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How to throw together a gourmet picnic in minutes

Updated on October 11, 2015
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A long-time whole grain baker, Kathryn discovered the thrill and ease of cooking with whole, fresh foods decades ago. Still chopping!

Our picnic salad starts with a box of spring greens from the supermarket salad bar, fresh raw asparagus spears, a garden-ripe tomato and two avocados, which we will drizzle with fresh-squeezed lime juice
Our picnic salad starts with a box of spring greens from the supermarket salad bar, fresh raw asparagus spears, a garden-ripe tomato and two avocados, which we will drizzle with fresh-squeezed lime juice | Source

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With a variety of fresh and gourmet foods in your pantry and fridge, you can be ready for a picnic in minutes

Do you love picnics? I do. There's nothing more satisfying of a summer's eve or a lazy Sunday afternoon than grabbing a picnic basket, a blanket and heading for the park, the forest or the beach.

Even in wintertime, no matter how cold it is, sometimes we like to get out and feel the crisp wind on our faces.

Impromptu picnics are easy any time of year if you stock your refrigerator and pantry with fresh and gourmet foods and condiments you love.

The food has to be good. Really good. I'm talking taste sensations, fragrances and beauty to match the glorious weather.

Take the luscious vegetables and greens in this photograph. I picked them up earlier today for a quick supper salad, but why not make a picnic of it? It's a gorgeous evening. Instead of eating in, we'll head to the park and watch the clouds floating overhead while we sip a glass of wine.

The avocado and lime make a pungent, tasty dressing with no effort at all. We slice the avocado over our salad at the last minute, hand squeeze the lime over all and toss with our forks just before eating. A few shaved bits of hard cheese for garnish, a twist of fresh ground pepper and salt, and our salad is perfect.

Between bites of salad and sips of jewel-red wine, we'll tear off chunks of a slightly tangy loaf of San Francisco sourdough bread laced with olives from a local artisan baker. That's all we need for a light supper on this hot summer's eve.

It's that easy. What about those times we don't have greens on hand or a fresh sourdough loaf? What then? On this page, I share with you all my little tricks for spur-of-the-moment picnics, including a list of foods we keep in our pantry and refrigerator so we can pack up a picnic in minutes, whenever the mood strikes us.

Quick, easy, gorgeous and delicious. That's my picnic motto.

Start with whatever fresh vegetables you have on hand

Simple fair that is tasty and colorful, like these assorted tiny tomatoes and cucumber wheels makes for a quick, easy start to a delectable picnic
Simple fair that is tasty and colorful, like these assorted tiny tomatoes and cucumber wheels makes for a quick, easy start to a delectable picnic

Fresh vegetables delight the senses. They fill the eyes with brilliant colors and textures, tickle the nose with pungent, piquant, sweet scents, and make the taste buds tingle. Juicy tomatoes and moist cucumbers help rehydrate us on a steaming hot day.

Besides being good for us, they are the perfect foundation for any picnic. Pack them in a lightweight stainless steel container, and you don't have to worry about BPA or pthalates leaching, as you would with plastic bags or tubs.

LunchBots are my go-to picnic, lunch and snack containers - Non-leaching stainless steel means they are safe

Their large divided container is perfect for a spontaneous picnic for two.

It holds slices of fruit, crudites, crackers, cheeses, just about an entire luncheon picnic.Or use several of the smaller LunchBots, like the divided one above with the tomatoes and cucumbers.

The food-grade stainless steel means it's safe for you and your family--no plastic chemicals leaching into your food.

Add flavorful hard and soft cheeses and a baguette or your favorite crackers, a soft cheese for spreading, a hard cheese for shaving or layering

Handmade artisan cheeses and organic whole grain crackers with a bunch of champagne grapes and a glass of the bubbly are all we need for a quick al fresco repast. Oops, I gave the grapes to the grandkids before I snapped the photo!
Handmade artisan cheeses and organic whole grain crackers with a bunch of champagne grapes and a glass of the bubbly are all we need for a quick al fresco repast. Oops, I gave the grapes to the grandkids before I snapped the photo! | Source

Cheeses add texture and complex flavors to your picnic. Pair them with the tastiest crackers, or slice them and pile them on top of torn or sliced artisan breads with a smear of mustard, a basil leaf, and for the meat eaters, a thin round of salami or a fold of shaved ham.

What is a picnic without a good loaf?

Slice an artisan loaf before you go for easy sandwiches on your picnic, or leave the loaf whole and tear off bits for dipping in hummus or a cheesy sauce
Slice an artisan loaf before you go for easy sandwiches on your picnic, or leave the loaf whole and tear off bits for dipping in hummus or a cheesy sauce | Source

If you're not a baker, stock your pantry regularly with baguettes, sweet or sour batards, or any other artisan loaf you fancy. It's true. You don't need much more than a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and good company.

For the meat fanciers, keep a package or two of a flavorful salami in the freezer

Wash a handful of fresh garden greens, tuck in small container of organic mustard, a package of salami, a soft artisan cheese and a baguette, and you've got a picnic in less than 10 minutes
Wash a handful of fresh garden greens, tuck in small container of organic mustard, a package of salami, a soft artisan cheese and a baguette, and you've got a picnic in less than 10 minutes | Source

It thaws quickly and you will have a little savory meat fix for the carnivores in your life. Of course, if you are a regular meat eater too, go ahead and keep it on hand in the main compartment of your fridge.

Take along a small jar of mustard, a few leafy greens, a loaf of bread and a delicious cheese, and once again you have a complete picnic ready in five minutes or less.

You probably already have a nice assortment of condiments in your fridge you can mix for a quick spread or dip

Keep a slew of your favorite condiments in the fridge and pantry so you can pack your picnic lunch in minutes
Keep a slew of your favorite condiments in the fridge and pantry so you can pack your picnic lunch in minutes | Source

Pickles, relishes, mayonnaise, balsamic vinegar, homemade hummus or in our case today, a wonderfully delicious selection of hummuses from a small, local mom-and-pop company. They are as good as any I can make.

Gotta have potato salad?

Super quick potato salad for two, ready in 20 minutes or less
Super quick potato salad for two, ready in 20 minutes or less | Source

Try this Super Quick Potato Salad for Two you can make in just 20 minutes, quicker than a trip to the deli or supermarket, and oh so much tastier.

If you keep a few boiled eggs on hand, you can make it in even less time.

Don't forget the drinks!

A glass of wine for the grownups, milk for the kiddies, or fresh-squeezed lemonade in a thermos for everyone
A glass of wine for the grownups, milk for the kiddies, or fresh-squeezed lemonade in a thermos for everyone | Source

Wine for the grownups, milk for the kiddies, and a quick, easy lemonade you can pop into a thermos in seconds.

Squeeze the juice of one-half lemon into a 20-30 ounce thermos, more if you like it more tart. To sweeten, add a couple of squirts of agave syrup, or more to taste. Fill with ice cold water and a few ice cubes. Perfect lemonade on the run.

For cold weather picnics, we love coffee made from fresh-ground beans, sometimes with a splash of Irish Cream if we're not driving, hot chocolate and flavorful teas of all kinds.

5-Minute homemade lemonade recipe

Don't have time to chill lemonade? Make it on the fly. You can make it ahead, just before you go out the door, or take the ingredients with you and make it there. It's that easy.

Ingredients

  • 1-2 Fresh organic lemons
  • 1 T or more to taste Organic evaporated cane sugar, Or substitute 2 t organic blue agave nectar
  • 1-2 C Ice cubes or chipped ice

Cook Time

Prep time: 2 min
Cook time: 3 min
Ready in: 5 min
Yields: 4 Servings

Rate this recipe!

Cast your vote for 5-Minute homemade lemonade recipe

Instructions

  1. You will need an insulated, wide-mouth 1 qt (or near) container for this recipe. If you're at home, drop the unpeeled, uncut lemons into a bowl of hot water for a minute or two to release the juices. If it's a hot day and they've been out on the counter, they'll be juicing already. Cut the lemons in half and squeeze out all their juice into a small pitcher or measuring cup. I like pulp in my lemonade, but if you don't, remove the pulp when you remove the seeds.
  2. Pour the juice into a 1-quart container, fill it about half full with cold tap water, add the sugar and stir. Drop in the ice cubes and add water to the fill line, cap securely, and you're done. Easy peasy!

Best picnic thermos for two

We have several insulated containers, both large and small.

One of our faves for a quick picnic is the 20-ounce Klean Kanteen, which is just about perfect for a refreshing lemonade on a summer's eve.

In winter time, or on trips to the beach on blustery days, these bottles keep coffee, hot chocolate and tea hot for hours.

Fill one per adult. The loop in the lid makes it easy to tote, and never spills! A word of caution: The easy-sip lid that also comes with this bottle can leak, so if you're toting the bottle, use the secure lid with the ring. Use the sip-lid when you can keep your bottle upright.

Take along your own homemade cookies, crackers or scones

Fido jars make it easy to store wholesome homemade whole grain crackers, cookies and scones so you're always prepared with a treat for your outing
Fido jars make it easy to store wholesome homemade whole grain crackers, cookies and scones so you're always prepared with a treat for your outing | Source

Sweet or savory crackers and scones are welcome treats on any picnic. Homemade cookies? Take extras. You will be glad you did. In this pic: Homemade savory animal crackers, Cheesy homemade biscuits with Mediterranean olives and Toasted coconut snickerdoodles.

Nourishing our chocoholic - Yup, it's here! I didn't forget!

There's almost always chocolate at our house, with and without nuts. These are two of our pantry favorites.

We almost always have a few bars of Dagoba organic and Fair Trade chocolate on hand, for picnics and for treats for the grandkids.

Yep, we eat 'em too--way too many of them! I sometimes hide them in the freezer behind everything else in hopes I'll forget they're there. It works. Now and then.

To reduce sugar intake, break a bar into pieces and give each child a few in a colorful silicone mini-muffin liner. Make sure you bring enough so that everyone can pick their favorite color

Another favorite of the family members who do not have nut allergies is Green and Black's Organic Milk Chocolate Bar with whole almonds, also Fair Trade, so we know no child slaves were involved in its production. We love those almonds!

Today's shopping list
Today's shopping list | Source

Keep these in your refrigerator and pantry so you're always ready

Refrigerator Items
Pantry Items
Fresh, colorful in-season vegetables--Pre-wash them so they're ready to go when you are
Fresh, in-season fruits--Pre-wash them so they're ready to go
Favorite hard and soft cheeses
Selection of organic whole grain crackers you enjoy
Boiled eggs for potato salad and egg salad
Baguette or batard, homemade or from your local artisan bakery
Grass-fed, pasture-raised organic deli meats, sliced thin
Avocados for slicing into an on-the-run salad, onto sandwiches, or to smash and smear as a spread
Hummus for dips and spreads
Small, quick-cooking potatoes, such as Yukon golds, marbles or new reds
Organic mayonnaise made with cage-free eggs (Less animal cruelty!) for quick dressings & spreads
Red onion
Sour cream or yogurt for quick dips, dressings and spreads
Fresh lemons and limes for making a super quick ade, for dressing salads, and for keeping apples, pears and other sliced fruits from turning brown
Stone-ground mustard also good for whisking up a quick dressing or spread, or wonderful by itself on baguette rounds with a bit of salami and cheese
Organic wines or wines made with organic grapes, red and white
Sweet and savory pickle relishes
Homemade cookies or bars
Green onion
Chocolate! Organic and Fair Trade to vote with your dollars against child slavery
Radishes
 
Celery
 
Milk for the little ones
 
The key to a successful, gourmet picnic is to keep the tastiest, freshest foods you love on hand, so change this list to suit your needs

That's how we do it at our house

How do you plan for the unplanned picnic at the drop of a white cloud in a blue sky?

© 2014 Kathryn Grace

What do you like to take on your picnics?

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    • ecogranny profile image
      Author

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      @justthemessenger, you certainly know how to warm an old cook's heart. Thank you!

    • justthemessenger profile image

      James C Moore 3 years ago from The Great Midwest

      A good ideal for an inexpensive, out of the ordinary date. I like. I read this on a full stomach and the pictures had me drooling.

    • ecogranny profile image
      Author

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      @Merrci: Stop! You're making me SO hungry! Thanks for being the first to visit this brand new page.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Boy, all sorts of things! Chicken and potato salad, sub sandwiches, hots dogs... Love the bread and cheese too, along with the wine.