| Recipes |

Memorial Day Party Planning, Part 3

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The weekend is upon us (praise be!), and Memorial Day deliciousness lies ahead. You've invited the people and bought your preliminary supplies, so your workload should be pretty straightforward. Here's a couple of food ideas, plus a quick checklist:

  • In the morning, prep everything you can: crumble cheese, chop vegetables, pick cilantro, etc.
  • Buy ice for the drink coolers or outsource the task to a guest you trust.
  • Refrigerate/ice down the drinks.
  • Take out and clean any serving dishes you'll be using.
  • A few hours ahead, turn the A/C down a few degrees so your house will be nice and cool even when full of peeps.
  • Check bathrooms for cleanliness and adequate toilet paper supply.
  • Set up adequate seating.
  • Turn on music, if you wish.
  • Crowd Pleaser: Guacamole

    Go out and buy your avocadoes today. Look for firm but not rock-hard avocadoes with no soft spots. And buy a banana while you're at it -- the ethylene it gives off will help your avocadoes ripen. Store them all together in a paper bag, and when the avocadoes are perfectly ripe, stash them in the fridge until you're ready to make your guacamole. Blue corn chips are an especially nice accompaniment.

    4 ripe Haas avocadoes ½ onion, small dice (I prefer red but you may prefer white) 2 cloves garlic (just one if you want to preserve your breath) ¼ cup cilantro, roughly chopped 1 lime Salt Pinch ground cumin

    On a cutting board, shake a fair amount of salt onto the garlic and then mince it very finely, forming a paste with the salt. Toss in the onion and squeeze in the lemon juice.

    Slice the avocadoes, remove the pit and turn the flesh out into the bowl. Mash it all together with the back of a fork until your desired texture is achieved. Stir in the cilantro and cumin. Test for salt -- with a chip -- and adjust if needed.

    Main courses:

    If you've got a grill, this is the time to knock yourself out. Hamburgers, hot dogs, and bratwurst are always crowd-pleasers -- just make sure you have the proper accompaniments. For something different, try pork tenderloin marinated in the barbecue sauce of your choice, plus a little honey and a dollop of chipotle peppers in adobo. Grill, then slice the tenderloins to be served on crusty bread for beer-worthy sandwiches.

    While you're grilling, cut some zucchini and squash lengthwise and brush each piece liberally with a mixture of olive oil and your favorite spice mix (Tony's, Spike, lemon pepper, etc.). Portobello mushrooms and asparagus are also grill-friendly.

    Should you be grill-less, consider a cast-iron grill pan for stovetop cooking. Chicken, sliced and marinated in fresh lime juice, makes excellent fajitas, especially since we live in a town where good tortillas are easy to come by. Cook up some onions and peppers to go alongside, and add crumbled queso fresco, cilantro and maybe some warmed black beans, doctored with ground cumin and a little cayenne.

    Dessert: Ice Cream Sandwiches

    Ice cream sandwiches are a fun throwback to younger years, and they are easily customizable to your palate and level of kitchen competence. Simplest? Use store-bought cookies and ice cream. Medium difficulty? Make your own cookies but buy your ice cream at the store. Fancy-shmancy? Cook up both yourself.

    Keep in mind that, wherever the cookies come from, they'll need to have enough structure to handle the pressure of being "sandwiched." You can also freeze the cookies for 15 minutes before making your sandwiches. Bigger cookies are also easier -- and more fun -- to make into sandwiches.

    Possible flavor combinations are many: chocolate chip cookies with vanilla ice cream, gingersnaps with peach ice cream or lemon sorbet, chocolate cookies with coffee ice cream, etc. You can make the dough for these Chez Panisse gingersnaps ahead of time, and bake them ahead of time, too.

    When you're ready to make the sandwiches (I recommend no more than an hour or two before your party), take the ice cream out of the freezer to soften a bit. Place a scoop of ice cream between two cookies and press them gently together. Lay the sandwiches on a cookie sheet and freeze until ready to serve.

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