May #2: A Hikers’ Picnic

From Barnaby Summit

Another great adventure awaits with this menu!  I know this is supposed to be only one menu a month, but this menu was just calling out to me, so I thought I would give you a report.  “A Hikers’ Picnic” menu from “The Best of Gourmet: 1995” is a perfect menu for hungry hikers, I know because I was one of them!  Here is the menu:

A Hikers' Picnic

Chilled Yellow Pepper and Scallion Buttermilk Soup

Azuki Bean and Vegetable Salad in Pita Bread

Granola and Dried Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies


(Iced or Hot Tea)

I started making this the day before our hike.  This menu is quick and easy to prepare, especially with some of my updates.  It is also easy to pack and it feeds six people easily with a hearty appetite.  My daughter and I ate a couple of cookies and an apple, had a few sips of tea and started out on our 3 hour 5 1/2 mile hike.  Having eaten nothing before that snack, those cookies and apples kept us going for our whole hike.  After our hike, in which we made the summit of Mount Barnaby in Marin County, CA,

Barnaby Lookout

we headed over to the Marin French Cheese Factory to fill up on our picnic and of course buy some cheese and bread for dinner later that night.  It was the perfect ending to a beautiful day!

The Beverage

This menu in the Gourmet book does not suggest any beverage to accompany this meal.  I however, would suggest a nice hearty hot black tea.  We brought along a thermos of Mark T. Wendell Tea Company’s Scottish Breakfast.  After our hike we made short order of this big thermos of tea.  It was the perfect complement to this hearty lunch.   So, be sure to bring along a generous amount of your favorite strong tea.

The Soup

The Chilled Yellow Pepper and Scallion Buttermilk Soup sounds like it will be a flavorful complement to this menu, but I though it was a bit bland.  The soup is seen in the pictures in the camp cups.  If you do make this soup be sure to get out your immersion blender.  That makes this soup a snap to prepare.  However, a cold soup would be a great side dish to this menu, just not this recipe.  Do you have a savory cold soup that you would recommend?  I would love to know.  I don’t ever make cold soups, but I would love to try one that has been successful, after all, summer is right around the corner!

The Sandwich

Soup & Pitas

The Azuki Bean and Vegetable Salad in Pita Bread is flavorful and versatile.  Pack the filling for this pita sandwich in a Tupperware type container and stuff the pita when you are ready to eat.  My girls actually ate the mixture like a salad, but I stuffed mine into a whole wheat pita.  It was hearty, easy to eat, had a nice crunch, is vegetarian, and very delicious!  This is a great stuffing for a pita.  I used what bean I had on hand which was black-eyed peas, but I think most any bean would go very nicely in this mixture.

Besides the beans, I also made a few other changes.  The recipe calls for dicing carrots and broccoli and blanching them in boiling water.  This seemed unnecessary, so I used what I think is a little easier and more updated:  A bag of pre-shredded broccoli stems and shredded carrots.  No blanching, just dump into the bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and stir.  I also used feta rather than the provolone that is used in the recipe.  A squirt of lemon might be a nice addition, but be careful, you don’t want this salad to become too watery as it is a filling for soft bread.  Therefore, you can use your favorite bean, favorite cheese, and your favorite combination of raw shredded vegetables that do not get soggy when “dressed,” in place of the called for ingredients in this recipe.  In short, you can customize this sandwich filling while still staying true to the spirit of the recipe.

The Dessert (or snack, or in my case, breakfast)

Granola cookies, apples, and tea

Yum!  One of my daughters said that this cookie has the perfect texture.  I though these Granola and Dried Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies were a bit sweet (probably due to the type of granola I used), but excellent.  These cookies were good right out of the oven, but I thought these were even better a day later as the chewy and crunch texture really comes through.  This recipe is very much like the salad–they will come out differently with each cook.  Everyone will use a different granola, and the cranberry is only a suggestion, you can use raisins, or really any dried fruit that you want in these cookies.  Have fun and experiment with different combinations of granola, dried fruit, and baking chips (white chocolate, chocolate, butterscotch, etc.).

These cookies are hearty enough to be in my backpack and still make it out in one piece.  They go great with tea and are excellent paired with a crisp apple.   The granola cookies are a perfect beginning or end to a great hike.

Now go find a hill to hike!  Here are some wild flowers from our hike:

Blue wild flowers

A Hikers’ Picnic:  A Design Collection


Bandanas and enamelware will be awaiting the hikers at the picnic tables when they return from their hike.  This is a simple Ebay collection that combines retro with contemporary.  I love the idea of using bandanas as napkins.  Also, I appreciate the rustic charm of enamelware which can come in many colors and styles.  You can also use mess kits to serve up your picnic menu as I did in my pictures above.  Take a look at another of my Ebay collections inspired from the menu titled, “Picnic: Fishing in Scotland” from “The Best of Gourmet: 1992.”  I really love that collection and someday I look forward to making that menu.    Both of the collections have some fun ideas that will make your next picnic something to remember!

May: Brunch On Derby Day

Derby Day Brunch

Get ready to travel to Kentucky!  Brunch on Derby Day from “The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI” is a fun, fresh, and plentiful menu that is easy to put together. Here is the menu:

Mint Juleps

Ham Biscuits

Turkey Hash

Corn Cakes

Pea Salad

Bibb, Watercress, and Mint Salad

Chocolate Pecan Bars

Fresh Strawberries

Wine:  Torres Vina Sol 1988


We celebrated Mother’s Day on Friday, May 6, 2016, the day of the Kentucky Oaks horse race.  The Kentucky Oaks is a wonderful event to watch for a Mother’s Day event because it is focused on women.  Everyone wears pick and in between the horse races they have a parade of women who have survived breast and ovarian cancers.  The women walk with their family or spouse and everyone is dressed in their fancy hats, dresses, and for the men, festive ties and the predominant color is pink.  When not fashion spotting during this event you have the excitement of the race itself which includes all fillies (young female horses).  It was the perfect event to watch for Mother’s Day.

We ate our lunch sitting in the living room enjoying the spectacle of the Kentucky Oaks and this menu is easy to eat in that sort of casual fashion.  Before the event started we put on some playlists I found on Spotify titled “Kentucky Derby” and we also listened to a little Kentucky Bluegrass too.  Everything in this menu complements each item perfectly and mint which is found in a couple of the menu items brings a nice spring flavor theme to the brunch.


Spanish Wine

The Gourmet menu suggested a Torres Vina Sol, 1988.  As I was focused more on the bourbon for the mint juleps, I didn’t spend that much time on the wine, however this is what I found out.  The Torres winery is still producing and they still produce a Vina Sol.  I could not find this particular wine, however, it uses two grapes, the Parellada and the Garnacha Blanca.  Both these grapes are grown in the Catalonia region of Spain.  So, I tried to find a white Spanish wine that was grown in that area of Spain and the Pansa Blanca, Marques d Alella, 2013 is what I found.  From reading about it, I think it is a very suitable substitution for the Torres Vina Sol as the Pansa Blanca is also from the Catalonia region and is made of grapes that are used in Cava (the Spanish sparkling wine), as is the Vina Sol.

This wine was very similar to the Orvieto that we had in the April menu, in that it is a light, slightly effervescent wine and it is also a great bargain at about $8 a bottle.  I liked the Orvieto equally to the Pansa Blanca.  I would recommend this wine for a light afternoon complement to this lovely meal.

The Cocktail:  Mint Juleps


We had the Mint Juleps as a pre-meal cocktail.  I made the recipe using the mint simple syrup called for in the recipe and my syrup did not discolor.  I should have experimented with proportions prior to serving them to guests, because on the day of our meal I made them according to the recipe which calls for 1 to 2 teaspoons of the mint syrup along with the bourbon.  It was good, but the next day I made a julep with some of the leftover syrup and I used double that amount and had a much more mint flavored beverage which was better.  So, use a generous portion of the syrup in the julep.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this Four Roses Kentucky Bourbon.  It got good reviews for a bourbon that is good for mixing, so out of the numerous Kentucky bourbons out on the market, I picked the Four Roses.  We also tried this bourbon in an Old Fashioned prior to our event (to make sure this wasn’t horrible) and I really liked it served in the Old Fashioned better than the julep, but for this occasion and menu the Mint Julep was much more festive.  However, the Old Fashioned brought out the apricot and strong vanilla flavors of this very appealing Kentucky Bourbon.

The Food

I served this meal buffet style and I included everything on the buffet at once.  I did not have multiple courses.  The main, salads, and dessert were all on the table for people to eat and choose from however they pleased.  I also served my meal with a wonderful tea called Paris Breakfast from Mariage Frères tea company.  It is a wonderful tea that I served with copious amounts of sugar and milk.  I thought a sweet tea was perfect for this event.  Here is how it all looked on the table:

Derby Brunch

Ham Biscuits: 

Ham Biscuits & Turkey Hash

These little sandwiches are good, but I think they might be better if the turkey hash is served over an open face toasted biscuit.  However, I loved the presentation of these little sandwiches.  I probably would not serve them apart from this menu because they are a bit dry and unimpressive if served solo.  Together with the great sauce of the hash and excellent beverages to drink along side these sandwiches, they are a nice addition to the buffet spread.  I made the biscuits the day before and had my helpers butter, toast, and fill the little finished sandwich on the day of the event.  They are very easy, but they do require the assembly on serving day.

Turkey Hash:

The Turkey Hash is pictured above behind the ham biscuits.  This is a huge recipe and with everything else makes for a hearty meal that no one will walk away from hungry.  The flavors are simple and it tastes like good comfort food.  Once again, I think this would be even better served on the open faced biscuits.  I read the reviews on Epicurious and many say that it was too watery.  I did not have that problem, however I did add about double the cubed potatoes that the recipe called for.  With the added potatoes it has a better turkey to potato ratio.  I also used browned ground turkey rather than cubed cooked turkey.  I just thought the ground turkey would be easy and taste just as good.  Everyone thought it was great with the ground turkey.

This dish was a nice complement to all the other flavors on the plate.  The bell pepper flavor in the hash came through but it did not dominate so flavors from the other dishes were able to come through and complement this simple dish.  I think many of the reviews on the Epicurious web site do not review this dish in its intended context, that is with this full meal.  Some reviews said it was bland.  Although, I would not call this dish bland even by itself, I think one’s opinion might change if they had this dish served with this menu.  This dish should not have overpowering flavors because once on the plate with everything else it makes sense.  Additionally, comfort food is simple and uncomplicated.   Everyone enjoyed this dish.

Corn Cakes:

Corn Cakes & Tea












My daughter loved these all-corn pancakes.  I served them with warm butter and syrup to pour over these cakes.  They are very porous and the syrup gets soaked up easily by these and does not run all over the rest of your food on your plate.  These are also easy to make and can be made the day before.  I would not recommend making these any earlier in advance because they do dry out a little.  The day of the meal I warmed them in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes.  A nice addition to this southern style meal.

Pea Salad:

Pea Salad

A wonderful colorful and very spring tasting item to have on your plate!  I used frozen peas in this recipe, but if you can find fresh peas that would be ideal to really elevate this dish into something quite special.  Everyone loved it and it is very easy and quick to prepare.  It calls for tarragon which is an herb that I love.  Tarragon used to be the signal of Spring for me, because I had tarragon growing in a flower pot outside on my patio and every Spring it would suddenly emerge and fill my flower pot.  Since the drought here in California my tarragon eventually stopped sprouting, but it hasn’t stopped my love for this herb.  Add a little extra white vinegar to give this dish a little more zing, but with the spicy crunch of the radish and the sweetness of the peas this recipe is a winner.

Bibb, Watercress, and Mint Salad:

Green Salad Derby

An absolutely wonderful burst-of-flavor salad.  The super fresh tasting mint along with the crisp lettuce and crunchy watercress is an excellent combination of greens.  There is nothing complicated about this salad, the dressing is just oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper, but it comes together like it was served in a five star establishment.  I washed all the greens the day before, dried them in a spinner, and sealed them in a zip lock bag.  It made for easy serving the day of the meal.   The mint really brings out the freshness of the Spring season.  Do not substitute the greens for anything else, it is excellent just as it is.  Lovely!

Chocolate Pecan Bars:

Dessert & Salad Pecan Bars

A perfect ending to this lovely menu.  Chocolate, nuts, and fruit, however are my weakness.  I think I may have overcooked my bars a few minutes to much, but these were great anyway, just a little crumbly.  The strawberries give a nice fresh spring touch that highlights a theme of this menu.  These look lovely on the table and are so nice with a cup of tea.  Epicurious did not have the recipe for these, so I could not include the link, here is the recipe:

Chocolate Pecan Bars:

For the crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten lightly

For the filling:

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup all -purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups chopped pecans
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Line a 13 x 9 inch pan with foil and butter the foil.

Make the crust: In a food processor blend together the flour, the sugar, the butter, and the salt, pulsing the motor, until the mixture resembles coarse meal, add the egg, and blend the mixture until it forms a dough (I needed a little extra moisture to make a dough so I added a teaspoon at a time of water until a dough formed).  Press the dough evenly with floured hands into the bottom of the foil lined and buttered 13 by 9 inch baking pan and bake it in the middle of a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until it is golden.

Make the filling while the crust is baking:  In a bowl cream the butter with the brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy and add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in the flour, the vanilla, and the salt.  Stir in the pecans and the chocolate chips.

Spread the filling over the crust and bake the confection in the middle of the 350 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.  Let the confection cool completely in the pan on a rack.  Once cooled, take the foil and lift the bars out of the pan and place on a cutting board and cut it into 24 bars.  The bars may be made 2 days in advance and kept in an airtight container.  Makes 24.

To Conclude:  Brunch on Derby Day is a winner indeed!  For me, the bonus of discovering the enjoyment of the Kentucky Oaks was also a highlight.  I would love to have the tradition of watching the Kentucky Oaks and having brunch a yearly Mother’s Day event.  Next year I would love to make it more of an event by hosting an actual party having the women wear a pink hat and ask the men to wear a pink tie.  We could even bet on the horses having a portion of the betting money donated to a breast or ovarian cancer organization.  Such a great fun festive event and if I keep the food this good and simple, it will be an easy and successful occasion.  What menus are you cooking up this May?  Leave a comment, I would love to know!

Brunch on Derby Day:  A Design Collection


This Ebay collection is of course inspired by the design in “The Best of Gourmet: Volume VI” from the Brunch on Derby Day menu.  It has some fun items like the silverplate chafing dish which is perfect for keeping your Turkey Hash warm.  (I might add here that the turkey hash recipe was designed for keeping warm by a chafing dish, so the extra liquid is necessary to prevent it from burning. This fact is lost on the reviewers on Epicurious who have made this recipe out of its original context.)  I also included a few items that are not from the collection but are festive for the occasion that I created:  the Mother’s Day Kentucky Oaks party.  Thus, you will find some great pink derby style hats and some fun pink ties for the men.  Have a look and let me know what you love!