Weekend Dish column: Just a picnic in the park
The Weekend Dish
A good picnic makes eating outdoors feel comfortable and at home. I’m writing this column while eating a picnic and relaxing in the park.
For Independence Day this year, I spent the day hanging out at Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs. Hazel Miller, from Denver, headlinied the celebration with her band. There were bouncy castles, hula hoops, drunken dancers and a laser show finished the night.
While there are a few food vendors, I didn’t see many people eating. I certainly do not have that problem with this grand meal that I packed.
Eating a picnic on a beautiful summer evening never gets old. It is an exercise of preparation and nature. Most of the work of putting together a picnic relies on meticulous preparation. I have a few tricks and tips that can improve the process.
A general rule of thumb that I follow is using the same essential ingredients across dishes. Also, you must always bring a blanket and pack your food in a proper wicker picnic basket. Most importantly, you have to be chill about eating food that is not always piping hot.
Serves three to four people
2 cups parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh spinach
2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 cup cream cheese
1 tablespoon pesto
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1. In a food processor or blender, mix the parmesan cheese, sour cream mayonnaise and cream cheese. Blend until the mixture is uniform and creamy.
2. Slowly add garlic and then spinach leaves. Blend thoroughly until the mixture has a uniform consistency.
3. Serve with crackers or toasted bread.
It is important to pick recipes with ingredients that you can use across meals. For my Independence Day picnic, pesto was my secret weapon. I included it in three separate dishes, and it is sensational in everything.
Using the same ingredient saves money and makes preparation more of a snap. Pesto also tastes good at any temperature. Always try to prepare foods that are still palatable at any temperature. Eating outside can be an uncooperative experience sometimes, and you never know how long you will have to wait before you can eat.
I chose pesto as my staple since it is perfect for summer eating. It is also versatile and can be added to many dishes. You can easily make pesto at home by blending fresh basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and parmesan cheese.
Simply search Google for pesto recipes to learn how to make it. If you don’t have time, then there are plenty of store-bought options that work very well. The savory garlic and cheese perfectly balance the lightly sweet flavor of basil. Pesto tastes like summer. While pesto does taste great at any temperature, you should always try to keep it refrigerated or on ice as much as possible. Food safety is critical, especially during the summer.
1 package pasta
1 (12 ounces) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
3/4 cup pesto
1 cup fresh arugula
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Al dente is best.
2. Drain and rinse for about 20 seconds with cold water.
3. While pasta cooks, in a medium bowl whisk together pesto, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper for dressing.
4. In a large salad bowl, combine the pasta and dressing by stirring gently. Then add red peppers, arugula, and cheese. Still until mixed completely.
As I looked around Two Rivers Park, I saw plenty of hungry-looking or drunk people who should probably eat something. I always come prepared. I have a small feast spread out on the warm blanket to photograph. The lady sitting next to me wanted to eat my picnic. She kept making eyes at my food, but I think she finds it strange that I was taking photographs of my dinner, so maybe that scared her off.
I also clandestinely brought a bottle of red wine, in case I wanted to dance. While I made three dishes from scratch, I included some fruit and City Market vanilla cream pie to complete this feast.
For this picnic, I made spinach dip, cold pasta salad, and chicken pesto sandwiches. It took a little work to put this together, but I am glad that I did. My secret weapon elevates this from the average picnic.
With my blanket, picnic basket, and midsummer feast, all of the preparation paid off at Two Rivers Park. A little wine helped as well.
A picnic is a communal experience with nature, family, friends or even our communities. I pack everything I need so that I can feel more at home.
Jordan Callier is an avid foodie and business owner in Glenwood Springs.
Serves three people
1/2 pound chicken deli meat, sliced
1 baguette loaf
1 cup fresh arugula
1/4 cup pesto
2 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 ball fresh mozzarella cheese
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced thinly
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Slice baguette loaf into halved pieces, then brush butter or olive oil on each half and then toast until golden brown.
2. In a small bowl, mix pesto, mayo, and remaining oil. Spread on golden toasted baguette bread.
3. Place layers of sliced tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and arugula on one half of the bread. On the other half, layer a healthy serving of sliced chicken. Press both sides firmly together to make a fantastic sandwich.
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