It’s summer time! Cookouts abound and from Memorial to Labor Day, grilling and outdoor gatherings are the fête du jour! With that, when you are invited to one of these lovely events, I have suggestions for what you should bring that will be enjoyed by most!
10 Best Things to Bring to a Summer Cookout:
1. Kid-Friendly Fare. If you are one of only a few parents in attendance of a party that is family-oriented, a kid-friendly dish like Mac ‘N Cheese or chicken nuggets are greatly appreciated–and the crazy secret is that the adults eat this too–so no worries about not having a hit on your hands.
2. Say Cheese. The Big Trend right now is beautiful mozzarella slices with tomato and basil on top of each slice–a gorgeous site to behold–and the bigger the plate and the more on it the prettier it looks! Occasionally someone will drizzle a vinaigrette over it–it holds up very well and is usually devoured immediately!
3. Adult Cupcakes. A friend made a gorgeous set of chocolate rum cupcakes complete with a liquor-infused icing—-fabulous!! A very fun juxtaposition.
4. Cocktails. It’s BYOB-what to do? Mix up a lovely big cocktail in a glass sun tea jar filled with ice. A friend recently brought “Pink Panties”. Other faves of late have been Mojitos, Margaritas—and the awesome Pomegranate Martinis…..to die for! If it’s a non-alcoholic event, fancy sparkling sodas from specialty stores such as Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods are really fun. Our local store in Ridgecrest, CA, Bottany’s Desire sells lovely sparkling imported juice beverages that are the first to go at parties!
5. Waldorf Salad. Although I’d store the lettuce leaves on a bag of ice wrapped in paper towels to keep in the sun before serving. The lovely mayo dressing actually preserves in the sun–it’s a really fun combination of apples and dried fruits–occasionally add tuna or cooked chopped chicken—lovely, fresh, salty and sweet! Wonderful, wonderful side dish! (P.S. from Anne. If you don’t know what Waldorf Salad is, like me, there is a recipe here. Also, while you always have to be careful with mayonnaise dishes in the sun, particularly if you are adding something like chicken to it, Ruth is right that commercially-prepared mayonnaise is relatively safe. Read more about mayonnaise here.)
6. Ambrosia. In the spirit of milk-based items, my Darling Husband’s favorite side dish anywhere is Ambrosia! Aptly named, it’s a sweet dish with a whipped and/or sour cream base–depending on which recipe you use–we prefer low-fat Cool Whip with dry pistachio pudding mix and canned fruit cocktail. Super easy to make–serve super cold. Delish! Kids and adults alike love this refreshing side/desert.
7. Crockpots. Crockpots do show up—filled with wonderful items! A gorgeous baked bean or chili dish is always fabulous–esp. if hot dogs are on the grill–making them into chili dogs is THE BEST! Also, meatballs–super easy and always loved–a recent friend did a BBQ/Marinara sauce that was lovely! Or even making them in a cream sauce–yums!
8. Pigs in a Blanket. Even the Ritz Carlton can’t get rid of this appetizer offering! Cocktail weenies wrapped in dough. Always a hit throughout the ages!!
9. Fruit and Veggie Tray. Yes—a veggie tray–or fruit and veggie tray. And don’t just stick to celery and carrots. People LOVE sliced peppers, mushrooms, green onions are hot right now–asparagus. The more variety, the faster it will disappear. Obviously melons, grapes and cherries are always a picnic favorite too!
10. Trifle. A trifle will always be loved—for 4th of July it’s red, white and blue baby! I like mine with angel food cake, vanilla pudding, whipped cream and then strawberries and blueberries layered one after the other after the other….A chocolate version is to die for as well, with a chocolate bundt cake crumbled between chocolate pudding, whipped cream and even crumbled Oreos. Yummo, as my Aussie friends say!
Presentation is everything! Some of the best money I’ve spent has been on items to bring things to events. A divided veggie and dip holder is expensive–but worth it’s weight in gold! A carry-all that holds a 9×13 glass covered baking dish that comes with a hot and cold pack is a staple. We received ours as a wedding present 13 years ago, and I use it all of the time. My trifle dish always looks amazing–and everyone’s selling them these days! Love it!! If it looks good, chances are that’s the thing people will go to over and over and over….
With that note–what to not bring to a cookout:
1. Store-bought veggie trays. If you do bring a store-bought veggie tray–make sure everything looks REALLY fresh—and ideally if you have a few seconds (which sometimes I admit even I don’t)–plate it on your own wares! It just pops more!
2. Spinach artichoke dip. I’m SO OVER right now the spinach artichoke dip. I think it’s really fattening and so NOT in the food of the 2010 decade! It SCREAMS the ’90s to me!
3. Bad potato salad. Yes–it’s bland and fattening and tastes of NOTHING! We’re WAY better off without it! Skip the calories, and if I do use those calories–make them worth my while, baby!
4. Cheap versions of food the host is already preparing. Okay– a friend did this years ago—20 Big Macs from McDonald’s. And this was at a cookout where we were making and grilling gourmet burgers—just don’t bring anything at all! OY! (But guess what—they all got eaten–but not by me!)
5. Outdated sushi. If you’re going to do sushi–super super cool! BUT–double check the dates or order rolls fresh from a really reputable restaurant–otherwise it’s a quick trip to the ER with food poisoning. (After writing this I’m beginning to think I’ve almost seen it all here!)
6. Bland Soup. If it’s a hot day, espcially a hot day–if you’re bringing a hot dish–make it spicy or have some definitive taste. This is NOT the place for chicken soup! As seen on a Top Chef cookoff challenge…ugh! They could have easily made it into a great chicken tortilla soup and won over the judges…but not so much with plain soup….save those for winter!!
7. Spam. Do not bring canned meat to a cookout–or a product with that in use. Please. Enough said!
8. Bad Dessert. I have to include this from “Roland’s Cookout Rules“–which hilariously yet truthfully includes:
“If u just started baking, you are not allowed to bring any desserts.”
9. New recipes. Please try them first! (Not that I’m not guilty of this myself.) There are so many iffies….and really, we all just want our food to shine!!
10. A Bad Attitude. The WORST thing to bring to a cookout is a stressed-out, negative person. STAY HOME!! Don’t just sit in a corner and sulk. I have no time and tolerance for that–and trust me, neither does the host/hostess. Fuggeddaboudit!
I am so excited to see what suggestions and feedback our readers have for cookouts! Please respond–we read every response and I anxiously await new ideas and feedback on my ideas. Bon Appetit!
Even a novice cook can bring a nice offering to a potluck. Below are some of the winners I was able to produce with very minimal effort or cooking talent.
I once made a shrimp platter that looked gorgeous, was healthy and every last bit was eaten. I bought a bag of frozen (shell-on) shrimp, boiled them at home and peeled them, leaving the tails on. To serve, use two round Pyrex glass bowls, one large and one small. Put the small bowl inside the large bowl and fill the gap between the two bowls with crushed ice. Put the peeled shrimp on the ice and fill the smaller bowl with cocktail sauce. Wish I could find the picture from this one! So easy!
Update: 2012 Cookout Trends