Cookbook authors share their favourite al fresco rituals

17 bright ideas for lovely, low-key outdoor entertaining this summer.

17 bright ideas for lovely, low-key outdoor entertaining this summer

(Source, left: Instagram/@aimeebourque; right: Instagram/@stylesweetdaily)

Canadian summers are fleeting, making eating outside almost a must. From lavish outdoor affairs to casual dock drinks, to weeknight BBQs, park picnics and beyond, there's no wrong way to enjoy eating together. And it can still be uncomplicated — without being standard — especially with the expert guidance, tips and techniques of a handful of food-loving Canadian cookbook authors. 

With an abundance of food always at the ready for guests and their finger on the pulse of what's trending in the culinary world, gatherings big and small are this group's specialty. They've mastered unfussy yet fabulous parties, which is why I consistently turn to this circle of fellow cookbook authors to help make my own entertaining look easy and laid-back (a summer requirement), while still dazzling with that little something extra.

If you love to host but become easily overwhelmed with the idea, or if you're stuck in a rut putting out the same old menu of hot dogs and hamburgers every time people come over, these foolproof food and entertaining suggestions will help you achieve entertaining stardom. Put these breezy tips into practice this summer for spirited outdoor social gatherings guests will be talking about well into the fall.

Aimée Wimbush-Bourque, bestselling author and creator of

Picnic more this year: 2019 is the summer of the picnic for me, whether I'm on the beach with the kids or entertaining friends in the backyard. Nothing says 'relaxed' quite like a quilt spread under a tree and an array of simple, seasonal nibbles to keep everyone happy. For quick, no fuss picnics, I keep a few staples stocked such as a good wheel of firm cheese, jars of pickles, and a bag of salt and vinegar chips. 

Don't forget the (canned) wine: Canned wine packs easily for outdoor eating and is easier to keep cold. The canned sparkling wines in particular are ideal for topping up a spritz.

Bake up an 'instant' dessert: Whip up a big batch (4x to 5x) of your favourite fruit crisp topping, freeze it in containers and have it on hand for when you need to whip up a quick summer dessert for company. Use with berries and cherries, stone fruit, pears and apples.  

Rosie Daykin, bestselling author and owner of Butter Baked Goods.

Create ambience with jam jars: As the sun drops, I've found the most effective way of lighting the table comes from the purchase of two or three boxes of mason jars (for jam making) in a variety of sizes, filling them with votive candles and placing them in abundance down the centre of the table. It creates a lot of impact with a very laid back vibe for very little money. 

Glam up an everyday theme: If I'm having a larger party, I like to start with some sort of theme which makes planning the menu so much easier. For example, I had a great hot dog roasting party a few years back offering a wide selection of wieners (kosher, turkey, beef, pork, etc.) and fun condiments (homemade relishes, interesting mustards and homemade pickles), watermelon salad, corn on the cob and mini root beer floats (in shot glasses) for dessert.

Desiree Nielsen, Registered Dietitian and author of Eat More Plants, out August 27, 2019.

Decorate your store-bought dip: Putting out a container of store-bought dip doesn't feel very elegant, but nothing beats a lavishly topped pre-made hummus, which takes just three minutes to prepare. Spread a shallow serving bowl with hummus, and then top with halved olives, chopped marinated artichoke hearts, minced parsley and walnut pieces. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and maybe a sprinkle of za'atar spice or smoked paprika.

Roll up healthy rice paper wraps: Since I'd rather being enjoying the party instead of cooking, I love any dishes that can be made in advance and served chilled, like rice paper rolls. I mix a filling of mint, basil and cilantro with smoked tofu, crunchy jicama and ripe summer peaches. If you're making a large batch, be sure to separate layers of rolls with parchment so they don't stick together!

Light up the night: As the sun starts to set, nothing looks more magical than trees lit up with lanterns. Buy more than you think you need and fill them with LED candles for hours of fuss free ambiance. 

Jan Scott, creator of Family Bites and bestselling author of Oven to Table

Assemble a monochromatic fruit salad: Gather all the season fruit you can find in the same colour palate, and pile it high onto a serving platter, plate or quarter sheet pan. In July, red fruits like strawberries, watermelon, cherries and raspberries are nice. In August, peaches, nectarines, cantaloupe and mangos would work. Vibrant green salads with honeydew melon, kiwi, grapes and apples are also appealing.

Turn to the DIY-anything bar: This can be a taco bar, burger bar, bruschetta bar, potato salad bar, ice cream sundae bar or even booze bar. Just set out the components and let your guests help themselves. It's fun, interactive, and works well for those with dietary restrictions (picky eaters, too). 

Keep drinks cold (and have fun later) with frozen water balloons: Fill your coolers and buckets with water-filled frozen balloons and stick your drinks in and around them. It will save your drinks and cooler from getting soggy as the ice inside the balloons melts. An added bonus: when completely thawed, the balloons can be used for a water balloon fight for the adults and/or kids.

Tessa Huff, author of Icing on the Cake.

Keep party decor fresh and simple: I never use much more than flowers, balloons and/or candles. Look to your own garden and snip some fresh blooms to float in glass bowls or bud vases or tie ribbon on small, potted herbs to place on the tabletop. 

Bake a low-stress and seasonal dessert: Pre-bake angel food cupcakes or shortcakes ahead of the party; then, a few minutes before serving, whip some sweetened cream and top with a handful of season berries. Done! 

Create an easy (and approachable) drink station: Equip a bar cart or end of the countertop with everything guests will need, from glassware to stirrers. There's no need to be complex here; make it easy and obvious so guests feel comfortable helping themselves.  

Tamara Green and Sarah Grossman, nutritionists, wellness chefs and authors of The Living Kitchen.

Skip the plastic party gear: After any party, there is often a huge mess to clean up and lots of waste. If you're you're not using real dishes, cups and utensils, find biodegradable versions of them instead. Place little wicker baskets lined with compost bags around the party and ensure there is a sign to let guests know to throw their biodegradable dishes into the compost and not the garbage. Not only does this make clean up a cinch, but it also eliminates plastic waste.  

Make frozen fruit ice cubes: Add a slice of summer fruit or berries to ice cube trays before adding the water, and then freeze. Not only do these ice cubes look more special and beautiful, they also add hints of fruitiness while cooling down your beverage. 

Name your beverage: People always manage to misplace their cups or mistake their drink for someone else's. To avoid this common mishap, make little name tags that guests can stick or tie around their drink, to minimize wasted drinks and any confusion. 

Allison Day is the cookbook author of Modern Lunch. Follow her on Instagram @allisondaycooks for food and lifestyle inspiration. 


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