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Entertaining your summer guests

by:  - Steak with Gorgonzola Thyme Crust

(ARA) — Simply put, summer is entertaining season. Patio parties come together at the last minute and long-planned events fill up the calendar months in advance. But no matter whether you’re having an impromptu gathering or an invitation-only celebration, focusing on the flavors and sensory delights of summer will make your party a success, without demanding too much of your time.
   The heart of any party is the food and drinks you serve. Summer offers an array of delicious options unlike any other season — when else can you find as much variety and such good quality, often right from the farm? Let that spirit of simplicity guide your approach to putting together a meal, and you’ll find that easy-to-prepare recipes can be real crowd-pleasers.
   With a trip to the farmers market and a stop at the grocery store, you can get inspiration, as well as all the ingredients you’ll need. As you shop, consider what’s in season, and when buying things that are available all year like cheese and meats, look for sustainable options that focus on quality, sustainability, and letting natural, unadorned flavors shine through.
   Grass-fed beef steaks and blue cheeses are two simple ingredients that, when combined, make a show-stopping centerpiece. Add grilled vegetables adorned with herbs and a seasonal salad with a creamy dressing for a perfectly-balanced plate that’s easy to put together and focuses on what’s in season. For drinks and desserts, turn your attention to fruits that are ripening at the moment, which provide maximum flavor with minimum effort. Lemonade with mint and blueberries is a refreshing thirst-quencher for the height of summer, and grilled peaches make a great stand-alone dessert.
   While it’s hard to predict the weather for a pre-planned party, for spur-of-the-moment gatherings, make the most of the weather by choosing a scenic location. Your yard can be the perfect backdrop, but you can also pack up the ingredients and head to a local park and enjoy the natural setting as well as a glowing sunset.
   To keep your home’s outdoor spaces party-ready, don’t underestimate the power of container gardening. Pots overflowing with bright flowers and fun foliage soften the space and make it feel naturally festive without having to decorate. Use pots of different heights for a staggered effect and a variety of plants — but keep in mind that establishing a theme, whether it’s chartreuse and pink or emerald green and orange, can make the look more cohesive.
   Enjoying summer is as easy as stepping outside and setting your table with the fresh foods of the season. Try these recipes for your salad and steak courses and you’ll be preparing fuss-free dishes that perfectly capture the essence of good entertaining.
   Steak with Gorgonzola Thyme Crust
   Ingredients:
   2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
   2 beef tenderloin or small rib eye steaks (about 6 ounces each), cut 3/4-inch thick
   1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, minced
   1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
   2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
   1/2 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
   Directions:
   Preheat grill. Spoon Worcestershire sauce over both sides of the steaks and let stand five minutes. Sprinkle garlic and pepper over steaks.
   Place steaks on the grill. Grill 3 to 4 inches from heat source three to four minutes per side for medium rare steak.
   Remove steaks. Sprinkle thyme, then cheese over steaks. Return to the grill, cheese side up, and grill two minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
   Summer Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing
   Ingredients:
   Dressing:
   1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
   1/4 cup skim milk
   1/2 cup green onions (including green tops), thinly sliced
   1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled
   1/2 clove garlic, pressed
   1/4 teaspoon basil
   1/4 teaspoon rosemary, crushed
   Dash salt, to taste
   Salad:
   1 large head iceberg lettuce
   6 slices thick-cut bacon
   1 cup blue cheese, crumbled
   Black pepper, to taste
   Chopped pears, walnuts, red onion and/or tomatoes, to taste
   Directions:
   In small bowl, stir together yogurt and milk. Mix in onions, cheese, garlic, herbs, and salt. Cover and chill 30 minutes or more to blend flavors.
   Cook bacon until crisp and crumble into large pieces. Cut lettuce into four to six wedges. Pour blue cheese dressing over the top. Sprinkle bacon over dressing. Add additional crumbled cheese, freshly ground black pepper, chopped pears, walnuts, red onion, and/or tomatoes, if desired. Makes four servings.