A Chef's Picnic

September 28, 2007|By D. BARRETT BROWN

After the family gatherings, vacations, and neighborhood cookouts of summer, the arrival of fall and early winter, with their lavish displays of seasonal color, provide conditions perfectly suited to the day trip. Autumn is the time to get out and enjoy the last of the temperate weather before the snows of winter trap you in your home like a rat. So prepare an inviting meal, get outdoors and treat yourself to an afternoon of food and drink.

What Foods to Pack

First, remember that horsing down a fast-food meal in a bag while parked in your car at a scenic overlook or rest stop picnic table does not count as an outdoor dining experience. But, what to pack? Sandwiches, though fine, seem somewhat anti-climatic when it comes time to eat. Let's face it, sandwiches don't rate very high on the panache meter.

Now, if you are like me, you have probably had enough of outdoor cooking by now - not to mention that you probably don't want to have to lug around a bag of charcoal, lighter fluid, and cooking utensils - which is to say, pack a cold meal. A recommendation along these lines might be:


The Chef's Picnic

· Country paté with sweet

· cornichons (small pickles) and Dijon mustard

· French bread and butter or stone ground crackers

· Maryland Fried Chicken

· Red potato salad

· Aged cheddar cheese

· Fresh fruit

· 1 bottle Bordeaux

When determining what foods to take along, look to some of the more upscale restaurants at which you have dined and focus on the appetizers that you have enjoyed. Were they or could they be served at room temperature? Use your imagination.

Make a Country Paté

If you can make a meatloaf you can make a country pt. Many people, when they think of paté, conjure up visions of a liverwurst-like concoction made from mysterious (and probably unappetizing) cuts of meat.

A country paté is much more akin to a meatloaf. It is a simple combination of ground meats - pork, veal, beef, pork fat, and chicken livers or calves liver (the liver comprises no more than 25 percent of the total product). Recipes abound, and ingredients can be mixed and matched to suit your personal taste. Julia Child is a fine resource for recipes.

Country paté, while easy to make, will take about 2 1/2 hours to assemble and cook. It will then require 24 hours of refrigeration, so it will need to be made a couple of days in advance - but what a stylish and delicious departure from that bag of Doritos you took along on your last outing.

Cold fried chicken is an American tradition. Did you know that Maryland fried chicken is the best known and most often used fried chicken recipe all over the world? It's true - move over Colonel Sanders!

This is not to say that I would be against some KFC in my basket. That's great chicken (though I haven't tasted it since the Food Police pressured the Colonel to eliminate transfats). If you have time, though, definitely make your own. It will only take about an hour start to finish.

As an accompaniment to your chicken serve a red potato salad with a traditional mayonnaise dressing. The creaminess of the mayonnaise will perfectly complement both the chicken and pt.

Make sure to bring along some good-quality, medium to sharp aged cheddar cheese, as well as some fresh fruit - apples, pears, grapes etc. - both as a dessert course and just to munch on. A bottle of rich Bordeaux or Cabernet, or a spicy Zinfandel would be a perfect accompaniment.

Transporting Your Feast

While no particular conveyance is necessary to carry your repast to your selected site, the time-tested, old-fashioned picnic basket is definitely a superior carrier. However, unless you already own one, buying a picnic basket can be quite an exercise, and finding one can be difficult and costly. A better bet is to visit a store such as Michael's or A.C. Moore and purchase a large, handled basket there. They are easily affordable, even in the larger sizes, and will cost you a fraction of what you would pay for one of those fancy all-inclusive picnic baskets sold in catalogs. You don't need the cheap silverware, plastic plates and stemware, and tacky napkins and tablecloth that traditionally come as part of the set and drive up the price. Use your own things in your basket and you decide on the level of sophistication or simplicity that will suit the occasion.

Things You Will Need

1. Blanket and/or tablecloth

2. Cloth napkins

3. Wine glasses

4. Luncheon/dinner plates

5. Silverware

6. Salt and pepper

Gracious Dining

Plan on a leisurely meal. Avoid spreading your food out all at once, crowding your blanket like some all-you-can-eat buffet. Pour yourself a glass of wine, take in the scenery and relax a while before you begin to unpack. Delve into your basket one course at a time. As you move through your courses, take the time to appreciate how each item on your menu complements the next and compare the differing flavors and textures. These variants are the cornerstones that lend balance to your meal.

So pick a day, check the weather forecast, and enjoy the outdoors. Don't wait too long though - freezing temperatures are just around the corner.

And one final note, always leave your picnic area cleaner than you found it. Pick up after the other guy, and we will all be better off.

D. Barrett Brown has more than 25 years of operations and management experience in the food and beverage industry. He and his wife, Bridget, own Triple B Communications, a graphic arts and design company based in Cascade, Md. He can be reached at

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