Friday, July 5, 2013

Picnics Then and Now

Yesterday was Independence day and George and I are so bad at having fun these days that it took us all day to decide what to do.  The fireworks we attend are on July 3, so that really wasn't on the table.  I suppose that we could have hunted down another show but one is enough for us.  Anyway, we messed around all morning then worked all afternoon, then headed to the local lake for a summer picnic.

We are also bad at picnics. Growing up for me a picnic involved my mom packing all day the day before, then us piling in the truck and travelling to one state park or another. Then my dad would set up an elaborate dining shelter constructed from various tarps and clotheslines and other camping equipment.  We would turn on the country station, settle in and "people watch" while Dad built a fire and roasted a five course meal.  My job was to get as wet, muddy and sunburned as possible during all this. (I remain skilled at this and can still manage to go from middle aged professional lady to 8 year old redneck child in about 15 minutes.)

Flash forward 35 years and to our family picnics.  These are usually a part of a vacation or day trip  to a hike/battlefield/produce pickup/etc. I pack the Official Reese Family Hoagie.  We hop in the car, drive until lunch, find a park and jump out.  In approximately 15 minutes the entire picnic takes place. I unpack my Go-Bag, unpack the hoagie, a bag of chips and some fruit.  George reads a map while we eat, run to the bathroom, and pack back up.  If it is raining, the picnic takes place in the car.

We go on a lot of day trips, and this strategy works for us. It has several advantages in that we have an economical lunch, avoid fast food restaurants (as I write this, we haven't been to McDonald's in at least 10 years...) and we get to see a lot of state parks around the region.  But  it's not really a picnic.

Last night we came close to something in the middle of these two types of picnics:  I did not cook on site, but I made a Couscous Salad (adapted from Giada after last weeks' cooking show watching).  I picked up some fried chicken from the grocery store along with a loaf of Italian bread and a hunk of watermelon.  We packed up Rebecca's patriotic cake and a gallon of iced tea.  We headed to Moraine State park and grabbed a table with a view of Lake Arthur.  George even got out a chair!!! We used a real table cloth (OK it was a sheet), ate a leisurely dinner, then hung out for about 2 hours while Rebecca picked berries, Julie took a nap on the picnic bench, and George and I just relaxed.

Maybe we will get the hang of this someday.  Maybe our grandchildren will need to be hosed off before we come home when we take them for picnics...

 Official Reese Family Hoagie 

(Feeds 5)
1  loaf Italian bread, cut in half, top to bottom..  You can scoop out some of the bread from the top half if you think it's too bready.

Layers of lunch meat, cheese and veggies as desired.  

Cut as appropriate for shape of  loaf.  I usually cut it in quarters, once lengthwise, then once crosswise, the cut some of the quarters into eighths. 

Store in sandwich bags, pack dressings separately.  Picky people remove what they don't want

Go Bag

I keep this packed at all times for quick access with: 

Paper plates and plastic ware.
A few water bottles
Sharp knife
Roll of paper towels
Assorted bags for garbage and collection of berries, interesting rocks, shells, dead animals, etc)
Twister mat (this works as a table cloth, or mat to sit on if there is no table, or a makeshift tent or raincoat, or I suppose a form of entertainment if you get really bored.)
Hand sanitizer
Tube of sunblock
Tube of bug repellent
Emergency snack (hard candy or animal crackers or granola bars)

Couscous Salad

Dressing:1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil2 tablespoons cider vinegar1 1/2 teaspoons paprika1 teaspoon kosher salt1 T Lemon Juice

Whisk together until smooth.

Couscous:1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil1 1/3 cups couscous
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Saute the couscous untill browned.  Add 2 c water and bring to boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until done.  Cool. Add to dressing with:

2 cups packed baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped1 tomato, seeded and chopped1/2 c good feta, crumbled1/4 c chopped green pepper1/2 c chopped cucumber
1/2 c chopped red onionKosher salt

Chill and serve.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The New Stuffed Zucchini

I love my stuffed zucchini recipe, I really do.  The only thing I don't like about it is that I can't find small squash around here after about July 4th and the farmer's markets don't hit full speed until about Mid July.  Also, I have a bunch of new friends at work who are vegetarians and I have been thinking about increasing my repertoire of vegetarian main dish recipe that will fit my fix and freeze lifestyle.  I was watching cooking shows last Saturday morning and I saw Rachel Ray do something like this:

Zucchini Rollups 

2 medium firm zucchinicooking spray

Slice the zucchini lengthwise and spray both sides with cooking spray, sprinkle with salt.
Roast at 350 for about 20 minutes or unit bendy
Cool and drain.

1/2 c diced sweet onion
2 cloves minced garlic
2T olive oil
1 T Italian seasoning
4 c fresh spinach

Saute until done, cool.

Combine cooled veggies with:

2 cups ricotta cheese
1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten

Place filling mixture on zucchini slices and roll up. Freeze or place in baking pan and top with a small amount of jarred pasta sauce.  Bake at 350 until hot.

I made my version for dinner last Saturday and it was a big hit with me and with George.  Rebecca and Julie ate it  few bites at least and didn't really complain, so I am considering that a moderate hit.  I took the leftovers to Melissa, and she liked it too.  I haven't tried freezing it yet, but I can't see why it wouldn't work.  I am also planning to give it a shot with eggplant.  

Marge's Sandwiches

It is that time of year again where I get really bored with cooking.  I am exhausted when I get home from work and it's hot and everyone is grumpy.  I am greeted at the door (or on the cell phone) with "What's for supper?" quickly followed by "What are we doing this evening?" dinner lately has consisted of sandwiches from frozen stocks of sloppy joes, ham bbq, pulled pork, or something similar. My recipes for the sloppy joes and ham bbq come from a friend of my Mom's growing up: Marge MacAdoo.  Marge had 4 boys and worked shifts at the local glass plant. Somehow my summer memories are filled with our two families spending weekends camping and fishing and going on vacation together, always with at least one of the meals being one of these sandwiches.  Looking back that seems like a huge accomplishment to me.  I don't remember Marge considering herself a fabulous cook, but her sandwich recipes have gotten me through many busy nights and weekends of my own.  And I have never once bought a can of Manwich.

Marge's Sloppy Joes

1 lb hamburger
1 small onion, chopped
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 t worchestershire sauce
1/2 t dry mustard or 1 t prepared yellow mustard
1 1/2 t vinegar
1 T brown sugar or molasses
1/2 c catsup
1 t chili powder

*these days I usually at least triple this and freeze in 4 portion batches.

1) brown the ground beef  and onions
2) add the rest of the ingredients, mix and simmer 30 minutes or until reduced.

Marge's Ham BBQ

1 lb chipped chopped ham (these days I use Larry's Ham from Schnurr's)
1 catsup
3 T brown sugar or molasses
2 T cider vinegar
2 T worchestershire sauce
1/2 c water

Mix all ingredients and simmer 20 minutes or until thickened.

*these days I usually at least triple this and freeze in 4 portion batches.