Tips for the Perfect Spring Picnic

Author of The Picnic Cookbook, Annie Bell, gives us tips for throwing the best outdoor meals big or small, with delicious recipes to pack in your basket.
By Annelise McAuliffe

BackgroundAnnie Bell

Annie Bell, author of The Picnic Cookbook, is here to help you make the most of the nice weather and enjoy your food outdoors. Here are our favorite tips to make sure that your romantic or fun gathering is not an unorganized flop. For delicious recipes to back in your basket, be sure to check out her book.

The Picnic Cookbook

Plan Ahead and Think Small and Light

Annie admits that the best part of throwing a picnic is that you can invite however many people you want. From an intimate blanket for two to a large family gathering, it doesn’t really matter because space is not a concern. Regardless of your headcount, she recommends that you have everything planned and prepped the day before. Go through the motions in your head. Will the food be passed? Do you want a pot luck-style event? If so, ask others to bring specific parts of the meal. How many coolers will you have to lug from your car and how far? This will of course help you plan your menu and pack light. Do you have a rain plan?

Don’t Forget the Drinks

Be sure to bring plenty of water in a container with enough ice. Remember, most of the ice will melt as you travel and relax in the sun. Consider putting your other drinks in the freezer for a few before you leave for your picnic. Even if they are being kept in a cooler while you are outside, you want to be sure the beverages are a bit colder than their desired temperatures before you leave the house.

Create a Sandwich Bar for a Crowd

Let your guests take control. Bring a few breads, spreads, fillings, cheeses, vegetables, and meats to create a simple, but delicious sandwich bar with very little prep needed from you.

Pack Smart and Chic

Skip the beautiful serving platters and pack in containers that will travel well and look nice upon arrival. Annie suggest using mason jars or lightweight bamboo bowls. Always bring a small cutting board and a simple paring knife, you’d be surprising what still needs a trim. Also, the cutting board is a must for cheese and charcuterie spreads. Bring small containers or packets of sea salt and ground black pepper for a truly gourmet setup.

When you are thinking about dinnerware, think about your theme. If this is a casual setup, paper plates and disposable utensils are perfectly fine. However, for a nicer look with no waste, pack lightweight, but reusable cups, utensils, and small plates, but leave your favorite China at home. Opt for a cooler bag over a cooler. They tend to be more flexible and lightweight which will make carrying the food that much easier.

For the decor, also think about the kind of event you are hosting. Are you keeping things simple with just blankets? Are you going for a more romantic setting? If so, think about bringing a few tea lights and cushions to lounge on.

Lastly, don’t forget clean up! Bring an extra bottle of water or wipes to clean messing hands before and after eating. Also be sure to have stashed a trash bag so you can gather your scraps at the end of the meal.

Check out Annie’s book for a full picnic checklist based on the outdoor eating event you are planning.

Packed with tons of recipes, here are two of our favorites from the cookbook to bring on our next outing.

GalettesAnnie Bell

Cherry Tomato and Parmesan Galettes
 
Pizza-like in their appeal, children are unlikely to notice the crust is that little bit more delicate. These are just the right size for one per person, but cut up are also good as a communal offering to pass around.
Author:
Recipe Type: Appetizer, Starter
Serves: makes 6 that can easily be cut and shared
Ingredients
  • 10½ ounces puff pastry
  • Dijon mustard
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 medium egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water (egg wash)
  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste
  • ¼ heaping cup finely shaved Parmesan
  • extra virgin olive oil
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Thinly roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface—you can do this half at a time if it’s easier—and cut out six 4½-inch circles using a bowl or plate as a guide. Arrange these on a couple of cookie sheets.
  2. Spread a bit of Dijon mustard in the center of each circle, to within about ¾ inch of the rim. Place the tomatoes on top. Brush the surrounding rim with the eggwash, then season the tomatoes, cover with a few slivers of Parmesan, and drizzle over some olive oil. Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden and risen.

 

broccoliAnnie Bell

Charbroiled Broccoli and Sesame Salad
 
Long-stemmed baby broccoli has replaced asparagus in my affections, and charbroiling renders it sweet but with a delicious faint bitterness. These spears are great finger food but also make a good basic that can be dressed up. Beyond sesame seeds, which are an instant finishing touch, maybe turn it into a salad with strips of Medjool dates and ripe tomatoes, or add some cooked fava beans, pine nuts, and the like. You can forego the sesame seeds, if you prefer, and simply charbroil the broccoli with olive oil. This is a great picnic dish that should be made ahead.
Author:
Recipe Type: Side
Ingredients
  • 14 ounces baby broccoli, trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the broccoli, and cook for 3 minutes, then drain in a colander and let stand for a few minutes for the surface moisture to evaporate. In a small skillet, toast the sesame seeds over medium heat until lightly colored, stirring continuously, then transfer to a bowl and let cool.
  2. Heat a ridged grill pan over medium heat. Beat together the peanut and sesame oils, pour over the broccoli, and toss, then season. Charbroil in two to three batches until golden or charred, 2 to 3 minutes each side, arranging the cooked spears on a plate or in a container as you go. Scatter over the sesame seeds.

 

ChickenAnnie Bell

Gorgeously Buttery Very French Chicken
 
The herbs that go to make up a classical French “fines herbes” together form one of the quintessential scents of the cooking of this country. But finding fresh chervil? I confess that I have hardly ever seen it outside of doing time as a commis chef in a restaurant. There is no real substitute, but if needs must, then mock up its gentle shades of tarragon in parsley with a bit of the former and more of the latter—that is, a blend of tarragon, parsley, and chives. Whatever route you choose—and you could even reduce it to parsley alone— this is still a brilliant way of cooking chicken, its flesh infused with buttery succulence and a rich skin.
Author:
Recipe Type: Main, Meat
Serves: serves 4 people
Ingredients
  • 5 tablespoons finely chopped herbs, such as chervil, tarragon, chives, parsley
  • ⅓ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste
  • one 3½-pound free-range chicken, untrussed
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a bowl, beat the herbs with 4 tablespoons of the butter and half a teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Starting at the neck end of the chicken, slip your fingers beneath the skin to loosen it over each breast. Gently smooth the butter and herb mixture over the breasts and pat the skin back into place, spreading the butter out evenly. Rub the remaining butter over the chicken and season.
  2. Place the chicken in a roasting pan that holds it quite snugly, lined with a double thickness of foil large enough to wrap the chicken up in— depending on the width of the foil, you may find it easiest to place two sheets at right angles to each other. Roast for 50 minutes, then spoon off any excess fat in the bottom of the pan and wrap up in the foil to transport.

 

Annelise McAuliffe

Annelise McAuliffe

Mandatory family outings to the Detroit farmers' market and nightly home-cooked meals cultivated Annelise's respect and curiosity for food. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, she spends her free time in New York City recipe testing, eating breakfast all day, and dreaming up international culinary adventures.

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