Portable Picnic: Summer Cook Out Ideas

*This blog was co-authored by Jen Picciano Stocum and Rachel Stallard. 

It’s only the beginning of July, but if I have to put down one more hockey puck hamburger patty, or shriveled hot dog, I’m gonna lose it.  Cook out, picnic and barbecue season is officially in full swing, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for pedestrian picnic faire. I’ve got an effortless, excellent menu here that will work for just about anybody’s taste and talent level.

“I never feel bad dropping what I’m doing to get outside and reconnect with friends. But what I don’t want to reconnect with is the same burgers, brats and dogs at EVERY single party.” -Rachel Stallard

My dear friend, and fellow contributor, Rachel Stallard of Roaring Acres, (https://roaringacres.wordpress.com/) has an impeccable eye for style.  And she happens to love EVERYTHING I make for her.  It’s one of the many reasons I love her.  So we’re at it again, prepping an easy summer menu that will work from Independence Day through Labor Day.  Make it for a family outing for four, a holiday celebration, or even a crowd at a graduation party.

For an appetizer or side, use a melon baller, or cut cantaloupe and watermelon into one inch cubes.  Layer the melon pieces and fresh mint leaves on to a skewer, like a kabob.  Finish with a generous drizzle of balsamic glaze (reduced balsamic vinegar with sugar) or a flavored balsamic vinegar.  You could even do this with toothpicks.

Melon kabobs with mint leaves and balsamic glaze

The main course on this menu is about as casual as it gets.  Walking. Tacos.  Say what?!  We’ve got a kids and an adult version here.

Step one: Pick up one of those bulk bags of snack sized Doritos, Fritos, etc. that you already buy on the reg, or are regularly tempted to buy.

Step two: For the kids, crush the “nacho cheese” variety in the bag, add in ground turkey browned with taco seasoning and salsa.

Step three: Top with shredded cheese and sour cream.  Kids will shovel it in.

“As a mom of three small kiddos, I’m already down a set of arms. Giving them something they can easily hold to feed themselves is absolute heaven.” -Rachel Stallard

Kid approved walking tacos!

The adults can enjoy a more sophisticated version.  Let’s call it Hillbilly. Ceviche.  Take the “Cool Ranch” chips from that same variety pack and crush them in the bag.  Then add a spoonful of super convenient pre-cooked salad shrimp. Top it with my tart and sweet pineapple salsa (recipe follows) and garnish with sliced jalapenos and diced avocado.

“Setting up a spread outside takes minimal effort. The key is choosing a spot with a cool view. Our deck overlooks our pond, so we used nesting baskets and simple wood bowls to complement, not distract from the view.” -Rachel

Quick, easy and delicious taco bar.

This time of year corn is flavorful, cheap and a blank canvas.  No excuses for just boiling it and serving it plain. For me, I decided to use the lobster butter I made a while back and froze for future use.  Add mayo to your butter for extra creaminess.  Or sprinkle it with some fresh herbs.  I chose chives, since I thought it paired well with the lobster flavor.  Hard to imagine a better bite than fresh Ohio sweet corn.  But this really is!

“Less is more when you are entertaining outdoors. You want to encourage a casual, pull-up-a-chair kind of vibe. Too much structure like linens or matching glassware can make it feel formal, so I try to pick one. If I’m using paper and plastic, then I roll out a tablecloth and add fresh floral in mason jars.” -Rachel Stallard

For dessert, I went patriotic and classic summer with homemade bomb pops.  I used a combination of blueberries and blackberries with a splash of orange juice for the blue layer.  I combined lemon ice and coconut milk (but you could sub with almond milk or yogurt) for the white layer.  And for the red, I combined strawberries and raspberries.

To make them, I first blended each layer separately.  I used Dixie cup sized containers for the kids, or popsicle trays, and wooden spoons I found at Michaels for the sticks.

Popsicles that are healthy and delicious!

To achieve the layered effect, I marked the cups on the outside (into thirds) so the layers were even.  I poured the first layer in, inserted the spoon, and held it into place using tape.  Freeze the first layer for at least 20 minutes before added the second layer.  Then repeat.

Now, no summer gathering would be complete with lemonade.  For the kids, fresh squeezed strawberry mint lemonade.  I started with sliced strawberries, a couple of sprigs of fresh mint, torn and a couple teaspoons of simple syrup. I muddled those at the bottom of the glass and then added equal parts fresh squeezed lemon juice (equal to the syrup), filled mason jars with ice then added water to the brim.  Screw on the top of the jar and give it a good shake. The portions of lemon juice-to-sugar will depend on both your taste and the size of your jars!

Put a new spin on a summer classic with this strawberry mint lemonade.

For the adult version, and this ain’t rocket science, add some vodka.

Also, you could skip the berries and mint, make the lemonade and add sweet tea vodka for a spiked Arnold Palmer.  The prep time and clean-up is minimal.  The food is all portable.

Show us your spread! One of the best parts of a casual picnic is experiencing a person’s true colors. I always love seeing how a host welcome others into his/her home.

Pineapple Salsa

1 cup finely diced pineapple
1 cup finely diced red pepper
1 cup finely diced orange pepper
2 T. diced jalapeños (seeds removed)
2 T. chopped cilantro
Juice of one lime.

Combine all ingredients and chill

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Jen Picciano

I’m a television news reporter, wife, mom, cook book junkie and wanna-be chef. I hate wasting food and love getting creative in the kitchen. Bringing you access to premiere chefs and news in the food world. Reviewing new cooking-related products and services. Living life with a mic in my hand and a pencil behind my ear…or with an apron on, cooking for those I love.

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