Let’s Pack a Picnic Together

I don’t know where you live, but I live in Sunny California.  More specifically,  in the central valley region.  There’s a lot of farmland here – miles and miles of river-enriched soil. Currently we are experiencing one of the worst droughts in recorded history.  That’s bad . . . very, very bad.  We are also enjoying unseasonably warm days.  While that seems good right now, I’d be willing to bet in the long run all this premature sunshine is probably equally bad news – especially for the farmers.  If the warm weather now is a sign of things to come, it’s going to destroy the crops and food prices are bound to soar – everything from fresh produce to meats will sky-rocket (no grazing land, bad – no grain feed, bad).  So let’s not dwell on things we cannot control (like the weather) and make the most of warm winter days . . .

This is what I like to call a  picnic with style.  The chicken is wonderful – moist and packed with wonderful flavors.  The large sour dough bread rounds not only make for a great way to pack and serve your chicken, they add to the meal.  The pasta is superb – colorful and so very yummy.  Fresh fruit round out the main attraction.  And for dessert, Pineapple Up-Side-Down Cake is an excellent selection.  It travels well.  So grab your picnic basket and let’s head out on an adventure.

Butterflies in the garden

Butterflies in the garden

A word of advise – the recipes that follow will require advanced thought and preparation.  The Spice-Rubbed Chicken is not a dish that you can wake up in the morning and decide to throw together.  You’ll need to rub your chicken the night before to get the full beauty of the spice rub.  As for the pasta salad, it’s best when made early in the morning or even the night before for all the wonderful flavors to marry.  Believe me, it’s well worth the advanced planning. One final note: the pasta salad is made with Farfalle  pasta.  Here in American, it’s commonly known as Bow-Tie Pasta.  However; I prefer the Italian translation – butterflies.  It just sounds prettier to me.

Let’s get to cooking, shall we?

04-21-2013 River Picnic (3)

Spice-Rubbed Picnic Chicken

Spice-Rubbed Picnic Chicken in Sour Dough Bread

For The Rub:

6 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
¼ Cup Kosher Salt (reduce by half if using table salt)
¼ Cup Chili Powder
½ Cup Paprika
4 Teaspoons Black or White Pepper
½-¾ Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (increase for spicier flavor)

For the Chicken & Everything Else

2 bone-in Split Chicken Breasts, trimmed, skin slashed, cut in half
4 Bone-in Chicken Thighs, trimmed and skin slashed
4 bone-in Chicken drumsticks, trimmed and skin slashed
2 Large or 4 Small Bread Bowls, hollowed out (save bread)
2 Large or 4 small sheets of foil (to wrap the chicken-filled bowls)

Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with foil and top with wire racks. Combine sugar, salt, chili powder, paprika, pepper and cayenne in a small bowl. Coat chicken pieces with spice mixture, gently lifting skin to distribute spices underneath while leaving skin attached to chicken. Place chicken skin-side up on prepared wire racks, tent with foil and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, up to 24 hours for best flavors.

Adjust oven racks upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 475-degrees. Remove foil covering from chicken and roast until brown, crisp and breasts register 160-degrees. Roast chicken for 20 minutes. Switch and rotate baking sheets, continue to roast 15 minutes longer.

Transfer breast pieces to a platter or dish, cover to keep warm. Continue to roast thighs and drumsticks until they register 175-degrees, about 10-15 minutes longer. Turn off oven. Place an assortment of chicken pieces inside each bowl. Top with bread “lid”. Wrap tightly in foil and keep in the warm oven until ready to  pack into picnic baskets. Bread will absorb some of the chicken flavoring while keeping the chicken warm.

Butterfly Pesto Pasta 04-21-2013

Butterfly Pesto Pasta Salad

Butterfly Pesto Pasta Salad

3 Garlic Cloves, unpeeled
1 Cup Fresh Basil
1 ½ Cups Baby Spinach
¼ Cups Pine Nuts
¼ Cup Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
Salt & Pepper
¼ Cup Parmesan Cheese
½ Cup Best Foods Mayonnaise
1 lb Farfalle Pasta (bow-tie)

Toast garlic in a small skillet over medium-heat, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant and color deepens slightly, about 7 minutes. Let garlic cool, then peel and chop coarse.

Process garlic, basil, spinach, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in food processor until smooth, stopping to scrape down bowl as needed.

Add Parmesan Cheese and mayonnaise, continue to process until thoroughly combined. Transfer pesto to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until needed. (Mixture can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours).

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring often, until pasta is just past al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of pasta cooking water, drain pasta. Toss pasta with a little olive oil and spread into a single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Let pasta cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, toss cooled pasta with pesto, adding reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until pesto evenly coasts pasta.  This dish is just as delicious served cold as it is at room temperature, which makes it perfect for outdoor entertaining.

Prosciutto Wrapped Melon Crescents

Prosciutto Wrapped Melon Crescents garnished with fresh mint

Prosciutto Wrapped Melon Crescents

12 Oz Thinly Sliced Prosciutto
1 Large Cantaloupe, peeled, halved, seeded and cut into 12 thin crescents.
12 sprigs of fresh mint (optional garnish)

For a picnic, keep melons and Prosciutto in separate containers, then wrap melons when ready to eat, otherwise the Prosciutto will discolor the melons. For easier handling, place some waxed paper between slices of Prosciutto before packing it. Prosciutto has a tendency to stick to itself and can sometimes be difficult to work with. A mixture of cantaloupe and honey dew melons may be used for a more colorful presentation.

Wrap Prosciutto around middle of each melon slice, arrange on platter, garnish with mint and serve immediately. If desired, melon can be sliced in advance, then assembled just before serving.

Pineapple Up Side Down

Pineapple Up-Side-Down Cake, perfect for a picnic dessert

Pineapple Up-Side-Down Cake

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
¾ Cup Chopped Walnuts or Pecans (optional)
1 Can pineapple rings, drained, reserving pineapple juice
Maraschino cherries
1 Box Yellow Cake Mix
1/2 Cup of Oil
3 Eggs

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Over low heat, melt butter in a 9-inch cast iron skillet, thoroughly covering the surface. Remove the skillet from heat. Add brown sugar, mix with butter to dissolve, then spread to coat bottom of skillet. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Arrange 8 pineapple slices in a single layer in the skillet (your 9-inch skillet should accommodate 8 slices without overlapping). Place a maraschino cherry in the center of each slice. Set aside until ready to use.

Place eggs and oil in a mixing bowl. Beat until well blended. Measure reserved pineapple juice and add enough water to make 1 cup of liquid. Add to eggs, beat 1 minute.

Add cake mix, beat on low 30 seconds to blend, increase speed to medium-high and beat 2 minutes.

Gently pour cake batter evenly over pineapple slices, taking care not to disturb the arrangement of the rings. Bake cake for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool the cake in the skillet for 30 minutes; then invert it onto a serving plate.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

5 thoughts on “Let’s Pack a Picnic Together

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