5 Recipes for a Casual Dinner Outdoors

(Image credit: Nealey Dozier)

Al fresco entertaining should be as easy and effortless as possible. I try to design my menus using a mix of recipes that can be made in advance, and that are best served cold or at room temperature, along with just one warm item — whether it’s hot off the grill or held in the oven. Fruit bars and squares often make a perfect dessert, topped with good-quality store-bought ice cream … because you shouldn’t try to make everything yourself.

(Image credit: Nealey Dozier)

For this meal plan, a hearty roasted red pepper dip with a bountiful assortment of crudité will keep people from getting famished while mingling, but it won’t spur overindulgence before the main event. (I hate it when that happens! Too many appetizers is not always a good thing.)

A skewered take on spicy pollo alla diavola anchors the entire menu. The chicken skewers can be marinated in advance, are easy to grill, and are hard to mess up — the dinner party trifecta! The two sides are light, healthy, and seasonally appropriate, not to mention vegetarian friendly. Even better, all of the components for both can be assembled a few days beforehand and finished off the day of the party. Do you see a theme here?

This menu hits on a lot of the same flavors, which helps keep the shopping list to a minimum. Garlic, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and parsley play a big role in almost every recipe, because who wants to spend too much valuable time (and money) at the grocery store? Lastly, I encourage substitutions and creativity — not stress — because summer entertaining should be relaxed and carefree. So what are you waiting for? Get outside and enjoy yourself and your company!

(Image credit: Nealey Dozier)

The Menu

The Recipes

Your Cooking Timeline

What to Prep Ahead

These things can be prepped the day before or any time during the day of the party:

  • Make the red pepper dip and keep refrigerated (can be made up to one week ahead).
  • Make the pesto for the zucchini noodle salad and keep refrigerated (can be made several days ahead).
  • Make the orzo salad and keep refrigerated (can be made up to one day ahead).
  • Get the chicken marinating the night before or the morning of the party.
  • Make the peach cobbler bars the night before or the morning of the party.

What to Do Just Before Dinner

  • Let the orzo salad come to room temperature for one hour before serving.
  • Assemble the zucchini noodle salad.
  • Heat the grill and then grill the chicken just before sitting down to eat.
(Image credit: Nealey Dozier)

Your Shopping List

To buy at the store:

  • Lemons (2 medium)
  • Peaches (4 medium)
  • Cauliflower (1 medium head)
  • Zucchini (4 medium, or 1 1/2 pounds)
  • Red onion (1 small)
  • Garlic (1 head)
  • Ginger (1 thumb-sized knob)
  • Arugula (2 cups)
  • Fresh rosemary (1 small bunch)
  • Parsley (1 big bunch)
  • Whole or 2% milk (1/3 cup)
  • Parmesan (1/2 cup once grated)
  • Unsalted butter (7 ounces, or 14 tablespoons)
  • Chicken thighs (2 to 2 1/2 pounds)
  • Orzo pasta (2 cups, or 12 ounces)
  • Sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil (6.7-ounce jar)
  • Roasted red peppers (12-ounce jar)
  • Tomato paste (4 teaspoons)
  • Raisin and sultanas (1/2 cup, mixed)
  • Pine nuts (1/4 cup)
  • Shelled pistachios (1/3 cup)
  • Marcona almonds (1 cup)

From your pantry (check to make sure you have enough):

  • Olive oil (1 cup + 2 tablespoons)
  • Canola oil (for grilling)
  • Sherry vinegar (1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon)
  • Kosher salt (2 teaspoons, plus more to taste)
  • Black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes (2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • Pimentón, or smoked paprika (1/2 teaspoon)
  • All-purpose flour (2 1/4 cups)
  • Honey (4 teaspoons)
  • Granulated sugar (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons)
  • Powdered sugar (3/4 cup)
  • Cornstarch (2 tablespoons)
  • Baking powder (1 teaspoon)
  • Vanilla bean paste, or vanilla extract (3 teaspoons)
  • Almond extract (1/8 teaspoon)