Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Take Your Food on a Day Trip: Recipes and Tips for the Perfect Picnic

Backyard picnics totally count. Dogs love 'em!

This blog post was inspired by a friend, the lovely Molly, who was on the hunt for a dish to bring to an Independence Day picnic. Really, is there anything more Americana than spreading out a tablecloth in a park and digging into a portable feast?

Sometimes, though, packing everything up and driving to a location outside of your living can seem like a ton of effort. The allure of the AC can easily tempt an otherwise avid picnicker away from their gingham. To help provide extra motivation to get out and about (myself included), I have organized some of my favorite picnic spots, menu-planning tips and recipes to make the prep minimal and the fun maximized.

Comments and other favorite recipes are very welcomed, so please comment below if there is anything you would like to add!


The main ingredient in a good picnic is a scenic setting. Or wine. One or the other. In case you are looking for some fun places to take your outdoor feast, here are some places to try out.

What Tools to Pack

After our wedding and the generous gifting of friends and family, I now actually have three beautiful picnic baskets in my possession. There is something impossibly charming about thick plastic, washable silverware and plaid napkins (not to mention straps to lock down your plastic wine glasses).

Of course, a picnic basket is not strictly necessary for a picnic. Heck, it can even be a hazard if you are attempting to picnic in Jellystone. Reusable shopping bags work just fine, preferably the insulated type to ensure food is kept fresh and at safe temperatures.

In addition to the transportation method, here are some good essentials to remember to bring while on a picnic:

  • Beverages and food (naturally)
  • Napkins
  • Utensils
  • Paper grocery bags for garbage and recycling
  • Tablecloth or blanket to sit on
  • A couple Ziploc bags for leftovers (e.g. chips you do not want to get stale in their torn bag)
  • Freezer packs to keep food safe and chilled
  • Sunblock
  • Hand sanitizer (if you are a big baby, as I am)

Corn Salad Al Fresco

A Menu Template for a Group of 6

For your picnic planning convenience, I have put together an outline of a sample spread that would feed a hungry group of 6. Note that I have Italian blood in my veins, so this errs on the side of more vs. less.

  • Water
  • Wine or other libation
  • 1 tub of store bought dip or spread (think hummus, bruschetta or that amazing Trader Joe's Spinach and Kale Greek Yogurt Dip)
  • 1-2 dip vehicles (any of the big C's - crackers/chips/crostini/crudites)
  • 1 type of sandwich
  • 1-2 bowls of vegetable-based salad
  • 1 bowl of pasta salad
  • 1 batch of your favorite cookie recipe, or store-bought package


Water bottles all the way! Make it easy on yourself and get a bunch of ready-to-go water or bring your own reusable bottles from home. Plan for at least two medium-sized bottles per person. It may be heavy to carry in depending on your ultimate destination, but better to have too much water on a hot day than not enough.

Wine of All Kinds

You know your friends and their drinking style (er, quantities), but I would plan for roughly 3-4 glasses per person depending on how long you are going to be out.

Wine is a natural picnic libation, although many parks will not allow you to bring in glass. Fortunately, despite the chagrin of high-end wine lovers, there has been a steady influx of boxed and pre-portioned wine meant for glass-free environments. I love a brand called Bandit Wines. This wine provides a great bang for your buck, and is even served at respectable eateries like Gott's Roadside in San Francisco (a fact that can be provided lest a friend tease your wine's boxed packaging). Bandit's Pinot Grigo is my choice for hot Summer days. Make sure you have it nice and chilled before you leave, and try to keep chilled in an insulated wine pouch.

If you are feeling extra festive, Pinterest is a treasure trove of great sangria recipes. One of my favorite boozy party tricks (that works perfectly fine at home, as well) is, if you want to keep a sangria cold for a long period of time, fill an ice cube tray the night before with the wine you are using for the sangria. The cubes won't freeze all the way, but will be just chilled enough to keep your beverage nice and cold without watering it down when the cubes melts.

A Classic Pesto Chicken Sandwich

Inspired by Fiore Market Cafe's Roast Chicken Sandwich

This sandwich is fantastic for an outing as it is fast to make, and very simple to scale either larger or smaller depending on how many people you want to make it for. It is tangy and refreshing. I don't recommend a portion of chicken per-sandwich as it all really depends on the size of your bread and your personal preference.

Serves 6

1 rotisserie chicken
1 small jar pesto sauce (or fresh, recipe I use to follow)
12 slices fresh bread, sliced sourdough or brioche ideal
Freshly ground pepper

Using two forks, tear the entire chicken into thick shreds and place into a bowl. Scoop enough pesto sauce into the chicken so that it fully coats each of the shreds.

Lay out the bread, and spread a light layer of mayonnaise onto each slice. Scoop chicken onto 6 slices of bread, and grind some pepper onto it. Top with other piece of bread. You may have chicken leftover (but is that really such a bad thing)?

Wrap tightly in butcher paper or foil. 

Fresh Pesto Sauce

2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup olive oil

Place the basil in a food processor and pulse slightly. Add the walnuts and pulse several times until broken into small bits. (Note: This is why it helps to prep the walnuts, Parmesan and garlic earlier, so that you don't have to pulverize the basil to break down the other ingredients.)

Add the cheese and garlic, and pulse until all broken down to your desired consistency. If you have the option with your food processor, drizzle the olive oil in slowly while you pulse so it all purees correctly. My food processor does not present this option, so I just add a little at a time until it has the desired consistency. It may not include the entire 3/4 cup olive oil if done this way. Salt and pepper to taste.

Ryan's Simple Corn Salad

My hubby likes to cook, and I happily get to benefit. He whipped this up last week based on other corn salads that we have enjoyed previously. You can substitute with whatever you have on hand, such as shallots or yellow onion for red onion, arugula for cilantro, etc.

Serves 6

4 ears of corn
1 tbsp butter, softened
2 small red onions, thinly sliced (a mandolin slicer comes in handy here, if you have one)
5 tbsp cilantro, trimmed from the stem
2 tbsp white wine vinegar

Rub the butter on the corn, and then grill the corn on a very hot grill pan or barbecue. Once tender to the touch, remove and let cool a bit. Using a sharp kitchen knife, hold the ear vertically and cut down (away from you) so that the full kernels of corn come off. Transfer to a bowl.

Toss corn with thinly sliced red onion and the cilantro. Add vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Heirloom Tomato, Crushed Basil, Fleur de Sel Salad

taken directly from The Lemonade Cookbook by Alan Jackson and Joann Cianciulli

This tomato salad is very bright and satisfying, from a cookbook filled with recipes that embody all things bright and satisfying. For those who live in LA, you may be familiar with the Lemonade restaurants' fresh fare. This cookbook is a good investment for those interested cold salads and unique vegetable side dishes.

If making the pesto sauce earlier in this post, you may have a good amount of basil left over for the vinaigrette. Alternatively, if you like, you can make more of the pesto and just toss that instead of the Vinaigrette

Serves 8 (Yields About 4 Cups)

1 1/2 pounds assorted ripe heirloom tomatoes such as brandywine, sungold, and red beefsteak
1/2 cup Basil Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, hand torn
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp fleur de sel

Cut the bigger tomatoes into 1/4-inch-thick slices and quarter or halve the smaller ones; this vegetable salad looks great with different colored tomatoes of varying sizes and shapes. Put the tomatoes in a mixing bowl and pour in the vinaigrette. Toss gently, taking care not to smash the tomatoes. Sprinkle in the basil leaves. Season with pepper, and toss again to combine. When ready to serve, sprinkle with fleur de sel. Serve at room temperature.

Basil Vinaigrette

taken directly from The Lemonade Cookbook by Alan Jackson and Joann Cianciulli

Yields 1 cup

1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

In a blender, combine the basil, parsley, lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper. Blend on high speed for about 1 minute until smooth and green. Pour the vinaigrette into a container and keep any leftover covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Lemon Orzo Salad with Asparagus and Tomatoes

taken directly from Honeybee Gardens

This recipe is really simple to make, and a go-to picnic favorite for us. It is bright and fresh-tasting, and by far one of the healthier options for a pasta salad. Please click through to the above link to check out the other great recipes and picnic tips!

12 oz. orzo
1 bunch fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbs. fresh parsley, minced
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Bring 2 large pots of water to boil. Add a big pinch of salt in each. To one pot, add asparagus and blanch, about 2 to 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of your asparagus. Place blanched asparagus in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and keep them green. To the second pot, add the orzo. Cook per package instructions. When tender, drain and place in a large bowl. Add blanched asparagus and tomato halves. Mix olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Stir into orzo and vegetables. Stir in parsley and grated Parmigiano Reggiano. This can be served warm, room temperature or cold.

1 comment:

  1. Well aren't you just the loveliest picnic planner there is?!