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Your Place for Al Fresco Dining

Have you invited friends over lately?  Maybe it's time to gather a few friendly faces for cocktails and dinner on the patio.  I find that impromptu gatherings can be as fun as something you plan carefully for a month. 

Start with the invite.  Select the day, time, and menu.  Text, call, or email your guests.  Envision your place of dining.  Indoors or outdoors?  Is this a casual group or a more formal gathering? 

Let's look at four easy steps to create the perfect party at home.

*Plan a menu that is pleasing yet different. 

*Keep it simple and delicious.

*Stage your cooking and prepping.

*Arrange your table and centerpiece ahead of time.

I have a notebook of menus I like to cook.   I keep detailed stews, casseroles, and pasta menus to a minimum because of the multiple steps involved in preparing.  I also gather menus from food blogs, magazines, newspapers, and cookbooks.  Easy tip:  the number of ingredients in a recipe is usually the tell-all of time involved to prepare. 

When I plan a menu I consider what is fresh and seasonal.  In spring I love asparagus, root vegetables,  and simple soups.  These pare well with grilled protein and a tossed salad.  In winter I enjoy slow cooker meats with organic greens and always shaved parmesan cheese.  The simpler you plan, the easier entertaining will be.

By keeping the menu simple you cut down on the amount of time in the kitchen. Roast, roast, roast anything you can in advance.  Even the veggies for your soup. Slice and dice a day in advance so that you can focus on other important details rather than standing and prepping.  You can even use the frozen pesto, sauces, and broths from preceding meals. 

Once your food is in the kitchen, prepped, marinated, rinsed and chopped you are ready to concentrate on your place of dining.  I like to seat groups of 6 or 8 together.  If you have 12 guests, split them into two groups so the conversations are fun and enjoyable.  I love a fresh cotton or linen table cloth draping the table with simple folded napkins.  The centerpiece is almost always fresh garden flowers I put in ceramic bowls for the evening and later plant in my flower beds. 

Add candles, fresh flowers and music for a perfect evening.  Don't forget to sweep or hose off your patio.  When a patio is clean and inviting guests will see this area as part of your home.  Al Fresco dining can be the simplest yet most delicious way to enjoy an evening with friends.


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