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Life isn’t always a Picnic…But when it is, make it a great one!
We’ve all seen the photo…. you know the one…
A happy family is gathered on a lush, perfectly manicured lawn with a perfectly ironed red and white checkered blanket all wearing smiley faces on a bright sunny day.
The picture is complete with a wicker picnic basket, a bottle of wine, a French baguette and all the usual suspects, including cheese, crackers, grapes and scrumptious “gourmet” fare.
Have you ever been to a picnic like that? I haven’t?
I’ve imagine one, planned one…just have never been to one.
JUST WHAT IS A PICNIC?
Food historians tell us picnics evolved from the elaborate traditions of moveable outdoor feasts enjoyed by the wealthy in Europe and other “civilized countries” many hundreds of years ago and quite often involved medieval hunting, high-brow socializing and games.
The word “Picnic” is thought to be of French origin (the French piquer means to pick at food; nique means something small of no value.) The word was accepted by the Academie francaise in 1740 and thereafter became a universally accepted word in many languages
Typical picnic fare in those days consisted of large displays of roasted game, a variety of fruits, vegetables, breads and enormous displays of sweets and pastries.
They were pretty grand affairs and they were VERY fashionable. So much so that famous painters like Monet, Renoir and Cezanne often made picnics a subject of their works.
But picnicking REALLY came into its own under the rein of England’s Queen Victoria and authors such as Dickens, Trollope, Jane Austen all found it’s relaxed, pleasant environment fascinating, and something to write about.
It wasn’t long before the word got out that this “new’ form of entertaining that was all the rage among the “elite” and it didn’t take long before the average “commoner” wanted in on some of the action. The only difference being that few had the financial resources to host (and pay for) all the glorious food enjoyed by the rich.
So what evolved was a NEW tradition, one that still survives today. Sort of a “pot luck” version, one where everyone brings a dish and the meaning changed from “everyone bringing some food” to “everyone eating out of doors”. Picnic’s also became a whole lot less formal.
WHAT IS AN AMERICAN PICNIC?
Besides the usual picnic fare of cold foods and salads, sandwiches, grilled dogs, burgers, ribs and chicken that you might enjoy at a local park, there are, in addition, various regional styles or themed picnics with more specific foods or locations such as New England clambakes, upstate New York pit dinners, Texas barbeques or even San Francisco wharf dining.
What food you choose to purchase or prepare for a picnic is, of course a personal decision, however in addition to sharing our personal favorite foods and recipes you should take into account what most people enjoy (who may not share your fondness for snails or foie gras).
Many successful picnics follow these simple menu guidelines.
Snacks and nibblers to start. (Choose 1 or 2 dips or spreads and 1 neutral flavored cracker, some chips or sliced Artisanal bread.
A fresh fruit of some kind. (This can be a cut fruit medley, some strawberries or grapes or even whole fruit like apples or oranges). You may instead choose fresh cut vegetables (also called crudité)
A leafy greens salad with either a simple vinaigrette dressing or a popular creamy style (such as Ranch)
For the main (or principle meal). If you’re grilling, chicken of some kind is a MUST if you don’t know all the food preferences of your guests. Otherwise, pork, beef (burgers or steaks) or sausages are all welcome choices. Shrimp is the most commonly grilled seafood but beware, cook these last because they cook quickly and can become dry and tough if cooked first and allowed to sit while you then cook other foods.
Side dishes such as pasta, potato, rice or vegetable are popular but best pre-prepared and served as cold salads rather than as hot. Usually because there is little room on a grill to cook, re-heat and hold these less essential sides. At a picnic, no one is expecting these side items to be prepared in a manner that they might see in a restaurant.
For desserts, besides fresh fruit (such as watermelon), desserts and sweets that you can hold in your hand are the easiest to serve and handle. Cookies, brownies, bars and miniature desserts that hold up outdoors are very welcome and allow you the time to focus on other chores.
A few of my own picnic recipes for salads and salsa are below.
Pesto Chicken & Farfalle (Bow Tie Pasta) Salad with Vegetables: Serves 4 to 6 Persons
2 Cups Farfalle Pasta ( Bow Tie)
6—8 Cups Salted Water ( To Cook Pasta)
2 Tbsp Ex. Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Medium Sweet Onion,
1 Medium Red Bell Pepper, Cut Matchstick
8 to 12 Spears Fresh Asparagus, Cut in 1” bias pieces
6 to 8 Mushrooms, Med/Lg. White, Quartered
1/2 Cup Grape Tomatoes, Halved
2 to 3 cups Pulled, Cooked Meat from 1 Rotisserie Chicken
3/4 Cup Basil Pesto (Cibo Brand, Delallo Brand or Homemade)
To Taste Salt & Pepper
1/4 Cup Toasted Pinenuts
1. Cook Farfalle Pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, rinse in cold water until well chilled, drain once again then place in a medium-large bowl and chill.
2. In a medium sauté pan, heat olive oil then sauté onion, red bell pepper, mushrooms and asparagus approximately 3 to 4 minutes or until slightly softened and glazed but still crisp and al dente. Remove vegetables from the heat, spread out on a plate or platter and immediately chill.
3. Toss the pasta with the sautéed vegetables, grape tomato halves, pulled chicken meat and basil pesto. Season additionally with salt & pepper and garnish with toasted pine nuts. Serve.
Zesty Sweet Corn Salsa:Makes approximately 8 cups.
This delicious Corn Salsa is great both as a snack and as an alternative to sauce on Grilled Chicken or Fish.
2 Cups Sweet Corn Kernels, raw
2 Cups Black Eyed Peas, cooked or canned and drained
2 Cups Red Onion, diced 1/4″
2 ea. Red Peppers, seeded and diced 1/4″
6 Stalks Green Onion, chopped
4 ea. Roma Tomatoes, seeded and diced 1/4″
4 Tbsp. Fresh Cilantro, chopped
2 tsp. Jalapeno Pepper with Seeds, minced
1 Cup Zesty Italian Dressing
1 Cup Sweet & Spicy French Dressing
1. Combine the first eight ingredients (all except dressings) in a non-reactive bowl (stainless steel, glass or plastic) and stir. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours (chilled) before serving to allow all the flavors to blend together.
2. One hour before serving, stir in the dressings.
3. Also, enjoy with crispy tortilla chips or Frito’s Brand Corn Chips for a nutritious snack!
Fresh Herbed Watermelon Salad: Serves 6
1 Red Onion, Julienned
½ Cup Salvaggio’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Fresh Limes, Juiced
½ Cup Fresh Mint, Chopped
¼ Cup Fresh Basil, Chopped
1 TBSP Fresh Cilantro, Chopped
2 TBSP Honey
2 Qts Watermelon, Seeded, Cubed
1 Cup Feta Cheese, Crumbled
½ Cup Kalamata Olives, Pitted, Halved
1. In a medium size bowl, combine onion, olive oil, lime juice, herbs and honey to make a dressing.
2. Place watermelon in a large mixing bowl and toss with dressing.
3. Place mixture in a serving bowl and garnish with feta cheese and olives.
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