It doesn’t need to be a fabulous Summer weekend to enjoy a perfect picnic, it just needs to be fabulous. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t spend days in the kitchen packing up a feast full of moreish munchies. It’s all about the three Ps: planning, preparation & picnic! With a bit of clever organising, you can pack up a portable party & be out of the door in no time.
First thing to do is the planning. Most people (including me) don’t have a hamper or an ice box for picnics, but obviously we all want our treats to arrive cool, fresh & full of flavour. What I do have though is a couple of those freezer blocks/bricks (I always have at least two in the freezer, ready to go) & a few padded freezer food shopping bags from my local supermarket. This also ensures that everyone can help carry the food & nobody is left lugging a huge ice box behind them. No freezer blocks? That’s easy – just stick a bottle of lemonade in the bottom of the fridge overnight to act as a cooling aid in the bag! Mini plastic bottles can be frozen, but the liquid expands as it freezes, so tip a little out of each before doing that or you’ll have to do some cleaning up before you go! Don’t forget to put cups, cutlery & condiments in a separate bag too – wrap them up in a couple of tea-towels to pad them out & avoid breakages. This can all be done the night before, ready to go.
Whatever you can do the day before, do it. Because I bake bread most days, I’ve usually got a couple of baguettes or focaccia & slice them before we go, so they can be filled when we get there – no pre-made sandwiches taking up your time. If there’s any leftover pizza (I’m being optimistic here), that gets sliced, wrapped & put into the picnic bag. I’ll also pop in a couple of jars of “sandwich enhancers” too – olives, sundried tomatoes, roasted peppers, that sort of thing. Then I’ll chuck in a selection of our favourite foods: salads, cream cheese (great for spreading or dipping), a couple of mozzarella balls, some sliced ham, spicy breaded chicken strips (I make these in huge batches so there are always leftovers), cooked pasta & pretty much whatever I’ve got stashed in the fridge, along with a jar of my homemade tomato sauce. Although I make this sauce for pasta, it’s perfect as a dip or relish & I’ve usually got a couple of jars in the fridge (OK, at least four). Anything that needs slicing or chopping, do it now & put it in a bag or a container. You don’t want to be trying to cut up a tomato on a wonky blanket! One thing I do bring along is a nice dessert or pudding, usually a few cupcakes or slices of fruit pie – individually portioned & wrapped, so no messing about when we get there.
That’s the planning, now for the preparation! Everyone likes a nice cold beverage & obviously ice doesn’t travel well, so if you like your drinks chilled, this can be a problem – nobody likes a warm drink on a hot Summer’s day (unless it’s a cup of tea!). One of my favourite solutions is to use frozen fruit instead – strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blackberries, anything I can get my hands on! Just before you set off en route to your picnic, put a box of frozen fruit in the bag with a freezer block underneath them. This should keep them cold for a couple of hours. Then when you pour your drink, pop a couple of frozen fruit pieces in your glass for instant chill! Plus, you can eat them when they’ve done their job & defrosted (we all love a bit of multi-tasking!). Don’t just use berries though – freeze thin slices of fruit like peaches, pineapple, lemons, limes, oranges, apples, even cucumber (yes, it’s a fruit!). Or try a couple of frozen grapes plopped into a glass of Pinot Grigio. This time of year is great for blackberries – freeze them in a single layer on a tray, then once frozen you can pile them into a plastic tub with a lid on, ready in the freezer for whenever you want a few! Create you own frozen fruity flavours & enjoy their colourful combinations.
Now you all know I enjoy finding ways to use everything up & have very little food waste. Here’s a lovely little snack to make the day before & add to your picnic. Do you peel your carrots, potatoes & parsnips, then throw the peelings out or compost them? Why not turn them into healthy homemade crisps instead (no waste & free snacks – what’s not to love?). Before you peel your veg, wash them thoroughly beforehand, making sure you trim any bad bits off. Drizzle a little olive oil onto a baking tray – don’t be stingy, this oil will add flavour. Lay your peelings onto the oiled tray, ensuring they are well coated all over. Sprinkle on some sea salt & a little freshly ground black pepper, then bake them in the oven at 210*C for about 15 minutes until crispy (depending on how many you make). You can shake them halfway through cooking if you think they need it. Once cooked, pop them on some kitchen paper on a cooling rack until cooled or tip into a metal sieve, then put them in an airtight container until you need them. Have a taste & add a bit more seasoning if you like – take some vinegar with you to sprinkle on them just before eating too. These taste great on their own or dipped in cream cheese or salsa. Not bad for something we would usually chuck in the composter!
Want more oven baked goodies? How about some really easy, low fat, low fuss onion rings. These can go in the oven at the same time as the crisps, just to make things easier. Get yourself a couple of big onions, top & tail them, peel the outer skin off, then slice them thickly. Separate all the layers, keeping the rings whole if you can (although you really won’t care once you taste how good they are!). Beat a large egg in a bowl, then put the onion rings in the egg & toss around to coat them thoroughly (I will warn you, this smells awful at this stage). In another bowl, tip a couple of tablespoons of plain flour, add a pinch of sea salt & black pepper to season, then stir well. Chuck in the egg coated onion rings, a handful at a time & toss around in the seasoned flour, making sure they are completely coated. Shake off the excess & lay them on an oiled baking tray. Drizzle on a little more olive oil & bake in the oven at 210*C for about 15-20 minutes, turning over half way through to ensure they are crispy on each side. Once out of the oven, let them cool before stashing them in an airtight container to eat later! They’re lovely hot or cold, naked or dipped, plus all the flaky crispy bits leftover on the baking tray taste so good sprinkled on a salad (bonus gift!). These gorgeous onion snacks go very well with a tub of Greek yoghurt to dip them in (mayonnaise is lovely, but I like the slight sourness of the yoghurt).
Once you’ve devoured your fabulous feast, there’s the little problem of sticky hands & fingers, but I’ve got a simple solution for that & it’s re-usable. This was originally something I saw on a random TV show one afternoon as an addition for packed lunches, but it works equally brilliantly for picnics too. What you need is a packet of those small washing up sponges (without the scratchy side), a large fresh lemon (sliced thinly), a few sandwich bags with little handles & some room in the freezer (I always forget this bit & end up on my knees in front of the freezer, trying to rearrange everything like some sort of frozen Jenga!).
Run a sponge under the cold tap & squeeze out the excess water, but leave it quite moist. Put a slice or two of lemon on top (lemon is a natural de-greaser) & put the whole thing in a sandwich bag. Tie the little handles to seal the bag (try to remove any air without squeezing the sponge) & pop in the freezer overnight. The next day, put one of these little bags in with the picnic for each person – not only will it keep the food lovely & cool, but once defrosted it will also act as a refreshing wipe after they’ve eaten! No more greasy, sticky little mitts – just fresh, lemon-scented clean hands (you’re welcome!). Plus you can re-use them as I mentioned – simply wash them in warm soapy water when you get home, rinse well, repeat the steps above (replacing the lemon with fresh slices) & they’re ready to be used again – much better than a one-use wet wipe!
Finally, all that’s left to do is the last P – picnic! So don’t panic over your picnic pack up – just follow the three Ps & you’ll have a blanket banquet to remember! Stay hungry! A 😉 x