Sunday, July 25, 2010

Summer Picnics

Here's my July column from the Petaluma Post.

When I think of summer the first thing that comes to mind is picnics. Be it a family gathering, getting together with friends and kids by the pool or an annual company event. After our long wet winter and spring everyone just wants to get outside for a bit. Planning a picnic is always a lot of fun. Family and friends offer to bring dishes or specialties, while you fill in the spaces.

Planning for those hot summer days, cold items are always a favorite; from chilled fried chicken to watermelon there are so many classics to choose from. But how about a gourmet twist on those classics...

Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint
Serves 8 to 10
3 lbs Peeled Seedless Red or Yellow Watermelon
2 stems Mint
8 oz Crumbled Feta
¼ cup Sherry Vinegar

Cut the water melon into 1 inch cubes. Chiffonade (very thinly slice) the mint and add to the watermelon. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss gently. It is best prepared the same day. Serve well chilled.

Potato salad is a picnic staple, many people are leery of using mayonnaise when planning an out door event, however if you are using a commercially prepared product (Best Foods or other) you are generally safe. The preservatives added to make it shelf stable also help to keep your salad safe (although you still want to keep it a cool as you can). When making your salad, be sure that all of the ingredients are fully cooled before mixing and then allow the salad to chill over night in the refrigerator. A tasty twist is…

Turkish Potato Salad
Serves 8 to 10
3 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes
2 Lemons
1 bunch Parsley
1 bunch Green Onions
½ cup Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes till fork tender, cool then slice into bite size pieces. Zest and juice two lemons and mix with olive oil. Chop the green onions and parsley. Toss everything together, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Transporting your picnic can be tricky. The bowl and other containers never seem to fit easily into the ice chest, and if they do they can make it very heavy. Try transporting things in plastic Ziploc bags and bringing your serving bowls on the side. The bags will mold to the shape of the chest, and this way the food can be transported submerged in ice and stay fresh.
When it comes to a favorite food for my family, ribs are it! My niece and nephew can each eat their weight. Ribs are a great picnic food that can be completely prepared ahead at home and eaten cold or just warmed on the grill when you are ready. A few tips for better ribs:

• I really like using Spare ribs; they are cut from the top of the rib rack, small and tender.

• When preparing your ribs there is a membrane on the underside of the bone that should be peeled away before do anything else. It is not permeable and your rub, sauce, whatever will just brush off. Use a paring knife to lift the thin film away from an edge, when you have about 1 inch up take hold of it and just pull it off, it should strip away easily. This will also help the ribs separate after cooking.

• Season with a dry rub and partially cooking in the oven before grilling.

• The last step should be the BBQ sauce so that it does not burn.

Here is my dry rub recipe. I have been known to give it as a gift, it is so popular.

Dry Rub
Yields 1 quart (enough for about 100 ribs)
2 cups Brown Sugar
1 cups Kosher Salt
¼ cup Paprika
¼ cup Chili Powder
¼ cup Black Pepper
¼ cup Granulated Garlic
¼ cup Granulated Onion
¼ cup Italian Seasoning
1 Tbl Cayenne

Just mix it all together. Store in an air tight container in a cool dry place.

Serves 6 to 8
3 racks of Spare Ribs (average Costco package - we know we all shop there)
1 cup Dry Rub

Remove the under skin from ribs, then use dry rub on both sides, allow to rest 2 to 3 hours or over night in the refrigerator. Place curved side down on a baking sheet and bake 2 hours at 250 degree, long and slow. This can be done up to 4 days before the party. Day of the party place on a low grill and just heat through. Glaze with your favorite sauce just before service.

One recipe that is dear to my heart was prepared by Grama, and is still a family classic. It’s simple (too simple really) and for my sister and I it elicits childhood memories (probably why we like it so much).

Graham Cracker Sandwich
2 packages Graham Crackers
½ cup Butter
1½ cup Powdered Sugar
2 Tbl Cocoa
1 to 2 Tbl Milk

This is a classic quick frosting that can be used in many places. Soften butter, place it, the sugar and cocoa in a mixing bowl and mix on low till combined. Add milk as necessary to make it smooth and spreadable. Spread between two Graham crackers, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate or freeze (even better).


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