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.


Crawfish and Shrimp Boil

A Lowcountry boil can be made outdoors by simply moving your stockpot to the grill. The boil can be stretched across a table or divided on sheet pans for social distancing.

Makes 4-6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

5 garlic cloves

2 sweet or yellow onions, peeled, quartered

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

½ teaspoon dry mustard (optional)

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

¼ cup Old Bay seasoning (plus more for garnish)

2 lemons, quartered

2 pounds small new potatoes, quartered

3 stalks of celery

4 ears of corn, shucked, cut in half

1 pound andouille, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 pound of large fresh shrimp (16-20)

1 ½ pounds live crawfish (intact)

Fresh herbs for garnish (parsley, dill) for garnish

Make the boil: Using a large stockpot, heat oil, then add onions, and sauté until fragrant. Add garlic, bay leaves, salt, peppercorns, mustard, red pepper flakes, and Old Bay, stirring until fragrant.

Add water to stockpot mixture until 3/4 full, then add lemons, celery, and bring to a rolling boil. Add potatoes, crawfish, and andouille. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until crawfish turn pink, return to a boil, then add corn. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes. Add shrimp and continue cooking just until shrimp turn pink.

Drain and remove to a sheet pan. To serve, drizzle with drawn butter, and dust with more Old Bay. Garnish with fresh herbs.

Cheesecake tarts can be made in individual portions to avoid re-using utensils.
Jamila Robinson
Cheesecake tarts can be made in individual portions to avoid re-using utensils.

Individual Cheesecake Tarts

Makes six 4-inch tarts


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)


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.

A 1-pound black bass is a perfect social-distance serving.
Jamila Robinson
A 1-pound black bass is a perfect social-distance serving.

Grilled Whole Black Bass

Serves 4

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

Fresh herbs

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.