food

Get out! Picnic food ideas to make outdoor dining a breeze  

May 14, 2014 at 1:02 PM ET

Time to dust off the gingham blanket and wicker basket. Need picnic food ideas? Follow a few simple tips for a delicious, relaxing (and safe!) day of feasting in the sun.

Picnic sandwiches and wine
Brett Mulcahy / FeaturePics.com

The first thing to remember when planning your picnic spread, says chef and owner Joachim Splichal of Patina in Los Angeles, is to “avoid anything too fussy.” It's tempting to try to impress friends with overly ambitious food, but resist the urge. Splichal knows a thing or two about alfresco eating: For the last 15 years, he and his Patina staff have been serving laid-back, outdoor picnic meals to concertgoers at the park-like Hollywood Bowl. Splichal shared his guidelines with Today.com:

  • Remember, guests have to be comfortable eating the food while sprawling on a blanket. “Focus on simple, fresh foods — salads, spreads," says Splichal. In the summer, he recommends a tomato or pea salad for a classic, easy-to-make crowd pleaser. “A simple charcuterie plate with high-quality meats and cheeses is also winner,” he says.
  • If possible, avoid packing anything with a tendency to spoil quickly, like foods that include mayonnaise. That will free you from worrying about food safety instead of just unwinding.
  • Remember that a picnic is not just about the food, but about the atmosphere too. If you plan to dine outdoors with friends on a regular basis, says Splichal, it pays to invest in an elegant picnic set with "good linens, a nice blanket and quality dishes.” Include special extras, like candles, to set the mood.
  • Don’t forget the beverages. For those so inclined (and not driving), “ice-cold champagne is an absolute must,” he says. “Otherwise, iced green tea with mint and lemon” goes perfectly with alfresco meals.

Here are a few more picnic logistics to keep in mind:

  • To keep cold foods fresh on a hot day, seal everything in covered containers or in freezer bags and pack into an ice-filled chest (don’t forget the condiments). Place the most perishable foods at the bottom where it’s coolest. If your picnic plans include grilling raw meat, make sure to wrap it securely, and pack it carefully away from contact with other foods—ideally in an entirely separate chest or tote. If possible, pack cold drinks in their own insulated tote too, so you can open and close it frequently without thawing the other foods.
  • Keep ants from crashing your party by using cheap, natural remedies: For instance, try outlining your picnic space with chalk, an effective repellent. Or scatter citrus peels to deter the critters—an especially convenient approach if you’re already making lemonade.
  • If you’re responsible for the food and drink, assign plates and utensils to someone else. Better yet, bring a few extras yourself too, just in case your friend forgets.

Ready? Whether you're packing an entire spread or bringing just one dish to a potluck picnic, try this fresh strawberry salad recipe, courtesy of Patina; it's a guaranteed hit, and takes minutes to make:

Patina's strawberry salad

  • 12 strawberries
  • 2 fennel bulbs
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup marcona almonds

Cut strawberries into bite-sized pieces, and cut fennel into paper-thin slices using a mandolin or sharp knife. Set each aside. 

Add spinach to a mixing bowl, and then add the strawberries and fennel. In a separate bowl, mix balsamic vinegar and oil. Lightly dress spinach with balsamic vinegar mixture and season salad with salt and pepper. Garnish with marcona almonds.

Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of home and travel blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

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