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It’s the weekend before July 4th! If you’re anything like me, your favorite part of the holiday is the FOOD. I love cooking out with friends and family, clad in our red, white, and blue, and shouting, “MERICA!” during fireworks demonstrations.
I’m not gonna lie, I know how to host a good cookout. Here’s a list of my top party-hosting tips, guaranteed to make your event run smoothly and keep your guests smiling all evening long.
1. Choose cookout-friendly menu items that can be prepped ahead of time.
Obviously, if you’re hosting a cookout, you’re probably going to be doing some grilling while your guests are there. That’s totally OK; however, you don’t want to spend the rest of the time in the kitchen getting your side dishes together. Fruit salad, veggie trays, and pasta salad are cookout staples for a reason: you can make them the night before. Check out my refreshing summer caprese salad recipe here!
It’s also important to consider how your guests will be eating their food. If people are sitting in lawn chairs eating out of their laps or even just standing around, you don’t want too many items that are messy or have to be eaten with a knife and fork. Bite-sized food like the lemon tarts below are great for easy eating and help keep the conversation flowing. If you’re hell-bent on serving BBQ ribs and steak, make sure you have plenty of table space for folks to spread out and chow down.
2. Be descriptive in your invitation.
Guests like to know what to expect for a party. You don’t have to give all of your surprises away, but if you are planning on having a water balloon fight, it would be courteous to warn them they might be getting wet. If it’s an adults-only party, let them know. If it’s BYOB, let them know. If you need them to bring a side dish, let them know. You don’t want your guests to feel awkward because they didn’t get the memo. After all, the more comfortable everyone is, the better the party!
3. Don’t be afraid to ask your guests for help.
Most people don’t mind bringing their own drinks and/or side dish to a cookout or party. The best way to have an awesome spread at your gathering is to be clear with guests about what kind of food they should bring and what you will already have available. Technology has made this even easier, with apps like Google docs, Thing to Bring, and even Facebook. Simply set up your event, invite your friends, and ask them to RSVP with their item of choice. Don’t be afraid to ask guests for specific food items, and be sure to thank them compliment their dish.
4. Provide activities guests can enjoy at their leisure.
During any event, there is always some downtime or the occasional lull. Having activities and games that are self-explanatory and ready-to-play can help curb the inevitable downtime and provide a great opportunity for guests to bond with each other. Yard games like ladder ball and corn hole are always popular, as well as outdoor adaptations of board games like Scrabble or Jenga.
Another one of my favorite things to create for parties is a selfie station. You can purchase selfie sticks for as little as $5, or ask a friend to bring one. I always find amazing decorations, props, and accessories at the Dollar Tree believe it or not! Simply find an empty wall in your space (or create one by hanging a sheet), and your guests can take care of the rest.
5. Remember the small stuff, but don’t sweat it.
Some things you might forget, but will save you time and stress in the long run: plenty of bottled water, extra toilet paper and a pre-lit scented candle in the bathroom, icing/refrigerating beverages early, full bottles of condiments, extra plates, napkins and cutlery, and serving utensils.
I will leave you with some general tips for hosting:
- Welcome and thank EVERY guest for coming (even little ones!).
- Be sure to let everyone know where to find food, drinks, and the bathroom.
- Provide plenty of seating.
- Expect guests to indulge and account for it when planning how much to cook.
- Have FUN! A stressed host makes for a tense gathering.
Easiest Ever Mini Lemon Tarts
For this recipe, I used mini filo shells, which you can find in the freezer section of your grocery store. I found a simple recipe for the filling from Pretty.Simple.Sweet and chose to top the finished product with fresh blueberries for garnish and depth of flavor.
- 1 package frozen mini filo shells
- Optional: fresh blueberries
For the filling:
- 2 large eggs, plus 2 egg yolks (or 3 whole eggs)
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- ½ cup (120 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice (2-3 lemons for both zest and juice)
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream, optional
- ½ cup (1 stick/115 g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- In a medium heatproof bowl, place eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and heavy cream and whisk to combine. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (bain-marie).
- Cook on moderate heat, whisking constantly, until mixture becomes thick. If you have a thermometer, it should register 170F/75C; otherwise, it should coat the back of a wooden spoon and leave a clear pass if you run your finger through it. The curd will thicken more once cooled.
- Remove from heat and immediately strain mixture through a sieve.
- Add butter, a few cubes at a time, and whisk until completely melted and incorporated, and mixture is smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature before filling the tart. (Lemon curd can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or can be frozen for up to 2 months. To thaw, place overnight in the fridge. Whisk the mixture to smoothen it before using.)
- Fill the tart shell with lemon curd, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours until chilled. Serve with berries.