Summer Vacation Stress Free Dinner Party

Summer Vacation Stress Free Dinner Party
Summer Vacation Stress Free Dinner Party
Group Barbecue at Steiglitz 1967, photographed by John T Collins. From the J.T. Collins Collection, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria

It’s not unusual to entertain more in the summer when it’s warm (and something for those of you approaching Spring to dream about). It’s also quite common for friends and family to meet up at holiday spots and spend a week or two together. You wouldn’t typically look at these meals as a Summer Vacation Stress Free Dinner Party but there is no reason you can’t feed the kids a few sausages before bed, and then put together something a little more grown up for later.

So this time, we’re making dinner in a camping ground, caravan or holiday home with friends, but we’ll still be keeping it simple. Really simple because you are on vacation. And have possibly drunk a bit, and even if you haven’t, are probably tired out from a day at the beach swimming, the lake fishing or the forest bushwalking. In case you are interested, Steiglitz is an almost ghost town formerly a thriving gold rush town where you can picnic, bushwalk and pan for gold among other things


Well, it’s summer, so barbecued meat with salad. Katy and Toseland are vegetarian, so we’ll be grilling some vegetables for them too. They also have mysterious, not-meat burger patties they bring with them.


It’s a barbecue, there will be red and white wine, and beers for the blokes.


We’re going high-class suburban Australian with crockery, cutlery, and glassware. And a few mosquito coils, candles or zappers about the place.

Dress Code

Casual – whatever’s clean and preserves “decency”.

Dinner Planning

For convenience, I’ll work to the usual arrive 6.30 for 7.00pm, but you’ll probably be all over the place depending on what you’ve been doing.


As you are on holiday, working cooperatively, you’ll be more or less doing everything together at the same time, and then sitting down to enjoy the food à la française. That is, in the French or family style where you serve all the dishes at the same time and guests help themselves. In a restaurant, this called a buffet.

6:30 Apéritif: Champagne with chips, trio of dips and crudités

Ladies will gather in the kitchen/food preparation area and crack open the champagne. Pour some fancy shop bought chips into a big bowl; having plain and flavoured is nice. Open three fancy shop bought dips, one plain but creamy (say guacamole), one spicy (say salsa) and one savoury (say baba ghanoush). You can leave them in the packets or if you are aiming high empty them into bowls depending on how much washing up you are prepared to do at the end of the evening. You could also lay out preserved vegetables like sundried tomatoes, marinated mushrooms, olives and so on.

Crudités: Chop some mixed vegetables into sticks (to dip in the dips) and add some crostini (bread sticks). Good vegetables are carrots, green (and/or borlotti or another runner style) beans, celery, daikon, asparagus, pepper (capsicum), baby corn, green (spring) onions, endive leaves, and anything else that has a nice crunch to it.

Ladies will nibble on these while gossipping and preparing the rest of the meal. You’ll put some spice mix on the steaks and/or lamb chops (about 8oz (225g) per non-vegetarian person), so they have time to absorb the flavours. You’ll also slice some eggplant, zucchini, and peppers and onions, clean and prepare some portobello mushrooms and asparagus, and put some cherry tomatoes on skewers to go on the grill at the same time. You’ll brush them with oil, and sprinkle with spices.

Katy and Toseland will both need about 11oz (310g) of vegetables and everyone else about 3oz (85g) of vegetables per person to come from the grilled vegetables and the two salads.

Greek Salad: Throw together two chopped tomatoes, one Lebanese cucumber, one red pepper, one red onion, 100g feta cheese and 100g olives in a bowl. To make the dressing; whisk together 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, a little salt and pepper to taste. Mix just before serving.

Potato Salad: Boil 12 small potatoes for 10 – 15 minutes until cooked, then drain and set aside to cool. Boil two eggs for 10 – 15 minutes until hard then drain and rinse under cold running water until cool. Fry 4 slices of bacon until crisp and leave to cool. Chop 4 green (spring) or one red onion. When the other ingredients are cool, quarter the potatoes, peel and quarter the eggs, chop the bacon and mix with the onion and 2 – 3.5oz (60 – 100g) of mayonnaise to taste.

Buy a cake or tart at the local bakery for dessert, and if you eat a lot of bread, get a nice unsliced loaf while you are there and let people hack themselves off a bit during dinner.

Chantilly Cream: Whip full fat cream with vanilla paste and icing sugar to taste – start with equal amounts of vanilla and sugar and tweak until you really like it.

Meanwhile, the menfolk will be kicking the wheels of the barbecue, discussing the merits of different fuels, testing out the tongs, and preparing themselves to make dinner. After an appropriate time, they will join the ladies for a drink and nibble some of the snacks, before taking the meat and grilling vegetables.

7.30 Main: Barbecued Steak/Lamb Chops with Grilled Vegetables and Greek and Potato salads with more beer and wine

Around about now, the men will come back with the meat and grilled vegetables, and it’s time to eat.

8.30 Dessert: Cake or Tart with Chantilly Cream or Ice-cream

Get your fancy shop cake or tart, cream and/or ice-cream from the fridge and let people help themselves

9.30 Coffee, Fruit, and Cheese with Port

You could skip this given that you are on holiday, but I think these are all wonderful things after a nice meal in good company. I would usually suggest a young (e.g. brie), an old (e.g. cheddar) and a blue cheese served with some crisp fruit like apple or pear, some fruit paste, nuts, and crackers, but if you have eaten and drunk a lot, a strong cheddar with crackers will suffice.

Making it with friends certainly takes the stress out of it, but does this meet your idea of a summer vacation dinner party?

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