Feed the people, casually
June 28, 2020 2:50 PM   Subscribe

Let's say you have a pool and a backyard built for entertaining. You welcome friends/family to drop by and hang out in a casual, relaxed (and now socially-distanced) way. What are your go-to munchies for these occasions? Looking for both snacks and mains ideas that are easy and reliably delicious. Help me take the thinking out of this!
posted by yawper to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I think you want food that guests can pick up without touching anyone else’s portion. So if you made pigs in a blanket or kebabs, you’d want to serve them spaced out on a plate. Sliced stromboli instead of a pizza that needs to be pulled apart. Clementines might be good too. Anything in packets, like peanut butter crackers or little bags of potato chips (this might be especially good if people are wandering in and out more unpredictably). If you made a pasta salad, you could always divide it into plastic cups and set them out that way.

I would avoid dips or anything that involves hands reaching into a bowl of food (peanuts, pretzels).
posted by sallybrown at 3:10 PM on June 28 [10 favorites]

I agree with sallybrown; anything that can be placed and grabbed individually is optimal. Some examples might be mini pizza bites, spanikopita, skewers (fruit, veg, meat), and mini quiches. Given the available evidence about Covid contagion, the main thing is probably just to have people maintaining social distancing and not crowding around the food. But individual portions of things and avoidance of shared serving utensils can't hurt for maximum caution!
posted by DTMFA at 4:13 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]

If you provide a pool and backyard, guests should be bringing food, beer, wine, etc. Should you choose to go over-the-top, lavish care for guests may include: A cooler and ice, maybe bottled water. Hand sanitizer, perhaps a stack of bandanas or inexpensive masks. Copies of fast food menus so guests can have food delivered to share with you. Cups, plates, napkins - I hate paper plates, paper napkins and plastic cutlery, and it's easy to pick up plastic cups and plates (enamel is quite nice). If it's dishwasher safe, it's not that much trouble. Extra beach towels, sunscreen and bug dope are nice.

Pretzels and peanuts that come in plastic containers and can be poured into paper cups. Paper cups of popcorn. Single-serving stuff made for lunchboxes works.
posted by theora55 at 4:18 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]

What my grandmother did was brisket on hard rolls with dill pickles on the side, homemade ice cream for dessert. Advanced level would be a side of "whole beans" (pinto bean soup with salt pork).
posted by 8603 at 5:01 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]

The idea of serving fruit/macaroni/potato salad in plastic, single-serving cups is excellent.

The last thing I brought to a party like that was store-bought (frozen) meatballs heated in Fra Diablo sauce. The dishes I scan the table for are bread or similar stuffed with meat and cheese. In reply to an ask here on the green, I suggested Chef John's sausage stuffed rolls and the asker liked the results using Poppin' Fresh crescent rolls as the wrapper.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:14 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]

individual servings are always festive, and especially on point now. You can put out a tray of anything in these little cups -- fruit salad, potato salad, couscous salad -- with little spoons. People love mac n cheese this way too unless it's a really sticky hot day.

Fruit is always on point for casual summer entertaining and you can serve thick individual slices of watermelon with the rind on which makes them easy to grab and eat.

Also anything in a muffin form: actual muffins, cupcakes, quiche muffins.

Of course if you have a grill, burgers and hot dogs and grilled sausages are classic for a reason, and as a bonus, they're individual portions that can be handed directly to someone right off the fire.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:42 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]

Are there kids coming to hang out? Can’t go wrong with a stash of popsicles.
posted by MadMadam at 6:49 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]

Microwave some red potatoes for three minutes to soften them up, then quarter them. Slather the quarters in melted butter, pour some seasoning (I like Weber brand Montana Steak), and slide them onto kebab skewers. Each skewer should hold about 1.5 potatoes/six quarters. Then throw them on the grill, close the lid, and turn as needed. Each skewer is an individual portion, and grilled potatoes really seem to impress people.

All credit to Kroger.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:58 PM on June 28 [6 favorites]

another fun summer form factor that lends itself well to individual serving is Things On A Stick. Grilled meat/veg kababs; caprese kababs; fruit; etc.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:11 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]

Whoops, I think my question wasn't written so well. To be clear, what I'm really asking is: if you entertain regularly in the summer, what foods do you keep in your back pocket that you whip out quickly/easily to serve casual guests? (I will make sure to serve those foods in a safe, socially-distanced manner [this year at least], but this question is meant to be more timeless.)
posted by yawper at 7:12 PM on June 28

what foods do you keep in your back pocket that you whip out quickly/easily to serve casual guests?

Precooked sausage (meat and vegetarian) keep for weeks in the fridge and are easy to pop on the grill have have ready in minutes. Same thing with frozen veggie burgers. The majority of my friends aren't vegetarian but are veggie friendly. If you need to keep devout carnivores happy, vacuum sealed steaks keep for quite a while and you can just shuffle them into your personal meals if you don't use them as the use by date approaches.

I usually have a few nice cheeses and salamis in the fridge. Unopened, they'll last for months. There's always some olives and interesting pickles around as well. It's pretty easy to put together a charcuterie board using them.

If you're willing to cheat and use the microwave, potatoes and sweet potatoes can be cooked pretty quickly and gussied up to make it seem like you spent more time on them than you did.

Just for myself I usually have a selection of sweet peppers, squash, spinach, etc. that can be quickly diced and turned into a pasta salad.

I also tend to have a variety of quality instant ramen that can be made into something fancier with a few fresh ingredients.

Speaking of fresh, I have an herb garden, and adding some fresh picked herbs to something premade can make them seem a whole lot nicer.

There's lots of finger food like samosas, spring rolls, etc. that are pretty good that you can get frozen and have ready in minutes in the oven / convection oven / air fryer.
posted by Candleman at 8:07 PM on June 28

I stand by my grilled potatoes suggestion. People love them.

The other easy thing is a quick pasta salad. Cooked pasta, cooled, plus balsamic vinegar, diced tomato, and shredded (NOT grated) parmesan cheese, stirred up and refrigerated. Just eyeball the amounts. It always gets a lot of comments, and it's easy. I've been meaning to try it with feta instead of parmesan, but haven't gotten around to it yet. Same basic idea.

Grilled corn on the cob always seems to impress people, although I personally don't care for the taste.

For mains, sausage is stupid easy to cook, and there are enough fancy sausages these days that, even if you just go to a normal supermarket, you can find several different kinds of sausage that many of your guests have never had before. If you go to a specialty foods store or butcher shop, you can end up with innumerable varieties. It's fun for guests to try something new, but it's also sausage, so it's likely pretty yummy, and it's super easy for you. As an added plus, you can repeatedly joke that "this place is a total sausage fest", which, really, never gets old. Let's be honest here.

In bulk, marinated chicken is pretty easy. Buy it pre-marinated from the store, and then just plop it on the grill.

If you have a slow cooker, you can turn literally anything into a dip by throwing the ingredients in and adding a bunch of cream cheese. I went through a dip-making phase a little while ago. Everyone knows buffalo chicken and taco/nacho, but steak chimichurri dip? Sure, just shaved steak, seared cherry tomatoes, and a jar of chimichurri, plus the cream cheese. On my list to try is tonkatsu dip (pork chunks, panko, katsu sauce) and chicken tikka masala dip (pretty straightforward - use naan as the dipper). Not terribly pandemic-friendly, but something to keep in your back pocket. (Not literally, ew.)
posted by kevinbelt at 7:02 AM on June 29

This recipe has been a crowd pleaser: Salsa di Parmigiano

I don't measure anything but instead use the recipe as a general guideline. I will typically use a microplane zester to grate the parmesan, then add the other ingredients to taste. It's delicious with crackers!

I also like to mix a storebought mango salsa (looks like this - not my blog) with a can of rinsed black beans, some lime juice, and Tajin or other chile powder. It's tasty with chips and can also be served on top of fish or chicken.
posted by cp311 at 1:59 PM on June 29

Lumpia or Filipino egg rolls served with sweet chili sauce or spicy vinegar sauce. Life Pro Tip: after growing up with the childhood chore of frying 200 of these for summer parties, as an adult, I happily order from the local Filipino restaurant a few days ahead of time. I arrive to the potluck bearing it aloft to the cheers of everyone who gobbles it up in minutes.

Vietnamese summer rolls. Easy to find online instructions. I totally cheat and use spring salad mix, fresh herbs like cilantro or basil and spritzed with lime juice. I can use cooked shrimp or even buy the bulgogi from the Asian store and grill it as the filling.
posted by IndigoOnTheGo at 1:41 PM on June 30

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