Two People + One Picnic Basket = Romantic Rendezvous

Picnic dates at CHEFScatalog.com

Couple on a Romantic Picnic at CHEFScatalog.com“A book of verses underneath the bough, a jug of wine,
a loaf of bread…and thou.”

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, 1859

Time to ‘fess up.

I am not a huge “eating outdoors with the bugs” fan. This will be news to no one who knows me, least of all my wife of 32 years. Oh, I can enjoy a good family reunion, an Independence Day gathering, or an End of Summer celebration that requires eating outdoors, but for the most part I prefer a roof over my head when eating.

However, I am a sucker for a romantic picnic. Why? Because the casual atmosphere, and the focused time together—plus yummy food—can knock down the walls we naturally put up to protect ourselves. And when that happens, it can lead to magic.

And, while I’m a huge fan of spontaneity, if you want your private picnic to turn into more than just a chance to eat outside together (not that there’s anything wrong with that), a romantic setting, some mood-enhancing extras (including a surprise), and a well-planned menu, will help create an impressive and memorable picnic date.

Beyond the public park

Picnic Basket at CHEFScatalog.comFor the spontaneous, “Let’s Go On A Picnic!” picnic, there’s nothing wrong with throwing some sandwiches in the basket, heading to the nearby park, and enjoying some couple time with your sweetie. But if your goal is to make more of a lasting impression, give some thought to the setting.

  • Scope out the perfect setting. Choose a place with a romantic ambiance, like the beach at sunset or a mountain overlook. Can you have a picnic at the place you first met? Some other ideas include rooftop terraces, lakeside pavilions, a secluded bower within a forest, or any place that’s special to the two of you. Make sure there won’t be issues with traffic, bugs, or other potential spoilers.
  • Making the ordinary extraordinary. Transforming an ordinary location with the unexpected can be more special than traveling to a new location. Backyard picnics or picnics in front of the living room fireplace can be delightfully unusual. A candlelit nighttime picnic can make an ordinary location more romantic too. I remember one time when I transformed our apartment living room into the cruise we couldn’t afford to go on. With the right decorations—in this case a few leis and a blow up palm tree—and a little imagination even the most unremarkable location can become romantic.

Extras seal the deal

Bring along some romantic extras like flowers, candles, a small boombox, and a mix CD of your favorite mood music to play while you dine. And, if you plan to propose, don’t forget the ring—but save it for the right moment; don’t just bring it out with the bread, cheese, and wine. Other things not to forget:

  • Enjoying a Picnic at CHEFScatalog.comTake a picnic blanket (with waterproof backing, if you can) so you and your date will be protected from moisture and insects. You’ll need it to get comfortable during and after the meal.
  • If you’re intending your picnic to be the starting point of a longer romantic getaway, make sure your sweetie can take the time off—and that you prepare a bag with everything he or she will need.
  • While it might be romantic to “get lost” together, have a map, compass, and flashlights (and sunscreen, insect repellant, etc.) close by if you need to “save the day.”
  • Go incommunicado (turn off your cell phone, pager, tablet, etc.) if you can. All those “essential” emails, tweets, and Facebook posts will still be there when the picnic is over.
  • Surprises rule: An element of surprise can increase the romance quotient—just be sure it’s a welcome surprise. Pretend you are going somewhere mundane—say the mall—and then take an unexpected turn and pull out a carefully concealed picnic. Or, make the location of the picnic the surprise. Get your honey to help prepare and pack the picnic, thinking it’s just a normal picnic, but in a secret day pack or even an overnight bag and venture out into some scenic countryside. For a special occasion, make the planned picnic part of a larger vacation.

Blue Picnic Basket at CHEFScatalog.comDon’t skimp on the food

A fully loaded picnic basket for two that includes plates, cups, utensils, and cloth napkins at the least, will help you plan, since you won’t have to hunt down all the individual items. Many baskets also include a tablecloth, salt and pepper shakers, a cutting board, cheese knife, cooler compartment, and wine opener.

Plan your menu, focusing on simple, elegant food combinations such as antipasto platters with fresh fruit, cheese, a baguette, some chocolate, and wine. Don’t choose anything that will be messy, difficult to transport, or totally unromantic (like greasy hot wings). Since picnics are generally simple, adding a small touch of opulence can turn your ordinary picnic into a romantic one.

Here are some recipes you can try, just remember to keep your loved one’s preferences in mind as you plan and prepare:

City Bakery Cheese Gougeres

Savory drop biscuits—with a little heat.

City Bakery Cheese Gougeres Recipe at CHEFScatalog.comIngredients

  • 1 cup plus 2 teaspoons water
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup plus 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups finely grated Gruyere or Parmesan cheese

Cooking Instructions

Maury Rubin, owner of New York City’s renowned City Bakery, substitutes a cookie press for the customary pastry bag when making these savory hors d’oeuvres. The press makes quicker work of the preparation, too. Enjoy them hot or at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use a nonstick baking sheet. Insert a star disk in a cookie press.

Put water, milk, and butter into a medium saucepan and cook over low heat until the butter melts.

Meanwhile, sift the flour, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and salt together into a medium bowl. Set aside.

Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With a fork, beat slightly. Set aside.

When the butter mixture is liquid—but not boiling hot—add half of the flour. Increase the heat to medium. With a large wooden spoon, mix vigorously until the mixture forms a dough. Add the remaining flour and continue mixing vigorously until the dough is smooth and glistens slightly. Remove the pan from the heat and use the spoon to make a well in the center.

Add half the beaten eggs to the batter and mix vigorously until incorporated. Repeat with the remaining beaten eggs. Add 1 cup of the cheese and mix until melted and thoroughly blended. Cover the pot with a moist towel.

Working in batches, and keeping the remaining batter covered with the towel, place the batter in cookie press. Squeeze dough onto the prepared baking sheet, keeping two inches between each portion. Sprinkle some of the remaining cheese over the tops of the gougeres. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown and slightly hard on the outside.

Makes approximately 24 gougeres.

Maury Rubin, City Bakery, New York City

Sautéed Steak Salad with Tomato and Garlic

Sauteed Steak Salad with Tomato and Garlic Recipe at CHEFScatalog.comIngredients

  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound boneless top sirloin (or flap meat steak or London broil), about 1-1/4-inch thick
  • Olive oil for sautéing
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, cored, sliced into 1/4-inch slices or 2 cups small cherry tomatoes (cut in half if large)
  • 1 head lettuce, washed, dried, torn into bite-size pieces, or bag of assorted field greens
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion

Dressing

  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Cooking Instructions

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Season the steak evenly with salt and pepper. In a large sauté pan, heat a thin film of oil over medium high heat. When hot, place the steak in the pan and sauté until nicely caramelized 3-5 minutes. Turn the steak over. Continue sautéing until the internal temperature of the steak is 120 to 125 degrees on an instant-read thermometer (for medium rare), about 3-5 minutes longer depending on the thickness of the steak. Reduce the heat to medium if the steak is browning too quickly.

Remove the steak to a cutting board. Tent loosely with foil and let rest for 10 minutes.

In the same sauté pan, heat another thin film of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the minced garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the tomato slices and a pinch of salt. Toss with garlic and sauté long enough to just warm the tomatoes, about 30 seconds. Use the liquid from the tomatoes to deglaze the bottom of the pan and remove all of the caramelized bits. Add a little water if necessary. Remove from heat.

To prepare the salad

Cut the steak across the grain into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Place the lettuce and onion in a large bowl. Whisk the dressing to recombine and drizzle enough over the lettuce to lightly coat it. You do not want to drench the salad with the dressing. Top with a spoonful of the warm tomatoes and some of the steak. Drizzle with more dressing and serve.

Recipe provided by: Chef Shellie Kark, KitchenCUE, copyright 2010 Kol Ha’kavod, LLC. The information here is not to be used or reprinted without permission.

Orange and Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

Orange and Dark Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe at CHEFScatalog.comIngredients

  • 1-1/2 cups rolled oats, ground
  • 1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup Extravagonzo Blood Orange Infused Olive Oil (or regular extra-virgin olive oil with the zest of one orange, grated)
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, extra large
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate baking chips, 60 percent Cacao

July is National Picnic Month at CHEFScatalog.comCooking Instructions

Keep your cookie jar full with these tasty Orange and Dark Chocolate cookies. The orange infused olive oil adds a subtle citrus flavor. If you don’t have a suitable infused oil, use regular extra-virgin olive oil and add grated zest from one orange. Makes about 3-1/2 dozen cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray.

Grind oats and chop pecans (separately) in a blender or food processor. Transfer oats to a bowl and stir in flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Set pecans aside.

Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until lightened in color and fluffy. Add oil, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Beat until smooth and creamy. With the mixer running on low, add the dry ingredients. Beat until just combined. Stir in baking chips and pecans.

Drop dough by heaping teaspoonful, at least 1-inch apart, onto prepared baking sheets. Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, until firm around the edges and golden on top, about 10 minutes. Cool cookies for 2 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Love picnics? Then do we have some good information for you—right here on CHEFS Mix:

Your turn: In your view, what makes a picnic romantic? Is it mostly the people, the setting, the food, or the surprise?

Grilling Essentials at CHEFScatalog.com

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