Recently I taught a cooking class featuring locally grown foods. As it is presently late spring/early summer in New Jersey there is not a whole lot of abundant produce, but with the help of my local community supported garden, some tidbits from my own organic garden, a little of this and a little of that I was able to create a menu inspired by the idea of a summer picnic in the countryside. No need to travel far, however, as these recipes will taste just as delicious with your feet up on the back porch railing or in your city apartment with the air conditioner cooling you down.
When preparing my classes the first thing is to come up with a menu that will appeal to a wide range of palates. Consideration for dietary restrictions requires recipes that can be adapted without much difficulty. Ease of preparation and time restraints play into the planning, but with whole grains, locally grown, a few extra steps can be needed to bring the dish to a satisfactory conclusion. I will make note of cooking alternatives as we go along so as not to discourage you from trying the recipe. Here is the menu that will travel well in a cooler, and spread out on a picnic blanket will look like a photo shoot for a food magazine. I hope you enjoy it all.
Bread, Cheese, Wine
Crisp loaf of French Country Bread
Assortment of local goat or sheep cheese
Almond Feta Cheese (vegan)
Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir
Young Vegetables with Aioli Mayonnaise
Flat Bread Panini with Chevre or Soy Cheese
Country Wheat Berry Salad
Fresh strawberries and blueberries with Coconut ice cream and Black Current Vinegar
Almond Feta Cheese w/ Herb Oil
This is a really delicious non-dairy feta cheese featured in the April 2009 issue of Vegetarian Times. Use it as a spread on bread, in a sandwich wrap or lightly steamed vegetables.
Yields: 4 servings
1 cup whole blanched almonds
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves
1. Place almonds in medium bowl, and cover with 3 inches cold water. Let soak for 24 hours. Drain soaking liquid, rinse almonds under cold water, and drain again. Slip off the almond skins and discard.
2. Puree the peeled almonds, lemon juice, 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, salt, and 1/2-cup cold water in a food processor 6 minutes, or until very smooth and creamy.
3. Place large strainer over bowl and cover with three layers of cheesecloth. Spoon almond mixture into cheesecloth. Bring corners and sides of cloth together, and twist around cheese, forming into orange-size ball and squeezing to help extract moisture. Secure with rubber band or kitchen twine. Chill 12 hours or overnight. Discard excess liquid.
4. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Place unwrapped ball of cheese on a non-stick cookie sheet and bake for about 40 minutes or until top is slightly firm. Cool, then chill.
5. Combine remaining 1/4-cup olive oil, thyme, and rosemary in a small saucepan. Warm until very hot but not simmering. Cool to room temperature. Drizzle herb oil over cheese just before serving
Young Spring Vegetables with Aioli Mayonnaise
Yields: 4 servings
2 cups broccoli heads
6 baby white turnips, with greens removed
12 small creamer potatoes
6 fresh radishes with greens removed
3 garlic cloves
11/3 cup egg-free Vegenaise or mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the vegetables, one type at a time, until tender, including greens. Remove from water with a slotted spoon and set aside.
2. Press the garlic into the Vegenaise and whisk together with the dill and chives. Salt to taste. For superior results grind the ingredients with a stone mort and pestle.
3. Serve sauce on the side to dip vegetables or as a sauce spooned over the vegetables.
Flat Bread Panini’s
Yields: 2 servings
Feel free to add your favorite combinations of ingredients to your panini, but if you overload the bread it will eventually fall apart when transporting. Less is better in this instance.
2 spelt or other tortilla type flat bread
½ cup grated soy or goats cheese
1 green onion, minced
Handful of fresh greens
Fresh pesto or aioli mayonnaise
1. Sprinkle the grated cheese across one tortilla, then the green onions, and the greens.
2. Spread the second tortilla with pesto or mayo, place over the first tortilla and spray the top with olive oil.
3. Spray a round heavy skillet or griddle with olive oil and lay the tortilla into the heated pan. Cover and cook on med-low for 1-2 minutes. Watch for browning and cheese melting.
4. Remove cover and turn over, re-cover and cook until the cheese is melted and the greens are wilted. Slice and cool before packing for the picnic.
Wheat Berry Salad
Yields: 6 servings
1-cup soft wheat berries
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup dried cranberries
1 carrot, grated
1-tablespoon fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
½ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1-cup arugula, chopped
½ cup goat’s milk or almond feta cheese, crumbled (optional).
Dressing: ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil * juice of 1 lime * 3 tablespoons fig balsamic vinegar * 1/2 teaspoon Ume Plum vinegar * pinch of stevia powder or 5 drops of stevia liquid
1. In a medium saucepan soak the wheat berries over night or minimum 4 hours in three cups of water.
2. Add the salt, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Allow to simmer until tender about 1 hour. (Cooked in a pressure cooker allow 40 minutes, in a crock pot cook overnight or 8 hours on low)
3. When done spoon into a large bowl and allow to cool.
4. When cool add the cranberries, grated carrot, arugula, basil and cheese, mixing well.
5. Toss with dressing mixture. Cover and chill, if time allows, for 4-24 hours.
6. Just before serving, stir in toasted pumpkin seeds.
Strawberries and Ice Cream with Black Current Vinegar
When serving your picnic at home the non-dairy coconut ice cream is a really nice touch. For the picnic away you should serve the fruit and vinegar and save the ice cream for when you get home. Feel free to change the combination of fresh berries to suit your taste.
1 pint strawberries
1 pint fresh blueberries
1 pint coconut or pineapple coconut ice cream
Black current vinegar
1. Slice the strawberries and place in bowls with the blueberries.
2. Scoop the ice cream into the bowls.
3. Just before serving drizzle the vinegar over the berries. Use a light hand, as you just want a taste.