The other day as I was walking home from the gym I happened to glance up (rather than do the customary modern ‘head hunched over my phone’ walking position) and I realised I live in a beautiful area. Bordered by a municipal nature reserve and a mountain range and loads of green spaces it dawned on me that we under utilise all the open spaces we folks from Joburg actually have around us. People from out of town always say our city is ugly but it honestly isn’t. The trees, the hills, the green spaces, the way everything is spread out allows for it to not look like your typical cluttered modern city. City Parks, the people who are tasked with maintaining our green spaces, really does an awesome job.
With all the wet weather we’ve been having these days after months and months of drought has made everything look fresh and green again and the lovely thing with Joburg is that the heat doesn’t get too unbearable, making it ideal for picnics and outdoor dining. I’m a huge fan of outdoor cooking and outdoor cuisine. For some reason people seem to get flustered when its time to pack food for a picnic. (To my brother: Grabbing packets of crisps, dips and juices does not a picnic make!) So I’ve decided to put together a quick guide to an awesome picnic.
- Check the weather and the location.
As obvious as this sounds you’d be surprised at how few people actually check the weather report or location before the picnic. Some parks don’t allow you to bring glass bottles onto the site. Other places don’t allow alcohol or cooler boxes. Another key thing to check is if the park or area you’ll be having your picnic at allows you to braai. There are small, personal braai stands out there, they’re tiny but useful enough for 2 people and what is even cooler about them is that you don’t need to keep standing! They are low to the ground so you can keep an eye on them whilst lazing away on your picnic blanket. I love preparing food fresh and even if you don’t grill any meat, having a braai allows you the chance to warm your food up on an open flame or even add a unique touch like melting marshmallows at the end of your meal with a nice chocolate dip. You can never go wrong with melted chocolate along with biscuits and berries to dip into it out in the open.
2. The picnic basket
I’m a cheapskate but I’m in the industry of fine dining and opulence. It’s a bit of a problem! Although I would happily tell you to go buy the cheapest picnic basket you can find I would be leading you astray. When it comes to equipment and utensils I don’t go for the cheap and nasty, especially if the item in point will be spending time being moved around a lot. There are some really beautiful picnic baskets on offer on the market. I love the old school wicker baskets, these days you’ll find they’re made from bamboo or some derivative thereof. You get some modern picnic bags now as well, made out of the same material luggage bags are made of. They have no personality at all but they serve the purpose if you’re not someone who cares much for aesthetics when it comes to such things. The basket should be able to carry 2 main plates, 2 side plates, 2 wine glasses, 2 sets of forks, knives and spoons, napkins, a wine bottle or two. There should also be enough space to load your food into it as well. So the larger the basket the better. I’ve seen some awesome baskets online that can be shipped to you, another cool place to go looking for nice baskets are camping and outdoor stores. They tend to be a bit more robust.
3. The booze
As mentioned above, make sure the place you’ll be heading to allows alcohol if its a public park. I was recently sent these awesome picnic wine and glass holders/stakes by Woolworths as part of their Christmas range. You push them straight into the ground and they keep your wine bottle and glasses steady. If you’re taking white wine get yourself one of those refreezable ice packs instead of stressing yourself with ice cubes and melting water. You also get 2 bottle cooler boxes. They come in really handy. I personally white wine for picnics but that’s completely up to you.
4. The blanket and cushions
This is more for my fellow brothers. We’ve got the basket packed, the booze packed, the location sorted out just to arrive and realise we didn’t give much thought to what we’d be sitting or lying on. No, old newspapers in your boot won’t do. I didn’t know much about blankets and cushions until I started working at a lodge where had to do picnics for guests. Fleece blankets are your best bet. Why? They’re more comfortable to lie on and because they are so thin they’re easier to pack and aren’t as bulky as a traditional woolly blanket. There some really cool fleece blankets designed specifically for picnics, they’re lined on one side with waterproof nylon and roll up into a small bundle with a handle. This helps with any spillage and if you’re lying on damp grass. Cushions aren’t essential unless you’re like me and hate lying on a flat surface.
5. What starch?
The old school soggy lettuce and ham sandwich is a no no. Rather pack rotis, crepes, focaccia, taco shells or even pita bread. The key with these is that you’ll need to carry some dips, spreads and other cool fillings. Rather pack the cold meats, hummus, curried mince meat, liver spread , cheese etc separately. This makes sure your starches stay crisp and won’t go soggy and it also gives you the perfect opportunity to show off your culinary skills by mixing and matching various ingredients. Check out my focaccia recipe on this blog.
6. Don’t forget the veg
One thing that often gets neglected on picnics are the veggies. If you decide to pack the small braai like I recommended above then boil off some sweet corn at home, rub it down with butter and sprinkle it with some paprika and herbs, pack it along for the ride. Once your braai is nice and hot heat the sweet corn up. Simple. Another more old school idea is packing simple baby veggies. The nice thing with baby vegetables is that you don’t have to cook them, simply pack an awesome dip (or make your own sauce like sweet chilli or wasabi mayonnaise). Asparagus wrapped in salmon is another winner as are artichokes drizzled with honey, balsamic vinegar and peri peri and grilled on the braai. Guacamole loaded with sweet corn, red onions and sweet peppers is also a lovely and simple addition to any picnic.
7. Make it easy
Even though you want to create memories and show off a bit it doesn’t mean you have to be fancy. Skewers and foods that don’t need utensils and fuss are your safest bet. Skewers, bread sticks and cold pastries are perfect for picnics. Wrap mozzarella balls with some baby spinach and then some soft bacon and push on to skewers. You can have them cold or heated up on the braai. Mini quiches are also a classic addition, be a bit different by adding different things like biltong, peppadews, and chopped chilli. Check out my quiche recipe on this blog.
Its all about easy eating and food that is fuss-free. Chicken wings, sushi, smoked salmon, marinated sticky prawns, chunky biltong, chicken livers. Remember all the starches I mentioned above? This is where they come in handy, you can have the pita bread filled with livers or crepes with prawns or salmon on your focaccia. I have the recipes for wings on this blog as well. Check it out.
9. Dessert? Yes please
This is the fun part. Grab some large American style choc chip cookies, a pack of marshmallows and some chocolate. You’ll need your braai for this part. If you don’t want to take one along then invest in a blow torch. You’ll use the blow torch to melt the marshmallows and chocolate. Spread the soft and gooey melted goodness onto each cookie. You can also melt the chocolate in a metal cup or foil container on the braai, make yourself some fruit skewers and dip them into the choc sauce. Classics like lemon poppy loaf and banana bread are also perfect for picnics. Pack a can of whipped cream and some fresh cherries or berries and you’re set. Check out my nut brittle recipe on this blog as well.
Bulky salads are out of fashion. Join the world of fashionable hipsters and pack salads into jam jars. A chickpea, cous cous and feta salad with rocket and basil leaves drizzled with olive oil and sea salt works perfectly in jam jars. Sundried tomato, basil pesto and mozzarela is another combo. Why jam jars? They are easier to carry and when you get tired of the salad you can just simply close the jar up and save it for dinner at home.