Feature

5 secrets to perfect summer entertaining

Fear not: Alcoholic ice pops are involved

Summer has always been my favorite season for eating. There's an ease and simplicity to it: There's no need to cook for hours over a hot stove, so it's all about throwing together quick, lovely meals and enjoying the company around you.

A stroll through the farmers market is an easy place to gain inspiration for summer feasts. The key is to keep things simple, and let the quality of the ingredients shine through. This summer, I'm excited to pick up things like colorful heirloom tomatoes, strawberries, peaches, corn, watermelon, summer squash, and blueberries, then call up a few friends, and then turn it all into an easy, summery feast.

Here are five of my favorite ideas for summer entertaining, whether you're planning a picnic or a backyard barbecue:

1. Pack it to go in wax paper and twine
Eating outdoors is one of my favorite ways to dine, so I always keep a big roll of wax paper and twine on my kitchen counter to wrap up sandwiches before heading outside. I find that wax paper seals in moisture better, and makes for a prettier presentation, than plastic bags or containers.

2. Stock up on fabrics
Before picnic season begins, I like to make a trip to the fabric store and buy inexpensive scrap linens in different patterns and colors to use as picnic blankets; I just trim the ends and let them fray out naturally. They're lightweight, and you don't have to worry about getting food and grass stains on them since they're easy to wash. Another bonus: You can match them to your outfit.

3. On hot days, try shaving your vegetables instead of grilling them
When it's warm out and the last thing you want to do is cook over a stove or grill, try shaving your favorite vegetables into a side salad instead. I like to use a vegetable peeler to turn asparagus, summer squash, and carrots into long, thing strips. This makes a beautiful, colorful salad that you can dress lightly with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

4. Keep a bowl of lemons and limes handy
I cook a lot of seafood in the summer, and I always give it a squeeze of citrus right before serving, to brighten up the flavors and bring out its freshness. I also squeeze lemon onto my hands afterward handling seafood to get rid of any fishy smells.

5. Make an icy treat for dessert
Your guests will be excited when they see you pull ice pops out of the freezer after dinner. They'll be even more thrilled once they discover that you spiked it with alcohol. I add a splash of booze — about 2 teaspoons — to each ice pop mold, then fill them with fresh fruit juice. Some of my favorite combinations are tequila with lime for margarita ice pops, or fresh blackberries with gin for a blackberry bramble.

Blackberry Bramble Ice Pops

Excerpted from A Simple Feast: A Year of Stories and Recipes to Savor and Share (Roost Books, 2014)

Makes 6

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup water
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup gin
1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

This article originally appeared on Food52.com: 5 tips for simpler summer entertaining.

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