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Packing the Perfect Picnic

By Karen Schulz

We live in the land of picnic nirvana. The backdrops are endless — beaches, boats, and parks. My friend Augustina is my picnic hero. I have been begging her for years to write a picnic cookbook. She makes it look so easy and has a way of making the simplest meal look and feel worthy of the Queen. Her eye for details and joyful colors all contribute to the overall feeling of togetherness and relaxation that picnics should yield. Therefore, I consulted with her and asked her for her top three tips on how to pack the perfect picnic.

First, determine the location, which will dictate how you set your table, choose your menu, and execute the set up and break down. If you are at the beach, you may want to steer clear of recipes that contain mayonnaise or eggs. If you are packing for a hike, you will probably want to leave the pretty picnic basket at home and opt for lightweight, easily packed food like high-protein sandwiches and homemade granola trail mix. If you are picnicking on a boat, you will do as much prep at home as you can so all you need to do is assemble and set the table once you’re seaside.

Second, design a menu that is appropriate and easily executed. Pack one cooler with beverages and another cooler with food. Will you be serving sandwiches, salads, or a combo of both? Or, perhaps grill a pork tenderloin in advance and prep a beautiful salad to assemble with the already cooked tenderloin? Basically, do as much prep as is possible before it is time to picnic so you are guaranteed the maximum amount of time with your dining companions. If you are picnicking where there is a grill, marinate your meats and vegetable in large zip-lock baggies, which are easily transported and make for easy cleanup.

Thirdly, it’s all about presentation. Augustina imagines exactly how she wants her picnic to look and builds the scaffolding around it. Tabletop touches make all the difference in a beautiful picnic. She prefers to use a picnic basket and packs it with real cutlery and plates (not plastic), colorful tablecloths, votives, and cloth napkins pre-wrapped around cutlery. It all adds ambiance. One of my favorite things about an Augustina picnic is that you will never see a store-bought container on the table. No milk cartons or ketchup bottles. Not only are they unsightly, but premeasuring condiments and some liquids in small glass jars saves tons of space when packing the basket.

I’m a big fan of al fresco dining and one of my favorite picnic salads is this hearty Udon Noodle Salad with Chicken and Chile Scallion Oil. It works as a great main course for lunch or dinner and can all be prepped in advance. You can make the oil four days ahead and keep it chilled in the fridge. You can roast your own chicken or use rotisserie, and the noodles can be made the night before, just toss with one teaspoon of oil, cover and chill. All that’s left to do is assemble either before you go or when you get to the picnic.

So pick your location, grab your fun salad servers, dust off those tablecloths, and pack up your beautiful delicious perfectly prepped picnic and enjoy these last weeks of summer with friends.

<<Udon Noodle Salad with Chicken>>

Serves 4

<<<Ingredients>>>

<Chili-Scallion Oil>

2 scallions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 star anise pods

2 T. crushed red pepper flakes

1 T. chopped fresh ginger (or 3-4 frozen Dorot ginger cubes)

1 t. Sichuan peppercorns

½ cup vegetable oil

<Noodles>

6 oz. Japanese wheat noodles (somen, udon, ramen)

2 T. soy sauce

2 T. unseasoned rice vinegar

2 t. sugar

1 t. toasted sesame oil

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

2 scallions thinly sliced

½ large English hothouse cucumber, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced

4 radishes, trimmed, thinly sliced

1 cup cilantro leaves

<<<Directions>>>

Cook all ingredients for the chili-scallion oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, swirling pan occasionally until scallions and garlic are just golden brown, about 3 minutes. Let cool before transferring to a jar.

Cook noodles in large pot of boiling water according to package directions; drain. Rinse under cold water, shake off as much water as possible.

Whisk soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and oil in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves. Add noodles, chicken, and scallions and toss to coat. Just before serving, mix with cucumber, radishes, and cilantro and drizzle with chili oil.

<Notes>

For the shredded chicken, you can use a rotisserie chicken or roast a few bone-in, skin on chicken breasts or thighs at 350° for 1¼ hours. This can be done in advance.

Oil can be made four days ahead. Keep chilled.

Noodles can be cooked the night before, toss with 1 t. oil, cover and chill.

By Tom McDermott

Not so long ago, Mission Impossible for home cooks was how to get their family to devour, or at least touch, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower. Too often they were left to languish on dinner plates throughout the land. But, as the Nobel Laureate sang, “The times they are a-changin’.”

Enter Dig Inn, which recently opened its first suburban location, an expansive, light-filled, farm-to-table restaurant in The Rye Ridge Shopping Center, where regionally farmed seasonal vegetables take center stage.

Dig Inn chefs make use of seasonal foods, make all meals from scratch, and serve mostly vegetables. The restaurants do not provide table service. Instead, guests order at the counter from a patient server. Simplified, seasonal menus are cleverly hung by clips near the order line. Each guest is guided through their choices by the server. Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve, but this is a lot easier and tastier than trigonometry.

The Market Bowl at lunch or dinner is the foundation of the menu, priced from $9.78 to $12.81 on the days that we visited. Guests choose one base item – farm greens, toasted farro, brown rice, or miso noodle, for example. Next come Market Sides – the aforementioned Brussels sprouts with maple and sriracha (Thai sauce), roasted carrots, Sicilian cauliflower, or a half-dozen other choices. Then come seven or eight protein choices – Happy Valley meatballs, wild sockeye salmon, grilled steak, and both herb-roasted chicken breasts or charred, boneless thighs. All animals are raised without harmful antibiotics and given space to roam.

Dig Inn also serves a Melting Broth, made from a vegetable base and kombu seaweed, fundamental to Japanese cuisine. Broth cups come straight up or with coconut matcha (from green tea), and hot lemon with whole egg. Bowls include Miso noodles, pesto chicken, and spicy curried vegetables. Portions tend to be generous; add a house-made dressing and you’re set to go or stay. The sky-it back room is particularly inviting.

Guests adding a side to a Market bowl pay an extra two dollars. Beverages include an assortment of teas, coffees, and expressos. Wine and beer is served, with mimosas and Bloody Marys available at brunch on weekends. A breakfast menu currently includes eggs, avocado toast, seasonal frittata and other items. There is also a Little Digs menu for little people, although Executive Chef Catherine Ross conceded that some bigger folk like them too.

While Ross has been with Dig Inn only a short time, she is already well versed in the Dig way and how to flatten out the learning curve for guests. As for training new staff, Ross said, “We had a Neat Team of seasoned veterans help with opening for about three weeks.

Best bets: while they last, add pinkish Chioggia beets to your meal, before their season ends soon. Not fond of chicken thighs? Take the leap: Dig’s boneless dark meat thighs are in a different class. Looking for value? Hint, a Market Bowl with a side or two can easily be shared by two for lunch or dinner.

For takeout orders, choose the Rye Ridge location at www.diginn.com

Dig Inn, 112 South Ridge Street, Rye Brook.