FOOD WISE: Choose a light menu for a summer picnic

By CHEF RENEE MORGAN

Shrimp Mango Salad is a recipe that will liven up any summer picnic. (Courtesy Photo)

What in the world is going on with July? Last week I told you about all the special food celebrations going on in July. Well, guess what? There is more food fun this month. Apparently, July is also National Picnic Month. Who comes up with this stuff?

Don’t get me wrong, I like a picnic as much as the next gal, but have these people been on a picnic in July in Texas? Seriously. I guess we’ll have to have our picnics in the evening. Nothing wrong with a sunset picnic. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Well, it’s all fun and games until someone gets eaten alive by the mosquitoes.

Actually, I really do love a good picnic and over the years I’ve pretty much figured out the fine art of picnicking, whether atop a mountain, by a creek under a shade tree or even beachside. I’ve even won over my husband who was quite the grumpy-pants to begin with. There is nothing quite like a nice meal, a good bottle of wine and great company, all while taking in a gorgeous view.

With a little planning and forethought, even a mayonnaise skinned, pale-face like yours truly can have a truly spectacular time. Here are a few ideas to help you make the most of your picnic.

* Check the weather. Of course, you can check out the local weather report on www.LHIndependent.com. There is nothing worse than having all your carefully laid plans ruined by a summer afternoon rain shower. Even worse…enduring a blazing 115 degree surface-of-the-sun afternoon of can’t-sit-down-anywhere-because-it-fries-the-back-of-your-legs misery.

* Put together a picnic kit. I have a backpack that is my picnic backpack. The contents include sunscreen, bug spray, a wine opener, a small salt and pepper shaker set, the tiniest cutting board you’ve ever seen, a paring knife, cloth napkins, plastic cutlery and plates and a trash bag. I think cloth napkins and plastic ware makes the picnic nicer, plus no one is tempted to litter. I keep this kit put together so that when I’m ready to picnic, everything is ready to go. This may seem like a lot of stuff, but it really isn’t. It’s all lightweight stuff and there is enough room left in my backpack to also transport the food.

* Take a tarp and a blanket. You can put the tarp down under the blanket in case the ground is wet. It also keeps you from having to wash the blanket every time. I attached a strap with Velcro to mine so I can roll it up into a neat little package for transporting. I also attached another strap that allows me to sling it over my shoulder, freeing up my hands to carry other stuff.

* Think about appropriate food temperatures when planning your menu. Safety first! The last thing you need is something like a mayo-based salad sitting out in the hot sun half the day. You might also invest in some of those freezer bricks. You know the kind I mean? They can be stored in the freezer and used in your cooler or lunchbox to help keep things cool. Then just toss them back in the freezer when you get home.

* Organize and pack your picnic like a caterer. For example, Chinese take-out containers are readily available in many department and supply stores. They make great picnic containers, are easier to manage and look nicer than a zip type baggie. Zip bags certainly are also useful for picnics. They can hold fruit and cheese, condiments, chips or any variety of things. Parchment paper is also useful for wrapping big, crusty breads and sandwiches.

* Plan ahead. You’ll have a much better time, be more relaxed and creative if you aren’t feeling stressed from getting everything ready in a hurry. I like to write down my menu, make a grocery list and a packing list so I don’t forget anything. It’s a real bummer to put together a super yummy picnic only to get there and have forgotten the eating utensils.

* Finally, pick someplace interesting to go. Great scenery is part of what makes a picnic really great. Relax and have fun!

My shrimp and mango recipe below works well on a picnic, especially in the summer. It’s light, refreshing and versatile. You can have it as a salad, in a pita or dip it with tortilla chips. Enjoy!

Please tell me about your picnic at ChefRenee@LHIndependent.com and check out my website at www.chefalicioushospitality.com.

Chef Reneé is a classically trained, award winning chef and columnist. She earned her culinary degree at the famous Le Cordon Bleu, as well as a bachelor of music degree from Hardin-Simmons University. She has an extensive background in events planning and management. Reneé lives in Liberty Hill with her husband, John, their dogs, cats and chickens.

Shrimp Mango Salad

1 lb. medium shrimp (pre-cooked/frozen)

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 cup plain nonfat yogurt

several dashes curry powder

a couple dashes cayenne pepper

salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 english cucumber, halved lengthwise & cut crosswise 1/4 inch thick

2/3 cup chopped mango

1/2 cup finely chopped red onion

1 jalapeno chile, stem and seeds removed, finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Rinse frozen shrimp in warm water to defrost. When shrimp has defrosted, toss them in a non-reactive bowl with 1/2 cup lime juice, yogurt, curry powder, and cayenne.  Refrigerate for at least an hour-up to two.  Drain the shrimp and sauté in a pan with a little olive oil. Drain on paper towel and cool completely.

Toss together shrimp, cucumber, mango, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, 2 tablespoons lime juice, heavy pinch of salt and pepper in a large bowl. Cover bowl, and put in the fridge for 30 minutes. Before serving, add remaining tablespoon of lime juice.