There is something both innocent and exciting about a picnic, even if you are only packing a few things at the last minute and heading down the street to the park. It may be nothing fancy, but you’re still likely to have a good time, which is probably why many of us remain devoted to the same picnic foods we’ve eaten all our lives.
But at some point, you may get the urge to vary the menu. I would like to make a few suggestions, ranging from snacks to dessert. With a little shopping, a little effort, and 20 minutes for assembly, you can create the kind of carry-out food that will put the food shops to shame. No matter how faithful you are to your old favourites, I’ll bet you will find something intriguing here.
Pack up: Put in a little effort and you can have a varied picnic menu.
# For curried egg salad, make the salad with hard-cooked eggs, mayo, curry powder, Dijon mustard, fresh lime juice, salt, pepper, cilantro, red onion and, if you like, diced apple.
# Cut day-old crusty bread into 1-inch cubes. Just before leaving the house, combine it with chopped tomatoes, chopped cucumber, chopped red onion and fresh basil. Pack dressing separately: olive oil, red wine vinegar, diced anchovies, capers, salt and pepper. Call this panzanella.
# Mix feta cubes and green grapes (or grape tomatoes or pieces of watermelon). Add mint, salt, pepper and olive oil. A tiny bit of chopped fresh chilli is good, too.
# Roast or boil sweet potatoes, but don’t make them too soft. Make a blended vinaigrette with a little chilli, cumin, sherry vinegar and olive oil. Pack separately and toss together with scallions and mint.
# Make potato salad with mayo and crumbled bacon, and add grated Cheddar, celery, onion and chopped egg. You don’t have to pack much else, except blood thinner.
# Guacasalsa: Mash an avocado (it won’t get brown) into some salsa, even jarred if necessary. Don’t forget chips.
# Take a cold pizza and lemon. Squeeze lemon over it. Really.
# Make a cheese ball: Mash together equal parts good grated Cheddar, crumbled blue and cream cheese, maybe thinned with a little sour cream. Shape into a ball and roll in fresh chopped herbs and/or hazelnuts. Take crackers. You think people won’t eat this?
# Make simple syrup with rosemary; purée it in a blender with watermelon, rum (optional) and lemon juice. Use more rum and call this a cocktail, or omit rum, add a little feta and eat with a spoon. Keep it cold in either case.
# Use a spoon or melon baller to make equal size pieces of watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe. Mix together and sprinkle with lemon juice and salt or (better still) chilli, sugar, salt and lime.
# Pan-cook shrimp in oil. Separately sauté fresh and dried chillies with lots of onion and garlic; add beer, reduce and pour over shrimp.
# Mix good canned tuna with diced fennel, tarragon, lemon juice, salt and pepper. No mayo.
# Cut chicken wings into two; toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and grill or roast until crisp and golden. Whisk together mustard, honey and lemon juice, and toss with the warm wings. Chill overnight (or eat them and take something else to the picnic).
# Halve a cucumber or two; scoop out the seeds. Slice it thin and salt it for a bit if you have time. Combine it with shredded cooked chicken, ginger, soy sauce, salt, pepper and cilantro. On a baguette, it’s reminiscent of Banh Mi.
# Hard-cook some eggs; slice them. Sauté some spinach with oil and garlic until quite dry; chop. Make mustardy sandwiches with baguettes, rolls or any bread that can absorb some oil.
# Cook peeled shrimp; little ones are best. Toss with lots of pesto. Put on small rolls (in fact, cook anything; toss with pesto: lots. Put on small rolls).
# Cook fusilli or other cut pasta; rinse in cool water, but don’t bother to chill. Combine with chopped seeded tomatoes, cubed fresh mozzarella, chopped basil, olive oil, salt and pepper (good with olives, too). Do not call this pasta salad, because pasta salad is no good, and this is.
# Make sandwiches of angel food cake with ganache or fruit compote as filling.
# Mix peanut butter and cream cheese. Spread between two good cookies and make sandwiches. Or, mix honey, lemon zest and cream cheese. Make sandwiches with ginger snaps.
# Take a container of melted chocolate, thinned with cream or crème fraîche, with strawberries, pineapple or bananas for dipping.
©2008/The New York Times
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