It’s happening. The sun is starting to set earlier than 9pm, blustery storm Francis has paid a visit. This, has been summer everyone. A few socially distanced tinned Pimms and posh crisps from M&S in the park, a dappling of Eat Out to Help Out excursions- the foodie fun of summer has been somewhat limited this year. But we still have a few dregs, a few glimpses of mild evenings ahead, before the dark uncertainties of Autumn and Winter set in. So, get your hosting hats on piglets, it’s time to get the last of the summer wine, and master the art of hosting in Lockdown Summer.
As everyone is heading back to uni/school/end-of-furlough life, there has never been a better time to get the team in the garden or a well-ventilated room, and have one last hurrah. And here at GPF, there is no greater medium of celebration than FOOD, and we have lots of recipes and tips to host a gorgeously safe evening of eating.
The evenings are getting milder, but embrace those balmy breezes by getting a fire pit out, or even investing in a throw-away BBQ. This mini fire pit from Wayfair is perfect and only £20.99. You can even transport it back to the uni house for the new term. If you can’t stretch that far, grab a few candles and scatter them round the garden. Perfect light makes for a perfect night; sounds like something out of High School Musical, but we are setting the scene. Dot your chairs, blankets about according to the 1+ rules, get everyone to bring their own blanket for extra hygge. Fairy lights and these paper decorations from Party Delights to hang in your garden trees, are perfect for making a gathering in the garden feel a little bit more special.
Then we set up the altar- the food table. Dishing out foods and avoiding the devil’s friend, the Double Dip, are encouraged for anti-Covid fun. It’s a good idea that there is a hand sanitizing station on the table and that everyone goes up to get food at different times. We need to ensure everyone isn't cramming round the trough together. Avoid resting the serving spoons on your plate and ensure your hands are sanitised before using each one. To make the clinical element more aesthetic, get some bunches of lavender, sage or flower petals from your garden, and scatter across the table. Light some tea lights and write some little cards reminding people to not double-dip
Light some tea lights and write some little cards reminding people to not double-dip.
Traybakes or ‘bits’
If dinner is the setting, large, all-in-one tray bakes are super ideal. Hot food is encouraged as it kills bacteria in the cooking process, but also as the nights get chillier, a nice warm serving of some Ottolenghi’s baked rice with feta or this harissa chicken, new potato and carrot traybake, will be super nourishing. These recipes are like a whole meal in themselves. If “a few bits” is more your style, fear not. This can also be done with precautions in place. Get some ramekins, little bowls, mousse moulds, anything that is good for dealing out little portions for each guest. Pre-fill these with a dollop of guacamole or The Guardian’s mushy pea hummus with pitta chips, and place with a selection of olives, some fancy truffle crisps or this homemade parmesan popcorn.
Get some cocktail stick skewers going! I recently made Ottolenghi’s grilled grapes from his book Simple, for a starter, drenched in a sweet sherry vinegar marinade and they were divine as a summery BBQ style dish. Lay a few savoury skewers on each little tapas plate for each guest, add cheese if desired. Charcuteries hams or fried halloumi in honey and dusted in sesame seeds, also make for a great little picnic-style tapas. Toast some nice sourdough and cut up some cheeses; push the boat out and make this lovely spiced rhubarb and date chutney!
Similarly, you could buy a pack of puff pastry, cut into little squares, egg-wash and add pesto/tapenade and top with veg/cheese/anchovies of your choice! Some fritters or veggie burgers like these delicious smoked carrot burgers by Anna Jones, with a dollop of sriracha mayo artsily placed on each plate, are also great for a “bits” selection. There are so many ways to feed everyone without having to do individual courses and also, not risk cross contamination at a socially distanced gathering.
Let’s think about drinks
What’s a good dinner without a good drink? For those who love a tipple, rum has made a medicinal comeback this summer, making this jamaican rum punch such a yummy drink of choice for an al fresco soiree. Fill up a fat jug (like this stylish Havana jug
for £10 at Sainsbury’s) and pour everyone yourself, so it is just you touching the handle. Put coloured hair bands or elastic bands around everyone’s glasses so you know whose glass is whose. Rosé is always in for summer and Petit Rimauresq Côtes de Provence 2008 is reasonable and lovely and peachy. If soft drinks are more your thing, this Waitrose nectarine and lime spritzer is sweet, juicy and super easy to make. Ice makes things nice, so maybe offer to do an ice refill where you shovel ice into glasses every hour or so- the more you can do outside, the less stuff from other people has to go in your kitchen.
Now for pudding. Whether that be a scoop of Tesco’s finest Caffe Latte ice cream or you’ve got some of August’s last blueberries for Simon Hopkins intensely easy blueberry crumble, as long as it’s pre-dished up for each guest, you’re good to go on the pud front. If pudding is too much of a hassle, invest in some nice chocolates or truffles and place a few on small side dishes with a shot of something tart, and you’re basically on the continent.
There are so many ways to make chilly al fresco nights fun. Toast some marshmallows, play the After-Eight game, make the dress code ginormous jumpers. We will look back on this time as really unique, but at least you can say you hosted a great dinner party. Happy hosting!