Most years, a backyard cookout has marked the calendar for me and my family on Fourth of July. But this year, I’m opting to take our celebration on the road – without the grill.
Yes, I’m leaving behind the burgers, hot dogs, and ribs and going with a selection of classic picnic foods that can all be made ahead of time, won’t spoil outside in the sun, and can go anywhere I decide to make the party. From a fresh take on stuffed peppers to classic fried chicken, four bean salad, and slaw all the way to grand finale – marshmallow smothered cupcakes – there’s something here for everyone. But especially there’s something for you, the host – time to enjoy the the feast instead of slaving over the grill.
So whether it’s off to the beach for a lazy afternoon or nabbing a spot at the park to watch fireworks later on, break out the cooler, dust off the picnic basket, and stock up on festive paper goods and to-go ware. I found an array of inexpensive reusable baskets, paper liners, and wooden utensils at our local Christmas Tree Shop that’ll make packing, serving, and cleaning up easy. Adding cloth napkins and a tablecloth from home means less paper to throw away – we all need to keep America beautiful, after all.
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Mini chorizo-and-cheese stuffed peppers
15–20 mini sweet peppers
3 ounces (about 1/3 cup) goat cheese
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
2 links chorizo, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon arugula pesto (see recipe below)
Preheat oven to 400º F. Wash and dry the sweet peppers then cut off the tops and remove the membrane and seeds inside. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the peppers on the sheet then roast them for 8–10 minutes, turning them over once, so the sides roast evenly. Keep a close eye that they don’t over cook. You want the outside slightly charred, but not mushy. Set aside to cool.
While the peppers roast, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and chorizo. Cook until the onions and chorizo have browned, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the goat cheese, chorizo mixture, and arugula pesto. Spoon the mixture into the roasted peppers. The amount will vary depending on the size of the pepper.
2 cups fresh arugula, torn; tough ends removed
juice of 1/2 a lemon
pinch of sea salt
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons lemon olive oil
1/3 cup olive oil
Place all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor and begin to pulse. Stream in the olive oil and blend until smooth. Add salt to taste. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator or freeze in ice cube trays. Use in the pepper recipe above. The pesto also tastes great on a fresh baguette!
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Crispy fried chicken
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup corn starch
4 tablespoons sea salt, divided
1 1/4 teaspoons black pepper, divided
1 quart buttermilk
2–3 tablespoons of Franks Hot Sauce or Tabasco Sauce (optional)
10 chicken drumsticks and thighs (skin on)
3 cups vegetable oil
In a shallow dish (a pie plate is perfect), combine the flour, cornstarch, 2 tablespoons of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Measure out 1 1/4 cups of the mixture into a Ziploc bag or airtight container and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the buttermilk, remaining 2 tablespoons of sea salt, remaining 3/4 teaspoon of black pepper, and hot sauce (if you like extra zing).
Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture left in the pie plate then submerge it in the buttermilk mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least three hours or overnight.
In a large cast iron skillet (or other heavy skillet), heat the oil to 350º F over medium heat. Line a baking sheet with paper towels then place a wire cooling rack over them. Take the remaining flour mixture you set aside and place in a shallow dish once again. Working in batches, remove the chicken from the buttermilk mixture then dredge in the flour mixture. Fry the chicken until it’s golden brown and cooked through, about 15–20 minutes per batch. Adjust the heat down if the outside is browning too quickly. Using tongs, place the chicken on the wire rack and let the excess oil drip onto the paper towel.
Sweet and tangy coleslaw
1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 head of red cabbage,thinly sliced
1 red onion,thinly sliced
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup cooking oil
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
Layer the cabbage and onions in a large bowl, ending with a layer of cabbage on top. Pour the sugar over the cabbage and onions and set aside.
In a medium pot, bring the remaining ingredients to a boil over medium-high heat. Pour the mixture over the cabbage and onions. Allow to marinate in the fridge for at least three hours, but ideally leave it for at least 24 hours.
Four bean salad with lemon arugula vinaigrette
1 15-ounce can black beans
1 15-ounce can dark red kidney beans
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans
1/2 pound fresh green beans, ends trimmed
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
Rinse and drain the black, kidney, and cannellini beans. Place in a large bowl or container with a lid. Add the sliced celery and shallot to the beans.
Fill a separate bowl with ice cubes and water to make an ice bath. In a skillet, bring 1 cup of water to a rolling boil. Add a tablespoon of salt and the green beans and boil for three minutes, or until the beans turn bright green. Drain the water and immediately submerge the beans into the ice bath, which will stop the cooking process, keeping them crisp and crunchy in the salad.
For the arugula vinaigrette
3 tablespoons of arugula pesto (see recipe above)
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
Whisk all ingredients together until emulsified. Pour over bean salad when ready to serve, or when packing up your picnic.
For the graham cracker crust
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons melted butter
For the chocolate Cupcake
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon of all purpose flour
3 tablespoons of cocoa powder (I used good ol’ Hershey’s)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1/4 cup milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup boiling water
4 marshmallows, cut in half
For the cupcake topping
8 large marshmallows
1 tub Hershey’s chocolate frosting
1/3 cup crushed graham cracker crumbs
To make the graham cracker crust: Preheat the oven to 325° F. Place the rack in the center of the oven. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. Combine the ingredients in a small bowl and mix until the butter is incorporated into the crumbs. Press about 1 tablespoon of mixture into the bottom of each liner. Bake for five minutes then set aside to cool.
To make the chocolate cupcakes: In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Next, add the oil, milk, egg, and vanilla. Mix with an electric mixer or by hand. Add in the boiling water and mix until combined. The water will thin out the batter.
Evenly distribute the batter among the cupcakes, pouring directly over the graham cracker crusts. Each liner should be about 3/4 full.
Bake at 325° F for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean. Be sure to turn the cupcake tin half way thru so they bake evenly.
While the cupcakes are baking, take four marshmallows and cut them in half, giving you 8 pieces. Once the cupcakes have baked, use a sharp knife to cut out a small space in the center of the cupcake. (I use my strawberry huller to pinch out the center.) Take one of the marshmallow pieces and push it into the hollow space. Repeat with the rest of the cupcakes and marshmallow pieces then return them to the oven for 2 to 3 more minutes, so that the marshmallows soften. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely.
To make the marshmallow topping: Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place marshmallows on the tray leaving at least an inch between them. Place the tray under the broiler on low. Broil the marshmallows for 3 to 4 minutes or until they have puffed up and become golden. Remove and allow them cool for a few minutes.
Generously frost each cupcake with the chocolate frosting. Sprinkle graham crumbs over the top of the frosting then place a roasted marshmallow on top. Enjoy!