The bluebird days of summer in Summit County demand a lighter touch for entertaining. Cast away the heavy flavors of winter in favor of crisp salads, memorable cocktails and a laid-back ambiance.
“First of all, keep it casual,” said Christy Rost, local PBS chef and author. “Be flexible because of the weather. An outdoor gathering may need to be transformed into an indoor gathering in a hurry. Stay relaxed about it — that’s OK. It doesn’t matter if you have to grab everything and move inside or if you are all set up outside and realize it might not be the best idea. It is the summertime; it is the mountains, a place where people come to relax. Approach things that way.”
Use local ingredients
To make any occasion noteworthy, start by featuring local ingredients.
“They are so flavorful, so beautiful in color and texture, and to embrace that and encompass those fresh ingredients into your menus, I think it’s just the perfect way to approach entertaining,” Rost said. “Fresh flavors that everybody loves should be prepared simply. The flavor of a beautiful tomato or a peach from the Palisade area — it’s already that prefect peach or that perfect tomato, you don’t really need to do anything to it; it’s enjoyable by itself.”
Slice tomatoes and serve them with fresh greens from the farmers market or your own garden, garnished only with balsamic vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, Rost said. Use a light hand with sauces, dressings and other rich ingredients to keep your menu in tune with the season.
“With winter menus, we tend to go for real hearty, robust flavors and foods that warm us up, make us feel warm and cozy,” Rost said. “Summer menus should make us feel fresh and free and relaxed and light. Nobody wants to go biking on a real heavy stomach. If you keep the menus light and easy and definitely fun, then I really think that’s the best way to approach summer menus.
“That’s why people love to grill in the summer so much. It allows you to be outdoors and some great chicken or ribs or bison, things like that, to just put on the grill, even burgers, and enjoy the process. And certainly whenever you host gatherings, people tend to hang out around the grill anyway and that becomes part of the entertainment factor.”
Make a splash with a cocktail
All of Summit County’s breweries offer summer-inspired beers, from an effervescent and refreshing lager or helles that pairs perfectly with fruits and vegetables to a slightly spicy wheat or pale ale that will stand up to grilled meats. Grab a growler or bomber to adorn your table, or pick up a liquor or liqueur from Colorado’s growing craft spirits industry and try your hand at mixology.
“If I’m going to go the spirits route, I like to have a signature cocktail, as opposed to just putting out a variety of things,” Rost said. “I like a signature cocktail because it infuses the gathering with a fun element. Very often, people will remember the gathering because of the signature cocktail.
“Use fun glassware and garnishes and then something that says, OK, this gathering is special and this is the cocktail du jour, whether that’s a margarita, straight up, or something that you use fruit in, maybe a watermelon margarita, a strawberry daiquiri — it looks pretty, and it’s delicious, it’s fun, people like that.”
Rost added that it’s also important for her get-togethers that the dining table looks pretty.
“I always spend a little bit of time on the table setting and that, too, makes the gathering,” she said. “Bright colors, lanterns for lighting in the evening, candles set into tall glass hurricane glasses — anything so it won’t blow out. For flowers, I either depend on something from the super market that I gather into casual containers or plants from the garden center that I can then put into the garden afterwards.
“I always believe that things don’t have to match on the table, so whether you’re here on vacation or you live in Summit County all the time, just pull the pretty colors and shapes and sizes together; it doesn’t all have to match.”
Rost said her favorite thing about summer entertaining is being outdoors, soaking up the High Country sunshine or basking in the cool evening breeze.
“I love hosting dinners or lunches on the veranda, where we can enjoy the view, enjoy the cool air, feel the breeze and delight in the smells of Colorado, smell that pine, smell the freshness,” she said. “I love that.”