Cooking Becomes so Easy

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Tips for warm weather entertaining

The sun is shining, flowers are blooming, and your grill is calling to you. It's that time of year when you can't wait to entertain outdoors. If you're stuck in a rut, though, or aren't sure how to up the wow factor for your backyard soiree, here are some tips.

"Start with your menu," advises David Mirassou, sixth generation of America's oldest winemaking family. "I love to entertain, and once I've chosen the food and wine, the rest of the get-together is easy to plan."

* Make your menu. Grilling is a great way to enjoy the warm weather, and most agree that when it's hot out, food tastes better grilled. For a twist on an old favorite, try Chargrilled Scallops with Corn Salsa. Its wonderful smoky flavor is unexpected - and delicious.

* Decide what to serve. Offer your guests both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverage choices. When the weather heats up, chilled white wine is a great option for outdoor gatherings. Chardonnay is always a crowd-pleaser, but if you're looking for something unique, serve Riesling, Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. Moscato is especially popular this season and has been compared to "summer in a bottle" because of its refreshing, sweet taste.

* Create an easy ambiance. When you're entertaining outdoors, use your surroundings as inspiration. Feature what's in bloom - like roses, wildflowers or even herbs, placing bunches in clear glass vases or jars. Consider using natural-fiber placemats like abaca, rattan and bamboo for an organic feel. Set your table with plates and glassware, not paper, which is kinder to the environment and looks better, too. Place lighted candles and lanterns about - the glow is especially welcome when the conversation lasts past sundown.

* Don't forget dessert. Whether it's a chilled granita, fresh fruit pie, or s'mores with melted-over-the-grill goodness, dessert brings your celebration full-circle.

"The best part of outdoor entertaining is getting together with family and friends," says David Mirassou. "But a little planning goes a long way toward helping the host relax and your guests enjoy this special time of year."
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