It’s picnic time
Pack the picnic: Jars with screw-top lids are great for transporting picnic foods. While it is tempting to reuse deli containers, their tops are not always secure (this, a lesson learned the hard way). Don’t forget the hand wipes and trash bag.

It’s picnic time

Recipes for easy, delicious, transportable food that’s great amid the green landscape — if the weather holds

BELLOWS FALLS — It has been a rainy spring, and while we haven't thought much about going on picnics, the warmth is returning, and the bonus from all that moisture is a green landscape that begs for a blanket and a basket of treats.

The easiest picnic food is eaten with the fingers - sandwiches, containers of nuts or olives on which to graze, little nibbles we skewer with a toothpick. We want picnic food to be able to hold well in the heat and be easy to transport - and it needs to be delicious!

Finger food might be easiest, but lots of salads and other dishes hold up well in a picnic basket, and bringing along some flatware and little plates takes no effort at all. Some of our favorites are tortellini salad with pesto, vinaigrette-based potato salads, and tofu with a variety of dressings.

When I was growing up, one of my mother's quick salad recipes was the humble three-bean salad. It was cheap, easy, nutritious, and never one of my personal favorites. I thought it was boring.

Her recipe was the classic one used by so many cooks of the day: a can of wax beans, a can of green beans, and a can of kidney beans. To this she added a little onion, a little celery, and an oil-and-vinegar dressing. In the summer, she would substitute with fresh beans from the garden, and this version was tasty.

So when I thought about remaking her recipe, I knew I would rely heavily on the fresh side of things. While at the market searching for fresh beans, I also found some lovely kumquats. They were so vibrant, I knew I had to use them.

The co-op also had some freshly cooked edamame (soybeans) and some beautiful bean sprouts - a mix of mung, adzuki, and lentil - all at a perfect state of ready to eat!

My three-bean salad had multiplied by at least three more. I began to think “Asian-inspired.”

The salad was a hit, and I will make it again when I need a dish for a picnic or potluck.

* * *

Sandwiches are the easiest to transport. Although you can make a variety of them to please everyone, I love the idea of making one great big sandwich that is cut up and shared.

On the way to my parents' favorite campground, my mother would plan a picnic at a spot halfway there. We would look forward to it, and she'd always make the same thing - grinders with Catalina dressing.

She used regular soft white grinder rolls, and she packed them with cheese, ham, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and lettuce.

The Catalina dressing (often called French dressing) was extremely sweet, but we loved it, even when it sogged the bread during transport. This is why I now carry the condiments separately and add any tomatoes just before eating.

My update on this sandwich is to use a nice crusty baguette, stuff it with cheese and grilled vegetables, and drizzle it with a homemade Catalina that is half as sweet as the original. You can also use a large sourdough boule and build the sandwich like a Sicilian muffuletta.

When the weather clears, we'll be able to enjoy the portable meals we dream about in January. Don't forget the ice pack, bug spray, sunblock - and, perhaps, a large umbrella.

Grilled Vegetable Baguette with Catalina Dressing

A baguette filled with grilled vegetables, creamy goat cheese, and a vibrant dressing is a family pleaser.

You can use whatever vegetables you like and grill them outside or inside (in case of rain) using a grill pan. Make them the day before if you like to keep picnic day stress-free; you might even find prepared grilled vegetables at a local deli if you are pressed for time.

A mix of colorful vegetables is the heart of the sandwich. Choose what you like: zucchini, summer squash, portobello mushrooms, sweet red and orange peppers, onions, tofu.

Use whatever goat cheese you like as well; my new favorite is from Vermont Creamery in Websterville, a smoked-pepper-jelly cheese that adds an unexpected flavor and creaminess.

Cut the baguette in half lengthwise and butter both sides to keep the bread from getting soggy. Dot one side with 4 ounces of goat cheese, spread it evenly, and top with your grilled vegetables. Roll tightly in parchment paper.

When you are ready to eat, slice the sandwich into six portions and top with the Catalina dressing (recipe follows).

You can also turn this one into a panini!

Catalina Dressing

In a blender or canning jar, combine:

¶{1/4} cup ketchup

¶2 Tbsp. brown sugar or honey

¶{1/4} cup apple cider vinegar

¶{1/2} tsp. onion powder

¶1 tsp. paprika

¶2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

¶{1/2} tsp. salt

¶{1/2} tsp. pepper

¶{1/2} cup canola oil

Blend or shake well!

Three-Plus-Three Bean Salad

This recipe is still cheap, easy, and nutritious, and is a great salad to bring to a cookout, as it serves 10 to 12 and keeps well at room temperature. Pack it up for a picnic - you can even stuff it into pita bread pockets so you won't need flatware.

My favorite is to fill endive leaves with this salad for a starter at dinner, or as party finger food. You can also use it as a stuffing for rice-paper summer rolls, or serve it for supper with a little marinated shrimp or chicken on top.

First, make the dressing. In a canning jar, combine:

¶2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil

¶2 Tbsp. rice vinegar

¶{1/2} cup fresh orange juice

¶Zest of 1 orange

¶1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, finely grated

¶4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

¶Salt and pepper

Shake like crazy to emulsify.

Now, the salad. In a large bowl, combine:

¶1{1/2} cups edamame, cooked

¶2 cups fresh green or wax beans, cooked, sliced on diagonal

¶1 can black beans, unsalted, rinsed

¶4 ounces organic bean sprouts

¶{1/4} cup kumquats, sliced thinly

¶1 jalapeño pepper, sliced thinly

¶3 scallions, sliced on diagonal

¶2 large radishes, cut in half and sliced thinly

¶{1/4} cup sliced almonds

Mix everything, add salt and pepper to taste, then add the dressing. Mix well.

This salad will hold in the refrigerator for several days.

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