AS I SAID last issue, my idea of a good picnic is one that I can fix at home, and need only carry and unpack at the chosen picnic spot. I am by no means insensitive to summa cum laude picnics, but they have to be provided by others, and more power to those valiant souls. I remember the grand picnics of my youth in England, when the cooks in the kitchens (please note the plural) prepared these feasts and stuffed them into the famous English picnic baskets (no plastic plates or glasses in these grandiose affairs), to be carried by the chauffeur. But all of this is gone with the wind, and what remains is the pleasure of eating out of doors with the least trouble to myself, and to my guests.
When packing for a picnic, be sure to keep all the elements of each course together. Appetizers, main dishes, salads, sandwiches, desserts and fruits should be wrapped in foil first, assembled according to course, and labelled as such. This way, unpacking the food will be neater and quicker, and the food will not be too exposed to sun, sand, and /other insects. Admittedly. Admittedly, all the pretty foods spread out on a tablecloth as in the dejeuner sur l’herbe paintins look lovely, but if you want to do this, carefully survey your picnic spot fist.
If you want to heat up a casserole, be sure to choose a kettle or caserole that will not crack over an open fire. Many attractive casseroles are made for oven cooking only and won’t stand the direct heat of an open fire. If yours is to be a bird-and bottle picnic, carve the bird at home, because it is easier, and wrap each piece separately. But if you take along a roast, keep it whole or the meat will dry out. Take a board and a sharp knife, and carve the meat on the spot.
Carry cheese in a hunk and leave French or Italian bread whole–it dries out very quickly. Fresh fruit is the best picnic dessert, to my mind, with plain cookies or a slab of bitter chocolate. Crackers, guava paste, and cream cheese are also good, but avoid anything creamy that will drip on you or go bad in the sun. And be sure to bring lemon or two, because lemons are always very useful, if for nothing else than to make lemonade with the plentiful, cold water you must also bring along. Water is so often forgtten, but nothing takes its place when you are thirsty.
Finally, before I give you a few recipes that have served me well for my picnics, remember that you have invited people to eat with you and that you have the obligation to produce food at a reasonable time. If you can’t, take my friend Norbert Muhlen’s advice:
- The best restaurant is the best picnic of all. If you like fresh air, choose a restaurant that has a garden.
- CHICKEN SALAD WITHOUT MAYONNAISE About 4 cups bite-sized cooked chicken pieces White Wine Salad Dressing Watercress 2 hard-cooked eggs, cut into quarters
- Put the chicken pieces into a big, deep bowl. Pour the White Wine Salad Dressing over the meat and toss to mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 4 hours, so that the chicken will absorb the dressing. Garnish with watercress and hard-cooked eggs.
WHITE WINE SALAD DRESSING
This dressing is excellent for cooked vegetable, meat, and seafood salads. It takes the place of mayonnaise, which, unless properly refrigerated, is apt to spoil when it is hot outside. 3/4 cup dry white wine 1/2 cup olive oil 1/4 cup tarragon or other light, mild vinegar 1/4 cup minced onion 1 small garlic clove, mashed salt Freshly ground pepper Fresh or dried herbs (optional)
Combine all ingredients and blend them thoroughly. Mix with foods that are still hot (hot foods absorb better than cold ones). YIELD: About 1-1/2 cups.
FRENCH RICE CAKE
Different and good, and it keeps well. This French favorite has proved popular with my American guests. 1-1/2 cups mixed glace fruits, diced fine 1/2 cup kirsch or brandy 1 cup long-grain rice 1 quart milk 3/4 cup sugar 5 eggs, separated 1/4 teaspoon almond flavoring 1 teaspoon rose or orange water (optional) 1 cup blanched almonds, chopped Fine dry breadcrumbs Fresh raspberries or strawberries
In a bowl, toss together the glace fruits and the kirsch or brandy. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours or longer. Put the rice and milk in the top of a double boiler. Bring to the boiling point over direct heat, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and set over water that has been brought to a boil in the bottom of the double boiler. Simmer covered over gently boiling water until the rice has absorbed all the milk–at least 30 minutes. Beat in the sugar and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove whole double boiler from heat, but keep rice over hot water, and beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the almond flavoring and the rose or orange water. Add the almonds and the glace fruits and their liquid to the rice mixture, which will be on the stiff side. Mix thoroughly. Beat the egg whites until stiff and gently fold into the rice mixture. Generously grease an 8- or 9- inch springform pan and sprinkle the bottom and sides with breadcrumbs. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake in a preheated moderate oven (350[deg.]F.) for 1 to 1-1/4 hours until the cake tests clean and is firm but not dried out. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Serve lukewarm or cold, with berries. YIELD: 8 to 10 servings.