Pack the basket for music in the park

Shrimp and more combine to make an easy meal that’s perfect for a summer escape with tunes.

Summer is finally here; at least June is when it’s supposed to shine. Along with it comes what many of us have patiently waited for … no, not the grilling, swimming and outdoor parties, but the gatherings for summer music. These are special events for not only area residents, but many of the visitors who come here to enjoy the numerous venues where entertainment is offered.

What a lovely way to spend an evening, with music flowing through the air, chilled beverages to satiate your thirst and tasty foods to round out the twilight. At some concerts, we are given the option to purchase meals at the venues, but parks and picnics go hand-in-hand. Your picnic doesn’t have to be fancy or a chore to prepare.

Though most picnic foods are served at room temperature, hot and cold items can appear in your spread as well. You have three temperatures to choose from, and what you select should not only be tasty, but easy to prepare. Let me throw out a few samples for you.

For a “room temperature” meal, how about some salmon brochettes with a ginger peanut pesto, a Thai noodle salad with sesame dressing and fresh pineapple spears rolled in coconut to round out the dinner? If you prefer a cold dinner, you’re after something that tastes as good as fried chicken, with a platter of zucchini and multicolored bell peppers with olives tossed in a thyme and parsley pesto, complete with a mixed berry bowl infused with Chambord and almonds. For a hot feast, my favorite is an ever-so-easy grilled shrimp in foil packets with Cajun sausage, corn on the cob and fingerling potatoes with coleslaw and grilled peach halves basted with a balsamic glaze.

Any one of those easy dinnertime foods will enhance your evening at the park. I have also created picnics with sandwiches made ahead of time or right at the park; just bring all the goodies in reusable containers with the meats and cheeses packed on ice. I also like to throw together hors d’ oeuvres picnics; favorites have included ethnic menus from around the world, but my preferred theme has been Italian. An antipasto platter complete with olives, bread sticks, mortadella, cheeses, marinated vegetables, focaccia bread and skewered tortellini with a pesto dip is a fine summer feast. Add a couple bottles of red wine and some Italian soda and I’m ready to eat the minute my feet hit the grass at the park.

If you really want a special picnic dinner, make a dessert basket and bring some dessert wine or a thermos of specialty coffee or tea. Choose desserts you wouldn’t ordinarily serve at home, like poached pears, Madeline cookies, Bailey’s Irish Cream brownies, chocolate truffles, lemon cheesecake with white chocolate or a toasted coconut pie. Just think of all the dancing you’ll do to burn off the calories!

Since the majority of you will most likely lean toward a dinner menu, here are three great recipes to accompany whatever you may pack into your picnic basket.

Ginger Peanut Pesto

  • 2 cups packed cilantro leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • ¼ cup peanuts
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil

Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Serve with salmon, chicken or pork.

Thyme, Parsley and Olive Pesto

  • 1½ cups pitted Kalamata olives
  • ¾ cup parsley leaves
  • ¼ cup each capers and sundried tomatoes (packed in oil)
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 4 tablespoons thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Serve with roasted or grilled vegetables, chicken or shrimp.

Grilled Shrimp in Foil Packets

Tear 4 sheets of aluminum foil into 12-inch lengths. Onto each sheet of foil place:

  • 4 large prawns, peeled and deveined
  • 4-inch piece of Cajun sausage, cut in half
  • ½ ear of corn on the cob
  • 4 fingerling potatoes that have been parboiled

Sprinkle with:

  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • Sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

Add a lemon wedge and seal the foil to enclose the ingredients. Grill for 10 minutes, then turn the packets over and grill for another 10 minutes. Carefully open each packet to allow the steam to escape.

See you at the park!

“Jenny’s Kitchen” appears on public-access television stations in Calaveras, Tuolumne and Sacramento counties.

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