Chef for Hire, since 2005, has crafted meals for nearly every occasion. "Living here in Central PA, there are lots of fabulous ingredients to be found that can help showcase summer in spectacular fashion," says Calland, who has studied and worked in California, New York and Italy, and recently beat all her competitors to win the $10,000 grand prize in an episode of a Food Network competition series. "When I put together a picnic basket, I think about the occasion, seasonality and budget," she says. "You wouldn't want to take the same picnic to hear jazz on the lawn at Mt. Gretna as you would to the beach." Calland suggests that good planning and careful shopping can take a picnic from good to great. First, keep an eye on local produce at farm stands, and be ready to build your menu around those ingredients. Then, use tried-and-true ingredients in new ways. "If I want to take fried chicken, I would make it myself, marinating a local, free-range bird overnight in buttermilk and hot sauce, and then tossing it with Old Bay–seasoned flour before frying it," she says. Calland often includes spicy ingredients to add interest to a mundane dish, such as putting pickled jalapeños into a deviled-eggs recipe to keep the taste buds hopping."> Chef for Hire, since 2005, has crafted meals for nearly every occasion. "Living here in Central PA, there are lots of fabulous ingredients to be found that can help showcase summer in spectacular fashion," says Calland, who has studied and worked in California, New York and Italy, and recently beat all her competitors to win the $10,000 grand prize in an episode of a Food Network competition series. "When I put together a picnic basket, I think about the occasion, seasonality and budget," she says. "You wouldn't want to take the same picnic to hear jazz on the lawn at Mt. Gretna as you would to the beach." Calland suggests that good planning and careful shopping can take a picnic from good to great. First, keep an eye on local produce at farm stands, and be ready to build your menu around those ingredients. Then, use tried-and-true ingredients in new ways. "If I want to take fried chicken, I would make it myself, marinating a local, free-range bird overnight in buttermilk and hot sauce, and then tossing it with Old Bay–seasoned flour before frying it," she says. Calland often includes spicy ingredients to add interest to a mundane dish, such as putting pickled jalapeños into a deviled-eggs recipe to keep the taste buds hopping."> Chef for Hire, since 2005, has crafted meals for nearly every occasion. "Living here in Central PA, there are lots of fabulous ingredients to be found that can help showcase summer in spectacular fashion," says Calland, who has studied and worked in California, New York and Italy, and recently beat all her competitors to win the $10,000 grand prize in an episode of a Food Network competition series. "When I put together a picnic basket, I think about the occasion, seasonality and budget," she says. "You wouldn't want to take the same picnic to hear jazz on the lawn at Mt. Gretna as you would to the beach." Calland suggests that good planning and careful shopping can take a picnic from good to great. First, keep an eye on local produce at farm stands, and be ready to build your menu around those ingredients. Then, use tried-and-true ingredients in new ways. "If I want to take fried chicken, I would make it myself, marinating a local, free-range bird overnight in buttermilk and hot sauce, and then tossing it with Old Bay–seasoned flour before frying it," she says. Calland often includes spicy ingredients to add interest to a mundane dish, such as putting pickled jalapeños into a deviled-eggs recipe to keep the taste buds hopping."> Packing a Better Picnic – A La Carte Food Column, August 2010 | A La Carte | witf.org
Food

Packing a Better Picnic – A La Carte Food Column, August 2010

Written by NOREEN LIVOTI | Jul 22, 2010 6:48 PM

When it comes to packing a picnic, the possibilities are just about endless: Deli sandwiches, fried chicken, chips and pretzels all are portable and tasty. But with so many fun and unique outdoor summer options in Central PA this summer — everything from upscale concerts on the lawn at your favorite winery to performances of Shakespeare classics in Harrisburg's Reservoir Park — why not pack something a bit more special in your picnic basket, and make the food just as exciting?

As a personal chef, Pippa Calland, who has owned her own business, Chef for Hire, since 2005, has crafted meals for nearly every occasion. "Living here in Central PA, there are lots of fabulous ingredients to be found that can help showcase summer in spectacular fashion," says Calland, who has studied and worked in California, New York and Italy, and recently beat all her competitors to win the $10,000 grand prize in an episode of a Food Network competition series. "When I put together a picnic basket, I think about the occasion, seasonality and budget," she says. "You wouldn't want to take the same picnic to hear jazz on the lawn at Mt. Gretna as you would to the beach."

Calland suggests that good planning and careful shopping can take a picnic from good to great. First, keep an eye on local produce at farm stands, and be ready to build your menu around those ingredients. Then, use tried-and-true ingredients in new ways. "If I want to take fried chicken, I would make it myself, marinating a local, free-range bird overnight in buttermilk and hot sauce, and then tossing it with Old Bay–seasoned flour before frying it," she says. Calland often includes spicy ingredients to add interest to a mundane dish, such as putting pickled jalapeños into a deviled-eggs recipe to keep the taste buds hopping.

"For chicken salad, I might poach the chicken and then toss it with udon noodles, black sesame seeds and scallions, toss it with a spicy peanut sauce and bring romaine lettuce leaves to wrap it in," she says. Watermelon, a picnic staple, also gets a new twist: Calland serves it with thinly sliced feta cheese and basil. "Even plebeian tuna salad can be made summery and tasty by mixing in fresh tomato salsa and Sriracha and serving it on flat bread with spicy sprouts," she says.

Ever had soup at a picnic? Gazpacho, a cold, tomato-based soup, is perfect for a hot summer day, works for a "classier" event than just a day at the beach and uses many vegetables found at local farmers' markets. Calland uses tomatillos, English cucumbers, Vidalia onions and Serrano chilies, giving her gazpacho a kick. Pack some crunchy toasted ciabatta bread, either in slices or chunked into croutons, to soak up the soup. Clams can also add to the "upscale" feeling of a picnic: Make sure they're well-scrubbed before you leave, and serve on ice with lemon juice and Tabasco sauce  — and don't forget the clam knife!

For a snack, don't fall into the chips-and-dip rut. Instead, make your own hummus, or take a prepared variety and mix in chopped, oil-cured black olives and minced red onion, and serve with pita bread. Almonds flavored with fresh herbs are also a healthier alternative to chips: Toast the almonds in olive oil with a few sprigs of rosemary. When the nuts are browned, remove from the oil, blot dry and salt to taste. Serve with aged cheese and artisan salami — and leave the pretzels and dip for the kids.

Drinks can be just as important when you're trying to make your meal special: "For summer picnics, a shaker of favorite summer cocktails like mojitos is fun," says Calland. "Freshly squeezed lemon or limeade is always welcome or, in a pinch, the imported sparkling varietals are delicious and refreshing." Dessert may be the easiest course to prepare, as fresh fruit from local orchards is a readily available choice. Says Calland, "Eat it as is or macerate it briefly with sugar and mint and, for adults, add some Grand Marnier."

No matter what you make, be sure to follow picnic-safety rules: Steer clear of ingredients that must remain cold, such as mayonnaise-based salads, since they can easily spoil in the summer heat. Also, when you first take a cold dish out of your cooler, let it sit for a few minutes before eating — it will have more flavor that way. And prepare things at the last minute, if possible: Calland suggests bringing a large bowl to toss a salad with dressing just prior to eating, for example, to prevent the food from getting soggy. Remember, a little creativity goes a long way to transform typical beach-picnic ingredients into a meal worthy of a special occasion.

Panna Cotta With Local Strawberries and Balsamico

3 cups heavy cream

1 Tahitian vanilla bean, well scraped, pod reserved

½ cup sugar

3 Tablespoons water

1 Tablespoon powdered gelatin

Macerated strawberries

1 quart fresh local and/or organic strawberries, hulled, washed, dried and quartered

Granulated sugar

Best quality aceto di balsamico

Prepare panna cotta a day before you want to serve it. Combine heavy cream with the vanilla bean (pod and all) and the sugar, and heat to just under boiling. Remove the cream from the heat, cover tightly and let it steep for an hour. When cream has obtained enough flavors from the vanilla bean, strain it through a fine strainer, return the cream to the pot and reserve the vanilla pod for another use. "Melt" the gelatin powder in the water (do not stir), and slightly reheat the heavy cream. Add gelatin solution to warm cream and stir gently to combine. Heat briefly, just until gelatin has dissolved, and strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Portion cream into individual serving cups or pour into wax-lined Dixie cups. Refrigerate until just before serving, and then unmold by placing bottom of container into boiling water and then inverting. An hour before serving the panna cotta, macerate the berries with sugar and balsamico and let sit at room temperature. After you have plated the panna cotta, use a slotted spoon to nestle the strawberries next to the custards and then drizzle the plate with the remaining liquid. Garnish each with a sprig of mint and serve with fragolino (if you are so fortunate as to find some!) or brachetto. Serves 6.

Salad of Zucchini and Marcona Almonds With Manchego and Lemon

4 small, firm and unblemished zucchini, washed

1 lemon, juiced

Fleur di sel

2 oz. roasted and salted marcona almonds

3 oz. Manchego cheese, shaved

2 oz. baby arugula

Academia Barilla Monte Iblei extra virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

Just before you want to serve your salad, slice the zucchini thinly, using either a mandolin or a very sharp knife. Put the zucchini into a large bowl and add the marcona almonds and enough lemon juice and olive oil to dress the squash. Season with freshly ground black pepper, toss the ingredients together gently to combine and taste. Add fleur di sel and more lemon juice/olive oil as needed and toss together again. Add the arugula and the shaved Manchego cheese, toss gently to combine, divide between 4 chilled plates and serve immediately — preferably with a buttery chardonnay. Serves 4.

Tuna Tartare alla Pippa

12 oz. sashimi-grade tuna, bloodline removed, finely chopped

1 fresh jalapeño, seeds removed, minced

2 shallots, peeled and minced

4 sprigs cilantro, sliced into a chiffonade

Sweet chili sauce

Sriracha

Fleur di sel

Pickled ginger

Ligurian or 100 percent Italiano extra virgin olive oil

Rice crackers

Radish sprouts

Fifteen minutes before you want to serve the tuna, place it in a bowl and combine it with the other ingredients to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve, and then taste and correct the seasonings. Assemble the canapés à la minute and garnish with radish sprouts. Serve promptly with a glass of bubbly. Serves 4.

Bufala Mozzarella With Crostini and Arugula

2 balls bufala mozzarella, brought to room temperature

½ baguette, sliced on the bias, yielding 8–12 slices

1 clove garlic, peeled and the end cut off

Academia Barilla 100% Italiano extra virgin olive oil

Fleur di sel (preferably coarse)

Freshly ground black pepper

4 oz. baby arugula

At least an hour before you want to serve your bufala mozzarella, take it out of the refrigerator and bring it up to temperature. Preheat your oven to 375°F and, when it is warm, toast your crostini until it is lightly golden and crispy. When you take it out of the oven, lightly rub the garlic clove over each slice and then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. When you want to serve the mozzarella, warm the crostini slightly, slice the mozzarella and place it atop the bread. Season the cheese with the fleur di sel and freshly ground black pepper, and gently toss the arugula together in a bowl with a scant amount of extra virgin olive oil. Place the arugula atop the mozzarella and serve immediately, preferably with a white wine from Campania, such as a Fiano di Avellino. Serves 4.

Green Gazpacho

1½ lb. fresh, firm tomatillos, husked, washed well and quartered

2 large English cucumbers, peeled and sliced

1 small Vidalia or other sweet onion, peeled and quartered

2 Serrano chilies, seeded

1 large bunch cilantro, washed and picked over

Bottled water

1 loaf stale French or Italian bread, cubed, crust removed

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Good-quality honey

Rice wine vinegar

White wine vinegar

Best-quality fruity extra virgin olive oil

Sparkling mineral water

Place a third of the tomatillos, cucumbers, onion and cilantro into a blender and purée until smooth. Repeat the process, adding a scant amount of bottled water if needed, until you have the last batch of ingredients in the blender, and then add Serrano chilies incrementally until you achieve the desired degree of spiciness. Leave the purée in the blender and put the bread in a bowl, pour cold water over it to cover, and stir to combine. Soak the bread until it has become completely saturated, and then squeeze it through your fingers into the blender. Blend together until the mixture is as homogenous as possible, then combine with the other puréed ingredients and reblend in batches. Season the soup with salt and pepper, and then, using a ladle, pass the soup through a medium-coarse strainer, pressing hard to remove as many filaments and as much liquid as possible. When all the soup has been passed, discard the solids and put a batch of soup back into the blender, filling it halfway. Turn on the blender and then add a thin stream of extra virgin olive oil to the soup, blending the soup into an emulsified mixture. Repeat process until the soup is bound, and then season soup with honey, vinegar and salt and pepper as desired. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Chill bowls for the soup, and then just before serving, add chilled mineral water to the soup until it reaches the desired consistency. Serve with a white Burgundy or a full-bodied white wine from the Veneto. Yields 4 quarts.

Jumbo Lump Crab Salad

Best-quality, preferably fresh Eastern Shore jumbo lump or back-fin crabmeat, picked over

Fresh tarragon leaves, cut into a chiffonade

1 shallot, minced

Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Ligurian Estate extra virgin olive oil

Fleur di sel

Lightly dress crabmeat just before serving.

Prugne al Vino (Plums in Spiced Rosé Wine)

1½ bottles dry rosé wine

1½ cups super fine sugar

2 cinnamon sticks

1 piece star anise

5 black peppercorns

Rind of one lemon, pith removed

2½ pounds ripe plums, halved and pitted

In a large nonreactive sauce pot, combine the wine, sugar, spices and lemon zest. Bring to a boil. Turn down flame and simmer the wine for 5 minutes. Add the plums and bring the mixture back to a boil. Turn flame to low and cook the plums for 10 minutes or until they are just soft. Remove plums from wine and place in a dish. Allow plums to cool and then chill until completely cold. Strain the wine and reduce until the liquid has a sauce consistency. Chill. Serve plums with softly whipped cream drizzled with the poaching liquid, along with almond biscotti and mint.

Red Chili Slaw

½ head Savoy cabbage, core removed, coarsely sliced

¼ head red cabbage, core removed, coarsely sliced

2 Stayman or other tart local apples, cored and finely sliced

1 medium-sized red onion, finely sliced

Kosher salt

½ cup Hellman's mayonnaise

Ground ancho, new Mex or chipotle chili powder

Honey

Organic cider vinegar

1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, washed, dried and coarsely chopped

At least 2 hours before you want to serve the slaw, combine and toss the cabbage, apples and red onion in a large bowl. Season with kosher salt as desired. In a bowl, mix mayonnaise together with the desired amount of ground chilies and honey, and season with cider vinegar. Toss the cabbage mixture together with the dressing, allowing the cabbage to absorb the mayonnaise and adding more as needed. Taste the slaw, correct the seasoning, add the parsley and stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves 6.

Rosemary Scented Almonds With Sea Salt

½ lb. whole blanched almonds

Extra virgin olive oil

3 sprigs fresh rosemary

Fleur di sel

Prior to roasting your almonds, set up a large bowl with a strainer and a sheet tray lined thickly with paper towel. Heat a large, heavy-gauge skillet slightly over a medium flame and, when it is warm, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan by a half inch. Add the almonds to the pan and, using a wooden or silicone spoon, stir continually until the almonds begin to toast. Add the sprigs of rosemary to the pan and continue to stir until the almonds have become a uniform rich golden color. Pour off the almonds into the strainer (keep the oil if you feel you will use it again in the near future — make sure and refrigerate it!) and then quickly pour them onto the paper towel–lined tray. Blot the oil off the top of the almonds with additional paper towel, and then salt them generously with fleur di sel while they are still warm. Serve as an accompaniment to cocktails or with cheeses, dried fruits, etc.

Smoked Trout Spread

3 fillets brined and smoked trout, skin and bones removed and coarsely flaked

2 oz. plain whole milk yogurt, preferably organic

2 oz. crème fraîche

1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Extra virgin olive oil (fruity and mild)

1 teaspoon freshly chopped shallot

Siracha or other hot sauce to taste

Sea salt

Dresh dill weed, sliced

Place all ingredients except dill and olive oil into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined. Taste, correct seasonings and add olive oil to moisten/flavor spread. Pulse again to combine, remove from food processor and transfer to bowl. Gently stir in the fresh dill. Taste and correct seasonings. Makes 1 pint.

Smoked Trout Spread Canapés

Use crackers or breads of your choice, add a dollop of the trout spread and dress it up with sprouts or micro-greens or shaved apple or julienned celery root. A little champagne with it wouldn't hurt either.

Recipes courtesy Pippa Calland, Chef for Hire

Published in A La Carte

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