Summer’s here, and the living’s easy.
At least it should be: warm weather and sunny skies beckon me away from the hot stove, out to the sizzling grill in the open air and picnic benches on the edge of lakes, surrounded by rolling hills that blaze into fuchsia and azure flower-flecked glory as the sun sets.
Unfortunately, warm weather and sunny skies don’t magically imbue me with the sense of laid-back ease and je nous se qua everyone else seems to exhibit come June.
In general, I’m as relaxed and mellow as a Chihuahua being thrown out of a moving plane. If there’s a panic button, my finger is hovering near it, at the ready; the sun’s relative distance to my person does not seem to affect this, though wine seems to help.
This weekend, Stephen and I took that rare opportunity to enjoy the outdoors when we both actually enjoy the weather: I don’t need to wear a jacket and he isn’t schvitzing buckets. We decided to pack a picnic Friday night and have a little cookout with our neighbors Sunday night. I prepared for both as if we were mounting a sustained war against an unpredictable guerilla battalion, under continuous air and ground assault.
I strapped on a massive picnic panic kit that my father, another obsessive-compulsive preparer, gave Stephen for Christmas one year. It’s equipped with cutting boards, corks, cutlery galore, glasses, plates, blankets, a first aid kit, a map of the surrounding counties and quite possibly a few extra beating hearts, who knows? It’s a dream come true.
Click on for recipes for the perfect spread of no-cook grab and go picnic food, Vegetable Brochettes and Souped Up Turkey Burgers for the grill.
No-Cook Grab and Go Picnic
Makes 2 servings
- 2-3 crusty baguettes
- 1 sleeve crackers
- 2-3 cheeses (I brought my favorite (affordable for a picnic) blue cheese, the Irish Cashel Blue, a farmhouse cow’s milk cheese with a mild funk and a round, full flavor; Stephen brought one of his faves, an English Wensleydale, the real Yorkshire version, which is a mild, crumbly, honey-tinged puck of protein)
- 1-2 jams or honeys (we brought fig-orange marmalade)
- 1-2 selections pickles (we brought cornichons and super spicy pepper poppers)
- 1 spicy mustard (Dijon)
- 1-2 dried sausages (we just grabbed a standard-issue tube of Italian red at ShopRite)
- Fruit (if you’re feeling virtuous, which we were not)
- 1 bottle wine
- Throw all in large tote bag along with 2 plates, 1 sharp cheese knife, paper towels, blanket, 2 cups, corkscrew
- Dump contents on picnic table or blanket at closest facility that causes you to want to leap about singing “The Hills Are Alive! With the Sound of Muu-siiiiiic” a la the Von Trapp family reprise. Take a deep breath, eat, remind yourself that’s there’s time for everything, even picnics.
Grilled Vegetable Brochettes
Makes 6 servings
- 1 summer squash, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
- 5 Cippolini onions, tips cut off, peeled but left whole
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced into bite-size chunks
- 16 or so baby Portobello mushrooms
- several sprigs herbs, left whole: rosemary, thyme, tarragon and chives or any combination of above.
- 3 garlic cloves, unpeeled and whole
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Special equipment: 6 Bamboo skewers, soaked in cold water so they don’t burn on the grill
- Lay all of the vegetables, herbs and garlic in a large, shallow baking dish.
- Whisk together the olive oil and vinegar in a small bowl.
- Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables, add salt and pepper and marinate for at least 30 minutes, up to overnight, covered in the fridge.
- Remove vegetables one by one and string them along the skewers, alternating and mixing the vegetables to taste. Discard the vinaigrette and the garlic.
- Roast the brochettes over an oiled grill for about 5 minutes, until browned and warm. (Alternatively, roast them under the broiler for 5 minutes, rotating once).
Nutritional breakdown for Vegetable Brochettes: About 80 calories and 5 grams of fat (some of the marinade isn’t soaked in — this is my best estimate judging from the leftover vinaigrette). Super high in fiber, omega-3 fat, low in naughty fat.
Cost breakdown for Vegetable Brochettes: About $1.25 a serving if you go the farmer’s market route, less if you don’t.
Verdict / In the Future: Pretty much any vegetables that are capable of being cubed and don’t require hours of roasting to render them edible (such as beets, potatoes) would work in this quick-fire grilling method. Next time, I think I’ll baste them with a bit of butter while they’re on the grill. I love the high vinegar-to-oil ratio in this recipe, but Stephen would have liked it better with more oil.
Grilled Souped-Up Turkey Burgers
Makes 6 sliders
- 1.3 pounds ground turkey
- 1 oz. dried sausage (pre-fried bacon crumbles would work too), diced
- 1 oz. mozzarella, cut into small dice
- 2-3 2-inch strips roasted red pepper, diced small (jarred or homemade: roast a red pepper under the broiler for 10 minutes until it’s blackened; remove and cover in bowl with a plate until cool enough to handle; remove blackened skin with hands, seed and core, dice; the leftovers can be used in sandwiches and salads)
- 3 TBSP fresh, minced tarragon and thyme (or 1 TBSP dried)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Mix ground turkey with dried sausage, herbs, salt and pepper. Form into 14 small discs. Top each disc with a square or two of cheese plus a sprinkling of diced red pepper. Top with another disc of ground meat and seal the edges.
- Oil the grill with a bit of olive oil and cook burgers until they reach an internal temperature of about 160 degrees (rare poultry is an abomination). Eat alone, or with a bun and mustard, lettuce, tomatoes and onions.
Nutritional breakdown for Souped-Up Turkey Burgers: With a bun, etc., about 300 calories and 9 grams of fat. 130 calories and 7 grams of fat solo. Great source of low-fat protein, niacin and selenium. High in cholesterol.
Cost breakdown for Souped-Up Turkey Burgers: About $1.30 a burger if you go the organic, sustainable route, less if you don’t.
Verdict / In the Future: Ground turkey is healthy, and it tastes it. There is something unspeakably grim about oil little pucks of bland ground poultry. A touch of fatty pork sausage, a cube of gooey cheese and a few slices of roasted red pepper — plus plenty of herbs and salt and pepper enlivens the puck and transforms it into a zesty little Mediterranean adventure. Bacon would be delicious, as would gruyere or blue cheese.