The Hippo


Jul 23, 2019








Al Fresco
Food gets more fun when it moves outside


The urge increases to take life outdoors as New Hampshire emerges from the long winter. That includes mealtime. A picnic is a way to turn an everyday meal into a special occasion, and the chosen spot can be a city park, a sunny beach or even the backyard.

As Sunny’s Table owner and chef Sunny Chung sees it, “A great picnic is full of surprises and memories. It’s a personality in a basket. And it should be familiar and comforting. I remember growing up, I would always find the Korean picnic staple, ghim bap, a Korean sushi roll filled with vinegared rice, vegetables, and beef rolled in nori seaweed. And to this day, it’s my favorite. But that’s only if Mama Chung is making it.”

Almost any food can become picnic food — the key is the transportation. Hot foods should stay hot and cold foods cold. The primary goal is to prevent harmful bacterial growth. And most diners want the meal to be a simple one upon arrival at the destination. This typically requires some prep time in advance, or a stop at a local food shop, bakery or cheese shop.

“As for picnic fare, obviously on the practical side, choose things that are less likely to spoil if not refrigerated for long,” advised Bruce Walters of the Black Forest Café and Bakery. “So watch out for mayonnaise, desserts that need to be refrigerated, mousses and whipped cream. For a romantic meal, choose a wedge of cheese, a loaf of bread, some fruit and a jug of wine. For something more substantial, some wrap sandwiches, cut in two- to three-inch lengths for easy handling. If you’re pressed for time, or want ease, we have them at the Black Forest, ready and waiting. We also have several prepared salads without mayonnaise that can handle lack of refrigeration for a while.”

Chung said he and his wife, Kim, focus on local and seasonal produce for their picnics. In the spring, they choose items such as asparagus, watercress, fennel, broccoli rabe, fava beans, spring peas, radishes, lettuce and kale. His parents, brother Chae and his wife Donna, all of the Korean Place restaurant in Manchester, pack a Korean picnic. 

“Three days prior to our picnic, we’ll pickle everything in small jars from our pantry,” Chung said. “Kim will make radish and butter sandwiches and grill off vegetables for our salad. I will go to Butter’s [Food and Wine in Concord] and pick up their featured cheeses and run back to make some chutneys to go along with them. And the whole time, I’m thinking and salivating for Mama Chung’s ghim bap and kimchi.”

A good rule of thumb is to choose foods that taste delicious either hot or cold. That’s why fried chicken is a traditional picnic favorite. Other good choices include artisan cheeses, fresh-baked bread, local fruits and vegetables, olives and pickles.

Sandwiches are a picnic mainstay. To keep the bread from getting soggy, pack the ingredients separately and then assemble the sandwich when ready to serve. The same goes for a salad; do not add the dressing until it is time to eat. And while mayonnaise is off limits at a picnic, acidic vinegars and citric juices actually help retard bacterial growth.

Walters recommended picnickers think ahead as to what they will need at the chosen spot. He suggested knives, cutting boards, nice acrylic glassware, sturdy melamine plates (“There is nothing romantic about trying to use a flimsy paper plate”), wet-naps for sticky fingers, and a corkscrew, though “a lot of high-quality wines these days have screw-tops due to the expense and dwindling supply of cork. Screw tops are not for Boone’s Farm anymore,” he noted.

Why not take the time to create a grab-and-go picnic kit so it’s easy to dine alfresco on a whim? A traditional basket or tote bag works well, as do backpacks and coolers on wheels. Along with the items Walters suggested, consider including thermos bottles to keep foods the correct temperature, a garbage bag, insect repellent, sunscreen, and a blanket. And don’t forget water, especially if you will be somewhere that doesn’t offer a ready supply.

Chung said his family packs everything into old wooden box crates. Then they use them as tables for the meal.

If romance is in the air, throw in some candles with holders and matches, flowers and a small vase, and a radio/CD/MP3 player. Conversely, if kids are in the picnic picture, include games, sports gear, bubbles, and coloring books and markers.

“A picnic is all about creating memories with our loved ones,” Chung said.

With a little preparation and some easy menu selections, it is simple to take a meal outdoors — as long a Mother Nature cooperates.

Buy it outside

As the weather warms up, more walk-up, drive-up and cart-delivered eateries are opening for business. If you don’t have time to make your own picnic, pick up at one of these outdoor food vendors.

• Arnie’s Place (164 Loudon Road in Concord, 228-3225,
• Brick House Drive In (1387 Hooksett Road in Hooksett, 622-8091)
• Cremeland Drive-in Ice Cream (250 Valley St., Manchester, 669-4430)
• Goldenrod Drive-in Restaurant (1681 Candia Road, Manchester, 623-9469)
• Jonathan’s Quick Eats, a stand outside the Black Brimmer many evenings in Manchester.
• Hayward’s Ice Cream (7 DW Highway, Nashua, 888-4663; 383 Elm St., Milford, 672-8383,
• Puppy Love, North Main Street in Concord — outdoor stand near Butter’s in the summer, indoor stand in bad weather.
• Sausage King, 53 Main St. in Nashua, 204-5110, (there are also sausage cart locations throughout the city, including both Home Depots).

Picnic recipes
Pickled Asparagus and Ginger
From Sunny Chung of Sunny’s Table in Concord
2 cups cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon black peppercorn
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 ginger root, thumbnail size
1 garlic clove
1 small sliced onion
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and blanched
Sterilize jars in boiling water for 10 minutes. Bring first five ingredients to boil in small saucepan, set off to side to cool. Layer into jar the rest of the ingredients. Pour vinegar brine into jar and seal. Pickle in refrigerator for at least 3 days. Enjoy at your picnic.

Il Primo Pasta Salad
From Bruce Waters of Black Forest Café and Bakery in Amherst
1 pound penne pasta, cooked
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch by 2-inch strips
1 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise, and then in half round 1/4-inch slices
1 red pepper, cut in thick julienne
1 jar marinated artichoke hearts
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper
Toss eggplant, zucchini, and red pepper with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and roast in a 400-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until softened and lightly browned. Let cool and toss into a bowl with the pasta, olives, artichokes, and 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette. (See below.) Check to see if additional salt and pepper are needed.

Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette
Makes extra and can be stored, refrigerated and used for salads.
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, pureed in food processor
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
3/4 cup maple syrup
1 cup red wine vinegar
3 cups vegetable oil
Blend all the ingredients in a food processor, except for the oil. With the motor running, gradually add oil to incorporate.

Mediterranean Chicken and Orzo Salad
From Linda A. Thompson-Odum
Should be kept cool, unless prepared without the chicken, in which case the salad will hold at room temperature for quite some time.
Serves 6
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
In a zippered, plastic bag, place the chicken.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients and pour over the chicken. Seal the bag and allow the chicken to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
In a large grill pan or on an outdoor grill, cook the chicken over medium heat about 7 to 9 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Cut into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
5 cups chicken stock
1½ cups orzo pasta
1 green pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 red pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 cup chopped zucchini
1 cup chopped summer squash
½ cup chopped red onion
1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
½ cup sliced black olives
½ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup lemon juice
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the orzo and cook until just tender, about 8 to 9 minutes. Use a strainer to drain off any remaining stock.
In a large bowl, place the cooked orzo, chopped vegetables, olives, basil and parsley. Add the cooked chicken.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper. Pour into the large bowl and stir to combine.

Spicy Gazpacho
From Linda A. Thompson-Odum
Serves 8
1 green pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 red pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
½ cup chopped red onion
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic
½ jalapeño pepper, seeded
3 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and black pepper, to taste
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
Sour cream, for garnish
In a large bowl, place the green and red peppers, onion, celery and cucumber. In a food processor, finely chop the garlic and jalapeño. Add two cans of tomatoes, cumin, salt, black pepper and half of the chopped vegetables. Process until smooth.
Pour the processed mixture into the large bowl with the chopped vegetables. Add the remaining can of tomatoes and lemon juice. Stir, cover and chill at least 2 hours or overnight. Serve garnished with a teaspoon of sour cream.

More outdoor fun
Do you know of a spot with outdoor dining and hanging out not listed here? Let us know at Restaurants, let us know when you’re opening your deck for the season. Readers can find updates on the patio/deck/sidewalk scene in upcoming Weekly Dish columns.

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