The Charming Hostess Entertains: Dining Outdoors
Having a short summer season on the East Coast, we try to make the best of what Mother Nature so kindly hands to us. Spending as much time as we can outdoors helps us enjoy the warm weather and dining ‘al fresco’ whenever we can seems to be the ticket. As a family, we try to enjoy at least a couple meals throughout the week in the comfort of our backyard and of course since it seems to be the flavour of the season, we keep the meal simple and delicious. A light salad like Sweet Corn and Baby Arugula or a flavourful dish like Crispy Fingerling Potatoes with Pecorino starts our menu off on the right foot and we always follow with a scrumptious main course like Roasted Chicken or a divine Grilled Leg of Lamb done just right, always a welcomed combination on these lovely evenings. The fresh air and warm breezes seem to have a settling effect on the Lemontree household making for a more enjoyable meal, a definite plus when it comes to suppertime with fidgety little ones.
Of course once I get a taste of a good thing (and I love dining outdoors!), I have a hard time letting go so I try to incorporate the idea of outdoor dining whenever I can especially when it comes to entertaining company. Although I was a little hesitant at first (paranoia about my guests not enjoying themselves fully was at the route of my uncertainty!), I have come to find that entertaining guests outdoors is just as pleasurable for both host and guest as is the inside alternative when you incorporate some simple table etiquette elements to your meal.
Don’t forgo a proper table when you take it outside!
Setting your table outdoors should be no different than what you would deem appropriate for indoors. Some flowers and a pretty gingham or floral table cloth is just the thing to add a special touch to any table, indoors or out. Of course a pretty table should also be a welcoming table which just wouldn’t look right without a proper place for each and every one of your guests. You wouldn’t throw all you cutlery into a big cup and pass it around in your dining room and you shouldn’t do it outdoors either. A basic or informal place setting is all you need in the laid-back atmosphere of your backyard.
Save the plastic for the drive-thru!
Using your everyday flatware not only ups the style ante when dining outdoors but is the perfect way to incorporate a little ‘green living’ into your entertaining repertoire. (Flatware that will make its way back into the house for cleaning and storing sounds and looks so much better than cheap disposables that will make their way to the landfill) Want to give your guests an extra special treat? Take out your polished silverware and set your table in style. Grandma didn’t drag it here across the Atlantic from the old country for nothing. Make her proud and enjoy it every chance you get!
Gather your essential utensils!
Most of us plan our meals ahead of time when expecting company so take that lead and plan what serving utensils and special tableware you will need for your intended meal. Large bowls for serving salads and side dishes, a bread basket for those who indulge in the carbohydrates and the appropriate individual serving utensils for every dish placed on your table should be ready for service the moment your guests pass through your front door. To make it simple for me to round up what I need from my sideboard and drawers, a breakdown of the intended menu dish by dish is essential for the prepared hostess!
When a salad like the Sweet Corn and Baby Arugula dish is served as a first course, a proper salad fork should be used and positioned on the outer left of the place setting (see sample place setting diagram). This smaller fork should always be ushered away along with the plate the salad was served on, clearing the way for your next course.
A dish like the Crispy Fingerling Potatoes should be served in a large vegetable bowl or casserole dish. This should be served with a serving or casserole spoon. Tongs are another appropriate option when handling this type of food and are probably the easiest to use.
A main course like Roasted Chicken or Grilled Leg of Lamb it is often best to place it directly from your grill or cooking surface onto a wooden cutting board first, allowing it to rest before being carved. The use of a proper carving knife and fork make slicing easy and safe for whoever is doing the honours.
Any carved or portioned dish should then be placed on a serving platter and arranged in the most appetizing way possible. I love using proper serving platters when offering sliced meats, like the ones mentioned above for it gives me the opportunity to get a little creative with my presentation and it makes it easy for my guests to select just the right amount they want to eat.
Dessert is where I like to pull out the show stoppers and get a little fancy! When I dish up an après dinner delight like Panna Cotta, I like to serve it with an iced tea or soda spoon. This small, thin spoon with a longer handle allows your guests to keep their fingers clean while eating this divine dish.