When the sun heats up, cool off with a fun picnic spread outside

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published July 30, 2014

 Maddie Kunert, along with her mother, Coleen, enjoys a picnic at Metro Beach during a past summer season. Local food experts are offering tips and tricks to make the most of your picnic.

Maddie Kunert, along with her mother, Coleen, enjoys a picnic at Metro Beach during a past summer season. Local food experts are offering tips and tricks to make the most of your picnic.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

With plenty of summer left to enjoy, there’s no time like the present to take mealtime al fresco for a good old-fashioned picnic.

While the concept of picnicking is basically the same, there are lots of new and exciting ways to personalize your outdoor dining experience that even Yogi Bear might not have thought of. When it comes to food and location, local experts are encouraging families to think outside the basket.

As the executive chef for Busch’s Fresh Food Markets, Rebecca Wauldron is always looking for ways to put a new spin on old favorites in the kitchen. She said that creativity is key when planning a picnic menu, because the munchies will likely need to appeal to a variety of tastes and temperatures.

“First, you’ve got to figure out who you’re packing for, whether it’s adults or kids. For an adult picnic, you always want to bring the bottle of wine. Then, my favorite thing to do is bring a big pressed sandwich.”

The art of the pressed sandwich is actually easier than it sounds, she explained. Start with a hearty loaf of bread, such as a sturdy sourdough. Hollow some of the bread out of the inside and fill it with the sandwich fixins’ of your choosing — vegetables, meats, cheeses, you name it. Then press it tight and wrap the whole thing to go. Wauldron said it’s a great way to pack a lot of punch without the worry of fragile eats getting crunched on the way.

“When it’s pressed, it cuts into these really nice wedges. And if that bottle of wine smashes it in the basket, it only gets better. It’s like a party sub done in an upscale kind of way,” she said.

She also mentioned, for a more mature crowd, grilling up meats and veggies beforehand and serving them cold on site. Pregrilled chicken breasts or flank steak can pack all the flavor of a cookout without the hassle of firing up coals once you arrive. Opt for sides and sauces with a vinaigrette base versus mayonnaise, which could go bad in the heat of the day.

For the younger set, Wauldron said that small Mason jars can go a long way. Layering meals into the jars can look interesting, and the compact package makes packing a breeze.

“You could put little salads in them, or even little bits of dip and veggies. All you have to do is put the dip at the bottom and grab your carrot sticks or veggies and stick them in. They’re sturdy, easy to pack, and once you’re done with them, you can reuse them,” she said.

Kids could also play a factor when choosing the scene for a picnic, according to Mike Lyons, eastern district superintendent with Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township. For adults looking to have a quick picnic trip outside, any spot will do, including your local park. But for a longer day, he said locations like his park — formerly Metro Beach — are great options for families with kids, who could potentially get bored without fun activities around.

“I think the metro parks are perfect for picnicking because of all the amenities you can enjoy,” said Lyons. “From the pool to the slides to the squirt zone to adventure golf and par-three golf course, there’s a lot to do. And there’s 12 picnic shelters that people can reserve, or welcome any area of the park that fits their needs.”

Picnic-goers at Lake St. Clair Metropark like to take advantage of the shelters, according to Lyons, as well as the many picnic tables and stationary grills available around the property. Then there are those traditionalists who are just fine setting up shop atop a blanket underneath a shady tree. Bring a cooler with you, he said, and you’ve got the makings of a great family day outdoors.

“It gives you so much variety. If you have kids, there’s so much stuff they can do in the park that really adds to the picnicking experience.”