THE RECIPE BOX - It’s picnic season

THE RECIPE BOX - It’s picnic season

LINCOLN – I love a good picnic and I’m confident that you will too if you use these simple ideas and think not only “out of the (picnic) box,” but “fresh and new.”

Yes, your run-of-the-mill ham sandwich will fill your belly, but a few extra touches will make a picnic memorable.

Picnics have been glorified throughout the ages in such classics as Jane Austin's "Emma," with the famous scene of the picnic on Box Hill. At the turn of 19th century, picnics were a cultural way to commune with nature by eating out of doors.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term picnic originally meant "A fashionable social entertainment in which each person present contributed a share of the provisions; now, a pleasure party including an excursion to some spot in the country where all partake of a repast out of doors; the participants may bring with them individually the viands and means of entertainment, or the whole may be provided by someone who 'gives' the picnic."

Whether the scenes are portrayed in the classic 1955 movie "Picnic" or in cartoons such as “Yogi Bear” – where Yogi and BooBoo are forever scheming to steal someone's picnic basket – there's something enticing, romantic and just plain fun about packing a picnic lunch in a wicker basket and heading for the country, park or beach. It adds excitement to an otherwise routine day.

For me, some of the best times are more spontaneous road trips that incorporate food and/or wine. “It’s all about the food,” I say. Many local wineries offer a place to sit to enjoy a small picnic and a sample of their wines; some provide entertainment on weekends too.

Be as elaborate as you want. I once saw a card table set up with white linens and placed overlooking the water at Lincoln Woods. There were tall white candles lit and two chairs placed to watch a sunset. It made me smile as I walked by and wondered if it was a wedding proposal.

One time, my husband planned a lovely ride and dinner out in our motor home. I was told it was a surprise and to just enjoy the ride. He would answer none of my questions on this weeknight. We drove down to the ocean, he parked overlooking the sea and proceeded to cook and serve me baked stuffed shrimp in the RV, with all the sides, dessert and a bottle of wine.

My friend Sue used to pack a picnic lunch and lay out a blanket for her three daughters to enjoy a special lunch. It did not matter to them if it was served on the living room floor on a rainy day or out in their own yard.

The delight is in the planning and surprising someone special. Show up at your spouse’s place of work, or maybe a friend’s house with a surprise lunch and picnic treats. You’ll get more from the effort than you even expect.

Whether you're going to the park, beach or on a hike, here are some simple tips and tricks.

• One of the best tips for picnic/cooler packing is to fill the entire cooler space. A full cooler keeps colder longer. Put your dishes and flatware into a reclosable plastic bag, then use it to transport the trash later. If you bring it in, take it out. No need to litter!

• Pack it cold: Start by putting ice packs into the bottom of your basket or cooler. Frozen plastic water bottles work well and once they melt you can drink the water. Keep the most perishable foods nearest to the bottom, closest to ice packs.

• Food to pack: Salads and sandwiches are the easiest and most transportable foods for picnics. Anything between bread and/or tortilla wraps are the easiest to eat.

• Add mayonnaise at the picnic, not before, as the mayo tends to break down the proteins in the sandwich and shortens the safe eating time. To avoid needing utensils choose make-ahead foods, hand-held single servings are best.

• Simple can be best: If you don't want to go overboard with food choices, pack finger-food snack items like your favorite cheese, bread or crackers, dips, fruit and drinks. You don't need a three-course meal. You’re trying to have simple fun.

• How to pack: Pack food in sealable plastic containers to avoid spillage. Keep food in the middle layer of the picnic basket. Make serving easier by packing foods as you would serve them, portioned into individual sizes.

• Homemade drinks such as tea or lemonade should be in sealable containers or screw caps. Freeze beverages and double use them as ice packs. (Leave a space at the top for a drink to expand in the freezer). Do not freeze glass bottles.

• Extras to pack: The top layer of the basket should contain all utensils, including plates, forks, spoons and napkins. Don't forget a serving spoon or knife if needed. Purchase recyclable plasticware and avoid doing dishes.

• Don't forget the blanket: If you don't want to dirty a favorite quilt you can always use a vinyl-backed tablecloth as the under layer. Bring some bug spray just in case.

• Don't forget dessert: Brownies, cookies, fruit tarts or some fresh seasonal fruits add a happy ending to a relaxing day.

Remember the whole point is to relax and have fun. Lay back, look up at the clouds and breathe!

Prosciutto Melon Skewers

1 med. size ripe cantaloupe, seeded (make about 20 balls with melon baller)
20 mini fresh mozzarella balls
10 slices prosciutto, sliced lengthwise
8-inch wooden skewers
balsamic vinegar
fresh basil leaves

Thread a melon ball, folded slice of prosciutto, basil leaf, and mozzarella ball onto skewers.
These can be prepared ahead, put in a plastic reclosable bag and garnished just before serving.
Just before you’re ready to enjoy, lightly drizzle balsamic, add some finely cut basil leaves and serve. Garnish with a few whole leaves of basil.

Note: The same can be done using grape tomatoes, mozzarella balls, basil, pepperoni and an olive oil and balsamic drizzle.

Prosciutto Melon Skewers