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Mary Burgers, creative director of Burgers Architecture, shares her favourite tips for summer hosting—along with a great recipe for a traditional Greek Briam.
I have welcomed guests to my fair share of imperfect evenings, whether it was a menu that didn’t meet anyone’s expectations (allergies, intolerances, cleanses) or invitations I regretted extending. We welcomed a guest who had recently taken their first WSET course and was above anything in our wine cellar. I attempted gnocchi for the first time with some new clients and watched it sink to the bottom and never come back up.
But I’ve had great successes too… dinner guests who have hit it off and formed their own friendships afterwards, or a meal that blew us all away (and surprised me most of all). I am equally satisfied to find a high heel in my hydrangeas the next morning as I am being asked to share a recipe from the night before. Great parties can take many forms, if you can be flexible and let go of expectations.
A scorching July or August can be a tricky time to host. One would like nothing more than to lay and rest in a cool spot and ignore their loved ones. It’s a slow and steady melting of ambition when one must prep in a Bikram like state.
But I’m here to give you fortitude in battle: embrace the mental and physical commitment of shopping, prepping, chopping, serving, cleaning and chit chatting in the heat. And it’s not always easy, I get it. As a hostess I have had to carry on bravely, muffling my screams into a tea towel before dinner, more than once in my lifetime. It usually involves a turkey. But my summer menu considers mercurial temperatures and demeanours. The less heat and large birds, the better.
Pre-made, ready-to-drink cocktails like Duchess, in great looking coupe glasses look elegant and require no extra physical movement. I’ll send guests out to pick kale from the garden with a cocktail in hand as a festive homesteading activity that feels wholesome for all.
I usually include one of my mum’s traditional Greek recipes… I love a good zucchini, potato and tomato Briam smothered in Dodonis feta as it appeals to my veggie friends as a main but a great side to kebabs that I’ve picked up from Granville Island. Bread Affair—also on Granville Island—makes the best bread to soak up everything on the plate. Affogatos have saved the evening many times. I love them, as there is always ice cream in the fridge and coffee on hand; plus, it’s a diplomatic way to offer a stimulant for lethargic guests as part of desert service.
One final thought: I do find setting the table beautifully is just as important as to what is poured and served. Think of it as a great visual insurance plan against any possible catastrophe. If they could play classical music as the Titanic went down, we can most certainly set a beautiful scene for our guests.
The regalia of going into battle is as critical as the mindset. Set the table, forks and knives and glasses in their place and think like a general in masterminding who sits where. Quirks seated next to quarks, two vibrant anchors at each end of the table – assemble your Spartans and begin with gusto! Who and what survives and dies on the field is out of your control. I assure you; the effort of an elegant table can absorb it all, right to the bitter – or more likely – successful end.
If you’re going to turn the oven on just once in the middle of summer it’s worth it for this dish with lots of fresh summer veggies and baked with olive oil, tomatoes and then smothered in feta, dill and parsley. Buy good bread to soak up all the goodness on the plate afterwards.
Preheat oven to 400 F/200 C. Place a rack in the middle.
Start by slicing the vegetables. You can either use a mandolin slicer or a sharp knife to slice into round shapes. I try to pick vegetables that are similar in thickness to make a pretty Briam and for the veggies to cook evenly.
In a large mixing bowl, add the sliced veggies and drizzle with olive oil, add garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper. Give everything a good mix so that the veggies are well seasoned.
In an oven proof dish (I love mine by Staub) pour ½ of the canned diced tomatoes in and spread to cover the bottom of the pan.
Arrange the seasoned potatoes, zucchini, and sliced onions in the pan in rows (simply going around the shape of the pan and alternating.)
If you have any of the extra virgin olive oil and garlic mixture left in the mixing bowl, pour that all over the veggies followed by the other ½ of the canned tomatoes.
Cover the pan with foil (tent foil a bit so it is not touching the veggies). Bake in 400 F oven for 45 minutes. Take pan out briefly to carefully remove foil, then place back in oven, uncovered, and roast for another 30-40 minutes or until the veggies are soft and charred and most of the liquid has evaporated.
Remove from oven. Serve warm or at room temperature with an added generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Before serving crumble feta on top, and generously add chopped dill and parsley on top. And a little more olive oil—because, why not?
An expert in interior design with a passion for cooking, Mary Burgers, Creative Director of Burgers Architecture, will be sharing timely recipes and easy-yet-elegant table settings each month—ready to inspire your next dinner party.
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