Food, wine, travel, music
My article for the Irish Examiner will be published in August, but here are come ideas to complement it and give you some ideas.
The stuff of happy memories, picnics take a bit of planning so they can be relaxed. If unable to travel, to keep cool or dry, small tents make a great dining room in the garden and any food tastes delicious to children who enjoy scrambling in and out, collecting treats and piling them on to imaginary tables. The fun of the preparation is all part of the thrill. Games and races, hunts and hide and seek create hearty appetites so it’s worth putting some thought into what will sustain the picnicers throughout the day. A little planning goes a long way.
Do’s for Picnics
1. Make Picnic Day a No Phone Day and ban them from children and adults if at all possible, or leave them in the car for checking later. Don’t allow children to bring computer games. This is the outdoors, time to use the imagination.
2. Bring towels, paper towels, a change of clothes and shoes for everyone.
3. Remember cutlery, cups, glasses, plates, corkscrew and bottle opener.
4. Bring string and a pair of scissors for helping to make rafts and various contraptions with the children. A strong knife is useful for cutting bits of branches
5. Bring a bag for rubbish – don’t leave anything behind.
When it comes to food, think about how the Mediterraneans eat and you cannot go far wrong. They avoid butter as it goes rancid in the heat and instead get their oils from olives and red peppers which are juicy. Take olives out of their tins and pop a few in a plastic bag for a lighter load. Small tomatoes which are still firm are great for nibbling on.
Below I have given some tips for easy serving and the least mess and work, along with recipes I have created over the years.
1. An old favourite is a whole roast chicken wrapped in foil, so well cooked it’s falling off the bone and can be torn apart. Serve pressed into crusty baguette or any thick white bread. It’s oily enough not to need butter. Have whole baby tomatoes on the side. Keep lettuce undressed until the last minute.
2. Hardboiled eggs. Off trend these days, they make a great snack and are delicious with a little salt or dipped in some chutney.
3. A tub of hummous is useful to serve with sticks of celery, carrot, cucumber and courgette. Seal the vegetables in a bag and ideally keep in a coolbox or near a bag of ice.
4. Hard cheeses are not ideal for picnics as they sweat easily but they do make an easy lunch. Use only on a cool day or if you have a good coolbox and bring only what you think you will need so it’s not left lying around. A chunk of semi-soft local cheeses on French bread is delicious and I like shavings of hard cheese over a salad. In the heat jars of Boilie balls of goats cheeses in oil work well. Good on rye bread, crackers or bread.
5. Jars of gherkins, peppers and sundried tomatoes are good on the side for stylish picnics. Decant them into sealed bags, without their oils, to reduce weight.
6. Keep sweet things free of cream and sticky jam. My fruit cake below is packed with fruit which will provide energy and keep hunger away, and is sweet and wholesome.
7. Slice tomatoes into a sealable tub and sprinkle with salt, pepper and some chopped rocket or basil. Drizzle with oil and by the time you get to the picnic the flavour will have melded beautifully.
8. Bring seasonal fruit and year-round substantial fruit such as bananas for snacks. Dried fruit will provide energy, but keep plenty of water to hand as it can cause a thirst.
9. Plenty of water is essential to quench thirsts healthily – avoid too many fizzy drinks which have a lot of sugar, and some have salt so they increase thirst and eventually cause dehydration. Iced drinks will keep cold in a flask, just as hot drinks keep hot, so make iced coffee or use this simple recipe for a refreshing iced tea: Make tea in the usual way and pour into a flask, add crushed ice, sugar to taste and a slice or two of lemon. A sprig of mint can replace the lemon and a slice of fresh ginger is delicious.
10. For me rosé wines echo summer and are best chilled. A simple wrap around cooler is enough for chilling. Red wines should be chilled rather than allowed to boil as they deteriorate in extreme heat. Before leaving home place wine in the freezer for 30 minutes, then into the cooler for transporting. Try placing the bottle in a supermarket bag and resting it in a stream or river while the picnic is being prepared.
Rule 1.Don’t use ingredients that will go soggy. If using bananas, the bread has to be well buttered to prevent the fruit juice seeping through to the bread.
Rule 2. Keep the sandwiches small. Large sandwiches are heavy and cumbersome and excited young children don’t have the patience to finish large ones. Cut them into fingers, triangles or squares. Wrap everything in small batches.
Trout and Almond Sandwiches
Toast slivered almonds on a dry pan until light golden. Allow to cool. Butter light brown bread and add freshly cooked or smoked trout. Add almonds and top with more bread. Fresh salmon is also delicious.
Cream Cheese and Strawberry Sandwiches
Sprinkle the strawberries with a little black pepper or sweet balsamic vinegar to bring out their flavour. Whip the cream cheese with a fork until smooth and silky. Mix in the strawberries and place between slices of bread.
Ask your butcher for offcuts of good quality steak which is often quite inexpensive. There is no need to slice it before cooking, instead sprinkle with black pepper and smother in mustard before frying quickly. Slice and use with lettuce, gherkins and slivers of red onion, or use an onion marmalade in chunky white bread.
Fry 6 leftover potatoes and a chopped onion in olive oil. Add chopped red pepper, celery whatever you fancy and cook until the onion is soft. Add 4 beaten eggs seasoned with salt and black pepper. Toss around until starting to cook, then flatten to allow to settle into omelette shape. Once cooked underneath flash under a hot grill to cook the top. It will be too heavy to turn over, but you can also divide it into six and turn each portion over separately. Allow to cool in the pan and wrap in tin foil for the picnic. Place in baguette chunks to serve.