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Midsummer party menu advice

So, I am inviting about 20 people to gather on our brand new deck sometime in late July to celebrate several renovations and my retirement. I know some of these folks forever, some are new friends.

There are the usual assortment of food restrictions, with some vegetarians and a known allergy to mushrooms. I usually plan a range of dishes so this doesn't bother me, everyone should be able to find plenty to eat.

I was thinking of smoking pork shoulder on my wood grill (I I have to do about ten shoulders for two family reunions later in the month anyway) to serve with rolls and several BBQ sauce options.

With it, baked beans, both vegetarian and with salt pork. And a barley casserole with mushrooms for the non-allergic.

Thinking of a potato salad tasting, with three versions. German, served warm, bacon, onion and vinegar dressing. Italian, with a light viniagrette, black olives, red peppers, scallions, served room temperature. And a cold classic salad with peeled potatoes, a little onion and chopped celery, parsley, mayonnaise, lemon juice and zest. I make all of these frequently and like them all, and I think offering a choice would be amusing.

The local corn should be in, so I would have mounds of corn on the cob with butter or an olive oil dressing to brush on.

So, maybe grilled vegetables? Spinach salad? Focaccia with tomatoes? Caprese?

For dessert, maybe sturdy cookies and ice cream with seasonal fruit?

I want everything to be delicious, but easy to make ahead and serve, with not a lot of stuff that is going to be tricky in terms of timing or refrigeration.

So, what do you think?

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  1. 3 potato salads and 2 bean dishes and a barley casserole and corn seems like a lot of starchy things. Not to mention a lot of work! The potato salad tasting sounds fun, if you are set on that I would skip some other starches. Otherwise I would pick two of the starchy sides (beans and corn would be my favorites), one mostly vegetable salad, and one vegetable - cheese dish like Caprese. Green salads can get wilted fast, I would choose something like green beans or asparagus with a vinaigrette which are good at room temp. Corn and bean salads done with fresh corn are also a summer favorite. Also think of some apps... simple like nuts, salsa and chips, cheese and crackers are easy. I love grilled vegetables, but doing enough for 20 would be a lot of grilling, and I really like to do those no more than a few hours in advance. Cookies, ice cream and fruit is perfect for a summer desert.

    1. Love the idea of a potato salad tasting, but as firecooked said, it does seem a bit starchy, so I would not make too much of each of them.
      The local corn sounds nice as well, but I would do a moderate brushing with additional butter/olive oil on the side for those who prefer more (I find fresh corn has a better taste and doesn't require as much fat to bring out additional flavor).
      Love both baked bean options, and once again in relation to the starch/carby overload, I wouldn't skimp on the mushrooms, although I still like the dish as an option.
      A few grilled vegetables and a spinach salad wouldn't be bad either (maybe try kale since it's still kinda big right now?).
      Any dessert with fresh fruit or ice cream would be terrific, but the fruit might be easier to handle regarding the refrigeration issue (can probably leave it out a bit longer than ice cream for those who finish earlier or prefer dessert earlier).

      Also, I wish I could attend this for just your proven potato salad tasting if nothing else. I hope all goes well!

      1. I agree it sounds like a lot of starches and a lot of work, but I really want to come. It sounds freaking awesome. I like Caprese. Another great treatment is halved heirloom tomatoes of different sorts with a little citronette, some grey salt, and a chiffonade of basil. It would be easier than Caprese.

        I know you want more work and I know fresh local corn is great no matter how it is done, but I have developed a love of a simplified version similar to Mexican street corn... Mix mayonnaise, lime, and Sriracha, coat the ears with it, and grill. A sprinkling of Cotija is optional. It is great with pork and some slices of fresh tomato.

        1. am not sure where you live, but in my neck of the woods, late july could easily be near 100 degrees and baked beans and all sorts of potatoes are more than i could handle at an outdoor party, sorry.

          if your local corn is in, why not offer that several ways? corn, feta and basil salad, corn, tomato, cilantro salad; a savory corn flan.. etc.

          you can roast and stuff small zucchini with herbs and a bit of barley or cous cous.

          instead of caprese, why not a tomato tart or bread pudding? or smallish stuffed tomatoes, with herbs, seafood, tapenade...

          different kinds of fruit salads, tarts or kabobs depending on what's juicy and fresh for you.

          as for the ice cream? how will you keep it frozen to serve 20 people? will you serve it individually, on-demand? that will require several gallons and can be quite messy in the heat. unless you're doing that inside?

          1 Reply
          1. re: hotoynoodle

            I live in New England and if it is really hot we'll retreat to the air conditioned indoors,

            Dessert will be served indoors anyway, after dark, so I will be able to serve it seated and all at once.

          2. Everything sound delicious. To add some color, I would think about serving any of these:

            Cole slaw
            Fire and ice salad (cucumbers, onion, and tomato)
            Sliced tomatoes sprinkled with salt, basil, and / or parsley, with just a drop of oil and vinegar
            Watermelon