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Perfect picnic fare. July 25, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s summer, and that means picnics. Our friend Ben and I were invited to a picnic last night, and we’ve received a few hints that our friend Fritzjambo is in the vicinity and may spring another picnic on us tonight. Obviously, you don’t want to show up at a picnic empty-handed, even if you don’t know it’s happening ’til the last minute. And if you’re like me, you don’t want to show up with some hastily-purchased bags of chips and dip, either (though that’s not the worst option now that more groceries are carrying fresh salsa). So what do you bring?  

In a case like this, I like to have plenty of options, especially since I’m a vegetarian and don’t want to be confronted with a grill full of burgers and hot dogs, baked beans with pork, and the like. (“Well, you could just eat a bun… “) But even if you know there’ll be plenty to eat, you can always add a few distinctive contributions to the celebration.

In summer, I love to make refrigerator pickles, which are easy, have a ton of crunch, and are spicy/sweet/salty, which is to say, perfect! I always have some in the fridge, so they’re ready to snack on or grab to take along to a picnic or other gathering.

                 Silence’s Refrigerator Pickles

3 large to 8 small slender cukes, sliced

1 cup sugar

1 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon black mustardseeds

1 tablespoon gound turmeric

1 tablespoon whole cloves

1 large sweet onion, or more to taste, diced

dash hot sauce, such as Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa, or more to taste

Combine vinegar and sugar and heat until sugar dissolves. Add salt, spices and hot sauce. Turn off heat and allow the brine to cool to lukewarm.

Meanwhile, slice cukes. Layer cukes and onions alternately in a glass or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. Pour lukewarm brine over the cukes and onions, then attach the lid and refrigerate. Shake container every day to make sure brine is saturating pickles. The pickles will be ready to eat in three to five days, but the spiciness will increase over time, if you can resist eating them. The onions are great in sandwiches or on salads. 

I also like putting together a huge, gorgeous tossed salad with summer’s bounty, and taking it along with a dressing or two (such as Greek and honey mustard or ranch). Or a fabulous Caprese salad, which is quick to make and incredibly good.

Caprese salad: Layer a large platter two or three leaves deep with Romaine or butter (Boston) lettuce leaves. Slice several large vine-ripe tomatoes, then halve each slice. You’ll get the most fabulous presentation if you can alternate red, yellow, black, and/or green ripse tomatoes (such as ‘Zebra’), but it will still look and taste great if you just use red. Slice a ball or two of fresh mozzarella, then halve each slice. Make concentric circles on the platter of alternating half-slices of tomato, fresh mozzarella, and large whole fresh basil leaves, until the entire platter is covered. Chop two or three scallions (green onions) and sprinkle them over the platter. Drizzle on extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle on salt (we like Real Salt). Cut into pizza-style wedges and serve.  

Of course, no picnic’s complete without coleslaw. I gave you two unusual homemade coleslaw recipes in my earlier post, “Silence makes coleslaw,” but what if you’re rushed and don’t have time to make from-scratch slaw? No need to panic.

Quick coleslaw: Buy a bag of ready-made coleslaw (shredded cabbage and carrots, not a dressed slaw) and a bag of shredded carrots at the store. If your store sells pre-chopped sweet onion, get that as well. Stir half the bag of carrots into the slaw along with three tablespoons of the chopped onion. Then mix in 1/2 to  2/3 of a bottle of chunky blue cheese dressing. (If you hate blue cheese, you can use a pepper ranch or cheese ranch dressing instead.) Your goal is to coat the ingredients, not drown them, so start with 1/2 bottle and work up from there. Cover and chill until picnic time. People aways ask if they can take home what hasn’t been polished off!

Deviled eggs are also indispensable at picnics, at least as far as we’re concerned. This is one reason why I like to have a half-dozen hardboiled eggs in the fridge at all times; they’re instantly available for slicing on tossed salads, but they’re also there should a picnic and/or the concept of deviled eggs come up. I have my standard go-to recipe, which involves mashing the yolks with mayonnaise, mustard, and horseradish before stuffing them back in the halves and dusting them with paprika. But recently, I stumbled upon a marvelously different version. Of course, I had to modify it:

                   Deviled Blue Cheese Eggs

6 hardboiled eggs

3 tablespoons blue cheese (can use feta instead)

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons chutney (sweet or hot to taste) 

2 tablespoons chopped pecans

2 tablespoons finely chopped yellow, orange, or red bell pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla)

salt to taste

sweet or hot paprika (for blue cheese filling) or cinnamon or garam masala (for feta)

Mash yolks and add all other ingredients (except paprika, cinnamon, or garam masala), mixing well. Fill eggwhite halves with yolk mixture, then top with spice of your choice or top different halves with different spices, as you please. Chill and serve. You can multiply the proportions to match how much your gathering loves deviled eggs; we find that two whole eggs (four filled halves) per person is about right.

What else to bring? Our friend Ben and I always like to bring crusty baguettes with softened butter and one or more cheeses. Yum! A mix of marinated artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, and cubes of feta cheese is also incredibly delicious, with the bread and cheese or as a topping for a tossed salad. This also makes a great topping for tomato slices or quartered bell peppers, and a delicious filling for rolled radicchio or endive leaves.

If we know our hosts will have a grill going, we’ll bring portabella mushrooms and pesto. Corn on the cob with browned butter and salt is hard to beat, too, whether the corn is grilled or boiled. How about grilled cantaloupe or pineapple slices for dessert, with a splash of fresh-squeezed lime juice from your own greenhouse-grown fruits?

Okay, maybe I’m getting carried away. But none of this is impossible. And as OFB reminds me, those homegrown limes make a mean margarita, too.

            ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

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Comments»

1. deb - July 25, 2009

Great, now I need a lime tree. You are a bad influence on the quantity of my deck plants. Manly has about had enough;)

Ha! Good thing he doesn’t have to fight his way through the plants on our deck! But seriously, Deb, you all NEED a lime tree…

2. Victoria - July 26, 2009

Great suggestions. My dad used to keep a cucumber concoction in our fridge, probably a variation on your recipe. I need to try it.

Let me know how you like them!


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