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What's in your picnic basket?

By Autumn D. F. Hopkins
Chris Dorst
The ideal picnic food should be tasty and easily made and carried.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Summer is the time of year for picnics, church gatherings and barbecues. It is also the time when temperatures reach record highs. On those lazy warm afternoons, when everyone gathers for fun and relaxation, no one wants to spend hours in a hot kitchen, cooking both the food and the mood into a rolling boil.

Here are a few fun, quick, easy and, most important, cool recipes for your picnic basket that will leave the friends wowed and the cook cool and relaxed.

Remember anything that involves dairy should be kept cool. You can use a traditional cooler filled with ice or a thermal tote with frozen packs to keep food at a safe temperature until time to serve.

Cheese Slaw

This is a recipe I adapted years ago from a friend who had made a similar dish for an office gathering.

Helpful Hint: This dish can be made more or less spicy to suit personal taste by eliminating the jalapenos or by substituting mild or medium banana peppers for hot.

2          8-ounce bags shredded Swiss cheese

1/2          to 1 cup mayonnaise

1          4-ounce can diced green chilies, drained

1          4-ounce can diced jalapenos

15          to 20 hot banana pepper rings, diced

6          to 8 green onions, chopped, green and white parts

PLACE the Swiss cheese in a large bowl and stir in mayonnaise beginning with 1/2 cup and gradually add more until the desired consistency is reached.

ADD onions and peppers, mixing well and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

REFRIGERATE at least three hours, but this dish is best prepared the night before to allow the flavors to meld.

SERVE with crackers as a dip or it can be used as a sandwich topping.

Texas Caviar

There are countless variations of this dish found on the Internet so you can explore and tweak your choice of beans or seasoning.

1          15.5-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

1           15.5-ounce can black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained

1          15-ounce can pinto beans, rinsed and drained

1          15-ounce can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1          15-ounce can sweet corn, drained

1          finely chopped sweet Vidalia onion

1          to 2 tablespoons minced garlic

1           bunch chopped, fresh cilantro

1           diced red bell pepper

Dressing

1/2          cup red wine vinegar

1/2          cup rice wine vinegar

1/2          cup extra virgin olive oil

2          tablespoons sugar

Chipotle hot sauce to taste

Salt (optional)

COMBINE in a large serving bowl the beans, corn, onion, garlic, cilantro and pepper. Set aside.

MIX in a separate small glass bowl the sugar and vinegars. Stir until sugar dissolves.

WHISK in olive oil, hot sauce and salt.

POUR dressing over bean mixture. Stir well and refrigerate.

SERVE chilled with tortilla chips.

***

Area lawyer Trent Redman and his wife, Tiffany, have recently launched a small catering food truck business, "Betsy's Barbeque," named for their daughter. Redman said they specialize in pulled pork, ribs, chicken and gargantuan turkey drumsticks.

For years, though, the Redmans have been known locally for their cooking prowess and entertaining style. Here are a couple of their favorite, crowd-pleasing recipes.

Watermelon Feta Salad

1           regular seedless watermelon

1           cup feta cheese (crumbled)

1/2           cup balsamic vinegar

1           bunch cilantro

3          tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

CUT and cube watermelon into 1-inch pieces.

ADD feta cheese and mix.

POUR balsamic vinegar over watermelon and chill for at least 1/2 hour. One-half hour before serving, chop cilantro and add to salad.

MIX and serve.

KEEP cold while serving or the salad can become mushy.

Betsy's Apple cabbage Slaw

1           head cabbage

1/2           head red cabbage

2          medium carrots

2           apples cored and diced or shredded

PLACE all ingredients in a large bowl and mix.

Dressing

1/2           cup balsamic vinegar

1/2           cup olive oil

1           cup apple cider vinegar

1/2           cup sugar

4          tablespoons salt

4           tablespoons mayonnaise

2          cloves minced garlic

MIX all wet ingredients in a bowl.

BLEND ingredients with blender, Cuisinart or hand blender to make an emulsion.

POUR 3/4 cup dressing over slaw.

Remaining dressing should be refrigerated and can keep up to one week

***

Let's not forget, in all of these savory jewels, you always need a desert. WV Style Team contributor Jen Wood-Cunningham shared this favorite chilled sweet salad.

Sweet and Creamy Grape Salad

1           8-ounce package softened cream cheese

1           8-ounce container sour cream

1/3          cup white granulated sugar

2           teaspoons real vanilla extract

2           pounds red seedless grapes

3          tablespoons brown sugar

4          tablespoons candied pecans, chopped

WASH and drain grapes. Allow to air dry thoroughly. If the grapes are damp, it will compromise the texture of the dressing.

BEAT cream cheese, sour cream, granulated sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer till blended and fluffy.

ADD the grapes and toss to coat.

REFRIGERATE for at least 4 hours to overnight.

SPRINKLE with candied pecans and brown sugar. Serve chilled.

Reach Autumn D.F. Hopkins at autumn.hopkins@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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