Outdoor barbeques are a standard feature of the Canadian summer landscape. Their popularity is well-deserved; after all, there’s nothing quite like enjoying roasted meat or fish on the patio or by the lake on a perfect summer evening, surrounded by friends and family. But let’s face it, BBQ parties do have their drawbacks, especially for the chef, who’s often forced to stand for hours over a hot grill, trying to juggle orders for rare, medium, well-done, cheese or no-cheese, vegetarian etc., etc, etc.
Not only is this sweaty work, but it forces the cook to focus on food rather than friends. That’s why I think the summer sandwich is poised to make a come-back. Sandwiches may well be the new “it” food – they’re easy to prepare ahead, highly portable, don’t require utensils and are easy to customize for folks with various dietary restrictions.
I’ve put together an easy make-ahead Canada Day party menu that I think will delight guests, and allow the entire gang to hang out together. My “inspiration” was a line of plain and flavoured hummus from Sabra, pickled beans and olives from Matt and Steve’s Extreme Bean line and PC’s regular and multi grain baguettes.
The gelato and sorbet were a breeze to make with the DeLonghi’s Gelatto Maker. Unlike previous generations of this type of machine, you don’t have to freeze the inner vessel before preparation - just quickly mix the various ingredients into a bowl, pour it in the bowl and turn it on. For the next half hour or so, the ingredients are churned and chilled. The taste and texture of what you get is, imho, far, far beyond just about any store-bought product on the market – including many premium brands. And you can be making the sweet treat unattended, while guests are nibbling on the main event. I had such fun testing the machine with the DeLonghi recipe book, and it wasn’t long before I was coming up with my own recipes, including one for maple syrup gelato.
Here it is:
Vicky’s Maple Syrup Gelato
1 cup minus one tablespoon cold milk
1 tablespoon cold espresso, or a heaping tablespoon of instant coffee dissolved in a tablespoon of cold milk
½ cup cream
½ cup sugar
¼ cup maple syrup
Pour into machine and follow manufacturer's instructions. By the way, you can make gelato without an ice-cream maker – it’s just a bit fussier. You can also dress this up by folding in a half cup of chopped toasted walnut or small chunks of dark chocolate (or both!)
A few tips for further reducing the fuss – keep serving dishes simple and practical. I’m not generally a fan of paper napkins, but cheap and cheerful napkins with a Maple Leaf are perfect for a Canada Day get-together. In some cases, they can replace plates.
I also love the unbreakable serving pieces from Urban Barn that look like slate. They pair beautifully with plain white service dishes and lovely little tea-light holders with sweet little bird motifs in glossy white – also from Urban Barn. When arranging self-serve party food, I always suggest using several smaller platters rather than one or two large, centrally located ones. It means that food is within easy reach of conversational grouping and that there’s never a crush or line up in one spot. It also tends to make people circulate, which helps any party.
Another tip – rather than having a set meal-time, consider an open-house format, in which you invite guests to drop in anytime between, say, 2 and 7 p.m. It makes it easier for families of different types (young couple with babies, empty-nesters, busy teen-agers) to get to the event, and staggering the arrival of folks also often means that you get more face-time with each.
Since music adds to the atmosphere of any party, you’ll want to crank some tunes outside. For that, I love the teeny iHome stereo speaker system that I found at HMV. It works with MP3 players, iPhones and iPads, delivering remarkably good sound from a small base. Also great on the dock at the cottage. You can pick one up for about $20 from HMV, where I also found a few new must-have Canadian releases; Rufus Wainwright’s Out of the Game, the Cowboy Junkies' The Wilderness and Neil Young’s Americana, which includes a cover version of God Save the Queen.
Here are my food suggestions. Hope they inspire you.
Spicy hummus served with sliced radishes, baby carrots and baguette slices (for an elegant presentation, slice baguette into rounds, brush with olive oil and place in a 400˚F oven for 10 minutes.)
Pickled green beans wrapped in prosciutto
Cherry tomatoes with bocconcini, drizzled with basil flavoured olive oil
Red pepper hummus with sliced red onion, roasted beets, goat cheese and red leafy lettuce on a plain baguette, garnished with a pickled bean
Roasted garlic hummus with Brie, sliced radishes and curly lettuce on multigrain baguette, garnished with a pickled olive (use a Canadian flag toothpick for a fun touch)
Devilled eggs made with black olive hummus (So simple. Slice a dozen hard boiled eggs in half. Carefully remove yolks with a small spoon and place in bowl. Add about a half-cup of Sabra Greek Olive hummus and few tablespoons of mayonnaise or thick plain yogurt. Mix together and spoon into eggs. Garnish with chopped onion. )
Mocha maple syrup gelatto served in a chocolate Victoria cup and garnished with a chocolate wafer
Strawberry sorbet served with mashed strawberries and garnished with a lemon wafer