Archive for April, 2010

Deborita’s Famous Travel Sandwiches

Long ago the Earl of Sandwich was so engrossed in a game of cards that he refused to leave the table for a meal.  Being an Earl, he had servants to take care of his every whim.  In this particular game of cards, his whim required a creation that would change the eating world forever.  “Jeeves dear sir” I’m sure he said, “put a bit of the roast between two slices of bread, oh and a bit of mustard sauce. Bring it to me straight away.”  Thus, the sandwich was born.

Properly made, sandwiches are the perfect travel food.  They hold up well to packing and can be an entire meal. Following a few guidelines will keep your sandwich delicious, not soggy:

  • Omitting tomatoes unless they are very firm and you seed them (which really makes them unworthy of eating)
  • Drying lettuce and other greens or waiting until you have arrived at your location to add greens to your sandwich
  • Wrapping each sandwich well in wax or butcher paper, then cutting into portions and re-wrapping in plastic wrap or wax paper
  • Avoiding soggy lunch meats (boiled ham, I’m looking at you)
  • Use scallions in place of onions or save the onions until you’ve arrived at your venue before adding them to your sandwich to avoid making everything taste like onions

My stepmother makes the most amazing sandwich for road-trips: they are filling, delicious and a great healthy alternative to fast food.  Additionally, they travel well because they don’t have any mayo or other things that will spoil and tend not to get soggy.  (Please, follow all the guidelines set forth by the USDA regarding proper storage temperatures.)

Deborita’s Famous Travel Sandwich

1 Large Sourdough Baguette

8 oz lowfat vegetable cream cheese, softened

2 carrots, shredded into ribbons with a vegetable peeler

1/2 an English cucumber, peeled and seeded, shredded into ribbons with vegetable peeler

3 red peppers

1 pint alfalfa sprouts

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 clove of garlic, minced

zest of 1/2 a lemon

1/2 cup white wine or lemon juice

3 tbs olive oil

salt and pepper

Roast the red peppers under the broiler, charring on each side and turning frequently.  You want them to be black on all sides, then remove them to an ice bath.  Once cooled the charred skin should slip right off and the seeds will easily come out.  Wrap in paper towels to remove excess moisture then blend in a blender with 2 teaspoons olive oil. Heat remaining oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Season chicken breast with salt and pepper. When the oil shimmers add lemon zest and garlic until it becomes fragrant, then add the chicken.  Cook on one side for 4 – 5 minutes then flip and continue sauteing for 3 minutes.  Add wine/lemon juice and cover pan to cook on medium low until chicken is done. (Depends on the thickness of the breasts.) Remove chicken from cooking liquid and chill in the refrigerator. Once chicken is cooled slice thin. Shred carrots and cucumbers and wrap in paper towels to remove excess moisture. Slice baguette lengthwise and scoop out some of the spongy bread in the middle to make room for the fillings.  Spread the cream cheese, cucumbers and alfalfa sprouts on one half of the bread and on the other spread the red pepper pesto, carrots and chicken.  Season with salt and pepper, then sandwich the halves together and wrap tightly in wax or butcher paper.  Cut the sandwich into individual servings and wrap each of the portions tightly in plastic wrap.  This sandwich tastes better after chilling a few hours.  Serve with potato chips, an apple and iced tea.


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A more comfortable picnic

Eating al fresco and generally sans table can be imposing.  Balancing a cup, plate, napkin and cutlery while trying to keep the food on your plate or in your mouth and off your person is quite the task at times.  To alleviate the balancing act and create a relaxed event for all involved, here are some tips:

Ditch the disposable plates, cutlery and cups

  • Not only is it better for the environment, sturdy plastic, acrylic, Corelle or even cheap thrift store china is better than the disposable stuff.  You can go to your local thrift store and pick up plates, cups, drinkware and silverware for pennies…literally. Because it’s so cheap and probably doesn’t match, it won’t matter if a plate gets chipped or a spoon gets buried in the sand at the beach.  Worried about clean up?  Bring a wet dishrag in a ziplock bag and wipe away most of the food from the plates before you leave your picnic area and finish the cleaning process once you get home.
  • Wine glasses are easier to balance on a plate.  With one hand you can set the wine glass on your plate and pinch the foot of the wine glass against the plate.  A good trick for cocktail parties and picnics alike!
  • I am explicitly on Team Cloth Napkin.  Buy some.  They don’t have to be expensive and you can use them in your house too.  I won’t tell.

Food should be in small pieces

  • Bite size hors d’oeuvre and “finger” foods are perfect picnic foods
  • Meat should be sliced into fork size pieces
  • There should be no need for knives at a picnic other than a knife to cut cake/cheese/fruit for communal use

Keep saucy or soggy  foods to a minimum

  • Dress and toss salads with dressing so it is evenly distributed throughout the greens
  • Try coleslaws and pasta salads with fewer wet ingredients

Really big blankets

  • The more real estate you cover with your blankets the better.  Who knows how many people might need a nap after lunch.
  • If the ground is a little soggy, grab your trusty blue tarp and then put your pretty blanket over top.
  • If you and your friends are prone to naps or have problems sitting on the ground for long periods of time, it might be useful to invest in some outdoor only throw pillows.

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Hanami 2010

Washington DC's famous cherry blossoms

Hanami in Japanese translates to “flower viewing” and is a time for all to recognize the rebirth of the earth after a long winter.  The Japanese celebrate this rebirth by joining family and friends underneath the cherry trees for a picnic.  During the day the crowd is mostly families.  In the evening, red lanterns illuminate the underside of the trees and the young people come out.

For the last four years that I have been in Washington, I have celebrated Hanami with friends.  I taught myself to roll sushi – which is much easier than you think – and remembered how to fly a kite.  Taking my lead from traditional Japanese Hanami parties, the menu reflects Japanese tastes.

Menu for Hanami

Sake or Plum Wine

Edamame with salt

California and Cucumber Rolls

Chicken Yakitori

Tamago Yaki

Soba noodles with scallion

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A Few Thoughts on Outdoor Dining

Why is it that eating outdoors makes food taste better?

Is it the scenery, menu or the relaxed attitude that makes it more enjoyable than a high-end restaurant?

Over the past few years I have thought deeply on this quandary.  One week I will be convinced that it is the return to the earth that makes open air eating worthwhile – sand between the toes and chirping of birds add to the experience.  Other times I am certain that the mixture of sun, air and breeze adds a flavor to the food consumed.  A feast of the senses – a grand vista laid forth by God, the song of the wilderness, smell of the earth, colors of the meal, the texture of each morsel add up to a complete experience.

Other times it is the relaxed nature inherent in picnicking and the removal of artificial customs that makes dining al fresco the most enjoyable.  There are no waiters to tip, no elbows to keep off the table, and if you happen to fall asleep on the picnic blanket after the meal, just be sure not to snore too loudly.

Finally, there is something primal about breaking bread with friends and family on a blanket under the sky.  Class differences are stripped – the picnic can be an elaborate multi-course affair served with silver on china and crystal or a simple potluck brought by friends.  The occasion can be fancy – a concert at Glyndebourne with a picnic eaten in a tuxedo or a casual gathering in the nearest park enjoyed in jeans.  Nevertheless, a picnic will be memorable, whatever the menu, whatever the scenery.

Picnicking has become a passion of mine.  Here at Grazing in the Grass, I will bring you a menu a week most often derived from a theme, delivered each Thursday for a Saturday picnic and ideally much more.  I hope you enjoy the blog and  check back frequently.

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