Outdoor Events, Part III: Food Wrangling

BBQFor those of you who entertain in your backyard, some of this will come as no surprise, but special consideration needs to be made when planning food for outdoor events. If it is an off-premise (not hotel) event, there are three options:

  • Food can be completely cooked and ready to serve upon arrival to the site.
  • Food can be partially cooked in a kitchen and finish cooking can be done at the site.
  • Everything can be cooked from scratch on site.

The Basics:

  • When food needs to sit outside, be sure it is shaded from direct sunlight. Never leave cream or mayonnaise-based foods sitting out because bacteria can grow causing food poisoning. On a hot day avoid foods that spoil quickly such as raw shellfish, mayonnaise-based items or cream pies and cakes.
  • Do not serve a hot, heavy meal on a muggy, humid day. Humidity will also wilts pretzels, potato chips and cut cheeses. If you are using salt shakers in high humidity, put some uncooked rice in the shaker to keep the salt from clumping.
  • To hold sandwiches over three hours, use crusty bread, not sliced bread. Some examples would be ciabatta, foccacia, or baguettes. Use crisp lettuce such as iceberg or romaine or very thinly sliced cucumbers for some crunch. Instead of mayonnaise, use olive oil or vinaigrette. Use hard aged cheese, because soft cheese will melt. Use cured meats such as bacon, prosciutto, ham or salami instead of fresh meats like roast beef or turkey. Wrap sandwiches in thin, waxed paper.
  • Italian Foccacia bread is good for outdoor events because it is already chewy, it won’t dry out as fast as other breads and it doesn’t require butter service.

Grilling Tips:

  • Meat, especially if it is raw, attracts bees. If you are grilling steaks, keep them covered until they are tossed on the grill. Marinate the meat in advance to tenderize and add flavor. When the meat is on the grill and after removing brush with NEW marinade to avoid food poisoning.
  • Shrimp often sticks to the grill, so a solution is to wrap the shrimp in pancetta, which will also give a great flavor to the shrimp. When using shrimp, use two parallel skewers to keep the shrimp from twisting and so they will cook evenly. Cook three minutes on each side. Turn from the middle so stuff won’t fall off.
  • Use NEW garden rakes to roast hot dogs, Italian sausage, brats, linguini, chorizo or any other type of sausage. You can roast a dozen or more at one time, depending on the number of tines on the rake.
  • Zucchini should be cut lengthwise into wide ribbons to grill. Grilled romaine lettuce is popular now, especially sucrine, which is a baby romaine.
  • Make "rafts" of 4 or 5 asparagus spears, by using two skewers to connect them. This keeps them from falling through the grill. And, it is easier to turn than one at a time.
  • If you are making kabobs with wooden skewers, soak them in water for at least 20 minutes so they won’t burn.
  • Halloumi is a cheese you can grill. It is a fresh white cheese from Cyprus that doesn’t melt. It has the flavor of Feta and the texture of Mozzarella. Just brush with olive oil, grill two minutes on each side and drizzle with lemon juice. For vegetarians you can grill tofu and serve it with an asiago walnut pesto.

See also Outdoor Events, Part I: Site Selection and Outdoor Events, Part II: What You Don't Plan for Can Hurt You.

Photo: flickr/kidstream

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