Seasonal Splendor: How to host the ultimate summer dinner party
At long last, summer is here. Now is the time to relish leisurely days and late sunsets, warm nights on the porch and languid walks with the dog. This is the season for flip-flops and chitchat, poolside and swinging in hammocks. In summertime life seems simpler, sweeter.
Why is that so? We think it’s because this is the season where you bring the dinner party outside. On the patio, in a garden, at the beach or with a balcony view—this is the time to gather friends for nights of summer magic. And we’ve got you covered.
From setting the scene to setting the table and dishing up the best flavors of the season, we called on local florists, chefs, party planners and mixologists to throw Sip Northwest’s own summertime supper and to get you ready to take your evening meal outside of the indoor box.
Atmosphere is pivotal for a memorable dinner party, from the lighting and the table ornamentation to the execution of the food and drink. Thankfully, event planning expert Tamara Nicole detailed her top checklist items to social gathering success, while Rebecca Dashow of Vashon Island-based Herban Bloom enlightened on how to finesse your floral arrangements.
Delight from cocktails to stargazing: “Think about your guests from the point of invitation, to the moment they arrive and throughout the night,” says Nicole. Greet each person with a festive drink as they walk into your party. Then keep guests comfortable from sunset to s’mores with ample wraps or throws on-hand so they can linger into the evening.
Set the mood: For Nicole, light at a party is key. In addition to candles, she suggests bistro lights above the table, wrapped around trees or laced across your garden. Depending on your theme, she has also spruced up a walkway with paper lanterns or Mason jars filled with string lights for an additional playful glow.
Go au naturel: When decorating your tabletop, keep it simple and use your garden as inspiration. “Find some fun vines to tie around your napkin or tuck a flower into your napkin ring,” Nicole says. If you are hosting a beach-themed party, she suggests adding shells for decorations. In true DIY spirit, you can craft your own napkin rings using slivers of a paper towel roll covered with a decorative fabric or paper.
Forage bouquets: “In July, for local flowers and herbs you’ll find lavender and mint growing naturally and climbing garden roses,” says Dashow of Herban Bloom. She often plucks from her backyard herb garden to fill bud vases across the table—adding a pop of color that’s easy and affordable. Other summer blooms to seek out from your local florist (or your own backyard) for a splash of color include dahlias, hydrangeas, ranunculus and sweet peas.
Mix it up: When arranging the flowers, Dashow recommends mixing vases and bowls of different height, textures and colors in off-number clusters, using everything from China teacups to glass jars as vessels. “I think that mismatched look adds interest to a table, but still keeps the design simple enough for the hostess.”
Simple is beautiful: Dashow also suggests keeping it basic for the better, noting to focus on one flower for an overall theme. If you are going to highlight dahlias, use all dahlias in your main bouquet, and add variety across the table with a smattering of bud vases filled with herbs and maybe a smaller dahlia or two. Another idea to enhance the palette is to clip a few open flowers to float in glass bowls up and down the table.
Sometimes you want to kick it up a notch when you entertain, which is why we asked a handful of chefs around the Northwest to dish out the details on their favorite summertime meals when gathering friends. They gave us a just-right mix of tasty bites, using ingredients relishing the best of summer in this region.
Northwest Cheese Plate
Gazpacho del Pacifico
Russian Kale Salad
Whole Roasted Trout
Rose Panna Cotta
Wandering Aengus Ciderworks Bloom
Cider Riot! Never Give an Inch
Illahe Estate 2015 Tempranillo Rosé, Willamette Valley
Lock & Worth Winery 2014 Semillon, Okanagan Valley
Seapine Brewing Hefeweizen
Nashi Orchards Island Harvest Perry
Palmero Viejo #2
Northwest Cheese Plate
Steve Jones, Owner of Cheese Bar, Chizu
“There’s never a wrong time for cheese,” says cheese expert Steve Jones. With his family, a cheese plate is often the main meal. “We call it ‘snack-y dinner,’ cheese and cured meat and olives and bread. Mainly when it’s hot out and you don’t feel like cooking,” he adds. Alternatively, he serves cheese as dessert. “I think it’s a fun way to finish up what’s left in the wine bottle, or beers you’ve been sharing.”
When picking and presenting the perfect cheese plate, Jones suggests settling on a number. “I like odd numbers—three or five,” he says. If you select three by type of milk used (cow, goat, milk) you can ensure variety of textures and flavor. Aim for five, and you can add in an aged cheese, and a stinky blue—we included the seasonal release of the firm and funky Flagsheep, an aged mix of cow and sheep’s milk, from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese in Seattle and the full-bodied and creamy Whatcom Blue from Twin Sisters Creamy in Ferndale, Washington. At Jones’ two Portland cheese bars, the selections are served on wood boards, often made of walnut. “Anything organic makes the cheese pop, it looks more alive,” he says.
Steve’s Summertime Cheese Picks
Cascadia Creamery, Trout Lake, Washington: “All of the cheeses made by this creamery use raw, organic cow’s milk. I’m really in love with their Sawtooth, a semi-soft, washed rind cheese that’s cave aged 60 to 75 days. It’s a little bit stinky, with some bacon-fatty, good funkiness without being too much.”
Ancient Heritage Dairy, Portland: “From Portland’s first urban creamery, I like the Hannah, which is a blend of cow and sheep’s milk, that’s got a nice sharp, almost cheddar-meets parmesan-quality.”
Briar Rose, Dundee, Oregon: “Try Freya’s Wheel, a semi-soft, bloomy rinded goat’s milk cheese made by cheese maker Sarah Marcus. It’s got that nice kind of sweet coconut-y nose, and is very feminine compared to the masculine tones of the other two.”
PAIRING: “The dirty secret is cider,” says Jones when asked for his go-to cheese and beverage match-up. “The fruit is super apparent and you get that salty-sweet combination which is really nice. You also have potential effervescence with a sparkling cider and that’s great with cheese because it cuts through the fat and keeps your palate lively.” Two of his cider picks of the moment include the off-dry Wandering Aengus Bloom and Cider Riot!’s Never Give an Inch, a blackberry cider with purple hues.
Gazpacho del Pacifico
Cristina and Jose Chesa, Ataula and 180 Xurreria
“Tomatoes in Portland are pure magic,” Christina Chesa says as she gushes about her star ingredient. “When the season hits, you can find a rainbow of beautifully ripe tomatoes. Take your pick from sweet, super sweet, meaty, mild…When this happens we make gazpacho at home and at our restaurants every day.”
Serves 4-6 (yields 1 liter)
8 ripe tomatoes
1 cup bread, can be cubed or torn into chunks
1 cup strawberries
½ cup cucumber
½ cup red bell pepper
½ cup white onions
3 garlic cloves, diced
1-2 cups olive oil
3-4 cups of water
Sherry vinegar, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cut all of the listed ingredients into small pieces. Put all vegetables, fruit and bread into a blender and mix until smooth, 4-5 minutes on medium speed. Add olive oil and sherry vinegar and season to taste. Add water and season to taste. Serve in fun glassware or soup bowls. Can keep refrigerated 4-5 days.
PAIRING: Described as “impeccable” by Christina Chesa, the Illahe Estate Tempranillo Rosé is a Spanish-inspired whole-cluster pressed wine. The delightful rosé exudes a pale pink hue with a kiss of strawberry, making it a refreshing sipper for the first course.
Russian Kale Salad
David Hawksworth, Chef/Owner of Nightingale
“Always pair wine with the flavor of the salad dressing or vinaigrette,” Chef Hawksworth says on the conundrum of wine and salad pairings. “The acidity of the wine has to match the dressing.” This dish is served bright and fresh for the season, alongside a stellar wine selection, at Hawksworth’s newly minted Nightingale in Vancouver.
12 ounces Russian kale, ribs removed
½ head fennel, shaved thinly
6 red radishes, shaved thinly
3 ounces ricotta salata, shaved with a vegetable peeler
1 lemon, juiced
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Clean kale by removing leaves from rib, tearing into bite-sized pieces, soaking in cold water and spinning using a salad spinner. Place kale with extra virgin olive oil, salt and black pepper in a mixing bowl then “massage,” squeezing the leaves in your fist to break down the structure of the kale. Massage and mix for 3 minutes until leaves tenderize and seasoning is easily mixed, set aside. Place shaved fennel and radishes in mixing bowl with kale, add juice of lemon and thoroughly mix again to incorporate. Evenly divide between 4 plates, garnish with ricotta salata and serve. This recipe can easily be doubled for larger parties.
PAIRING: Chef Hawksworth recommends pairing the salad with Lock & Worth Semillon from the Okanagan Valley, a full-bodied white that bursts with fresh citrus flavors and tropical aromatics.
Whole Roasted Trout
Josh Henderson, Chef/Owner of Westward
“Whole fish—and similar shareable food—is perfect for a summer party because it causes people to chat,” chef Henderson professes on the perks of cooking his dish. “It forces that interaction, which can lead to marriage or at least a boyfriend or girlfriend—and that’s a fact.”
2 whole (10 ounce) trout, pan-dressed
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ cup Marcona almonds
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon preserved lemon, julienned
1 tablespoon harissa
3 tablespoons golden raisins
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, chopped
Rinse and pat dry trout. Season inside and out with salt and pepper to taste. Preheat oven to 400° degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in a large skillet over high heat, until it is just smoking. Add trout and brown on one side for 3 minutes, then carefully flip to other side and cook for 1 minute. Place in oven for 8 minutes.
Remove trout from oven and place on rack, platter or cloth napkin. Wipe out pan and add 3 tablespoons butter. Cook butter over medium heat until it just begins to brown. Add the almonds and brown. Add the harissa, raisins, lemon juice and preserved lemon and cook for 30 seconds more. Add parsley right before serving. Pour sauce over fish and serve with roasted potatoes or vegetables.
PAIRING: When asked what plays well with the bold flavors in his match-making trout, Henderson picks Seapine Brewing’s hefeweizen, “a crisp, dry Weiss beer…great with fish and also cuts the spice of the harissa and the salt kick of the preserved lemon.”
Rose Panna Cotta with Macerated Strawberries and Nashi Orchards Perry
Lia Lira, Chef/Owner of Bramble House
Vashon Island, WA
“I think no-bake recipes are always best in the summer,” Chef Lira says. “You can change up the berries so the recipe will be viable even in late summer when strawberries aren’t available. The perry is a delicious broth to marinate the berries in, and also provides a crisp counter balance to the creaminess of the panna cotta…If you have left over perry, you should drink it!” Lira also suggests making the panna cotta and rose petals the day before your party so they can set overnight.
For the Panna Cotta:
1 ¼ cup heavy cream
1 ¼ cup milk
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
4 ½ teaspoons powdered gelatin
3 tablespoons cold water
½ tablespoon rose water
Combine milk and sugar in a pot and slowly heat. Separately, put cold water in to a bowl and sprinkle gelatin over the top. Allow to rehydrate for 5 minutes. When milk is just below steaming, remove from heat and stir in gelatin. Add cream and rose water. Let cool briefly. Pour 3 ounces of cream mixture into individual molds or ramekins and let cool in fridge for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
For the Rose Petals:
Organic rose petals (make sure roses you use are organic and food grade, these cannot normally be found at florist)
Put egg whites in a bowl and lightly whisk to break up. Put a small amount of sugar into a small plate or shallow bowl. With a small brush, lightly coat each side of the petal with egg whites, then coat with sugar. Lay out in a single layer and let dry overnight.
For the Raspberry Purée:
15 ounces raspberries
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and ensure that sugar is completely dissolved. Pour over raspberries and puree until smooth. Pass through a fine sieve.
For the Macerated Berries:
10 ounces strawberries (or mixed seasonal berries)
Mix and macerate for at least 3 hours.
1 bottle Nashi Orchards Island Harvest perry
Remove panna cotta from cooler. Fill a bowl with hot water and dip the bottom of the panna cotta mold into the hot water and let heat briefly to loosen. Remove and dry the bottom of the mold. Invert a shallow bowl over the top of the mold, then flip the two over together. The panna cotta will slide out of the mold.
Spoon berries around panna cotta and make sure to add a bit of purée to each bowl. Bring your bowls to the table and pour cider over the berries tableside so the bowl is full of bubbles.
The following mocktail and cocktail recipes celebrate summer gardens and the seasonal flavors we covet. Turn up the music, pour and you’ve got a party.
Ricardo Perez, Sous Chef, Head of House-Made Beverage Program, Farm Spirit
Chef Perez is constantly tinkering with whatever fruits, vegetables or botanicals are local and in-season for Farm Spirit’s house-made beverage program and this shrub recipe strikes a chord with him. “You get a very potent tincture that’s nicely acidic and sweet, intensely flavorful and bright across the palate,” Perez says. “It suits itself to a wide variety of uses, from sauces and baked goods, to mixing really dynamic drinks.” Keep the mingling in mind: this shrub recipe takes 7-10 days to meld flavors so be sure to make ahead of time.
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white cane sugar
1 cup of Champagne vinegar
2 cups marionberries
3-4 juniper berries
1/16th-1/8th tsp of red pepper flakes (optional)
Combine the fruit and sugar in a clean glass jar and allow to sit and macerate for 24-48 hours, stirring occasionally. Add the vinegar and mix well. For extra flair, add juniper berries, black peppercorns and a small pinch of red pepper flakes in the batch. Allow the mixture to sit room temperature away from sunlight, stirring twice a day, and covered with a paper towel and rubber band for 7-10 days or until flavors are well mingled.
Strain the shrub and store in a clean glass quart jar with a lid in the refrigerator until ready to use. Enjoy as a beverage, just over the rocks with some filtered water or soda water, diluting to taste for a pleasant bit of effervescence. Perez suggests one part shrub to four parts water as a good starting point.
Palermo Viejo #2
Alise Moffatt, Co-Proprietor, Shift Drinks
“Nothing quite captures summertime in the Pacific Northwest like mint,” Moffatt proclaims. “In fact, once it starts to appear at the farmers market each year, I get excited because summer is coming! This drink was inspired by a recent trip to Argentina, where the Cynar Julep reigns supreme. I was eager to put my spin on it by using fresh Oregon mint.”
Create this cocktail to order, or batch this fun blend for pitcher drinks.
1 ½ ounces Aviation Gin
¾ ounce Cynar amaro
½ ounce Pamplemousse Rosé Liqueur
2 dashes orange bitters
Stirred, garnish by floating a mint leaf on top of the drink. Aromatize the mint leaf first by placing it in palm of your hand and clapping once.