Culinary and event experts from around the country share their tips for a mouth-watering Southern-style holiday spread
Memorial Day is a special day of remembrance in America. Holiday parties give us a chance to honor those who served our country as well as an opportunity to serve our guests. In the Southern region, the summer season calls for menu items that can not only withstand, but also provide relief from, the heat. We rounded up some unique, but oh-so-Southern recipes, from cajun wings to hibiscus-infused sangria to watermelon pizza popsicles (yes, you read it right). Whether your party consists of a backyard barbeque or a seated spread, these menu suggestions are sure to be a hit!
Southern-food expert Rebecca Lang is the author of six cookbooks, and a ninth-generation Southerner, currently residing in Georgia. Lang and her cooking have been featured on the Food Network and in more than 50 nationally televised Southern Living food segments. She serves as a contributing editor for Southern Living; her recipes have appeared in several of their iconic cookbooks. Lang shared this insight:
“Make a timeline to ensure that everything is ready on time so you can have fun at your own party. Start three days out to start making menu items in advance and laying out platters and serving pieces. The more that is done ahead of time, the more enjoyable the party will be for everyone.”
Award-winning, Virginia-based event planning agency VIBEvents Group knows a thing or two about party planning. With more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality and event industry, company founder Veronica Thompson offered these tips:
“One of the biggest concerns about having any type of celebration is keeping guests safe. Foodborne bacteria can form on food quickly if not handled properly. Cold food should always be kept cold at approximately 40 degrees, and hot food should stay hot at over 140 degrees. Keep cold salads, shrimp, eggs, and other highly perishable items on a bed of ice, and keep hot food in chafing dishes for temperature control. No food should be left out for more than two hours and no more than one hour if the temperature is over 90 degrees.”
Healthy Menu Items
Healthy doesn’t only concern food preparation, it’s also about food choice. While we Southerners proudly pump Crisco through our veins, there are healthy alternatives that cut back on fat without cutting back on flavor. Grace Derocha, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified wellness coach, offered advice on how to make the weekend’s festivities a little healthier:
“More than 55 percent of Americans will fire up their grills this upcoming Memorial Day and spend time with friends and loved ones in celebration of the holiday. A time-honored tradition, tables will no doubt be lined with classic dishes such as potato salad, chips and dip, cans of soda and an array of desserts. In situations such as these, it can be easy to unknowingly overload on calories, but there’s good news. With just a few, minor substitutions, your holiday barbeque can be just as delicious as it is nutritious.”
- Drop the pop. One can of pop can contain more than 140 calories and nine and a half teaspoons of sugar. Opt out of these empty calories with a glass of infused water or club soda. Another alternative is to fill a pitcher of ice water with cucumbers, mint and raspberries for a naturally flavored beverage. You’ll feel energized and cool in no time.
- Go lean. Try chicken or shrimp kabobs and a colorful array of roasted peppers for a satisfying, vitamin-packed option. You can also swap the beef in your burger for a salmon filet, tuna steak or portabella mushroom – all of which are lower in calories and artery-clogging fats.
- Skip sugary sauces. While certainly a grilling staple, store-bought barbeque sauces can contain almost an entire cup of sugar. To cut down on calories, try mixing olive oil, fresh lemon juice, herbs and black pepper for a healthy marinade. Mustard-based sauces are also great for a kick of flavor without the added sugar.
Festive Finger Foods
Not all parties are sit-down affairs, so you want to have finger-foods that people can eat casually. For a unique twist, try blending coffee into your menu. Community Coffee Company offered their favorite party recipes, using coffee flavor profiles honed from their nearly 100 years in business. It’s not a party without chicken wings, and these cajun wings add some Southern spice to the festivities. We also love their Dark Roast Coffee Pork Sliders and their Southern Spicy Snack Mix. For full recipes visit Tailgate Traditions.
What’s a summer party without firing up the grill? For a nontraditional twist on traditional barbeque, EM culinary contributor Chef Mariea Cobb shared a yummy recipe for BBQ Chicken Taters that combines grilled chicken with ingredients such as fresh cilantro, gouda cheese, sour cream, and red onion. For the tried-and-true, her classic Memorial Day Celebration Burger is an easy-to-make take on an American favorite. We’re already hungry just thinking about it.
For those of us who haven’t yet mastered the coals, now is the time to gain some grilling prowess in preparation for the onslaught of summer barbecues. It took a Southern-company to come up with a tool that makes even the novice griller look like a pro. The innovative KUDU Safari Braai grills and can simultaneously sauté, sear, fry, boil, smoke and steam – all over an open flame. If it washes dishes and cleans up too, we are sold!
Looking for a delicious, healthy dessert? Grilled fruit is a tasty and low calorie option. The heat heightens the flavor of fulfilling fruits. Serve the warm fruit with frozen yogurt for a refreshing balance. Derocha shared this fun recipe for Grilled Watermelon Pizza Popsicles. There’s no actual pizza involved, but this hand-held treat is just as addictive. The triangle shape mimics a pizza slice, but since watermelon is 92 percent water and chock-full of nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants and amino acids, it saves your waistline. For more of her tips and health-conscious recipes, visit ahealthiermichigan.org.
To add a visually-stunning holiday decor element–that you can also eat–try a candy buffet. Houston-based company Candy Dish Decor allows you to choose your colors, such as a patriotic red, white and blue candies. They can either provide the design on-site or they ship their DIY Candy-To-Go-Bar wherever you are with all items included to easily put it together yourself. Their products are super sweet but also made with healthier ingredients to cut down on the sugar. The company founder, Rhonda Wheeler, only uses products that are gluten free, lactose free, and contain no high fructose corn syrup.
“Part of the Candy Dish Décor story is my personal struggle with obesity and diabetes. I used to weigh 200 pounds and promised myself I’d find a way to satisfy my sweet tooth without sacrificing my health. To accommodate a healthier lifestyle for myself and my customers, I started cooking with quality ingredients and less sugar. I lost 70 pounds, and I feel great. I brought that same promise to my brand.”
After all that great food, guests need something to wash it down. We love this delicious and easy party punch recipe from Traci Pichette, the founder of Florida-based curated gift box company Pumeli. It integrates fresh fruit with floral hibiscus tea. You can either use Prosecco or non-alcoholic Ginger Beer for the base. For the full recipe visit: Pumeli
“For those of us in the south, Memorial Day is a time to honor those who died in active military duty and it also marks the official start to iced tea season. Whether you’re planning a pool party or a chic soiree, this simple and festive tea punch effortlessly adapts to a ‘mocktail’ or a cocktail, saving the hostess time.”
Chic furniture and home accessories brand Z Gallerie concocted this summer cocktail called the Poolside Paloma. It fuses a tequila base with tangy grapefruit and lime flavors for a refreshing drink. For the full seasonal cocktail guide, visit: Z Gallerie
Good food makes every party a winner, so these easy recipes provide a variety of options to whet any appetite from a group of kids to the most discerning palate. Happy eating y’all!