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Picnic Time - An Interview with Sara Foster
May 23, 2007
By Jennifer Chandler

Picnic time

By Jennifer Chandler
Special to The Commercial Appeal

May 23, 2007

When I think of summer parties -- even night-time parties -- I think of picnics. There is no better way to entertain in the warm weather than in the great outdoors.

You don't really need a reason to have a picnic outside, just a beautiful night and good friends. Your own backyard can make a perfect venue. Or your favorite park. When I lived in Paris, my favorite picnic spot was the romantic pedestrian bridge Pont des Arts.

This time of year, there are many events around town that lend themselves to outdoor entertaining.

This weekend there's the Memphis in May Sunset Symphony. This traditional finale to a month of festivities is perfect for relaxing on the river and enjoying a wonderful picnic.

For your picnic, you could always pick up a bucket of fried chicken. But if you're willing to put a little extra effort and planning into the meal, you can easily create a memorable al fresco dining experience.

Sara Foster, author of "Sara Foster's Casual Cooking" (Clarkson Potter, $35), recommends that you plan a meal that is not only simple to prepare but that can be easily packed for travel.

"Time always seems to be the biggest factor when people explain why they don't cook," Foster said. Her latest book is full of relaxed, versatile recipes that are flavorful but don't require precision cooking or fussy techniques, a majority of which are perfect for a picnic.

"Mix and match" is what Foster advises. A meal is no longer a meat and two vegetables. Cook what you like and acknowledge that salads can be meals and sandwiches qualify as respectable grown-up dinners.

"We do a lot of picnics with friends at Shelby Farms or Overton Park," said Rob Day, director of catering for Wade & Company. "The thing that makes them most successful is that we stay organized and plan ahead."

Day recommends buying all the essentials and keeping them in one place ready to go. "I bought some great plastic plates and cups at a discount store. I store them in a picnic basket so that I don't have to worry about gathering the essentials while I am preparing the food for our meal," he said.

"In my opinion, sandwiches are the easiest meals to prepare," Foster said. "It's an assembly job, and the majority of the components of sandwiches -- bread, cheese, and condiments like mayonnaise, mustard and chutney -- require no effort."

Foster's sandwiches may be simple, but they're not your everyday fare. Her recipes are more like entrees between two slices of bread. And unlike entrees, these satisfying sandwiches can be eaten on paper plates with something as simple as chips on the side.

To save time, Foster recommends making one large sandwich for five or six people on a baguette or focaccia and just cutting it into individual servings.

"Salads are the ultimate casual meal," Foster said. They are quick to prepare and are impossible to mess up, even if you have to stray from the recipe.

She recommends straying from the mainstays of potato salad and coleslaw and experimenting with seasonally fresh ingredients for your salads and sides.

"My green curry-ginger chicken salad would make a great picnic entree," she said.

For out-of-the-ordinary sides, she recommends tabbouleh, a fresh tomato salad or colorful bean salads.

She reminds us to be sure to remember that all mayo-based dressings need to be well-chilled.

For dessert, items that can be hand-held work best. Cookies and brownies are always favorites. For a little something different, Foster recommends trying something like individual fruit crostatas. "Almost like little hand pies, crostatas travel well and don't need a knife and fork to be eaten," she said.

If all this sounds like too much to do, relax: You don't have to do it all yourself.

Day recommends assigning things to different friends. "Let your friends share in the prep work," he said. "Most people are happy to bring the ice, drinks or even pick up a store-bought dessert."


Consider where your picnic will be and make a checklist of everything you might need. Here's a list of must-haves for any night-time picnic.

  • Paper plates, plastic ware, cups and napkins
  • A cooler with ice
  • A bottle opener and a corkscrew
  • A picnic blanket and/or folding chairs
  • Candles and a flashlight (a candelabra makes a statement for a more elegant picnic)
  • A roll of paper towels
  • Hand sanitizer or wipes
  • Mosquito repellant
  • A garbage bag


    Memphis in May Sunset Symphony

    Tom Lee Park


    2 to 9 p.m.

    Tickets: $7 at the door, $6 in advance (only online from Ticketmaster); children 6 and under admitted free

    Live at the Garden Summer Concert Series

    Memphis Botanic Garden

    June 9: An Evening with Chicago

    June 22: Natalie Cole

    July 21: Al Green

    August 11: Chris Isaak

    September 14: Michael McDonald

    For ticket information, call 576-4107 or visit liveatthegarden.com.

    Evening Notes

    Kiwanis Pavilion at Municipal Park, free concerts hosted by the City of Germantown; 7-8:30 p.m.

    June 5: The Dempseys

    June 19: Ruby Wilson

    July 17: The New Memphis Underground

    July 31: The Soul Shockers

    For more information, call the Germantown Parks and Recreation Office at 757-7375.

    Shrimp Po'Boys with Quick Herb Mayo

    1 lb. steamed large shrimp, peeled and deveined

    1/2 cup Quick Herb Mayo (recipe follows)

    Juice of 1 lemon

    3 tbsp. chopped fresh dill

    Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

    1 baguette (about 20" long)

    4 medium dill pickles, thinly sliced into rounds

    3 cups loosely packed mixed baby greens

    Place the shrimp in a medium bowl. Add 1/4 cup of the Quick Herb Mayo, lemon juice and dill. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss to mix thoroughly.

    Slice the baguette in half through the middle, leaving one side intact so the bread is hinged. Open the baguette and place it cut side up under the broiler for about 1 minute, until lightly toasted.

    To assemble the sandwich, spread the remaining 1/4 cup mayonnaise on the insides of the baguette. Lay the pickles on the bottom of the baguette and lay the shrimp on top of the pickles. Top the sandwich with baby greens, close and slice it into 4 equal-size pieces. Serves 2 to 4.

    Quick Herb Mayo

    1 cup mayonnaise

    2 tbsp. fresh flat-leaf parsley

    2 tbsp. fresh dill

    1 tbsp. lemon juice

    4 fresh basil leaves

    Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Put the mayonnaise, parsley, dill, lemon juice, basil, and salt and pepper to taste in a blender and pulse until the mayonnaise is smooth and green. Serve or refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use or up to 1 week. Makes 1 cup.

    Green Curry-Ginger Chicken Salad

    1 cup mayonnaise

    3 tbsp. grated peeled fresh ginger

    1 tbsp. Thai green curry paste

    Juice of 2 limes

    1 tsp. ground cumin

    1/2 tsp. ground coriander

    4 cups shredded cooked chicken

    1/4 cup golden raisins

    1/2 cup shredded coconut

    1/2 cup silvered or sliced almonds

    1/4 cup shopped fresh cilantro

    6 scallions, minced

    2 celery stalks, chopped

    Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

    1 cup coarsely chopped fresh pineapple

    Whisk the mayonnaise, ginger, curry paste, lime juice, cumin and coriander together in a small bowl.

    In a separate large bowl, combine the chicken, raisins, coconut, almonds, cilantro, scallions, and celery. Add about three-quarters of the curried mayonnaise and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss to coat the chicken and add more mayonnaise, if desired. Serve or refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to serve or for up to 1 day. Just before serving, add the pineapple and stir gently to combine. Serves 4 to 6.

    Cooley Tabbouleh

    1 cup bulgur wheat

    Grated zest and juice of 3 lemons

    2 cups chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

    1 bunch scallions, minced

    2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped

    2 tomatoes, cored and chopped

    1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

    1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

    2 cups loosely packed arugula

    Put the bulgur wheat in a large bowl. Combine the zest and juice of 1 lemon with 2 cups tepid water and pour the liquid over the bulgur. Stir to mix, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and set it aside for about 30 minutes, until the bulgur has absorbed the water. Pour the bulgur into a mesh colander and press on it to extract any excess liquid.

    In a separate large bowl, combine the parsley, scallions, cucumbers, tomatoes, mint, olive oil and the zest and juice of the remaining 2 lemons and stir to combine. Add the bulgur wheat, season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir gently again. Cover the bowl, and refrigerate the tabbouleh for at least 1 hour and up to overnight before serving. Just before serving, gently toss with the arugula. Serves 4 to 6.

    Individual Peach-Raspberry Crostatas

    For the crust:

    2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting the work surface

    3 tbsp. sugar

    1/4 tsp. kosher salt

    1/2 lb. (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes, plus extra for greasing the baking sheet

    1 large egg yolk

    3 to 4 tbsp. ice cold milk or water

    For the filling:

    2 lbs. peaches, peeled, pitted and thinly sliced

    1 cup fresh raspberries

    1/3 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

    3 tbsp. cornstarch

    1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

    1/4 tsp. ground ginger

    1/4 tsp. kosher salt

    4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

    1 large egg

    1 to 2 tbsp. milk

    To make the crust, stir the flour, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Add the butter and blend it in with the flour using a pastry blender or two knives in a crisscrossing motion until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk the egg yolk and 3 tbsp. of the milk together in a small bowl, add the flour to the mixture, and stir until the dough just comes together and starts to form a ball, adding the remaining milk if necessary. Dust your hands lightly with flour and press the dough together to form a flat round disk. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to chill at least 1 hour or overnight.

    Lightly grease two large baking sheets or cover with parchment and set aside.

    To make the filling, combine the peaches, raspberries, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger and salt in a large bowl and stir gently to mix.

    Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut it into eight equal-size pieces. Lightly flour your work surface and roll each piece of dough into a 6-inch round. Place the rounds on the prepared baking sheets.

    Scoop the filling and all the juices into the center of each round, dividing it evenly and leaving a 1-inch border around the edge of each tart. Place one piece of butter on top of each mound of fruit. Fold the dough over the fruit all the way around each tart to form an edge.

    Whisk the egg and milk together in a small bowl to form an egg wash and brush it onto the edges of each tart. Sprinkle the sugar over the egg wash and put the tarts in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to chill.

    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

    Remove the tarts from the refrigerator and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until the crusts are golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Leave the tarts on the pan to cool slightly and serve warm.

    Source: All recipes "Sara Foster's Casual Cooking," Sara Foster

    Copyright 2007, commercialappeal.com - Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.

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