Entertaining in the age of COVID requires easy recipes for individual servings

Spanakopita bites, satay chicken skewers and one-pot cheesecakes are perfect dishes for individual servings at a safe, backyard get-together.

Spanakopita, satay chicken skewers, one-pot cheesecakes perfect for backyard parties

When entertaining with safe distancing, each couple or family group could get their own cocktail-sized table or picnic blanket and basket, or their own box or tray of assorted snacks, cheese and charcuterie, or main dish and sides. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

So far this year, most gatherings have been virtual. And while we've collectively become very creative at meeting and "sharing" Sunday night dinners on Zoom and Facetime, people are craving real-life get-togethers — particularly as the weather warms up.

To reduce the risk at gatherings, Alberta Health Services recommends reducing the number of participants and choosing a venue that allows for physical distancing, handwashing stations and/or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and stagging the arrival time of your guests.

It's also a good idea to have paper towels in the bathroom instead of a shared hand towel.

If you have the option, spreading out in the backyard or other open space allows for comfortable distancing, but choosing a menu can also be a challenge as sharing food, drinks or utensils is considered high risk. 

Serving items in individual portions is one solution — at a backyard movie, for example, each person (or group) can get their own popcorn, nachos or jar of candies.

One-dish meals like curries and lasagna could be divided into single serving dishes or ramekins, and party dips and spreads that are typically shared can be divvied into small jars or ramekins.

Place a dollop of hummus in the bottom, for example, and tuck a few carrot sticks or other crudités in. Paper muffin wrappers can portion out nuts and snacky things, or caramel corn could be divvied into small paper bags.

Disposable, biodegradable takeout containers are easy to find at the dollar store or restaurant supply stores (the Real Canadian Wholesale Club has large sleeves typically used for restaurants offering takeout), or come up with a menu on a stick: satay, kebabs and other skewered things are perfect, because everyone handles their own bamboo skewers, which then go into the trash or compost bin. 

Each couple or family group could get their own cocktail-sized table or picnic blanket and basket, or their own box or tray of assorted snacks, cheese and charcuterie, or main dish and sides — like you might get at a barbecue restaurant, with butcher paper under an assortment of sides, salads and proteins.

If you like the idea of potluck, consider having everyone bring their own, but rather than share, each group feeds themselves — it's the company that matters, after all. (As a bonus, having everyone bring their own meals takes care of any dietary needs and preferences.)

As for drinks, single-serving bottles and cans are easy, or put homemade lemonade, iced tea or cocktails in jars, seal and toss them in a bucket of ice. Desserts in jars also work well such as panna cotta, pre-portioned ice cream or no-bake cheesecake topped with fruit compote. Serve with a compostable spoon to toss directly in a bucket to drop into the compost bin.

Spanakopita Triangles

Individual portions are easy with menu items like Phyllo Spanokopita, soft puff pastry filled with feta and spinach. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Individual pockets like spanakopita are great for entertaining during a pandemic. They can be arranged on a platter, well spaced so people can pick up their own, or be tucked into individual boxes, jars or platters.

They're substantial enough for a meal, or could count as a snack. And you can use all the greens that are growing in your garden. 


1 pkg. phyllo pastry, thawed

melted butter or olive oil, for brushing


canola or other vegetable oil, for cooking


1 small onion or a few green onions, chopped

5-6 loosely packed cups leafy greens, like kale, chard and spinach (discard any tough stems)

a handful of fresh herbs, such as cilantro, mint or dill (optional) 


pinch red chili flakes (optional) 

½-1 cup crumbled feta

1 egg, lightly beaten (optional)


Preheat the oven to 375 F. 

Set a large skillet over medium-high heat, add a drizzle of oil and a chunk of butter and cook the onion for a few minutes, until soft. Add the leafy greens, torn or chopped, to the pan and cook, sprinkling with salt, until they wilt and any excess moisture cooks off.

Transfer to a bowl to cool slightly, and stir in the feta and egg.

Unroll your phyllo and remove two sheets, covering the rest with a tea towel. (I loosely roll the phyllo back up and cover it.)

Fold half the top sheet back, like turning the page of a book, and brush the lower sheet with melted butter or oil, then return the top sheet. Do the same on the other side. 

Cut the sheets in half lengthwise, and then each half in half, making four long strips.

Put a spoonful of filling at the top of each and fold one corner over, making a triangle. Continue to fold, maintaining the triangle shape, until you get to the end of the strip. Cut off any excess if you like. 

Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and continue with the rest of the filling and phyllo until you run out of one or the other. Leftover phyllo can be re-frozen for later use. 

Brush the tops of the triangles with a little melted butter or oil and bake for 20 minutes, or until deep golden.

Makes about 1½ dozen triangles. 

Cheesecakes in Jars

Individual, no bake cheesecakes can be topped with fruit compote for easy, self-serve entertaining. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Cheesecakes in jars are perfect for parties. They can be made ahead, and come in their own containers, so each guest can grab their own. Screw on the lids and put them in a cooler or tub of ice to keep them cool, or serve them straight from the fridge. 


3 graham crackers or Digestive biscuits

Cheesecake filling:

1 8 oz. (250 g) pkg. cream cheese, at room temperature

¼ cup sugar

½ cup heavy (whipping) cream

¼ tsp. vanilla


2 cups chopped peaches, rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, pitted cherries or other seasonal fruit

¼ cup sugar (or to taste)

¼ cup water

1 tsp. cornstarch

Bash the cookies in a ziplock bag and divide the crumbs (fine or coarse) between the bottoms of six small ring-top jars.

In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar, cream and vanilla until smooth. Divide between the jars, spooning it over the crumbs.

To make the topping, bring your fruit, sugar and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the cherries are soft, squishing some of them against the side of the pan with your spoon.

Stir the cornstarch into 1 tsp. cold water and add it to the cherries; simmer for a minute or two.

Remove from the heat and set aside to cool, then refrigerate until chilled. Spoon the cherries over the cheesecakes. Screw on the lids and refrigerate until you're ready to serve them.

Makes six jars.

Devilled Eggs with All-Dressed Chips

All Dressed potato chips add a bit of crunch and flavour to devilled eggs. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

The beauty of a devilled egg is that you can add just about anything to the yolks — ripe avocado, a bit of chopped kimchi, curry paste, sriracha — anything that goes well with egg can be mixed together and spooned back in.

The chips though, they add salt and crunch and a hit of flavour. (From my cookbook, Dirty Food!)


6 large eggs, hard boiled and cooled

¼ cup mayonnaise

1 tsp. grainy mustard

a bit of finely chopped pickle, or pickle juice

salt and pepper, to taste

crushed All Dressed chips (or chips of your choice)


Hard boil and cool the eggs (boil for 10-12 minutes).

Peel the eggs and cut them in half lengthwise, removing the yolks and putting them in a bowl. Add the mayo, mustard, pickle, and a bit of salt and pepper and mash with a fork (or put the whole mixture through a potato ricer or food mill), until smooth.

Spoon into a zip-lock baggie, snip off one corner and pipe the filling into the egg white halves. If you like, put a pinch of crushed chips in the bottom before you fill them. Top with crushed chips right before you eat them, so they stay crunchy.

Makes 12 devilled eggs.

Chicken Satay

Marinated strips of meat can be prepared ahead of time, cooked quickly on the grill and served with individual peanut sauce for dipping. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Marinated meat on a stick cooks quickly on the grill, and is easy to serve. Everyone handles their own skewers, which are disposed of afterward.

This marinade and peanut sauce have many of the same ingredients, so you can make them at the same time and have them ready to toss on the grill when friends arrive. 


1½ lbs. skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs, or pork tenderloin (1-2), cut into chunks or strips

½-1 cup plain yogurt

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger

2 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. lemon or lime juice or rice vinegar

1 tbsp. honey or brown sugar

1 tsp. curry paste

Peanut Sauce:

1/3 cup peanut butter

2 tbsp. soy sauce

2 tbsp. brown sugar or honey

2 tbsp. rice vinegar or lime juice

1 garlic clove, crushed

1-2 tsp. grated fresh ginger

1 tsp. sesame oil

¼–½ tsp curry paste (optional)

water or coconut milk, to thin it out


To make the satay, cut the chicken lengthwise into fairly uniform strips and place in a bowl or zip-lock bag. Combine all the marinade ingredients and pour over the meat; toss well or squish the bag to coat, and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.

When you're ready to cook them, soak some bamboo skewers in water for at least 10 minutes to prevent them from burning. Thread the chicken strips or chunks onto the skewers and grill or broil for a few minutes on each side, until just cooked through.

Serve with peanut sauce for dipping.

To make the peanut sauce, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth (warm the peanut butter in the microwave first if it's very thick), adding a splash of water or coconut milk to thin it out to the consistency you like. 

Makes about 20 satay, and a scant cup of peanut sauce.


Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.