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How to Plan a Picnic: Menus, Recipes, and Packing Tips

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

"The Picnic", Thomas Cole

"The Picnic", Thomas Cole

Picnic [pik-nik] noun

1. an excursion or outing in which the participants carry home made food with them and share a lovely meal in the open air.

2. fast (take-out) food consumed at a park. The food is predictable, substandard and boring.

Guess which one is my choice?

How It All Began

Although cavemen no doubt ate outdoors, their repast was hardly what one might deem a "picnic." (Could you relax knowing that a man-eating beast might be lurking behind the very next rock?)

Originally, the term picnic (piquenique in French) was the term used for the foods assembled at a social gathering rather than the gathering itself. Each invitee was expected to contribute something to the function. However, over time, the meaning of the word shifted to punctuate the alfresco element of the meal.

What Constitutes a Perfect Picnic?

There is no single plan for the "perfect picnic." This is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and that is why I am writing. Picnics can be as easy or as complicated as you want them to be. What is key is the planning. Here are the things you should keep in mind:

Packing Tips for a Picnic

Getting There:

  • Every picnic requires utensils: plates, eating implements, etc. A spur-of-the-moment picnic can be done with paper plates and plastic spoons and forks. A more romantic or formal (planned) meal might utilize real plates and silverware.
  • Tablecloth or blanket--even if there is a picnic table, you will want to cover it so that you are eating on a clean surface.

Being There:

  • Food safety: unless you will consume everything that you bring with you, consider packing foods that are less perishable. Mayonnaise-laden potato salads and fried chicken are not safe if left un-refrigerated for more than 2 hours.

Leaving There:

  • Clean-up: Have available wet-wipes to clean sticky fingers.
  • Trash bags: Never leave a mess for someone else to deal with. If you carted it in, you should cart it out.
  • Eating Outdoors, Handling Food Safely
    To protect yourself, your family, and friends from foodborne illness during warm weather months, safe food handling when eating outdoors is critical.

Breakfast/Brunch Menu and Recipes

fresh strawberries

fresh strawberries

  • Strawberries Balsamic (below)
  • Sliced smoked ham or smoked turkey
  • Caramelized onion tart (below)
  • Champagne or other sparkling wine

Strawberries Balsamic Ingredients:

  • 2 pints strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced in half
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

Instructions:

Toss all ingredients in bowl. Cover and let stand 1 hour before serving.

Caramelized Onion Tart

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 pound yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound red onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pound cipollini, vertically sliced in 1/4 inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 of a 14-oz. pkg. refrigerated pie dough
  • 1/4 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Peel the onions. Using a mandoline or the slicing blade of a food processor, thinly slice the yellow and red onions. Slice the cipollini with a sharp knife. Line a baking sheet with paper towels; place the onions on the paper towels, and allow to sit for about 10 minutes to remove some of the excess moisture. (Did you know that onions are 89 percent water?)
  3. Heat the oil and butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Place the onions, thyme, salt, and pepper in the pan and cook, stirring occasionally about 20 minutes or until the onions are softened and begin to turn golden brown. Don't hurry the process by turning up the heat: the onions will burn and taste bitter. You want them to caramelize.
  4. Line a 10-inch tart pan with the pie dough.
  5. Sprinkle feta cheese on the pastry, followed by the parmesan and gorgonzola cheeses. Top with the onion mixture. Bake at 425° for 25 minutes or until golden. Cool for 10 minutes.

Romantic Meal for Two Menu and Recipes

asparagus

asparagus

  • Asparagus, Parmesan and Prosciutto Bundles (recipe below)
  • Fresh baguette
  • skewers of grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, zucchini chunks
  • Dark Chocolate Salted Brownies
  • Sauvignon Blanc or any other fruity (non-oaked) wine

Asparagus, Parmesan, and Prosciutto Bundles

Ingredients

  • 6 thin asparagus spears
  • 6 slices of prosciutto
  • About 1.5 ounces of Parmesan cut into sticks 3 inches long x ½ inch thick

Instructions:

  1. Snap the tough ends from each asparagus spear. Cook in boiling, salted water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Immediately plunge into ice water. Drain and pat dry.
  2. Cut each spear in half (one half will contain the tip and the other half will contain the bottom of the spear).
  3. Lay prosciutto slices in a single layer on the work surface. Place one asparagus tip and one asparagus bottom crosswise near the short end of each slice of prosciutto. Place one cheese stick on top of each pair of asparagus spears. Roll up prosciutto to enclose asparagus and cheese. Cover and keep chilled until ready to serve.

Vegetarian Feast (Menu and Recipes)

tabbouleh salad

tabbouleh salad

Tabbouleh Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup bulgur wheat
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 heaping tsp. crushed garlic
  • 1/2 cup scallions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried mint leaves
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 cup cucumber, chopped
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained

Instructions:

  1. Combine bulgur wheat and boiling water in a large mixing bowl. Let stand for 15–20 minutes, or until all water is absorbed.
  2. Stir in the salt, lemon juice, garlic, scallions, and olive oil. Cover and place in the refrigerator to marinate 2–3 hours.
  3. Just before serving stir in the remaining ingredients and mix well.

"With the Kids" Menu and Recipes

trail mix

trail mix

  • Homemade trail mix (any combination of pretzels, dried fruits, nuts, dry cereal)
  • Fresh fruit kabobs made with grapes and melon chunks
  • Turkey sandwiches (oatmeal bread, sliced deli turkey, dried cranberries, cream cheese)
  • Homemade or store-bought cookies

A Grown-Up Gathering (Menu and Recipes)

"When Harry Met Sally" Chocolate Cake

"When Harry Met Sally" Chocolate Cake

Provolone Terrine Ingredients:

  • 1/2 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped
  • 1 lb. provolone cheese, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto
  • garlic cream sauce (recipe below)

Garlic Cream Sauce Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup almonds, walnuts, or pine nuts

Combine cream cheese, butter, and garlic in a bowl or food processor. Blend until combined and smooth. Stir in nuts.

Instructions:

  1. Line a 4x8-inch loaf pan with dampened cheesecloth (soak the cloth and then wring out).
  2. Cut provolone slices in half. Slightly overlapping slices, cover bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of the loaf pan (use about 1/2 of the cheese). Divide the remaining half of the cheese into 3 equal portions and set aside.

Now, begin layering as follows:

  • Spread one-half of the pesto over the provolone in the pan.
  • Cover pesto with 1/3 of the remaining provolone.
  • Sprinkle with 1/2 of the tomatoes
  • Spread garlic cream over the tomatoes
  • Sprinkle remaining tomatoes over the garlic cream
  • Cover with the 2nd third of provolone
  • Spread remaining pesto over the provolone
  • Lay remaining provolone over the pesto.

Fold cheesecloth over the loaf; press gently with your hands to compact.

Chill about 2 hours. Fold back the cloth, invert on a serving plate and unmold. Remove cheesecloth. Serve with toasted baguette or crackers.

Wild Rice Spinach Salad

Ingredients and Instructions for the Salad

  • 1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 3 cups cooked wild rice
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions
  • 4 slices turkey bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
  • 1 cup smoked turkey breast from the deli, diced
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  1. Squeeze as much water as possible from the thawed spinach.
  2. Mix the spinach and all remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Pour the dressing over the salad. Toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Ingredients for the Salad Dressing

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

So, Let's Recap

Here is a table showing all of the suggested dishes in today's menus. The items for which I have given recipes are in bold type. I hope you will feel free to pick and choose from the columns to create your own perfect picnic meal.

MenuMain Dish #1Main Dish #2 or SaladDessert

Brunch

Onion tart

deli ham or turkey

strawberries balsamic

Romantic

Asparagus Bundles

fresh veg.

dark chocolate salted brownies

Vegetarian

Tabbouleh salad

 

carrot cake

Kids

turkey sandwiches

fruit kabobs

cookies

Grown-Ups

provolone terrine

rice spinach salad

chocolate cake

© 2016 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 18, 2016:

Bravewarrior - It was a fun list to put together. I hope you find an opportunity to put together a picnic meal and use some of these recipes.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on July 18, 2016:

I haven't been on a picnic in forever! These all sound delicious and perfect for a summer meal in the backyard - or the beach, or wherever....

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 24, 2016:

Bill, happy Friday to you as well, although today does NOT look like "picnic" weather, does it? The history lesson? I would have written more, but sometimes you just have to get down to business and write about food.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 24, 2016:

I always love that you give us a little history lesson. The French? Well bully for them!!!

Thanks, Linda, and Happy Friday to you!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 24, 2016:

Good morning Eric. My favorite thing in all of these is the tabbouleh salad. It has a bright refreshing taste (from the lemon juice) and it is quite filling. And, if you are a chocolate lover (I honestly don't understand those who are not--what a sad existence), you must at some point in time bake the dark chocolate salted brownies.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 24, 2016:

Oh my this sure beats granola trail mix, carrots and an apple. I either hike in a few miles or picnic at the beach. Some of these could work for both. Really fun read. As always you make me hungry.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 23, 2016:

Hi Jackie - Haven't heard from you for a while. So happy you came by. I LOVE to cook, and I love to share my food with those I love. The only thing that (I think) can make that better is enjoying this food outdoors.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on June 23, 2016:

Yum, yum, would love to go on your picnic! Been awhile, sure sounds like fun.

Sharing!

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