Watch common touch points with backyard gatherings

Besides physical distancing, the most important thing to know about hosting a gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic is to eliminate common touch points. You can’t just plan a big buffet anymore.

When planning your menu, how it is served is as important as the food. Take advantage of individually packaged items such as potato chips and taco chips. Portion salsas and dips in individual servings so each guest can pick one up. Pre-portion appetizers, side dishes and desserts. Serve them on a tray so guests can help themselves. Pre-wrap utensils in napkins and place food on different tables to prevent too many people from congregating in one place.

Single servings plated by one person in the kitchen works well or you can serve family style for people in the same bubble. If you want people to help themselves, food on skewers and barbecue work well.

Experts also advise against using the same plates and cups for second helpings in order to prevent spreading germs. Instead, use compostable and recyclable dinnerware to reduce the environmental impact of paper waste. If you don’t want to use disposable dishes and utensils you could put out a bin for people to leave their dirty dishes.

Be sure you have enough space for distancing. When you invite people, let them know who else is coming, how many people, that the dinner will be shorter than usual and will be cancelled if it rains. Don’t be offended if someone declines your invitation.

Clarify rules of physical distancing, mask wearing, sanitizer use, gloves and the bathroom situation up front. Have masks, hand sanitizer and anything else you’d like guests to have just in case they don’t bring them.

Serve a cocktail, wine or beer but not too much alcohol. Physical distancing is directly related to the amount of alcohol consumed.

Be prepared for guests to use your bathroom. Rather than cloth towels offer disposable ones. And also put out wipes, lots of soap and hand sanitizer. A handwashing station in the backyard is also a good idea.

You don’t have to lay out a big spread. Keep it simple.

Following are recipe suggestions for a Mediterranean themed backyard menu.

Mediterranean style chicken kebabs

These chicken kebabs marinated in a tangy blend of yogurt, lemon, garlic and spices are a huge crowd-pleaser. Chicken thighs are more flavourful than chicken breasts, and less likely to dry out.

  • 1 c. plain whole milk Greek yogurt 250 mL
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil 30 mL
  • 2 tsp. paprika 10 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin 2 mL
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon .5 mL
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes 5 mL
  • zest from one lemon
  • 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, from one lemon 30 mL
  • 1 3/4 tsp. salt 8 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 2 mL
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of any excess fat and cut into large bite-sized pieces 1 kg
  • 1 large red onion, cut into wedges
  • 6-8 skewers

In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, olive oil, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, pepper and garlic. Add the chicken pieces and marinate for eight hours or overnight.

Thread the chicken onto metal or wooden skewers that have been soaked in water for half an hour, folding if the pieces are long and thin, alternating occasionally with the red onions. Be sure not to cram the skewers.

Place the kebabs on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Grill the chicken kebabs until golden brown and cooked through, turning skewers occasionally, 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the skewers to a platter and serve.

Spanakopita

  • 1 box frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 4 green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil 30 mL
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 c. chopped parsley or fresh dill 60 mL
  • 4 large eggs
  • 8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled 225 g
  • 2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese 30 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 2 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper 1 mL
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 box phyllo dough, thawed
  • 1/2 lb. butter, melted 225 g

Add olive oil to a large skillet over medium high heat.

Add chopped onion. Sauté until soft but not browned. Squeeze out all liquid from the frozen chopped spinach and add to the skillet. Add green onions and parsley. Cook until all the liquid is evaporated and spinach is dry. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Lightly beat eggs and add to cooled spinach mixture. Add feta cheese and seasonings. Stir to mix.

Lay out the phyllo pastry on the counter and with kitchen shears, cut in half lengthwise and then cut each half in half again so that you have four stacks of phyllo strips. Cover with a dry tea towel. Then cover with a damp tea towel.

Brush the countertop with melted butter so that you can lay out six to seven strips of phyllo pastry. This prevents strips of pastry from moving around and also butters the outside at the same time. Brush each strip with melted butter and top with a second strip of pastry.

Brush the top one inch (2.5 cm) of the second strip with butter. Put a tablespoon (15 mL) of spinach mixture on the bottom end of the pastry strip. Fold the corner over the spinach mixture to make a triangle. Continue to fold like a flag until the whole strip is folded into a triangular packet. Brush with melted butter. Continue with the remainder of pastry and filling.

Bake at 375 F (190 C) for about 20 minutes or until brown and crispy. These can be frozen unbaked and stored in freezer up to three months. Bake frozen at 375 F for about 20 minutes.

Hummus

  • 1 c. dried chickpeas 250 mL
  • 1 tsp. baking soda 5 mL
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 c. tahini 60 mL
  • 1 clove of fresh garlic
  • olive oil

Put the chickpeas in a pot and fill with water. Bring to a boil and turn off heat. Add baking soda. Let soak overnight.

The next day drain and rinse the chickpeas. Add chickpeas back to the pot and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil and lower heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and save some of the liquid.

Add chickpeas to your blender while they are still warm. Add garlic, lemon juice, tahini and kosher salt, to taste. Add enough of the cooking water to puree them. Continue to puree until very smooth.

Serve in a shallow dish and drizzle with olive oil.

Pita chips

  • 1 bag pita bread
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt

Cut the pita bread into bite size pieces and then split them in half. Lay them out on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and generously sprinkle with salt. Bake in a 350 F (C) oven for about 10 minutes or until toasted. Serve or store in an airtight container.

Sarah Galvin is a home economist, teacher and farmers’ market vendor at Swift Current, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. She writes a blog at allourfingersinthepie.blogspot.ca. Contact: team@producer.com.

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