Help me feed my friends.
May 10, 2013 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Summer recipes for a hungry crew and a cook who kind of sucks at following recipes?

Although I don’t cook for myself basically ever, I do like to make lots of food for lots of friends. I normally have “Family Dinners” about once a month for about 8 to 10 people.

However, I normally hold these dinners during the winter when there’s not much else to do. That means all of the dishes I can make for a ton of people are very… wintery. Beef bourguignon, bacon-wrapped chicken, sautéed pierogies and apples with pork, and the like.

This year, I have a huge patio that gets great sun. I’d like to have “Outdoor Family Dinners.”

Ain’t nobody wanna eat beef bourguignon in the summer.

The rub: I’m really bad at following directions to a T, but am pretty much a FREAKIN' GENIUS at making stuff up as I go along—using a recipe as a guideline to check in on. Typical ADD, I guess.

So. I need really easy, uncomplicated summer recipes that a.) I can screw around with 'til it tastes good, and b.) will feed about 10 people.

First on the agenda will be something like:

Appetizer: haloumi cheese salad with honeydew melon and mint.
Main: herbed roast chicken with a drop or two of truffle oil.
Sides: roasted broccoli with a squeeze of lemon.
Dessert: strawberry shortcake from the bakery across the street.

(Yes, I do the normal BBQs and potlucks. Family Dinners are something a tiiiiiny bit more formal.)

posted by functionequalsform to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The answer is this noodle salad. It makes a huge amount of food and would be perfect as a hearty summer side dish for grilled things.
posted by something something at 7:42 AM on May 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you can make beef bouruignon or whatever it's called then you can make carnitas for tacos. Add some chimichurri sauce and you're all set.

How about a seafood boil? Shrimp, other seafood, potatoes, corn. It looks impressive but it's so freakin' easy.

For inspiration, I'd take a look at Nigella Lawson and The Pioneer Woman. Their recipes are very simple and forgiving but the food that comes out of them is pretty yummy too.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:54 AM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is my go-to summer potluck dish; it makes a lot and can easily be doubled. (Note: I always use balsamic instead of red wine vinegar.) This is also ridiculously easy and quick to make, and tastes yummy. Also, I don't eat meat, but I'm obsessed with this sauce and I bet it would go well with other proteins.
posted by pitrified at 8:02 AM on May 10, 2013

Best answer: * pulls up chair and sits down *

I do this a lot. I'd go with a buffet/pot luck approach, and fortunately there are 4 approaches you could go with, three of which come from different international cuisines so you could get all "OOH, we have a theme, aren't we being festive" about it. The best part is that in a lot of these cases, each of the individual recipes are really simple, and sometimes aren't even recipes, but you just have a lot of things that all go together as a group.

THEME 1: Italian Antipasti buffet.

I am literally doing this exact thing tonight - and a lot of the dishes are just really, really simple "mix ingredient x into ingredient y, dump into a bowl, and serve" kinds of things, while others are even simpler ("open the salami, put on a plate"). If there are a couple Italian nibbly-things you know you can do well, then you can just round it out with a couple bowls of olives, a platter of different Italian cold cuts and cheeses, my own take on caprese salad (take one tub of marinated mozzarella bites, dump that into a bowl - add one container cherry tomatoes, stir up, serve in a big bowl), a green salad and some really good bread. A simple fruit dessert would be fine (I'm getting a couple tubs of berries and spiking them with some lemon juice and some chopped mint). There's another simple Italian dish - take two cans of cannelini beans and one can of tuna, and mix them together with a dressing made of olive oil and some herbs.

THEME 2: Provencal French Salad Nicoise/Grand Aoili.

This was another thing I did that went over really well. The ingredients for these two different dishes were almost identical; I just put out bowls of each ingredient and let people pick and choose which they wanted: lettuce, tuna, black olives, sliced green pepper, hardboiled eggs cut into wedges, tomato cut into wedges, anchovies, some steamed green beans, and some boiled potatoes. Then I made an "aoili" by roasting a head of garlic, mashing the roasted garlic up and mixing that in with some mayonaise. (That's actually all that aoili is.) I put that all out on nice plates and had some bread standing by, and people picked and chose what they wanted on their individual plates. I had some tapenade with the bread for an appetizer (another easy thing - pitted black olives, an anchovy or two, and some herbs like oregano and thyme and rosemary, whizzed through a food processor until it's a paste). Fruit for dessert here too.

THEME 3: Middle Eastern Mezze.

There are a ton of recipes for hummus, tabbouleh, and baba ganoush. Most hummus recipes involve nothing more than throwing things into a food processor. Most tabbouleh recipes involve nothing more than chopping a shit-ton of herbs and a couple tomatoes, and throwing that into some cooked bulgur. Most baba ganoush recipes involve nothing more than cooking an eggplant and then throwing it into a food processor with some seasonings and mushing it up. Set those out with pita and some falafel (if you want, cheat and use a mix) and have at it.

THEME 4: New England Clambake.

This is a bit of a different approach - everything goes into the same pot, but what you put into the pot varies. But the only complicating factor is keeping track of when you put things into the pot and then waiting. Typically a clambake goes like this:
Get a big-ass pot. Soak some seaweed (get a pack of the weird seaweed they have in the asian section of your supermarket, it'll work fine) and throw it in the pot. Put it on the heat. Throw the stuff in that will take longest to cook, cover the lid, and wait. (Get a recipe that will tell you how long.)

Throw in the next stuff and put the lid back on and wait.

Throw in the next stuff and put the lid back on and wait.

Repeat as necessary.

Throw in the clams last, put the lid back on and wait until the clams steam open. Then take everything out and dive in.
What people put into a clambake can be things like: potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, hot dogs, sausage, whole chickens, lobster, and fish fillets. Usually all you need to do to each ingredient to get it ready for the pot is either clean it (the potatoes), and maybe wrap it in parchment (the fish filets or the chicken). Otherwise you just throw it in at the right time. The seaweed and the time and the steam does the rest.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:05 AM on May 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: See, I'd move all of the food outdoors to the grill. You can do veggies in foil, on skewers or in a special veggie basket. This will keep from heating up the house with the oven on. Plus--grilling!

A traditional summer evening meal can be Salmon, Asperagus, Rice, with whatever Appetizer and Dessert you like.

If you want to do something super light:

Salade Niçoise
Crusty Bread

Light, lemony pasta is nice for a crowd, or Pasta Primavera (Spring Pasta).
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:20 AM on May 10, 2013

Best answer: Fish is great for summer. Baked, broiled, or grilled is easiest, and "recipe" usually means choosing what combination of herbs, spices, and acids (vinegar, lemon) will be involved.

Artichokes are also great, impressive, unexpected, and super-easy to prepare - just steam them 20-30 minutes until the leaves are good and loose. Since you're being fancy, that means take a knife and cut them in half, then scrape out the choke part. Serve with melted butter (salt, herbs, lemon in the butter?)
posted by aimedwander at 8:31 AM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For starters, outside dinners during the summer should take advantage of grills, or be cold. You can upscale and still grill.

amuse: chilled gazpacho shooters
appartif: mussels with capers, lardons and spinach (I have a saute pan and a cover for it which I use on my grill)
salade: Caesar salad with grilled romaine lettuce (its that simple)
normand: raw radishes with mint coulis
plat principal: Marinated Flank Steak and haricort verts with garlic and almond butter sauce over quinoa (or couscous if you are boycotting quinoa)
cheese / dessert: selection of 3 cheeses, fresh berries and slices of pear, kiwi, and/or starfruit

1. pre-prep the misenplace, pull cheeses to come to room temp.
2. Soup should be prepped and chilled for 6 hours, I do a very blended gazpacho, and as a last step, just before service I blend in an avocado. This gets spooned either into dessert wine glasses or carved cucumber bowls.
3. I put on my pan with a little pork fat, onions, shallots and garlic, lardons go on about 2 minutes later, add wine, wait 2 minutes, add stock, and mussels lid and cover. Toss, throw in some halved cherry tomatoes and spinnach, cover again, and wait 2 more minutes - then serve family style with two bowls - one for the mussels one for the shells.
4. As the mussels come off, I put the lid directly on the grill to get it hotter faster. The lettuce is grilled whole in front of my guests, goes straight to the cutting board, is tossed with the anchovies, cheese, and croutons and plated. The Caesar dressing and croutons are done ahead of time for the salad.
5. The steaks are removed from the marinade and go onto the grill.
6. I pull out the pre-cut radishes and the mint coulis. I dollop the coulis on the radishes and serve. Flip steaks after 4-6 minutes.
7. Quick scrub the mussel pan, empty and re-use for haricort verts - next to the steaks. Flip and turn steaks 90 degrees 4-6 minutes. Flip again for another 4-6 minutes. Steaks and verts should come out at the same time.
8. Quinoa or couscous I generally pre-prep and plate cool - the steak and the haricort verts provide a nice temperature differential.
9. Plate cheeses, cut fruit, and serve the final course.

All the while, I'm generally working on my own plate and trying to keep up with the conversation. People are amazed and overly focused on what you are doing for a few minutes during it because it does get busy, but generally they also re-focus on their conversations once they realize it is planned and paced.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:34 AM on May 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Get a big-ass paella pan and do it on the grill. Start with gazpacho. Tons of recipe online, very improvisation-friendly, once you get the basic idea down.
posted by neroli at 12:37 PM on May 10, 2013

Best answer: Since summer tomatoes are so great, I like Ina Garten's panzanella and sausages. And my favorite dessert (even better than the fancy ones) is coffee ice cream with chocolate syrup on top. Two cookies on the side if you wanna get fancy.
posted by biscuits at 5:32 PM on May 10, 2013

Best answer: What great responses!

Cold soups galore, put some fresh fruits (tomato is a fruit, cherries) or even asparagus or beets and flavor it up, simmer, puree, chill, top with dollop of yogurt? sour cream? whip cream? chopped nuts? riff away. How about 2 soups! Pour them at the same time into the same bowl - green pea on one side and pink beet on the other. (In the winter a cheese soup on one side and black bean on the other.)

Consider pickled shrimp, very improvisational and easy to make ahead. Can be served with a salsa base and even some avocado. This recipe is surprisingly really good I hope it is okay that it has ketchup in it, if you must just use tomato paste, water and sprinkle of sugar.

Along the same lines this Scallop and watermelon ceviche is awesome during watermelon season and uses the whitish watermelon between the pink and green. Serve with chips or plain or with a homemade black pepper shortbread! Then make a watermelon soup with the fruit, a scoop a lime yogurt, some fresh ginger, puree, chill, serve with a small dollop of lime yogurt or whip cream!

Agree with a shrimp boil, not very formal but you could make it more formal. This is a fabulous template. You will need probably 2 large pots for boiling (a hot stove top) and to make yourself a cheat sheet of put this in at this time, then that so many minute later, etc, etc or get yourself an organized sous chef. Must pour the food on the table with all the people there to best effect.

Also agree with taco bar. 1 or 2 kinds of pulled meat then many bowls of sides that you can riff on - beans, rice, toppings. Mexican extras all around - margaritas, beer, tequila, lime frozen ice cream (homemade?).

Marinated and grilled meat - flank steak or other flavorful meat thinly sliced and served near some carmelized onion, horseradish sauce, roasted red pepper or asparagus and breads, and salad so people can make their own sandwich or salad.

Homemade cream puffs (so easy, make ahead and freeze) filled with chilled (homemade) whip cream (look up a recipe to stabilize so you can make ahead) or vanilla ice cream and chocolate or other sauce.

Soda floats bar - get a case of multi flavored natural sodas (black cherry, lime, orange, root beer) served with ice cream and whip cream and cups, spoons, and straws. Curly straws even!
posted by RoadScholar at 5:34 PM on May 10, 2013

Best answer: Get the How to Cook Everything app. Almost every recipe is designed to be screwed with (sometimes with suggestions or even tables of things you can combine wildly).

A few things from it:
Cold soba noodles with mushrooms (or not) and dipping sauce
Cold pseudo-Korean noodles, spicy (or not) with pork (or not) and with peanut or sesame sauce
Granita of whatever
Summer pudding with berries etc.
Seafood salad (instructions say "see this simple recipe as a guideline, not a dogma" -- which is typical of the book and the app)
Quick-pickled vegetables
Bean salad (includes "7 additions to" and "8 variations on")
posted by wintersweet at 11:11 AM on May 11, 2013

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