published Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Braly: Ideas for your summer picnics

Nieman Marcus Brownies

1 box chocolate cake mix

1 stick melted butter

3 eggs, divided

1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional

1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar

8 ounces cream cheese

Heat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour a 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Combine cake mix, butter and 1 egg. Add pecans if desired. Spread in greased pan. Beat powdered sugar, cream cheese and remaining 2 eggs together and spread on top of the cake. Bake for 50 minutes or until cake tests done.

There seems to be a national association for everything food-related -- the National Chicken Council, the National Restaurant Association, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

And it doesn't surprise me that some people, such as those involved with thesocialfoodie.com, are pushing for a National Food Truck Association. There's even an association for pickle packers.

So why isn't there one for picnics? Summer is the time, and the upcoming July 4th holiday is the premiere occasion to indulge in such a splendid outdoor event.

Most picnic baskets hold potato chips and tuna-salad sandwiches. But at some point, you may get the urge to fancy things up a bit. Why not? Picnics are one time when you can entertain without having to do a lot of setup and cleanup. So go ahead and spend a little more time on the menu.

Here are five ideas that may help spark your creativity. They're all picnic-perfect ideas I've come up with for several al fresco meals I've had in recent years. All have been received with rave reviews.

1. Chicken tenders. Season and grill chicken tenders. Brush soft tortillas with pesto made from basil in your garden. Then add the chicken, along with some homegrown tomatoes and lettuce. Roll, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Cut and place on a platter when you've reached your destination.

2. Chicken salad. Make curried chicken salad with grilled chicken breast combined with chopped celery, apple, toasted pecans, raisins, enough mayonnaise to bind and curry powder to taste. Serve on crackers, or make into sandwiches.

3. Peanut pasta salad. Make a peanutty pasta salad with cooked ramen noodles, blanched snow peas (chilled), white vinegar, peanut butter blended with a little soy sauce (about 2 tablespoons each), ginger and red pepper flakes, to taste. Add 4 tablespoons of oil and a tablespoon of sugar. Toss the dressing mixture with the pasta and snow peas, and season to taste. Toss in some chopped scallions or green onions if you have some on hand. Keep cold and serve chilled.

4. Veggies and dip. To make a zesty dip, start with a cup of mayonnaise, then add chili sauce, to taste, along with chopped chives, grated onion, a couple of large dashes of vinegar, a sprinkling of tarragon, some thyme, salt, pepper and curry powder, to taste. Serve with cut-up vegetables.

5. Brownies. Finally, think about an easy dessert. My favorite is Nieman Marcus Brownies. Recipes abound for this yummy confection, but I'll credit cdkitchen.com for this version that I've tried with great satisfaction.


Ramblings from the road ... If you happen to be traveling in the Tunica, Miss., area over the July 4 holiday or anytime thereafter, plan on a stop at Fitzgerald's, one of several casinos in the town. I'd written about a trip there a few years back and wasn't very pleased with the food service. But after a recent return visit, I have to say it's made a complete turnaround.

Though the casino does not offer the big-name restaurants that others do, the 24-hour Players Cafe has some excellent offerings. My favorite was the Buffalo shrimp. Yum! And we also enjoyed an excellent dinner in Don B's Steakhouse. To be honest, the prime rib was the best I've ever had. And though I was still full from dinner the night before, breakfast the following morning at Riverview Buffet was outstanding. For instance, the bacon on many breakfast buffets is not allowed to cook long enough to make it crispy. At Riverview Buffet, the bacon is crisp, the omelets made to order, the cinnamon rolls melt in your mouth. All in all, I ate my way across the casino floor and even pocketed a few bucks at the penny machines in between.

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