Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook 


When the humidity breaks and a chill tinges the air, you have the ideal weather for a 'bonfire soiree'. Sound like an oxymoron? Well maybe not. Most of us are suckers for a themed gathering; the rough building of a fire can be an artisan's affair. What a way to get friends involved building the fire to celebrate excellent food, good conversation, camaraderie and some skill.

A bonfire takes takes space and lots of clear area-a sandy somewhat protected (from big winds)beach is found all around the Chesapeake region, so go for it! My best advice is to enlist a Boy Scout to instruct you on technique and design for building the fire. Since I'm a wanna be Boy (Woman) Scout , a dear friend gave me tips and a manual which was most helpful.

 The Menu

Potluck Hors d'ouevres

Ratatouille with Olives

Ina Garten’s French Potato Salad

Grilled Artisan Sausage with Harvest Vegetables

S’mores + More

The Planning

As with all parties, inside or out, being organized makes for  smooth flow. Most of all, I always think it gives you, the host, freedom to have fun along with the guests-no being a slave to the party!

Food and Drinks

Of course no outdoorsy party is complete without abundant food and beverage. Make sure to think of all aspects of your guests' tastes and have a variation of beverages and food. A simple idea is to supply the food for the main menu and let everyone participate in bringing hors d'ouevres and dessert. That way you can concentrate on the larger picture, leaving some details up to the guests.

  • Food in traveling containers
  • Long thin branches for kebabs and marshmallows
  • Platters
  • Plates, cups, utensils, napkins
  • Ice-plenty of it
  • Bottle and can openers


The Set Up

Some very basic supplies include:

  •  Coolers
  • Portable grill, fuel, fire starter, grill tools, hot pads
  • Fire lighter, matches
  • Sticks and logs for the bonfire
  • Music
  • Blanket
  • Table for food, table cloth
  • Chairs, blankets

Some other tailgate party ideas include packing plenty of water, trash bags, bug spray, and an emergency kit.



Ratatouille with Olives

This splendid classic is a collaboration of the vegetables of summer and early fall. It can vary with your whim or available fresh produce. I like to add the saltiness and depth of Kalamata olives. The large pot serves as the base vessel for the large amount of sauteed vegetables. 

Serves 8-10

  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 medium eggplant, cubed
  • 2 zucchini, diced
  • 2 medium yellow squash, cubed
  • 2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1  red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • about 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 large plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoon of the oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook until soft.

In a large skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and saute the zucchini in batches until slightly browned on all sides. Remove the zucchini and place in the pot with the onions.

Saute all the remaining vegetables one batch at a time, adding 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet each time you add a new set of vegetables. Once each batch has been sauteed add them to the large pot as was done in step 2.

Season with salt and pepper. Add the bay leaf and cover the pot with a lid. Cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes and garlic to the large pot, cook another 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove the bay leaf, add the garlic, fresh basil, olives and adjust seasoning.


Ina Garten’s French Potato Salad

Everyone I talk to love Ina Garten's recipes as they are straight forward and deluxe without being fussy. Leave it to her to improvise a more American version of Julia Child's French Potato Salad.

  • 3 pounds potatoes (smallish new potatoes are best)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon white wine
  • 2 tablespoon chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoon parsley
  • 3 tablespoon tarragon
  • 3/4 cup red onion

Boil the potatoes in the skins when drained cover with a tea towel, this will help them steam dry and go nice and fluffy.

In a bowl put lemon juice, garlic, mustard, salt & pepper. Add the olive oil slowly while whisking.

Chop the potatoes chunky while still warm and pour over wine and stock and leave for about a minute to soak in.

Add the parsley, tarragon and onion. Pour over the olive oil mixture and toss.


Grilled Artisan Sausage with Harvest Vegetables


For this "wing it as you want it" recipe, you-or your guests, are the designer. Allow about 4-6 ounces of sausage person and slice them into 2-inch lengths so they'll fit on a skewer without dropping off when cooked.

Figure on about 6-8 ounces of assorted cut vegetables per person.

Make sure to secure all of the food items on the far end of the stick so you have plenty of stick to hold it over the fire. Rotate the stick so it cooks equally on all sides.

Photo credits: Tom Bagely-In Words & Pictures





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