29 Apr Pack a Picnic to the Park
Spring is in the air, and what better way to celebrate than by enjoying a picnic at one of Great Falls’ many beautiful parks? “On the first nice day of spring, we have plenty of people picking up their lunch and heading down to Gibson Park,” said Penny Rubner, owner of Penny’s Gourmet to Go restaurant in downtown Great Falls. Rubner said her perfect picnic is a drive toward Helena on the frontage road, stopping by the river, opening the back of her Subaru and enjoying lunch. She said they always have a great picnic basket stocked with a vinyl tablecloth, plastic plates and silverware and a small cutting board and knife.
“All it needs is some food. Personally, I would take a loaf of my freshly baked French bread, some cheese, the avocado, roast beef and red onion, the basil cheese plate, some potato chips and chocolate chip cookies. Add a bottle of cold water, and we’re set,” Rubner said.
“If you’re wanting a park right in Great Falls, I would probably sit on one of the benches by the River’s Edge Trail,” Rubner said.
Lions Park, Oddfellow’s Park, Elks Riverside Park and West Kiwanis Park are the most popular because they offer restrooms, shelters and play equipment, said Giles Salyer, Great Falls Parks superintendent.
Lions Park features tennis courts and handicap-accessible restrooms, while Elk’s Riverside Park has horseshoe pits and is close to the skate park and River’s Edge Trail.
Other popular parks are Memorial and Sunnyside. They have gazebos but no restrooms. Gibson Park is a great option for picnicking and is available on a first-come basis, Salyer said.
“We normally do not rent the park itself, but we do rent the flower garden area and the bandshell area,” he said.
David Weissman, owner of four of the seven Subways in Great Falls, said his favorite picnic spot in Great Falls is Giant Springs.
“It would only be perfect if it would be with my family,” he said. “It’s hard to top quality family time as busy as everyone is.”
For those interested in preparing their own outdoor feasts, here are some tasty picnic recipes.
Picnic in the park menu
*Focaccia Sandwiches with Proscuitto, Brie and Sliced Apples
*Stuffed Strawberries with Cheesecake Filling and Chopped Pistachios
FOCACCIA SANDWICHES WITH PROSCUITTO, BRIE AND SLICED APPLES
1 recipe focaccia (recipe follows)
½ pound wedge of brie cheese
3-ounce package of sliced prosciutto (specialty cheese case in the deli)
1 Granny Smith apple, sliced thinly
4 tsp. Dijon mustard For the focaccia:
1 cup warm water, divided (not too hot)
2½ tsp. yeast
1 tsp. sugar
3 cups flour
½ cup olive oil plus ¼ cup for bowl and baking dish
2 tsp. Herbes de Provence or Italian herbs
Preheat oven to 400°.
In a small bowl, combine ½ cup warm water, yeast and sugar. Stir to combine and let rest until foamy, about 5 minutes.
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, olive oil, yeast mixture and additional ½ cup warm water.
Mix with a dough hook attachment, if available, until dough clings together and forms a ball. If it is too dry, add a bit of warm water. If it is too sticky, add a bit of flour.
Coat inside of bowl with olive oil and put dough back into bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set in warm spot to rise.
Punch down when it has doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
Coat bottom of 9-by-13 inch baking dish with olive oil. Spread dough out in pan and let rise until ready to bake.
Poke holes in the surface of the dough with your fingers, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with herbs. Bake in preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes.
Immediately invert and remove from pan. Using a pizza cutter slice into squares for sandwiches. You’ll have more focccia than you need. You can freeze the extra in a plastic freezer bag.
To assemble sandwiches
Slice focaccia squares in half horizontally. Spread 1 tsp. Dijon mustard on inside of focaccia sandwich tops and bottoms.
On focaccia sandwich bottom, layer 1 slice brie, 1 slice prosciutto, 1 slice brie, 2-3 slices apple. Then top with focaccia sandwich top. Cut in half and skewer with toothpicks to secure.
Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to pack and pack next to bag of ice or frozen ice packs to keep cool on the picnic.
BABY PEA SALAD WITH BACON, SHALLOTS AND WATER CHESTNUTS
2 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
2 cups frozen petite peas, thawed
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
¼ cup sour cream
1 tsp. sugar
2 shallots, thinly sliced
½ water chestnuts, chopped
In a medium bowl, whisk together vinegar, sour cream and sugar until smooth.
Stir in remaining salad ingredients until combined.
Transfer to plastic container with lid and refrigerate until ready to pack and pack next to bag of ice or frozen ice packs to keep cool on the picnic.
STUFFED STRAWBERRIES WITH CHEESECAKE FILLING AND CHOPPED PISTACHIOS
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tbsp. heavy cream
2 tbsp. pistachios, finely chopped
12 medium fresh strawberries
Fresh mint leaves
In a mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, almond and cream. Beat until thoroughly combined.
Using a potato peeler, carefully remove the center white core of each strawberry.
Slice the bottom off each strawberry with a sharp paring knife to make them stand up.
Place cheesecake filling in a baggie and snip off corner. Pipe filling into each cored strawberry. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios and garnish with fresh mint leaves. Refrigerate until ready to pack and pack next to bag of ice or frozen ice packs to keep cool on the picnic.
Stuffed strawberries fit nicely into an empty candy box with the individual sections or an egg carton for travel.