Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Pack Your Bags: for a Picnic!

Summer, according to my own non-scientific, unofficial, research, is the most popular picnic season of the year.  Even in my own household, we’ll opt for the backyard rather than the dinner table on a pleasant evening.  And at the beach?  I don’t know that we’ve eaten a meal without a healthy portion of sand in it.  We pack lunch for the middle of the day, and then will pack up a hot meal to go back to the beach after the sun has started to go down a bit.  It's one of my favorite spots during the summer – toes in the sand, wine at hand, and dinner in the basket nearby.  And of course, we have our twice/week picnic – brunch and dinner poolside at my kids’ swim meets.

For our simple picnics, daytrips, and swim meet, I routinely pack some of these easy-to-prep and carry meals.  I’ve noticed that kids don’t actually eat as much as you would imagine when they are out having fun, so I keep the food simple and quick-to-eat.
  • Wraps – a tortilla, filled with shredded veggies, lettuce, or spinach, a meat option (cold cuts, salmon, chopped chicken) and/or cheese, a dressing to keep it from being dry – wrap individually in foil, label if they are different fillings
  • Seaweed wraps – also known as kimbap or sushi rolls – a sheet of dried seaweed, filled with rice, meat and veggies
  • Quesadillas – 2 tortillas, pan grilled with mixture of meat and cheese in between
  • Sandwiches – cut them differently (horizontal vs. vertical thru the middle) to indicate different fillings
  • Boiled eggs
  • Bagels
  • Cut fruit, grapes, berries – cut the rind off of melons to reduce the weight and save space 

For some expert tips on packing a picnic basket, I asked Danielle Rozier, Owner/Chef of Savory Gourmet Catering, if we could take a peek into her picnic cooler.

To start, she fed me this bit of etymological trivia – “the word picnic is derived from the French word "pique nique" to describe an outdoor meal. The earliest versions of picnics come from the Middle Ages when members of the upper class would "dine out" during a hunt.”  Great for a round of Jeopardy or to impress your fellow picnickers.
  • When packing for a picnic, make sure you keep non-perishable foods (trail mix, potato chips, etc.) separate from perishable items. This will save cooler space and ice for items that need to have it. Remember, the more you pack in the cooler, the less cold it will be. An ideal percentage is 50% food and 50% ice.
  • Pack your cooler in reverse order. Put your dessert in first, the entree courses next, then, the starters last - you won't have to search everywhere in your cooler to find the food for the next course and will keep the cooler cold longer.  (I love this idea, why didn’t I ever think of this?)
  • Freeze beverages (that are not in cans) the evening before - they can act as additional ice in your pack. If you're worried about condensation, wrap them in aluminum foil (which may preserve coldness longer) or put in ziploc bags. Even if you don't freeze them, make sure they're cold before packing.
  • Use plasticware to pack food for individual servings to save time and reduce the need for serving utensils.
  • Always create a picnic packing list, so you will never forget to bring the bottle opener or blanket again.
-       Blanket
-       Napkins
-       Plates
-       Silverware
-       Serving utensils
-       Cups and wine glasses
-       Corkscrew or bottle opener
-       A knife
-       Cutting board
-       Condiments
-       Salt & Pepper
-       Garbage bag
-       Sunscreen
-       Bug spray or citronella candles
-       Camera
-       Damp wipes or cloths for washing up
  • But what are the chances the ground is wet? To ensure a good dry place, use a nylon/fleece blanket (perfect for outdoors) or consider taking along a tarp to go under your blanket as well.  (I found two new damp-proof picnic blankets this season – one at Target, one at $5Below.)
  • When considering the perfect picnic place, find one that fits the weather conditions. If it's hot, look for a place in the shade, such as a sheltered picnic area at the park (hold the cooler there and your guests will thank you for that), if it's windy consider a place on the side of a hill (rather than the side with the wind!), and if it's cool find a place that is nice and bright (remember the sunscreen!).
  • Picnic baskets are very stylish, but think of using a cooler as well since it will keep food cold and act as a table.
  • If your food will be open, keep bugs away by keeping it protected when not in use. Consider napkins with weights (such as small rocks); put one on each corner.
  • Always throw away any perishable food that has been left out for more than a few hours, even if it is tasty.

I am a list-maker, so I really like Danielle’s tip about making a checklist of your picnic supplies, but I would also add the obvious – the food!  When having a big dinner at home or packing for a cookout or picnic, I like to make a list of everything being served so I don’t forget a crucial part of the meal.  Can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten the salad, the cranberry sauce, or the dessert, when I’ve failed to check off my menu. 

And be sure to clean up after yourself when you are done.  Pick up your trash, put out your bbq coals, and leave the place as nice as when you arrived.

Enjoy your picnic!

Thanks to Danielle for her tips!  Through her catering company, she combines her passion for food & people. The combination of her southern background, natural instincts for food flavors and her Cajun cooking mastery has made Chef Danielle’s food sought after. You can say that her food is a combination of Savory (delicious flavor) and Gourmet (using the freshest and best quality ingredients). For more information, check her website www.savorygrmt.com and to keep up with entertaining tips and delicious recipes, “like” her on FaceBook.

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