, hosts should not be afraid to ask their guests what they like or don’t like and if their diets are unique, such as vegan, vegetarian, etc. While it might be easy to guess the answers to these questions for your closer friends or family members, why take the chance with something important? Simply ask instead.

• Don’t experiment. While experimenting with different foods can be fun and a good way to taste different cuisines, it’s best to avoid experimenting when hosting a dinner party. Not all experiments end well, and hosts should serve only foods they’ve prepared in the past to avoid a disaster wherein no one will end up enjoying the meal.

• Prepare some items in advance. Certain menu items can, and should, be prepared in advance, particularly if your party is larger. Desserts typically have to be prepared in advance, but appetizers can also be prepared in advance and simply cooked the day of the party. For less formal, more relaxed affairs such as barbecues, consider buying cold items and appetizers such as macaroni or potato salads that don’t need to be prepared at all.

• Do the math in advance. Most recipes are written to serve between four to eight people. Those throwing a party for a larger group of people should recognize that their recipe will likely need to be altered to serve more guests than is typical. Do the calculations in advance to ensure the meal gets served on time. Also, keep in mind that it’s often more difficult to serve larger groups of people, so allow yourself more time depending on the size of the party to reduce stress.

garden-fresh veggies always a hit

Fresh produce from your garden or the farmers markets can be the star of the menu.

So many vegetables in season and at peak flavor make menu creation as easy as picking a few treats. Avocadoes, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant and a host of other vegetables and fruits can be part of a great meal. The key is looking for the freshest varieties that are at their peak. Consider these tips:

Avocadoes

Selection/Storage: Color should be uniform without blemishes. Fruit should yield when gently pressed. Store at room temperature.

Green Beans

Selection/Storage: Choose beans that are bright in color without soft spots. Store at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Beets

Selection/Storage: Small to medium size beets offer the best flavor. Look for beets with the greens still on, which signals freshness. Beets keep for a week in the refrigerator.

Corn

Selection/Storage: Choose moist, green husks and silks. Look for plump, glossy kernels without spaces between them. You can store them for a day or two in the husks.

Cucumber

Selection/Storage: Look for dark green cucumbers that are firm to the touch. Store in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Eggplant

Selection/Storage: Choose ones that have a smooth, taut skin with a fresh looking green cap at the end. Eggplants should feel heavy. Avoid overgrown eggplants. Store in a cool room or in the refrigerator. They will bitter as they age.

Okra

Selection/Storage: Select short, less than 3 inch long pods with a velvety feel. Store refrigerated for up to four days.

Sweet Bell Peppers

Selection/Storage: Look for deep colored peppers with firm skin and no bruises. Can keep refrigerated for three days or more.

Summer Squash and Zucchini

Selection/Storage: Look for small squash with thin, glossy skin. Store refrigerated for a few days.

Tomatoes

Selection: Choose plump, firm tomatoes that are blemish-free. Store at room temperature, if possible.

Now that you know how to select seasonal vegetables, serve them in a unique and refreshing way.

Grilled Italian Vegetable Sandwiches

Serves 4-6

1 loaf crusty baguette or Italian bread (or your favorite bread variety)

1 eggplant, skinned and sliced into relatively thin strips

2 zucchini or summer squash, sliced medium thickness

Bruschetta mixture

2 small tomatoes

1 small yellow or red onion

1 fresh mozzarella (or packaged if fresh is unavailable)

Olive oil

Few leaves of fresh basil

Red wine or balsamic vinegar

Salt, pepper, and Italian seasonings to taste

Wash and slice the vegetables. Brush the eggplant and squash slices lightly with olive oil and grill (or pan sear) until they have softened, but are not falling apart. An easy way to grill the smaller squash is to place it in an aluminum foil packet to prevent slices from falling through the slats. Remove from the grill and allow to cool.

For the bruschetta: Peel and chop half of the onion (or more if you desire a potent onion flavor). Chop the two tomatoes. Place the onions and tomato into a bowl and drizzle with 3 to 4 teaspoons of olive oil and a splash of the vinegar. Season to taste with the salt, pepper, Italian spices and fresh basil. Cover and allow to chill in the refrigerator until the flavors meld.

When ready to prepare the sandwiches, slice the bread lengthwise. Cut the mozzarella into thin slices. Place a layer of the cooled eggplant and squash on the bottom half of the bread. Top with the mozzarella and then garnish with the bruschetta mixture. Cover with the top of the bread and then cut into portions for guests.

For a different take on the recipe, serve the sandwiches warm with the bread toasted and the cheese melted.

The party’s outside

The backyard or outdoor party tends to hit its stride when people start to realize there isn’t much time left to bask in the summer sun. Though outdoor parties are often informal affairs, there are a few things to consider before hitting the lawn and firing up the grill.

• Arrange some activities for your guests. During an indoor affair you can simply dust off some board games or turn on a ballgame to entertain your guests. But when outside, especially if you have a lot of space, be it in the backyard or at the park, you’ll need to provide your guests with something more sufficient. Relaxed games such as horseshoes or badminton are typically popular fare for summer festivities, as they aren’t too competitive and won’t leave your guests sweating up a storm. Be sure to provide games that both adults and kids can enjoy.

• Have lots of water on hand. When hosting a party indoors, water is not something you’ll likely need a large supply of once the party moves away from the dinner table. However, when the party heads outside, especially in the late summer months when the temperatures are often at their hottest, you’ll want to have enough water on hand to keep your guests refreshed and ensure no one dehydrates under the hot summer sun.

• Have outdoor lighting ready to go. If the party is scheduled to start in the afternoon, don’t ensure that it will end prematurely when the sun goes down simply because you don’t have any lighting. If everyone is still enjoying themselves when the sun sets, you won’t want to see a good time come to end. Tiki torches or candles of varying sizes are popular for summer parties because they create a relaxing atmosphere while providing sufficient light. If you’re hosting a party at a nearby picnic area, be sure to know what time the park or picnic area closes. You won’t want to be forced out just when everyone is settling down to eat their dinner.

• Set aside a place for the pooches. One of the things dog owners love most about outdoor parties is the chance to bring along man’s best friend to join in the festivities. However, since dogs aren’t potty trained, it’s a good idea for hosts to designate an area for pets before the party starts to avoid anyone’s shoes finding a dog’s mess. If you have a fenced-in backyard, for instance, keep the dogs in the backyard if there’s ample room for them to run around and enjoy themselves. If you can’t guarantee that dogs will do their duty in an area away from your human guests, have cleanup materials on-hand so no one’s shoes need replacing by evening’s end.

Host tips

What host or hostess wants company leaving their home with a laundry list of complaints about the party or get-together they just attended? While not everything about the event is bound to go picture-perfect, there are some things individuals should keep in mind when inviting others into their home.

Do have plenty of food and beverages on hand. Skimping on refreshments is not the way to win rave reviews. If you’re having 25 people over, be sure to have enough food for them all.

Don’t expect guests to bring food or wine with them unless you specify that this is a potluck type of party. Even in terms of bring-your-own type parties, many invitees feel resentment at having to come to a party with something in hand.

Do take the time to mingle and converse with every guest you have invited. This makes everyone feel special and comforted in that you invited them because you truly enjoy their presence.

Don’t spend time at the party cleaning up or washing dishes. Guests may get the impression you’re disinterested or are simply trying to usher them out of the door earlier. Save the dishwashing and clutter control for the end of the event.

Do get on the same page with your spouse or other housemates about the start time of the party. Arguments can ensue when guests arrive ahead of time and the space is not yet prepared for the party.

Don’t assume that everyone will abide by the invitation for arrival time. Expect that there will be some people who will arrive early (there are those friends and family who love to be the first on the scene). Similarly, there will be those who enjoy being fashionably late. A good host or hostess will be able to accommodate and hide his or her annoyance.

Do keep arguments or critique of a spouse or other family members out of the party. Guests will feel uncomfortable if there are fights or squabbles in front of them. Plus, it’s simply not classy to do so.

Don’t forget to check the powder room frequently to ensure that the hand towels are adequate or that the wastebasket is cleaned out.

Do know that you can’t control the weather. So do your best to work with what Mother Nature dishes out the day of your party.

Don’t assume everyone likes to eat what you do. Put out a variety of foods that will meet with others’ dietary restrictions or preferences. Always include a vegetarian and even vegan option that will be filling.

Don’t embarrass guests or make them feel uncomfortable in any way. If there is a breakage or spill, handle it with tact. Also, if you’re hosting one of those parties where someone is selling anything from candles to jewelry, don’t single out anyone for failing to make a purchase.

Do keep any pets contained. You may love wet kisses or fur on your clothing, but others may not be so enthralled with the pet experience.

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