Summertime outdoor picnic.

Beautiful weather, good company, and delicious food — is there a better combination? Get in picnic-planning gear with these great tips. Then pack up your basket with perfect picnic food, gather your friends, and enjoy!

Picnics can take on many forms, such as the community picnic, friends and neighbors, tailgate parties, or ball games. There is also one sure thing at every picnic-lots of good food. The important point is to have safe and healthy food, not food that can cause food borne illness. Always prepare and store food properly.

As always, wash hands and work areas before preparing food. Plan your menu with an eye to safe food handling. Cook foods in plenty of time to thoroughly chill them in shallow containers in the refrigerator.

Have enough coolers with ice or frozen gel packs in which to store the perishable foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and salads. You want to keep the food at 40 degrees F. Pack foods right from the refrigerator into the coolers.

Don’t put the cooler in the car trunk; Carry it inside an air-conditioned car. At picnics, keep the cooler in the shade and keep the lid closed. Replenish the ice if it melts.

Use a separate cooler for drinks so the one containing the food won’t constantly be opened and closed.

Find out if there’s a source of safe drinking water at your destination. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning; or pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces. Cross-contamination during preparation, grilling, and serving food is a prime cause of food borne illness.

Pack raw meats, poultry, or seafood on the bottom of the cooler. This will reduce the risk of them dripping on other foods. Pack coolers until they are full. A full cooler will stay cold longer than one that is partially full.

If you plan on getting takeout foods such as fried chicken, Eat them within an hour of pick up.

Do not partially grill extra meat or poultry to use later. Once you begin, cook until completely done to assure bacteria are destroyed. Grill raw poultry until the juices run clear and there is no pink. Hamburger should not be pink in the center.

When taking food off the grill, Don’t put the cooked items on the same platter which held the raw meat unless you have washed the platter in between uses.

Two Hour Rule.  Don’t leave perishable food un-refrigerated for more than two hours. Put perishable foods back in the cooler or refrigerator as soon as you finish eating. Don’t leave them out while you go for a swim or a hike, and don’t leave them out all afternoon to nibble on.

Chances are picnic leftovers have been sitting out for more than an hour or two. Discard these leftovers. Cold foods that were kept in a cooler that still has ice may be safe. If the ice has melted, the food should be discarded.

Get packing

Step 1: Keep it easy.

Picking a food theme — pastries, fruit, and iced tea or wine, cheese, and bread — can help simplify the menu.

Step 2: Be prepared.

Choose ready-to-serve foods to reduce prep work. Sandwiches, whole fruit, and individual-sized desserts are ideal.

Step 3: Stock up on drinks.

 Thoroughly chill your beverages before pouring them into thermoses to ensure they stay cold and refreshing.

Step 4: Stay cool.

 If you’re not planning to eat right away, pack mayonnaise-based dishes in a cooler to maintain proper temperatures.

Step 5: Add memorable touches.

 A small pot of buttercups makes a charming, low-maintenance centerpiece that complements a simple meal.


Ever ready: Keep a blanket and supplies in the trunk of your car and you’ll be all set for an impromptu picnic whenever the mood strikes. In your kit, stash a few inexpensive plates and cups, along with handy placemats & silverware.

A humble picnic table can be set with as much care as your fine dining table. Surround yourself with beauty with thoughtfully prepared treats presented in a memorable way.


Dress up a wooden picnic table with embroidered cotton or Linens. Use clips or a few strategically placed bowls and plates to anchor the cloth.


Add color with centerpieces made by filling jars or pitchers with bright summer blooms — roses, lilies, orchids, and sunflowers are in season.


Forget the paper plates! Serve meals on easy-to-clean outdoor plates in playful country patterns.


Go casual with the matching outdoor reusable utensils and reduce waste.



Avocado and Ham Sandwiches

Bottom of Form


  • 2 loaf(s) (about 18 inches each) crusty Italian bread.
  • 1/4 cup(s) butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoon(s) Dijon mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon(s) coarse black pepper
  • 3/4 pound(s) Virginia ham, sliced
  • 3 large avocados, peeled and sliced


Cut each loaf into 3 equal pieces, and split each horizontally along one side, leaving the other side intact. Open the pieces so they lie flat.  Stir the butter, mustard, and pepper together until smooth, and spread on both sides of the bread. Layer with the ham and avocado, and sprinkle with the sea salt. Wrap the sandwiches with parchment, and tie with a string to secure. Keep chilled and serve within 3 hours.


Delicious and versatile picnic recipes provide a welcome reprieve from traditional summer fare. Try a fresh jicama salsa or a hearty barley salad with parsley and walnuts. For dessert, indulge in peanut butter pound cake s’mores.

Pineapple-Jicama Salsa

•           2 tablespoon(s) finely chopped red onion

•           1 tablespoon(s) freshly squeezed lime juice

•           1 1/4 pound(s) (3 cups) peeled pineapple, cut into 1/2-inch dice

•           2 tablespoon(s) fresh pineapple juice, squeezed from the rind

•           5 ounce(s) (1 cup) jicama, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice

•           3 tablespoon(s) finely chopped cilantro

•           1 tablespoon(s) light brown sugar

•           1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped

•           1 scallion, thinly sliced

In a bowl, combine the red onion with the lime juice and let stand for 10 minutes. Add the pineapple, pineapple juice, jicama, cilantro, brown sugar, jalapeño, and scallion to the bowl and toss. Serve with the Jerk Pork Tenderloin.


Barley Salad with Parsley and Walnuts

•           1/4 cup(s) pearled barley, 9 ounces

•           1 cup(s) walnut halves, 4 ounces

•           3 tablespoon(s) fresh lemon juice

•           1/3 cup(s) extra-virgin olive oil

•           1 clove(s) garlic, minced

•           1/2 teaspoon(s) finely grated lemon zest

•           Salt and freshly ground pepper

•           1 cup(s) packed flat-leaf parsley leaves

•           4 ounce(s) ricotta salata, crumbled about 1 cup

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the barley over high heat until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain the barley and rinse under cold water to cool thoroughly. Drain again, shaking out the excess water.  Meanwhile, spread the walnuts in a pie plate and toast for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden and fragrant. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool. Coarsely chop the nuts.  In a large bowl, whisk the lemon juice with the olive oil, garlic, and lemon zest and season with salt and pepper. Add the barley, parsley, and ricotta salata and toss gently. Add the toasted walnuts, toss again, and serve.


Peanut Butter Pound Cake S’mores This takeoff on the campfire classic replaces crunchy graham crackers with buttery store-bought pound cake, sandwiched with marshmallow fluff and peanut butter and served alongside a cup of warm melted chocolate for dipping.

•           2 ounce(s) semisweet chocolate, chopped

•           1/2 cup(s) heavy cream

•           1 (1-pound) frozen pound cake, preferably Sara Lee, thawed

•           1/4 cup(s) creamy or chunky peanut butter, not natural

•           1/3 cup(s) marshmallow fluff

•           1 tablespoon(s) unsalted butter, softened

Put the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the cream until hot to the touch. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand until melted. Whisk until smooth. Preheat a griddle or large skillet. Using a serrated knife, trim off the top and bottom of the pound cake so that the cake is about 1 1/4 inches thick. Carefully split the pound cake in half horizontally. Spread the peanut butter on one half and the marshmallow on the other, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Sandwich the two halves together and spread the top and bottom with the butter. Place on the griddle and cook over high heat, turning once, until golden and nearly warmed through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a work surface and cut the cake into twelve 3/4-inch-wide strips. Serve at once with the chocolate sauce.


Best of Cooking, Denise

  Denise Murray, now a 15-year resident of Forest Park. (Lived on the North shore of Chicago for 3 years prior, and a Southwestern before that) comes to us with over 33 years working in Food Service....