How to be a hero at the picnic this weekend

It's Independence Day. Let your fruit flag fly! Photo: Cristina, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

It’s Independence Day. Let your fruit flag fly! Photo: Cristina, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

So here we are. Glorious summer is here and it’s time for cookouts, barbecues and picnics.  If you’re hosting a crowd for the holiday, you’ve probably already got your menu planned. But what to bring if you’re invited to someone else’s event? Hmmm.

I’ve been asking around all week and mostly getting pretty minimalist ideas from folks who are already in full blown summer laze mode. Like a bag of chips. Or cold beer. But come on, we can do better than that. Here are some impressive but easy ideas, to get you quickly out of the kitchen and into the spirit of Independence Day.


Ellen Rocco’s Cabbage Slaw

One head of Chinese (Napa) or Savoy Cabbage
One medium onion
Good mayonnaise (Hellman’s)
Salt and pepper

Finely slice cabbage and onion. Stir in a generous tablespoon of mayo, the juice of a lemon, salt and pepper.

Optional: add chunks of tomato, or shredded fresh dill, a bit of soy sauce or more mayo to taste.


That’s it. Pretty easy, no?

Here’s another good one:


June People’s Asparagus Pasta Salad

June says: It’s quick, easy and combines some of my favorite summer flavors.  It’s great at room temperature.  It’s more of a “concoction” than a recipe, so I have never measured any of the ingredients.  Here are the basic elements:

One 16oz package of brown rice penne pasta cooked al dente (substitute regular pasta if you prefer)
One bunch of fresh asparagus steamed so that it still has a nice little crunch
Sliced roma, cherry, or other variety of fresh grown tomatoes
Fresh mint leaves chopped
Fresh basil leaves chopped

Drain your pasta and add the asparagus, tomatoes, mint and basil.  Add extra virgin olive oil, fresh orange juice, a little bit of fresh lemon and/or lime juice, about a tablespoon of honey, and salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy!

NOTE:  Adding steamed shrimp or grilled chicken turns this into a lovely meal.


And here are a couple recipes from me:


Red Chili Shrimp

This is a snap. Serves 8 on skewers, or just scoop them in a bowl and offer sliced bread alongside.

¼ cup brown sugar
2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP chili powder
1 TBSP garlic powder
1 tsp kosher salt
16 or so large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on.

Whisk everything except the shrimp together in a bowl, add shrimp to coat and let sit 5 or 10 mins.  Grill them, until just opaque, usually about 2 minutes per side.


And then there’s dessert. I always bring this one, every Fourth of July. Fun to assemble, and high on the Wow Factor scale:


Jackie Sauter’s American Flag Fruit Pizza

1/2cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
3 cups flour

Mix butter, sugar and flour until crumbly. Pat into a rectangular pan. (I use a 12 by 18 inch cookie sheet with 1 inch sides pan, but you could use a 9 by 13 inch cake pan, or any size rectangular pan, just plan your ingredients accordingly.) Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until crust is just slightly browned.

16 ounces cream cheese
1 cup of sugar
1 TBSP vanilla

Mix topping ingredients and spread over cooled crust.

The fun part (the fruit):
Be sure your fruit is well drained so the colors don’t run. Make the American flag, using blueberries for the field of blue (the part under the stars), and strawberries cut in half for the red stripes.

Elegant touch:
For that shiny, high-end patisserie look, in advance make a glaze of 2 TBSPs of cornstarch, 1 cup of water, ½ cup sugar. 1 tsp lemon juice.  Put these ingredients in a saucepan, simmer and stir for a few minutes until the liquid turns clear and thick. Cool it to room temperature and brush it lightly over the fruit.

More fun (whipped cream):
Get one of those cans of real whipped cream.  Just before serving, use the whipped cream to make the stars on the blueberry field, and to make the white stripes between the rows of red strawberries.


Enjoy.  Happy Fourth Weekend to all!

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