It’s the unofficial bon voyage to summer and one of the final days off from work before hunkering down for the colder months. Invite your friends over, crank up the music and follow these tips to making the food at your bash the star of the show—and something to Instagram for weeks after.
Shop locally. Sure, a grocery store can be easier, but visiting the local farmer’s market is a guarantee for getting fresh, vibrant ingredients that’ll really make your guests’ taste buds (and Insta photos) pop. “The produce you’re going to get is from local farmers, which means it can be picked when it’s riper and ready because it’s not being shipped across the country,” says Gail Simmons, culinary expert and judge on Top Chef Duels. And the timing of Labor Day doesn’t get much better, thanks to the transition of seasons. “It’s the ultimate time to buy fresh fruits and vegetables; it’s when there are so many incredible things available, from the end-of-summer stone fruits to the early-fall apples.”
Chat up the sellers. Remember, the people you’re buying from at the farmer’s markets grew the products you’re after. Not only are they the prime source of information on how it was grown and which ones are the best to take home, but Simmons says they often have tons of ideas on how to cook with it, too. Hit them up when you’re lacking inspiration (or check out the recipes Simmons created below).
Douse your healthy eats with flavor. Many fruits and veggies have strong, robust flavors on their own, but adding an extra twist never hurt anyone. To give your guests a fresh spin on a summer salad—and an antioxidant boost—use tea. Simmons is a fan of the Pure Leaf brand because it’s brewed directly from tea leaves, and often uses it as a dressing for the summer salad recipe below. Otherwise, she suggests incorporating tea into meat marinades (try ginger and garlic brushed onto duck for a Chinese flavor palate) or using as a cocktail mixer with fresh fruits like watermelons and berries.
Turn off the oven. “The great thing about this time of year is that there’s so much great stuff available and you don’t have to do a lot of cooking to make it taste great,” says Simmons. For a no-cook option, toss a tomato salad with fresh herbs (think basil and mint), crumbled feta cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and salt to taste. Simmons also recommends firing up the grill for dessert—this how-to for peaches is a winner. Instead of a balsamic reduction, dilute honey with a little bit of Pure Leaf ice tea and whisk together to make the perfect caramel that you can drizzle over the fruit solo or pair with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Make a signature cocktail. Not only will you not have to play bartender all night, but friends will remember that one tasty drink you introduced them to long after the party is over. Make a big batch of whatever you’d like, or give Simmons’ recipes below a whirl.
Take the guesswork out of the meal planning for your Labor Day bash. We’re big fans of Simmons’ salad and cocktail combos below. Give ‘em a try, and don’t forget to snap an Insta and share it with us using @fitnessmagazine and #makefithappen.
Bumbleberry Tea Cocktail
- 1/2 cup each of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, plus more for garnish
- 1 cup strawberries cut into small pieces 8 mint leaves, plus more for garnish
- Juice of one lemon
- 1 bottle Pure Leaf Lemon Iced Tea
- 2-ounces of white rum or gin
In a small bowl, muddle berries, mint and lemon juice well. Press mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Discard pulp.
Add a 1-ounce shot of white rum or gin to two ice-filled highball glasses. Divide berry mixture between glasses. Top each with Pure Leaf Lemon Iced Tea (approximately 3/4 cup per glass). Stir to combine.
Garnish with mint sprig and 3-5 whole berries each.
Summer Salad with Tea Vinaigrette
- 1 bunch arugula, washed
- 1/2 pound snap peas, trimmed, stringed, cut in half on diagonal
- 1/4 cup mint leaves, packed
- 2 ripe plums, sliced
- 1/3 cup roasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled (optional)
For the vinaigrette:
- 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Pure Leaf Unsweetened Iced Tea
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Place arugula in a large serving bowl. Add snap peas and mint, and gently toss. Top with plums, nuts and crumbled goat cheese if desired.
In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar and tea. Add olive oil in a slow stream, whisking constantly to emulsify. Add salt and pepper, and combine.
Drizzle vinaigrette over salad and toss to coat. Divide among four plates to serve.
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