June: Summer Picnic Series #2

Picnic 3

The Meadow Picnic from “The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI” might be my favorite menu so far.  It is an amazingly delicious array of dishes and although I did not transport my meal to a picnic area, I do believe that this would all transport very nicely.  My only hesitation about recommending this menu to others to prepare would be that it was very time consuming and took a great deal of chopping.  Overall, there are no complex cooking techniques, it is all very straightforward, but be prepared for the time you need for chopping, rolling, and mixing.  Also, if you are planning a picnic I would suggest starting this menu three days in advance and have everything done the day before your event.  On the other hand, it all would be fairly easy if each member of your party was assigned a dish from this menu.  Just a thought.  The menu would easily serve about 10 people.  Below you will find the menu followed by a preface to this months blog entry.  Enjoy!

Meadow Picnic

Grilled Chicken and Ziti Salad

Lebanese-Style Tuna Salad with Tahini Dressing

Green Bean, Yellow Pepper, and Bacon Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette

Roast Beef and Couscous Rolls

Tsatsiki

Cherry Tomatoes

S’Mores Bars

Iced Tea

Grgich Hills, Napa Valley, Fume Blanc ’88

Rosemount Estate Diamond Reserve Hunter Valley Red ’88

Why I Started this Blog

Before I begin this installment of my Gourmet Magazine Menus, I wanted to take a moment to tell you one reason of why I started this blog and in the process, also tell you a little bit about myself.  I love looking at cooking magazines and books.  Often I hear people say about books and magazines like Gourmet or Bon Appitit is that meals these publications present are impossible or impractical for the home chef.  I admit, that even I am prone to that sort of thinking at times.  I will see an elaborate spread of perfectly placed full course meals and I think, “Who can do that?  Who has time?”  I mean, the editors of these publications don’t do this all on their own.  They have an army of workers setting up, cooking, cleaning, photographing, etc.  Yet, these publications are meant for the home cook.

I have created full meals in the past, usually for special occasions, but in the past I was more likely to only pick one recipe from a menu, rather than the whole meal.  So, I started to wonder when I was given all these books, if these menus were practical to cook in a home kitchen by one cook.  I also wondered what skill level one might need to fully complete these menus.  What I am finding, in the six months of making these menus, is that they are very well crafted.  The balance of complex/simple, quick/lengthy, savory/sweet is always very well thought out.  I think most people familiar with their kitchen can execute these menus with efficiency and elegance.

My background as a cook is very simple:  What I learned I learned from my mother or reading.  I have no formal training, I have never taken a cooking class of any kind.  I don’t even really like watching cooking shows.  I usually think, why am I watching this show when I could be making something myself?  The only food show that I really love is Kitchen Nightmares.  That, however, has only reinforced my desire to cook great food at home.  Now on to the food and wine!!

Wine and Iced Tea

Meadow Beverages

The Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc was very nice, however, a bit pricey ($30), and frankly, I preferred some of the other white wines I have had from some of the previous menus that were far less expensive.  Nonetheless, it certainly made a nice wine to have on the table to offer my guests and family.  And after reading this review of it in the LA Times, I want to try it all over again.  Sometimes when I am busy putting all the finishing touches on my table, it is hard to stop and “smell the wine” so to speak.  Grgich wine, especially their Chardonnay, is worth a try, however because in 1976 to the shock and surprise of the French, a panel of French wine judges during a blind tasting, declared Mike Grigich’s Chardonnay the best wine in the world!  And, according to my reading, he is still known for his exquisite Chardonnays.

I did not go with the Rosemount wine, rather I chose a Pinot Noir simply because I love Pino Noirs and I thought it would be excellent with a light, fresh summer meal.  The Rosemount Estate is still around and widely available if you do choose this wine for your picnic.  I went with a more moderate priced red to balance out what I spent on the white, but I was not disappointed.  The Hahn 2014 Pino Noir ($12) was wonderful with the flavors of the meal.  I even loved it with the S’Mores Bars as it balanced out the sweetness from the marshmallows very nicely.  The Hahn Family Winery was founded in 1979 in the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey, California, but wine grapes have been grown in that area for about 200 years.

Harney and Son’s is one of my favorite tea merchants and the Tropical Green was nice, light and fruity for the iced tea.  However, I recently had the pleasure of trying Piper and Leaf’s “Front Porch Special” black tea blend.   I made that into iced tea sweetened with simple syrup.  It was the best iced tea I have ever sipped and, had I had this tea available for my Meadow Picnic, I would have served that.  Piper and Leaf is expensive, but this blend is worth every penny and so refreshing on a hot summer day!

Grilled Chicken and Ziti Salad

Grilled Chicken and Ziti

A fantastic crunchy and flavorful pasta salad with a nice creamy dressing.  I grilled the chicken and marinated it in the lemon juice the day before making the salad.  I did not have leftover juice from the chicken so you will need an additional lemon for the dressing.  Be sure to make this dish a day before serving as it was good the first day, but fantastic on the second.  Many reviewers on Epicurious suggested adding tomatoes, so clearly tomatoes go nicely with this dish but for us, our tomatoes are served on the side per our menu.  I also think that the juice from the fresh tomatoes might make the pasta too soggy and gummy.  Keep the tomatoes separate and everyone will be happy.  This is a great recipe and it keeps very well for a few days in the fridge.  Having the leftovers of this menu around was like living in a deli for a few days.  Yum!

Lebanese-Style Tuna Salad with Tahini Dressing & Tsatsiki

Tuna and Tsatsiki

I like parsley.  I don’t think the recipe called for that much parsley and in the picture in the book it showed a light sprinkle on top of the tuna.  The recipe also called for flat leaf parsley, but I prefer curly parsley, so that is what I used.  Tuna fans be prepared for a delicious and different tuna sandwich.  The reviews on Epicurious all say the same thing–“best tuna sandwich.”  The caramelized onions and toasted pine nuts give a nice flavor and texture to this layers tuna dish.  My only suggestion is that I would have liked a little more lemon flavor and a slightly spicier touch of the cayenne.  Ordinarily I love the food processor, but I thought it was easier to make the dressing by hand mixing and it came out perfect.  I served it with the pita and a generous helping of the Tsatsiki.

Tsatsiki

The tsatsiki recipe makes a very generous portion.  You could cut this in half and probably be fine.  The recipe is very good, but we all felt it could have used a little more salt and garlic.  Don’t be shy with either.

I made this Lebanese-style tuna recipe with canned albacore tuna, but I kept wondering how this recipe might be served with fresh seared and sliced ahi tuna in place of the canned.  I might need to explore that option in the future.  If you picnic some place with a grill, I would give that a try.  Just pack the dressing, caramelized onions, and parsley and put it together at your picnic site.

Green Bean, Yellow Pepper, and Bacon Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette

Green bean salad

This meal is not for vegetarians, pretty much everything has a little meat in the dish, but you won’t want to skip the bacon in this dish.  I used a thick cut smoked bacon and cut it with kitchen shears after the bacon got nice and crispy.  Not only is this dish delicious, but it is so lovely with its colors.  The recipe called for dried oregano, but I used fresh oregano from my garden.  If you use fresh oregano, just add as much as you want to flavor your dish.  Each of these dishes is excellent served together, but each also stands out on its own and this dish is no exception.  If this was the only dish on the menu, I would have been happy.  I made mine the day before and kept it in the fridge.  The oil solidified, however so I just popped it into the microwave for ten seconds or so to melt the olive oil or you can just set it out for a few hours before serving to let it come to room temperature.  Serving it at room temperature, rather than fresh from the fridge, also allows the flavors to come through more.  This recipe is not in the Epicurious database, so here it is:

Green Bean, Yellow Pepper, and Bacon Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette

  • 1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar (I used balsamic reduction and doubled the amount)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled (or fresh, chopped)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small yellow bell pepper, cut into paper-thin strips
  • 6 slices of lean bacon, cooked until crisp and drained

In a kettle of boiling water cook the beans for 2 to 4 minutes, or until they are crisp-tender, drain them, and refresh them in a bowl of ice and cold water.  In a large bowl whisk together the vinegar, the mustard, and the oregano and add the oil in a stream, whisking until the vinaigrette is emulsified.  To the vinaigrette add the beans, drained well, the yellow pepper, and the bacon, crumbled, toss the salad, and season it with salt and black pepper.  The salad may be made 8 hours in advance.  Serves 8 to 10.

Roast Beef and Couscous Rolls

beef rolls

I am going to repeat myself:  If this was the only dish I was served I would be perfectly happy.  I really had no idea how these would turn out or if they would even be any good–I assure you, they are amazing, fairly easy to make, and when finished, have an inviting presentation.  Below I have pictures showing how to put them together.  I did not use couscous, I used a quinoa blend and I think it may have held together better because of that.  I think couscous would not have held together as well.  Use only the best deli sliced roast beef you can acquire.  The Nugget Market’s Boar’s Head Roast Beef was perfect because it was so incredibly tender it practically melted in your mouth and thus was a perfect texture for the filling.

 

My deli slices were very thin and I had to “patch” it in places, but that did not affect the structural integrity of the roll.  These pack nicely and make a great lunch the next day.  If you make these let me know in the comments.  I would love to know what you thought of these delicious little beef bites.

S’Mores Bars

If there is a disappointment in this menu, the S’Mores Bars are it.  It is chocolate, marshmallows, and graham crackers, so they disappeared from the serving plate, but I would have chosen a different dessert.   My problem with them was that I thought they were too sweet and the crust did not hold together and just crumbled all over the place.  Very easy to make, but I think brownies may have been a better choice.  You can see from the photo that as I cut them into squares they were very crumbly.  They looked good on the serving plate, but as soon as you bite into them, it crumbles all over!

 

Meadow Picnic: A Design Collection

In the Ebay collection I have combined the Summer Picnic series menus, so just scroll over the picture on Ebay and you can see what collection each item goes with.  The tin box above is such a beautiful find and is to be used for setting out your wine bottles.  To get a better understanding of the collection, here is the picture of the Meadow Picnic from “The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI”:

 

Enjoy all your summer picnics this season!

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