A picnic is a moveable feast, and being able to leave the table, television and fast food drive-through in your rearview mirror is one thing that makes an al fresco meal so special. If you're planning a walk to the park, afternoon on the beach or scenic drive, take along a few classic picnic foods that will satisfy your discriminating palate while celebrating the luxury of eating in the open air.
You probably remember potato salad fondly from picnics when you were a kid. Some newer versions of this American classic have a lighter base that won't pack on the pounds. If you want to transform your mom's recipe into something a little leaner, try using a low-fat mayo, or adding some fat-free sour cream as part of the oil requirement. Potato salad is a tasty side dish, and a lower-fat makeover will have everyone coming back for seconds.
Cold fried chicken served outdoors on a red checkered tablecloth is the essence of picnic nostalgia. If you want to make this traditional favorite, use a buttermilk batter. It'll give your breading authentic Southern flavor. For a lower-fat option, don't fry your chicken; bake it instead. Just roll chicken pieces in seasonings and ground cornflakes. You'll end up with juicy faux-fried chicken with a great crunch and less fat.
No list of picnic specialties would be complete without the king of melons. Watermelon tastes refreshingly right when you cut and serve it outdoors. It's also easier to clean up and dispose of any seeds that way. Kids adore this simple approach, and taking a big bite out of a crescent shaped slice of watermelon is about as joyously basic as fruit-love gets. If you want a grown-up version that will satisfy your watermelon craving but spare your wardrobe, try chunking watermelon into a sedate salad or blending it into a smoothie. With watermelon, it's all good.
You probably remember those 1950s-style macaroni salad recipes that were swimming in mayo and smelled like pickles. Well, pasta salad has come a long way since then. Colorful and offering a distinctly international list of spices and ingredients, pasta salad can be a masterful meal all by itself. If you want to add some variety to your picnic, include a piquant pasta salad and discover a new family classic. We love the versions below, but don't hesitate to make them your own by adding your favorite olives, dressings and vegetables:
A sandwich makes for a tasty outdoor meal, but a picnic calls for something out of the ordinary. You can transform a simple sammy into something special by turning it into a wrap or roll-up.
Once you've created a rolled sandwich, cut it crosswise, and you have bite-sized pinwheels that look good and tastes great. Use soft flat breads like a lavash bread or flour tortillas to create the roll. To keep everything fresher, make the cross cuts at serving time. These recipes will show you why presentation makes all the difference:
Bread, Cheese and Cold Cuts
A French baguette, Italian bread or a Kaiser roll makes a delicious foundation for your favorite sliced meat and aged cheese. If you're thinking about a romantic repast under a shady and secluded tree, a loaf of bread, a jug of wine and a cold cut platter can be a simple and delicious way to get the ball rolling. How about a few slices of deli-thin rare roast beef with Muenster, or honey-ham with medium cheddar? If you're not sure about your companion's culinary tastes, an assortment of meats and quality cheeses is always a smart option.
Chopped food that's been well-seasoned and blended with a creamy and/or crunchy element is always a hit as an appetizer or filling. Whether it's deviled egg, crab, chicken or ham, adding some celery, onion and a simple dollop of mayonnaise can make even mundane ingredients extraordinary.
You don't have to stick with the mayo either. Mashed avocado is turning into the new good-for-you mayo, and you can use it in place of mayonnaise in many chopped and deviled food recipes, too. It's actually one of our favorite ways to make fat a friend.
Want some tips on how to serve deviled dishes? How about on a cracker or in a pita pocket? Employing a pita as the bread for your picnic is a handy choice if you're going on a walk or hike. Pitas are tasty and mighty convenient finger food.
Ready to Grill
If you're going to a park or campground for your picnic feast, you may be able to bring or score a grill. A hot picnic entree like classic grilled burgers, brats or chicken adds a new dimension to a simple basket meal. Just remember to avoid cross contamination with your greens, and keep your raw meat on ice. Oh, and don't forget the condiments.
If you think coming up with a grill and charcoal might be a hassle, try investing in a disposable grilling kit. You'll get all the stuff in one convenient package.
It's only a beverage, but what a beverage it is! If you could synthesize a season and serve it on ice, lemonade would be it. When you put together your picnic essentials this year, don't forget the summer sip that refreshes kids of all ages. If you want to add a unique touch to this simple drink, we have some suggestions, but remember, like the classic little black dress, lemonade needs very little embellishment.
Fruit is a natural accompaniment to outdoor dining. It makes a refreshing side dish and dessert, too. When you're exploring your produce department for likely fruit salad ingredients, expand your horizons. Grab some strawberries, of course, but check out the kiwis, star fruit and mangos, too. Your fruit salad can be a sweet surprise, if you let it. To get you started, we love these refreshing salads. They make use of surprising sauces that show the fruits to advantage:
Here is a delightful dish for a Fall harvest dinner party; Jim Deliman's carrot saffron soup recipe. Learn how to make Jim Deliman's carrot saffron soup.
- Bittman, Mark. "101 20-Minute Dishes for Inspired Picnics." New York Times. 7/2/08. 3/16/10.http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/02/dining/02mini.html
- CDC. "Eat a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables Every Day." Undated. 3/16/10.http://www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov/index.html
- Celebrations.com. "Picnic Ideas." Undated. 3/16/10.http://www.celebrations.com/Picnic
- Davidson, Alan. "The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. 1999.
- Food Network. "Picnic Recipes and Tips." Undated. 3/15/10.http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes-and-cooking/picnic-recipes-and-tips/index.html
- Kennedy, Kimberly. "The Art and Craft of Entertaining." Atria Books. 2005.
- LovingYou.com. "Romantic Picnic Foods." Undated. 3/16/10.http://holidays.lovingyou.com/summer/picnicfoods.shtml
- National Pasta Association. "Pasta Shapes." Undated. 3/16/10.http://www.ilovepasta.org/shapes.html
- Nims, Cynthia. "Perfect Picnics." MSNBC. 5/27/05. 3/16/10.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7956912/
- PicnicSite.com. "Plan the Perfect Picnic Menu." Undated. 3/15/10.http://www.the-picnic-site.com/picnic-menu.html
- Serious Eats. "Perfect Picnic Food." 4/13/09. 3/15/10.http://www.seriouseats.com/talk/2009/04/perfect-picnic-food.html
- Smith, S.E. "What are Some Good Foods to Take on a Picnic?" Wisegeek. 12/3/09. 3/14/10.http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-some-good-foods-to-take-on-a-picnic.htm