Picnic Time

May brings spring flowers, warm sunshine and days that beg for picnics. Before you hop in the car and locate that perfect picnic spot, take advantage of these great picnic tips:
  • Stay away from any recipes that require the use of raw eggs.
  • Freeze drinks the night before. Not only will your drinks stay cold the next day, they'll help keep your food chilled.
  • Keep hot dishes hot by wrapping them in several layers of newspaper, securing with tape, and placing in a plastic bag for transport.
  • Food spoils quickly in hot weather. Be sure to tote your munchies in an ice-filled cooler, and if you're driving, transport your cooler in the air-conditioned car instead of the stuffy trunk.
  • Throw away any food that's been out of the cooler for more than an hour.
  • Set up your picnic in the shade.
  • Keep the wind at bay by securing paper plates and napkins to wooden picnic tables with thumbtacks.
  • To keep bugs off the picnic table, place table legs in cans filled with water (coffee cans work well).

Once you've got these basics down, it's time to think about what to eat! Foods that travel well are natural choices. However, you don't have to limit yourself to sandwiches and chips. Pasta or rice-based dishes with simple ingredients, creative salads and even unique baked goods can all play a special part in your outdoor dining plans. Make sure that you bring foods that can be enjoyed throughout the day as well. You never know when you'll need a little pick-me-up after a refreshing swim or long hike. Below are a few recipes that can add a special twist to any picnic menu:

Orange Glazed Nuts

These tasty glazed nuts make a perfect trail snack for nibbling on while you enjoy the great outdoors.
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. orange juice
  • 1 T. grated orange peel
  • 4 c. mixed nuts (pecans, walnuts and almonds make a nice mix)

Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper.

Bring the sugar, orange juice and orange peel to boil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil for 30 seconds.

Stir in the nuts, and remove the pan from the heat.

Spread the nuts on the waxpaper-lined cookie sheet, and cool completely. Separate the nuts if necessary.

  • Yields: about 1 pound nuts
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes, plus cooling time

Grilled Peach Salad

If you aren't going to be grilling at your picnic site, you can grill and slice the peaches for this salad in advance. Simply pack the peaches, cheese, nuts and dressing in one container and the greens in another and combine them when you're ready to eat.
  • 4 peaches
  • Walnut oil
  • 4 c. arugula
  • 4 oz. blue cheese
  • 2 T. coarsely chopped pecans
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar

Halve the peaches and coat them in walnut oil (olive oil will also work).

Grill the peaches on a medium-low fire about five minutes per side. Remove the skins, cut them into slices and arrange over the arugula.

Crumble the blue cheese and sprinkle the pecans on top and dress with good a olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Pesto Potato Salad

This tasty potato salad rids you of the ingredient that makes most potato salads a safety hazard: mayonnaise.
  • 1/2 lb. baby red potatoes
  • 2 T. finely chopped red onion
  • 2 c. fresh spinach
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 c. toasted walnuts
  • 1/4 c. prepared pesto

Boil the potatoes without removing the skins until tender -- about 10 minutes. Drain and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the onion, spinach, garlic and walnuts in a medium bowl. Add the potatoes and pesto and toss to evenly coat. Serve warm or cold.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Pasta with Roasted Vegetables

This dish is ideal picnic fare since it can be enjoyed either warm or cold. Just make sure you remember to bring along some forks!
  • 6 oz. sliced portabella mushrooms
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 8 oz. fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 8 oz. dried penne pasta
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. mild vinegar -- like rice vinegar or champagne vinegar
  • 1 tsp. chili pepper
  • 2 oz. shaved parmesan cheese -- optional

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine the first six ingredients (mushrooms through salt) in an oven-proof baking dish. Toss well to coat. Bake for 30 minutes or until well-roasted, turning once while baking.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and reserve.

To make the sauce, combine the 1/4 cup olive oil with the 1/4 cup vinegar in a small saucepan. Whisk in the chili pepper and bring to a low simmer. Continue simmering until the liquid is reduced by about one third. Remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, combine the roasted vegetables, cooked pasta and hot sauce. Toss well to coat. If desired, sprinkle shaved parmesan over the top and serve either warm or cool.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Mini Banana Bread Loaves

This tasty banana bread makes a perfect picnic snack or dessert. Simply wrap a loaf tightly in waxed paper and seal the ends to keep it moist.
  • 2 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/4 c. orange juice
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 c. all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 c. chopped walnuts
  • Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Using an electric mixer, combine the bananas, orange juice, olive oil, eggs and sugar. Add the whole wheat and all purpose flour, baking powder and salt and mix to combine. Stir in the walnuts to evenly distribute them.

Spray two mini loaf pans with cooking spray and divide the batter evenly between the pans. Bake the bread for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center of each loaf comes out clean. Cool the bread in the pans for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

  • Yields: Each loaf serves 4 people
  • Preparation Time: about 1 hour
Of course, it takes more than great food to make a great picnic. Make sure you don't forget these handy things when you're off to enjoy the great outdoors:
  • Blanket
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Folding chairs
  • Cards and other games
  • Camera
  • Books, magazines and cross word puzzles
  • Radio/CD player and mood music
  • Napkins or paper towels
  • Plates
  • Silverware
  • Serving utensils
  • Cups and wine glasses
  • Corkscrew
  • Condiments
  • Damp wipes or cloths for washing up
  • Garbage bag

If you Plan on Grilling:

  • Grill or hibachi
  • Charcoal and wood chips
  • Fire starter or lighter fluid
  • Matches and/or a lighter
  • Barbecue tongs, meat fork and spatula
  • Serving platters
  • Baking soda for fire safety
  • Oils, seasonings or other ingredients to create the recipes you plan on preparing
After you've got all that, it's time to find a beautiful day and a perfect spot for a picnic. Enjoy!