Take a moment and think about your favorite picnic. I bet there’s a smile on your face! Is yours a childhood adventure with family in the car headed to destination unknown? Is it on the beach? Is it under the moonlight in your own backyard?
Picnics mean let’s go have fun. The people, the place and the food are the essential ingredients. What makes it truly magnificent is delectable food and drink.
Images of outdoor dining were captured by European painters, particularly impressionists Monet and Manet. Their works illustrated romantic meals in secluded gardens.
In ancient Greece, picnics, really a potluck meal, were called syncomist, meaning “brought from different places and put together.” Communal meals spread and were enjoyed by Scandinavians, Germans and French. In early nineteenth century England, a picnic was described as a fashionable social entertainment where everyone brought something. They even created a Picnic Society.
Picnic food, unlike other meals, is packed to go. Keeping food safety in mind, gel packs, ice and insulated containers work wonders. Your essentials checklist: Ground cover of whatever suits your mood, plates, tableware, glassware, tablecloth, napkins, paper towels, insect repellant, flowers and vase, candles, candle holders, matches and a corkscrew. You’ll also want to leave nothing behind but your footprints so remember a garbage bag.
You’ll define your perfect picnic basket. Check out thrift and antique shops or opt for an insulated bag, cooler or cloth tote.
Whether it’s a boisterous frolic or still life, relax, enjoy the outdoors, gather your peeps, break the routine of daily living and eat yummy food!
Wishing you joy in the kitchen,
Serve this picnic with Sun Tea or your favorite chilled white wine.
Cold Zucchini Soup
3 medium zucchini, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 medium onion, chopped
1 thyme sprig or 1 teaspoon dried
1 parsley sprig
1 bay leaf
4 ½ cup chicken stock (homemade is best)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 ½ cups plain yogurt
1. In a medium saucepan over high heat, place zucchini, onion, thyme, parley and bay leaf with 1 cup stock. Simmer about 10 minutes or until zucchini is tender. Remove thyme and parsley springs and bay leaf.
2. Puree in a blender or food processor until it’s uniform consistency.
3. For a smooth soup, strain through a sieve. The unstrained soup will have a slight texture to it. Add remaining stock, lemon juice, salt, pepper and yogurt, stirring well to blend. Pour into a 1 ½-quart covered container and chill at least 1 hour before packing in cooler.
Chinese Chicken Salad with Fried Won Tons
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 garlic clove
4 slices fresh ginger, peeled and minced
8 chicken breasts halves, skinned, boned and cut into ¼-inch by 2-inch strips
¼ cup sesame seeds
4 green onions, cut into 1-inch julienne with some green tops
¼ slivered almonds
½-1 head red leaf lettuce, washed, dried and shredded
2 teaspoons mirin (sweet cooking sake)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup sesame oil
½ cup neutral oil
Fried Won Tons
½ cup sesame oil (not the hot variety)
½ package won ton skins, cut into ¼-inch strips
1. In a wok or sauté pan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons sesame oil. Quickly brown garlic and ginger and remove them from wok or pan and discard. Add chicken strips in several batches and stir-fry for 2 minutes per batch or until chicken is just cooked through. Remove and place in a large bowl.
2. Add sesame seeds, green onion and almonds to the chicken and toss to mix well. Place shredded lettuce in a sealable plastic bag and store in refrigerator until packing time. Pack it in the top part of the cooler.
3. Make the dressing: Place mirin, vinegar, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor and process until well blended. With motor running, slowly drizzle in sesame and neutral oils until dressing is creamy. Pour dressing over chicken and toss. Place in a large, covered bowl and chill until time to pack the cooler.
4. Fry the wontons: Wipe out wok or pan with a paper towel and heat ½ cup sesame oil over medium-high heat. If it immediately burns, the wok or pan is too hot. If the won ton skin quickly turns golden brown and slightly puffs up, the temperature is perfect. Add 3 or 4 pieces at a time and brown. Remove and drain on paper towels. When all are cooked, place in a sealable plastic bag and pack on top of the picnic basket.
5. To serve, place a bed of lettuce in the center of each plate and add a generous portion of chicken on top, then crumble a handful of crispy won tons on top.
¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ¼ cups pecans, finely chopped
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 large egg whites, slightly beaten, at room temperature
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. In a stand mixer or large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and lemon zest and mix well.
3. Sift flour and salt into a medium bowl, then add to creamed ingredients in small amounts. Mix until well combined. Spread dough evenly in a 15-inch x 10-inch x 1-inch pan and bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges.
4. Make the topping: Combine pecans, sugar, cinnamon and egg whites in a large, heavy saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly for 2 minutes or until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to medium-high and continue to cook and stir 2-3 minutes or until mixture thickens, browns slightly, and comes away from the sides of the pan.
5. Spread topping evenly over the top of the dough and bake 15 minutes more. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then cut into ¾-inch x 2-inch bars.
Makes 3 quarts
6 tea bags or 6 tablespoons loose tea
3 quarts cold water
¼ cup sugar or honey, optional
2-4 mint springs, optional
1 lemon, thinly sliced, optional
1. Place tea in a 1-gallon jar and add cold water. Set in a sunny inside or outside location for several hours until the tea has infused the water.
2. Strain, add your choice of optional ingredients and chill. Pour into chilled thermos bottles and take to your picnic.
Art credit: Monet, C. (1866). Le dejeuner sur l’herbe (The Picnic) (Oil on canvas). The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia.