Outdoor Entertaining Ideas


Summer is finally here.

Time to get out the barbecue, clean up those cooking tongs and dust off those summer entertaining recipes.

To get your started on your outdoor entertaining needs, I’ve put together some favorite recipes.  And don’t forget to check out my outdoor entertaining safety tips that just ran in my recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.

Make a special beverage!
Offer your guests a special beverage.   These recipes are easy to make ahead.

Arnold Palmer Sangria
Mix simple sugar syrup with white wine and fruit then add to a traditional Arnold Palmer.


Lavender Lemonade
Honey and a fresh lavender sugar syrup are added to lemonade.  Like it spiked?  Add a dash of vodka for a summertime lavender vodka lemonade.

imagesLemongrass and Basil Mojito
Look for Thai basil, a heartier basil, for this drink.   Traditional basil will also work, however.  Lemongrass can be found in most grocery stores in the herb/produce section.

Start your guests off with a neat appetizer

Greet your guests with an unusual summer appetizer.  


Gazpacho Shooters with Grilled Shrimp
Spike the gazpacho with a little tequila or vodka if you like!


Grilled Grapes Leaves stuffed with Goat Cheese, Mint and Dried Cherries
The grape leaves can be stuffed several hours ahead of time.  Keep them in the refrigerator covered with a damp paper towel to keep them moist.  Grill them on the outdoor grill until they char and soften up then place a on pieces of lightly toasted French bread.

summer roll

sweet pot quesadella

Summer Rolls and Grilled Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas

Summer rolls can be prepared ahead and kept in the refrigerator.  The quesadilla can also be made ahead, but placed on the grill right before serving to heat them up and melt the cheese.


Don’t forget the olives!
Try one of my recipes featuring olives for an outdoor entertaining first course.

Try a new summer salad!

Potato salad is a staple in many outdoor entertaining menus.   Add another salad to create some different flavors.   Pasta salads are always great and easy to serve outside.   Another great recipe is my vegetable ceviche…..fresh vegetables and some season fruit “marinated” in lime juice with fresh herbs and edible flower garnish.

IMG_2371Bow Tie Pasta with Frizzled Prosciutto, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Asparagus
Substitute pasta for potatoes, prosciutto for bacon and a light vinaigrette dressing for mayonnaise


Vegetable Ceviche
A favorite of mine!   Fresh vegetables are marinated in lime juice then added to chopped avocado, nectarines and fresh herbs.  I garnish with salad with fresh edible flowers from my garden.


Carved Melon “Swan” with Grand Marnier Fruit Salad
Use a large honeydew melon or watermelon and carve into a swan.   Use the scooped out melon as part of the fruit salad.

Try new things on the grill!
Burgers and brats are great.  But what about a grilled French bread salad?   Or some interesting pork kabobs with zucchini “ribbons?”  Better yet, they can be made ahead.


Pain Bagnet (Stuffed French Bread Sandwich)
A French version of a stuffed muffaletta sandwich.   Use any meat you like (turkey, roasted chicken and sliced roast beef work well) along
with artichokes, roasted red bell peppers and black olives.   The sandwich can be assembled, wrapped in foil and kept in the frig overnite.   Just put on the grill to heat when ready to serve.


Pork Kabobs with Zucchini Ribbons
Soy sauce, fresh ginger and herbs made a quick pork marinade.   Use a vegetable peeler or mandoline slicer to make thin zucchini “ribbons” to thread on your kabobs.   Remember to soak your wood sticks in water for 1/2 hour so they don’t burn on the grill.


Grilled Pizza

Too hot to turn on the oven but you want pizza?   Try grilling it!

Don’t forget dessert
Dessert is the last thing your guests will eat and the first thing they will talk about when they get home, so make it spectacular AND delicious.


Patriotic Trifle
Although a British-based dessert, trifle makes a great all-American summer dessert.   Make it red, white and blue with fresh strawberries, blueberries and blackberries layered between orange syrup soaked pound cake and fluffy white whipped cream blended with cream cheese.  Make it ahead and keep it in the refrigerator bringing it out for your outdoor entertaining grand finale.

fnished tart3

Key Lime Coconut Tart

Key lime desserts are loved by all.  This one is made a bit different.   Top the key lime custard filling with whipped cream and toasted coconut. 


Make Homemade S’Mores

Grab a stick and make s’mores!   But not just any s’mores.   Make them with homemade marshmallows.   They aren’t as hard as you might think.  

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Goat Cheese and Cherry Stuffed Grilled Grape Leaves


Serves 6

6 ounces of cream cheese or goat cheese – room temperature
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or pepitas (hulled green pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup dried Door County cherries
Substitute dried apricots, cranberries or figs if cherries are not available
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
12 grape leaves (found in jars), rinsed and patted dry
additional leaves may be needed depending on their size
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

12 toasted French bread slices

  • Place the room temperature cheese is a bowl.
  • If the dried cherries are too dry, plump them up by placing them in a bowl and covering them with warm water for 10 minutes.   Strain and pat dry.  (You can also plump them in ruby Port, Grand Marnier or Cassis if you want to add more flavor!)
  • Toast the nuts by placing them in a 325 degree preheated oven until brown – about 5 minutes.
  • Add the nuts, dried fruit and mint to the goat cheese.  Mix to combine.
  • Lay the grape leaves on a flat surface.  Place a mound of filling in the center of each leaf.  Fold leaves over the cheese to create little packages.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill until ready to use.
  • Brush the leaves lightly with olive oil.  Grill the grape leaves on the outer edges of an outdoor grill for 1 to 2 minutes, or until mixture is soft when touched.    If an outdoor grill is not available, you can grill them in an indoor grill pan or sauté them.  Use a small amount of olive or grape seed oil in the pan, heat on medium, then add the grape leaves, turning them to sauté or grill on all sides.
  •  Serve warm with slices of French bread. 

Chef’s tip
Grape leaves can be found in many specialty food stores or Greek food stores.  They are sold in jars and packed in a brine.  Remove the grape leaves from the jar and rinse them prior to using.  Pat them dry.  If not using all the grape leaves at the same time, wrap the unused grape leaves in a damp paper towel and store in the refrigerator.


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Grilled Pizza


Don’t want to turn on the oven but feel like homemade pizza?   Try the outdoor grill!

Use my pizza crust recipe (click here) or one of your own favorites.  Myrecipe has instructions on how to make the crust in the oven, but follow the directions below to make it on an outdoor grill.

Pizza Toppings

pizza sauce
fresh mozzarella
black pitted olives
fresh basil

To make pizza crust on an outside grill -
Prepare your coals in an “indirect heat” method (have the coals on the outside of the grill so that flames don’t burn the dough.)   Roll dough into rounds, using a bit of cornmeal so it doesn’t stick to your work area.   Have your grill ready along with all of your pizza toppings.

Roll the dough loosely around a rolling pin (to transport the crust) then “unroll” it quickly onto the grill.    Now that the dough is on the grill, brush the side that is face up with some olive oil.  Check on the bottom of the dough often, and when it is deeply golden, flip the dough.  Brush the grilled top with a little olive oil.

Get the toppings on quickly. With the recipe above I use a little tomato pizza sauce, fresh mozzarella and black olives. (but feel free to use your own topping ideas).

Brush a thin layer of tomato sauce across the pizza, then dot with mozzarella and black olives.  Put cover on for a few minutes to melt the cheese.   Remove carefully using a pizza peel if you have one, or several large spatulas and transferring to a wood cutting board.   Sprinkle with fresh basil.

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