Upgrade your Fourth of July picnic

Fourth of July means it’s eating time! But let’s think beyond the usual burgers, hot dogs, and chips scenario. Here are eight (yes, eight!) recipes that will ensure that your Independence Day grub is delicious, fresh, and different.

This weekend, we’re bound to be doing some eating outside. The Forth of July and picnics go hand in hand. There’s just nothing else like sipping on a Budweiser while spitting some watermelon seeds on to your bare feet. Grilling hamburgers and hot dogs is an American pastime, right? It’s the Fourth of July, y’all – we have to have a cookout!

There is a simple pleasure in enjoying our food in the great outdoors. If weather permits, the back porch or poolside makes any ordinary meal a little more special, doesn’t it? Somehow, the addition of sunshine and fresh air can make our food more vibrant. You know what I’m talking about: a hot dog inside equals lazy dinner; hot dog outside is different.

Okay, but seriously? I don’t want to make hot dogs for my Fourth of July picnic this year. I’m a cook, dammit – maybe not a chef, but a pretty stinking good cook. I can’t just throw burgers on the grill and call it a day. And as crazy as it may seem, I usually pick these very moments to try out new recipes. It’s a holiday! Call some friends, get them on board with a picnic dinner – and treat them to some new fabulous foods. If you’re super ambitious, come out to one of the Saturday morning farmers markets and you can find most of the ingredients for the recipes I’m suggesting right there.

Simplicity is the name of the game here. I’ll take the time to prepare food ahead. I don’t want to slave away during the picnic. No! I want to chill with my friends and eat some really good eats, too, don’t you?

For starters, what’s a holiday without a festive drink? Forget the canned beer (well, save it for later in the night, maybe)… try iced lemonade with vodka and mint. Put it in either recycled gallon jugs or several mason jars already portioned out.

Need something other than chex mix to pick at while your party is getting started? What about an appetizer like brie with herbs in a baguette?

Main courses are always the trick to transportable fare, but wraps are an excellent choice for a picnic. They’re easy to make ahead, transport, and handle, whether you’re sitting at a table or on a blanket. I’ve got a trio of favorite wraps to share with you: a grilled flank steak, a Mediterranean, and a Cuban. When feeding a crowd, big or small, providing some choices where easily done is a great thing to keep everyone happy (and eating!).

For the sides, I like things that get tastier as they sit. Too often, green salads just wilt in the weather and not only look poor, but also start to loose their great flavor. I recommend these varieties of salads for your picnic. And remember, sometimes the simplest of ingredients yield the most delicious results. A light Dijon vinaigrette highlights the flavors and textures of the crunch carrots and toasted almonds in a fresh carrot salad. And then, with farm-fresh corn, peppers, and a cilantro-lime vinaigrette creating its own colorful salad, your mouth will explode before the sky starts to (lame firework pun, huh?). All of this is to say that you will not be having wilty salads at your picnic. No, no! The juices that these salads sit in just make them more flavor-filled as time goes by.

Gotta have dessert, right? What about a peach pound cake? This is a refreshing fruit-filled twist on a classic recipe. Pound cakes are great – easy to transport, easy to eat, no frosting to melt, and you don’t even need a fork! Simply slice it up and hand it out.

The outdoors is a great venue of self-serve food. Depending on where you are, you can figure out a way to set up your meal buffet style, and watch it disappear. Wrap up plastic-ware in napkins and tie them with ribbon or twine. Get some heavy-duty plastic plates – strong enough to cut on if need be! If your wraps are wrapped, your guests will just grab. I would suggest a little marker on the outside of the parchment just to indicate which wrap they’re taking.

Still looking for places to enjoy your upgraded picnic? Your backyard will suit just fine, but if you’re looking for a destination that includes Independence day festivities, be sure to check out your local neighborhood goings-on.

Dish it up, Richmond!

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Kelly Blanchard

Kelly Blanchard loves thinking about, preparing, consuming, and serving good food. Believing that life is to short to eat the same stuff over and over, she loves to test new eats on her friends and family. Kelly loves her coffee-addicted hubbie, her two little blonde-haired babes, all things sweet, black tshirts, and the color pink.

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