In Praise of Picnics

Grab a blanket and your favorite foods, and celebrate with an easy outing.

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In Praise of Picnics

Jean Allsopp

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Picnics mean different things to different people. Some carefully prepare transportable recipes and pack up their wine coolers and small cheese boards. Other picnickers simply grab a few items at the market and kick back on a sun-bleached bench. Whatever your style, these movable spreads are quintessentially summer.

So relax and enjoy the following delicious recipes and food memories from coastal chefs, cookbook authors, and party planners. Let nature be your table under the big blue umbrella sky.

"The ideal spot to have a beach picnic is someplace isolated. It's great if you can be on the leeward side of a dune, where there is less wind. You'll have sun but avoid sand blowing into your food. My approach to a beach menu is something simple, and comfort food makes it special. I bring meals that are prepared in advance, chilled, and transported, or are easily prepared on site. A lot of public beaches have grills―all you have to bring is the charcoal. I like to focus not so much on the food as the overall experience."
 ―Chef Tim Creehan

Grilled Grouper Sandwich with Chipotle Tartar Sauce
Chipotle Tartar Sauce is an easy variation on classic tartar sauce and would also be tasty with French fries or crab cakes. Chipotle peppers (dried, smoked jalapeños) in adobo sauce add full, smoky flavor.

¾ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons diced celery
1 tablespoon minced onion
2 tablespoons dill pickle relish
1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
4 (5-ounce) grouper fillets
4 teaspoons lemon pepper
4 Kaiser rolls, toasted on grill
1 tomato, sliced
1 red onion, sliced
4 Napa cabbage leaves

To make the tartar sauce, combine first 5 ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and chill 3 hours. Sprinkle grouper with lemon pepper. Grill fillets, covered with grill lid, over medium-high heat (350° to 400°) 4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes with a fork. Place each fillet on a Kaiser roll. Top with Chipotle Tartar Sauce, tomato, onion, and cabbage. Makes 4 servings.

Creole Coleslaw
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup vinegar
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1⁄8 teaspoon ground red pepper
6 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup shredded carrot

Combine first 8 ingredients in a small bowl. Combine cabbage and carrot in a large bowl. Add the desired amount of dressing, tossing well to coat. Chill up to 2 hours or serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.
Chef Tim Creehan
Beach Walk Café
Destin, Florida

"I like to keep things simple for a beach picnic―no reason to be all fancy-schmancy and then have sand ruin your efforts. Besides, the beach is the definition of casual. But the drama and brilliant sunshine of a beach picnic call for food that has big, bright flavor. Don't let the simplicity of these crostini fool you: The little morsels taste lusciously complex, especially when peaches are in peak season. In fact, I only make these when the best peaches are available. I serve them with a raucous green salad with herbs, and a cold bottle of vinho verde or French rosé."
 ―Author Jeremy Jackson

Crostini with Peaches and Blue Cheese
For easy packing, keep the toasted crostini, peach mixture, and blue cheese in separate containers. Assemble on site. You'll skip broiling the cheese, but the flavor is equally sublime.

36 thin baguette slices
Olive oil
3 cups peeled and thinly sliced peaches (about 3 medium)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup (4 ounces) blue cheese, crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Brush baguette slices with olive oil; place on a baking sheet. Broil until toasted and crisp. Cool completely. Toss peaches gently with vinegar. Top crostini with peaches and blue cheese. Sprinkle with pepper, if desired. Broil until cheese is hot, soft, and very lightly browned. Makes 3 dozen.
From Good Day for a Picnic by Jeremy Jackson
(William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2005)

"One of my favorites is a chic beach picnic for 10 to 12 people on a beautiful day in early summer. I'll tote all the goods in a red wagon and red-and-white coolers. For the setting, I'll spread a large bamboo mat, scattered with canvas cushions and surrounded by red canvas umbrellas. Each couple gets a picnic basket with wet wipes, bug spray, sunscreen, food for two, red plastic cups, and utensils. I'll use Frisbees as plates, then for after-lunch fun."
 ―Event planner Tara Guérard

Tara' s Killer Bloody Mary
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of hot sauce
Pinch of celery salt
Pinch of fresh dill
Pinch of freshly cracked black pepper
1 ½ ounces (3 tablespoons) vodka

5 ounces (about 2⁄3 cup) Clamato tomato cocktail
1 pepperoncino

Combine first 6 ingredients in a 10-ounce glass. Fill glass with ice. Pour in vodka and Clamato; stir well. Garnish with pepperoncino. Makes 1 serving.
Tara Guérard
Soirée Event Planning and Design
Charleston, South Carolina

"My wife and I drive down the coast toward Santa Cruz and stop along the way at a place called Davenport Landing, a really small beach with soft sand about one mile from Año Nuevo State Reserve. My wife likes salmon, so I bring Salmon Salad that we eat with Cucumber, Red Onion, and Basil Salad. When my daughter comes, one of her favorite things to eat is frozen grapes. We buy some Flame or Thompson seedless grapes and freeze them the night before, then toss them in the cooler with lemonade and a few beers for Dad. What a getaway!"
 ―Chef Phil Conde

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