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Fresh Air Feasting

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Originally, all meals were picnics, sort of, but then dining rooms were invented. And just about the time they became common, people started to rediscover the pleasures of eating under the sky.

In the Middle Ages, Asian monarchs from China to the Middle East escaped the claustrophobia of palace life by going on hunting parties, which were also picnics, because the hunters always took along some food. (Even a king can’t be sure of bagging a stag.) The Caliphs of Baghdad had the custom of bringing a meat pie the size of a wagon wheel, which would still be warm by the time people felt like eating.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Jul. 08, 1998 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 8, 1998 Home Edition Food Part H Page 2 Food Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
The Japanese name for Honey Ginger Sponge Cake, Kasutera, was misspelled in the recipe name in “Picnic Under the Clear Blue Sky: Bento Box It” (July 1).

And then there was Omar Khayyam, who wrote possibly the most famous poem about a picnic:

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine,

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A book of verse and thou

Beside me, singing in the wilderness--

Ah, wilderness were Paradise enow.

Actually, Omar’s 12th century verses are even more picnic-like than Edward Fitzgerald’s famous translation reveals. They call for a leg of lamb, not a book of verse. Evidently, that sounded unromantic to the 19th century and maybe a little racy.

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People sometimes ate outdoors in medieval Europe, but the ideal there was always the formal banquet until the 17th century. Then it suddenly became fashionable to serve a cold buffet called a collation, which had originally been the name of a light dinner after an ecclesiastical conference. By preference, a 17th century collation was held in a garden.

Cold collations moved out into the woods in the 19th century so the Romantics could sigh over nature. Typically, they hauled around huge picnic hampers stuffed with cold cuts, pastries and wine. The people in Jane Austen novels weren’t about to starve just to enjoy a view.

But this wasn’t called picnicking yet. A picnic was originally the same as a potluck, to which everybody brings part of the meal. Of course, this was a natural way to cater the food for a pleasure outing, so by the 1860s, a picnic finally settled down to being an outdoor meal.

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The Fourth of July is one holiday nobody celebrates indoors. If you don’t go picnicking, you at least haul everything you’re going to eat out to the backyard. We have three Independence Day picnic menus to suggest this year.

Recent Times Test Kitchen intern Danae Campbell has created an eclectic California cuisine sort of meal based on a lamb sandwich containing our old favorites, goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette, followed up with a cold pea soup and shamelessly rich but possibly also healthful Oatmeal Apricot Chocolate Bars.

We also take some ideas from Japan, which has possibly the world’s most organized picnic tradition in the nested containers known as a bento box. They include stuffed chicken rolls, ramen noodles with a peanut sauce, snow peas with sesame and an orange ginger sponge cake.

Finally, Mayi Brady of The Times Test Kitchen has put together a Southern picnic of fried chicken and black-eyed pea and rice salad, followed by shortbread with broiled peaches.

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Southern Picnic

Southern Fried Chicken

Black-Eyed Pea and Rice Salad

Broiled Peaches With Almond Syrup Scottish Shortbread

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SOUTHERN FRIED CHICKEN

1 (3 1/2- to 4 1/2-pound) chicken, cut into serving pieces

2 cups buttermilk

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

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2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon chili powder

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2 teaspoons Creole seasoning

1 cup flour

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

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Shortening for frying, about 2 cups

Marinate chicken in buttermilk overnight. Drain and pat dry. Discard buttermilk.

Combine cayenne, salt, black pepper, dry mustard, chili powder and Creole seasoning in small bowl. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons over chicken. Combine remaining spice mixture with flour. Beat egg and milk. Dip chicken pieces in flour, then in egg mixture, then in flour.

Heat shortening in heavy skillet over medium heat until 1 inch deep. Fry chicken, covered, turning once, until dark golden brown, about 15 minutes for dark meat, 10 minutes for white.

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4 servings. Each serving:

897 calories; 1,640 mg sodium; 335 mg cholesterol; 49 grams fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 93 grams protein; 0.46 gram fiber.

BLACK-EYED PEA AND RICE SALAD

4 cups chicken broth

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1 (11-ounce) package fresh black-eyed peas

3/4 cup rice

2 carrots, chopped

2 cups spinach, thinly sliced

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1 cup diced ham

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

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Put 2 1/2 cups chicken broth in 1 medium saucepan and remaining 1 1/2 cups broth in another. Bring broth in both pans to boil over high heat.

Add peas to pan with 2 1/2 cups broth, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Add rice to 2nd pan, cover, and cook over low heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Add carrots to pan with peas and cook until peas and carrots are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain.

Combine peas and carrots, rice, spinach, ham and red wine vinegar. Season carefully to taste with salt because ham will be salty. Season generously to taste with freshly ground pepper.

4 servings. Each serving:

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478 calories; 1,397 mg sodium; 17 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 77 grams carbohydrates; 33 grams protein; 4.20 grams fiber.

BROILED PEACHES WITH ALMOND SYRUP

4 peaches, peeled and halved

2 cups plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

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2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 cup water

1/2 cup whole blanched almonds

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

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Place peaches cut side up in broiler pan. Combine 2 teaspoons granulated sugar and brown sugar and sprinkle over peaches. Broil about 4 inches from heat source until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Watch carefully because peaches may cook more quickly if very ripe.

Dissolve remaining 2 cups sugar with water in saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. When sugar has dissolved, boil 3 minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and stir in almonds and almond extract. Let cool to room temperature. Spoon desired amount of syrup over peaches. Makes about 2 cups.

4 servings. Each serving with 1/4 cup syrup:

735 calories; 4 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 10 grams fat; 166 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.97 gram fiber.

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SCOTTISH SHORTBREAD

This recipe is adapted from the 1997 revised edition of “The Joy of Cooking” (Scribner) by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker. If desired, substitute 1/2 cup rice flour or cornstarch for an equal amount of all-purpose flour for an especially crumbly and tender shortbread.

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter, softened

1/4 cup powdered sugar

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1 1/2 tablespoons plus 1 to 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups flour

1/3 cup chopped pecans

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Beat butter, powdered sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar and salt with electric mixer on medium speed until very fluffy and well blended.

Gradually sift flour over top while stirring. Stir in pecans. Lightly knead with hands until well blended and smooth. If dough is too dry to hold together, sprinkle with few drops of water, adding only enough to hold particles together. Do not to over-moisten.

Firmly press dough into 8-inch-square baking pan or rectangular shortbread mold to form smooth, even layer. If baking in pan, pierce dough deeply all over with fork in decorative pattern.

Bake at 300 degrees until faintly tinged with pale gold and just slightly darker at edges, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool on rack until barely warm. Cut almost through to form bars. Sprinkle with remaining 1 to 2 teaspoons granulated sugar if desired.

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Let stand until completely cool. Gently retrace cuts and cut through into bars.

24 bars. Each bar:

85 calories; 74 mg sodium; 13 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.04 gram fiber.

Soup and Salad Picnic

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Lamb Sandwich

Chilled Pea Soup with Mint and Orange

Oatmeal Apricot Chocolate Bars

LAMB SANDWICH

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Danae Campbell adapted a chicken sandwich from “American Bistro” by Diane Rossen Worthington (Chronicle, 1997). She used lamb instead and changed the vinaigrette to get what we think is a terrific picnic sandwich.

LAMB

1 tablespoon chopped rosemary

3 cloves garlic, minced

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1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

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1 (2 1/2-pound) leg of lamb

BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE

3/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

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1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/2 teaspoon table sat

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Black pepper

ASSEMBLY

1 (13-ounce) can quartered artichoke hearts in water, drained

1 French or sourdough baguette

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1 small cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced

1 large tomato, halved and thinly sliced

3 ounces goat cheese

LAMB

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Combine rosemary, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, cayenne and salt in medium bowl. Add lamb and turn to coat all sides. Cover and marinate in refrigerator at least 1 hour or overnight.

Remove from marinade. Roast at 325 degrees until meat thermometer registers 135 degrees, about 50 minutes, for medium rare. Let cool at room temperature until just warm, about 30 minutes. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE

Drizzle olive oil into vinegar in medium bowl, whisking constantly. Add garlic, parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and whisk to combine. Makes 1 1/4 cups.

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ASSEMBLY

Marinate artichoke hearts in Balsamic Vinaigrette 10 minutes at room temperature. Drain, reserving artichokes and marinade separately. Slice lamb very thin.

Slice baguette in half lengthwise. Tear out soft insides, leaving only crusts. Brush bottom half of bread with about 1/4 cup reserved Vinaigrette. Place cucumber slices over Vinaigrette to cover bottom half of bread. Place tomato slices evenly over cucumbers. Place lamb slices over tomatoes, then top with artichoke hearts. Drizzle with about 3 tablespoons more Vinaigrette.

Spread goat cheese into underside of top half of bread. Place on layered half and press down firmly. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 2 hours. Remove plastic wrap and wrap in butcher paper. Tie twine at 2-inch intervals along length of loaf. When ready to serve, cut through butcher paper between twine to make sandwiches.

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6 to 8 servings. Each of 8 servings:

376 calories; 417 mg sodium; 61 mg cholesterol; 34 grams fat; 2 grams carbohydrates; 15 grams protein; 0.08 gram fiber.

CHILLED PEA SOUP WITH MINT AND ORANGE

This recipe calls for straining the soup, but you don’t have to if you like your soup with more texture.

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2 (10 1/2-ounce) packages frozen green peas

1 (14-ounce) can chicken broth

1/2 cup orange juice

1 teaspoon chopped thyme

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1/4 cup chopped chives

2 green onions, chopped

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon chopped mint

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Cook peas, broth, orange juice, thyme, chives and green onions in medium saucepan over medium-high heat until peas are soft, about 7 minutes.

Puree in blender in batches. Pour through strainer, pressing on solids to extract all liquid. Discard solids. Add whipping cream and mint to soup. Stir well and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.

6 cups. Each 1-cup serving:

130 calories; 376 mg sodium; 28 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 1.24 grams fiber.

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OATMEAL APRICOT CHOCOLATE BARS

1 1/4 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs

1/4 cup flour

2 1/2 cups quick-cooking oatmeal

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1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small chunks

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1 cup dried apricots, chopped

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

3 eggs

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3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat together cookie crumbs, flour, oatmeal, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, chocolate, apricots and almonds in medium bowl.

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Beat butter in large bowl until creamy and soft. Add eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla and beat until well blended. Add dry ingredients and mix until incorporated.

Moisten hands with cold water and press dough into bottom of 13x9-inch greased baking pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees until dark golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool before cutting.

16 bars. Each bar:

372 calories; 248 mg sodium; 74 mg cholesterol; 21 grams fat; 46 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0.69 gram fiber.

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Japanese Bento Box Picnic

Snow Peas With Sesame Dressing

Stuffed Chicken Rolls

Ramen With Peanut Miso Sauce

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Honey Ginger Sponge Cake

PICNIC BOX STUFFED CHICKEN ROLLS (Maki Dori) (NO-FAT COOKING)

This recipe was adapted from “Japanese Cooking for the American Table” by Susan Fuller Slack (HPBooks, 1996). Slack says the recipe was given to her by a Japanese diplomat’s wife who was an authority on entertaining bento-style.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, slightly flattened

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1 tablespoon sake

1 tablespoon mirin

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 (2-inch) piece ginger root, grated and strained (1 tablespoon liquid)

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4 small green onions

1 large carrot, cut into 4 strips and blanched 1 minute

1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch strips

1 celery stalk, cut into 4 strips

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Salt, pepper

Score chicken breasts slightly on both sides and place in large glass baking dish. Sprinkle with sake, mirin, soy sauce and ginger juice. Cover tightly and marinate at room temperature 1 hour or in refrigerator several hours.

Remove chicken from marinade and discard marinade. Trim vegetables to width of chicken breasts. Place 1 green onion, 1 carrot strip, 1 bell pepper strip and 1 celery strip in middle of each chicken breast. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Roll up chicken, enclosing vegetables. Secure openings with small bamboo skewers and place in baking pan.

Bake at 350 degrees until juices run clear when pricked with fork, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool. Cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices and serve. (Uncut rolls may be refrigerated, covered, up to 8 hours.)

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10 to 12 servings. Each of 10 servings:

54 calories; 162 mg sodium; 20 mg cholesterol; 0 fat; 2 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 0.14 gram fiber.

RAMEN WITH PEANUT MISO SAUCE (Hiyashi Chuka No Peanut Miso Ae)

Susan Fuller Slack says of this recipe from “Japanese Cooking for the American Table”: “A spicy blend of protein-rich peanut butter and miso paste dresses this tumble of golden noodles. The calcium-rich sea grass hijiki adds a sweet, pleasant taste.” She says that sliced shitake mushrooms, shredded ham or carrots may also be added. The sauce is also good for dipping grilled vegetables, tofu or steak.

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PEANUT MISO SAUCE

2 tablespoons unsalted cocktail peanuts

1 (1/8-inch-thick) slice peeled ginger root

2 tablespoons red miso or hatcho-miso

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2 tablespoons mirin

2 tablespoons sugar

2 dashes ground sansho pepper or black pepper

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

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2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 cup oil

Hot pepper sauce, optional

RAMEN

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1/4 cup dried hijiki or arame

1/4 cup torn cilantro leaves, packed

1 small red bell pepper, cut into thin strips

4 thin green onions, slivered

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2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped unsalted peanuts

3/4 pound fresh Chinese egg noodles, 1/2 pound chuka-soba or 1/2 pound thin spaghetti

1 tablespoon oil

PEANUT MISO SAUCE

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Process peanuts and ginger root into paste in blender or food processor. Add miso, mirin, sugar, pepper, vinegar and soy sauce and process until blended. Pour oil through feed tube in steady stream with motor running until blended. Sauce will not be thick like mayonnaise. Add hot pepper sauce to taste. Refrigerate if not using immediately, and whisk before serving to blend ingredients. Makes about 1 cup.

RAMEN

Rinse hijiki and soak in warm water to cover 20 minutes. Rinse well under cool water in fine strainer. Press out water. Cut into 1-inch lengths. Place hijiki, cilantro, bell pepper, onions and peanuts on platter.

Bring 16 cups water to boil in large pot. Add noodles and cook until just tender yet firm to bite, about 2 minutes. Rinse under cool water and drain well. Toss with oil.

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Place noodles in large bowl. Toss with hijiki, cilantro, bell pepper and onions. Divide among 6 large bowls. Garnish with peanuts. Pass Peanut Miso Sauce.

6 servings. Each serving:

581 calories; 455 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 44 grams fat; 42 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 0.88 gram fiber.

SNOW PEAS WITH POUNDED SESAME DRESSING (IT’S A SNAP)

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This recipe was adapted from “Healthy Japanese Cooking” by Hiroko Fukuhara and Yasuko Takahata (Weatherhill, 1997). Baby string beans, cut in the French style, are also delicious with this dressing.

1 cup snow peas

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds

1 tablespoon mirin

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1 tablespoon light soy sauce

Add snow peas to boiling salted water to cover and simmer until tender, about 1 minute. Drain and rinse under cold water. Cut diagonally into thin strips.

Toast sesame seeds. Pound into paste with pestle in mortar. Add mirin and soy sauce and stir until smooth. Pour over snow peas.

2 servings. Each serving:

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72 calories; 287 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 1.90 grams fiber.

HONEY GINGER SPONGE CAKE (Katsutera)

Susan Fuller Slack got this recipe from Meiko Yamazaki of Yokohama. She says the cake ages well and suggests baking it two or three days before you plan to serve it. Cut it into small squares and serve it with hot green tea or use it as a base for strawberry shortcake.

7 eggs, separated

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1 cup sugar

1/4 cup honey

3 tablespoons mirin

2 inches ginger root, grated and squeezed (1 tablespoon liquid)

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1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup sifted cake flour

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

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Place egg yolks in medium bowl. Reserve 1 tablespoon sugar and set aside. Whisk remaining sugar, honey, mirin, ginger juice, lemon juice and salt into yolks. Place bowl in large pan of hot water and stir constantly until batter is warm, about 1 minute. Beat with electric mixer on medium-high speed until tripled in volume, 8 to 10 minutes. Gently fold in sifted flour.

Beat egg whites in large bowl with electric mixer on low speed 1 minute, increasing speed to medium-high. Sprinkle in reserved 1 tablespoon sugar and cream of tartar when foamy. Continue beating until stiff but not dry.

Fold 1/3 egg whites into batter with spatula. Fold in 1/2 of remaining egg whites. Fold in remaining whites until just blended. Pour batter into deep 9-inch-square baking pan lined on bottom with greased parchment paper. Tap pan lightly on counter.

Bake at 325 degrees on middle rack of oven until golden brown and sides pull slightly away from pan, about 25 minutes. Top will be flat and feel spongy when pressed with finger. Cool 20 minutes. Run small knife between edge of cake and pan. Invert on damp kitchen towel and remove pan. Pull off parchment and cool. If not serving immediately, wrap tightly and refrigerate.

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8 to 10 servings. Each of 10 servings:

205 calories; 133 mg sodium; 149 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 38 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.02 gram fiber.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

COOK’S TIP

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To make ginger juice, chop ginger root into small pieces. A mini food processor is the easy way to do this. Then wrap the chopped pieces in cheesecloth and squeeze to extract the juice.

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More Picnics

A Soup and Lamb Sandwich Picnic: H6

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A Japanese bento Box Picnic: H10

Cookstuff Considers the Picnic: H6

Picnic Safety: H6

A Mother-Daughter Picnic: H10

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