The elements of a perfect picnic menu begin and end with the guests. Consider first the tastes of those who will join you for your picnic. If you're entertaining a friend whose idea of gourmet fare is hot dogs and beer, then your picnic menu should err on the side of simple, flavorful, common picnic food. On the other hand, if you're trying to impress a significant other, go for a romantic menu full of elegant foods such as a salad of baby greens, a delicious dip, or gourmet sandwiches.
Before trying any of these menus, be sure you have a good cooler or ice chest and freezer packs. Nothing spoils the perfect picnic as much as food poisoning. Keep food very cool and eat it quickly after transporting it to the picnic site.
Elegant dishes, whether disposable or reusable, also set the mood and tone. While a checkered tablecloth is the quintessential picnic accessory, any lovely cloth to spread on the table or ground sets the mood too.
Generally, there are four menu categories to consider when preparing a picnic menu.
•Beverages: Classic picnic beverages include freshly made lemonade, home made iced tea, flavored iced tea, or a good wine. Keep it chilled and pour non alcoholic beverages into a good quality thermos filled with ice for a refreshing cold drink.
•Appetizers or snacks: Elegant finger foods such as salsa keep longer than dairy-based dips like onion dip filled with sour cream that can spoil in summer's heat. Be sure to include quality crackers or sliced crudités that go with the dip of your choice. A good pesto would also be a great consideration.
•Main dishes: Midday menus call for sandwiches such as grilled chicken with pesto or perhaps eggplant burgers. For evening picnics, try quiches, tarts, or cold fried chicken as the main dish accompanied by a green salad.
•Dessert: Think about desserts that are easy to transport and handle. Cookies can be packed separately and as long as there's no chocolate to melt in the car, can be kept out of the cooler, leaving room for other foods. Cupcakes, a good cake, or a simple pie work well too.
An elegant Concert in the park picnic hosted by The Maine House will include white wine such as Chardonnay, sliced vegetables and spinach- artichoke dip, Quiche Lorraine with salad of baby greens, and individual citrus lemon tarts.
A romantic picnic might include a good Cabernet, crackers spread with soft cheese and topped with thinly sliced cucumber and chives, cold rotisserie chicken, spinach salad, with homemade yeast dinner rolls. For dessert...chocolate cupcakes with buttercream icing.
Estelle's Roasted Chicken
1 6- pound roasting chicken
Coarse ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
1/4 stick butter, melted
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
1 bulb of fennel, tops removed, and cut into wedges
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pin feathers and pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place the onions, carrots, and fennel in a roasting pan. Toss with salt, pepper, add a few more sprigs of thyme, and olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.
Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes before slicing.
Estelle's Citrus Tart
1 1/2 cups crushed gingersnap cookies
5 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 large eggs, separated
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Garnishes: fresh mint leaves, lemon and orange slices
Stir together first 4 ingredients. Press mixture evenly into a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom; set aside.
Whisk together sweetened condensed milk, orange juice concentrate, lemon juice, and egg yolks until blended.
Beat egg whites at medium speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form; fold into condensed milk mixture. Pour into prepared crust.
Bake at 325° for 20 to 25 minutes or just until filling is set. Remove to a wire rack, and let cool completely. Cover and chill at least 4 hours. Remove tart from pan, and place on a serving dish.
Beat whipping cream and granulated sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Dollop around edges of tart; garnish, if desired.