Impromptu Picnic

A spur-of-the-moment meal outdoors can be delightful - and surprisingly easy

July 19, 2000|By Linda Giuca | Linda Giuca,HARTFORD COURANT

There is something extra delicious about a spur-of-the-moment picnic.

Maybe the spontaneous break from the daily grind is the reason. All it takes is a sunny day, the clock ticking toward noon and a deli just steps from the office or home. In minutes, you can be munching on lunch in a park or in your own back yard.

Sometimes an impromptu picnic becomes one of the most memorable meals on a vacation, particularly in Europe, where the delicatessens, cheese shops and bakeries offer foods too aromatic and mouthwatering to pass up.

Closer to home, the ever-growing supply of prepared foods for working adults too tired to cook means more variety for last-minute picnickers. No longer must a loaf of crusty bread, a good cheese and some fruit suffice, although they remain the most basic of picnic foods. Let the choices available at the market dictate the menu: an array of salads, fried chicken or spicy wings, overstuffed sandwiches, even sushi.

This year, concentrate on the accessories: the basket for transporting plates, glasses, cutlery, linens and essentials such as a corkscrew and a couple of knives; the cooler for keeping foods safe to eat; a scented candle to ward off flying pests.

Dinnerware manufacturers have combined acrylic and plastic with updated designs to create attractive plates, bowls, glasses and even stemware that are almost indistinguishable from their breakable counterparts. This year's hot decorative motif is bubbles. Dishes and glasses, either in clear no-color or pretty pastels, are dotted with tiny bubbles, as if a spray of champagne had been injected into the acrylic. Some dinnerware comes with coordinating flatware whose handles are made from the same material.

Wine always seems to taste better in a proper wineglass, but handling stemware while sitting on a picnic blanket demands a high degree of coordination. Some manufacturers offer a bit of help with plastic plates that include a cutout where you can place a stemmed glass to help prevent spills.

One of the advantages of investing in picnic ware is that the basket can stay packed and ready for whenever the mood for a picnic in the park strikes.

If you want to round out store-bought picnic foods with homemade fare that travels well, here are some recipes that can be prepared in advance:

Spicy Gorgonzola Spread

Makes 2 cups

1 pound Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

1 2/3 cups roasted red peppers, chopped

2 scallions, minced

3 tablespoons sour cream

1 teaspoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce

Put all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, and mix until pureed. Chill until spread thickens. Serve spread on slices of crusty bread. If desired, top each slice with chopped scallions, prosciutto, anchovies or cooked bacon.

Per tablespoon: 50 calories; 4 grams fat; 1 gram carbohydrate; 3 grams protein

Turkey Pitas

Makes 8 sandwiches

1 cup mayonnaise

6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon capers, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

freshly ground black pepper to taste

8 pita breads, about 4 inches in diameter

1 1/2 pounds turkey breasts, thinly sliced

tomato slices

flat-leaf parsley sprigs In a small mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, capers and lemon juice. Blend well. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Chill for about 30 minutes.

Cut off a small strip from the top of each pita and gently open the pocket. Evenly divide the Parmesan mayonnaise and turkey slices among the pitas. Add tomato slices and parsley to each pocket. Refrigerate before serving.

Per sandwich: 460 calories; 26 grams fat; 31 grams carbohydrates; 24 grams protein

Chicken-Citrus Salad

Serves 4

2 boned and skinned chicken breast halves (about 8 ounces)

1/3 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

2 grapefruit, peeled and segmented

2 navel oranges, peeled and sliced

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

6 cups lightly packed spinach leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces

To poach chicken: In a medium skillet, add chicken and enough water to almost cover chicken. Bring water to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer about 15 minutes until juices run clear when chicken is pierced with knife point. Cover and refrigerate.

To make dressing: In a large bowl, whisk juice, vinegar, oil, honey, ginger, salt and pepper flakes to mix thoroughly. Add fruit and onion, and toss. Cover and set aside at least 10 minutes or up to 1 hour.

To carry to a picnic, drain chicken, cut into strips and pack into a container. Put spinach and dressing in separate containers. To serve, divide spinach and chicken among four plates, then top with dressing.

Per serving: 275 calories; 21 grams protein; 10 grams fat; 50 milligrams cholesterol; 250 milligrams sodium

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.