Well, one of the biggest vacation and picnic weeks of the year is here…let the July celebrations commence! The first week in July is traditionally set aside to remember the birth of our great nation, but it has become a week for many folks to enjoy all of the festivities that abound in the summer. We are fortunate to live in an area where a “staycation” offers as much fun as going away! We have amusement parks, state parks, beaches and natural wonders…all within an easy, short driving distance. Baseball games, picnics-with hot dogs, of course – family reunions, class reunions, company picnics…you name it and we can come up with an outdoor celebration to go with it!
As with most any event we plan, food will be one of the focal points of these wonderful celebrations. Fire up the grill, stoke the smoker and fill the ice chest…let the party commence! Planning the perfect summer get together doesn’t have to be expensive excursion with all of the great picnic locations we have in our area. Simply pack a cooler and grab your grilling tongs…there is probably a public park within a few miles-or less- with a table ready for you!
As I have preached before, when planning picnic menus, you must be aware of the ingredients that do not handle the heat very well. Any mayonnaise or salad dressing based dish can be dangerous to have sitting out of refrigeration on a hot day. It is better to have salads that have clear dressings rather than creamy dressings, as creamy dressings spoil much quicker than others. The rule of thumb is to keep cold foods refrigerated or on ice at a temperature of 45* or below to avoid spoilage. Likewise, hot foods should be kept at a holding temperature of 145* to keep them safe to eat. Any food that has been out of a safe temperature for two hours should be discarded (not just reheated or re-cooled). Nothing ends a party quicker than a stomach ache!
Vinaigrettes and other oil and vinegar based dressings are perfect for summer salads. Not only will they hold up to warmer outdoor temperatures, but the flavor combinations you can try are endless. By simply combining extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) with an acid, such as white vinegar or lemon juice, and adding fresh herbs, you can make an enticing dressing for boring old potato or pasta salad. I like to infuse the herbs into the vinegar before making the dressing; Simply add your fresh herbs to white vinegar and allow the flavors to mingle in a sealed container in a dark place for a few days. The light flavors of your herbs will blend with the acid of the vinegar and leave you with a subtly flavored base for your dressing. We tend to think of traditional flavors and styles for our side salads, but don’t be afraid to experiment and come up with a new “signature salad” of your own! I’ll bet everyone will be asking for your secret recipe!
To read more of Vicki McGraw’s commentaries on good cooking, fine recipes and perfect party treats, visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on Join Me in the Kitchen’s own page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.
Balsamic Potato Salad
- 3-4 lbs red skinned potatoes (washed, skin left on)
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- ½ sweet red bell pepper, diced
- 1 pt grape tomatoes, cut in halves
- 1 c sliced black olives
- 6 hard-boiled eggs, diced
- 1 carrot, peeled and shredded
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 T fresh parsley, chopped
- 1-2 c balsamic dressing (dress to taste)
Cut potatoes into bite sized cubes and boil until just tender. Drain and gently toss with ½ c dressing; set aside to chill while preparing other ingredients.
When potatoes have chilled, gently mix with all of the other ingredients, being careful to not mash the potatoes or the eggs. Add dressing to taste and desired wetness. Sprinkle top with additional chopped parsley to garnish. Chill thoroughly before serving.