This Memorial Day, after being cooped up for so long, reuniting with friends and loved ones for picnics in the fresh air calls for sharing great food and fond memories.
Some ground rules
· Don’t drive yourself crazy by trying to make too many things.
· Skip soggy pre-made sandwiches.
· Ditch gooey desserts (remember that cake in “MacArthur Park”?). Pound cake, pre-sliced, topped berries and individually packaged is a classic that’s a better bet.
· Don’t get all frazzled trying to cook, pack and transport on the day itself. Prepare what you can ahead of time. Cold food on a hot day is refreshing.
· Serve food that’s easy to eat. Avoid excessively dribbly things.
· Pack light. Do you really want to lug along a whole watermelon? Dice it or serve it as part of a fruit salad.
· “Some assembly may be required” is OK. Pack components separately and combine when you get there. Pre-slice and pre-chop what you can.
Pleasing picnic fare
The following are some tasty ideas for your picnics.
Tap into tapas-style. Think small bites — charcuterie, cheeses, olives, cornichons, pickled veggies, dried fruit, crackers and good bread, etc. Pack individual portions or larger covered containers. Use takeout sandwich boxes, food storage containers and/or aluminum trays you can cover. Balance flavors and textures. Choose foods that hold up to being outside for a while.
“Stay away from lunchmeat and stick with cured meat, explains Zach Berg, co-owner of Detroit-based Mongers’ Provisions. “Cured products have a lower moisture content and are more stable. The process they’ve undergone means they’ve already won against all the microbes that can give you food poisoning. They can be left out for eight to 10 hours and won’t make you sick (though they will if you leave them out for three to four days.).”
Good dry-cured choices, he advises, include Underground Meats’ spicy Calabrian 3 Way salami, Cappicola, or milder picks such Milano salami, Prosciutto di Parma or Sopressata.
For cheeses, Berg suggests drier, hard cheeses with some age on them, such as Piave, Roelli’s Haus Select Cheddar, Manchego and Poet’s Tomme from Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery.
Want to also serve soft cheeses?
“Stick to small rounds of about 4 ounces that you can finish in one sitting with no intention of bringing them home,” Berg says. Examples: Zingerman’s mini brie, Idyll Farms Puck and Evergreen Lane’s April Showers.
Balance flavors and textures. One example: Roelli’s Haus Select cheddar; Manchego; Underground Meats’ Calabrian 3 Way salami; cornichons; dried apricots; and Michigan dried cherries.
Satisfy with pies. Sweet or savory hand pies encase something delicious in a sturdy crust you can easily pick up with one hand and eat. Basic hand pies, Cornish and Yooper pasties, empanadas or samosas — they’re all good. Bake them, fry or deep fry them. Fold them into half-circles or mold them into rounds. Be creative with fillings — just don’t make the fillings too wet. Go with seasonal veg, fruit or and herbs. Use meat, poultry or seafood or go vegetarian. Keep hand pies on the small side for easy handling.
The thighs have it. Cold fried chicken is a favorite at picnics. Make it ahead of time — just let it cool completely, uncovered, in the fridge so it doesn’t get soggy. What pieces should you cook? Remember that roadside picnic scene in “To Catch a Thief” where Grace Kelly asks Cary Grant, “Breast or leg?” Forget that. Go with thighs — they’re right-sized for the hand and they’re more or less same-sized, so they cook evenly. Consider “oven frying” your chicken. A breadcrumb coating and long baking provide the crusty sturdiness of fried chicken sans spatters and a sweat fest in the kitchen. Want even easier eating? Serve boneless, skinless thighs or boneless skin-on thighs.
Purchase picnic stuff
No time to cook? With 24 hours’ notice, you can order hand pies from Sister Pie (sisterpie.com) and petite provisions picnic samplers packed with your choice of cheese and cured sausage from Mongers’ Provisions (mongersprovisions.com). You can also stop by the shops to purchase in person (but check first for availability). Visit their websites for hours and days of operation.
Crispy Mustard Chicken
4 pounds chicken thighs
1 cup Dijon mustard
½ cup whole-grain mustard
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
2 cups plain, fine-ground breadcrumbs
To taste smoked Spanish paprika
To taste Korean Pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a broiler pan or pan with a rack with pan spray. Set aside.
Combine the mustard and the poultry seasoning in a dish. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Shake off excess mustard and place the chicken, skin side down, in the breadcrumbs, pressing firmly with a fork to get them to stick. Flip the thighw over to coat the bottom. Shake off excess breadcrumbs and place the chicken, skin-side up on the oiled rack. Press more breadcrumbs on the surface if there are any bare spots. Sprinkle with smoked Spanish Paprika and or Korean pepper, to taste. Dot the top of the chicken with the cubed butter. Bake for 1 to 1 ½ hours , or until the chicken is crispy and has reached 165 degrees. Check the chicken after 1 hour as baking time may vary according to the size of the thighs and your oven. Do not flip the chicken during the baking process. Remove from the oven let rest for 5 minutes before serving. For best picnic results, chill completely in the refrigerator before placing in a storage container to keep the exterior crispy. Keep cold until ready to serve.
Adapted from “Home Cooking,” by Laurie Colwin.
Minted Pea and Potato Hand Pies
Yield: 10 hand pies
For the All Butter Hand Pie Dough
3¾ cups all purpose flour
2½ tablespoons granulated sugar
1½ cups European style butter, straight from the fridge
¾ cup water and vinegar mixture*, ice cold, more if needed
*Freeze 1 inch of water in a measuring cup. Remove from the freezer. Add 2 tablespoons cider vinegar and fill to the 1 cup marker with cold water.
In a large, stainless-steel bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Mix well. Add the butter and toss to coat with the flour mixture. Using a bench scraper, cut the butter into ½ inch cubes. Working quickly with your hands, separate the cubes until they’re all slightly coated with flour. Cut each cube in half.
Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter, turning the bowl as you go. Periodically clean clogged butter from the pastry blender. Continue to blend until the largest pieces are pea sized and the rest of the mixture is similar in texture to grated Parmesan cheese.
Add the water vinegar mixture all at once. Using the bench scraper, scrape as much of the mixture as possible from one side of the bowl to the other until you can’t see any pools of liquid. Scoop up as much of the mixture as you can and, using your fingertips, press it firmly back down onto the rest of the mixture. Rotate the bowl a quarter turn and repeat. Scoop, press and repeat, forming the mixture into one cohesive mass, incorporating all the floury bits.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Gently pat each into a 2 inch square, sealing any broken edges before wrapping the dough in a double layer of plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours or, ideally, overnight.
The dough can be refrigerated for a few days, or frozen for up to 1 year. Thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator for 1 full day before use.
For the filling
8 ounces unpeeled redskin potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into ½ inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1¼ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions white and green parts, rinsed clean and sliced
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, packed
1½ cups fresh shelled or frozen peas
1/₃ cup fresh mint leaves, minced
½ cup sour cream or thick plain yogurt
1 recipe of All Butter Hand Pie Dough rolled into 20 (4 inch) rounds, on a parchment-lined baking sheet wrapped in plastic wrap, and refrigerated
1 large egg, beaten
½ teaspoon flaky sea salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and toss evenly with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, ½ teaspoon of the salt and 1 teaspoon of the pepper. Roast for 40 to 50 minutes, until they’re fork-tender and beginning to look crispy. Set the baking sheet on a wire rack to cool. You can roast the potatoes up to 2 days in advance and refrigerate in an airtight container.
In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter and remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add the garlic, scallions and lemon zest and cook for 1 minute. Season with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Add the peas all at once and stir. Cook for 5 minutes, until they turn very bright green. Add the mint and cook for 1 minute. You can cook the peas up to 2 days in advance and refrigerate in an airtight container.
In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, pea mixture and sour cream. Mix together, smashing the potatoes so they become the binder. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to cool. You can make the filling up to 2 days in advance and refrigerate it in an airtight container.
To assemble and bake the hand pies: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Remove the pie crust rounds from the refrigerator and lay half of them out onto a lightly floured surface. Brush each round entirely with the beaten egg. Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons of the filling onto the center of each round. Top the filling with the remaining rounds. Place your fingers under either side of a hand pie while resting your thumbs on the top. Using your thumbs, press the edges of the bottom round up to meet the top round and pinch them together tightly, rotating the pie as you go, to seal it. Flip the hand pie over and use the tines of a fork dipped in flour to seal it again around the edge of the entire round, making a decorative edge. Take a 4 inch cutter and cut the hand pie once more to clean and define the edges. Repeat with the remaining hand pies.
If you want to freeze the hand pies to bake later, do that now: transfer them to a baking sheet and place in the freezer. Once frozen, store them in a freezer bag for up to 3 months. Transfer from the freezer directly to the oven to bake.
Divide the hand pies between the parchment lined baking sheets, placing them at least ½inch apart. Using a paring knife, cut a tiny slit in the top of each, then brush the tops and edges with the remaining beaten egg. Sprinkle the sea salt evenly on the tops. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until they’re deeply golden-brown. Cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes before eating.
Refrigerate leftover hand pies in an airtight storage container or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or foil for up to 2 days.
Reprinted with permission from “Sister Pie,” copyright © 2018. Published by Lorena Jones Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
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