Outdoor entertaining: Four recipes to help design a tasty evening

Margaret Maples

Relaxing with friends as the sun sets is one of life’s great underrated pleasures. So why not invite a few couples to settle at your place for wine and hors d’oeuvres?

Maybe this is the first course in a progressive dinner, or just a great time to reconnect with friends you haven’t seen in a while. Prepare the food ahead of time – or invite your guests to bring their favorites – so you can sit back and chat.

We’ve assembled a few dishes that are light but interesting. Here’s a chance to stuff mushrooms with ostrich meat, thread some tasty kabobs, and display your sense of culinary humor with Fruit Gizmos that are sure to bring smiles.

Mushrooms Stuffed 3 Ways

30 fresh mushrooms, cleaned

1 can (4¼ ounce) crab meat (drained)

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons shredded Swiss cheese

10 tablespoons (about 7/8 cup) mild Italian sausage

2 tablespoons shredded mozzarella cheese

10 tablespoons (about 7/8 cup) ground ostrich meat (see note)

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

¼ teaspoon celery salt

2 tablespoons shredded aged Cheddar

Red curry powder

Set the oven to broil.

Pull off mushroom stems and hollow out the centers. Arrange 10 mushroom caps in a foil-lined baking pan; set the remaining 20 in a separate foil-lined pan. Finely chop the centers and stems. Divide into three bowls.

Crab: In one bowl, mix chopped mushrooms with crab and mayonnaise. Fill the 10 mushroom caps on their separate pan. Top with Swiss cheese. Broil 5 to 7 minutes.

Sausage: In the second bowl, mix chopped mushrooms with Italian sausage.

Ostrich: In the third bowl, mix chopped mushrooms with ground ostrich, Worcestershire sauce, pepper and celery salt.

In the pan with 20 mushroom caps, fill half with sausage mix and the other half with ostrich mix. Broil 5 minutes. Top the sausage caps with grated mozzarella; top the ostrich caps with grated Cheddar. Broil for 2 minutes more.

Note: Ground ostrich meat is available in frozen patties, but if you don’t find it at your butcher or supermarket, try substituting ground chuck.

Makes 30 pieces.

-- Adapted from Internet sites


½ cup teriyaki sauce

½ cup honey

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

1 green bell pepper, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 red bell pepper, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 large red onion, peeled and cut into wedges

2 to 3 russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 pound beef sirloin, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 large skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into cubes

10 skewers (if you use wood skewers, soak them well beforehand)

In a large resealable plastic bag, mix teriyaki sauce, honey, garlic powder and ginger. Place peppers, onion wedges, potatoes, beef and chicken in the bag with the marinade. Seal and refrigerate 4 to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Discard marinade. Thread meat and vegetables onto skewers, leaving a small space between each piece.

Cook the kabobs 10 to 15 minutes, turning as needed, or until meat is cooked through and vegetables are tender.

Makes 10 to 12 kabobs.

-- Adapted from Internet sites

Fruit Gizmos

20 chocolate wafers (see accompanying recipe)

1/3 to ½ cup strawberry cream cheese spread

20 ripe banana discs

Decorative party picks

20 ¾-inch watermelon cubes

20 ¾-inch honeydew melon balls

20 chocolate stars, hearts, butterflies (see directions with chocolate wafer recipe)

On each chocolate wafer, pipe a square of cream cheese. Set a banana disc on it. Pipe cream cheese atop the banana.

Use a party pick to pierce and connect a honeydew ball and a watermelon cube. Spear the pick into the banana slice so the Gizmo sits securely upright. Chill. (Cut the melon a day ahead, but assemble the Gizmos as close to party time as possible, so the wafers will remain crisp.)

Serve with chocolate star, heart and butterfly cookies.

Makes 20 pieces.

Chocolate Wafers

1 cup unsalted butter

1 ¼ cup fine sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

5/8 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Cut two 14-by-12-inch pieces of plastic wrap; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda and cocoa powder. Gradually stir flour mixture into sugar mixture until evenly distributed. Don’t overmix.

Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Shape each piece into an 8- to 10-inch roll. Wrap in plastic, then either place in a freezer container with a tightly fitted lid or wrap airtight in foil. Store in the freezer.

To bake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking pan with parchment. Slice dough in 1/8-inch discs and arrange on pan ½ inch apart. Use heart, star and butterfly cutters to create additional decorative wafers. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until cookies are set on edges and slightly firm on top. Cool on racks.

Makes about 6 dozen cookies, depending on size (extra dough can be frozen for about six months)

-- Wafer recipe adapted from Internet sites


Prep for success

Potluck: Ask each couple to bring along a favorite appetizer or hors d’oeuvres. This will reduce your party costs and let your guests contribute their own flavors to the affair.

Divide and enjoy: Party prep will be a breeze if you and your spouse or partner divvy up housecleaning, shopping and cooking chores. The same goes for post-party cleanup.

Kids: If your teenagers aren’t in a party mood, let them watch their own film in their part of the house. The den or lanai belongs to the adults tonight. If your guests bring along their teens, maybe your kids would enjoy hosting their own party.

Pets: The calmest dogs and cats may become stressed by festivities. Unless your guests are very familiar with your menagerie, bed down the dogs in the garage and assign the cats to a bedroom.

Guest-friendly: This is a casual event, so use pretty but unbreakable table settings and a washable tablecloth and napkins. Comfortable fun is key.

Party ideas

Celebrate the Classics: Turn your TV room into a theater for ‘70s or ‘80s fare. You might want to revisit “The Godfather” (1972) or “The Godfather II” (1974), “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) or “Rocky” (1976). For the ‘80s, consider “Gandhi” (1982), “Out of Africa” (1985) or “Rainman” (1988). Or pick a favorite sitcom from those decades: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “All in the Family,” “Alf.”

Get the Retro Look: Dress for the ‘70s by unpacking your maxi skirt or flared trousers, and of course those platform shoes. For the ‘80s, it’ll be big hair or side ponytails for women, and maybe a “Miami Vice” look for guys: Start with a 5 o’clock shadow and loafers without socks.

Who Am I?: Make a list of celebrities born in your party month. April includes Al Pacino, Barbara Streisand and William Shakespeare; Lesley Gore and Stevie Wonder arrived in May. Make nametags for your celebs, and place one on each guest’s back. Distribute the nametags to your guests. No peeking! The participants have to guess who they are from the clues they receive from other guests.