We all look forward to sunny weather when we can finally shake out the picnic blanket, set the barbecue a-blaze or enjoy a late supper under the stars — and we all miss it when it’s gone.

Lazy Days and Beach Blankets celebrates the joy of eating alfresco with friends and provides inspiration with evocative images of barbecue scenes, lunches on a Mediterranean terrace and tables beautifully set for dinner in the balmy night air.

There are more than 100 recipes and ideas for dining alfresco with friends —from picnic food and summer salads, to barbecues, informal lunches, cool drinks on the terrace and dinner under the stars.

Metro picked up this delightfully light meal from Lazy Days and Beach Blankets (Ryland Peters & Small, $34.95, 2009; www.rylandpeters.com):

Chicken Panini with Roasted Bell Pepper and Arugula Aioli
Panini, which is Italian for toasted sandwiches, can be prepared ahead of time, then cooked just before you want to serve them. The combination of grilled peppers, tender chicken, and a delicious arugula aioli is definitely hard to beat.
Serves 4

• 2 red bell peppers, left whole
• 4 small focaccia or Turkish rolls, halved
• 2 large, cooked chicken breasts, shredded
• a small handful of baby spinach

Arugula aioli:
• 1 egg yolk
• 1 tsp white wine vinegar
• a bunch of arugula, about 2 oz., coarsely chopped
• 1 garlic clove, crushed
• 2/3 cup olive oil
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the grill, then cook the bell peppers over hot coals or under a preheated broiler for about 20 minutes until charred all over. Put into a plastic bag and let cool. Peel off the skin and discard the seeds, then cut the flesh into strips.

To make the aioli, put the egg yolk, vinegar, and a little salt and pepper into a food processor and blend briefly until frothy. Add the arugula and garlic and pulse for 30 seconds. With the machine still running, gradually pour in the olive oil until the sauce is thickened and speckled with vivid green. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Spread a little of the arugula aioli onto the cut sides of each roll and fill the rolls with the chicken, pepper strips, and spinach leaves. Press the halves together.

Preheat the flat plate on the grill and cook the panini over low heat for 4-5 minutes, then, using tongs, flip over and cook the other side for a further 5 minutes until toasted. If you don’t have a flat plate, cook on a cast-iron griddle, either on the grill, or on the stove. Serve hot.

Orange and Lemon Bake with Minted Yogurt
This is simply a sublime dessert — sponge cake, coconut, ground almonds, and citrus fruits.
Serves 8

• 4 eggs
• ½ cup sugar
• 1 ¼ cups dried unsweetened shredded coconut
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• 1 cup ground almonds
• grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 2 unwaxed lemons
• grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
• ½ cup milk
• 1/3 cup self-rising flour

Minted yogurt:
• 1 cup plain yogurt
• a bunch of mint, finely chopped

• a cake pan, 8 inches in diameter, buttered

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Put the eggs, sugar, coconut, butter, ground almonds, lemon and orange zest and juice, milk, and flour into a food processor and process for 1 minute until blended. Transfer the mixture to the buttered pan and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Put the yogurt into a bowl and add the mint. Mix well and serve spooned over the bake.

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