Labor Day. Though intended to honor the American labor movement, the first Monday in September has come to signal the unofficial end of summer. A proper outdoor party is the only way to bid adieu to a season that’s come and gone too quickly. The kind of party where snow cones get a New Orleanian flair, charred shrimp are doused in orange marmalade, and refreshing salads are served with stone fruits and tangy vinaigrettes.
This year, the occasion comes with precautions — individual servings and socially distanced place settings — but Zack Sklar, chef and owner of Cutting Edge Cuisine, a Ferndale catering company, offers tips for designing a safe yet impressive Labor Day bash.
1) Take It Easy
Sklar’s biggest tip is this: “Be a guest at your own event.” All too often, hosts spend more time prepping, cooking, and cleaning up than enjoying the party. “It’s all about preparation,” he says. “Focus on food that is labor intensive upfront but doesn’t take a lot of work on the back end.” Here, Sklar curates a menu that’s simple enough to prep and serve for your Labor Day fête. But if you really just want a day off, all of the dishes pictured here are available for order at Cutting Edge Cuisine.
22812 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-677-4380; cuttingedgecuisine.com
2) Single-Serve It
Whether in a mason jar or shot glass, consider serving drinks, condiments, and starters in individual vessels.
>> Serve your gazpacho in simple shot glasses. Try: Mudgie’s Deli and Bar Gazpacho Bowl, $6, at Mudgie’s Deli and Bar, 1413 Brooklyn St., Detroit; 313-961-2000; mudgiesdeli.com
>> Prepare (or purchase) refreshing batch cocktails. Try: La Feria Spanish Tapas Sangria, $25 for 30 oz., at La Feria, 4130 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-285-9081; laferiadetroit.com
>> Present summer dips in personal bowls. Try: Mex Large Guacamole, $10.50, at Mex, 6675 Telegraph Road, Bloomfield Hills; 248-723-0800; mex-restaurants.com
3) Make it From Scratch
Broken Corn Cake with Salsa Verde, Crema, and Pico de Gallo
1 lb. butter
1 ½ cup fresh masa
1 cup cornmeal
2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup sugar
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp. salt
½ cup cream
1 ½ qts. fresh corn, pulsed in food processor
Heat oven to 350 degrees. (If using a convection oven, use low fan.)
Spray a 12-by-10-inch pan with cooking spray.
Cream the butter and masa together. Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then add to the masa mixture. Add cream and pulsed corn. Place mixture in pan, cover with film wrap and foil, and place in a water bath for 2 hours. Remove and let cool. Can be served warm or room temperature.
For the Salsa Verde, use your favorite brand or recipe.
Crema can be purchased in most Latin food stores or replaced with sour cream.
For the Pico de Gallo:
4 small diced Roma tomatoes, ripe
¼ cup small diced white onions
1-2 tsp. small diced jalapeños
Juice from 1 lime
1 tsp. olive oil
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground coriander
1 Tbsp. cilantro to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Honeydew and Fennel Salad with Green Olive Vinaigrette
2 cups honeydew, diced or scooped
½ fennel bulb, shaved
2 radishes, shaved
2 tsp. fennel fronds
¼ cups Olive Vinaigrette*
2 Tbsp. green olives
2 Tbsp. shallots
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Mix all vinaigrette ingredients together. Assemble salad and drizzle dressing over top.
Tomato, Burrata, and Michigan Cherry Salad
1 medium heirloom tomato
¼ red onion
2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. aged balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. extra virgin
2 tsp. Himalayan pink sea salt or Maldon sea salt
Toss the red onion in 1 tsp. of balsamic vinegar and 1 tsp. of extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, then place on a hot grill until it’s slightly charred. Quarter the tomato and pit the cherries. Tear open the burrata and place the tomatoes, cherries, and onion around the burrata. Drizzle with the aged balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Finish with a sprinkle of sea salt.
4) Curate a Killer Playlist
Through her work as an influencer, model, writer, event host, and all-around “it” girl, Detroit native Amber Lewis has parlayed her love of the arts, music, and culture into a part-time career as a music curator. Under her pseudonym “The Playlist Princess,” Lewis has prepared song lists for events across the city of Detroit. Here, she shares tips for preparing a playlist of your own.
Set the Tone for Your Labor Day Bash
First things first, Lewis says it’s important to define your event vibe in order to curate a playlist that’s in sync with the party setting. “The right song can make a good moment more memorable. Be sure to select songs that match the time, place, and energy you want to create for your guests.” Though you may ordinarily be a heavy metal fan, she says, the genre may not be a fit for an intimate and relaxed dinner party.
Consider Your Guests
“Your guests are your audience and you are the DJ.” Lewis recommends asking yourself what type of music partygoers will enjoy, perhaps even surveying the guest list prior to the event, and working some fan favorites into the mix. “Everybody loves when their jam comes on.”
Putting a great playlist together goes well beyond compiling a few great songs. Lewis says it’ll take some strategizing to develop a strong song list that flows with your event’s agenda. “The first few hours might be spent mixing and mingling, while there may be a dedicated time for dinner that could be a bit more mellow. Dancing and drinks after dinner would be more up-tempo,” she says. “Cater your song selection to the flow of the show.”
Another consideration: the estimated length of your party. “You don’t want a playlist that’s too short and will end up on a loop during your event.”
Follow Lewis on Instagram @theplaylistprincess and DM her for bookings.
5) Freeze the Sweets
New Orleans Style Sno-Ball with Ginger, Tequila, and Lime-Flavored Syrup Garnished with Sweetened Condensed Milk and Tajin
Take the classic ice cream cone up a notch this Labor Day with a dessert that guests can have fun with. “The Sno-Balls offer an Instagrammable moment,” Sklar says. “You can serve them in really cute cones and friends can pour the finishing syrups on top.”