Get ready to party!

You can roll it out, cut strips or darn near any shape, brush with egg whites, sprinkle cinnamon and sugar and you’ve got cookies.

Fresh figs with goat cheese and pistachios. (photo credit: EDEN RUBIN)
Fresh figs with goat cheese and pistachios.
(photo credit: EDEN RUBIN)

Why be a slave to your kitchen when you can party in the sukka? Now is the perfect time to entertain to your heart’s content, focus on your guests and enjoy yourself.

My friend Gail is so relaxed and together when she entertains that she seems almost like a guest at her parties. And she turns out some impressive dishes that whet your appetite for her next event. Of course there’s always an interesting mix of people, leading to good conversations, and new friendships often bloom.

Gail shared some tips with me and, lucky you, I am going public, with her permission.

• Prepare ahead, take as many shortcuts as you can find and welcome contributions, because everyone wants to show off now and again. Give your guests the opportunity to demonstrate their culinary talents while complimenting your own hosting talents and confidence. Encourage anyone who offers to bring their special dish. Do let guests help with the to-and-fro shuffle from the kitchen. This also creates opportunities for more personal chitchat. Think of it as a quality moment op.

• Set up a buffet ahead of time with serving pieces in place and a note indicating what goes where, in its place. You will be less likely to forget something.

• Create an atmosphere. The magic of the sukka will be enhanced with the right lighting, music and comfort items at hand. Consider that when planning your sukka building and decorating will put you ahead of the game. Candles add a little spiritual romance and help keep away mosquitoes and flies. Citronella candles will be even more effective. If you are concerned about wind blowing out candles or knocking them over, place candles in a bowl weighted with stones or marbles. Cut off (carefully) the bottom third of an old, clean water or soda bottle and place the top third (minus the cap) over the weighted candle (hurricane-lamp style). Incense also disturbs bugs. If you don’t want to burn anything, you can dribble citronella oil (available at health-food stores and many pharmacies) on ribbons hung around inside or outside the succa. Fans also do the trick.

• Light throws, wraps and shawls close at hand are easy and appreciated on cool evenings.

• With large groups particularly, have plenty of “paper goods” – napkins, disposable dining and drink ware, serving bowls and plates (this is key!).

• Designate an area, if you can, as a drinks station. Place cups (and permanent markers to label cups with names), drinks and ice there. That station restricts spill mishaps and makes refills easy. We like easy. Stock up on ice and have a cooler to keep plenty of chilled drinks available. Don’t have a cooler? A bucket or even a baby bath will do. It’s been a hot summer and we are still thirsty! Have more than enough of a variety of drinks for everyone. Fruit juices, water, wine and beer are always welcome. Next, my favorite tip.

• Be a dictator. You are the boss. Yell a lot and order your helpers around in your best bossy voice. This also helps alleviate tension before the guests arrive.

Obviously you will prepare food ahead of time for your large groups. Don’t forget the surprise drop-in visitors that will leave you with the best memories. Food preparation for quick and easy assemblage will make you a super hero (at least in your own heart) as you present guests with refreshments in a flash.

• Chop tons of onions and keep them in a container, ready for food prep. You just trimmed last-minute cooking time.

• Do the same with garlic. Double trimmed.

• Have containers to hold a variety of cleaned and cut nibbling and dipping vegetables, including carrots, cucumbers, cauliflower, peppers, radishes. Get those veggies ready to serve and fill those containers.

• Chips, crackers and popcorn are great nibblers to have healthy supplies of. Make certain you have enough. They don’t spoil, so shop generously.

• Dips, dips and dips will tie your appetizers together. Hummus, tehina, onion dip, spinach dip are popular and ready made or easily prepared in advance and stored. * Cookies are king. Small, portable and cute, they present themselves, and who doesn’t love cookies. Bake (or buy) and freeze in packages for fumble-free serving. In moments, without notice, you can assemble impressive vegetable p l a t t e r s . You’re a star.

• Get ready to party! (Photos: Eden Rubin) Frozen figs Puff pastry magic Now you’ve thawed that puff pastry and probably have plenty left. Puff pastry is versatile and in minutes can be transformed into forms shaped for piling chopped veggies; stuffed with cheese, meat, fruit, vegetables – just about anything or any combination with delicious and pretty results.

• You can roll it out, cut strips or darn near any shape, brush with egg whites, sprinkle cinnamon and sugar and you’ve got cookies.

• Sprinkle with herbs and you’ve made crackers. Super easy, super delicious Fresh figs are in season and glorious. Frozen they are a cool, refreshing dessert. Halve them, put a small amount of creamy goat cheese on each half and a sprinkle of pistachios, pop them into a hot (200º) oven just long enough to roast the pistachios. The figs will caramelize, drip and make a lovely syrup to rest in. This takes about 10 minutes start to finish.

• Dates stuffed with almonds, other nuts, goat or cream cheese can be made well ahead of time.