Kitchen Accomplice: Chilled summer buffet

By John Kirkendall

Planning a summer buffet can be challenging. 

I remember once doing a dinner and setting a complete table in the dining room as well as one on the patio.  In case of inclement weather, we were all set.  The same is true for a buffet.  You need to be flexible and exercise what the psychologists call “executive thinking.”  What happens if.   Be ready.

Right now, my thoughts are on warm weather fare.  Something that will help your guests chill out – literally.  I have a few ideas that have worked for me and I am sure they will work for you, too.  They are mostly do-ahead, something I love.  They are also colorful and done in your own kitchen.  If you have ever been lured into purchasing those frozen appetizers (the pictures on the package look great) you know what I mean.  You must do this yourself in your kitchen.  These are simple to do and your guests will appreciate your talent.  A little time is all it takes.  And time is your stock in trade, right?

The overall concept here is to develop a table that is filled with chilled delights.  No chafing dishes allowed.  It is warm and guests will enjoy some cool presentations.  Guests will also appreciate the summer bounty from the Farmer’s Market envisioned here.  Keep in mind: lots of ice.  Ice in bowls to place the bowls of chilled food atop and ice on trays with the crudités and ice buckets around to refurbish and replenish beverages.  Store the ice in coolers within reach of the service area so as not to clog the freezer and be sure the cubes are nicely loosened so when you go to get some you are not faced with a hopeless chunk of frozen fused water.

This is a good time to think of a seafood platter.  Shrimp, scallops, clams and oysters take well to being chilled and are an often neglected delight.  Plenty of lemon wedges, a pepper grinder and that ubiquitous cocktail sauce are all you need.  Cocktail forks are appreciated to go with the cocktail napkins and small plates, but many aficionados are not interested in the implements at all.

For your crudités:  think about a panoply of fresh garden vegetables with a couple of interesting dipping sauces.  The sauces should be served with spoons so as not to encourage double dipping, an annoyance. I would suggest your favorite blue cheese dipping sauce along with an Italian dressing based dip but thickened so it doesn’t run off the plates onto your floor.

To vary the look of your table, you might want to think about skewers of fresh grape tomatoes, basil and mozzarella.  The skewers can be placed in halved oranges and grapefruit surrounded with fresh herbs.  And the grape varieties are very nice.  These are marinated for a short while before being skewered.

Here is a recipe I like:

Chilled Cherry Tomato Kabobs


• 1/4 C. extra virgin olive oil.
• 1 1/2 tbsp. red wine vinegar.
• 2/3 C. chopped fresh basil.
• 1 clove garlic.
• 1/2 tsp. sea salt.
• freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

• 2 pints cherry tomato (cherry pear tomatoes are best).
• 1 lb. bite-sized fresh ciliegine mozzarella.
• 1 bunch fresh basil, leaves separated.
• 6-inch bamboo skewers.

In a small bowl, mix vinegar, salt, pepper, and oil til well combined. Add basil.

Combine mozzarella and tomatoes in a large bowl. Add marinade and mix gently (careful –  the mozzarella is a little delicate).

Cover and refrigerate from 30 minutes to 2 hours (don’t marinate too long).

Remove cheese and tomatoes from marinade and skewer them as desired, making either small or large appetizer kabobs. Suggested pattern is: one mozzarella ball, one basil leaf, one tomato. Repeat if desired, or make them mini-kabobs and move onto the next one.

You are on your way to a memorable summer evening entertaining your friends.

Judge John Kirkendall is a retired Washtenaw County Probate judge. He presently serves on the Elder Law Advisory Board of the Stetson University College of Law. He has taught cooking classes for more than 25 years at various cooking schools in the Ann Arbor area and has himself attended classes at Cordon Bleu and La Varenne in Paris, as well as schools in New York, New Orleans and San Francisco. He is past president of the National College of Probate Judges. He can be reached at