Sunday, July 25, 2004

A soup 'n' salad picnic



By Patricia Talorico
Gannett News Service

When it comes to picnics, it's time to start thinking outside the potato salad box. While traditional All-American potato salad is still timelessly classic summer comfort food, the mayonnaise-laden dish is not very picnic-friendly.

FOOD SAFETY
When it comes to a picnic, think food safety first. Remember: The sun is your enemy.

• Chill all food thoroughly in the refrigerator; then pack it in a cooler surrounded by ice packs. An ideal temperature is 40 degrees or below.

• Pack the cooler with food in the order that it will be used.

• Plastic wrap is fine for sandwiches, but the moisture it traps inside can make crusty breads soft. Instead, use thin butcher paper or parchment paper.

• Have a separate cooler for drinks and one for foods, since coolers with beverages tend to be opened and closed more frequently.

• Never leave food out for more than two hours. If the temperature is 90 degrees or greater, put it away after an hour.

• Throw out any perishable leftovers.

Open the wicker basket and unfurl the gingham tablecloth - be it on a park bench, on the beach or in your back yard - and you're setting the stage for an informal occasion. Don't make it a been-there, ate-that affair.

Creativity and simplicity can go hand-in-hand with outdoor entertaining. Save the grilling for another day and stick with make-ahead, easily packable hand-held foods.

For sandwiches, bump up flavors by using spicy mustards, zippy chutneys, chipotle-flavored salsas, garlicky hummus, guacamole, pesto and chunky cheddar cheese spreads.

Use fresh herbs like basil leaves and sprigs of cilantro and Italian parsley instead of leaf lettuces. Sturdy, crusty baguettes and flour tortillas never fail to please.

The scoop on salads is to stick with ingredients that will hold up in the heat. Delicate baby greens are best saved for air-conditioned spaces. Say "bah" to boring pasta salads and consider instead Asian soba noodles;

orzo, the rice-shaped pasta; or hearty couscous.

Get your protein fix by adding shredded rotisserie chicken or cold steamed shrimp. Vegetarians can use roasted vegetables. Shake on some vinaigrette, toss well and serve.

Gazpacho is always a crowd-pleaser and it's easily portable. Same goes with cupcakes, cookies and brownies.

Recipes

Lemon-Cumin Couscous Salad

VINAIGRETTE

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon cumin

Pinch cayenne

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

6 tablespoons olive oil

SALAD

11/2 cups couscous

11/2 cups hot water

Salt

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 green onions, chopped

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped

1/2 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds

1/2 cup lemon-cumin vinaigrette

Combine salt, garlic, cumin, cayenne and lemon juice. Whisk in oil.

Place couscous in a large bowl, cover with hot water and a sprinkle of salt. When all the liquid is absorbed, fluff grains with a fork and liven flavor with lemon juice and olive oil. Toss with remaining ingredients and lemon-cumin vinaigrette. Taste and adjust seasonings. Cover and refrigerate to allow flavors to blend. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Summer Weekend Cookbook (Cottage Life; $29.95)

Glorious Gazpacho

2 cups peeled and diced seedless cucumbers

2 cups diced red bell pepper

2 cups diced ripe tomato

1/2 cup diced red onion

2 cups tomato juice

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 dashes Tabasco sauce

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 ripe avocado, preferably Haas

Place cucumber, bell peppers, tomatoes and onion in a large bowl. Add tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil and Tabasco sauce. Season with salt and pepper and toss. Transfer half of the mixture to a blender or food processor and pulse the machine on and off to coarsely puree the contents. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Refrigerate for up to 6 hours.

Just before serving, cut avocado in half and remove pit. Dice flesh and top servings with avocado garnish. Makes about 8 servings.

Celebrate! (Workman; $19.95)




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