08 Jun Pack it up and take it outside
If you’re anything like me, as soon as the sun peeks out, you’re ready to be dining al fresco — on the deck, on a boat, in a park, on a patio, anything to get outside. And this is especially true this year, after we’ve all survived the world’s longest winter, followed by a recordbreaking rainy spring. We’re more than ready for the onset of summer.
When summer does finally arrive, it’s always exciting to see what’s new in picnic ware.
It’s the perfect time to shop for outside eating utensils. At Herberger’s, I found a wide assortment of melamine dinnerware in patriotic- and melon-themed motifs all on sale.
They also had a few fully-outfitted picnic baskets, complete with an insulated section, wine glasses and silverware. Pier One has an entire table filled with colorful picnic ware including bowls, cups, plates, platters and wine glasses, all portable and plastic, ready for pack-and-go purposes.
Target has an aisle devoted to practical picnicking with colorful insulated totes priced at $9.99 and $19.99, which are handy in case you’re planning to pack foods that need to be kept at a certain temperature.
Which brings us to food safety. A general rule to keep in mind when packing your picnic is that hot foods need to be kept hot and cold foods need to be kept cold.
The danger zone for food contamination is that warm zone that encourages the growth of harmful bacteria.
This is made much easier these days with the availability of insulated coolers and ice packs that can be frozen ahead of time and used to keep food cold for longer spells. Surround the cold food with frozen icepacks or bags of ice rather than just throwing a bag of ice on top of everything.
Another item you’ll want to keep chilled is the wine you’re bringing along. Pizazz has bags that you freeze then place over a wine bottle to keep it cold on outings. They cost $4.99.
As important as being mindful of food temperatures for food safety is the preparation and handling of food before you pack it up for your portable feast. Washing hands and utensils before, during and after cooking obviously is essential. Handing out hand-sanitizing wipes before eating is always a good idea. Wrapping individual portions in plastic wrap or foil and providing eating utensils will minimize the number of people handling food and lessen the chance of contamination as well.
If you’re hankering for a picnic, but don’t feel like cooking, it’s easy to pull together a French piquenique by grabbing a bakery baguette, a wedge of brie from the deli, some fresh strawberries, perhaps some shortbread cookies and a bottle of chilled Rose wine.
Fried chicken and potato salad come to mind for a classic American picnic menu, the initial inspiration for this week’s Special of the Day: Perfect Picnic Fare menu.
Taking the time to marinate the chicken, toss together the spicy Asian noodle salad and bake a fresh coconut pound cake will make the Asian-themed menu even more special.
ASIAN NOODLE SALAD
Salad:» 1 red pepper, diced » 1 cucumber, peeled and diced » 3 green onions, thinly sliced » ½ pound thin spaghetti, cookedIn a medium bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients until smooth. Add salad ingredients, toss to combine.
Cover and chill until ready to serve. Serves four to six.
Marinade:» ½ cup soy sauce » 2 cloves garlic, minced » 2 eggs » ¼ cup cornstarch » 2 tsp. sugar » 1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 2-inchby- 3-inch pieces » 2 cups Panko Japanese-style bread crumbs » Peanut oil, for fryingIn a medium bowl, whisk together marinade ingredients until thoroughly mixed.
Add chicken and stir to coat. Transfer marinade and chicken to glass dish, cover and refrigerate for two hours or as long as overnight.
Place Panko crumbs in large plastic baggie. Remove chicken pieces with slotted spoon and transfer to Panko baggie. Seal baggie and shake to coat chicken pieces.
Heat peanut oil (about ½ inch in bottom of pan) in large frying pan until hot.
Fry chicken pieces until golden brown and crispy, five to six minutes on each side.
Transfer to paper towels to drain. Wrap in aluminum foil and place in insulated picnic container for transfer.
Serves two to four, can be doubled
» 1 cup butter, softened» 2 cups sugar » 6 eggs » 3 cups cake flour » ½ tsp. baking powder » 1 cup sour cream » 1 tsp. coconut extract » 1½ cups flaked coconutPreheat oven to 300°.
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.
Combine flour and baking powder. Add half of flour mixture to batter and mix.
Add half of sour cream and mix. Add the rest of the flour mixture, coconut extract and 1 cup coconut and beat to combine.
Pour batter in greased and floured (baking spray works great) Bundt pan. Sprinkle the rest of the coconut on top of the cake batter.
Bake in middle rack of preheated oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes. Check for doneness.
Cake is done when toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool on cooling rack. Remove from pan.
Slice into individual slices and wrap tightly.
Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at