Tag Archives: picnic

Best Food to Pack on a Road Trip

23 Jul

Many people may find this to be an admission of pure insanity, but I like a long road trip. That’s not the insane part, though. I like a long road trip with my kid.

Perhaps it is because, for the first year or so of his life, my kid hated riding in the car. Most people I know swore by putting their baby in his or her car seat and driving around in order to silence their kid’s fussing or screaming, but my kid had the exact opposite reaction to riding in a car. Whereas he would start out a car journey in complete calmness, by about 30 seconds in he would start fussing, then crying, then screaming in total agony. The whole time, I might add. The screaming wouldn’t stop until the journey came to a stop. Because of this, my husband and I, for the first year of our kid’s life, never went anywhere in the car. The only traveling our kid did was via a stroller or Baby Bjorn. Since it was impossible to make trips to the coast or the mountains via stroller, I think we’re still, all these years later, making up for lost trips. Because now? My kid is a champion road-tripper.

We’ve become pretty adept at it, too. We’ve learned which east and west-bound routes serve us best, which rest stops along I-5 have the most pleasant surroundings (I highly recommend the Randolph C. Collier Rest Area in Northern California for both lovely scenery and unsurpassed cleanliness), and most importantly, what types of foods to pack that will bring us not only energy, but also pleasure.

I try to pack a good variety of foods for our trips, and I try to arrange them into two categories: meals and snacks. Depending on how long our road trip will be, I might end up packing two meals and a handful of snacks, or sometimes just a good amount of snack foods.

For meals, I find it difficult to go wrong with a nice sandwich, packed with crisp vegetables and a nice slip of meat or cheese (or both). For our recent road trip to Eastern Oregon, I packed individual sandwiches on little ciabatta rolls (in the past, I have made these black bread rolls for sandwiches and, man, were they good). Much like with this stuffed picnic sandwich (which is also a great item to pack on a road trip), I like to tear a bunch of the bready middle out of the center of each roll, allowing for a tidier nest in which to nestle in your chosen sandwich fillings. If you are going to be forced to actually eat your meal in the car while driving, this also makes for a much tighter sandwich packet that is easier to contain. For the sake of ease, you can make make your sandwiches the night before you leave, wrap them up, then just toss them into a small cooler on the morning of your trip.

I have also had good success rolling some of these Indian turkey burgers into a tortilla with chunks of cucumber and strips of lettuce. If you are horrified by the idea of mixing Indian food with a tortilla, just close your eyes (but not if you are driving) and pretend that the tortilla is a chapati and you’ll be fine.

For a simpler spread, sometimes I just fill one bag with a selection of crackers, another with squares of sharp cheddar, and call it good. These are great with sliced vegetables while picnicking, or, if you’re traveling with other people, they can be stacked up and handed to you as you drive. For a different riff on this idea, try slices of sharp cheddar piled on top of slices of this no-knead apple bread, or perhaps this no-knead flatbread.

For snacks, I tend to lean heavily in the direction of things that are satisfying without being heavy or sweet. These granola bars are a huge hit on road trips. Lately I have taken to baking the granola bars in a 9” by 13” pan and baking them for a slightly shorter amount of time. This makes for a crisper, flatter granola bar that is great for a little snack while hiking or on the road.

I also like to make my own trail mix out of a cup each of roasted almonds and pecans, sometimes pumpkin seeds, and then a handful of various dried fruits (dried cherries, dried cranberries, and chopped up dried apricots are all good additions). I used to also add a handful of dark chocolate chips, but they tended to get a little messy after being tossed around in a warm car (also, my kid would pick out all the chocolate chips and then launch into a chocolate-fueled frenzy, which is something you want to avoid while trapped in a moving vehicle).

Fruits and vegetables are also important snacks. I have learned that the less juicy the fruit, the better. This means no peaches, nectarines, pineapple slices, or watermelon. Better choices can be found in grapes, blueberries, raspberries, sliced apples, or even sliced peaches and nectarines (so long as they can be eaten without being dropped because, oh, man, how unpleasant is it to accidentally sit on a peach slice in a hot car?). Basically, choose fruits that are unencumbered by pits or seeds, since you don’t want to have to deal with those things while driving.

If you don’t have room for fruit, or you don’t want to deal with it, you can always opt for a nice selection of fruit leather.

As for vegetables, baby carrots are standard for our trips, but blanched green beans are another crisp, delightful option. Sliced bell peppers and sliced cucumbers are also nice to have on hand, and they pair wonderfully with the aforementioned cheese and crackers.

And, because I am me, I can’t have a road trip without a little treat. These Mexican chocolate zucchini muffins are a delightful thing to have on hand, and their low sugar content won’t make you feel crazy while you sit in a car for several hours after eating them. We also took this tangerine zucchini bread on a recent trip, and it was great to have on hand for a little something sweet, yet not cloyingly so. The same goes for these carrot muffins, another pleasing, not-to-sweet treat.

We’re gearing up to take our annual summer trip to San Francisco, and you can bet that a wide variety of these foods will be coming along with us. Not to hammer in my previous mention of suspected insanity, but the drive is 12 hours long—each way—so the food we pack can make or break our enjoyment of the drive. It also helps that, without fail, we always hit a Dairy Queen as a special treat while driving through the hottest parts of the state. A small dipped cone (vanilla ice cream, chocolate dip) can perform near-magical  wonders in the heat.

Last Year: Grilled Peaches and Sausages with Almond Herb Bulgur

Tangerine Zucchini Bread

19 Jul

Our refrigerator is broken. This is certainly not a good thing, but it is, to be totally glass-half-full about it, certainly an interesting thing. Why? Because while perusing the contents of our warm refrigerator, I came across some long forgotten items that had been, over time, shuffled towards the back regions, never to be seen until disaster struck and I was forced to reckon with them.

But that’s all right! Because if one should make lemonade from lemons, one should also make delicious, moist, toothsome tangerine zucchini bread from freshly picked zucchini and long-lost tangerine marmalade.

The original recipe for this bread called for standard orange marmalade, but I think this tangerine boost really takes the bread over the top. In fact, if you can locate (or, if you are the marmalade-making type, conjure up on your own) different types of marmalade, like mandarin orange, satsumas, or any other citrus fruit, I’d bet this bread would take to it nicely. Even apricot jam, which the original recipe lists as a substitute for marmalade, would be a great addition.

I hate to cut this short, but the contents of the refrigerator and freezer are currently sitting in two coolers that are rapidly becoming no-so-cool, and I now have to figure out what I am going to make with a dozen eggs, half a head of cauliflower, two types of chutney, five bottles of hot sauce, three bunches of lettuce, a bunch of carrots, half an orange bell pepper, a jar of Dijon mustard, four jars of jam, a jar of fish sauce, a huge bottle of soy sauce, and some organic ketchup. And that’s just about half of the stuff from the refrigerator, never mind the freezer. Wish me luck.

Last Year: Highlights from a 1985 copy of Joy of Cooking, in which we learn how to cook muskrat and raccoon

Tangerine Zucchini Bread Recipe

Adapted from Tartine

As usual, I reduced the amount of both sugar and oil in this recipe. The original recipe called for almost a full cup of sugar total (¾ cup in the bread, plus 2 tablespoons sprinkled on top), but I cut the sugar content down to only 1/3 cup, swapped the granulated sugar for light brown sugar, and omitted the dusting of sugar on top. The result is just perfect, and with the marmalade and shredded zucchini to round things out, so moist and flavorful, it’s impossible to detect any loss of either sugar or oil.

1 ¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 large eggs, at room temperature

½ cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup light brown sugar

½ cup tangerine marmalade (or any other marmalade of your choice)

2 ½ cups grated, fresh zucchini, lightly squeezed to remove some of the excess juice

½ teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease and flour the bottom and sides of a 9” by 5” loaf pan, knocking out any excess flour.

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon in a sifter, then set aside on top of a sheet of wax paper or parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, sugar, and marmalade until combined. Add the zucchini and salt, and whisk to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Sift the flour mixture mixture directly into the bowl containing the egg and zucchini mixture. Fold the flour into the zucchini mixture until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, smoothing the top as much as possible. Bake in the center of the oven until a cake tester comes out clean, about 60 to 65 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then invert on to a wire rack, turn right side up, and allow to cool completely.

Serve at room temperature.

Semolina Flatbread with Arugula, Mint, and Spinach Pesto

25 Jun

Generally, when I gather together the elements to make a meal, I attempt to strike a reasonably healthy balance of protein, grain, and vegetable.  In the winter months, you’ll see a fair amount of polenta and pasta sitting in for the grain component, their hearty and warm properties providing the perfect bit of comfort one seeks to counteract the cold and drizzly weather.  In the summertime, when the sun beckons and our meals are almost exclusively eaten outdoors, we eat hunks of bread with our slices of cheese and heaping plates of garden vegetables.  And during the intervening weeks, which means now, when the sun appears only sporadically and our days are often still drenched with the cold and the wet, our meals are punctuated with foods that exist in between, not too hot, not too cold, but a rather Baby Bear-like middle ground.

A flatbread like this, hearty and crisp with semolina, slathered with a pert combination of spicy arugula, fresh mint, and lots of lemon zest, is the perfect example of the type of accompaniment I like with my meals on these days of in between.  It’s a great companion for soups (cold weather), or salads (warm weather), and it packs up perfectly for a picnic (dreamy weather).  Paired with yogurt-marinated chicken skewers and some slices of fresh raw bell pepper, it was the defining element of a springtime dinner last week, on a day that couldn’t figure out if it wanted to be rainy or sunny, so it decided to be both several times over.

But, guess what else?  This flatbread has a bit of a secret weapon.  In addition to making a fine side dish at lunch or dinner, it is also able to transform itself, with the addition of a single ingredient, into a fantastic breakfast meal.  By simply cracking some eggs onto the flatbread midway through cooking, your flatbread emerges from the oven as a cross between a breakfast pizza and the most flavorful eggs and toast you’ve ever had.  Don’t want to bother with making the dough in the morning then sitting around waiting for it to rise?  I don’t blame you.  Luckily, you can get around it by throwing the dough together the night before, then leaving it to rise in the refrigerator overnight.  Come morning, you’re one step closer to fresh flatbread dotted with baked eggs, and some great leftovers for lunch or dinner, rain or shine.

Last Year: Mango and Avocado Salsa

Semolina Flatbread with Arugula, Mint, and Spinach Pesto Recipe

Semolina Flatbread:

¾ cup warm water

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

1 ½ cups bread flour

½ cup semolina flour

pinch sea salt

1 teaspoon rapid rise yeast

In a small bowl, or in a measuring cup, whisk together the warm water, olive oil, and honey.

In a large bowl, whisk together bread flour, semolina flour, pinch of salt, and rapid rise yeast.  Pour the water mixture into the flour mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon.  When the ingredients are well combined (the mixture will look a bit shaggy), start kneading the dough, still in the bowl, with your hands.  Knead the dough, turning it over onto itself several times, until it is smooth and somewhat shiny, about 3-4 minutes total.  Form the dough into a ball.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top of the dough, then roll it around in the bowl to coat it all over with oil.  Cover the bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap or a moistened towel, and leave the dough to rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until it is large and puffy and more than doubled in size.  Alternately, you can cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then place it in the refrigerator to rise overnight.

While the dough is rising, make the pesto.

Arugula, Mint, and Spinach Pesto

½ cup packed fresh arugula

¼ sup packed fresh mint leaves

1 cup packed fresh spinach

1 large clove garlic, roughly smashed

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons roasted almonds, chopped, sliced, or slivered

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus another ¼ cup for topping the flatbread after it bakes

salt and pepper to taste

In the bowl of a food processor or in a blender, combine arugula, mint, spinach, garlic, lemon zest, almonds, olive oil, and ¼ cup of Parmesan cheese.  Add salt and pepper to taste (the cheese is a bit salty already, so you won’t require much additional salt).  Process or bend the ingredients until they are fully incorporated and have turned into a rich paste.  You will have to stop several times to scrape down the sides of the bowl or blender, but it is necessary in order to make sure all the ingredients are properly combined.

Makes about ¾ cup pesto.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place a pizza stone or heavy baking sheet on the lower middle rack of the oven as it preheats.

Line a rimless or overturned baking sheet with a large piece of parchment paper, and set aside.

When the dough has fully risen (if you are taking the dough out of the refrigerator after it has risen overnight, allow it to rest on the counter for 20-30 minutes so it can lose some of its refrigerator chill and is easier to work with), turn it out onto a well-floured surface.  Using your hands, shape the dough into a 14-inch by 10-inch rectangle, gently stretching and poking the dough in order to coerce it into taking shape.  Place the rectangle of dough onto the parchment-lined baking sheet.  Spread the pesto over the surface of the dough, leaving a ½-inch border around the edges.

Slide the dough, still on its sheet of parchment paper, onto the heated baking sheet or pizza stone in the oven.  Bake for 10 minutes, until the edges of the dough are golden brown and slightly puffed.

If adding eggs to your flatbread, crack 3 to 4 eggs into a bowl.  After the flatbread has baked for 5 minutes, carefully pour the eggs onto the flatbread, directing the eggs as far from the edges as possible (if the eggs are too close to the edges they will simply slide off onto the hot baking sheet, which makes an incredible mess).  Bake the flatbread for an additional 5 minutes, until the egg whites are fully cooked and the egg yolks are slightly runny.  If you’d like your eggs firmer, add them a minute sooner so they have time to bake a minute longer.

Remove flatbread onto a wire rack to cool slightly.  Sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese.  When bread has cooled a bit, cut into squares and serve.

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