Pack some pizazz in your next picnic

The Picnic Cookbook by Annie Bell © 2013 Kyle Books
The Picnic Cookbook by Annie Bell © 2013 Kyle Books

Sometimes it seems all you can – or need to – muster for an outdoor picnic is wine, crackers and some great cheese. This summer, challenge yourself to create that summer event you’ve always imagined, starring crisp vegetables and prepared dishes and perhaps even a blanket you didn’t pull out of the dusty back corner of your closet.

A new book, “The Picnic Cookbook,” devotes itself to more than 100 simple recipes you can make at home and bring with you to picnic. Author Annie Bell is a food writer whose credits include British Vogue, and even though she sneaks in a few Brit-friendly menu items – Scotch egg pie, anyone? – the book provides an array of options, from dips and crudites to grilled shrimp and “All-American Cherry Pie.” Try out these tips to make a simple picnic look lavish:

Bell’s top tips to make your picnic sparkle:

Prepare as much beforehand, even freezing food if you need to.
The night before, throw ice packs in the freezer, chill any drinks, make salad dressings and pack the picnic basket.
Think small and light – pack cooler bags instead of boxes and bring condiments in smaller bags.
Chill drinks below the temperature you want to drink them at before leaving, allowing for the opening and closing of the cooler bag.

Don’t forget to pack these items:

Wine chiller sleeve
Ice cubes in a food thermos
Lightweight, fluffy fleece blankets
Small cutting boards
Trash bags for the end
Corkscrew
Food bags and ties to take home leftovers
Tablecloth and clips

Try out these recipes:

Cucumber, chile, and pumpkin seed salad

For six to eight people

Two cucumbers, ends discarded, halved, seeded, and sliced into half-moons
about 1⁄8 inch thick sea salt
1⁄3 heaping cup pumpkin seeds or pine nuts
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 scallions, trimmed and finely sliced
½ medium-hot red chile, seeded and finely chopped
A handful of coarsely chopped cilantro
In a large bowl, season the cucumber with sea salt and let stand for 30 minutes. Give the cucumber a good rinse in a strainer or a sink of cold water, then dry it in batches between double thicknesses of paper towels. At the same time, heat a skillet over medium heat and toast the pumpkin seeds or pine nuts until lightly colored, stirring continuously, then transfer them to a bowl and let cool. In a serving bowl or sealable container, combine the oil and lemon juice. Scatter the cucumber on top of the salad, then the scallion, chile, cilantro, and seeds or nuts, and cover to transport. Toss the salad in the dressing just before serving.

Tiramisu in a Jar

For four people

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon strong black
Coffee, cooled
3 tablespoons Kahlua or Tia Maria
2 medium eggs, separated
¼ cup unrefined superfine sugar
1½ cups mascarpone
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3½ to 4½ ounces ladyfingers
unsweetened cocoa, for dusting

In a shallow bowl, combine the coffee and liqueur. In a large bowl, whip the egg whites until they are stiff using a hand mixer. In another bowl, whip the yolks and sugar together. Beat the mascarpone into the egg yolk mixture until smooth, then the vanilla. Fold in the whipped egg whites in two batchess. Dip enough ladyfingers to cover the bottom of a 1-liter Le Parfait canning jar into the coffee-liqueur mixture until the sponge just starts to yield between your fingers, but not so that it is totally soaked, breaking them to fit as necessary. Spoon about a quarter of the mousse on top, and continue layering until you have used up all the ingredients, ending with mascarpone mousse. You should get about four layers of each. Liberally dust the surface with cocoa, close, and chill for at least 2 hours.

Eggplant veggie roast with goat cheese and tomatoes

For six people

3 eggplants, sliced approx. 1¼-inch thick, ends discarded
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on size
5½ ounces young firm goat cheese, cut into approx. ½-inch dice
Coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lay the eggplant slices out on a couple of cookie sheets, with a bit of space between each slice. Brush the slices with oil on both sides and season the top. Roast for 20 minutes, then turn them and cook until golden, another 15 to 20 minutes. At the same time, place the tomatoes in a bowl, scatter a bit of salt over them, and set aside. Transfer the eggplant slices to a large roasting pan that holds them in a single layer with a bit of space in between. Pour 3 tablespoons of oil over the tomatoes and gently toss, then mix in the goat cheese. Pile this on top of the eggplant slices and return to the oven for 4 to 5 minutes to warm through, then let
cool. Scatter with lots of chopped parsley. Transport in the roasting pan covered with foil, or transfer to a plate or container and cover.

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @reporteralison


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