People should get extra credit for throwing parties when it’s hot out. I think it’s hard enough to find a nice air-conditioned restaurant; entertaining guests when the weather is scorching is the work of champions.
Luckily, I have a friend, Maria Sinskey, who is a champion hostess. The F&W Best New Chef 1996 runs the culinary program at Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Napa, and she also happens to throw the best parties. Here are her six best tips for hot weather entertaining.
1. Do any baking in the cool hours of the morning. That a) gets it out of the way; and b) ensures the kitchen is a comfortable temperature when guests arrive. It also gives pies time to set (because if it’s summer, you should be making pie).
2. Keep a selection of hard cheeses, olives and salami in the fridge for instant snacks. They're great if you don't have time to make hors d’oeuvres, and they keep well in the fridge for a decent amount of time. Don’t get hung up on serving too many cheeses: one big wedge looks like a party.
3. Toasted almonds are the best nut to keep on hand for parties. They stay fresher longer than more oily nuts, which tend to go rancid quickly. I also keep a bottle (or two) of Champagne or sparkling wine in the fridge; that distracts guests when I’m finishing up the cooking.
4. Keep baguette slices in your freezer in a Ziploc bag. Toast the bread with good olive oil and a little sea salt to make fresh crostini. (I use leftover bread; and I slice it before it gets too hard and stale.) My go-to topping is fresh chevre mixed with chives. And a little tomato jam if you can find it. Or tapenade with sliced cherry tomatoes, basil and a drizzle each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
5. My favorite hot weather dip is Greek yogurt with drained, grated seedless cucumber, toasted cumin, garlic, and lots of chopped dill, mint, and basil. I season it with salt and pepper and a hit of lemon or lime juice. To make it a little richer you can whisk in some olive oil.
6. Clean-up is almost as important as the cooking. If you’re not on top of it in the beginning, you get buried. I set up a bin of warm soapy water to throw silverware in to soak and don’t need a lot of rinsing. This is especially important now that we have a full blown drought in CA.