Because the food can be particularly portable, an Asian theme works well for a picnic, Miller says. Use chopsticks instead of conventional forks and knives, and serve food in paper carryout containers instead of on paper plates.
"You could swing by a restaurant and ask to purchase [boxes] or pick up some side dishes from the restaurant and ask for extra boxes," Miller says. (Just don't pack food in paper containers or you will have a basket full of spills.)
Miller's Asian basket would include easy-to-transport, Asian-inspired salads such as Thai noodles with vegetables and peanuts, and sesame-glazed shrimp salad with sugar snap peas or packable Thai chicken roll-ups.
Add tropical-fruit salad sprinkled with coconut and, of course, fortune cookies. Top it off with a thermos filled with a cooling treat. "Ginger tea on ice would be super refreshing in the summer with lemon," she says.
Sesame-Glazed Shrimp Salad With Sugar Snap Peas
4 teaspoons sesame oil (divided use)
1 pound raw medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup sugar snap peas, ends trimmed
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until bright pink, turning frequently. Transfer the shrimp to a large bowl.
Meanwhile, blanch the snap peas in a large pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, until bright green and crisp-tender. Drain, set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, cilantro and the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil. Add to the shrimp and toss to coat. Add the snap peas and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Store in a sealable plastic container in the refrigerator until you are ready to pack it into a cold cooler.
From "Picnics," by Robin Miller
Per serving: 281 calories, 24 grams protein, 18 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 5 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 177 milligrams cholesterol, 248 milligrams sodium
Tips for a worry-free outdoor repast
Nothing ruins a picnic faster than not being prepared. Remember that the point of a picnic is to get away from it all and find a scenic spot outdoors where you can spread a blanket and nibble and chat away.
But if you forget the wine opener, the whole day can be spoiled faster than ants can get to the picnic hamper.
Robin Miller, author of Picnics (Clarkson/Potter, $14.95) and host of Quick Fix Meals With Robin Miller on the Food Network, offered tips for a great outing:
Bring a bottle opener, paper towels, bug spray, sunblock, trash bags and cloth wipes for quick cleanups.
The most important thing to remember is to keep cold foods consistently cool. "Food can't be out for more than two hours between the temperatures of 40 and 140 [degrees]," says Miller. She takes perishable foods straight from the refrigerator and packs food in layers with ice, taking a separate cooler for drinks. Picnic carriers such as a picnic backpack (available from thepicnicstore.com) or the Wine Lover's basket (from williams-sonoma.com) come with insulated compartments for both food and beverages.
Avoid anything that can get soggy, such as sandwiches and chips. If sandwiches are a must, pack tomatoes separately or separate them from the bread with a piece of lettuce. Or go for wraps instead; they don't get squashed like traditional bread sandwiches.
Miller prefers vinegar-based salads to those with mayonnaise. While she says mayonnaise now has preservatives to reduce food-born bacteria, "For me, it's easier to not worry about it. I'd rather have a pasta salad with tons of vegetables and a vinaigrette."
Just because it's portable, picnic food doesn't need to be boring. "It can be beyond fried chicken and apple pie on a red checkered blanket," Miller says. "Think in terms of it being a party."