Summer entertaining – FAVORITE tips and recipes

Summer is here and that means friends, family and LOTS of outings by the water – be it pool, lake or beach – we’ll take any and all thank you. Hooray! It also means endless entertaining, picnic and beach bag packing and unpacking, extensive grocery shopping trips…which can zap the excitement out of the FUN part. Here are my tips (and favorite recipes) to keeping the focus of the season where it belongs, by the water’s edge with family and friends and lots of memory making.

TIP # 1 LISTS – Start in that junk drawer, really. I keep a small note pad in my closest kitchen drawer to the center of the hub. As soon as I realize I need something, put it on a list. Groceries or otherwise. I also keep a general “packing” list. This helps getting the kids involved so we’re off to the beach quickly without forgetting important items like towels and sunscreen.

TIP #2 EASY entertaining – It’s about the fun, yes, but also the food, as long as it doesn’t cause stress!. I have a list of go-to Summer items and recipes I’ve been using for 20+ years. They’re simple, they’re loved , they’re delicious. Key’s to easy entertaining are 1) simple ingredients 2) temperature flexibility 3) favorable flavors (what generally appeal to most) 4) portability and 5) fun presentations!

TIP #3 Create a station – Inside our mudroom closet, I have an inexpensive, but heavy duty rack from Amazon. When Summer hits, I remove the hockey and Winter gear and replace with all of the things needed for a Summer outing. Towels, a basket for sunscreens and bug spray; LED lanterns for the beach after dark; beach blankets (TIP – tired of your old coverlet, take it outside and make it a dedicated picnic blanket); a foldable table for games or food (I have two, one low and one standard table height that is easier if we’re grilling); and boat bags, lots of boat bags to grab and go depending on the outing.

TIP #4 Cooler maintenance – Rinse and dry your coolers and your cooler bags after each use. Summer is warm and your cooler and cooler bags can be a breeding ground for mildew and mold. After you empty them, a quick rinse and leave open and even outside to dry out.

TIP#5 Lightweight Chillers – Soak kitchen sponges (of all different sizes) in water, squeeze excess water out, place each one in a zipper bag of similar size and then stack in the freezer overnight. These make for great lightweight chillers for your picnic bag. Also great for kids camp lunch bags to stay light but keeping contents cool.

TIP #6 Assign Packing and Carrying Responsibilities – The flow of packing/unpacking is so much easier when everyone knows their lane. Someone in charge of putting the chairs in the car, another putting towels and blankets in boat bags, someone for the food and beverages (let’s be real, here, usually the Moms and I wouldn’t have it any other way)…then there’s the games, lanterns, tables…you get the point. There are some great backpack style mesh bags we like using, it’s easier for Alex to carry her toys and games or our towels. We use this ($7!) version from Target. Lots of little helpers adds up lightening the load. This goes for unpacking too!

TIP #7 Reusable dinner and drink-ware – I keep a set of melamine (plastic that goes in the dishwasher) dinnerware in the mudroom closet also. My favorite shape is a “pasta bowl”, it just seems to hold ALL food regardless of type and the low edge keeps things in place (like chips and hot dogs from rolling off.) I order 12 of these, nothing more to think about and only $3 a piece. Mason jars are also amazing! I pre-portion salads and pasta dishes for easy eating and I also love using them for drinks and salad dressings. I keep 20 of each size, I love them!


TIP #8 Getting Fancy – Okay, I love me a good set up, it’s not a secret. But I don’t want it to be a burden (cleanup after dark is not ideal but who wants to end the party early?!). I keep a bucket of solar powered spot lights outside, when we’re planning an evening dinner at the beach, I place them in the sand as we walk onto the beach and this lights our way home, and double as hand held lanterns too. I also love these small and lightweight LED lanterns, they’re super bright and only $7 each. To dress up the spot, I buy outdoor fabric tablecloths to lay on the sand or ground. Instant style and available in any color, shape and size. I also use one to cover my fold-able table that holds the food. Next up, my outdoor bean bags! We love these, we smoosh them into the car and I found mine on clearance at #Homegoods! Score. Lastly, a bit of ambience for those really special occasions, I keep stock of these outdoor lanterns and candles from IKEA. At $14 and $10, I love mixing in a few of these. They also help keep the tablecloth and blankets in place.

Okay, let’s FEAST!

Here’s a quick list of some of my favorites:

Best Appetizers – serve all at room temperature, perfect for traveling and easy to make for a crowd

  • Parmesan Cheese Crisps

  • Blue Cheese and Balsamic Crostini (pack toasted crostini separate and assemble before serving) Simply cube 2 ripe peaches, add 3 oz of blue cheese and 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar. Serve with toasted bread slices or crackers. (TIP buy peaches four days in advance and leave on counter in paper bag to ripen!)

  • Melon wrapped in Prosciutto – slice cantaloupe into wedges and wrap in a thin piece of prosciutto, best at room temperature.

  • Caprese Skewers

Best Salads (add in grilled chicken or steak to make a complete, one dish meal)

Best Desserts

  • S’mores – Preassembled! Simply melt your favorite chocolate (30 sec intervals in a glass bowl in the microwave) and spread on one side of graham cracker squares – I like to add a dash of sea salt onto the chocolate. Let sit until set or chill in fridge. Stack chilled squares with 2 marshmallows inside individual glassine bags and hand out fireside. You can even add your favorite individual candy to the bag – (hello, have you ever put a Reese’s in a s’more?)

  • Limoncello Cheesecake Squares

  • My Frozen “Key” Lime Pie with toasted coconut (recipe follows)

I hope this takes some of the stress off and get’s you out enjoying! Cheers!

Frozen “Key” Lime Pie

serves 8

1 1/4c graham cracker crumbs

1/2c sweetened flaked coconut

1/4c butter, melted

14oz can of sweetened condensed milk

2 tsp lime zest

1/2c lime juice, fresh – about 4 limes

Dash of salt

1/2c graham cracker crumbs

Garnish: lime zest/slices and whip cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine crumbs, coconut and butter in a food processor; pulse until blended. Press mixture in bottom and up sides of a 9 inch pie plate.

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack.

Beat egg yolks at high speed with an electric mixer until thick and pale. Add milk and next 3 ingredients. Beat until blended.

Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form; fold into yolk mixture until all of the whites are smooth and incorporated. Pour into prepared crust. Sprinkle with graham crumbs. Freeze for 5-7 hours or until firm. Just before serving, garnish with whip cream and add zest and/or lime slices. Keep frozen up to 1 month.

I made a new version of this early today (photos above) for a guest arriving Friday that prefers to eat gluten free. It came out great! I used the same ingredients just swapped out GF graham crackers. Notice the mason jar version, no they didn’t fall – I actually bake these on their side so that after they’re filled, each bite still gets a taste of the crust and you don’t have to wait until you hit bottom to taste that delicious crust. I also love making a few small individual portions to pack for a beach dinner/dessert picnic, it’s so much easier to serve! This pie freezes great and it’s a staple housegift as well. It can be shared then or frozen for the host to enjoy later! Simply a Summer favorite.


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July 14, 2021




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