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Menu Inspiration: Summer cocktail party

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Believe it or not, it’s August. If you’re gearing up for the long Labor Day weekend already or planning a casual end-of-summer party, here are some quick and easy entertaining ideas that will help you send the summer season off right.

Fresh, Mediterranean-inspired flavors highlight this menu, and for something sweet at the end that’s still light: easy to make grilled peaches with honey-sweetened whipped cream. As a bonus, there’s something for everyone: several recipes are vegetarian-friendly and could be made vegan with a few omissions or easy swaps.

Appetizers

Caprese Skewers with Creamy Pesto Dip and Smoky Eggplant Dip are two that are perfect together. Serve them on a tray with grilled pita sliced into wedges, zucchini slices (so abundant this time of the year at farmer’s markets) and red bell pepper strips, stuffed grape leaves, and cubes of feta for an easy mezze plate.

Drinks

Make lemongrass-ginger gin or cucumber-lime gin (or both!) a few days in advance in a large, 1 quart mason jar and chill. Not a fan of gin? Use vodka in the infusions.

Set up a “make your own” G&T bar so guests can help themselves and you’re not stuck making drinks all night. Serve the gin cold with plenty of ice, fun straws, a selection of add-ins (cucumbers sliced into spears or rounds, lemons, limes, stalks of lemongrass) and of course, tonic to top it all off. I like the single serving cans or bottles of tonic, and Fever Tree makes delicious flavors, like elderflower tonic and Mediterranean tonic which has flavors of rosemary and lemon thyme.

Sparkling hard seltzers are a great, low calorie alternative, too, and not to mention have been extremely popular this summer. Two of my favorites: Truly Black Cherry and White Claw Mango.

Be sure to serve some non-alcoholic options to keep everyone refreshed. Regular, non-spiked seltzer like La Croix or Bubly, unsweetened iced tea, and homemade lemonade made with agave or honey instead of white sugar and infused with peaches or blueberries are some good choices.

Main course

Nothing beats grilled foods for a summer bash. Keep it light with skewers of grilled shrimp and grilled orange chicken to top a big platter of Greek salad.

Dessert

Keep the grill hot for an easy dessert of grilled peaches or nectarines.

Grilled Peaches with Honey-sweetened Whipped Cream
Prep Time
20 mins
 
Servings: 8
Ingredients
  • 4 peaches or nectarines (choose ones that are still a little firm, but not underripe)
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract (suggested: Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Paste)
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 pint good-quality vanilla ice cream (suggested: Haagen Dazs vanilla)
  • For serving: Amaretti cookies or mini-hazelnut biscotti
Instructions
  1. Make whipped cream: in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine heavy cream, honey, and vanilla. Start mixer on low and gradually increase speed to high, whipping the cream until thick and soft peaks form. Cover with plastic and chill until ready to serve.

  2. Prepare fruit: Wash and cut the peaches or nectarines in half and remove the pit. Brush the cut-side with oil.

  3. Place fruit cut-side down on a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit grill. Cook for 4 minutes, flip, and cook another 4 minutes or until fruit has softened and has grill marks.

  4. Serve a half a peach topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and crushed Amaretti cookies or mini-sized hazelnut biscotti.

Recipe Notes

For a vegan alternative, instead of whipped cream use So Delicious coconut milk whipped topping and a vegan cookie, like Nature’s Path vanilla sandwich cookies. A list of other vegan cookie options can be found on peta2.com (21 Vegan Cookies You NEED to Buy).