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Ep. 23 A Picnic Basket is Like a Treasure Chest

Every summer I vow to spend more time outside dining al fresco with my husband. Such accessible natural beauty, it’s the perfect backdrop for a mini-vacation escape. Memorable locales such as the beach on Lake Superior, the mouth of the river at Gooseberry Falls in Minnesota, where there is one lone picnic table overlooking the lake, or along the banks and rocks of the stunning rivers are a few of my favorite spots.

Picnics are a smart way to get a big bang for your entertainment buck. For two people, it can be a romantic date; add a few more dishes and friends, and it becomes a “come as you are” party on the fly complete with social distancing outside. When we travel by car long distances during the summer holidays, I always include a picnic on the itinerary. We pick up our provisions at a local gourmet shop or deli before we head out and about lunchtime start scouting a stray picnic table or area along the roadside with a view. Always a natural photo opportunity, a picnic sets the tone for relaxation.

Picnic expert and owner of Northern Waters Smokehouse, Eric Goerdt, offers this advice on planning the menu. “Any ready to eat foods that you can just slice up like cheese and deli meats are fun because you can have a selection of different tastes.” Eric also suggests adding dried fruits and nuts to your menu because they tend to pair well with cheeses and are picnic-friendly because of their portability Tips for the Perfect Picnic *Here are some practical guidelines for your next alfresco dining experience. * A tarp or plastic sheet is a good thing to have to lay your blanket on in case the ground is damp. * Pack pasta and potato salads in plastic bags to take up less space in a small cooler. * Avoid mayonnaise for dressings in side dishes because of food safety issues; vinegar and oil-based dressings are safer. Raw onions are also a problem if left in the heat. Pack them separately and add them when you get to your picnic unless they are a marinade. * Keep all of your perishables below 40 degrees F at all times. Do not leave your picnic spread out for more than two hours.

* Focus on easy, portable foods that keep well in a cooler.

* Have a picnic checklist to make sure you bring everything you need.

* Make sure your picnic luggage is sturdy and store it in the shade on site.

Themes take it up a notch

As long as you are planning something fun, you might as well add a theme to make it more interesting. Dressing the part will bring out your playful self and makes great photos!

A few of my favorite theme menus for a picnic are:

Asian Inspired Afternoon Repast

Rice paper wraps with fresh vegetables and Sweet Chili Dipping sauce

Curried Chicken Grilled, served cold

Roasted and Marinated Tofu with Sesame Dressing

Pacific Rim Vegetable Wild Rice Salad Cups

Rice Crackers

Almond Cookies

Southern Charm Picnic

Cheese Pennies

Tomato Tea Sandwiches

Pimento Cheese and Firecracker crackers

Southern Fried Chicken Tenders with Comeback Sauce

Mama's Potato Salad

Permanent Coleslaw

Brownie Points

Mediterranean Mezze Dinner on the Beach

Charcuterie Board

Dried Figs and Apricots

Vegetable Muffuletta

Three Bean Salad

Fresh Fruit Salad

Lemon Bars

Pacific Rim Vegetable and Wild Rice Salad Cups

Ingredients used in this recipe Wild Rice- I use local wild rice from Minnesota. I buy it from the coop so I know the origin. Brown Rice- long grain works great or instant cooked Barley- Pearled Barley is the best also instant or quick cooked works well Fresh Broccoli- Cut florets small so they will be bite-sized Carrots- Regular sized or baby can be used, cut into small enough pieces Red or Yellow Peppers- Sweet bell peppers give it a crunchy sweet taste and texture Pea Pods- Snow peas work too, you can cut them into smaller pieces if you prefer instead of halves Baby Corn- canned variety adds a bit of unusual texture and color to the salad. Water chestnuts- add crunch to the salad and can hold up well to the acid in the dressing Fresh Cilantro- No Substitute for this one I am afraid Boston Lettuce- makes brilliant cups but if your local grocer stocks iceberg, that will work too. Unsalted Peanuts- rough chop for texture and protein source Soy Sauce- Low sodium is best Sesame Oil- Toasted Sesame oil only for this dish, please Rice Vinegar- Seasoned with sugar and salt tastes the best in my opinion Sweet Chili Sauce- Always makes everything taste better with that sweet and sour flavor Fish Sauce- My Thai experts tell me the one with the 3 crabs on the label is the bes

How do I make Pacific Rim Inspired Wild Rice Salad? Pacific Rim Inspired Wild Rice Salad in Lettuce Cups This is my favorite picnic side dish recipe. Bold with flavor, it’s packed with vegetables and grains, and it’s dressed with a sweet and sour vinaigrette dressing. This version is a flavorful departure, and the ingredients are an inspiration from my journeys to South East Asia. The recipe can easily be cut in half for a smaller crowd. Serve with grilled meats and a green salad for a delectable supper. Use fresh stir-fry vegetables pre-cut from the produce department if you are in a pinch for time.

Makes 12 one-cup servings Ingredients: 3 cups cooked wild rice ( ¾ cup raw) 3 cups cooked brown rice cooked (1 cup raw) 2 cups cooked barley (1/2 cup raw) 1 cup broccoli florets, cut into small buds 1 cup carrots, cut into small chunks 1 red or yellow pepper, julienned into 2-inch pieces 1 cup pea pods, cut in half 1 six-ounce can of baby corn, drained and chopped 1 six-ounce can of sliced water chestnuts, drained and chopped 3/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro, divided 2 heads of Boston lettuce separated into cups 1/2 chopped roasted unsalted peanuts 1 cup dressing (recipe follows) Dressing: Yields one cup of dressing 1/4 cup soy sauce (low sodium) 1/4 cup sesame oil 1/4 cup rice vinegar 1/4 cup sweet chili sauce (found in grocery store’s Asian section) 1 tablespoon fish sauce or coconut aminos Cook wild rice, brown rice, and barley as directed on the package. Let cool. Add vegetables and cilantro, mixing well. Mix dressing ingredients and stir in. To serve, mound salad in lettuce cups and garnish with roughly chopped cilantro and chopped peanuts.

Chef's Notes

I love combining the flavors of Asia with local ingredients. It gives me a break from the traditional flavors that one would expect from Wild Rice. It's far more versatile rice than I give it credit for.

I encourage all of my students to try substituting wild for white rice in new recipes. I promise the results will be pleasantly surprising.

I use Boston lettuce in this recipe but I think the iceberg would work as well. I like to fill the cups and put them on a pretty platter and garnish them with sprigs of fresh cilantro.

Storage: This salad will keep 4-5 days in the fridge at 40F or lower. I prep it ahead and store the lettuce in a separate bag. I would not recommend freezing it.

If you are looking for a tasty side dish to go with it, I would suggest Sesame Green Beans, you can get the recipe here from another post. It's also delicious with Grilled Salmon with a Pesto slather.

For a wine pairing, I love Champagne, or sparkling wine Gruet from New Mexico is one of my favorites for a picnic.

Our summers here in the Northland are so glorious yet fleeting, so make the best of it and get out there every minute you can. The shore or park with the natural flora is always the best table in the house.

Want to learn more recipes that are easy, healthy, and perfect for cooking with friends? Stop on over at my website and register for my monthly newsletter at Also while you are at it, follow me on Facebook and Instagram. A picnic is more than eating a meal, it is a pleasurable state of mind – DeeDee Stovel


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