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Picnic subs and pies to share with friends — at a safe distance

Packed with deli meat and pickled vegetables, the muffuletta is a portable meal-in-one that's ideal for sharing.
Packed with deli meat and pickled vegetables, the muffuletta is a portable meal-in-one that’s ideal for sharing — and it gets better the longer it sits.
(Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times)

As the weather warms up and more of L.A. reopens, I’m feeling the itch to get out and be among friends. On the flip side, I’m even more paranoid about leaving my home because so many people are now out and about, but without masks or taking the proper safety precautions. The one compromise I can make is getting together with my close friends for biweekly outdoor eating — spaced six feet from each other, of course. We all show up to the same park and bring our own blankets, chairs, serving ware, plates and drinks. As for the food, we take turns making big family-style batches like we used to serve at indoor dinner parties of yore, aka four months ago.

Some of my contributions of late have been an easy air-fried (or roasted) summer squash topped with crunchy chive breadcrumbs; one of my favorite large-format sandwiches, the muffuletta (this vegetarian version is a great sub if you need it) that I portion ahead of time and serve with bags of chips; and grilled kalbi, kept warm in foil packets — they’re great with cold cups of potato salad or a lime-y, spicy jicama slaw. And, when I was in charge of dessert, a refreshing blueberry pie (the raspberry version is equally fantastic) or some individually wrapped fudgy butterscotch brownies. We pack them in big plastic containers and set them out in a central area so everyone can go up to it one by one and get food. We all take servings and then retreat to our landing pad blankets and, after a few pumps of hand sanitizer, dig in to the feast. It’s not the food that really matters, of course, it’s that we can all see each other again, laughing and gossiping as we used to.

Air-Fried Summer Squash With Chive Breadcrumbs

Time 55 minutes
Yields Serves 2
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Roasted until caramelized and flavorful, this squash is great at room temperature. Pack the breadcrumbs separately and shower them over the squash just before serving to keep them crunchy.

Muffuletta

Time 1 hour
Yields Serves 8

Packed with deli meat and pickled vegetables, it’s a portable meal-in-one and gets better the longer it sits, so make it at least a day ahead to allow the flavors to marry.

Grilled L.A. Kalbi

Time 30 minutes
Yields Serves 6 to 8
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Sanitize your hands before eating these because you’ll want to lick all that sauce off your fingers after.

Fresh Blueberry Pie

Time 5 hours, largely unattended
Yields Serves 8 to 12

The crust here is super crisp and stays rigid, so you can eat it like a slice of pizza.

Clementine's butterscotch brownies

Time 45 minutes
Yields Serves 12 to 16
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Wrapped up in parchment or plastic wrap, they keep for up to a week and are the perfect dessert to toss from six feet away to your friends.

Ask the cooks

I made the fantastic Sichuan Chile Hanger Steak recipe for my family last night. We all thought 3 cups of chiles was a typo in the recipe. Wouldn’t that burn out a person’s mouth and insides?

— Deborah Alexander

Dried red chile de arbol, or chile Japones as they are sometimes referred to, are a spicy chile often used in Sichuan cooking to flavor whatever oil or sauce they’re swimming in. In this recipe, they flavor the garlic oil that the steak is tossed in afterward, lending their distinctive heat that won’t overpower your palate even in such large quantities. The chiles get plated and served with the steak as a garnish that’s evocative of other Sichuan presentations like Chongqing Mala chicken. But they are not meant to be eaten, unless you really love eating whole dried chiles!

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