An Outdoor Dinner

Yesterday, Buffalo got a real taste of summer: temperatures above or around 70º and lots of sun! With the pool open, the backyard and patio somewhat cleaned up, and the grill ready, I decided to throw a small dinner party. The key to cooking in the summer is to keep things light – in both preparation and taste. With the weather this nice (and guests arriving in a few short hours), no one wants to slave away in the kitchen for hours at a time. Outdoor grilling, a fresh side dish, and a no-bake dessert can be just as impressive as a hearty winter meal.

On the menu? Grilled chicken, an Asian noodle salad, and berries & cream. Seems boring, plain, and done before, but it’s really not. First: combating the grilled chicken – something synonymous with chewy, overcooked, tasteless meat. About an hour before I started the grill, I tossed some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a simple marinade: soy sauce, canola oil, sesame oil, and brown sugar. And, when the grill was heated and ready to go, I sprinkled some smoked paprika (from Penzeys) on each side of the chicken. I’m no expert at grilling – at all – but after a 20-30 minute grill on medium-high heat, the chicken breasts were perfectly done: succulent and juicy with a caramelized exterior, all while retaining the flavors of the marinade.

And that was it for the “hands-on” cooking that night! The noodle salad was made well in advance – ready and waiting on the table for when we were ready to sit down and eat. It’s actually desirable to make it ahead of time: the flavors have a chance to blend together and the dish tastes great at room-temperature. I started with the basics of this recipe from The Pioneer Woman. I ended up making a good amount of changes, though; some were due to availability of ingredients, others due to taste. And that’s fine: the whole concept of a pasta salad like this is that it’s easily adaptable – something that fits in right with our summer theme.

I thought – at least for a brief moment – about all of the extravagant desserts that could be made for the party: fruit tarts, a quick ice cream or sorbet, etc. But, what better than strawberries, blueberries, and homemade cream? Light, delicious, and easy to prepare ahead. Before we even sat down to eat, the berries had been washed and dried and the bowl for the whipped cream was sitting patiently in the freezer. Upon taking the dishes from the main course inside, a quick two-minute whip of the cream was all that was left to do.

“Cooking” all of this – with the help of my friend Avery – was easy and enjoyable. Between the warm air and the smells of fresh fruits and vegetables, it feels like summer again.

For the Grilled Chicken

  • 4 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • 1/2 Cup Soy Sauce
  • 1/2 Cup Canola Oil
  • 1 tbsp Sesame Oil
  • 1 tbsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1 tbsp Brown Sugar
  1. Combine the last four ingredients in a deep bowl or gallon-sized bag.
  2. Place chicken breasts with the marinade and leave refrigerated for up to 2 hours or until ready to grill.
  3. Preheat grill to medium-high.
  4. Remove chicken from marinade and sprinkle each side with smoked paprika.
  5. Grill – turning over halfway through – until chicken is done (165º on a meat thermometer).
  6. Let rest for 5 minutes; serve.
For the Asian Noodle Salad
  • 1 lb Thin Spaghetti
  • 1/2 Head of Purple Cabbage
  • Big Handful of Baby Spinach
  • 2 Bell Peppers (preferably red, orange, or yellow)
  • 4 Tbsp Parsley or Cilantro
  • 4 Scallions
  • 1 Lime
  • 1/2 Cup Soy Sauce
  • 1/2 Cup Canola Oil
  • 1 tbsp Peanut Butter
  • 1 tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 2 tbsp Sesame Oil
  • 2 tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 2-3 Cloves of Garlic, Grated
  • 1 tbsp Grated Ginger
  • 1 Jalapeño, seeds removed and minced
  1. Cook the thin spaghetti in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente.
  2. Thinly slice the bell peppers, slice the scallions on the bias, roughly chop the parsley or cilantro, and slice the purple cabbage into shreds. Combine all of the vegetables, the cooked pasta, and the baby spinach in a large bowl.
  3. Combine the soy sauce, oils, peanut butter, vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, and jalapeño in a bowl; whisk to combine. (Can be made 2-3 days in advance.)
  4. Pour the dressing over the pasta and vegetables; toss (with hands or tongs) to combine.
For the Berries and Cream
  • 1 Pint of Strawberries
  • 1 Pint of Blueberries
  • 1 Cup of Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 1 tbsp Powdered Sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  1. At least 15 minutes before serving, place a large metal bowl and either a whisk or whisk attachment to a mixer in the freezer.
  2. In the chilled bowl, pour in the cream, sugar, and vanilla. Beat on medium-high speed until just-stiff peaks form.
  3. Serve the whipped cream with the berries.

2 Responses to “An Outdoor Dinner”

  1. 1 Natalie @ May 22, 2011 at 9:21 PM

    YUM! What a perfect combination of flavors for a summer meal! Great post.

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