I like entertaining that is simple, yet elegant in its own, unique way. One of my favorite ways to achieve this experience is with easy snack recipes in a lovely outdoor setting.
Oh, I know, you're picturing a picnic table with insects buzzing about while you eat off of paper plates. That's not the outdoor dining I mean. I'm talking about a fresh, beautiful atmosphere filled with style, easy snacks and tasty food and wine.
There really is an art to outdoor dining that makes guests want to spend all evening in the fresh air.
I think back to the wonderful experience of dining alfresco in Italy. I actually like to use the Italian term for outdoor dining, alfresco, because it makes the whole affair sound more romantic, yes?
I don't aim to be pretentious, just to evoke the feeling of a meal that goes beyond your traditional bar-b-que.
I admit, dining outdoors in a little Tuscan town called Manciano cannot be duplicated here. The scenery of rolling hills, and the light, oh the light as the sun sets, are unmatched. But it is possible to create your own notion of the perfect 'alfresco' experience.
Ask yourself, what sort of view and atmosphere do I want to create? If your outdoor setting isn’t an inspiration to you, there are ways to improvise.
- Do you need to move the table, or to put some comfortable cushions or pillows on the chairs?
- Is there somewhere to string up small white lights for a twinkle, or to place candles for a warm glow?
- Is there an eyesore, or wall that can be draped in some beautiful fabric?
Whatever you do, don't use paper or plastic. Have no fear, break out the glasses and the china. Worried about your grandmother's dishes? Go to an antique booth and find a set of china to use. Even mismatched dishes are an interesting touch.
Use the outdoors by decorating with flowers, leaves, even branches for an artistic centerpiece.
Choose some soft music that transports people to a beautiful setting.
Fall is close at hand, and with the slightly cooler temperatures and the crisp air, the menu doesn't need to scream summer. Start playing around with some more seasonal foods with substance.
Start guests off with something you can prepare ahead. For some easy snack recipes, check out the Food Network. That's where we found this delight from Giada De Laurentis for cheese-stuffed dates with prosciutto.
If you want to grill, imagine an apricot stuffed pork tenderloin, prime steaks with blue-cheese butter, or some lamb chops and mint cream sauce. No burgers, dogs, or wings.
The idea is to create an experience that is both rustic and polished. Yes, that is possible. Devise a setting that is outdoorsy, but chic, and serve food that is elegant, yet simple. Perhaps you and your guests can imagine that you're dining alfresco in Tuscany, dining en plain air in the south of France, or under the stars in Napa.
It's yours to imagine, to create, and to experience. It's the art of easy outdoor dining and easy snack recipes.