Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Picnic recipes to carry you beyond the standard sandwich!

Alas, the picnic season is in full swing and the August long weekend is quickly approaching. What could be more delightful than laying down a blanket near a babbling brook, basking in the warm summer sun—and loosing yourself in a delicious dilemma of fruit picking. Will you have a ruby red Ontario cherry to start? Or a handful of perfectly ripe wild BC blueberries? Decisions, decisions….

For centuries, people around the world have been picnicking in various fashions. Apparently during medieval times, the English were the first to establish the idea of moveable hunting feasts with participating hunters contributing their catches. The French quickly caught on to the “potluck” style outdoor feast and began charging for admission. Some say the word “picnic” is derived from a French word “pique nique”(meaning unknown).

I am certain a wise woman embraced the alfresco eating experience to escape setting a formal dinner table and most of all, the dreaded drudgery of dish washing. Isn’t that Anne Boleyn lying leisurely on a picnic blanket over yonder on a river’s edge playing her lute? Yes, she is dizzy with joy at the lack of knives nearby and chirping cheerfully after a feast of figs and quails, “Just toss the pits and bones in the water, dear Henry.” Throwing her neck back in reckless abandon, she squeals, “We’re on a picnic O’Henry and I have no dishes to do!”

During the Victorian era, picnicking became even more popular among all classes and authors of the time like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen romanticized the ritual lavishly in their stories. Painters such as Renoir, Serrat, Cézanne and Van Gogh captured men in top hats and women in hoop skirts lounging by ponds, leisurely snacking on juicy summer fruits while gazing at boaters nearby. As society became more civilized, public spaces such as parks and gardens evolved. I am guessing these open nature zones likely contributed to the popularity of picnicking.

Today, Canadians of all backgrounds flock with their families to public beaches and parks at the peak of summer with soccer balls, novels, picnic hampers and blankets in tow to celebrate this age-old tradition. This weekend, why not pack a picnic lunch, venture out to a nearby lake, find a shady spot to spread out your blanket and enjoy a fine picnic lunch with family and friends. Although the Earl of Sandwich is a favourite guest in the picnic hamper, foods like chopped fruit, sliced veggies, cheese cubes, dips and nuts—that can be easily eaten out of hand without the fanfare of bowls, plates and cutlery—offer more variety than the standard bread and filling staple.

Check out the recipes below and be sure to follow these picnic food safety tips:

Food poisoning is no joke!

  • The night before your picnic, freeze your freezer packs in the freezer.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly at home using clean tap water.
  • Keep multiple paws out of the food: Pack toothpicks for guests to pick up their nibblies..
  • Keep cold food cold using freezer packs. Avoid using ice packs or ice cubes. They can melt and spread food contaminants.
  • Refrigerate your picnic food well in advance. It will stay colder longer in your cooler with the freeze packs.
  • Foods with mayonnaise especially, MUST be kept cold.
  • Keep cooler out of the sun and avoid opening and closing the lid.
  • Use one cooler for drinks and another for food since the drink cooler will be opened more often.
  • Place cold canned drinks in the fridge and use to help keep food cool.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before serving food and eating. Pack wipes and hand sanitizers just in case..
  • Use a little bleach and water to wipe down your coolers and freeze packs and dry them thoroughly before using or storing.
  • Wash utensils, if using, after each use.

For more picnic safety tips visit the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website:

Some picnic nibbler recipes to get your party started!

Sweet and Spicy Nuts: T’was the Night before a Picnic

It’s a good idea to make these nuts the night before so they can cool down before your feast!

Preheat oven to 300F

1 tbsp butter

4 cups raw almonds (with skin on)

¼ cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

pinch ground cloves

pinch nutmeg

½ tsp curry powder

¼ tsp ground cumin

¼ tsp ground coriander

Melt butter in large fry pan over medium heat. Add nuts and stir often until lightly browned. Mix together sugar and spices. Stir spice mixture into nuts in fry pan. Stir well to coat nuts. Line a large rimmed cookie sheet with tin foil and spray grease or lightly grease. Spread nuts onto sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes (check halfway and stir). NOTE: They can burn easily so watch them carefully while they are baking. Remove from oven and allow to cool for several hours before packing in a container or baggie for your picnic.


Smoked Trout Mousse

NOTE: this recipe contains mayonnaise.

1 1/2 lbs smoked trout or salmon (Loblaws makes a nice frozen peppered/smoked whiskey trout that works well in this recipe)

1/3 c mayonnaise

1 tbsp white horseradish

3 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp dill, chopped

2 tbsp fresh chives or green onion

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Cook trout and remove the bones you can see. Chop by hand. Let cool. Blend in remaining ingredients and adjust seasonings to taste. Serve with crackers or mini pitas or on sliced cucumber rounds topped with a few sprinkles of dill.

Grab and Go Veggies and Hummus

¼ cup tahini (sesame paste) or peanut butter

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp salt

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp lemon juice

3 tbsp hot water

In a small bowl, combine tahini, cumin, salt and garlic and while stirring, slowly pour in lemon juice, then hot water. Purée chick peas in a food processor, then add tahini mixture and process well. Pack sliced raw veggies (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, etc) in a baggie or container. Place hummus in a small container for dipping. Refrigerate until picnic time.


The Nutty Canadian Cheese Log (OK, you might need a knife or butter spreader for this one)

You can make this ahead and freeze it, allowing it to thaw in the fridge overnight.

1 pkg cream cheese, softened

1 1/2 cups finely grated Old Cheddar Cheese

4 tbsp syrup, divided

1/2 cup toasted, finely chopped pecans

Blend cheeses with 2 tbsp maple syrup. Chill until firm in plastic wrap, about 1 hr. Using plastic wrap, shape the cheese mixture into a rectangle block. Place block on wax paper and brush with remaining 2 tbsp syrup. On another sheet of wax paper, place chopped pecans and roll the block in the nuts to coat all sides. Wrap nut-covered log in this wax paper and refrigerate for 2-3 hours (or freeze and use another day). Serve with crackers.


Irresistible Emmenthal Cheese and Garlic Spread

NOTE: this recipe contains mayonnaise.

1 lb Emmenthal cheese, finely grated

3 tbsp low fat mayonnaise

4 garlic cloves, minced

Coarse black pepper to taste

Salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together. Let stand 30 at room temperature or overnight in the fridge to develop flavour. Great served with mini pitas or very firm crackers. Do not heat. (Tip: Allow grated cheese to reach room temperature before mixing with other ingredients. This will make it easier to mix.)


Watermelon and Tiny Tomato Bites

30 Toothpicks will be needed

Using a melon baller or rounded teaspoon make 30 watermelon balls from one very large slice of watermelon.

30 Fresh, washed basil leaves

30 small cherry or Tiny Tim tomatoes

Place one watermelon ball, 1 basil leaf, then cherry tomato on toothpick.

NOTE: You may use cantaloupe, honey dew melon etc instead of watermelon.


Smokey Apple Stilton Cheese Bites

12 slices smoked bacon

1/4 cup grainy mustard

2 Apples cut into 24 wedges

250 g Stilton cheese, cubed into 24 pieces

(Or, try other cheeses like Gorgonzola or for savoury substitutes)

In a skillet over medium heat, cook bacon in batches until cooked through, limp but not crispy. Place on a paper-towel lined plate to soak up fat and let cool. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut each strip of bacon in half to make 24 small strips. Spread each strip with 1/4 tsp mustard and wrap around an apple wedge and piece of cheese. Secure with toothpick. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Arrange bites on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven just until bacon starts to bubble and cheese just begins to melt, about three minutes. Do not overcook. Serve immediately or refrigerate for your picnic hamper. Makes 24 pieces.


Elegant Peach Rolls (Pictured in the header!)

3 large freestone peaches

12 slices proscuitto, turkey or chicken breast

¼ lb Cambozola (or your favourite strong-smelling cheese)

25 large mint leaves

lime or lemon juice

Leave peaches in skins, slice in half and remove stones. Cut each half into 4 wedges. Cut meat slices in half lengthwise. Leave rind on cheese and slice into 24 pieces, 1” long and ¼” thick. Press cheese into peach wedge, cover with mint leaf, wrap meat slice around the centre of the stack with a bit of the mint leaf and cheese poking out the side. Arrange on a platter and squeeze a little lime or lemon juice over top. Serve right away or refrigerate for your picnic hamper. Makes 24.


Oatmeal Bars

2 cups oatmeal, uncooked (I used the quick rolled oats)

¾ cup brown sugar

½ cup butter (I used butter-Julia Child said to)

dash of baking soda

Heat until lightly bubbling and stirring often: sugar, butter and pinch of soda. Remove from heat. Add oatmeal and blend. Spread mixture in a well greased 8-inch square pan (or equivalent) and bake at 350F for 10 minutes. Cut into bars while warm.


1 comment:

Barrhaven Bites said...

I apologize for the mistake. If you are still making the 19 oz can of rinsed and drained chickpeas will do, about 3/4 cup. Sorry for the delay! The junk bin ate your question.
Loblaws has a new Masal (Indian spiced) hummus that is very good. You could make your own by adding a about 1 tsp honey and about 1-2 tsp of mixed Indian spices: curry,tumeric, cumin etc.
Good luck.