My mom could cook one thing. Fried chicken. And my sister, who in all honestly turned out to be a great cook, made a mean potato salad.
Not the type I'm prone to make - she couldn't readily get her hands on purple potatoes - but pretty darn respectable. These were the only things I thought one might consider proper picnic food. Then I moved to California.
I'm a long way from the church picnics held in the basement of the Federated Church in Green Lake. Coleslaw rarely appears on the local picnic scene. I haven't seen a casserole line-up in years and nobody around here even knows what a Kluski noodle looks like.
The locals really know how to picnic, as I witnessed at a recent Music in the Mountains outdoor pops performance.
Dual wagons carried in the table set-up, linens, china, silverware, crystal and (like I could make this up?) silver candelabra for the folks sitting across the way. Everywhere I looked people pulled out the trendiest of picnic backpacks and baskets complete with service for four and table linens. Low-back lawn chairs matched hamper linings. Color coordination was everywhere, daring the table-fashion police to find fault.
And that was just the accouterments. You should have seen the food. Never before had I witnessed luscious coconut cake on a covered crystal pedestal at a picnic in the park. Fortunately, my unchecked amazement gained me a piece of said cake, so I highly recommend oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over such spectacular displays of taste and presentation. It was delicious, and I'm working on securing the recipe for a future column.
I haven't had chicken in more than 10 years and can't say that I miss it. Potato salad isn't conducive to cholesterol or hip-size reduction.
Fried anything is taboo in our household, and since I learned one can use water or wine to replace oil when preparing foods in a frying pan, the world has changed. So has the fat content in whatever we're preparing.
California living has changed my world, for sure. Everything is possible here. It's completely permissible to serve poached salmon instead of fried chicken. Black rice, rich in nutrients and deliciously chewy, replaces that Midwestern staple, Minute Rice. One can picnic without potato salad. Fresh seasonal produce is in abundance, and it hasn't been shipped from across the country. Drunken berries - why not?
Chilled Salmon Poached in Gingered Wine
4 fresh salmon steaks
2 cups sauvignon blanc or le blanc de blancs wine
one quarter cup freshly peeled ginger, chopped coarsely
1 tablespoon Shiitake and Sesame Vinaigrette
3 cups fresh mixed greens
Hot! Wasabi Squeeze garnishing sauce
Bring wine and ginger to simmering point in a medium to large frying pan. Place salmon steaks, skin side up and in a single layer, into the pan and cover. Poach for eight minutes or until no longer translucent. Remove salmon steaks from pan and transfer to a plate to cool. Carefully remove skins, then cover and place in refrigerator until completely chilled.
To serve, toss mixed greens in vinaigrette. Divide equally among four plates. Place chilled salmon fillet in the middle of dressed mixed greens and place a decorative squiggle of Hot! Wasabi Squeeze on the top.
Cooks Note: Hot! Wasabi Squeeze is available in upscale markets. I located it recently at the Back Porch Market in Grass Valley. Annie's Naturals makes an organic Shiitake & Sesame Vinaigrette which I purchased at BriarPatch Community Market in Grass Valley.
Forbidden Rice® Black Rice Salad
By Mitch Madoff
This is Whole Foods Market, NYC best selling salad!
2 cups Forbidden Rice®
3 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons Tamari
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 pound roasted diced sweet potatoes
3/4 cup diced red peppers
3/4 cup diced yellow peppers
1/2 bunch sliced scallions
Bring rice, water and pinch of salt to a quick boil, cover and lower heat to a simmer for 30 minutes. Let rice sit while you whisk together sesame oil and tamari. While rice is still warm toss in the sesame oil and tamari mixture. Let cool, then add sweet potatoes, red peppers, yellow peppers, scallions, and salt and pepper to taste.
Cooks Note: Forbidden Rice® is available in local natural food markets and several local grocery stores, or you may order directly from the Lotus Foods Website. I prepare the rice in a rice steamer set for 60 minutes, which is exactly how long it takes to bake the sweet potatoes in a 350 degree oven. Be warned: One taste and you'll crave it.
2 baskets fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 basket fresh blueberries, picked over to remove stems
1 basket fresh raspberries
1/4 cup Amaretto
Gently combine berries and drizzle with Amaretto. Serve with dollop of whipping crème.
Cooks Note: This is perfectly color-coordinated for patriotic picnics. And the picnic crowd around here noticeably appreciates color coordination.
Joey Jordan, who has enjoyed a love/hate relationship with cooking since she was thrown out of her seventh grade Home Economics Class for eating all the M&Ms meant for cookies, lives in Rough and Ready with her husband Bill. You may contact Joey at firstname.lastname@example.org.