Planning a backyard soiree this summer? Local entertaining expert Rachel Rae Hadley suggests bringing all the luxuries of home outside.
“I simply love to be surrounded by a beautiful atmosphere,” Hadley says. “Not lots of expensive things, but the simple things … string lights, candles, flowers, pretty glassware, small plates with different detailed designs, and the laughter and smiles that light our night.”
Typically, our best furniture, floor coverings and accessories are kept and enjoyed only in rooms. This summer, bring them out into the fresh air. For Kit’s outdoor party, Hadley set the scene with a rustic table, off-white dining chairs and slip-covered end chairs, and then built the setting from there.
And don’t forget beautiful food, too! Kit’s go-to cook and recipe contributor Katherine Costello shares a menu that allows you to spend all your time cooking outside.
The only exception is the shortcakes, which can be baked the night before then finished on the grill. A white sangria would be great with this menu, she says.
A | FAVOR FLAVORS: Hadley’s homemade salsa is a favorite among her friends and family. She loves making and sharing it with them because it’s always so well received. With your parting gifts, write personalized notes and attach them to the jars to let guests know their presence was appreciated.
B | GRILLED SHORTCAKE: “Just coming out of strawberry season, I wasn’t ready to give up shortcakes!” says Costello, who grills her cakes to crisp the edges. “Brushing the shortcakes with horchata seemed like the perfect match with the grilled stone fruit.”
C| SIGNATURE COCKTAIL: Cool, crisp and light, white sangria is perfect for hot days and nights. Hadley says the key to the cocktail is in the glassware and presentation. Raise the sophistication bar higher than clear plastic or a red Solo cup by using real glass with real stems.
D | BUDGET SMARTS: To complement Costello’s menu, Hadley picked up flavored sparkling waters from an unlikely retailer — you heard it here first. “Big Lots has a ton of specialty foods, organics and international food and beverages,” she says. “When on a budget, you just need to know where to look, as parties can be very expensive!”
E | SPOT-ON PARTY TUNES: Music can make or break a party’s vibe. Hadley turns up the big band jazz music at her get togethers. It’s always playing in the background. “We talk until we’re a few cocktails in, and then the dancing starts!” she says.
F | FRESH HEAT & SWEET: Costello’s inspiration for this salad came when she visited a Mexican grocery. It reminded her how much she loves elote (Mexican corn with chili, cotija cheese and mayo), a perfect salad dressing. “The contrast of the warm, grilled romaine with the cold, spicy dressing makes this salad pop,” she says. And the blueberries? Well, Costello just loves corn and blueberries together. (Recipe on page 50.)
G | AMPED INDIANA CORN: Corn on the grill is a Hoosier staple. Soak the corn in water the night before, and then pop it on the grill while still in the husk. Costello suggests slathering roasted corn with a lime or jalapeno butter to go with her menu. “I like to taste the corn prior to cooking: It should be sweet and tender — the grilling just brings out the sweetness,” she says.
H | GAME ON – OR NOT: It’s always nice to have a yard game like cornhole, but it’s not necessary. Dinner and drinks may be all the entertainment you need. “We have such busy, runaround lives. When it’s time to relax, just sit and savor the moment!” Hadley says.
Five tips for hosting a great gathering
Kit loves hosting a good party, so we asked local entertaining expert Rachel Rae Hadley to share her top tips on putting together a memorable one.
1 Have a signature cocktail. It makes guests feel special and it can really keep costs down.
2 Go the extra mile. I aim to make the presentation as pretty as possible, adding in little labels or signs that interact with your guests.
3 Indulge the senses. Present appetizers on beautiful platters, burn a candle, play background music and have flowers or another natural element that puts it all together.
4 Make it fun. Use your nice dinnerware – what are you saving it for? – or use a set of themed plasticware. Add little umbrellas to your cocktails and plan a fun game to play.
5 Tell guests to relax and enjoy. Guests shouldn’t have to lift a finger. I want them to relax, enjoy and take in all the elements of a great get-together and leave feeling refreshed and happy they took time to spend their evening with me.