It seems that picnics are not what they used to be. Perhaps studied would be the word to express what they are today.
We're talking about creations; menus that invite fantasy--a picnic with Renoir, a stroll in the Tuileries, poodles padding alongside their mistresses in wide-brim hats and sun umbrellas, picnic baskets swaying in the hand of handsome devils, Beau Brummell , Laurence Olivier or somebody like that.
Like the one we witnessed at a French chefs' annual do, where the food was cooked by teams of the best chefs in Los Angeles.
Maybe a picnic over which the music of Mozart wafts gracefully. Like at the Hollywood Bowl.
Or a Rolls-Royce tailgate picnic at the race track on Derby Day.
Or a Napa Valley wine maker's picnic.
Or . . .
Whatever your fertile imagination can conjure up, as long as it's not old hat.
Well, we've been collecting such picnic menus for several months. As you will see, they are anything but old hat. And they are, indeed, studied.
None better stressed the presence of wine in today's elegant picnics than a Napa Valley-style picnic held in April at wine expert and host Robert L. Balzer's home, which overlooks a haze of greenery and pretty hills of Orange County. It would have pleased Renoir or Beau Brummell, too.
It certainly pleased the gathering of wine makers, such as Carolyn Martini of Louis M. Martini; Stuart Smith of Smith-Madrone Vineyards; Jack Cakebread of Cakebread Cellars, and Ed Sbragia and Tor Kenward of Beringer Vineyards. They all brought wines from their own vineyards to complement the menu, which chef Gary Danko of Beringer Vineyards had prepared. The emphasis was on products of California--avocado, walnut oil, Napa Valley extra virgin olive oil, fromage blanc from Sonoma, fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden, as well as the host of Napa Valley wines.
Warm scallop salad with roasted sweet red peppers and avocado was served with Cakebread Cellars 1983 Sauvignon Blanc. A roasted native veal loin with shallots and wild mushrooms was served with Beringer Vineyards 1983 barrel-fermented Chardonnay. A savory filo cheese tart was served with Louis M. Martini 1981 North Coast Merlot, and an almond pastry with lemon curd filling was served with Robert Mondavi Winery 1983 Moscato d'Oro, a sweet Muscat grape wine.
This menu, using the suggested wines or your own sampling, can be toted to a picnic site, but works much better when served in the garden with a kitchen at close hand, because of the last-minute heating. The foods, however, can be served at room temperature if taken to a picnic.
Then at Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia on Derby Day in April, members of the Rolls-Royce Owners Club and Bentley Drivers Club were picnicking on the infield. "The picnic aspect has grown to nearly match the importance of judging the cars," said Barney Bornstein of the Rolls club.
Early in the day, owners motor to assigned spots. Linens, crystal, silver and flower arrangements decorate the tailgate picnics, which this year emphasized "duck yellow" as the theme, inspired by a member's pale-yellow Bentley convertible that was custom-built in 1949 for writer Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. Naturally, everyone turned up wearing yellow, too.
The winning picnic menu went to Barbara and John Stephens, Ruth and Howard Gilliam and Ron and Ray Schwarts, who dined on a potluck menu of assorted salads, including curried chicken salad, Chinese beef salad, shrimp salad, fresh fruit, croissants and pastries, arranged in shell-shaped glass bowls nestled in a cluster of balloons.
All the salads are do-ahead and easy to serve from bowls.
A dessert idea for this or other menus came to us from the Domaine Chandon people. Simply marinate strawberries in Champagne to cover, then either drink the Champagne and eat the strawberries, or mix the Champagne with some creme fraiche to make a sauce for the berries.
Up in Berkeley this spring, we ran into Narsai David, a pioneer in pushing California into recognition through his work in the restaurant and gourmet delicatessen field. He had put together a simple delicatessen picnic made up of foods from his charcuterie .
The trick to the menu was to combine some delicatessen items--pate, chutney, chocolate sauce--with some baked items, such as a savory version of the French almond tart called le Pithiviers , which is sold fresh daily, and giant chocolate chip cookies, whose recipes we have tried only to match since David's recipes are unavailable. Savory Pithiviers can be prepared ahead or even frozen to use whenever the picnic mood strikes. The cookies can be prepared from the recipe for Oatmeal Pecan-Raisin Cookies provided to us by caterer J. Spector in Hollywood, or from your own files.
David used a fancy canned chocolate fudge sauce to make truffles. The thick fudge sauce is scooped with a melon ball scoop, then rolled in cocoa. A sauce for asparagus is made simply by adding a dash of steak sauce to mayonnaise. "Things can be simple while also good," David said.
The annual picnic at Harvard School of Club Culinaire Francais de Californie Los Angeles, made up chefs from more than 22 French restaurants and hotels in Los Angeles, took place on a brilliant, sunny Los Angeles day. A perfect day for a picnic. "Isn't this a picnic from a Renoir painting?" asked chef Michel Richard, who prepared the pastries. "What is so nice is that all of us chefs work together as a team to produce this menu."
Chef Michel Blanchet of L'Ermitage, who was this year's picnic chairman, provided the recipes for the menu, which served 800 members and invited guests. The menu, consisting of several entrees and accompanying dishes, can be adapted to three different menus. Poached salmon and cucumber salad would be perfect menu companions. Roast chicken served with ratatouille or Vegetables a la Greque would be another menu idea. Both vegetable dishes can be prepared a day ahead to serve cold. The brochettes of lamb, for those who plan to use a grill, would be ideal with Vegetables a la Greque. Assorted French pastries (store bought) and an assorted cheese tray round out any of the menu combinations.
One forms a healthy respect for organization when observing the teamwork involved in the French chefs' picnic. Most of the so-called "prepping" of ingredients had been done ahead at the respective chefs' restaurants. Once on the site, assembly of individual dishes took place mass production-style. Poached salmon was combined on a platter with its accompanying dishes to place on each table for service. The brochettes had been seasoned ahead and cooked at the last moment.
Here are some recipes from the various menus.
WARM SCALLOP SALAD WITH ROASTED RED PEPPERS
1 cup fish broth
2 shallots, minced
1 cup Sauvignon Blanc
1/4 cup white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Few strips peeled ginger
1 to 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup cold butter
1/4 cup walnut oil, about
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 pound scallops, cleaned
6 heads mache or red-leaf lettuce
1 small head radicchio
3 ripe avocados
3 large sweet red peppers, roasted, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup toasted walnut halves
Sprigs of herbs
Small black olives (Nicoise)
Combine fish broth, shallots, Sauvignon Blanc, vinegar, pepper and ginger in skillet. Bring to vigorous boil and boil until liquid is reduced to glaze. Blend in mustard. Add butter, bit by bit, to slowly form emulsion. Add walnut oil to taste. Keep warm.
Heat 2 tablespoons butter in another skillet. Add scallops. Saute until opaque, about 3 to 4 minutes.
To assemble salad, place lettuce and radicchio on 6 plates. Peel, pit and slice avocados and fan out onto greens. Arrange scallops and roasted peppers on plates. Sprinkle with walnuts. Garnish with sprigs of herbs and olives.
Note: Mache and radicchio are available at produce counters of many gourmet markets. Any colorful lettuces may be substituted. SAVORY FILO CHEESE CUPS
6 sheets filo pastry
1/4 cup hazelnut oil, warmed
Fromage Blanc Filling
Brush each filo pastry sheet with warmed oil and stack sheets. Trim stack to 15x12-inch square. Cut into 20 (3-inch) squares. Brush small cupcake tin with oil. Press each square dough into cup. Flatten corners to pan to form petals. Chill.
Pour Fromage Blanc Filling into formed cups. Bake at 350 degrees until cups are golden and mixture is lightly puffed. Makes 20 cheese cups. Fromage Blanc Filling
8 ounces fromage blanc (fresh goat cheese) or cream cheese
2 ounces medium-strong goat cheese
1/4 cup whipping cream
2 medium basil leaves, minced
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon hazelnut oil
Combine fromage blanc, eggs, whipping cream, salt and pepper to taste, basil, rosemary, thyme and oil. Mix until well blended. ROAST VEAL LOIN WITH SHALLOTS, WILD MUSHROOMS AND CREAM WITH CRACKED PEPPER
1/2 cup chopped parsley
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (2-pound) side of veal loin, boned, trimmed and tied
6 shallots, thinly sliced
3 1/2 cups veal stock or other meat stock
1 1/2 to 2 cups Chardonnay
2 large shiitaki mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1 cup whipping cream
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped mixed herbs (rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, parsley)
Mix parsley, garlic and olive oil to make paste. Rub entire surface of tied veal roast with garlic paste mixture. Place on rack in roasting pan. Roast meat at 350 degrees 1 hour or until meat thermometer inserted in thickest part of roast registers 160 for rare or 170 for medium.
Meanwhile, combine shallots with veal stock and Chardonnay in skillet. Bring to boil. Boil until liquid is reduced to thick glaze in pan. Add shiitaki mushrooms and whipping cream. Bring to second boil. Boil until slightly thickened or until coats back of metal spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add herbs.
Slice meat and arrange on platter. Pour sauce over meat slices. Makes 6 servings. ALMOND TART WITH LEMON CURD AND SEASONAL FRUIT
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds
1 1/4 cups flour, sifted
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla
Lemon Curd Filling
Sweetened whipped cream
Fresh cut fruit
Combine almonds, flour, sugar and salt in bowl. Add butter, bit by bit, rubbing into flour with hand. Stir egg and vanilla into pastry to form ball.
Roll out onto 12-inch tart pan with removeable bottom. Bake at 325 degrees until golden, about 20 minutes. Cool. Pour Lemon Curd into cooled pie shell. Chill until set. Garnish with whipped cream and fruit. Makes 1 (12-inch) tart. Lemon Curd Filling
10 egg yolks
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
3/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup butter
Mix egg yolks, sugar and lemon juice in top of double boiler. Cook, stirring constantly, over simmering water until mixture coats back of metal spoon. Do not allow to boil. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, bit by bit, until melted and smooth. FRENCH PICNIC BROCHETTES OF LAMB
2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into large cubes
2 onions, cut into squares
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Thread lamb cubes onto metal skewers alternately with onion squares. Place brochettes in shallow pan and sprinkle all sides with rosemary, tarragon, parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Heat coals on barbecue grill until hot. Add brochettes and cook until done as desired, turning often to brown evenly. Makes 6 servings. VEGETABLES A LA GREQUE
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 large tomatoes, cut up
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
3 zucchini, sliced
3 Japanese eggplant (long, thin eggplant), sliced
6 tiny artichokes, cleaned and leaves trimmed, optional
1 small cauliflower, broken into florets
Heat oil in skillet. Add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, until onion is tender. Stir in tomato paste. Cook, stirring, to blend with onion. Add tomatoes, wine, coriander and parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Place tomato mixture in blender container and blend until pureed. Return to pan. Add zucchini, eggplant, artichokes and cauliflower. Bring to boil, reduce heat and cook over low heat 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender-crisp. Makes 8 servings. CUCUMBER SALAD
4 cucumbers, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Place cucumber slices in bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Combine sour cream and lemon juice and blend well. Pour over cucumbers and toss to coat well. Makes 8 servings.
BARBARA STEPHEN'S CURRIED CHICKEN SALAD
1/2 to 1 cup golden raisins
1 cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons to full (11-ounce) jar Major Grey's mango chutney or to taste
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon coriander
3/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Dash cayenne pepper
3 cups diced cold chicken
1 green pepper, chopped
1 (11-ounce) can mandarin orange segments
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 apple, diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
Soak raisins in rum to barely cover. Let stand 30 minutes.
Combine yogurt, mango chutney, curry powder, coriander, garlic salt, mustard and cayenne in bowl. Blend well.
Combine chicken, green pepper, oranges, raisins with rum, green onions, apple and celery. Add yogurt mixture. Mix to coat ingredients well. Chill. Makes 6 servings. RUTH GILLIAM'S CHINESE BEEF SALAD
3 pounds flank steak
1 (12-ounce) bottle Italian dressing
1 green pepper, cut into strips
2 cups bean sprouts
1 (11-ounce) can mandarin orange segments
Place steak in shallow pan. Pour dressing over steak, turning to coat well. Let marinate in refrigerator 24 hours. Bake at 350 degrees 1 hour or until steak is tender or done as desired. Cut into 1-inch cubes. Toss with green pepper strips, bean sprouts and mandarin orange segments. Makes 8 servings. SHRIMP SALAD
2 cups medium-size cooked shrimp
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups cooked green peas
1/2 cup bottled cucumber dressing
1/4 cup sour cream
Combine shrimp, celery and peas in bowl. Mix well. Blend cucumber dressing and sour cream. Pour over shrimp mixture. Toss. Chill. Makes 6 to 8 servings. POACHED ASPARAGUS WITH FLAVORED MAYONNAISE
1 1/2 pounds asparagus
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons steak sauce or to taste
Trim tough ends of asparagus. Bring water in steamer pot to simmer. Place asparagus in steamer rack over simmering water. Cover and steam until asparagus is tender-crisp, about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on size of asparagus. Place mayonnaise in small bowl. Add steak sauce and blend well. Serve with asparagus. Makes about 1 cup sauce. SAVORY PITHIVIERS
1/2 pound thinly sliced cooked (pre-baked if watery) ham
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 (1-pound, 1-ounce) package frozen puff pastry
1/4 pound Swiss cheese, sliced
1 teaspoon water
Toss together sliced ham, brown sugar and mustard until ham slices are coated.
Remove frozen dough from package and roll out into rectangle about 18x9 inches. Cut into 2 (9-inch) circles. Fit one circle into bottom of 9-inch tart pan. Alternately layer sugared ham and cheese in center of dough.
Fit second circle of dough over filling. Press dough around ham and cheese in center of dough.
Mix egg with water. Brush surface with egg wash. Scallop edge using cookie cutter to press indentation around rim of pie. Using sharp knife, score glaze (without cutting through dough) to form sunburst effect. Glaze again with egg wash. Bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes to 1 hour or until golden brown. Makes 1 (9-inch) pie. J. SPECTOR'S OATMEAL-PECAN-RAISIN COOKIES
1 1/2 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter or margarine, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups oats
2 cups raisins
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Cream butter with granulated and brown sugars until light and fluffy, scraping bowl several times. Add vanilla and eggs, beating well after each addition.
Gradually stir in flour mixture. Stir in oats, raisins and pecans. Drop by tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees 18 minutes. Makes about 4 dozen.