Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Summertime and the Living is Easy….                                              

During the summer I get a lot of requests for Picnic basket cooking classes.         So, through the years, I’ve collected a wide variety of picnic baskets and some wonderful ideas.

I decided to make this the topic for today’s blog. 

As recently as last week, I was asked to prepare a picnic basket segment for a local television station here in San Diego known as San Diego Six.  I’ve appeared semi regularly on their morning talk show: San Diego Living, for more than three years.  The very first segment I did for them was a picnic basket segment, so and thus…it’s a popular subject for a lot of folks.

The key to a successful picnic experience is to plan it out before you start.  Envision your picnic and your meal to help you create a list of things you think you will need. Once you’ve put together one or more baskets you can be more spontaneous when packing.

Here are some things to consider:

1)    If possible use things you already have.

A.    A large basket

B.     A bucket,

C.     A tablecloth or

D.    A blanket

E.     Small sealable containers, glass preferred, but plastic o.k. too.

F.     Plastic glasses and a plastic beverage container for water or lemonade or whatever.

G.    Plates, glass or disposable. Utensils real or bio-degradable, Napkins, cloth or disposable

If you have to purchase a lot of stuff for a project, it can get expensive. 

2)If you are one of those rare people who haven’t  managed to collect a lot of stuff through the years or you are just starting out, and you are determined to have a picnic, you might consider;

A. Asking a friend if they have a picnic basket you could borrow.  (Remember never return a basket or purse empty. A thank you card or small gift of something is a nice gesture.)

B. Look for a basket at a thrift store or flea market.  Scrub it up good with hot soapy water and paint it if you like.   Old baskets are very collectable and lend character to your experience.

C. Buy a new one.  They’re basically all made in China, so look closely at the basket before buying. If you like to surf the web, you might find one made in the USA.   

A new basket should come with a set of plates, typically (2) and depending on the size of the basket, two wine glasses and two sets of utensils.  Picnic baskets come with a wide variety of options, but be warned, sometimes the more options, the heavier the basket. Some of the nicer amenities are; a hot box, a wine chiller, a cork screw, long straps.

3) Big Picnic or little Pic Nic?  A person can get carried away cooking for an outdoor dining experience.  Things to consider:

A. Will where you eat be hot or cold?  Sunny or shady.  Could it be windy? Will Sand be flying?

Any of the above could be good reason to make a simple picnic.  A gourmet sandwich, some fruit, dessert and water. Ba-badda-bing, your meal is simple and swift to eat and you don’t have to worry about it getting cold.

No picnic should be rushed, but sometimes, the picnic is not the focus of your trip, you just wanted to make it special by making a picnic. Sometimes the little details can be very meaningful.   

B. Who gets to carry the basket and how far will they be going?  Baskets get heavy the longer they are carried. The idea being they’ll be lighter going out, but still, big picnic.... lots of containers…. heavy basket.

C. If you are determined to make this a “memorable” picnic and your menu is extensive, I’d like to recommend a wagon. Wagons can look very neat and carry a lot of stuff. Like Candles, pillows, books.

D. Multiple baskets.  If “big” is the way you are going then I recommend many baskets.  That way, other folks can help carry.

4) Packing it light? 

A. Bio-degradable utensils, plates and glasses make the basket much lighter, as do the plastic containers for the food. Remember to keep it earth friendly, leave the plastic bags at home.

5) Packing it heavy.                                                                                                                I do love using real china and silverware and even glass wine glasses for a picnic.  To me it seems more “fantastic” and strange to see my plates sitting on top of a cloth in a park miles from home. Something so charming about bringing your stuff outside.

6) Themed Baskets. I have had a lot of fun coming up with different themed baskets.  Here are a few ideas along with a few menus.

A. Mediterranean Picnic, Menu: Babaganoosh hummus with pita triangles, Greek Salad, with dill, feta, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, olives ect. Beef or lamb kabobs (these are short and have only a couple of pieces of meat on them)Dessert is a Greek lemon cookie, or your favorite sugar cookie or perhaps Baklava, or any kind of lemon flavored dessert.


Spicy Asia Pasta Salad without chicken

B. Asian Menu:  Spicy Asian  Pasta Salad with a peanut, ginger, rice-wine vinegar and honey dressing. Chicken satay, which is essentially a small grilled chicken kabob  served with a small container of peanut sauce. Cucumber salad flavored with seasoned rice wine vinegar and for dessert,a fortune cookie or two. (you can make your own fortune cookies and add your own messages.)  Go online for a recipe.  Ice Cold Sake and two small glasses can be a nice addition.

American Themed Basket Menu:  Grilled chicken with a BBQ dipping sauce, S.W. Potato salad, made with no mayo. A South West spiced vinaigrette dressing makes this potato salad pop, with sweet red peppers, corn, black beans, scallions and green olives and of course potatoes. For Dessert, a homemade blueberry pie. A pie safe is ideal for transporting baskets to picnics.

American Picnic Basket


Spicy Asian Chicken Salad

Recipe By     :Elizabeth Podsiadlo

1      pound  linguini -- Cook according to directions on box                                                      4      chicken breasts – cubed                                                                                                    3/4    cup  soy sauce -- reserve 1/4 cup for dressing                                                            3/4    cup  chicken stock


1/4    cup  peanut butter – smooth                                                                                        1/4    cup  brown sugar                                                                                                                  1/2    cup  seasoned rice wine vinegar -- You can use rice wine vinegar                                                         1/8    cup  sesame oil – Asian                                                                                                                 2      garlic clove – minced                                                                                                                1      teaspoon  hot pepper flakes -- Use 1/2 if you don't like it hot                                                                         1/8    cup  peanut oil                                                                                                                     1 1/2  cups  fresh mint – mince                                                                                                  4      green onions – minced                                                                                                                           1      cup  peas -- frozen or fresh                                                                                               1/2    cup  cilantro -- cleaned chopped                                                                                 1/2    cup  peanuts -- coarsely chopped                                                                                      1 1/2  cups  savoy cabbage -- chopped fine

Place skinless, boneless chicken breast in a baking dish and add 1/2 cup of soy sauce and chicken broth.  Place in a 350 degree oven uncovered and allow to bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until juices run clear when pricked with a fork.  Remove from oven and allow to cool. 

In a large saucepan, bring 4 quarts of water to boil noodles and cook according to instructions on box.  You want the noodles to be a little al dente, so check about 5 minutes before instructions say to stop and sample noodle.  Should be a little firm.

While noodles are cooking place small saucepan over low heat on stove.  Add the seasoned rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, peanut oil, brown sugar, peanut butter, garlic and red-pepper flakes.  Use a whisk to mix the ingredients together.  You just want peanut butter to melt and you want to blend all the ingredients.   Turn off heat and allow to stand at stove.

Drain juice from baked chicken breast and strain.  Add this juice to the dressing in the saucepan and whisk again. Cube chicken breast and add to the dressing .  Allow to soak for 5 minutes.  Toss remaining ingredients with the prepared linguine; add the dressing with the chicken and all the veggies and toss well. 

Serving Ideas :Serve with shredded cabbage and Chinese chow main noodles.

NOTES : When making the dressing strive for a nice sweet salty balance.  If the dressing is to sour, add some of the brown sugar or even a little honey until you like the balance.

NOTE:  I always double the dressing and use it for a marinade or dipping sauce for the chicken satay.

I hope you find these ideas inspiring.  I’d love to hear about some of your picnic ideas including photos.  Please contact me through my website.

Now go have a glass of water

-Chef Elizabeth Podsiadlo



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