There’s nothing better on a lazy summer afternoon than a picnic. For this week’s Cooking with Heinen’s post, I’m putting together a beach picnic. Although beach picnics are lovely and magical, they can also be a bit problematic to pull off. You have to think about how to keep sand from getting into everything. You have to pack well enough so that it’s easy to lug everything around and you also have to deal with wind. However, if you find just the right spot and set down a few ground rules (mostly about kicking up sand), a picnic on the beach can be amazing.
If the beach is at your home or vacation rental or you have access to a fire pit, steaming a pot of mussels and clams makes a really nice addition to your picnic fare. It’s easy to eat with your fingers and has that seaside flavor. They are best eaten as soon as they steam open so I would not recommend making them at home and transporting them. If you have a heat source and want to make them, they couldn’t be easier. Heat oil in a 6 to 8-quart stockpot. Saute the shallot, garlic and thyme. Add the mussels and give them a good toss. Add a splash of white wine, lemon juice and a pinch of red pepper flakes; cover the pot and steam over medium-high for 5 minutes until the mussels open. Done! Enjoy. Serve with crusty bread, the sauce is delicious.
There’s a big difference in the packing list when you are having a beach picnic with kids vs. a beach picnic with adults only. For today’s post I am focusing on a gathering for adults. No sippy cups or goldfish necessary today. For kids I would pre-pack everything in plastic and use disposable utensils and paper napkins, it’s just easier. That way you can simply throw everything out at the end of the evening. If that’s how you want to roll for your adult picnic go for it.
For this picnic I wanted to keep it somewhat premium. I’ am using my vintage (earned in the 90’s) Rolling Rock bucket, which I’m pretty sure would not be considered high brow. All n all, it really wasn’t hard to repack the plates and platters into one container to bring home and clean. All the linens were easy to wash in one load since they were all similar in color. I think it’s worth it and makes your guests feel special. No one really prefers eating out of Tupperware or on paper plates. I don’t know, maybe no one cares, but the truth is I like doing it this way.
It doesn’t have to be too fancy. Finger foods work best. Try to let go of the idea of conventional serving plates and embrace a more communal dining experience. You don’t need a huge volume of food. Small bites are perfect. Try simple salads. Here, I mixed roasted vegetables with Israeli couscous. The oil and garlic used to roast the vegetables are all that is necessary to flavor the couscous. I just added a little salt and pepper. I made easy sandwiches individually wrapped, fresh fruits, nuts, olives, cured meats, cheeses, and hard boiled eggs. Don’t forget dessert. I brought chocolate chip brownies and mixed berry pie as well as individually jarred fruit parfaits. I seem to always have one thing planned that I forget. With every party, holiday or gathering, I invariably wind up finding a platter or bowl in the back of the fridge that I forgot to put out in all the commotion. Today I made a beautiful hummus dish and bean salad. Both were in the bottom of the cooler untouched when I returned home. UGH! Oh well, we didn’t lack for anything or miss it but it might have rounded out my picnic a little better.
Roasted Vegetable Couscous Salad
- Assorted vegetables I used:
- one red pepper
- one yellow pepper
- one sweet onion
- half pound mushrooms
- one zucchini
- 10 cherry size tomatoes
- About a dozen baby carrots
- five cloves of garlic peeled
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Fresh ground pepper
- Drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
- One box of Isreale Couscous
- Cut all vegetables into bite-size pieces
- Place in a single layer on to a cooking sheet drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper
- Place in a 400° oven for approximately 20 minutes or until they are fork tender.
- Make the Isreale couscous according to the package directions.
- When the couscous is finished place it in your bowl and scrape all the vegetables and remaining oil and garlic onto the couscous. Toss and season with salt and pepper and if you prefer drizzle a little balsamic vinegar to add an extra layer of flavor.
Tips For Beach Picnic Success
- I use wicker baskets for non cooler items because they allow the sand to sift out easily.
- Pack partially frozen water bottles. Your water will stay cool even after siting in the sun.
- Don’t forget a bottle opener.
- Bring a large knife for cutting melons when you are ready to serve them. Freshly cut melon always tastes best.
- Avoid desserts with frosting that will melt into a mess.
- Bring several table clothes and or Turkish towels to spread out for a backdrop for your food as well as seating. They are lighter and sand doesn’t accumulate in them as much as a terry towel or textured blanket.
- I wrap my glassware in cloth napkins, and usually stack my plates and other fragile items within my blanket. This allows the napkins and blankets to perform double duty, without taking up too much space.
- Baby wipes make for easy clean up.
- Bug spray and bug candles are a great idea although if there’s a bit of wind you might not need it.
- Some beaches are strict about no alcohol and no glass so check ahead to make sure these rules don’t ruin you evening.
- Pack pillows for comfort as well as to elevate boards for serving.
- Bring an assortment of cutting board sizes to allow your dishes to sit level in the sand. A wooden pallet also makes a great beach table.
- We were there in the late afternoon, which I recommend. Less people running around kicking up sand. We had the beach almost to ourselves at 5pm.
- If you stay past sunset bring candles in tall mason jars. Add a bit of sand to the bottom of the jars. The height of the jar will keep the wind from blowing out your candles.
- We were drinking wine but if you bring beer remember to bring kuzies to keep the beer cold longer.
About the Author
Photographer Sally Roeckell specializes in contemporary lifestyle portraiture with an emphasis on food photography. Her Blog, Table and Dish is a website devoted to celebrating and curating the many ways that food binds us. Sally hopes that her recipes and images will inspire you to gather your friends and family in the kitchen to make memories, use the time to connect with busy kids, chat over mixing bowls, get messy, laugh, sing, set the table, clear the table, pass the salt, debate the days topics and pray. You can follow her here as a weekly contributor to 365Barrington and Heinen’s as well as via Table and Dish on Instagram and on her website at TableAndDish.com.
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Heinen’s Grocery is located at 500 N. Hough Street, between E. Main Street and Route 14 (next to Meatheads) in Barrington, Illinois. They’re open 7 days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit Heinens.com.