By Mary Ellen Psaltis
Creating a picnic is as easy as taking your bagged lunch outside and eating on a park bench. But it could be so much more. You need but a handful of minutes to explore the grocery aisles and uncover new treasures. On the same trip, throw in a few favorites like chips and dip for an outdoor meal that is fit for kings and queens. Let’s relish the waning days of summer with as many barbeques and picnics as can be squeezed into these fabulous sunny days.
Here are several suggestions to consider as you get ready for your next feast. See which plan fits you best, and feel free to mix and match depending on your mood and who will be joining you.
The Lazy Gourmet:
Caviar, cheese, crackers, chocolate, wine, bread
You don’t need recipes – you need a picnic basket, tablecloth, dishes, silverware, wine glasses and a wine opener. Go for simple, elegant and satisfying. This meal can be pulled together in as much time as it takes to grab items off the shelves. But the time saved in no way demeans this feast – now you have more time to savor each bite and enjoy the company.
Both Thriftway locations stock a bountiful selection of gourmet cheeses, flavored organic chocolate and pâté. Check out the fancy crackers, which can be plain, seedy, and/or gluten-free. If bread sounds better, Columbia Bakery, San Francisco Street Bakery and many others have freshly baked loaves for your convenience.
You can speak with the manager of the wine department, Rob Backman, for ideas, but he has already assisted you by purchasing vintages from around the neighborhood and around the world. There are numerous wines on sale each week – look at the signs and note what is displayed at the end of the aisles. Some have even been chilled for you.
The Grill Master:
Brats, burgers, corn on the cob, roasted vegetables, grilled fruit, and s’mores.
Painted Hills Natural Beef, grown with high standards for the animals and production, makes superb ground beef hamburgers. There are plenty of ‘dog’ choices like Polish Dogs, beef or pork hotdogs, spicy and plain. Corn is readily available and easy to roast (cooking instructions follow). Now is the time to throw pineapple rings onto the grill. And, when the coals are dying down, it’s the perfect opportunity to toast marshmallows and squish them between graham crackers layered with chocolate. You don’t have to be at camp to enjoy a s’more.
The Newly Vegan:
If have decided to eliminate or cut back on eating animal products, you can still have a somewhat traditional picnic/barbeque by cooking ‘dogs’ from Field Roast Grain Meat Co. Their artisan, no-meat sausages come in three varieties: hot and spicy Mexican Chipotle, Italian and Smoked Apple Sage. This company also produces (meatless) frankfurters.
Choose vegetarian baked beans, a box of cherry tomatoes and slice up a watermelon. Crown your feast with baked peaches with cinnamon topped with Tofutti ice cream (recipe follows).
Wanted to Make My Own Dishes but Lost Track of Time:
The Bayview Thriftway salad bar is stocked daily with more than plenty to make a bountiful salad. The hot dish bar offerings change regularly – it’s like going to a potluck.
Any meal you can take outside is kid-friendly. Your children can learn to love the same foods you eat.
Here are a few cooking tips:
Corn on the cob:
Some suggest soaking the corn in cold water for 20 minutes for more moisture in cooking. I have cooked fresh ears without soaking and they still grilled to perfection.
Remove all the husks and silk threads. Wrap the cleaned cob in a layer of the soft, inner husks, wrap with foil and twist the ends. They are easier to turn on the grill.
Put near the edges of the coals for 15 minutes (more or less). If you want to refrain from using any foil, keep all but the outer most husks on. You still might want to pull out as much silk as possible before cooking.
Corn cooked over fire (or coals) is crunchy, sweet and better than boiled.
The “trick” for easy peeling eggs is to use ones you obtained last week. This allows some of the air to escape making the peeling cleaner. I have heard that adding some salt to the water is helpful as well. Put your eggs in your pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover and let sit for 10-12 minutes. I don’t need my eggs cooked to death. Rinse under cold water and peel when you can handle the eggs (not too hot.)
Mix the yolks with your heart’s desires: Use Greek yogurt, pickle relish, any mustard, mayonnaise, curry, – you like the spice… you add it! Mix well. Stuff into a small plastic lunch bag, snip the corner and squeeze into the whites. This is tidy and one of the best things I ever thought of to do.
With so many people having food concerns, it can be hard to know what to make for a sweet treat. Here’s a dessert that’s gluten free, fat free, overflowing with taste and nutrients and easy as can be!
Rinse peaches and cut in half. Remove the stone. Place in a baking dish cut side up. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Nutmeg is nice, too. Top each half with a sliced date. Drizzle real maple syrup over the top. Add a little water to the bottom of the pan. Bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Crazy delicious.
When you are eating outside (especially) but inside too, remember to keep hot things hot and cold things cold. Forgot your cooler? Thriftway sells the Cool Green Bag, found in the frozen food aisles. It’s a big bag for holding temperatures of the dishes inside.
- Consider vinegar-based dressings instead of mayonnaise based (slaw). They hold up better in the summer heat.
- Freeze ice cubes with iced tea or lemonade so that as they melt, they won’t dilute your beverage.
- Throw the sunscreen into your picnic basket.
- Bring a first aid kit with hand sanitizer.
- Carry jar of water. It’s good for drinking and rinsing.
- Remember the wine opener.
- Bring an old washcloth or hand towel. It’s handy for wiping hands, tables, chairs, and who know what else.
- Your old plastic-flannel backed tablecloth can cover a picnic bench or be used to sit on damp or dusty ground.
Eat Well – Be Well.