Plan a Perfect Picnic

The long, lazy days of summer aren't quite over, and in Virginia, picnic weather continues through most of the fall, to include tailgate season. The library's shelves are brimming with cookbooks of all kinds to suit most every taste. Come browse our shelves, and try out some new recipes for your next friendly get-together in the sweet sunshine.

Below is a menu, with recipes, chosen from several of our many delightful cookbooks. Try these dishes for your own picnic, or come on in to find your own culinary inspiration. This menu, while not strictly traditional, presents familiar foods given a more exciting twist. Bon appetit!

Saturday's Limeade

2 cups water
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Grated zest of 2 limes
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 8 limes)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Chilled lemon-lime soda or sparkling water, as needed

1. In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the zest, cover, and remove from the heat. Let steep for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and let cool.
2. Pour the cooled sugar syrup into a 1-quart container. Add the lime juice and salt and stir to combine. Chill, covered, until very cold. This will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 1 year in the freezer.
3. When ready to serve, pour equal amounts of the lime concentrate and lemon-lime soda or sparkling water into a tall glass over lots of ice.

Makes 1 quart concentrate, which will yield about 8 servings.

From Lemonade: 50 Cool Recipes for Classic, Flavored, and Hard Lemonades and Sparklers by Fred Thompson.

Crabmeat, Chile & Mango Salad Sandwiches
The combination of mild green roasted chiles and fresh mango gives these sandwiches a tropical flair. I prefer the mixture on thick slices of soft, untoasted brown or egg bread, assembled just before eating. The chiles are widely available canned and ready to use.

1-1/4 pounds flaked cooked crabmeat
2 roasted mild green chiles, peeled, seeded and torn into 1/4-inch-wide strips
1 small to medium-size ripe mango, cut into 1/4-inch wide strips
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and white pepper
8 brown or egg bread slices
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 butter lettuce leaves

In a medium-size bowl, toss together crabmeat, chiles, mango, mayonnaise, lime juice and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Before serving, spread one side of each bread slice with the butter. Top half the slices with crab salad, then lettuce and remaining bread. Cut into halves. Makes 4 servings.

From Gourmet Sandwiches by Norman Kolpas.

Picnic Potato Salad

Picnic goodies3 lbs new potatoes, red-skinned, tan-skinned, or Yellow Finn
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 celery stalks, finely diced
2 tablespoons chopped green (spring) onion
2 teaspoons celery seeds
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, plus sprigs for garnish
2 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Salt and ground white pepper

Place the potatoes in a large pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, uncovered, until tender but slightly resistant when pierced, about 30 minuteds. Drain and let cool. Do not peel. Cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces and place in a bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, mayonnaise, celery, green onion, celery seeds, chopped parsley, eggs, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.

Pour the dressing over the potatoes and toss to coat. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to 8 hours.

Transfer the salad to a transportable serving bowl and garnish with parsley sprigs. Cover and keep chilled until ready to serve.

Serves six to eight | per serving: calories: 407, protein 7g, carbohydrates 38 g, total fat 26 g, saturated fat 6 g, choleserol 85 mg, sodium 191 mg, dietary fiber 4g

From Williams-Sonoma's Picnics and Tailgates: Good Food for the Great Outdoors by Diane Rossen Worthington.

For some folks, if their picnic spot has a grill, it -must- be used. I would never dare to tell them how to cook their steaks, but here is a suggestion for a different take on corn:

Grilled Firecracker Corn

12 ears sweet corn
Salt for seasoning
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, sliced into 12 even pats

Grill the Corn:
shuck the corn and trim the ends, then rinse off all of the stringy silk. Lay each ear on a 12-inch square of foil and season with salt, chili powder and, if desired, a pinch of cayenne. Cut each pat of butter into small pieces and scatter evenly alongside the corn on the foil. Roll the foil tightly around the corn and crimp the ends shut.
SECOND, place the foil-wrapped ears directly over medium-high heat and roast for 12 to 15 minutes, turning 2 or 3 times. As they cook, the ears of corn will steam in the butter.
THIRD, carefully unwrap the roasted ears and serve.

From A Return to Family Picnics by Russell Cronkhite.

Walnut Orange Cake
Brimming with fresh orange zest and juice and ground walnuts, this cake has a crisp exterior and a mosit and coarse-textured interior.

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon baking powder
Confectioners' (icing) sugar for dusting
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat a 9-inch springform pan with olive oil.
Process the walnuts in a food processor until finely ground, almost to the consistency of bread crumbs. In a bowl, combine the ground walnuts, flour, and baking powder.
Place the eggs in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until frothy. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture is light, thick, and lemon colored. Slowly add the walnut-flour mixture, beating continuously. Then, with the mixer on low speed, add the orange zest and juice and the oilve oil and mix until just combined.
Pour into prepared pan and bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool.
Remove the pan sides and transfer teh cake to a transportable serving platter. Dust the top with confectioners' sugar, creating a decorative pattern if desired.
Serve at room temperature. Cut into wedges.

Serves 8 | per serving: calories 541, protein 8 g, carbohydrates 65 g, total fat 30 g, saturated fat 4 g, cholesterol 106 mg, sodium 217 mg, dietary fiber 2g.

From Williams-Sonoma's Picnics and Tailgates: Good Food for the Great Outdoors by Diane Rossen Worthington.

A Recipe for the Family Reunion

So, you're supposed to provide a dish for HOW MANY people?!
Moosewood Restaurant Cooks for a Crowd has interesting vegetarian dishes that are designed to serve a crowd of 25 or 50. These aren't their fanciest recipes, but they are good and reliable, and the vegetarians will thank you. Here's a sample that can be prepared on site, with the help of otherwise bored teenagers:

Monterey Pita

25 5-oz. Servings

Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients Volume Weight
Avocado, cubed 2 qts. 4 lbs.
Tomatoes, fresh, diced 1 qt. 1 lb. 4 oz.
Cucumbers, peeled, seeded, diced 1 qt. 1 lb. 2 oz.
Black olives, halved or sliced 1 cup 6 oz.
Garlic, pressed 8 cloves or 2 1/2 Tbsp.  
Lemon juice, fresh 3/4 cup  
Salt and pepper to taste    
Romaine or leaf lettuce leves    
Pita bread, halved, lightly toasted 12 whole 2 oz. each
Alfalfa sprouts for topping    
Monterey Jack cheese, grated (optional) 1 qt. 12 oz.

1. Combine the vegetables and cheese in a large bowl.
2. Add garlic and lemon juice. Stir gently with a wooden spoon to preserve the shape of the avocado as much as possible. Correct for salt and pepper.
3. Line the pita pockets with lettuce and fill with the mixture. Top with cheese, if desired, and sprouts.

Per serving: 225 calories, 5.2 g protein, 11.2 g fat, 19 mg cholesterol, 26.8 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 342 mg sodium.

Some Books for the Picnic Cook
Most cookbooks will have some recipes that will travel well and taste good, but these concentrate on the art of the picnic. All our owned by our library system and may be reserved with your card.

California Cooking: Parties, Picnics & Celebrations by the Art Museum Council, Los Angeles County Museum of Art ; editor, Betty Nowling ... [et al.].

The Great Big Barbecue Cookbook: Over 200 sizzling Recipes for Barbecues, Picnics and Perfect Outdoor Entertaining.

Lemonade: 50 Cool Recipes for Classic, Flavored, and Hard Lemonades and Sparklers by Fred Thompson.

A Return to Family Picnics by Russell Cronkhite.

Williams-Sonoma's Picnics and Tailgates: Good Food for the Great Outdoors recipes by Diane Rossen Worthington ; photography by Chris Shorten.

Great Places to Picnic

Anywhere with a pretty view and a bench or a play to lay a blanket could work for a lunchtime picnic. However, sometimes a picnic is part of a bigger getaway plan for family and friends. Our National Parks and Virginia State Parks provide picnicking facilities and other outdoor amenities. At Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia, picnickers can get some wonderful music or theatre with their evening out under the stars. Virginia is also blessed with many wineries, most of which are only to happy to provide you with a tour, a vintage, and a place to picnic.

Useful Web Sites for Picnickers
These are but a few of the many, many useful sites for planning a picnic on the Web.

Alan's Kitchen: Picnic
Historical bites and recipes for avid picnickers.

Picnic Planning at Picnic Portal
Recipes, games, and ideas for joyful events, with an emphasis on larger groups. Includes free picnic table plans for handy people, picnicking history, and a guide to picnic products.

Romantic Picnic Recipes for Two
Recipes for a lovely picnic just for two.

Safe Picnics
Food poisoning is no picnic, and it happens all too often to even the most terrific of dining room cooks. Review this site's safety tips for keeping your picnic a fondly remembered event.