Cottage Culture




Planning for the first of Summer’s al fresco dinner parties !!

Planning for the first of Summer's   

al fresco dinner parties


After the moody weather we experienced throughout June, between rain and low night-time temperatures which threatened tender plants, who isn’t ready for a steady stream of sunny, warm and inviting summer days? We’ve finished planted our gardens or decorative pots and hanging baskets, tidied our decks and patios, washed off our outdoor furniture, fluffed the cushions and set up the patio umbrellas. All in preparation for enjoyable days spent relaxing outside in this beautiful part of Southwestern Ontario and sharing it with friends and family. And various news clips on the Weather Channel have been hinting that we’ll move straight from this up-and-down weather to warm summer, so we intend to be ready!


Thinking of an al fresco dinner party makes us feel as though we’ve truly left our soggy wet season behind and landed in a lovely warm European memory.



We know that there’s absolutely nothing better than enjoying a meal, especially the first one of our summer season outside in the fresh, warm air with family and friends, while ‘drinking in’ the sunshine (with that requisite glass of chilled wine, of course!)


If you are beginning to think, as I am, about all the friends who will be dropping by to enjoy this area with us over the coming months, you are likely starting to think about your space, seating to accommodate your family and friends and menu planning. And we’re not alone in thinking about these get-togethers, as I read that on e-tailer, Net-A-Porter, searches for “garden party” are up 110 percent year-over-year, with interest in fashion and tableware piquing in equal measure, a sign that we’re on the hunt to dress and decorate the part for our outdoor gatherings!


The key, though, to al fresco parties is for them to be easy-breezy, without having the host over-thinking or stressing out over planning. We have a few points about space, seating and menu-planning to get your creative juices flowing.



If you are planning a smaller get-together on your deck, and you’ve already done your clean-up and deck organization, you’re all set! Or you may be thinking about moving to your lawn or back garden for a larger group, which could require a little more organization of outdoor space. You might consider dividing your outdoor space into defined sections, such as a dining area, a bar area, and perhaps a lounge area, with enough open space for people to stand and move around if they wish. The space required will also depend on whether you wish a ‘proper’ sit-down at table dining option, or whether you envision a casual, laid-back event serving finger-foods that people can easily enjoy while standing or, after perching on a chair, bench or low wall, can eat from a plate in their laps.



Again, this is supposed to be simple and stress free, so think about what you already have, including indoor furniture which you can bring outside to augment and add interest to your outdoor furniture. The Scandinavian aesthetic of eclectic style – mixing and matching your chairs and dinnerware comes to the fore with this approach.


It you are in the market for some outdoor furniture, we at Cottage Culture are excited about our extendable tables, which can be shortened for your everyday use to suit your space, but extended to seat more people comfortably for larger dinner parties, just in time for the summer party season! Our longest table has room for at least 12 people or the shorter version accommodates 8-10 persons.


Other exciting table options include our new POLYWOOD® line, made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), with UV-inhibiting pigment and a 20-year guarantee! These smart and stylish, substantial tables can withstand the strongest westerly winds we experience along the Lake Huron shoreline. Choose from our Nautical trestle dining table or the bar height Edge table (POLYWOOD® bar chairs available) sitting six persons easily.

Another alternative we are keen about is the space and budget saving, dual-purpose Samvaro collection, including armchairs and sectional seating for lounging but which also allows for dining with its taller table, so you can enjoy meals, drinks and snacks, and not be eating on your lap!



Menu Planning

Then we come to menu planning, which can be the big stressor, as food is a major component of any party, but also takes a lot of planning and time to prepare several dishes for all those guests. No one wants to spend their precious time cooking when friends and family assemble on your patio, deck or lawn to share the lovely warm weather of the summer season.


Doing your menu-planning well in advance keeps you organized and gives you the chance to figure out what you can do ahead of time, and also determine how to minimize culinary effort when your company does arrive.

Suggestions for a few either make-ahead dishes or quick-and-easy recipes handy for spontaneous drop-in visitors, are found at the end of this blog, and are likely to be welcome when people are searching for some fresh ideas.

  • Baked ‘Barbecue’ Pork Appetizers  – easy to make and the pork can be made ahead

  • Mediterranean Potato Salad – a make-ahead favourite

  • Shrimp Rolls – a quick and easy variation on lobster rolls

  • Rhubarb Crisp – wonderful with the new spring rhubarb crop

An Internet search will also yield various websites with planning suggestions for feeding your company, especially if it’s at the cottage and they are coming to spend a few days. Those recommendations include the following list of ideas:


  • planning the menus for all meals for each day ahead of time,

  • choosing a few key dishes,

  • sticking with dishes you know well,

  • selecting recipes that are quick to make, with readily available ingredients,

  • avoiding complicated and time-consuming steps, and

  •  selecting simpler recipes that require fewer ingredients.

Another suggestion to make it easy on yourself is to have your company bring a dish or two with them so you can host pot-luck style for one or more of the meals.

A selection of those websites is as follows:


If you would like further advice or have questions, the staff at Cottage Culture is here to help, offering free styling advice and layouts of the furniture in your outdoor space. Visit our showroom in Hensall, Ont., to sit in and get a feel for your new outdoor furniture before you make a purchase. With free delivery (within an hour distance from Hensall), plus installation, our goal is to make it as easy as possible for you to enjoy your personal outdoor oasis!


Looking for more outdoor living inspiration, follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest!


And now for the recipes themselves…


Baked ‘Barbecue’ Pork Appetizer


This pork dish can be made ahead and frozen, so you are ready for company.



2 whole pork tenderloins (about 12 ounces or 340 g each)  

¼ cup (60 ml) soy sauce  

2 tbsp (30 ml) dry red wine

1 tbsp (15 ml) brown sugar

1 tbsp (15 ml) honey

2 tsp (10 ml) red food colouring, if desired

½ tsp (2 ml) ground cinnamon

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 green onion, cut in half

Green Onion Curls, for garnish if desired




  1. Remove and discard fat from meat.
  2. Combine soy sauce, wine, sugar, honey, food colouring, cinnamon, garlic and onion in large bowl. Add pork, turning tenderloins to coat completely. Cover and let stand at room temperature 1 hour or refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally.
  3. Drain pork, reserving marinade. Place pork on wire rack over a baking pan.
  4. Bake in preheated 350-degree (180 C) oven until done, about 45 minutes. Turn and baste frequently during baking.
  5. Remove pork from oven. Cool. (It can be frozen at this point for future use.)
  6. Cut into diagonal slices and serve on thin slices of dark pumpernickel bread with grainy mustard. Garnish with green onion curls, if you wish to dress it up.



Mediterranean Potato Salad

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes (plus chilling time)

Serves: 8



2 pounds redskin potatoes, cooked, cooled and cut into cubes

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, peeled and minced

½ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced

1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

¼ cup pitted kalamata olives, quartered

3 green onions, washed, thinly sliced



Place the cooked, cubed potatoes in a large bowl.

In a measuring cup, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing mixture over the potatoes and stir gently. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese, olives and green onions and gently stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours to allow flavours to blend.


Note: if you’d like to soften the ready-to-eat sun-dried tomatoes in this recipe, place them in the bottom of a colander and drain the cooled potatoes over them.


About 137 calories per serving.


Shrimp Rolls  

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Serves: 4



1 lemon, halved

8 cups water

1 bay leaf

1 lb. peeled and deveined raw medium shrimp

5 tablespoons mayonnaise

3 tablespoons finely diced celery (from 1 stalk)

2 tablespoons finely diced fennel (from 1 bulb)

1 tablespoon finely diced shallot (from 1 small shallot)

¼ teaspoon lemon zest plus 1 ½ teaspoons fresh juice (from 1 lemon)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ teaspoon hot sauce (such as Tabasco)

½ teaspoon celery seeds

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives, divided

1 head Bibb lettuce

4 hot dog buns or soft rolls, split




Squeeze lemon halves into a medium saucepan, and place in pan. Add water and bay leaf, bring to a boil over high. Add shrimp, and cook until pink and opaque, about 1 minute and 30 seconds. Drain in a colander, and rinse under cold water 2 to 3 minutes to stop the cooking process. Coarsely chop shrimp.
Stir together shrimp, mayonnaise celery, fennel, shallot, lemon zest, lemon juice, Worcestershire, hot sauce, celery seeds, salt and ½ tablespoon of the chives in a large bowl.
Place 2 to 3 lettuce leaves in each bun; top with ½ cup shrimp mixture. Sprinkle evenly with remaining ½ tablespoon chives.



Rhubarb Crisp  



4 cups young rhubarb

3 tablespoons water

1 cup brown sugar

¼ cup rolled oats  

½ cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter or margarine




Wash and dice rhubarb.
Spread rhubarb in shallow buttered baking dish. Pour water over rhubarb and sprinkle with ½ cup of the sugar.
Mix remaining sugar with oats, flour and seasonings, then sprinkle over butter or margarine in a mixing bowl. Mix until crumbly.
Sprinkle crumble mixture over rhubarb and pat firmly.
Bake at 325 degrees F for about 1 hour, or until bubbly. Top should be crisp.
Serve with cream or ice cream.







Janet Baird-Jackson at 7:10 PM
RSS icon Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon


Blog Contributor Portrait
Name: Angela Roth
Posts: 28
Last Post: July 15, 2024
Blog Contributor Portrait
Name: Janet Baird-Jackson
Posts: 18
Last Post: June 28, 2024
Blog Contributor Portrait
Name: Generic Administrator
Posts: 1
Last Post: May 7, 2022

Latest Posts

Show All Recent Posts



Lighting Outdoor furniture Outdoor Lounger Sunbed Outdoor dining Outdoor seating Scandinavian style outdoor furniture Staycation Firepits Fall at the cottage patio furniture covers Pokolko Turkish towels alpaca fibre products Teak Outdoor furniture