By Robin Shreeves, Mother Nature Network
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(Photo: perfecto insecto / Flickr)
Having guests over for the holiday weekend or just want to kick back with family? Enjoy the vacation instead of slaving in the kitchen by preparing lots of make-ahead dishes before the fun starts. Hit up the farmer's market on Saturday or Sunday for many of the ingredients in this ideal Labor Day menu. Fresh, seasonal produce and herbs are in most of these simple, but delicious dishes.
With the exception of grilling the chicken, everything can be made long before people arrive so you'll have plenty of time to sit back and enjoy the party.
BLT bites - Cherry tomatoes are stuffed with mayo, bacon, green onions, and more. Prepare the stuffing and the tomatoes separately the day before, and then stuff the tomatoes early the morning of the party.
Garden fresh salsa - This basic salsa recipe has so many fresh flavors running through it, people can't resist. You'll definitely want to make a double batch. Serve with organic tortilla chips.
Raw vegetables with homemade onion dip - Slice carrots, celery, and different colored peppers to dip in this onion dip that will definitely not be mistaken for the kind that has a packet of dry soup mix in it. The dip and sliced veggies can be prepped the day before.
Grilled tequila-lime chicken - This recipe that serves six can easily be doubled or tripled to accommodate however many people you have. Marinated, boneless chicken breast is used so the cooking time should be less than 20 minutes.
Green bean and cherry tomato salad - Prepare the vegetables and the vinaigrette separately for this salad the day before. Toss them together right before serving. You can give that task to one of the guests who asked, "What can I do to help?"
New red potato salad - Potato salad is a must at summer BBQs and picnics. This is a basic potato salad that is sure to please everyone. You'll want to make this one the day of, but it can be done several hours in advance.
Fresh cut up summer fruit - Put out a try of watermelon and cantaloupe slices that can be sliced the day before.
Apple pie - Local apples should be plentiful at the farmers market by Labor Day. This recipe has a crumb topping so you don't have to worry about the top of your pie looking perfect (not that I ever do, but I know people who hand me a pie and apologize for things like imperfect crimping).
Watermelon, lemonade, and blueberry ice pops - This is the most labor-intensive recipe in the bunch because you have to freeze each layer before you can add the next. But it looks so pretty and screams "summer!" so I wanted to bring it to your attention. If this is too much work, try the recipe below.
Lemon juice ice pops - Easier than the one above, and perhaps a bit kid-friendlier. The fresh lemons make an icy, refreshing treat for kids and grownups.
Go local with your wine and beer for this Labor Day menu. A crisp, cold white wine from a local winery will be a good pairing with the tequila-lime chicken. Light summer ales from nearby breweries will refresh your guests.
An organic lime rickey would complement the main dish, too, and this recipe makes enough for a crowd.
Iced tea - You need to provide something for guests who don't want to imbibe. Here's a basic iced tea recipe for a crowd that you can make the day ahead. Provide lemon wedges on the side for those that want lemon in their tea.
One last tip to lighten your workload. If you have a guest who offers to bring something, but doesn't have anything specific in mind, why not give them one of these appetizer or side-dish recipes so you have one less thing to make? My sister-in-law sometimes will email the exact recipe she would like made for a get-together, and I think it's a terrific idea.
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