Not long after my parents were married, my mom suggested to my dad that they have a picnic. He agreed that it was a great idea, and so they set out one pretty Saturday to a shady spot in a park, spread out a blanket and sat down to eat. When my mom pulled two PB&J sandwiches and a couple of apples out of a brown paper bag, my father’s face fell.
Where was the woven basket? The red-and-white-checked cloth napkins? The daisies in a pitcher for decoration? The poor man was expecting to enjoy a little alfresco dining ambiance along with a feast of fried chicken, potato salad, fresh-baked cookies and a gallon of sweet tea – all the fixings we’ve come to associate with a “perfect” Southern picnic. That is not what he got.
Defending herself any time this story gets retold, my mom makes sure to point out that the details and menu for the now infamous picnic were never discussed; she never promised him a full spread that would be photo-album worthy. In her mind, the true pleasure of a picnic was just enjoying a meal outdoors with her sweetie, “perfection” not required.
Whether my father’s expectations were too high or my mom seriously under-achieved that day (or a little bit of both), after this event, picnicking didn’t hold the same appeal for either of my parents. That might be why we didn’t do much of it when I was growing up. And that might be why I love picnicking now. Or maybe it’s because the tradition combines two of my favorite things – food and nature.
No matter what you want out of a picnic – a simple meal for a family, a romantic lunch for two, or a fantastic feast that will impress a group – the way to make sure it works out well for all involved is to plan ahead (and then plan some more). Check out these tips for pulling off a perfect picnic, and then use some of this month’s reader-submitted recipes to create a delicious menu.
– Jennifer Kornegay
Cook of the Month
Bill Stone, Baldwin EMC
Bill Stone may be a bit new to Alabama, but he’s not new to cooking. He and his wife retired to Foley, Ala., from Connecticut in 2011, but he’s been playing around in kitchens for far longer, and that’s how he came up with this month’s standout recipe, Bill’s Cold Lasagna. “I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and I like going to restaurants and coming home and trying to replicate the recipe for what I had,” he says. Looking for a good use for leftover lasagna noodles led him to create a flavor-packed pasta dish that is perfect for picnics since it’s served cold.
“It cuts clean and stays together, so it’s nice and easy to eat,” Bill said. “It looks nice too; all the layers of color make for a great presentation.” He encourages folks to change up ingredients and to use more or less of the things they like best, but he offered one piece of advice: “Don’t go too heavy on the dressing, or it will get soggy, and you don’t want that.”
Bill’s Cold Lasagna
- 1 package lasagna noodles
- 1 bottle Italian or Greek salad dressing
- 1 purple onion, sliced thin
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 1 package baby spinach
- 2 cups kalamata seedless olives, cut in half
- 1 container of feta cheese
- 1 container of Parmesan cheese
Cook lasagna noodles per package instructions, drain and let cool. Pour the dressing lightly in a 9-inch by 12-inch pan and rub around the whole pan. Lay noodles on bottom until covered. Put tomatoes, olives, spinach and onions on top of noodles. Adjust amount to your liking. Sprinkle feta and Parmesan cheeses, as much as you like. Lightly pour dressing over all. Continue layering until the pan is full; the top layer should be tomatoes, onions, olives, spinach, feta and Parmesan. Chill in the refrigerator at least 2 hours (overnight is better). Cut and serve in squares just like lasagna.
Crawfish Stuffed Picnic Eggs
- 1 dozen large or jumbo hard-boiled eggs, halved with yolks and whites separated
- 3 pounds cooked crawfish (store bought or cooked at home), peeled and chopped
- 24 whole, cooked and peeled crawfish to use as garnish (do not chop)
- ¾ -1 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise (adjust to desired consistency)
- 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons sweet pickle relish (or to taste)
- ½ teaspoon prepared mustard
- 4 green onions, chopped (I add a little extra)
- 24 green onion stems to use as garnish (about 1/2-inch in length) on the eggs
- Cayenne pepper, to taste
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons instant mashed potato flakes
- 2 or 3 drops Tabasco or other hot sauce
In a large bowl, mash the egg yolks until creamy and smooth. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, chopped green onions, pickle relish, hot sauce, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper and potato flakes and combine until thoroughly mixed. Fold in the chopped crawfish meat and mix well. Spoon the crawfish-egg mixture into the egg whites, filling the centers generously. Garnish each egg with an entire crawfish tail and green onion stem. Carefully monitor the amount of salt used; if your cooked crawfish are highly seasoned, you may want to omit salt altogether or lessen the amount used. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Kim Robertson, Baldwin EMC
- 6 medium potatoes, peeled, washed and cubed
- 3 hard-boiled eggs, cut up
- ½ teaspoon celery salt
- ¼ cup dill pickles, chopped
- ¼ cup white or yellow onions, chopped
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
- 1 ½ cups mayonnaise
- 2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
- Salt and pepper
Place potatoes in a large pot, cover with water and cook on medium until potatoes are tender. Drain. In separate bowl, mix celery salt, pickles, onions, mustard and mayonnaise and pour over potatoes. Add eggs and mix well; add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle bacon bits over the top.
Janice Bush, Baldwin EMC
Gulf Shores Fried Chicken
- 1 chicken, cut into eight pieces
- 1 cup flour
- Salt, pepper, cayenne pepper or Binky’s Seasoning (recipe following)
- Solid Crisco or oil for frying
Place enough Crisco in an electric frying pan set at 350 to 375 degrees to come up the sides about ¼ of an inch. Since temperatures may vary on fry pans, be careful not to let the oil burn. Mix flour with seasonings. Coat chicken with seasoned flour and shake off excess. Brown chicken on each side, then cover and cook until juices run clear (about 20 minutes).
Mix two parts salt, 1 part onion powder, 1 part garlic powder, 1 part black pepper, 1 part paprika, 1 part chili powder, ½ part cayenne pepper, ½ part crushed oregano and ½ part crushed rosemary.
(Add more salt and mix in water until dissolved and you have a good brine.)
Clyde Helmer, Baldwin EMC
- 1 cup chopped carrots
- 1 cup chopped radishes
- 1 cup chopped onion (red onions add color)
- 1 cup chopped cucumber
- ½ cup chopped bell pepper
- 1 ½ cups chopped broccoli
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 pound hickory smoked bacon
- 4 cups elbow macaroni
- Salt and pepper
Fry bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels. When cool, crumble into small pieces and set aside. Cook macaroni until tender. Don’t overcook or the noodles will fall apart when mixed with other ingredients. Drain macaroni and let cool. In a large bowl, combine all chopped raw vegetables and crumbled bacon. Mix well, gently add macaroni and mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Gently mix all ingredients until well coated with mayonnaise. Chill overnight.
Mary Ann Johnson, North Alabama EC
Recipe Themes and Deadlines:
Aug. Canning June 8
Sept. Muscadines July 8
Oct. Campfire Cooking Aug. 8
Sweet Treats To-Go: Serving single portions of these easy-to-make palate pleasers in Mason jars makes them also easy to transport and easy to eat. Plus, they look really pretty!
Fresh strawberries, washed and quartered
- 8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
- 1 15-ounce jar of marshmallow cream
- ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Blend the cream cheese, marshmallow cream and nutmeg with a hand mixer or with a whisk. starting with the cream mixture, layer it and strawberries in a Mason jar and seal tight. Keep in a cooler until ready to serve.