Menu for dinner party. Extreme hot weather.

I’m having a dinner party for 10 people on Sunday, and the temperature is projected to be 102 degrees. It’s a special occasion (2 birthdays), and we were planning to grill, but it’s really too hot. Can y’all help me with menu suggestions? I’d like to avoid using the oven, and I want the menu to feel special. Thanks!

  • Posted by: drbabs
  • July 12, 2022


creamtea July 15, 2022
Here is a recent luncheon I recently served that worked well: Gourmet mag once had a wonderful cold cantaloupe soup I often make decades later: you make your own almond milk (toast almonds and blend with water, then strain out the solids--save solids for another use, like streusel. Chunk up beautiful ripe cantaloupes, and blend together with the almond milk in batches with pinch of salt, a squeeze of good honey, and some lime juice. Serve cold with a thin slice of lime and some whole almonds as garnish. It's beautiful and scrumptious). A beautiful rosy grilled or broiled sliced steak (cooked ahead of time and cool room temp).with chimichurri using lemon instead of vinegar. Crisp salad on the side. Dessert can be any number of things: lemon/raspberry teacake (using the left over ground almonds as a streusel!) plus fruit. Or, if there's a good quality gelato or local ice cream place nearby, a selection of gelatos or sorbets for a lighter dessert.
Nancy July 14, 2022
Late suggestions for making the dinner special.
Get a luxury ingredient or two, if to your guests’ tastes and your budget.
For a first course - summer truffle in pasta or various prepared fish appetizers.
Wagyu or other luxury beef for main course.
drbabs July 14, 2022
Wendy July 12, 2022

I really want to help you but I have very limited experience cooking in extreme heat…I know you are a very experienced and canny (Scottish word for wise) cook and cannot imagine that I could offer much, but here I go:

Italian Theme, Caprese Salad, Grilled Veg Platter, Cold Seafood Pasta, Limoncello Tiramisu with fresh fruit for dessert.
The day or evening before dinner, I would make an eggless limoncello tiramisu. Fresh fruit of choice can be layered in or served on the side.
I would use the grill, but in the morning, before it is too hot. I would grill seafood and vegetables of choice, arranging on separate platters to chill. I would also make and boil pasta, after cooking and cooling with cold water, toss with lemon juice, olive oil and salt, then chill. I would make a caprese salad, then chill.
Before dinner, I would make a sundried tomato pesto (heavy on the lemon notes) and toss with chilled pasta. Dress the caprese salad and grilled veggies. Just before serving, either toss the seafood into the pasta or arrange on top a drizzle with the pesto again, and add fresh herbs and cheese, if desired.
Alternately you can buy your seafood precooked and your veggies pre-grilled…
and all you would have to do is make the tiramisu, assemble the Caprese, and boil and chill pasta.

Now if youwant to make it an extra special occasion, bring on the Italian wines and limoncello, grab Scopa cards and bocce balls and imagine a warm Mediterranean breeze!

I hope this helps as I know you are always so generous here to help others! 🙌🏻

drbabs July 13, 2022
I love this. Thank you.
MMH July 12, 2022
I think a room temperature caprese pasta dish is the essence of summer
drbabs July 12, 2022
Stephanie G. July 12, 2022
Green gazpacho for sure. has some lovely ones. Some type of melon + savory salad. Chilled seafood dish would be nice. Grilling in Texas right now is brutal. Some type of no bake dessert of frozen dessert would be nice too.
drbabs July 12, 2022
Thanks! Love the green gazpacho suggestion l
702551 July 12, 2022
Think carefully if you choose to outsource food items. Some of these suggestions are very practical but to me, seeing a platter of plated deli items (H-E-B, Randalls, Whole Foods, whatever) doesn't ring "special" to me. I see that stuff at football tailgates.

Clearly a Mexican fiesta is a consideration but I'm not sure how special that is in Austin, TX. At least here in California, Mexican fiestas are a fairly well understood concept. Throwing together a couple of taco filling and stacking up some microwaved tortillas is not a Mexican fiesta. If you go Mexican fiesta, have it catered unless you want to spend three days slaving over the stove and oven prepping for something that might not be a good as what the taqueria down the street can whip up.

I like the idea of a catered Southeast Asian roast pork of some sort since OP wants to avoid using the oven.

Grilled fish would also be a summertime natural for people of this area (the Japanese enjoy a small freshwater fish called ayu in early summer, typically grilled) but the OP sadly prefers to avoid grilling. Pity.
drbabs July 12, 2022
Agreed. We do tacos, fajitas, salads with grilled meat and vegs all the time, so not special. We don’t eat pork. I’m not completely opposed to grilling; just would like to avoid it in heat of day. What’s an OP?
702551 July 12, 2022
OP = Original Poster

Well, now that you've indicated that grilling is still an option, you have many more options.

As I mentioned earlier, I love grilled vegetables. Most of them don't require much cooking time and many of them can be done in advance. Smaller pieces of animal protein (meat, fish, seafood) like skewered fish or shrimp kabobs also require little cooking time.

However by grilling in advance, you lose some of the festive atmosphere. Many people like watching someone at the grill. Whether or not that ambiance is important to you and your guests is something to consider.

It's a fine balance between cleverly leveraging the ready-to-eat conveniences of today's restaurants and grocery stores and looking like you took the path of least resistance.

Like almost any meal, it boils down to the expectations of those who will be at the dinner table. Some people have very low expectations and will be happy with a hamburger, a bottle of ketchup and a bowl of Lay's potato chips.

Watch that Japanese noodle video. That's not some TikTok stunt. This is a traditional activity. Those Japanese kids have expectations. Beyond the nagashi somen (floating noodles) they are probably hoping for some grilled fish or chicken, maybe some riceballs, possibly some cold grilled eggplant (another summertime classic) and finishing off with shave ice or a soft-serve ice cream. Typical American kids might want hot dogs, potato salad, and ice cream with a bottle of Hershey's Chocolate Syrup.

If you can plan ahead, a large roast can be done in an outdoor grill and timed so other items can be grilled after the roast is removed to rest. Of course, such a roast could be done in the oven, but you don't want to use that appliance.

However putting a large roast in a viewable place like an outdoor grill is more festive and memorable than something parked in an oven.

You could mail it in by hiring a food truck; people do that for their kids' sports team gatherings. Sure the food could be tasty but all you did was fork over your credit card and maybe fill up some coolers with beverages from Smart & Final.

Again, it's your call what sort of ambiance you wish to present that day to your guests.
Nancy July 12, 2022
Ok, I was one of the ones who suggested a deli spread if too hot to cook but see how it’s not special enough.
A few other ideas, both taking account of heat and special occasion.
Mains: seviche (fish fillet marinated in citrus juice) and/or steak tartare.
Drinks: lots, fizzy and fun. Like champagne or Prosecco cocktails, beer with limes, non-alcoholic spritzer drinks with fruit syrups and herb or vegetable garnishes. See recipes for “gazoz” drinks from Tel Aviv cafes.
Atmosphere: in addition to birthday candles, tea lights, candles strung in lanterns, torches stuck in the ground along a path to table.
drbabs July 12, 2022
I love your creativity. This is for a friend's 80th birthday, so hanging out watching grilling outside or food trucks wouldn’t work. Great suggestions, though, for people looking for party ideas.
HalfPint July 12, 2022
I would do a taco bar and order the meat(s) from your favorite taqueria/restaurant. Order the salsas or make your own. My cousin rented a taco truck for her baby's 1st birthday.

Or go Vietnamese/Southeast Asian style and order a roast pork (not the sweet red, Chinese BBQ pork, but a good roast pork with crackling skin). They'll cut it up for you upon request. Serve with a "salad bar" (with noodles) and each person can make their own wraps or noodle bowl. In my culture, no special feast is complete without a roast pig.

For dessert, make no-churn ice cream and pack into pints. I did this for a friend's backyard wedding. I had the freezer space for 20 pints with 2 different flavors. Left the pints in a cooler for everyone to enjoy. You can also make an icebox cake that doesn't require turning on the oven.
drbabs July 12, 2022
Thanks, yes, I was thinking of a play on ice cream cake/ Oreo dessert/ icebox pie. Also something I do a lot so I’d have to figure out how to increase its specialness.
HalfPint July 14, 2022
I like Smitten Kitchen's presentation for the chocolate icebox cake:
drbabs July 14, 2022
Me too! I actually made it recently for another party.
Nancy July 12, 2022
Dr Babs -
A few ideas.
If the weather allows a couple days in advance, make fish or meat, chill in fridge and serve with buns, garnishes, sauces.
Watermelon feta salad.
Refrigerator cake ( cookies and cream, chilled)
Beer wine seltzer.
Happy birthdays!
Nancy July 12, 2022
Ps if too hot to cook in advance. Buy deli meat cheese fish and use for the meal
702551 July 12, 2022
By ruling out grilling you have eliminated the number one cooking method used by cultures throughout history to cook in the hot summer: grilling outdoors keeps the heat outside and out of your living spaces.

You have also expressed desire in not using your oven.

Sure, you can use your stove (I assume you lived in first world air conditioned bliss) but you are voluntarily keeping all of the heat in a living space unless you have an outdoor range. By limiting your cooking to just your stove, you will spend a lot of time over it (boiling, sauteeing, steaming, maybe frying) because you have ruled out other appliances and cooking methods.

I would love cold soda on a hot summer day but I'm not sure how many people in your group are fans of Japanese cuisine. I would also loved some grilled items (including a variety of grilled vegetables which could be enjoyed at room temperature) but you have already eliminated this cooking method.

Naturally the food profiles of summer classics varies from Thailand, Japan, Italy, Mexico, Sweden, Morocco, wherever but I assume you that grilled items will feature prominently in any summer feast.

Anyhow you should pick your menu based on your specific dinner guests' palates.

Of course, you have two birthday celebrants and you can simply cook their favorite dishes but whether or not that would represent summer at its best or is suitable for hot weather cooking is unknown.

So start by carefully considering your dinner guests' preferences and work backwards from there until you reach the raw ingredients where I would heavily favor seasonal ingredients.

This will also affect your dessert offering. For me, the most natural dessert that screams July would be some sort of fruit tart -- stone fruits (peach, plums, nectarines, etc.) or berries. But that would require you to use the oven so rule the fruit tart out. Maybe a fruit salad which requires zero heat?

Best of luck.
702551 July 12, 2022
Here's one summer tradition from Japan:

that doesn't require grilling.

Would your guests go for this? They would likely remember it.

drbabs July 12, 2022
Cool. I’m not really set up for that.
702551 July 12, 2022
I remember seeing a video of someone hacking this with PVC pipe purchased from the hardware store and setting it up in their tiny apartment.

I don't know what your resources are, your intended level of effort is, and how much help/enthusiasm you are going to get from those invovled.

If you've ever been to a big feast (Mexican fiesta, Hawaiian luau, etc.) it's not just one or two people behind a stove or grill.

Watch that floating noodle video again. Some people (more than one) set up that contraption. It's used for thirty minutes and it's over. But there were people who cared enough to spend hours setting it up. There were people who cooked the noodles, prepared the dipping sauce, set up containers, ran the water, recovered uncaptured noodles, etc. Yes, you can boil noodles and put them in a serving platter and everyone can help themselves family style; that's far less work. But these people cared a little more than that because they thought it was worth the effort.

If you plan on doing it all by yourself, your options are limited by your time and material. I've made a traditional Thanksgiving dinner almost entirely by myself. Ten guests is about my limit based on my time and the equipment/resources I have available in my ordinary residential kitchen.

It's very possible that you are a more capable cook than me and can handle a more complicated menu than me trying to serve 10 people Thanksgiving dinner.

The Joy of Cooking and Fannie Farmer Cookbook are full of American classics that would be entirely at home at a summer dinner table. I'm guessing you didn't come to Food52 to ask us to point out standard summer fare.

You want the event to be special.

That's why I posted the noodle video as an example. I'm not saying that it can't be special if you don't do this, it's just something that I think the typical American cook should view to see what sort of expectations people in one other country have for a festive summer food event.
702551 July 12, 2022
Okay, I found the noodle apartment hack. It wasn't a video but an article with photos.

Unsurprisingly it was Serious Eats:

and happened in Brooklyn, probably not far from where the Food52 founders live.

Were the noodles any good? Who knows?

But I bet the party attendees still talk about it.
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