Food Friday: Picnics

29 07 2011

Everything tastes better outdoors.

-Claudia Roden

We’re in prime picnic season, aren’t we? When the weather gets hot, and it’s just too miserable to turn on the stove, sometimes there’s nothing better than packing up a basket, and going to eat out in a cool forest, or by the water.

  • Wrap a colorful napkin around each set of silverware and tie with a piece of twine for individual portable place settings.
  • Several cloves-studded lemon halves will look pretty on the table, but help diminish flies.
  • Another use for ever-handy aluminum foil — to keep bugs from getting into your drinks, cover the glass with foil, then poke a straw just through to drink from without leaving an opening.
  • Chill your perishable food before being packed into a cooler to make sure it stays cold long after.
  • Double wrap everything, but especially meat or anything juicy so nothing leaks all over.
  • If you love your mayonnaise, this is the one time to store-buy it, rather than homemake. All those store bought mayos have lemon juice and vinegar that provide enough acid to keep bacteria from growing. Plus, the eggs used to make it are usually pasteurized.
  • Line a picnic basket with a cardboard box and thermal blanket. Then place everything inside a large plastic bag.  You can still put those ice packs in the picnic basket. There! Now you look cute swinging a summery wicker basket instead of chunky cooler.
  • Out of enough ice packs? Here’s a handy trick. Soak sponges in water, then put them in plastic bags, seal, and freeze until solid. They should last up to 3 hours. Or, fill clean milk cartons or Coke bottles with water and freeze. You can also use those handy-dandy plastic shoe boxes. Line with plastic wrap, fill with water and freeze. Now you’ve got large chunks of ice that melt much more slowly than smaller ice cubes.
  • A full cooler will stay cold longer than a partially filled, so fill’er up (as if we Southerners have any problem with that)!
  • Pack your beverages and food in seperate coolers if you can. You know you’re gonna be getting in and out of the drinks the most, so this keeps your food cold longer.
  • For hot stuff, aluminum foil is your best friend. Line it up with layers and layers to keep those hot foods toasty warm. Once you’ve wrapped in layers of foil, another several layers of newsprint is also an excellent protector and insulator.
  • As a rule, for the cold cooler, keep it in the car on the drive over, and the hot food can go in the hotter trunk. Aren’t we smart?
  • Once you get there, stake out a nice shady spot for yourself and especially for the cooler if possible to keep the goodies fresh and cool.
  • Use a small muffin tin as a condiment server, with each section holding ketchup, mustard, onions, pickels, relish…
  • Place small fruit in an egg carton. Your apricots, plums, tomatoes, and deviled eggs (wrapped in plastic wrap) will stay intact and unbruised.
  • Fill paper straws with salt and pepper or other seasonings to make portable shakers. Just fill and tightly twist the ends to close.
  • Pack plenty of serving plates and utensils. If you’re cooking on-site, remember never to put food on a plate or use a utensil that has touched raw food. Ick!
  • Take along a couple of large plastic bags for easy clean up or to place under a blanket should the ground be damp.
  • I love wet wipes. Babies or no amoung you, you can never have too many for cleaning hands or surfaces.
  • This is a “duh,” but keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Cold foods should be kept at at least 40 degrees F or less, and hot foods at at least 140 degrees F or hotter. In between is no good. Pack in a well insulated cooler and surround by gel packs or ice to maintain temperature.

An important word about proper food storage and transport: Every year, thousands of illnesses are linked to food poisoning. Bacteria can grow to over two million in the span of just a day if you don’t follow proper food safety guidelines. Never partially cook food like steaks or chicken to be finished at the picnic site. Partially cooked food may seem to save time, but it’s a breeding grownd for bacteria. At the end of the fun day, if in doubt, throw it out. Better to waste a little food than to consume perished lunch meat, potato salad or meat. And remember the “two-hour” rule: food must be consumed withing 2 hours from the time its taken out of the cooler or off the grill. We care about you, our dear SIT readers, so enjoy these summer days, but stay safe!

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