The Impromptu Picnic

Fresh recipes for a classic spring pursuit

As the chilly, dreary days of winter fade into memory, there is an internal desire to soak up every bit of sun. Here in the Midlands, we enjoy a month-long wedge of perfect weather before the need for sun is replaced with a longing to sit inside in the air conditioning. This spring, make the most of the season by planning an oldie but goodie — a classic picnic with some fresh new recipes.   

The word picnic is derived from the French term “picque-nique,” used to describe a type of outdoor meal where everyone would contribute something. In France, this was usually wine, making the event more of an upscale BYOB party than what one associates with a picnic today. The actual practice of picnicking dates back to medieval hunting feasts, when noblemen enjoyed an outdoor meal while taking a break from the hunt. It wasn’t until Victorian ages when picnics crossed socioeconomic boundaries and became a popular pursuit of the working class as well as the wealthy. 

In discussing the history of picnics, it should be noted that humans have been eating outside far longer than indoors. In a sense, picnicking is in our DNA. Perhaps that’s where the sense of nostalgia comes from. 

In recent times, picnics have become much more simple. Often the food is an afterthought — cold fried chicken and potato salad from the deli on a road trip or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with fruit while hiking. 

Even the most basic foods taste better when eaten outside, but there is something special about a homemade spread. With so many Columbia area delis and bakeries selling interesting and tasty salads, sandwiches and baked goods, why not include a mix of store-bought and homemade? 

When planning food for a picnic, consider how much room is available for plates and utensils. If space is limited, consider sandwiches made on high quality bread or a variety of cheeses with a baguette, fruit, nuts and a condiment or two. Don’t forget freshly baked cookies for dessert! If there is room for a cooler, consider a variety of salads made with leafy greens, grains or potatoes. 


Mason Jar Spring Salad

Pack individual salads in a mason jar with dressing on the bottom and a layer of vegetables between the greens to prevent wilting. 


4 (16-ounce) mason jars 

1 cup fresh peas, or defrosted from frozen

1 cup packed mint leaves

Juice from 1 large, juicy lemon

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 

1 large avocado, halved, peeled, pitted and chopped

4 large radishes, sliced thin

1 head red leaf lettuce, chopped, rinsed clean and spun dry

If using fresh peas, cook in a small pot of boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. 

Mix mint, lemon juice and olive oil in a blender until combined. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste. 

Divide dressing between four mason jars. Add avocado, cap the mason jar and shake to cover avocado with dressing and prevent browning. Top avocado with radishes, peas and lettuce. Store upright to keep dressing and lettuce separate. Serves four. 


Heirloom Tomato Caprese with Pesto

1 1/2 pounds mixed heirloom tomatoes

1/2 cup Kalamata olives, chopped

1/4 cup basil leaves, slivered

8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed

2 tablespoons prepared pesto

Halve tomatoes if small. Slice into wedges if larger. Place in a large bowl and toss with olives, basil and mozzarella. Add pesto and toss to combine. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Serves four to six. 


Green Panzanella

This recipe calls for stale bread, which holds better after dressing. To quickly stale fresh bread, cut it into cubes and leave it out overnight. 


1/2 pound day old crusty bread, cut into bite-sized cubes

Olive oil spray

2 medium zucchini

2 small Persian cucumbers

1/2 large red onion

1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread bread evenly on a large baking sheet and spray lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Toast for 10 minutes until lightly golden. Set aside.

While bread is toasting, using a mandoline or a sharp knife, cut zucchini, cucumbers and red onion into paper-thin rounds. Combine in a large bowl with cannellini beans and basil. 

Toss bread cubes with vegetables. In a small bowl, mix olive oil and vinegar and season with salt and black pepper. Pour over the salad and toss to combine. Stir in feta. Let stand at least 15 minutes before serving. Serves eight as a side. 


Turkey and Avocado Sandwich with Quick Pickled Veggies

1/2 seedless cucumber, sliced very thin

3 radishes, sliced very thin

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

16 slices sandwich bread, lightly toasted

6 tablespoons pepper jelly

8 slices provolone cheese

1 pound deli turkey slices

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted

1 cup sprouts or microgreens

2 large avocados, peeled, pitted and mashed or sliced thin

Place cucumber and radish slices in a bowl. Add salt and pour vinegar over the top. Let sit for 10 minutes to pickle, then drain. 

Spread eight bread slices with pepper jelly. Top with a slice of provolone and 2 ounces of deli turkey each. Top with pumpkin seeds, sprouts, avocado mash or slices and finally a slice of bread. Store in Ziploc® bags or wrapped with aluminum foil. Makes eight sandwiches. 


Chicken Salad With Fennel and Almonds 

3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken

1 cup chopped fresh fennel bulb

2 tablespoons almonds, chopped and toasted

1 shallot, peeled and minced

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

Zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Toss chicken, fennel, almonds and shallot together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, yogurt, lemon zest and Dijon mustard. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Add to chicken mixture and toss to combine. 


Fermented Green Tomato Pickles 

Home fermentation is a popular trend and quite easy to do. The process of fermentation uses naturally occurring bacteria to preserve food and provide health benefits. These green tomato pickles make the most of an early tomato crop and are the perfect sandwich or burger topper. 


1 (16-ounce) mason jar, clean and sterilized

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 to 2 green tomatoes, sliced thin

2 sprigs fresh dill

1 green onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 cabbage leaf

Combine salt with 4 cups of water and stir to dissolve; set aside. Place half of the green tomato slices in the bottom of the mason jar. Layer with half of the dill, green onion, garlic, peppercorns and coriander. Top with remaining green tomato slices, herbs, garlic and spices. Pour saltwater mixture over the vegetables, leaving very little room at the top. Use the cabbage leaf over the top of the vegetables to keep them submerged. 

Place sealed jar at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for five to 10 days. Every couple of days, open the jar to “burp” the pickles and release built up gasses. After five to 10 days, when you notice the brine stops bubbling, place in the refrigerator and store until ready to eat. 


Asian Mayoless Tuna Salad 

10 ounces tuna packed in water, drained

2 small carrots, shredded on the large grates of a cheese grater

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

4 scallions, sliced thin

2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

4 teaspoons sriracha hot sauce

Mix tuna, carrots, cilantro and scallions in a large bowl. Whisk together sesame oil, rice vinegar and sriracha. Add to tuna. Toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Serves six. 


Grilled Lemon Herb Drumsticks

For a change of pace from fried chicken, pack these grilled lemon herb chicken drumsticks, which are just as easy to eat without utensils. 


Juice from 2 lemons

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

8 chicken drumsticks

In a large Ziploc bag, combine lemon juice, parsley, thyme and olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper. Add chicken and toss to coat. Place sealed bag over a plate or baking dish to catch any drippings and refrigerate 1 hour or overnight. 

When ready to cook, heat grill to medium-high heat. Add drumsticks and grill, turning to cook on all sides, about 30 minutes. Remove and let sit at least 5 minutes before serving, or serve cold or at room temperature. Serves four to eight. 


Everything but the Kitchen Sink Cookies

These cookies can also be made with white or whole wheat flour. The almond meal adds a nutty flavor and nice crumb. Make oat flour at home by pulsing oats in a food processor until it forms a flour. 


1 1/2 cups oat flour

1 cup almond meal

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

6 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

2 tablespoons almond butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup dark chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1/2 cup pecans, chopped and toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together oat flour, almond meal, oats, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of a standing mixer, or using a medium bowl with a hand mixer, mix egg, butter, sugar, maple syrup, almond butter and vanilla extract until combined. Mix in dry ingredients a little at a time, until fully incorporated. Stir in dark chocolate, coconut and pecans. 

Scoop large tablespoons of dough on to a large baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until lightly golden. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and continue to cool to room temperature, or enjoy warm. Makes 26 to 30 cookies. 


Buttermilk and Coconut Ice Cream

Many new coolers are insulated enough to keep ice cream from melting. Enjoy with fresh, seasonal berries. The vodka keeps the ice cream from getting icy, but can be left out if needed. 


4 egg yolks

1/2 cup honey

1 (14-ounce) can full fat coconut milk

2 1/2 cups full fat buttermilk

2 teaspoons vodka

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and honey together until well combined; set aside. In a medium pot, heat coconut milk and 1 1/2 cups buttermilk on medium-low heat, stirring frequently. When the mixture reaches about 150 degrees on a candy thermometer (it will be very hot and steaming, but not boiling or simmering), remove from heat and pour slowly into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. 

When ready to make ice cream, pour the remaining cup of buttermilk and vodka into the mixture and stir to combine. Pour into an ice cream maker and churn according to instructions. When the ice cream is very thick, scoop out into a container, placing a sheet of plastic wrap over the surface, and freeze at least 2 hours. 

Before serving, let sit at room temperature 10 minutes to soften. Makes about six cups. 

These recipes were developed by Rachael Hartley, RD via 

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