Summer never ends when you can throw open the doors, inviting friends over, and having a fantastic backyard BBQ. If you live in a temperate climate like I do in  California, you’re currently enjoying an Indian Summer of high daytime temperatures and plenty of sunshine! Of course when entertaining your friends from the shows and barn it is fun to throw in an equestrian theme and celebrate the sport that brings us all together!  Remember the key to having a successful party is having a few home court recipes and decorations that are easy, healthy, and stylish.  Using this guide, Shabe Behzadapour, Kristian Burns and myself threw this summer dinner party for 8 guests together in under 2 hours.

Bits are beautiful napkin holders!

Bits are beautiful napkin holders!

The Decor
When inviting friends over to your home or garden remember that a few decorations can really help set the atmosphere and show guests that you are grateful  they have come over.  The summer is about keeping things fresh and simple so choosing items that help bring a rustic farm feel to your garden are best.  The total spent on decor for this evening was $140.  Remember that the pails and jars can be saved and reused at future events.

1 Large Tin Pail
2-4 Smaller Tin Pails
4-6 Mason Jars
6-10 Votive Candles
8-10 Bits from the Barn (Please clean – dish soap works fine!)
1 roll of Bailing Twine
1 roll of Leather Lace
1 Gallon Bag of Grass Hay (grabbed from the barn)
1 Dozen Lemons
Variety of Flowers: Sunflowers, lavender, geraniums, and purple and white wild flowers (approximately $45 for the flowers)

Kristian brought over all the supplies for the decorations.  She was able to buy a few pails with lavender plants at Whole Foods.  The remaining pails and mason jars were bought at Michaels.  The pails she filled with lemons and hay and placed around the garden with votive candles.  She filled the mason jars with one lemon, water, and some fresh cut wildflowers or geraniums, and then tied pieces of bailing twine and leather around the jars to finish them off.  For the table centerpiece she filled the large pail with sunflowers and wild flowers and then using the bailing twine strung a polished bit around the pail.  She grabbed bits from the barn and used them as napkin holders for each place setting.

Add subtle equestrian touches and simple decorations.

Add subtle equestrian touches and simple decorations.

The Menu
There is no reason that a BBQ can’t be a healthy affair.  The main event is what you are grilling, so keep everything else light and colorful.  Remember not to throw anything on the grill until all the guests have arrived and are ready to sit down and eat together.  Spread appetizers out in the garden or inside the house as per where you want your guests to mingle.  All dishes below are geared to serve 6-8 guests.

For starters try a colorful crudité plate and a radish plate.  My grocery store always carries multi colored carrots.  Not only do these look great sliced up; but, grab a few extra and tie them into bunches and hand out as a parting gift that your guest can feed to their own ponies and horses the next day.  My favorite tapas-style appetizer is a simple fava bean crostini.  Best to check that your grocery store carries fava beans before the day of the party, as a last-second replacement you could use fresh peas as well.  And please skip the cheese plate, no one needs to eat brie before a BBQ!

Cucumber Crudité Dip
1 large peeled cucumber, slice off and discard seeds
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces of softened cream cheese
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

Purée cucumber and salt in a food processor.  In a second mixing bowl stir cream cheese, sour cream, thyme, zest, and pepper until smooth.   Then mix in cucumber purée.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve and garnish with thyme.

Fava Bean Crostini
1 pound fava beans, shelled
1 clove garlic minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 sourdough baguette
freshly grated parmesan cheese

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Blanch the fava beans for 8 minutes, then drain and plunge into an ice water bath.  Once the beans are cool, peel them by pinching off the skin.

Put the beans in a food processor.  Add garlic, lemon juice, and thyme and then pulse for several seconds until the beans are coarsely chopped.  With the machine running drizzle in the 1/3 cup of olive oil until well combined.  Stir in the salt and pepper and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Cut the baguette into 1/4-inch diagonal slices.  Using a pastry brush, coat both sides of the bread slices with olive oil.  Place the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast for 10-15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.  Spread 1 teaspoon of purée on each toast.  Sprinkle with sea salt, ground pepper and parmesan cheese.

Beverages and more!

Beverages and more!

Keep the beverages simple by offering one mixed cocktail and one non-alcoholic drink.  At dinner have either 2 bottles of white or red on hand to drink while seated.  We also whipped up a Spicy Paloma to kick off this zesty meal.  For a mocktail, we filled a large pitcher with ice and filled with Fresca and sliced limes for a 0 calorie drink to beat the heat.

Spicy Paloma
1 carton of your favorite grapefruit juice
2 cups (half bottle) of your favorite tequila
1/8 cup of cassis
4 tablespoons agavae
Either 2 tablespoons of ginger infusion or 1 sliced head of ginger
1 head chopped mint
1 large sliced lime

In a large pitcher stir in all the ingredients and add ice.  I found a bottle of ginger infusion at the liquor store near my house.  If not available slice up one head of ginger and soak in the 2 cups of tequila for about 2 hours before mixing it into the drink.  Garnish drink with a slice of lime.

For the main affair we went with Spicy Turkey Burgers with pickled onions, shaved carrot and pear salad, and a fennel and arugula salad.  Salads can always be made earlier in the day, leave off the dressing until you are ready to toss and serve.  Also be sure to grab a pack of veggie sausages and some hot dog buns if you are anticipating vegetarian or vegan guests.

Recruit a friend to grill.

Recruit a friend to grill.

Spicy Turkey Burgers
2 pounds lean ground turkey
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground chipolte pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground all spice
2 teaspoons olive oil
8 buns of your choice
8 teaspoons reduced-fat mayonaise

Preheat grill to high.  Place turkey in a medium bowl and gently mix in cilantro, cumin, chipolte, salt, and allspice.  Form mixture into 8 patties and brush each with olive oil on both sides.
Grill the burgers until cooked through and no longer pink in the center, 3-4 minutes on each side.  Place buns on the grill if desired.
Have ketchup, mustard, and lowfat mayonnaise available for guests

Picked Onions
1 large red onion finely sliced
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 ground allspice

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a light boil.  Let the onions cook for approximately 10 minutes till they are soft and have turned bright pink.  Place in bowl and refrigerate till ready to serve.

Shaved Carrot and Pear Salad
8 large carrots trimmed and peeled
2 firm pears (recommended – D’Anjou)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/4 extra virgin olive oil

I highly recommend using a food processor with a shredding blade to achieve perfectly shredded carrots; but a cheese grater will also do the trick.  Quarter core and thinly slice the pears (pears will fall apart using shredding blade).  Place carrots and pears in a large bowl with chopped parsley.
Whisk white wine, curry powder, honey, salt and pepper.  Then add in olive oil.  Pour dressing over carrots and pears and toss when ready to serve.

A fennel salad adds color to the table, and it's healthy!

A fennel salad adds color to the table, and it’s healthy!

Fennel and Arugula Salad
1 bunch of loose arugala
1 head of romaine
1 large fennel
1 large avocado
1/2 cup shaved parmesean
juice from 3 lemons
1/8 cup white balsamic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
salt and pepper

Wash and chop head of romaine.  Combine in a bowl with thinly sliced fennel and shaved parmesan.
Whisk lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, powdered ginger, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Stir in olive oil.  Refrigerate and toss salad when ready to serve.  Add in one large chopped avocado at time of service.

The perfect end to a summer meal among friends was a sweet dessert with berries and ice cream.  Our fresh baked oatmeal cookies served with vanilla ice cream and balsamic glazed strawberries was the hit of the evening! Do not buy pre-made cookies when it is so simple to pick up a box of cookie mix and make fresh baked ones.

Fresh Baked Oatmeal Cookies with Glazed Strawberries and Vanilla
1 box of Oatmeal Cookie Mix – Follow directions on box
2 bunches of fresh strawberries
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 pint Vanilla Ice Cream

Wash and halve fresh strawberries.  In a separate bowl whisk vinegar and brown sugar.  Toss strawberries in mixture and refrigerate until ready to serve.  In individual bowls serve out strawberries and top with a scoop of ice cream and one warm cookie.  Take one cookie and crumble it over all the portions so that each bite of ice cream has some cookie as well!


-By Meredith Herman, Burgundy Farms, Sonoma CA

Don't forget the most important ingredient - good friends!

Don’t forget the most important ingredient – good friends!