Canadians are known to take advantage of our fleeting summer by spending as much time outdoors as possible. Patios and barbecues are fine, but for those who like to be out and about, picnicking is where it’s at.
Picnics can be as simple as a loaf of crusty bread and a wedge of cheese, or an elaborate and gourmet undertaking. Either way, picnicking is a great way to share a meal with friends and their kids. There’s no worrying about spills or a big clean-up!
Choose a comfy spot close to a playground or field for lazing, and bring along a Frisbee, kite or soccer ball to get in some activity. Of course, the biggest challenge people face when dining al fresco is keeping food from getting warm/cold/soggy/squished as it travels from kitchen to park. We’ve got the answers to those challenges. Here are some recipe suggestions and tips to help you pack a perfect picnic.
Mayonnaise-based salads are not the best choices for setting out on sunny days. Luckily, potato and pasta salads can as easily (and more healthfully) be dressed with oil-based vinaigrettes, peanut sauce and pesto. Grain-based salads are just as wilt-resistant; try quinoa, brown rice, barley or couscous as the base for a salad that’s nutrient-dense, travels well and actually improves with a day or two in the fridge. Adding legumes (think chickpeas or black beans) boosts fibre and protein. Veggies such as corn, peppers (fresh or roasted), green peas, broccoli, asparagus, carrots, purple onion and chopped parsley travel well without going soggy. Even without mayo, salads should be kept cool and eaten as soon as possible.
Lentil & Barley
Cook dry green lentils and barley (pearl or pot) in a pot of boiling water for 45 minutes. Drain, cool and toss with tomatoes, corn, a handful of fresh parsley or spinach,
and balsamic vinaigrette.
Lemon Rice with Spinach
Toss cooled rice with thinly sliced spinach, crumbled feta, thinly sliced purple onion and lemon zest to taste; dress with olive oil, the juice of a lemon and freshly ground black pepper.
Cheesy Pesto Pasta
Toss cheese tortellini with red kidney beans, crumbled feta, cubed havarti or Gouda, a drizzle of olive oil and a spoonful of jarred pesto. Tortellini makes for a more substantial salad than spirals or shells. For a gluten-free version, use brown rice, corn or quinoa.
Toss cooked Chinese noodles or spaghetti with carrots, pea pods, broccoli, asparagus, cucumber and/or green onion. Dress with peanut sauce or a sesame vinaigrette made with 2 tbsp each canola oil, sesame oil and rice vinegar with 1 tbsp each soy sauce and honey and a crushed clove of garlic.
Flour tortillas and bagels tend to be sturdier and stand up to moist fillings better than regular sandwich bread; or try bringing all the fixings for your favourite sandwiches and laying out a do-it-yourself sandwich bar. It’s fun to have everyone make their own using fresh breads with an array of sliced deli meats, veggies, cheese and condiments (hold the mayo unless you have a cooler; try grainy mustard, pesto, chutneys). Pizzas and calzone are easy to eat with your hands, as are burritos and falafel wrapped in pita.
A Stromboli is a calzone-like sandwich stuffed with meat, cheese and other fillings enclosed in chewy pizza dough. Without drippy sauce inside, Stromboli are easy to eat. If you’re feeding a crowd or small children, slice them on a slight diagonal into 2.5-cm slices for two-bite nibbles.
1 lb (500 g) premade pizza dough
1/4–1/2 cup (60–125 ml) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
12 slices (about 120 g) Black Forest or honey ham
12 slices (about 150 g) thinly sliced Provolone or mozzarella cheese
1–2 roasted red peppers, chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
- Preheat oven to 400° F.
- Divide the dough into 6 pieces and roll each into a 20-cm circle on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle each piece with Parmesan cheese, layer with ham and cheese, and top with red peppers, leaving an inch uncovered around the edge.
- Roll the dough up halfway, fold the ends over and continue to roll until the filling is enclosed, pinching any open ends to seal. Place the rolls seam-side down on a parchment lined baking sheet and brush with beaten egg. Cut a few small vents in the top of each roll to let the steam out.
- Bake for 25–30 minutes, until golden. Let cool before serving. Makes 6 stromboli.
Per Stromboli: 316 calories, 6.8 g fat (3.6 g saturated fat, 2.4 g monounsaturated fat, 0.7 g polyunsaturated fat), 17.4 g protein, 43.8 g carbohydrates, 40 mg cholesterol, 2.1 g fibre
How to keep things cold
- Pick up an insulated bag at the dollar store. Although they don’t have the same charm as a wicker picnic basket, they do a good job of keeping food cool, and are washable.
- Freeze drinks – a water bottle (fill 3/4 full, because ice expands) or frozen juice boxes help keep other packed food cool as it thaws.
- Dampen a washcloth, fold and put inside a resealable sandwich bag. Freeze and pack along with food you want to keep cool. Once thawed, they can be used to wipe hands and faces before or after your picnic.
- If driving to your picnic, store food in a cool spot in the car – not in the open sun. If you’re walking or cycling (or paddling!) look for an insulated backpack.
fruit kebabs are more festive than the usual whole apples and bananas,
and easy to eat, with no peel or core to dispose of (just those darned
skewers!). Try chunks of pineapple, kiwi and melon, whole grapes and
strawberries. But who can resist a nice gooey brownie?
dense chocolate (yet low fat) brownie can be fully customized – try
stirring 1/2 cup chopped dark or white chocolate chips, chopped nuts,
peanut butter cups or Oreo cookies into the batter before baking. Use a
disposable aluminum baking pan so you can bring your brownies with you
and cut them right there on your picnic blanket.
1/4 cup (60 ml) butter
1 oz (28 g) unsweetened chocolate (1 square)
1 cup (250 ml) packed brown sugar
2/3 cup (160 ml) cocoa
2 large eggs
1 tsp (5 ml) instant coffee granules, dissolved in 1 tsp. water (optional)
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla
1 cup (250 ml) all-purpose or whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp (2 ml) baking powder
1/4 tsp (1 ml) salt
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over medium
heat, stirring often. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and cocoa.
Mix until well blended – it will have the consistency of wet sand.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, coffee and vanilla.
Add the chocolate mixture and mix until well blended and smooth. In a
small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt; add to the
chocolate mixture and stir just until combined. If you like, stir in
chopped nuts, chocolate or any other additions.
- Spread the batter into an 8” x 8” pan that has been sprayed
with nonstick spray. Bake for 25–30 minutes, until set around the edges
but still slightly soft in the middle. (They will seem to be not quite
cooked, but will set a little more as they cool.) Cool in the pan on a
Makes 16 brownies.
Per brownie: 116
calories, 4.7 g fat (2.9 g saturated fat, 1.5 g monounsaturated fat, 0.3
g polyunsaturated fat), 2.6 g protein, 17.5 g carbohydrates, 37 mg
cholesterol, 1.7 g fibre