A fully catered picnic

At least a year ago, maybe two, I was sitting in a park and I imagined a “pop-up picnic” vendor that would roll up with a cargo bike and sell full picnics complete with a blanket and a bottle of wine. In my fantasy, picnickers would get a tote bag filled with tasty food, plus all the things they’d need to enjoy them, like glasses and cutlery. I realized though that in reality you’d have better luck, financially, if the picnics were pre-ordered, the way one reserves and pre-pays for a supper club.

Partner in crime

When I told Morgan the idea, it pushed all his buttons. He loves organizing large, casual social meals and is willing to do elaborate planning and transporting of supplies to serve food to remote places. He packed nearly as many pantry items as clothes when we travelled to a vacation home by a lake. He’s held grilling parties in parks featuring his massive Weber grill. He’ll spend days preparing side dishes and shopping to host a crowd for a kräftskiva – a Swedish crayfish feast. So, yeah, he had my back on this one.

Getting serious

We decided we were ready to get serious. We picked a date — a Sunday so we could spend all day Saturday shopping and prepping. We’d keep the first event to a manageable size. We capped the number of tickets at 20. We figured 20 + us 2 was more than enough for us to try on the first go. After doing the world’s roughest back of the envelope calculations (aka pulling a number from our asses) we set the ticket price at €15. Due to both of us being too busy to sit down and write up the description, we only started promotion for it a week ahead of time.

We called our event Lazy Picnic because all guests needed to do was show up.

The menu

We planned a menu that could be vegan and vegetarian friendly. We left a couple of the main course dishes undecided until we knew how many vegetarians and vegans were attending. We closed the ticket sales on the Thursday night before so that we could settle all our plans and do preliminary prep on Friday. We ended with only omnivores, which primarily influenced the amount of meat to prepare.

We prepared 10 dishes (complete recipes below):

  1. Pandan gimlet – with choice of gin, vodka, or coconut water
  2. Toasted pecans with chiles and garlic
  3. Fresh fruit
  4. Sencha iced tea
  5. Morgan’s own sourdough bread
  6. Pork tenderloin
  7. Seared vegetables in a sesame dressing
  8. Potato salad with a mustard dressing and dill
  9. Black-eyed pea salad with fennel and dill
  10. Coconut tapioca pudding with peach compote
  11. Bonus: we also served hard boiled eggs since, for Morgan, it’s not a picnic without hard boiled eggs 🙂

Logistics

In the 5 days sales were open, we sold 10 tickets. So with us, that made 12 picnickers. I really liked this number; it was easy for me to imagine three groups of four portions. Based on who knew who, I made a seating plan with 4 / 3 / 5 people on three blankets.

Early in the week, I made pandan syrup and ordered 20kg of ice for delivery. On the Friday, I picked up cool boxes and plastic storage containers from Brooke. Morgan bought gin, pork, steeped gallons of tea, and prepped bread dough. He originally planned to also make the tapioca pudding, cook the beans, and sous-vide the pork, but the 33°C heat and the Brexit vote drained his energy.

Luckily, we tidily picked up the slack the next day. On Saturday we:

  • Had a coffee and made our shopping and to-do lists
  • Picked up reusable plastic cutlery, paper plates, paper cups for the pudding and matching napkins — and balloons!
  • Shopped for all the produce. Euro Gida is the best. Fun fact: we spend €35 on produce and €10 of that was just limes
  • Swung by the grocery store for eggs and mustard
  • Made a stop at the Asian market for tapioca pearls, tahini, and coconut water
  • Baked bread
  • Cooked, sliced, and packed the meat
  • Decanted and bottled a second steeping of tea
  • Decanted gin and vodka into plastic bottles (much lighter than glass!)
  • Toasted pecans
  • Cooked potatoes, sliced onion, and combined them with dressing
  • Cooked beans, and combined them with their dressing
  • Chopped fennel and tomato and put them in separate bags
  • Washed, dried, and portioned herbs, and packed them into ziplocks with paper towel
  • Made tapioca pudding, poured it into cups, and chilled the cups
  • Made a peach compote and put it on top of the chilled pudding
  • Cleaned and cut up sweet peppers and zucchini
  • Oh, and we ate a little lunch of scrambled eggs on pumpernickel, and taste-tested cocktails
chopping-tomatoes
Chopping tomatoes on Morgan’s gorgeous cutting board
pecans
Pecans, garlic and chilis post-toasting.
prepping-potato-salad
The potatoes and red onions prior to adding the dressing.

We did all this before dinner time, at which time Morgan drove me and a bunch of the supplies to my place before we went out separate ways for the evening.

On Sunday, Morgan seared the peppers and zucchini, chopped them, and made a dressing. He chopped herbs for the potato salad. He packed up all the food at his including the individual desserts and bottles of tea, along with some blankets and big serving bowls and drove over to mine.

For my part, I juiced 15 limes to finish the drink basis. I boiled 12 eggs.I got Fronx to slice bread while I chopped herbs and feta and combined the bean salad from its parts. I washed fruits and chopped pineapple. I pack up serving spoons and tumblers (because real glass for cocktails is worth the extra weight).

limes
LIMES
prepping-bread
We (well, Fronx) cut the bread as one of the last things before heading to the park. We served it wrapped in a towel.

The event

The event itself ran very smoothly. The weather was perfect – sunny and 24°C. The days before had been unbearably hot, followed by an evening of rain. Morgan and I arrived on time and picked out a gorgeous spot in long grass in the shade.

We laid out the blankets and arranged all our supplies on a blanket we called the “kitchen”, which was a bit away from the others. I put up balloons for a festive feel. (We made a point of not combining the red, white, and blue ones in one group, lest any strangers think we were nationalist Brits celebrating a Leave win.)

File_002
Marking our spot like good Germans before returning to the car for everything else.
File_000
The spot. We sent a pin out to guests about 30 minutes before the start

The guests streamed in from all sides, arriving a bit staggered. We had assigned blankets. All the food and drink was so easy to distribute that there was lots of opportunity for myself and Morgan to relax and enjoy the time as well. Theresa and Zoe played catch with their velcro ball set. I got to meet two friends of Jan, Stephen and Erin, who happen to also be our across-the-street neighbours!

picnickers
Lazy picnickers! That’s Morgan on the left in red.
drinks
Drinks and my toes! The bottle with red caps are sencha iced tea. The little bottle in the bottom left is 50/50 lime juice and pandan syrup. All else is accurately labelled.
pork-and-seared-vegtables
In the “kitchen” we plated the pork and vegetables – one serving plate per blanket. Everything but the desserts were served family-style
desserts
The tapioca puddings were a bit tricky to transport.
File_001
Me mixing drinks in the “kitchen”. You can see that I am using the classic Tiffany move of stirring drinks with my finger
relaxing-moment
Self portrait with gimlet
nice-weather
My toes and a drink on a blanket. What a lovely day it was.
the-end
At the very end, Fronx arrived just in time to eat leftovers and help carry things back to the car. In Fronx’ hand, and on top of the open METRO box, you can see the containers we used to serve the salads and fruit.

Budget

We budget €15 per person, so what were the actual costs?

Sugar + pandan leaves 2.00
Ice 20.00 Includes a €2 tip to the delivery person
Produce at Euro Gida 35.67 Fun fact: €10 of this was just limes
Paper plates 5.98 We only used half of these
Spoons, cups, napkins, balloons 13.00 Includes reusable items
Pecans 0.00 I had these as leftovers in my freezer
Meat, peaches, water, flour 22.41 We bought the water for the bottles
Tapioca, coconut water & milk, tahini 10.00
Gin 17.75
Eggs, cutlery, mustard, ziplocs 26.69 €10.76 was for reusable plastic cutlery
Car share rental fees 38.36 Doesn’t include a cab ride I took
Vodka 0.00 Unused in Morgan’s collection
Pantry items 0.00 We gained some too, so we call it even
TOTAL 191.86
Cost per person 15.99 This includes ourselves

Considering we did no budgeting, this is amazingly on target.

The recipes

Host your own catered picnic! Or just, you know, have these at home or take to a potluck or whatever I trust you can decide.

Pandan gimlet

To make a single gimlet:

  1. Fill a rock glass with ice
  2. Add the juice of half a lime (~10ml)
  3. Add 10ml of pandan syrup
  4. Add 40ml of gin, vodka, or coconut water
  5. Stir well to combine, and to release liquid from the ice to chill and dilute
  6. Top with 20ml of sparkling water, and give a little stir.

To make it easier to prepare these on a blanket in a park, I premixed equal parts fresh lime juice and pandan syrup at home.

Toasted pecans with chiles and garlic

Spread pecans on a baking sheet. Add whole crushed garlic cloves (skin on) and whole dried chilis. We used a head of garlic for 400g of pecans, and a handful of “facing heaven peppers”. Toast in a warm oven until they smell fragrant and begin to brown.

Allow them to cool a bit on the pan. In a bowl, drizzle with a neutral oil, and toss to coat. Sprinkle with a generous amount of sea salt, and toss again to distribute. Serve warm, or store in a sealed container until you serve them. They stay good for a few days.

Fresh fruit

Recipe from Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipes: Take some fruit. Cut them up or don’t.

We served cherries and grapes, because they are easy to pop in your mouth, and slices of pineapple with the core removed, but with the husk still on, to give something to hold on to when eating them with your hands.

Sencha iced tea

The tea was steeped at 10g/L, re-using the leaves for a second steep, and then mixing first and second 50/50. This makes a strong tea, which makes it perfect for serving over a full cup of ice.

Morgan’s own sourdough bread

This is so easy! Only three simple steps that have never failed me:

  1. Be friends with Morgan
  2. Be the first one to say “Pick me, please!” when he offers up a fresh loaf of sourdough
  3. Get Fronx to cut it

This time however, the bread was specially made for the picnic.

Pork tenderloin

Remove the “silver skin” from a whole tenderloin. Put a single whole tenderloin in large plastic bag long with a whole lime cut into quarters, two smashed peeled garlic cloves, a good slug of oil, and some salt and pepper. Remove all the air from the bag, and place in a 60°C water bath for 2 hours.

You can refrigerate the pork at this stage, still in the sealed bag, and finished them later, if you wish.

Remove the tenderloin from the bag, discarding the rest. Pat the pork dry. In a hot pan with oil, sear the tenderloins one at a time (to avoid crowding) to brown the outside. Let them rest until they are cool enough to handle to let juices absorb and to firm them up for cutting.

Slice into 2cm thick slabs on a slight angle (cuz that looks nicer). See the video below for mouthwatering goodness.

Either serve immediately, or place in a bag and refrigerate to serve cold. One tenderloin serves 3 to 4.

Seared vegetables in a sesame dressing

Cut up a selection of firm vegetables, such as bell peppers, zucchini, sweet onion, green asparagus. Leave them in fairly big pieces; bell peppers in eighths, zucchini and onion in quarters, asparagus whole.

In a very hot dry pan, with no oil or salt, sear the vegetables on all sides to get a bit of char. They should stay mostly crisp. Do this in batches so you don’t crowd them and end up steaming them.

After charring the vegetables, as they cool enough to handle, mix up the dressing. Morgan improvised the proportions using tahini, miso, lemon juice, and water (to get the right viscosity).

Roughly chop the vegetables into more manageable pieces, combine with the dressing over them, and turn it all over a few times to coat.

Serve immediately warm, or refrigerate and serve cold.

Potato salad with a mustard dressing and dill

Cut smallish new potatoes into halves. Cover with water, salt the water, bring to a boil and then simmer until just tender. Drain and spread out on a baking tray to cool and dry. This makes them a bit sticky and ready to grab the dressing. Pop a couple in your mouth – no one will know.

Have ready sliced red onion into thin half rings. Whisk together dijon mustard, a bit of cider vinegar, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, plus some white sugar to take the edge off. Put the cooled potatoes in a bowl with lots of extra room, cover with the sliced onions, and pour the dressing over. Gently turn all the ingredients to coat without crushing the potatoes or onions.

At this stage, leave in the fridge to cool for some hours, ideally overnight. Before serving, cover with finely diced green onion and chopped dill, again gently turning to combine. You could even do this stage a few hours ahead. Still really great the next day still.

Black-eyed pea salad with fennel and dill

This was made exactly as described in this New York Times recipe. To save time on the day of, the day before we prepared the following in separate containers:

  • the full amount of dressing combined with the cooked beans
  • the sliced fennel
  • the chopped tomato
  • dill, parsley, and chives – washed and dried and trimmed, and layered between paper towels

To serve the salad: chop the herbs, crumble the feta, and combine all the parts in a big bowl. Reserve a bit of herbs and feta to garish the finished salad.

Coconut tapioca pudding with peach compote

The pudding part was a slight variation of the recipe in Smitten Kitchen. (We omitted the eggs to keep it vegan. The version with eggs tastes richer.) We cooled the pudding in cute paper cups.

To make the compote, we blanched peaches (to peel them), then puréed the flesh. We heated up the purée to a simmer, and added a corn starch slurry to thicken slightly. We poured the compote over the set puddings and chilled again.

To serve, garnish each with a small piece of fruit and/or a leaf of mint or basil. We used a thin slice of nectarine and small leaf of basil for each.

Hard boiled eggs

I followed the Joy of Cooking’s method for hard boiled eggs: place room temperature eggs in a single layer in a pot, and cover by 1 inch with cold water. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat, and let sit for 12 minutes for medium eggs, or 15 minutes for large. Run them under cold water to stop cooking.

Verdict

All in all, 5 out of 5 stars. Would repeat.

To consider for future times: do we try to stay in the €15 per person budget (we did have extras, after all) or do we charge a bit more, or do we say the same thing we said this time, which was that it was great fun to put in the effort to host such an event and only end up each spending €20?

leftovers
I had leftovers for dinner on Monday. This is the only photo of the finished salads I have. I was so occupied with relaxing, I didn’t get one at the park.

4 thoughts on “A fully catered picnic

  1. This is very impressive! I love this idea and might be sharing it with the real cook in my framily, Esther (aka BFF). Next time, I say charge the extra 5 euros and add a cheese/meat course, because no picnic is complete without that (at least to me).

    Liked by 1 person

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