What makes a day at the park or beach, or concert under the stars even better? A picnic! Whether your tastes run to simple or elaborate set-ups, this mix-and-match menu will help you assemble great totable meals. Bonus: for kosher-keepers, (and halal-observers, vegetarians, parents of small kids, folks with food allergies, etc...) picnic packing savvy is totally transferable to both day trips and lengthier travel, when bringing your own food can be a necessity.
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Food Safety First
First and foremost, keep your picnic fare out of the temperature danger zone. Keep perishables chilled, and remember that the hotter the day, the less leeway you have to leave food out once you serve it. Picnic baskets may be cute, but a cooler chest or insulated bag will serve you far better if you're heading beyond your backyard. Here's the skinny on some of the best coolers you can buy. Equally important is knowing how to pack one; we lay out how to chill and fill your cooler so your food stays delicious and safe.
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The image of a crusty baguette sticking out of a picnic basket is a classic, and with good reason. Bread is relatively non-perishable (i.e. it doesn't need special handling for a quick jaunt), it's perfect for sharing, and most importantly, it's the perfect vehicle for eating all sorts of foods (like the dips and spreads below) with your hands. Pick up a favorite at a bakery, or try one of these recipes:
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Spreads and Dips
Add a spread or two to that bread, and you've got a super-simple instant picnic. Packaged hummus is ubiquitous in supermarkets, and several brands have kosher certification, so it's a good grab if you're on the go. Better yet, make your own, along with other complementary dips:
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Grain and Pasta Salads
Lots of grain salads and pastas taste great cold, and hold up well in a cooler. Plus many can do double duty as sides or meals in themselves. Keep in mind that mayo-based dressings and animal proteins are more perishable than salads made with vinaigrettes, veggies, and beans. If you're toting a tuna pasta salad, for example, surround it with ice packs, or pack it in an insulated container. Here are a few to try:Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Sandwiches and Wraps
Whether you make them in advance or assemble them on site, sandwiches are always a hit. In fact, if you've got picky eaters, (or want to avoid soggy bread), save yourself some work, and take containers of salad fixings along with breads and wraps, so everyone can DIY their own lunch. If you don't want to worry about keeping recipes like the ones below cold, you can simplify things by bringing (unopened) cans of tuna or oil-packed sardines. Look for cans with pull tops so you don't have to worry about bringing a can opener.
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Veggies and Fruit
Vegetables and fruits are ideal for picnics -- they're colorful, hydrating on hot days, and perfect for scooping up dips. Best of all, they can be totally low key; just rinse some plums, nectarines, cherries, or berries, and slice some carrots, celery, and peppers. If you want to get a little more elaborate, roasted veggies are great for DIY sandwiches or wraps. And fruit salad or melon makes a classic picnic dessert. Here are some other recipes that pack well:
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If an elemental picnic is your thing, go with cheese and wine. Paired with good bread or crackers, you really don't need much else. Of course, a few condiments and accompaniments don't hurt, either -- think Dijon mustard, honey, nuts, and fresh or dried fruit. FYI, it's tough to find good kosher cheese in your area, consider ordering it online. Ironically, kosher pastured meat purveyor Grow & Behold happens to be a great source for hard-to-find-kosher varieties like Tilsit, Pecorino Romano, Bastardo del Grappa, and Mancheli (An Israeli Manchego-style sheep's milk cheese). Easy Cheese Bourekas are another good portable option.
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What's a picnic without dessert? Showcase seasonal fruits in a cake or pie, or stick to cookies and brownies -- whatever makes your sweet tooth happy. (For a totally no-fuss treat, just pick up a high-quality dark chocolate bar!)Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Accessories and Serveware
Nothing puts a damper on a great picnic by realizing once you get there that you can't open the wine, or forgot forks. So take a look at your menu, and make a checklist of all the accessories you'll need. Essentials include plates, napkins, and cutlery, a corkscrew, serving spoons, and cups. (If you're looking for eco-friendlier disposables, check out sustyparty.com and ecopartytime.com.) If you'll be prepping anything on site, take a cutting board and knife. Hand wipes are a good idea, too. And don't forget the picnic blanket!