Garden Party | Fresh Menus Are Full of Fun

Spring is in full bloom and it’s time to celebrate! I don’t know about you, but as soon as March hit, I started to feel the allure of alfresco entertaining and all things bright and cheerful. My olfactory and visual senses craved those colorful bursts of flowers, glorious green grasses and sweet smells of fresh herbs I dream of using in recipes. 

The perfect way to capitalize on the season’s bounty is by hosting a garden party! Garden parties have been a way of celebrating since the Victorian era, a time to be social outdoors while sipping tea and eating finger sandwiches. Fast forward 160-ish years, and the garden party lives on with new traditions and recipes. Whether you are celebrating a birthday, Mother’s Day, or just the arrival of spring, there are so many showstopping, delicious and fresh seasonal recipes for any garden party. Here are a few of my favorites, as well as some tips to make your garden party shine.

TIPS TO MAKE YOUR GARDEN PARTY SHINE

Keep the menu seasonal and fun! And it’s ok to go vegetarian and embrace the “garden” theme. With these recipes, your guests will not miss meat.

Keep everything colorful: food, flowers, table linens, even your clothes. It sets the mood that this is spring.

Have a whimsical cocktail or mocktail; after all, it’s a party! Bonus points for a colorful drink that will add flair to your tablescape.

If you don’t have an actual garden, no worries. Adorn your table with natural spring elements: flowers, bowls of fruit, artichokes and faux moss.

It’s ok to make it a little formal. Guests will love getting out of those bulky winter clothes!


RADISH AND CUCUMBER SALAD
This recipe is a fresh and fabulous start to kick off your garden party meal. Even those who don’t adore radishes will find it delicious! The radish and cucumber are a blank canvas for those spring flavors of lemon and dill.

  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 3 cups cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced (wash and reserve radish leaves)
  • ¼ cup green onions, thinly sliced

In a large bowl, whisk together sour cream, dill, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cucumbers, radishes and green onions. OPTIONAL: Add chopped radish leaves to salad or as garnish on the side. Garnish with extra dill. Serves 4 to 6.


SPRING PANZANELLA 
Even though this is a salad, it can be your main course because it is surprisingly hardy. This twist on a classic is one of my favorites because it’s surprising to guests in the best way!

  • 1/2 loaf of sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 medium leeks, cleaned and sliced thin
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/3 cup mint, chopped
  • 1/2 cup basil, chopped
  • 2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup peas, cooked and cooled
  • 1 cup edamame (frozen/thawed works great!)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 4 cups arugula
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Toss bread cubes in olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay flat on a baking sheet and toast in a 400-degree oven for 5 minutes. Flip and repeat until golden, about another 5 minutes. Set aside. In a stock pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil and cook asparagus for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and cover with cold water to stop cooking. In a large bowl, combine leeks, shallot, mint, basil, fennel, tomatoes, peas and edamame. Toss with oil and rice vinegar. Add arugula and asparagus. Toss with bread cubes. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serves 4 to 6.


TANGY (AND SWEET) CHICKPEA SALAD SANDWICH
Believe it or not, I use this same recipe for chicken salad as well. If I am looking for something lighter, I substitute chickpeas. Depending on the crowd, feel free to sub in chicken or tuna.

  • 1 (15.5 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup grapes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh black pepper, ground
  • 4 leaves of seasonal lettuce (I like Bibb or Boston lettuce)
  • 4 sourdough bread slices, lightly toasted

Coarsely mash chickpeas in a large bowl using a fork or potato masher. Add shallot, celery, parsley, grapes, sour cream, mustard, honey, salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Place 1 lettuce leaf on each bread slice and top with salad. Makes 4 sandwiches.


NO-FAIL LEMON MACARONS
Macarons scream “spring” in color and fresh, sweet flavor. Don’t be overwhelmed by the impossibility of successful macarons (I know what you’re thinking); these will work!

COOKIES

  • 3 egg whites (room temperature)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • Yellow food coloring (should only take 3 to 4 drops for pale yellow)
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

LEMON BUTTERCREAM

  • 1/4 cup salted butter
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

FOR THE COOKIES: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Beat egg whites until foamy. Add salt, cream of tartar and white sugar. Whip for 8 minutes and until you have firm peaks. Add food coloring and fold in very gently 3 to 4 times (don’t stress about it not mixing completely). Sift almond flour and powdered sugar. Discard large lumps. Gently fold flour/sugar mixture into the egg white mixture, at least 60 strokes. Pipe out 1.5- inch rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Tap the pan hard at least 3 times to release the air pockets. Let them sit out for 25 minutes to ensure they develop “feet.” They should be “tacky” to the touch but not stick to your finger. Bake for 20 minutes. Makes 24 cookies (2 cookies per macaron).

FOR THE BUTTERCREAM: Whip butter until pale and fluffy. Add sugar a little bit at a time. Add extract and zest. Once cookies are baked and cooled, flip the cookie and pipe a small mound of filling on one of them and top with another cookie.


SPICY BLUEBERRY AND CHAMPAGNE COCKTAIL
Celebrate with champagne, of course! This is a fantastic way to toast at the beginning or end of a meal. The blueberry syrup turns the cocktail a beautiful shade of purple which will make your guests oooh and ahhh!

  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 of a jalapeno (remove seeds for less heat)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 sprigs of mint, divided
  • Champagne

Combine blueberries, jalapeno, water and sugar in saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in vanilla and add 2 sprigs of mint. Reduce heat to a simmer, about 15 to 20 minutes, until blueberries are very soft. Strain the mixture well, so it’s a smooth syrup. Allow to cool. Once cooled, add 1 tablespoon to a glass of champagne, no stirring, and garnish with mint. Refrigerate extra simple syrup in a sealed container for up to 2 weeks. Makes 6 to 7 cocktails.


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