This week has been all about party planning! Over the weekend we celebrated my son's birthday with a few family and friends, and at the Island we are super excited to be making preparations for our first Luau (August 3rd, don't miss it!!)! I love a good party and really any excuse to make food and celebrate something, but July and August in the Midwest can end up being around 1000 degrees, so when planning for a crowd I'm always looking for food and beverage combinations that are going to be cool and refreshing. I find my favorite things this time of year are crisp and cool, cleansing and bright, a spritz of lime juice, slice of cucumber or dollop of Greek yogurt can cool your core when it feels like nothing else will.
Aside from trying to control the weather, here are three basics that I think about when I'm planning for a crowd:
-Figure out the flavors you want to stand out and plan the rest of the menu around it. Try not to have competing flavors, generally you'll just pile everything onto one plate, so too much variety can be overwhelming when you are eating a pile of miscellaneous hors d'oeuvres. Have one or two standout flavors and then build from there. Blue cheese dip is great, but don't add the spinach artichoke and two kinds of hummus, just add some crudites and pita chips and call it a day.
-Serve the rainbow. We all know we eat with our eyes, so make sure your party table looks like a beautiful and interesting still life, lots of colors and textures to keep the eye moving and everyone coming back for more. People are super impressed by variety, but variety can be as simple as multi-colored peppers and a few different types of berries.
-Consider your budget. Having people over can be expensive, consider things that will stretch or look fancier than they really are. Wine spritzers are great, Greek yogurt with fresh herbs and cucumbers, cut up veggies and cheese drizzled with olive oil and za'atar. Not only are these affordable, but come together quickly, and will leave you with more time to enjoy the party instead of finishing fancy platters of food.
Za'atar is one of my current favorite additions to salads, snacks (see above), and anything headed to the grill, and this time of year its great to make with fresh herbs which takes it to another level in flavor. Here is an easy recipe for your next party.
Makes 1/2 cup
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon ground sumac*
1/2 teaspoon course salt
1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl.
2. Make something delicious.
3. Use it all and make fresh next time, it doesn't hold well for use later.
*Tangy spice, similar in flavor to lemon or vinegar. I buy mine at Jay International Market on Grand, but any international market should have it.