During warm summer and mild fall evenings it was easy to host socially-distanced soirees al fresco. In winter? Not so much. But you don’t need to resign yourself to sitting alone on the sofa all season. With a little creativity (and some cozy blankets and other accoutrements) you can hold a Covid-friendly gathering on your deck, patio or backyard. We asked Chappall Gage, president of Susan Gage Caterers, for his thoughts on outdoor entertaining, from appetizers and warm libations to lighting and decor.
What tips do you have for entertaining outside during winter months, especially with regards to keeping guests warm?
Embrace the outdoors! Invite family and friends over for an après-ski- or Winter Wonderland-themed afternoon or evening, [maintaining proper social-distancing protocols]. Guests should be encouraged to dress warm and for the theme. The host should have extra blankets on hand and could also give guests personalized gloves, hats and scarves.
What ideas do you have for warm beverages?
The menu should feature warm items for guests to receive upon arrival. Mix up a Spiced Apple Hot Toddy with bourbon, apple cider, honey, lemon and cinnamon. Top hot coffee with Irish whiskey for an Irish coffee. Or serve hot cocoa. If you’re hosting a brunch we suggest offering a barista station with various milks and coffee blends.
What appetizers do you recommend serving outside and how should you keep them warm?
Winter is the season for classic comfort food! Soup sips served in mugs are a great winter warmer, as are sandwiches like toasted pimento cheese, are perfect appetizers to enjoy while imbibing with cocktails around the fire. [See recipe below.]
How about fun around the firepit?
Take s’mores to the next level with homemade marshmallows; put an unexpected spin on the dessert with a Grand Marnier and maple-bacon flavored marshmallow which pair perfectly with caramel sauce and homemade traditional graham crackers. Wood-fired pizzas are also a really fun option–the possibilities are endless when it comes to toppings!
What about lighting and seasonal decor?
Hang Edison bulb or bistro-style lighting between trees for a natural look that is easy to enjoy throughout the season. For decor, think natural: elements like Magnolia and pine cones are great additions to create a more festive table in the winter months. And lots and lots of candles!
Recipe courtesy of Susan Gage Caterers:
Grilled Pimiento Cheese Sandwich
Makes 2 sandwiches
3 oz. cream cheese
2 oz. roasted red peppers
3 oz. cheddar-jack cheese, shredded
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
4 sourdough bread slices
Combine the cream cheese, shredded cheddar-jack, roasted red peppers, Dijon mustard and a pinch of salt and pepper in a mixing bowl, mix until well combined and set aside.
Preheat the oven to low broil. Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large, oven-safe non-stick pan over medium heat. Spread the pimiento cheese mixture on two slices of sourdough bread and top with remaining slices. Place sandwiches in the pan and cook for 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Carefully flip and transfer the pan to the oven. Bake for 5-6 minutes or until the second side is golden brown. Carefully remove from pan and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.
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