The weather is beautiful this time of year, and many of us want to spend as much time outdoors as we possibly can before summer arrives. I love to go up to the high country for a walk in the pines and end the day with a picnic.
I have a picnic basket that is ready to go with plates and flatware, wine glasses and a wine opener. With that in place, all I need to do is come up with a menu for a picnic.
Fried chicken seems to be the perfect picnic item, but sometimes I want something different. I love to bring interesting sandwiches or wraps on a picnic. One of my favorites is grilled veggies served on crunchy bread. I like unique spreads, too, such as chipotle mayo or pesto. Both add a ton of flavor to a sandwich. Another favorite is roast beef with horseradish cheddar and a spicy horseradish spread. I grill this like a panini before I wrap it up. It is so delicious and can be served either hot or at room temperature.
Rather than bringing potato salad or cole slaw, I like to make other salads. Lately, some of my favorites have been those made with grains. That might be tabbouleh, which is made with bulgur wheat, or couscous, quinoa or farro. Other great side dishes are corn salad, bean salad or even grilled potato salad.
For a romantic picnic, I love to make a picnic with sausage and cheese, served alongside a nice crunchy loaf of bread and a bottle of wine. Top it off with strawberries and grapes, and I’m in picnic heaven.
For dessert, brownies or big chewy cookies are perfect; they are easy to carry and do not have to be chilled.
So now that you have the perfect picnic put together, please do not forget about food safety. It is usually safe to keep food at room temperature for an hour or two, but in really warm weather, I wouldn’t push it past an hour. You do not want your fun picnic to make you sick.
It is not a problem, though, to keep food longer. To do so, make sure that your hot foods stay hot and your cold foods stay cold. Put ice, ice packs or frozen bottled water in your cooler to make sure that cold foods stay colder than 40 degrees. I like to use the cold packs available from camping stores. They are bendable to fit into nooks and crannies. They are also reusable. It is also helpful to keep your cooler in the shade, so the sun does not beat down on it.
For hot foods you want to serve hot, there are insulated bags you can buy to keep food at 140 degrees or hotter.
If you want to go on an impromptu picnic and do not want to worry about making the goodies for your picnic basket, you may want to call Urban Picnic at 128 W. Main St. in Mesa. They offer a wide variety of picnic items for your enjoyment and even serve them in nice picnic boxes. You can reach them at (480) 246-8366.
Now that you have your picnic ready, load your favorite music on your iPod, grab some sunscreen and pack up your picnic basket. It’s time to enjoy our last cool days of the season.
• Judy A. Toth is the owner of Simply Impressive Cooking School in Mesa. Her column appears the second Wednesday of the month. Reach her at (480) 654-1981 or www.SimplyImpressive.com