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3 No-Cook DIY Food Bars for Easy Entertaining This Summer

Bagel Bar - Full Size

I love entertaining in the summer, but what I’m not fond of is spending my time by the stove (or grill) while guests mingle and chat without me. My solution instead has always been to offer a DIY meal, where guests can use the food I set out to make a meal for themselves, instead of me preparing the entire thing for them.

This idea is probably best illustrated in our very popular DIY burger bar. It continues to be one of our favourite entertaining meals, but this year I challenged myself to come up with a few more ideas, all of which are no-cook. Yes, you really did read that right! Instead of cooking for your friends and family this summer, I’m going to show you how to assemble an easy breakfast, simple dinner and dessert/snack for a targeted group of guests.

DIY Bagel Bar + Overnight Guests

Whether you’re expecting friends from out of town or you’re hosting people at the cottage, a bagel bar is the easiest, most impressive way to feed breakfast to a crowd you’re entertaining. I’ve suggested the ingredients you’ll need for a classic bagel breakfast bar, but if you have picky eaters in your crowd you can add some peanut butter, jam and sliced banana for a kid-friendly platter even the toddlers won’t be able to find fault with.

What You Need:

  • Bagels (2 or 3 varieties like everything, sesame, cheddar jalapeno, etc.)
  • Cream cheese
  • Homemade herbed cream cheese
  • Smoked salmon
  • Quick-pickled red onions
  • Capers
  • Lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Thinly sliced cucumber
  • Thinly sliced radish
  • Sliced tomato
  • Sliced avocado
  • Fresh dill and chopped chives

How to Set It Up:

Set out a large platter or basket full of sliced and toasted bagels. Place cream cheese(s) in bowl with small spreading knifes. Lay out smoked salmon on a side plate or small wooden board, and fill small bowls with the red onions, capers, and lemon wedges. Lay the cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, avocados, and herbs on a board with a pinch bowl of both salt and pepper. Set out plates, knives and napkins and encourage your guests to help themselves.

Tips:

  • You want to make sure your bagels are very fresh. If possible buy them just one day in advance.
  • If need to purchase ahead of time, slice each one in half, wrap individually in plastic wrap and immediately freeze.
  • Toast bagels just before serving. Do this on a rimmed baking sheet under the broiler so you can do many bagels at a time.

Crostini Bar + Simple Summer Dinner Party

Almost everyone loves to host a simple summer dinner party, but not everyone loves to cook. With a crostini bar, you’re essentially feeding your guests miniature toasts, which they can top however they please. It’s perfect for hot and humid summer nights, and works just as well for four people as it does for forty. I highly recommend setting up this DIY food bar before your guests arrive, if possible, as it does require a bit of organization.

What You Need:

  • Crostini
  • Assorted Spreads (tapenade, pesto)
  • Fresh Herbs
  • Sliced Fruits and Whole Berries
  • Fresh Veggies (green onions, radishes, tomato, cucumber)
  • Jams and Chutneys
  • Cheeses
  • Meats
  • Garnishes (honey, balsamic, etc.)
  • Briny Bits (olives, pickles, roasted red peppers, etc.)

How to Set It Up:

Fill as many platters, plates, bowls and baskets as needed to set out all your bread and toppings. Be sure to include small knifes, spoons, spreaders or tongs with each item. Give guests a plate, fork, knife and napkin and encourage them to get as creative as possible with what they make.

Tips:

  • Make a sign with suggested crostini flavour combinations (i.e. peach, halloumi cheese, basil and/or goat cheese, strawberry and balsamic)

Ice Cream Sundae bar + Kids in the House

There is no denying that an ice cream sundae bar is the quintessential summer treat for kids. Whenever I know I’m going to have a house full of little people hanging around, I immediately run out and pick up the ingredients I’ll need to execute this sweet snack bar. Sometimes I buy double and triple what I know I’ll need so I’m prepared for last-minute drop ins. While kids are completely smitten with this idea, here’s an inspired suggestion: try setting up something similar for adults using sophisticated ice cream flavours, like coffee or Dulce de leche, and gourmet toppings like chocolate-covered espresso beans and flaky sea salt.

What You Need:

  • Assorted ice creams (three flavours are a good number)
  • Plenty of Sprinkles
  • Whipped cream
  • Sauces (strawberry, chocolate, butterscotch)
  • Candies
  • Chopped nuts
  • Seeds
  • Fresh Fruit

How to Set It Up:

Set up bowls, spoons and ice cream scoops on a counter or table. Fill a wide, shallow bowl, basin, bucket or tray with ice cubes and place the ice cream containers on top of the ice to help keep it chilled. Place sprinkles, sauces, whipped cream, candies, nuts, seeds, and fruit in bowls with spoons or small scoops. Don’t forget to keep plenty of napkins or wet wipes handy for cleaning those tiny hands and faces.

Tips:

  • Stick to basic flavours. Lots of toppings mean you don’t want competing flavours in the bowl.
  • Toppings should be a combination of healthy (fresh fruit), sweet (candy), crunchy (nuts and seeds) and saucy.
  • Visit bulk food stores and stock up on toppings that will keep well in the pantry for the summer.
  • You can pre-scoop ice cream and put them into mason jars if you have the freezer space. Affix the lid and place jars in a large ice-filled bucket for easy serving.

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