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This week marks the unofficial beginning of summer, and with that comes three months of hazy days, late-night swims and surely plenty of grilling. While burgers, hot dogs and barbecue are no-fail menu items, the classic preparations for these favorites can get tired year after year, and so this morning’s episode of The Kitchen was dedicated to go-to grilled recipes, seasonal how-tos and party ideas that deliver ideal results every time. Recently FN Dish caught up with Katie Lee, who dished on what it takes to pull off — and enjoy — a summertime soiree at home. Read her exclusive interview below to learn her take on the season’s must-haves, and get her ideas for make-ahead dishes plus tips on hosting a crowd.
What are some of your must-haves for summer cookouts?
Katie Lee: I like to make side dishes that I can do ahead of time that can be kept in the refrigerator and pulled out when it’s time for dinner. I always do some kind of grain salad, like a quinoa salad or a farro salad. Corn on the cob is a must. My summer cocktail of choice is an Aperol Spritz. A big bucket that you can fill with ice and all your drinks so that people can serve themselves. Reusable plastic wine glasses so that you’re not creating a lot of trash, but you also don’t have to worry about somebody breaking glass near the pool or outside.
What kind of dishes can be prepared largely ahead of time?
KL: I like to make hors d’oeuvres. I call them hors d’oeuvres on the fly that don’t take a lot of time to make. So I’ll take cantaloupe and wrap it in prosciutto. I like to get a log of goat cheese and roll it in some crushed pistachios. Just easy things. I do little crostini that I’ll just put a little olive tapenade with or some fresh ricotta cheese drizzled with olive oil and sea salt. It’s just simple but a little nibble to have while you’re having your cocktail.
What are your top tips for entertaining a crowd?
KL: I have a crowd at my house pretty much every weekend, so I would say making dishes ahead of time is super important. Make your sides ahead of time. I like to make things that are like one big thing that everyone can serve themselves off of. So I’ll do, like, a really big piece of halibut and then make a fresh tomato salad that I put on top of it, and people can just take off the portion from the halibut that they want. Or I’ll do a lot of skirt steak and slice it up and let everyone serve themselves the amount that they want. So it’s all about buffet and family style for a big group.
Theme parties: yay or nay?
KL: I love to do a theme for summer entertaining, so that way I have a little bit of guidance when I go to make my menu. So I’ll do a Moroccan night, and for all of the hors d’oeuvres I’ll have spreads and pita bread and olives, and then when it’s time for dinner, we’ll have a chicken with apricots. I’ll do a roasted beet with Moroccan spices. Salad. I put out harissa. That way there’s some kind of theme, which keeps it festive. I think that’s really fun. It’s also a great way to have a stay-cation. If you’re not going anywhere, you can go on vacation with your dinner and feel like you’re somewhere else. And you can go along with decorating that way. So for my Moroccan night, I’ll go to the fabric store and get a hot-pink piece of fabric and make a tablecloth out of it and get colorful flowers. I’ll make a cocktail with a mint tea. So it’s just really fun and festive — and a great way to feel like you went away with your passport.
When it comes to your favorite summer eats and drinks, do you prefer:
Burgers or hot dogs? Both. That’s like choosing a child.
Grilled chicken or steak? I guess I go steak.
Potato salad or pasta salad? Pasta salad
Ribs: dry rub or wet? Wet
Corn: on the cob or off? On the cob
Coleslaw: creamy or vinegary? Creamy
Beer, margarita, sangria or wine? I drink a lot of rose in the summer.
Tune in to The Kitchen every Saturday at 11a|10c.