If you’re reading this, I can still reach the keyboard. My cats are flatter than pancakes. I have lost all interest in any activities except idly thumbing through Christmas card catalogs, anticipating sub-freezing temperatures with pleasure.
Here is another Mark Bittman column – more common sense than I’ll ever have, as well as humor and a little in-your-face. Picnic fare that is just as good at home. Today is July 2; this was published July 2, 2008. Good ideas if you’ll be outdoors on Independence Day, or if you just want some simple-to-make dishes to sustain you through the summer.
101 20-Minute Dishes for Inspired Picnics
There is something both innocent and exciting about a picnic, even if you are only packing a few things at the last minute and heading down the street to the park. It may be nothing fancier than bologna or tuna salad on white bread, but you’re still likely to have a good time, which is probably why many of us remain devoted to the same picnic foods we’ve eaten all our lives.
But at some point, you may get the urge to vary the menu a bit. With that in mind, I’d like to make a few — or, actually, 101 — suggestions, ranging from snacks to dessert. With a little shopping, a little effort, and 20 minutes or less for assembly, you can create the kind of carry-out food that will put the local prepared food shops to shame while saving you a small fortune. No matter how faithful you are to your old favorites, I’ll bet you will find something intriguing here.
1 BEET SALAD Peel beets and grate them (a food processor will keep the juice contained). Add pistachios or hazelnuts; dress with orange zest and juice, and olive oil. Add bits of goat cheese and chopped parsley.
2 PESTO CHICKEN ROLLS Season and grill chicken cutlets. Brush lavash or any other wrap-type bread with pesto; layer with the chicken, sun-dried tomatoes and arugula; roll up and cut on the bias.
3 CURRIED EGG SALAD Make egg salad with hard-cooked eggs, mayo, curry powder, Dijon mustard, fresh lime juice, salt, pepper, cilantro, red onion and, if you like, diced apple.
4 TOMATOES AND PEACHES Toss together sliced seeded tomatoes and peaches, along with thinly sliced red onion and chopped cilantro or rosemary. Dress at the last minute with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
5 ROAST BEEF AND BLUE Start with whole-grain rolls. Smear blue cheese on one side and prepared horseradish on the other. Add red onion and thin-sliced roast beef, pork or lamb. Pack lettuce and tomato on the side. Potato chips are mandatory.
6 CORNFLAKE CHICKEN BITES Cut boneless chicken breasts into small pieces. Dip in milk or buttermilk, then dredge in seasoned crushed corn flake crumbs, cornmeal or panko. Pan-fry in oil, drain, cool and eat cold with celery sticks, with ranch or blue cheese dressing for dipping.
7 GRAPES AND CHEESE Mix feta cubes and green grapes (or grape tomatoes or pieces of watermelon). Add mint, salt, pepper and olive oil. A tiny bit of chopped fresh chili is good, too.
8 COLD PEANUT NOODLES Cook Chinese egg noodles or regular spaghetti. Drain and rinse. Toss with sesame oil, peanut butter (or tahini), sugar, soy sauce, ginger, vinegar, black pepper (lots) and chili oil (optional). Pack shredded seeded cucumber, cooked shrimp and chopped scallions separately.
9 For gazpacho, combine a couple of pounds of ripe tomatoes, one of cucumbers, a slice or two of bread, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper in a blender. Chill and pour into a thermos.
Gazpacho. See my recipe here.
10 Combine tomatoes and cucumber in blender with lemon grass (only the most tender part), cilantro, fish sauce and lime. Voilà: Thai gazpacho.
11 Mix peeled, grated carrots with chopped dates, cumin, minced chili, lemon or lime juice, mint or cilantro.
12 Slice a few bulbs of fennel and some tart apples; dice some jicama. Toss together with freshly chopped tarragon, basil or chervil (if you can find it), olive oil, salt, lots of pepper and lemon juice. Celery is good in this, too, as are oranges and cheeses, especially sheep’s cheeses.
13 Guacasalsa: Mash an avocado (it won’t get brown) into some salsa, even jarred if necessary. Don’t forget chips.
14 Cut day-old crusty bread into one-inch cubes. Just before leaving the house, combine it with chopped tomatoes (seeds are O.K.), chopped cucumber, chopped red onion and fresh basil. Pack dressing separately: olive oil, red wine vinegar, diced anchovies, capers, salt and pepper. Call this panzanella.
15 Toss toasted pita with olives, parsley and mint, salt and pepper, bits of chopped-up lemon (rinds and all; preserved lemon is even better), chopped seeded tomatoes, chopped seeded cucumbers and chopped red pepper. Take olive oil for last-minute dressing.
16 Thinly slice Savoy or Napa cabbage. Toss with thinly sliced red onion, half a diced jalapeño and handfuls of chopped cilantro. Dress with olive oil, lime juice, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper.
17 Halve cherry tomatoes; toss with equal-size pieces of firm smoked or regular tofu and soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, scallions and a pinch of sugar (or mirin if you have it). Add chopped Thai basil and/or cilantro and/or mint just before eating.
18 Toss cooked couscous with oil, chopped parsley, chopped black olives, capers, red onion, salt and pepper. Scoop out medium-size tomatoes and fill with mixture. Pack carefully.
19 Process a cup or two of cashews, a chili or two, some garlic, a splash of soy sauce and enough water to get the food processor going; fold in chopped cilantro or chives. Fill celery sticks and chill. This is the best celery-filler since cream cheese.
20 Poach a couple of pounds of dark leafy greens, like kale, collards or spinach. Drain, cool, squeeze dry and chop. Then toss with oil, salt and lots of lemon juice. Serve with more lemon, oil, salt and pepper. Call it horta.
21 Brown fresh corn kernels in hot oil with chopped chili and garlic, salt and pepper. Remove from heat and toss with cilantro and lots of lime juice.
22 Cook whole unpeeled eggplant in a dry, hot skillet, turning occasionally, until collapsed and soft. (Or grill, or roast, or hold with a fork over an open flame.) While it’s cooling, whisk together tahini, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic and parsley in a bowl. Chop the eggplant flesh (leave the peel behind) and roughly mash in the bowl. Add red pepper flakes if you like. Serve with pita.
23 Simmer one part olive oil, two parts red wine vinegar and four parts water with herbs, salt and pepper. Add chopped vegetables, firmest to softest — maybe carrots first, then cauliflower, then peppers — and poach until just getting tender. Remove from heat and chill overnight in the liquid. It’s giardiniera.
24 Cut zucchini into big chunks and roast or grill with olive oil (and, if you like, whole garlic cloves). Combine with chopped seeded tomatoes, lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper.
25 Toss cauliflower florets with oil, salt and pepper, and roast in a hot oven until browned and cooked; while still warm, toss with curry powder and a handful of raisins. Pour on the lemon juice.
26 Soak wakame or other seaweed in hot water until soft; drain and squeeze dry. Toss with chopped celery, sesame oil, soy sauce, mirin (or honey) and rice wine vinegar. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
27 Clean a bunch of mixed mushrooms; quarter any large ones. Steam for about five minutes. When still warm, toss with sliced shallots, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, cracked coriander seeds, chopped fresh cilantro, sherry vinegar and more olive oil if necessary.
28 In a blender or food processor, combine ginger, a half cup or so light miso, a little more than that of walnuts, and enough soy sauce to make a sauce. Toss with cooked green beans or eggplant.
29 Steam or boil a bunch of asparagus; slice on the bias. Toss with orange segments, zest and juice, some olive oil, salt and pepper. Garnish with sesame seeds. Add little shrimp or shredded crab, lobster or chicken if you like.
30 Steam or boil green beans or asparagus; slice on the bias. Toss with thinly sliced red onion, matchstick-size pieces of prosciutto (or lardo if you’re in Colonnata), olive oil, lemon juice, a pinch of red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
31 Combine cooked or canned (and drained) black beans, kidney beans and chickpeas. Add diced red and green pepper, some corn kernels and a minced jalapeño. Season with lime juice, chopped marjoram or oregano, salt and pepper.
32 Cook lentils with garlic, onion and thyme. Toss with salt, pepper and fresh chopped herbs: marjoram, tarragon, chervil or basil. Dress with vinaigrette made with oil, vinegar and mustard.
33 Toss cooked or canned white beans with chopped seeded tomato, chopped anchovy, chopped olives, oil, lemon juice, lots of black pepper, salt if necessary and parsley.
34 Steam frozen (shelled) edamame or limas. Toss with chopped seeded tomatoes, cilantro, soy sauce and a suspicion of sesame oil. Salt and pepper.
35 Steam frozen edamame and chill. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, a pinch of sugar, lots of chopped mint, salt, pepper, and as much shaved pecorino or Parmesan as you like.
36 Mix cooked rice and cooked lentils with very, very well caramelized onions. Add sherry vinegar, salt, pepper and, if necessary, a bit of oil.
37 Combine cooked brown rice with small, barely cooked broccoli florets and chopped pecans or walnuts and parsley. Dress with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon.
38 Combine cooked Arborio rice with thin pesto, peas, toasted pine nuts, salt and pepper.
39 Soak a tablespoon or two of black beans in sherry or wine; toss with cooked rice, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and cilantro.
40 Mix cooked couscous with olive oil; add pimentón, cumin, salt and pepper, chopped shallot or red onion, toasted slivered almonds and orange zest and juice. Cooked cauliflower is good, too.
41 Toss a load of chopped parsley with a little cooked bulgur — say three to one in favor of the parsley. Chopped seeded tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper and lots of lemon juice. Call this real tabbouleh.
42 Make tabbouleh as above and embellish with more vegetables — like cucumbers and radishes — and/or crumbled feta, or bits of cooked chicken. Or smoked tofu, or bacon, whatever you can think of. How can you go wrong?
43 Make potato salad with mustard vinaigrette. Add chopped cooked asparagus, peas, green beans, etc. Or steamed mussels.
44 Make potato salad with mayo and crumbled bacon, and add grated Cheddar, celery, onion and chopped egg. You don’t have to pack much else except blood thinner.
45 Roast or boil sweet potatoes, but not too soft. Make a blended vinaigrette with a little chili, cumin, sherry vinegar and olive oil. Pack separately and toss together with scallions and mint.
46 Make egg salad with sesame oil and seeds, soy sauce, rice vinegar, scallions and chilies.
47 Egg salad with chopped seeded tomato, basil and extra virgin olive oil.
48 Egg salad with sour cream, smoked salmon and chopped chives.
49 Take cold pizza and lemon. Squeeze lemon over pizza. Really.
50 Mix a couple of cups of cold leftover cooked short-grain rice (if you happen to have risotto lying around, so much the better) with three eggs. Form balls; insert a small cube of mozzarella into each. Roll in bread crumbs and refrigerate if convenient. Deep or shallow fry until golden. Packed carefully, these will be fine. Call them supplì al telefono.
51 Purée roasted red peppers (jarred are O.K., piquillo are even better) with feta, marjoram or oregano and parsley, olive oil and garlic. Serve as a dip.
52 Make burritos, using the biggest flour tortillas you can find: rice, beans, any stewed or grilled meat or chicken, cilantro, salsa.
53 Marinate firm goat or feta cheese in olive oil, with rosemary, garlic, lemon zest, red and black pepper. You don’t need much of this, but it’s good.
54 Make a cheese ball: Mash together equal parts good grated Cheddar, crumbled blue and cream cheese, maybe thinned with a little sour cream. Shape into a ball and roll in fresh chopped herbs and/or hazelnuts. Take Triscuits. You think people won’t eat this?
55 Make simple syrup with rosemary; purée in a blender with watermelon, rum (optional) and lemon juice. Use more rum and call this a cocktail, or omit rum, add a little feta and eat with a spoon. Keep it cold in either case.
56 Use a spoon or melon baller to make equal size pieces of watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe, or, I don’t know, Charentais. Mix together and sprinkle with lemon juice and salt or (better still) chili, sugar, salt and lime.
57 (A) Make fruit salad, however you like it; pack it. (B) Take seeded papaya halves, well wrapped. Put (A) in (B), drizzle with lemon, and serve.
58 Husk and quarter strawberries; at the last minute, combine with a little chopped tarragon, black pepper and balsamic vinegar. Goat cheese is good, too.
59 Cut melon into wedges and wrap thin slices of prosciutto around them. Stack in a container, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper. Take romaine lettuce and serve the wedges over the greens, with the accumulated juices as a dressing. It works.
60 Toss cornbread cubes with blueberries, lemon juice, olive oil and hazelnuts. Yes.
61 Toss chopped shrimp or shredded crab or lobster with lemon juice, chopped chives, salt and pepper. Use this to fill avocado halves. (If the avocado browns, blame me. It’ll still taste great.)
62 Boil potatoes, corn kernels and shrimp; drain and chill. Serve with crusty bread and lemon wedges along with mayo mixed with garlic and crumbled saffron. Call this Aegean seafood salad.
63 Drain a can of good quality salmon (preferably sockeye). Mix with cannellini beans, chopped tomato, diced shallot, chopped black or green olives, chopped parsley and basil. Dress with olive oil and lemon juice; season with salt and pepper. Serve on bread (scooped out ciabatta is very nice) or over greens.
Sandy filed for divorce shortly thereafter. No one could blame her.
64 Combine a bunch of watercress or arugula with thinly sliced radishes and red onion; add flaked smoked trout or whitefish. Dress at the last minute with olive oil, sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.
65 Cut salmon fillets (the skin can be on or off) into serving-size pieces, and sear them in oil on both sides until brown; set aside. Sauté onions, garlic, fresh chilies if you like; deglaze the pan with one part red wine vinegar, two parts each red wine and water. Pour over fish and chill for up to two days. This will work with mackerel, chicken, pork, etc. Call this escabeche.
66 Make escabeche with white wine and vinegar, dill and lemon slices.
67 Pan-cook shrimp in oil. Separately sauté fresh and dried chilies with lots of onions and garlic; add beer, reduce and pour glaze over shrimp.
68 Mix good canned tuna with diced fennel, tarragon, lemon juice, salt and pepper. No mayo.
69 Mix good tuna with mashed anchovies (packed in olive oil), grated Parmesan, bits of lemon and some lemon juice, olive oil and perhaps a thimbleful of Worcestershire. No mayo.
70 You want an idea for tuna with mayo, I know: Mix tuna with mayo and mustard; add capers and dill.
71 Cut chicken wings into two parts, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and grill or roast until crisp and golden. Whisk together mustard, honey and lemon juice, and toss with warm wings. Chill overnight (or eat them and take something else to the picnic).
72 Combine equal parts soy sauce, mirin and sake with a little sugar and sesame oil; boil for a minute. Use this to baste chicken thighs, pork or beef while you grill or broil it. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and/or chopped scallions — ginger and/or lemon are good too — just before serving. Call it teriyaki. Works with mackerel and other dark fish, too.
73 Make chicken teriyaki as above, then toss with a little mayo and perhaps more soy. Awesome.
74 Poach chicken and chop or shred. Toss with lemon juice, olive oil and herbs of your choice.
75 Pack in three containers: grilled sliced beef or pork, with its juices; watercress or arugula tossed with mint, basil and/or cilantro; a dressing of lime juice, sesame oil, fish or soy sauce and sugar. Dress greens; put meat and its juices over all.
76 Thinly slice grilled butterflied leg of lamb; toss with cherry tomatoes, olive oil, mint, feta and chopped red onion.
77 Grind chunks of lamb shoulder in a food processor with onion, parsley, salt and pepper. Make into small meatballs and sauté or roast. Serve sliced with pita wedges or in pita, with lemon, and a dollop of yogurt or tapenade.
78 Split small chickens or Cornish hens; grill or broil quickly, with lots of salt and pepper. Take them whole to the picnic with sandwich rolls, good barbecue sauce (O.K., and mayo) and pickles. Pick off the meat and go to it.
79 Cut quail in half, or not; marinate with salt, pepper, minced garlic, sage and oil for as long as you can — at least five minutes. Grill for 10 to 15 minutes.
80 Chop various salamis, mortadella, etc. and combine with chopped provolone, Parmesan, bell pepper, red onion and fresh oregano. Heavily dress in vinaigrette. Take shredded romaine lettuce for tossing. And bread, obviously.
81 Make chopped olive salad (I like onion, thyme, capers, a little garlic). Hollow out a medium-size round bread, or a few rolls. Put in olive salad and cured meats of your choice: ham, prosciutto, salami, mortadella, whatever; and provolone. Call this a muffuletta.
82 Slice open a good baguette and fill it with chopped or shredded cooked chicken tossed with fish sauce, chili, sugar, lime, garlic, scallions and Thai basil (or, in a dire emergency, regular).
Blue sandwiches with daisies never caught on, and more’s the pity.
83 Fry chopped bacon until half done; add strips of boneless chicken and cook until done; pack. Take pitas, chopped seeded tomato, avocado, sliced red onion and shredded romaine. Assemble sandwiches in situ; dress with olive oil and cheap vinegar.
84 Blanch frozen fava beans in salted water. Pulse in a food processor with some mint or parsley until roughly chopped; season with salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice. Slice baguette and spread one half with fresh ricotta, then drizzle with olive oil. Spread the other half with the fava beans. Put arugula in there and sandwich-ize.
85 Butter both halves of a sliced baguette. Layer with thinly sliced cured ham — Serrano, prosciutto, Bayonne, York, whatever — and many halved cornichons. Call this une sandwich.
86 Halve a cucumber or two; scoop out the seeds. Slice it thin and salt it for a bit if you have time; in any case squeeze out some of the liquid. Combine it with shredded cooked chicken, ginger, soy sauce, salt, pepper and cilantro. On a baguette, it’s reminiscent of banh mi.
87 Grill a steak; slice it thin. Butter a baguette on one side; put Dijon on the other side. Pile the bread with steak, roasted peppers (canned are fine; piquillos are best), and something crunchy, like radicchio or fennel. A little blue cheese wouldn’t hurt either. Neither would avocado. (But not both.)
88 Cook peeled shrimp; little ones are best. Toss with pesto: lots. Put on small rolls. (In fact: cook anything; toss with pesto: lots. Put on small rolls.)
89 Dredge fish fillets in cornmeal. Sauté in abundant olive oil until crisp. Let cool a bit, then use for sandwiches, packing tomatoes separately.
90 Hard-cook some eggs; slice them. Sauté some spinach with oil and garlic until quite dry; chop. Make mustardy sandwiches with baguettes, rolls or any bread that can absorb some oil.
91 Cook fusilli or other cut pasta; rinse in cool water, but don’t bother to chill. Combine with chopped seeded tomatoes, cubed fresh mozzarella, chopped basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. (Good with olives, too.) Do not call this pasta salad, because pasta salad is no good, and this is.
92 Shred carrots and zucchini. Mix lime juice, soy sauce, grated ginger and sesame oil. Cook soba noodles, drain and rinse under cold water. Toss noodles with the vegetables and dressing.
93 Cook rice vermicelli and drain. Toss with kimchi, lots of cilantro and cooked chopped shrimp or chicken.
94 Cook garlic in olive oil until just sizzling; add clams (you can use canned clams but it will not be the same), and, cook, stirring, until they open. Remove, chop and combine with the garlic, oil, any liquid in pan, chopped tomato and cooked pasta. Add more oil as needed, with lemon juice, parsley, salt (if needed), pepper and oregano, if you like.
95 Combine equal parts honey and brown sugar with a little oil and bring to a boil; toss with good granola until the mixture is very sticky. You can add more nuts, or raisins and, yes, O.K., you can add chocolate chips. Line a pan with waxed paper or film with oil. Press mixture into pan and let cool. Call these granola bars.
96 Cook a couple of pounds of berries with some sugar and a little water until they break down. Layer in a plastic container with slices of good pound cake. Pour any remaining juices on top. You might want some cream.
97 Make sandwiches of angel food cake and ganache or fruit compote.
98 Mix peanut butter and cream cheese. Spread between two good cookies and make sandwiches. Or mix honey, lemon zest and cream cheese. Make sandwiches with ginger snaps.
99 Put sorbet (make it yourself if you have time) in a really cold thermos; it will be slushy by the time you open it. Add a splash of Champagne or Gewürztraminer if you like, maybe some mint, and eat like cold soup.
100 Take a container of melted chocolate thinned with cream or crème fraîche with strawberries, pineapple or bananas for dipping.
101 Take the makings of S’mores. Build a fire.