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"Le Picnique" can be a picnic to prepare


Last updated 8/25/2006 at Noon

Do we have a Culinary DNA? Does one automatically enjoy the same foods that, say, one’s grandmother liked to prepare? Could this be why I favor French food?

Sadly to say there is no definitive research on this subject yet. So we can only believe that food preferences may be early childhood exposures that train the taste buds and palate to enjoy foods common to our cultural heritage.

That being said I still think culinary choices are “in the genes”.

So for a picnic my personal choice would be with foods with a Francophile focus no doubt a genetic throw-back to my mother’s French father even though I had minimal contact with this set of grandparents.

Picnic…even the description has a French feel, a savoir faire. The dictionary gives the word picnic as French in origin. Picnic means an excursion with food usually being provided. The word, picnic, is also slang for an easy task or feat.

Woods, walk, ocean, river, or simply the back desk can all serve as the perfect picnic spot this last weekend of the summer. And all of the recipes suggested are to be made ahead so that even the cook has a carefree day.

French-style potato salad is quite fitting for picnics. It is made while the potatoes are still warm and absorb the flavors of the dressing. Also, as there is no mayonnaise to spoil, French-style potato salad does not have to be refrigerated. In fact, in France it is served at room temperature. Accompany the salad with a platter of fresh sliced tomatoes, olives and baby sweet pickles.

French-Style Potato Salad

• 8 medium potatoes

• 1 tsp. salt

• ½ tsp. fresh ground pepper

• ¼ cup wine vinegar

• 2 tbsp. consommé

• 2 tbsp. dry white wine or vermouth

• 1 tbsp. fresh chopped tarragon

• 2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley

• ½ cup olive oil or other salad oil

Cook potatoes in salted water for about 30 minutes or until tender, but not mushy. Drain. Peel potatoes while potatoes are still warm and cut them into ¼-inch slices. Place in serving bowl.

In small bowl or cup, combine l tsp. salt, pepper, wine vinegar, consommé and dry white wine. Mix until salt is dissolved. Add tarragon, parsley and oil. Pour over warm potatoes. Toss gently but thoroughly until all liquid is absorbed. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 4-6.

Wedges of quiche make a light appetizer or an entrée. This version is hearty and savory. Canadian-style bacon provides substance without being too greasy. Use as high-quality Swiss cheese as you can find.

“Real” Quiche Lorraine

• 1 9-inch pie crust

• 1 tsp. butter

• 3 slices Canadian-style bacon, diced

• 1 medium onion, finely chopped

• ½ cup grated Swiss cheese

• 4 eggs, slightly beaten

• 1 cup whole milk

• 1 cup whipping cream

• Pinch of fresh grated nutmeg

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. pepper

Line a 9-inch pie plate with prepared pie crust.

Heat butter in a small, heavy saucepan. Add Canadian bacon and cook for 5 minutes or until bacon is gold brown. Remove bacon and set aside. Add onions to pan and cook for 5 minutes. Remove onions and set aside.

Cover bottom of piecrust with bacon, onions and ¼ cup grated cheese.

In mixing bowl, combine remaining cheese, eggs, milk, cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix well. Pour over bacon and onions in pie crust. Bake in a 450-degree oven 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350-degrees and continue baking for 15 minutes or until custard is well set. Serve hot. Or, chill well and serve cold. Serves 4-6.

Roasted veggies make a great picnic accompaniment to cold cuts and cheeses.

Roasted Beets, Carrots and Fennel

• 6 whole medium carrots

• 3 bulbs fennel, quartered

• 8 medium fresh beets

• 2 tbsp. olive oil

• Salt

• Coarsely ground pepper

Trim carrots and peel or scrub well. Trim leafy end of fennel and quarter each. Trim stem end from beets and cut tops off (if beet greens are fresh, cook in the same manner of spinach if you like).

Put oil into a gallon plastic bag with zipper closure. Add salt and pepper. Put carrots in bag to coat, take from bag and put in shallow baking pan or large casserole. Repeat with fennel. Lastly, repeat process with beets.

Roast vegetables in a 425-degree oven until vegetables are barely tender and beginning to brown, turning after first 20 minutes. Remove to serving platter and serve hot, warm or cold.

Serves 6.

Making this eggplant appetizer spread is a picnic. In fact, it could be roasted in the same oven as “Roasted Beets, Carrots and Fennel” above…yet for an entirely different purpose and result.

Eggplant Spread

• 1 medium eggplant

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. pepper

• 2 tbsp. olive oil

• 2 tbsp. lemon juice

• 2 tbsp. finely chopped onion

• 2 tbsp. parsley

• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped

• 2 tbsp. chopped roasted red pepper, optional

• 1 tbsp. fresh chopped herbs, optional

• Crackers or bread

Roast eggplant (whole and unpeeled) on a platter in a 425-degree oven for one hour. Cool enough to handle. Peel to remove skin. Put cooked eggplant in a bowl. Chop or mash well. Blend in salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, chopped onion, parsley ad chopped garlic. Mix well. Chill.

Take from refrigerator. Garnish with roasted red pepper and chopped herbs. Serve with crackers or bread. Makes about 1 ½ cups.

“Bonn Femme” simply translates as good woman. Thus beets prepared in this manner would be what a good woman might make. The combination makes a lively offering as a part of an appetizer assortment.

Beets a la Bonne Femme

(Beets in Cream)

• 2 cups cooked (or canned beets) beet, sliced, diced or in julienne strips

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. pepper

• 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

• 2 tsp. prepared yellow mustard

• ½ cup dairy sour cream

In a mixing bowl, combine salt, pepper, lemon juice, mustard and sour cream. Blend well. Add beets and stir gently. Chill until served. Serves 4-6.

Yet another French-style appetizer or salad is this crunch combination of apples and celery in a seasoned sour cream dressing.

Celery and Apple Bonne Femme

• 2 tbsp. prepared mustard

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. pepper

• ¼ tsp. celery seed

• 1 tsp. lemon juice

• ½ cup dairy sour cream

• 2 medium tart apples, thinly sliced

• 1 ½ cups thinly sliced celery

Mix salt, pepper, celery seed, lemon juice and sour cream.

Put apple and celery in bowl. Top with sour cream mixture and blend well. Chill until served. Serves 4-6.


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