Weeknight Entertaining Made Easy (aka the Not-So-Formal Summer Dinner Party)

Let’s face it.  

When we think of entertaining, 1950s-party1I don’t know about you but I get pretty energized and start pulling out cookbooks, looking up recipes, and finding the next great Michelin star dish to reveal.  A weeknight dinner with friends?  TOTALLY doable. Ooh-la-la!

Yeah. Then reality sets in – the work week becomes late work nights, your husband has non-stop conference calls each night about the game release, the workshop you are presenting and help plan looms in the distance, and the book chapter you need to write threatens to haunt your dreams.  Oh wait – well, that was my week. My best laid plans of gourmet heaven flipped right off the counter and smashed on the floor like a broken egg.  However, undeterred and NO, as I told the sympathetic husband, we were NOT ordering in pizza or take-out.  I wanted to have a fun, easy dinner with our friends that wouldn’t leave me stressed and frazzled, and easy enough for the hubs to get going for when I ended up with one more late departure from work.  Sound familiar?

What resulted was a HUGE hit for all four adults, and two precious kiddos.  Dinner was a smash!  (and not in the broken egg variety…)  I sought and found recipes which had the following qualities:

  • Easy prep, easy cooking (essential when you have limited time and energy)
  • Cool Cooking (essential when you live in Georgia and summer heat is here early)
  • Make ahead dishes and quick assembly (ok, kinda like #1 – day before essential)
  • Kid-friendly & Adult satisfying (all parties need to be able to identify and willing to try)
  • FUN, HEALTHY, YUMMY (goes without saying…)

After scouring the internet, I determined grilling would be the best medium for cooking in the sudden “heat wave” we were having during the week – no stove top or oven necessary to run up the A/C in this house – and easy finger food/healthy vegetable usage/garden yield.  I appreciate so many of the resources out there for “weeknight entertaining” and decided on the following menu.  Feel free to swap and try different dishes or copy the menu.  We had some food leftover, but not tons of waste.  Another win for wifey.

chickenWeeknight Wonder Dinner (I’ve posted/hyperlinked original recipe links for reference)

Yummy Honey Chicken Kabobs

Grilled Marinated Vegetables & Eggplant

Arugula, Watermelon and Feta Salad (added other “super greens” to arugula)

Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella Skewers (or as dubbed by the expert 4 yr.-old, “Tomato Stick Sandwiches”)

Peach Jalapeño Salsa & tortilla chips (Used THIS and THAT, and adapted taste)

Watermelon Moscow Mules

Pink Breeze (non-alcoholic)

Prep the Day Before

  • Cut up chicken and marinate overnight – trust me.
  • Cut up vegetables for skewers AND skewer ahead – marinate
  • Prep salad greens and cut up and seed watermelon
  • Prep your “Tomato Stick Sandwiches” don’t add oil
  • Mix up the Peach Salsa so it can flavor meld overnight
  • SQUEEZE, and squeeze…and squeeze watermelon juice (truth)

Day of Dinner

  • Skewer marinated chicken
  • Add oil to Tomato Basil Mozzarella skewers
  • Toss arugula greens with light dressing and feta and watermelon (half hour early or it will get soggy)
  • Assemble and set up tortilla chips and plate salsa
  • Assemble and set up ingredients for the watermelon mules

Helpful Hints:

Secrets to Shish – loved this helpful link on “The Secret to Perfect Shish Kabobs” from Two Healthy Kitchens. I cannot tell you how long I’ve made shish kabobs and felt like they were “meh.”  Seriously this is the advice you always wanted, you just never knew you needed.  READ IT.

Add to create/delete to keep the peace – I kept this in my mind when I was assembling the menu, and pulling together ingredients.  This activity will take some prep time ahead but the reward is YOU are not harried, stressed, exhausted, and otherwise Mrs. Hyde when your guests arrive.  There is nothing better than having friends come in, have nibbles ready to nosh on, and you are only smiling as you pour the pre-arranged drinks and the food begins to appear.  You will feel like a rock star.  You just won’t be sweaty like one.

Work with your Sous Chef – make sure your partner in crime or happy helpers are READY and available to work with you.  I KNEW the hubs was busy with homework, group calls, and other assorted items slamming his schedule.  We arranged how we could split the work and how we could support the effort.  I did all the prep and staging – he handled the last skewer prep and grilling leaving me to only worry about some final assembly and arranging.  This sounds goofy, but it does neither of us any good to be non-communicative when guests arrive b/c you are rushed or not ready.

This isn’t new advice and I’m certainly not revealing anything surprising.  The difference between this party and others in the past?  I could stand up, I enjoyed the food I made, and I was coherent and not curled up sleeping in the corner from exhaustion.  Find what works for you – we all cannot be Michelin chefs, but it’s ok – who needs the pressure?  I got hugs and mad props from a 4-year-old and 7-year-old and that was cool enough for me.

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