It's always great to have a good meal out and about but there is nothing better than eating well at home. Add a few good friends or family into the mix and all the better. Though winter and fall hold their own for great dining or entertaining, the warmer months of spring and summer are practically made for the occasion. Especially if you've got an outdoor patio, back yard, deck, terrace or other space. It doesn't matter if its a spring day or summer night.
It can be a lot of work to cook and serve yourself, let alone a group of people. But the good news is, great tools and products can make any meal for guests much easier. In fact these items can not just make the work less intensive but can be conversation pieces while everybody's dining.
While Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio tend to dominate the wine choice during the spring and summer months, Pinot Gris is trending at the moment. It's a pale wine that brings the same lightness to the table, but plays on different flavors than the traditional favorites. It's a fun way to mix things up. Porter & Plot's current Pinot Gris hails from Washington grapes and is a favorite here. The company focuses on small-lot wines from around the world, which gives it a cool element for guests. Napa Valley never fails for great wine of course -- Sterling is an editor favorite here for any type. International wines are always great to center a meal around, South Africa has some really good and well priced options. Either of Indaba's whites can't go wrong.
A big food and entertaining trend puts the drinks into the meal -- cooking in any beer, spirits or wine is popular at the moment. We came across a coconut flavored sake from Ty-Ku, which was amazing for marinating any fish (we cooked with salmon). A good pale ale is so amazing for beer breaded pan cooked shrimp or chicken. The key with this trend is to let the item soak for a fairly good amount of time to capture the flavors, understanding that much of the liquid will burn off when cooking. A cool dinner here had featured shallots boiled in white wine. Get creative! It'll make for great flavors no matter what you use and fun dinner conversation.
Sides are becoming really interesting as there has been an uptick of variations of classic items. Yellow beets instead of red, multi-color carrots, purple cauliflower, etc. put a funky twist to the meal whether you are serving one or a dozen. Nuts and seeds roasted or toasted and added to vegetables is also really popular. A go-to dish here puts roasted pine nuts on steamed green beans. Slaws of all kinds are also trending at the moment, especially as toppers. You don't have to go with a traditional cole slaw -- jicama styles with Vietnamese seasonings, Thai flavorings and peanut sauces put a new element on the classic and can work with all kinds of meat and fish for something different at the table.
Really bold and poignant cheese has been a go-to for parties and events for some time, but the trends this year are starting to shift back to the classics -- classic and not so classic variation of cheddar, swiss, etc. Do interesting things with the cheese plate by experimenting with the components -- sea salt topped butter to accompany crunchy bread and a decadent cheese, or oil and rosemary dusted almonds and other nuts. For dessert, the bakery is still the ultimate way to serve something great without the work -- skip the go-to cupcakes and macaroons for lemon bars, flourless chocolate mini cakes or mini ice box pies to update the palette. Herbs like rosemary are trending on things like ice cream and other desserts -- get a great, flavorful ice cream and top with simple sugar or other basic cookies, top with the herb. It's an unexpected way to finish the meal.
When it comes to serving, there are a few things that will absolutely make your work easier. It can be tempting to serve cheese and other snacks on traditional plates but temperature can be an issue, especially during warmer months. Sparq Home is notorious for its whiskey rocks, but its oven-to-table soapstone trays are amazing -- you can chill it or heat it to maintain temperature of your snack or appetizer items. While pure white dinnerware has been the trend for some time, there's nothing wrong with incorporating something interesting into the meal instead. Fishs Eddy has some of the most unique dinnerware. If going bold isn't your style, go with accent and appetizer plates for the job.
For more food and lifestyle tips and trends, see this month's edition of Condiment magazine at www.getcondiment.com