Monthly Archives: February 2014

Finger Food Ideas for Outdoor Entertaining

Finger Food Ideas for Outdoor Entertaining

When planning an outdoor soirée get-together, at some point your thoughts are going to turn to the question of what snacks to serve.  Here are a few ideas to make sure your guests don’t go short of some delicious, fuss-free nibbles.


Dips are a popular choice for garden parties, and it’s easy to see why: they’re delicious, easy to make, don’t require your guests to use any cutlery or crockery, and combine exceedingly well with a chilled beverage.  Served up right, they can also be very appealing visually: they taste great before you’ve even tasted them.


Guacamole was originally an Aztec recipe, meaning that it has similar pre-Columbian origins to the hammock.  Guacamole can be purchased ready-made at the supermarket.  Homemade guacamole tastes so much better, however, and it’s so simple and easy to make that there’s really no reason not to.  The real trick to making great guacamole is to use good, ripe avocados.  Supermarkets and green grocers tend to sell their avocados rather firm, so that they can keep longer.  This means if you buy your avocados on the same day as you wish to use them then they might not be ready yet.  To check an avocado for ripeness, gently press the outside.  A ripe avocado should be a little bit soft and have a bit of give.  If the avocado is still hard then it needs more time to ripen and should be left on a window sill for a day or two.  If the avocado is very soft then it may be over-ripe and no longer good.


To make great guacamole, take two fresh avocados, remove the skin and the seeds, and then mash in a mortar and pestle if you have one, or otherwise using a fork and mixing bowl.  Add a little bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some chopped up chillis to taste.  Then add half a chopped red onion, some chopped coriander leaves, squeeze the juice from half a lime, and a little salt and crushed black pepper to taste, and stir through.  This guacamole can be kept in the refrigerator for later – cover it with plastic wrap directly touching the surface of the dip to prevent oxidation sending it an unsightly grey colour.  When you’re to serve, chop up the tomatoes and mix through the guacamole.

Many variations on this theme are possible – except for the avocado, most of these ingredients can be safely omitted if you don’t want them or just don’t have them around.  Guacamole is a great way to cater for vegan or vegetarian guests while still serving up something even the most commited carnivore will love.  If using animal products is not an issue, however, you can some pecorino cheese, coarsely chopped anchovy fillets or fried-up bacon bits and mix them through for a more salty/savoury flavour.

Yoghurt Based Dip

Yoghurt based dips are a breeze to make, can taste incredible, and look superb.  Unsweetened natural yoghurt is the perfect base for a dip and it’s not too difficult to put something superb together in a matter of minutes.  Making great dip from natural yoghurt can be as simple as stirring in some pesto sauce, olive oil and minced garlic – that right there is a great dip taking all of about 40 seconds.  Other yoghurt based dips of varying difficulty that you could consider include tzatziki, spinach dip, feta and roasted capsicum dip, haydari, and palak ka raita.

If you’re going to be making a few of these yoghurt based dips then it can be well worth your while to invest in a small jar of an inexpensive spice called sumac, readily available from supermarkets and grocery stores.  Ground sumac is a middle eastern spice with a tart, acidic flavour, and a gorgeous deep red colour, making it the perfect garnish for these sort of dips.  For the best visual effect, sprinkle the sumac on top after the rest of the dip has been made, and don’t mix it in – the flavour is fairly mild so you can heap on a lot of it.  This will give your dips that restaurant quality look that will stun your guests, and it tastes great too.

Pita Bread Chips and Crostini

If you’re serving up a plate of dips then you’ll no doubt want to serve up something to dip into them.  There’s really not a lot wrong with the traditional route of just buying a few packets of corn chips.  If, however, you’re thinking of a healthier alternative, or just want to try something different, then you have plenty of other options.

Pita bread chips are incredibly simple and inexpensive to make, look and smell enticing, and have a wonderful crunch when you bite into them.  At their simplest, all you need are some whole rounds of pita bread, brushed with olive oil and lightly salted before cutting into eighths, and then placed into a preheated 200 degree oven for ten minutes or so – you can tell when they’re done because they’re golden brown and crisp.  Great ways to vary this recipe include sprinkling sesame seeds and dried parsley on top prior to cooking, or brush some minced garlic on the chips when they’re half way done.

Crostini is just Italian for “little toasts” and toasting some 1cm slices of ciabatta bread in the oven is really all that’s involved.  Brush the slices of bread with olive oil, minced garlic, and herbs to taste, and then place in a preheated 180 degree oven for 6 minutes.

Other dipping alternatives include mini breadsticks, celery and carrot sticks, or if you’re entertaining a real caveman crowd you could even try pork rinds.


Skewers are an obvious finger food to serve up if you’re going to be barbecuing, and still a great choice when you’re not.  For those pressed for time, there are no shortage of ready-to-cook options available from supermarkets, butcher’s shops and delis, and many of these taste great.

If you’re making your own and you choose to use bamboo skewers, don’t forget to soak the skewers beforehand so that they don’t burn.  For a more gourmet presentation and variation on flavour you can consider soaking the skewers in wine or juice instead of water.

Skewers are very often used to cook meat but there’s plenty else they can be used for.  Fish or prawns can work very well, as can vegetarian skewers.  Sticking different coloured capsicums on skewers can create a lot of chromatic contrast, making the skewers look amazing.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Vietnamese spring rolls are a little more involved than many of the other finger food ideas outlined here, but they go great in outdoor party when the weather’s really hot.  Click here for a great recipe.

Vietnamese spring rolls are best enjoyed with fresh lettuce, Vietnamese mint, and a spicy fish sauce and vinegar dipping sauce.  The spring roll is placed with a mint leaf inside a leaf of crunchy lettuce, which the wrapped around it and dipped in the sauce.  This makes the spring roll taste wonderfully fresh and crunchy – once you’ve eaten them this way, just eating them plain will seem boring by comparison.

Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are remarkably filling and have a surprisingly long history dating all the way back to ancient Rome.

To make deviled eggs, first hard boil the eggs, carefully remove the shells, then halve each egg lengthwise using a sharp kitchen knife.  Gently scoop the yolks out into a bowl, taking care to leave the whites intact.  Mash the yolks up and then mix in the condiments of your choice – hot sauce, mustard and finely chopped shallots are one good option here – then scoop the yolk mixture back into the egg white halves.

Other ingredients you can try in deviled eggs are coriander leaves, cayenne pepper, capers, turmeric, vinegar, paprika, poppy seed, mayonnaise, garlic, wasabi, sour cream or cheese.  To give your garden party a slightly more exotic touch, consider using duck eggs instead of chicken eggs.

Fruit Tray

Fruit is refreshing and delicious, and neutralises the palate to better appreciate other snacks or drinks.  As a nice little bonus, it’s about the healthiest kind of finger food you can serve.  The freshest and best tasting fruits will be the ones that are local and in season.

fruit and cheese platter

Presentation will make the difference between a good fruit tray and an excellent one.  Think about colours, and how you can combine them.  The inedible parts of the fruit can also be used to good effect in presenting the fruit – a hollowed-out watermelon or pineapple can be filled with other fruit pieces.

This is finger food, remember, so be sure to cut the fruit into bite sized pieces, and provide some toothpicks as well, to minimise finger stickiness.

Cheese and Crackers

This is about as simple as it gets but you’re unlikely to hear anyone complaining about that.  Cheese and crackers can be the perfect accompaniment to a wide range of alcoholic beverages – the key to making this work is to choose the right cheese to match the drinks being served.  Generally you want to match mild flavoured cheeses to mild flavoured drinks, and intensely flavoured cheeses to intensely flavoured drinks – that way nothing overwhelms the other.

Here are a few ideas for ways you can pair cheese and drinks:

  • Mild Cheddar – Brown ales, full bodied dry reds, port.
  • Goat’s Cheese – Hefeweizen, witbier, saison, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay.
  • Blue Cheese – Stout, imperial stout, traminer, port.
  • Pecorino – Pilsner and other pale lager, full Italian reds.

Remember, there are no hard and fast rules here – if it tastes good, it is good.

Chocolate Rum Balls

If you’re looking for more of a dessert style take on some outdoor entertaining finger food, it can be hard to go past chocolate rum balls.  Traditional rum balls require no baking, and are perfect for our hot southern hemisphere christmases.  Same exquisite – if slightly sinful – variations on the traditional rum ball recipe are apricot rum balls and white chocolate rum balls.

Need a Table to Serve Your Finger Food on?

Nowhere to place these delicious finger-food items?  We can sort you out!  Check out our range of dining tables and outdoor settings for all your outdoor entertaining needs.

What the Right Outdoor Setting can do for Your Lifestyle

What the Right Outdoor Setting can do for Your Lifestyle

An outdoor dining set consists of a table and some chairs, typically built from wicker, timber, aluminium, or steel.  This forms the very heart of your outdoor dining area.  These tables and chairs that form your outdoor setting, however, are really just a means to an end: chances are, what you’re really looking forward to most are not these attractive, matching objects, but the new experiences that will come from having them.  Here are a few of the things you can look forward to when you make this investment in your home and your lifestyle:

Entertain Guests Outside

As the weather warms up and the days become longer, the temptation to spend more time outside can become harder and harder to resist.  So why fight it?  Outdoor entertaining can add a whole new dimension to social events.  The outdoors can add a whole new relaxed, informal, and convivial atmosphere to a dinner party, without at all diminishing the sense of occasion.  Even when you’re not serving food at a party, having an outdoor setting means you have the perfect area to add some decoration, such as some cuttings from the garden.  Your guests have an area to put their drink down or just to sit down and hang out.  Those less planned events when you have friends or relatives over for an impromptu meal, a couple of drinks, or just a cuppa can also be a great time to relax outside.  And then there’s the grand tradition of the great Aussie barbecue: can there be a better way to round off a long weekend in summer?


Spend Time Together as a Family

If you have children of a certain age then you might be finding it difficult to get their noses out of the television or the computer.  The stresses and busyness of being adult life can also take their toll on the family mealtime.  Nevertheless, academic research has underlined the importance of eating together as a family.  The benefits go beyond nutrition – shared mealtimes mean shared conversation, fostering closer family ties.  In the long run, children who eat with their family more often have a better chance of learning healthy eating habits, are at lower risk of developing alcoholism or other substance abuse problems, and tend to perform better academically than do children who regularly eat alone or away from home.

Eating outside can be a great way to tear everyone away from television and computer screens so that you all talk to each other.  It also adds a sense of novelty and fun to dinnertime that the kids will love.  Time pressures and fast-paced 21st century lifestyles mean many families buy take-out food now and then, but even then there’s no need to do without the shared dining experience when you have a place for the family to eat together outdoors.

Get More for Your Home at Auction

As Yahoo!7 recently reported, adding an outdoor dining area to your home can be a great way to improve its value.  It’s not hard to see how this works!  When prospective buyers see a fabulous outdoor setting on your backyard or balcony, even the most hardnosed bidder will find it hard not to picture themselves enjoying a nice meal or a cheeky beverage as the sun starts to set on a warm, relaxing evening.  This makes your home a more desirable place, and the more that people can see themselves living there, the more inclined they’re going to be to bid harder against each other.  By nudging the price up when the hammer goes down, your outdoor setting could end up paying for itself.

Tip: If it’s too much of a pain in the neck to consult with your neighbours or the local council to get approval to extend your roof or awnings, you can consider shading your outdoor setting with one of our centre pole or side pole umbrellas.

Click here to view our complete range of outdoor settings.

The Importance of Hammocks Through History

The Importance of Hammocks Through History

Hammocks are great.  There’s nothing quite like one for enjoying a nice, shady patch of the outdoors when the weather’s lovely.

Despite the obvious advantages of the hammock enabled lifestyle, hammocks have been conspicuously missing through many of the most important events in human history.  There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. A lack of hammockly knowledge.  As unthinkable as it is for us now to consider life without a hammock, it’s only in recent centuries that  hammocks have become known to most of the world.  Hammocks have their origins in pre-Columbian America: prior to European contact with Native Americans in the late fifteenth century, most of the world was missing out.
  2. A lack of hammockly preparation.  Sometimes people just forget to bring their hammock!

Here we will overview some of the more well-known turning points in human history, and consider the contribution that hammocks made to the events; or alternatively, how things might have been different with hammocks.

The Battle of Hastings

What happened:

In 1066, King Edward the Confessor died childless, leaving several claimants to contest the throne of England.  The Anglo-Saxon king Harold II was crowned king not long after Edward’s death, however he faced opposition from his own brother Tostig, by King Harold III of Norway, and from Duke William II of Normandy.   Tostig and King Harold III were killed in the Battle of Stamford Bridge, leaving William of Normandy as the only serious competition for the crown.

William’s army of Norman French cavalry, infantry and archers crossed the English Channel in September of 1066.  Harold II’s army, having just defeated Tostig and Harold III in Yorkshire, turned south to deal with the Norman invasion.  Crucially, Harold II left much of his army behind in the north.  On the morning of October 14, the forces met at Hastings.  Primary historical sources contradict each other over the exact events of the day, however we know that King Harold II died in this battle and the Norman forces were victorious.  This lead to Duke William II of Normandy to march on London and become William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England.

The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth illustrating the events of the Norman invasion of England.  Although it is 70 metres long, there is not a single hammock depicted upon it.

The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth illustrating the events of the Norman invasion of England. Although it is 70 metres long, there is not a single hammock depicted upon it.

How it might have been different with hammocks:

If the Norman French of the 11th century had known the joys of hammocks, the Battle of Hastings probably wouldn’t have happened.

I mean, seriously, why would you bother?

Think about it: September is the northern hemisphere’s autumn, with winter just around the corner.  English winters are infamously cold, dark, rainy and miserable.  There’s nothing about going there that would appeal to the hammock enthusiast!

Hammock loving Normans would be much more inclined to cast their eyes south – towards the French Riviera.

If hammocks had prevented the Norman Conquest, the consequences would still be felt today – not least because the world’s most widely spoken language, English, would simply not exist as we know it without the Norman French and Anglo-Saxon linguistic collision that transpired.

The Apollo Moon Landings

What happened:

Apollo 15 Moon Landing

The Apollo program, conducted from 1961 to 1972, was a human spaceflight program run by NASA.  It was responsible for the landing of the first humans on the moon in 1969.  Over the course of six manned spaceflights, 12 men walked on the moon.  In addition to being a great scientific victory for humanity as a whole, this was a great symbolic victory for the United States of America in the Space Race with the Soviet Union.

Hammocks in space:

When you think about it, the moon seems an unlikely place to enjoy a hammock.  According to, temperatures on the surface of the moon vary between -153 to 123 degrees celsius.  This means that most of the time it’s simply far too cold or far too hot to really be hammock weather.  The moon also has no breathable atmosphere, requiring astronauts to wear a space suit at all times.  This need to always be in a space suit means that it is practically impossible to operate a chilled beverage in the traditional manner, further marring the potential enjoyment to be had from the lunar hammock.

Further to this, the Apollo missions were a hugely expensive undertaking and astronauts were sent, in part, in the hopes that they’d undertake scientifically valuable tasks such as gathering samples of moon rocks.  Providing these astronauts with a hammock – and therefore something better to do – would seem to be an odd way to manage their productivity.

lunar module hammocks

Nonetheless, hammocks made their way onto the moon:  the Apollo Lunar Module contained a hammock, giving astronauts somewhere to lie down during their sleep period.  Neil Armstrong reportedly didn’t sleep so well, saying “The quality of the rest was poor in my case”, but no doubt having a hammock beat sleeping on the floor.  Astronaut Pete Conrad was more positive about lunar hammocks, saying “The hammocks were excellent. For the first 4 -1/2 hours, I slept; and it was a good, sound sleep.”.

(While we can assure you that our hammocks at Outdoor Living Direct are weather resistant for all Australian conditions, we wish to clarify that we have not tested them in extraplanetary envronments.  We recommend our hammocks for terrestrial use only.)

The Spanish Armada

What happened:

In 1588, Spain sent 130 ships carrying 8,000 sailors and 18,000 soldiers for a planned invasion of England.  A further 30,000 soldiers were mustered in the Spanish Netherlands to cross over to England by barge under the cover of the warships, making for a planned invasion force of some 56,000 troops.  In successive engagements, the English fleet routed the Spanish ships at sea, preventing this force from landing.  Weather conditions caused many of the Spanish ships to run aground on the coast of Ireland during the return, further compounding the Spanish defeat.

The Spanish Armada

How it might have been different with hammocks:

With hammocks, sailors would have probably gotten a better night’s sleep!

Hammocks were adopted for naval use not long after the Spanish Armada, with the Royal Navy formally adopting the canvas hammock in 1597.  Ships at sea tend to rock about quite violently in harsh weather conditions – this can cause sleeping sailors to be flung from their beds, leading to injury or even death.  A hammock moves in concert with the rocking of a ship, allowing sailors to lay flat even while the ship is being battered one way and the other by even the harshest waves and winds.

Are You Thinking of Changing the Course of History?

Don’t forget your hammock! 

Outdoor Living Direct’s exclusive range of premium hammocks provide ample space for comfort, are weather resistant in all Australian conditions, and built from a high strength fabric providing luxury and durability all in one.

Summer’s here, and our hammocks our on sale – there’s never been a better time to buy a hammock!