(BPT) - The thermometer is on the rise but hosts stay as cool as can be when entertaining friends and family. The secret? Planning ahead to deliver easy ambiance, crowd-pleasing food and plenty of fun. Start with versatile foods, such as fresh California grapes, that can both stand alone and serve as recipe-enhancing ingredients to help keep summertime hosting stress-free.
1. Turn to the summer host's best friend - an entrée salad that's cool, crunchy and refreshing, like the Crispy Garlic Chicken Chopped Salad (recipe follows) that tickles tastebuds with a delightful contrast of sweet California grapes and savory toasted garlic.
2. Spending the afternoon poolside? Keep an assortment of floats and inflatable tubes so guests can relax or play in the water. Stock a mini-fridge with cool beverages, and tuck small bags of grapes in the freezer section for a cooling snack. Hint: grapes also make great ice cubes that won't dilute a drink!
3. Put together an Italian-inspired antipasto platter in minutes - arrange clusters of fresh grapes next to olives, marinated artichoke hearts, cubes of provolone cheese and roasted red peppers on a large plate. Serve with crusty Italian bread.
4. Liven up any picnic with a cooler filled with easy-to-eat red, green and black California grapes that have been cut into small clusters ahead of time. Add some assorted cheeses, crackers, fresh veggies and Mediterranean dips and let the party begin.
5. Say olé to cool summer libations at celebrations. Start the party with an unexpected and unique drink, the frosty Grape Mojito, shown below. Red grapes add natural sweetness and a pop of color.
6. Set up a grilled fruit buffet for a fun snack or dessert. Thread fresh grapes, pineapple chunks and peach cubes on skewers. Brush lightly with oil and grill until the fruits begin to caramelize, which deepens and enhances flavor. Serve with a choice of sorbets.
Crispy Garlic Chicken Chopped Salad
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
6 large cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
3 cups chopped romaine lettuce
2 cups chopped radicchio
2 cups chopped green cabbage
2 cups halved California grapes
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1/4 cup roughly chopped mint
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until browned and crisp, removing pieces as they brown with a slotted spoon, about 2 minutes altogether. Pour the oil into a heatproof cup.
Sprinkle the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Transfer 2 tablespoons of the garlic oil back to the skillet. Heat over medium-high until almost smoking and add the chicken. Cook until golden on the bottom, about 7-9 minutes. Turn and cook another 7-9 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Remove to a cutting board. Let stand 5 minutes.
Whisk the lemon juice, vinegar and honey into the remaining garlic oil. Season with 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and cayenne.
Combine romaine, radicchio, cabbage, grapes, celery and mint in a large bowl. Chop the chicken and add to the bowl along with the dressing. Toss to mix and serve sprinkled with the crispy garlic.
Nutritional analysis per serving: Calories 360; Protein 22 g; Carbohydrate 25 g; Fat 21 g (50% Calories from Fat); 2.5 g Saturated Fat (6% Calories from Saturated Fat); Cholesterol 60 mg; Sodium 290 mg; Fiber 4 g.
3 wedges lime
12 mint leaves
6 large red California grapes, halved, plus more for garnish
2 teaspoons sugar
2 oz. white rum
In a cocktail glass, muddle together two of the lime wedges, mint leaves, grape halves, sugar and rum until the sugar dissolves. Fill the glass with ice and top off with club soda. Top with the reserved lime wedge and more grapes.
Nutritional analysis per serving: Calories 200; Protein 0 g; Carbohydrate 18 g; Fat 0 g; Sat Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 0 mg; Fiber 1 g.