Backyard Gourmet

Grilling is synonymous with casual fare, but it's also a wonderful way to prepare an elegant outdoor meal.

By FamilyTime


In the mood for a party? How about throwing a bash under the summer stars or, if you would rather, the summer sun? Once you choose a menu, transform your patio or deck into an elegant showcase for gourmet grilling.

Here are some ideas:

Elegance Under the Stars

White is a shimmering backdrop for any party, from anniversaries to Sunday brunch. White tents, chair covers, white flowers, billowy white canopies, twinkling white lights in trees and on the deck and railings all add to the fun. Don't forget the white glow of candles--votives, candlesticks, and floating candles in the pool or bowls filled with water.

Consider hiring a harpist, string ensemble, jazz combo or chamber singers (the nearest music school or the local orchestra is a good place to look). Or program your iPad with classical or cool music: Mozart, Vivaldi, Miles Davis, Mel Torme, Diana Kroll, or your favorite opera.

Forget paper plates and plastic forks. Create a beautiful table with crystal goblets, silverware, china, and serving pieces. Use oversized linens on your patio and picnic tables, gathered at table legs with big bows.The bows look festive and keep the linens from flapping in a breeze.

This is a time-tested caterers' trick: Create larger-than-life food, fruit and flower arrangements that focus on a singe item. Instead of a small vase with assorted flowers, try a massive vase filled with pink roses. Instead of a tray of fruits and veggies, display a basket of small, colorful cabbages or a huge bowl of berries.

The Menu

When you plan the menu, think about foods that can be made ahead of time. Sure, you want to grill during the party, but you don't want to grill everything then. That's too much work. Decide only to grill the steaks or fish steaks that will be the centerpiece of the meal. Make salsas or other sauces well ahead to serve with the grilled meat or fish.

Instead, grill some vegetables in the morning or afternoon before the party. These can be served with a light vinaigrette at room temperature. Prepare a couscous or grain salad or, if you want a green salad, wash and tear the lettuces, make the croutons, and assemble the salad (without the dressing). Cover the bowl with a damp paper towel held in place with a clean dishtowel. A room temperature green salad tastes better than a chilled one, so don't refrigerate it. Dress it directly before serving.

Dessert can be a light, lemony cake or a chilled custard to serve with fruit. While a cobbler might seem too informal for your fancy bash, consider baking individual cobblers in ramekins and made with local, seasonal fruit, for an impressive presentation.

Small dishes filled with high-quality chocolate truffles are welcome with the end-of-meal coffee and liqueurs.

Have fun!