9 cooking tips for outdoor entertaining (on a grocery store budget)

Jun 23 2016, 12:45 am

Whether your summer plans include backyard BBQs, cozying up around a campfire, or drinks on your deck, what’s on the menu tends to make its way into our memories.

In the Instagram era of perfectly set tables and colour-coordinated gourmet spreads, it’s hard not to panic if you’re in charge of the food…but don’t want to spend a lot of money.

Jess Fleming / Daily Hive

Jess Fleming/Daily Hive

We talked to Chef Andrea Buckett, who works with the President’s Choice line of foods, to get some din-spiration for what to serve this summer, and how to put together an al fresco meal without stressing out.

1. Stick to the classics, but learn to switch them up.

For example,  potato salad is a classic summertime side dish you can elevate if you serve it topped with pico de gallo (basically a chunky salsa), and shredded cheese. Similarly, a classic bean salad can get a nice pump up from a zingy addition like pico de gallo or Texas Caviar. Look for condiments like a sriracha mayo that can add zing to egg sandwiches.

2. It doesn’t have to be hot dogs and marshmallows.

There’s nothing wrong with those, says Buckett, but you can easily have a more “foodie” outdoor eating experience just by thinking a bit outside the box. Swap the hot dogs for a more gourmet sausage (PC’s Chicken, kale, and asiago sausage fits the bill), and go for something besides S’mores for dessert.

3. Be protein smart.

Protein can often be the biggest expense on your grocery list for parties. Look for ways to find a more affordable alternative, whether its by using something packaged or fresh. If a packaged pre-made salmon burger is too costly, you could use canned salmon to make salmon burgers instead. Or you could opt for fresh but ready-to-cook items, like PC’s Harissa chicken which is flattened and pre-seasoned, and ready to throw on the grill without you needed to shop for a marinade.

4. Presentation can be a big wow factor.

Fill a skillet with a circle of melty cheese like camembert, let it melt on the grill or campfire, then serve it with bread or crackers for dipping. It looks really impressive, but you don’t have to do much of anything! For another cool trick of the eye, plate your salads on a flat plate, rather than piled up in a bowl for terrific visual impact.

Jess Fleming / Daily Hive

Jess Fleming / Daily Hive

5. Make it about “assembly” and not as much about “cooking.”

Focus on ways to easily wow with dishes that are more about putting components together that don’t require you to be a master chef. A dish like BBQ Lamb on Beet Hummus Flatbread is stunning to look at (that magenta spread!) and is just about warming up a flatbread, schmearing it with Beet Hummus, then crumbling goat cheese and some seasoned and cooked ground lamb on top.

6.Take your cold drink game to the next level with ease.

Freeze non-alcoholic mixers in popsicle molds and guests can put them in their alcoholic drinks, or or kids at the party can just slurp the popscicles up on their own. You can stock up on a certain flavour of non-alcoholic drink to be the “house base” for the Make sure you have cupcake liners on hand: Stick one at the base of a popsicle if a kid is going to eat it (to catch the drips) or put them upside down on top of each glass to keep the bugs away–you can even poke a straw through.

Jess Fleming / Daily Hive

Jess Fleming/Daily Hive

7. Don’t feel like you need to be a hero: Have a potluck!

The host can take responsibility for the protein, but let your guests bring the sides and snacks. “People don’t mind pitching in–they just want to see you!” says Buckett.

8. If you’re headed out of town, don’t forget to factor in the ride.

This includes using the ice in your cooler as a way to soak your cedar plank for salmon grilling while you’re driving, making slushies by freezing lemonade in plastic baggies for slurping on in the car, and picking out some fun chips and snacks to pack.

9. Don’t let not having a party house deter you from hosting an outdoor eating get-together.

Gather your friends up at a park or the beach instead. “Life is too short and your friends don’t care,” adds Buckett.

Check the Presidents Choice website for the stores in your area that carry PC products.

Lindsay William-RossLindsay William-Ross

+ Dished