Coronavirus restrictions can be challenging for those of us who miss having friends over for dinner. But now that we’re in the yellow phase, I’ve been easing into inviting one or two friends at a time to my backyard for social-distance picnics.
I still prefer to do all the cooking at my house to control ingredients and prevent contamination. And even in the backyard, I’m still hypervigilant with food safety protocols, wearing masks, keeping hand sanitizer on the table, and constantly cleaning and disinfecting tables and chairs.
I recently had two friends over, served a Lowcountry-style boil with crawfish, shrimp, and andouille. On a different day, I served grilled whole fish and lemon cheesecake tarts. These simple dishes are easily portioned into separate, social-distance servings and still offer the camaraderie of a dinner party, even from six feet away.
Individual Cheesecake Tarts
Makes six 4-inch tarts
FOR THE CRUST:
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (plus more for rolling)
1 stick unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt
Ice water (⅛ to ¼ cup)
FOR THE FILLING
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese
⅔ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
Fresh fruit and mint for garnish
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using a food processor, pulse flour, butter, sugar, yolks, and salt until it forms a crumbly meal.
With the machine running, drizzle in ice water, a small amount at a time, just until the dough forms. Take care not to overwork the dough. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a rectangle. Divide into six portions, then press into 4-inch tart shells or ramekins.
Using pie weights, blind bake the tart shells for about 10 minutes. While shells are baking, make the filling.
For the filling: Using a food processor or blender, mix cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, zest, juice, and salt until creamy. Add eggs and yolk and process until smooth. Pour into prepared pastry shells. Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes or until set. Chill completely. Garnish with fruit, then serve.
Pro tip: For a lime variation, substitute lemon juice and zest with two limes.
Grilled Whole Black Bass
Whole fish prepared on the grill is not only flavorful, it’s perfect for social-distancing. The authors of “How to Dress An Egg” offer this advice when grilling whole fish: Find a spot on the grill with fairly even heat and gently lay the fish down there. The heads should go over the hotter part of the grill so the thickest meat gets the most heat. Once you put fish on the grill, leave it, even if it’s not exactly in the prime spot. They suggest using a spatula and a set of tongs. A grill basket also brings great results without worry of the fish sticking.
2 whole black bass, 1 to 1 ½ pounds each, cleaned, gutted
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 shallot, chopped
Lemon or orange slices
Prepare the fish: Rub the fish evenly all over with oil. Sprinkle fish inside and out with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. Stuff the cavity with shallots, lemon slices, and herbs.
Heat grill to medium high. Grill fish for about four minutes on each side. Remove to separate plates. Drizzle with olive oil.
— Adapted from “How to Dress an Egg: Surprising and Simple Ways to Cook Dinner” by Ned Baldwin and Peter Kaminsky.