- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Picnics can be a lot of fun, as long as you don’t try to make them too elaborate. I never know whether to laugh or cry when I see elaborately outfitted picnic baskets for sale. I think some of them have as much equipment as an average kitchen.

A picnic should be done with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of pleasure for all, including the cook. That’s why I prefer finger foods for picnics.

It’s nice to have some plates, as well as some real napkins, but don’t forget that these can both be paper.

My menu is simple: gazpacho salad, turkey and Gruyere wrap sandwiches (or plain old sandwiches, if you wish) and pecan brownies. The salad is wrapped in lettuce leaves for convenient eating. Or you can throw the whole thing into the food processor and serve it from a plastic glass. It will pour easily after it is finely chopped.

Sandwiches and brownies present no problems. What to drink? I say cool wine, either a Beaujolais or any dry white. Cold beer is great, too, as are soft drinks. A thermos of coffee would be great with the brownies. If you’re ambitious, you can also pack some fruit as an alternative or dessert accompaniment.

Don’t forget that a picnic is to enjoy, not to be a big production.

Gazpacho salad

If you decide to use this as a cold soup, add a cup of tomato juice to the salad ingredients and chop, not puree, it in the food processor.

1 large cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and diced

6 ripe plum tomatoes, halved, seeded and diced

1 green or red bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 jalapeno pepper or serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped (see note)

1 bunch scallions, white part and a couple of inches of the green, trimmed and finely sliced

cup chopped cilantro

1 clove garlic, minced or grated

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt, pepper

1 medium head iceberg lettuce

Combine cucumber, tomatoes, bell pepper, chile, scallion, cilantro, garlic, vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste and stir well to mix. Place in a container with a tight-fitting cover and chill.

Separate lettuce and choose about 8 cup-shaped leaves. Rinse and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate.

Before leaving for the picnic, stir salad well and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Drain away excess liquid.

At the picnic, use a slotted spoon to transfer salad to prepared lettuce cups. Roll lettuce around the salad, tortilla-style, and eat from one end. Makes 4 generous servings.

Note: Removing seeds will decrease the heat of the chiles.

Turkey and Gruyere wraps

This is a great combination of flavors for a plain sandwich. If you like, use an exotic-flavored flatbread.

4 large flour tortillas or Middle Eastern flat breads, such as lavosh

12 ounces thinly sliced Swiss Gruyere cheese

Dijon mustard

1 thinly sliced red onion, optional

12 ounces thinly sliced turkey breast

cup chopped dill or another pickle

Set tortillas or flatbreads on the work surface and evenly arrange the sliced cheese over.

Spread mustard on cheese. Scatter sliced onion on mustard, then arrange sliced turkey over onion. Sprinkle with pickles. Roll up tortillas, tucking ends in occasionally, to make tight packages. Wrap well in plastic wrap or waxed paper and chill well before leaving for the picnic.

Use a sharp serrated knife to cut through the sandwiches on the diagonal before serving. Makes 4 large wraps.

Pecan brownies

These are great but addictive. Don’t worry, there will be enough for seconds.

pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into -inch pieces

4 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 cup flour

2 cups pecan pieces, coarsely chopped


Place butter in a medium saucepan and melt over medium heat. Let butter bubble and get quite hot. Add chocolate, remove pan from heat and set aside for a few minutes while preparing other ingredients.

Whisk eggs in a medium mixing bowl and then whisk in vanilla and salt. Slowly whisk in the sugar, then brown sugar, just until they are absorbed.

Whisk butter and chocolate mixture smooth and stir into egg and sugar mixture. Fold in flour and all but cup of the pecans.

Scrape batter into a 9-by-13-by-2-inch pan, buttered and then lined, bottom and sides, with buttered parchment or foil. Smooth batter and evenly scatter remaining cup pecans over top.

Bake brownies in the middle level of 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until still soft but no longer liquid in the center. Cool in the pan on a rack and lift from the pan by the paper lining. Wrap and chill overnight to make easier to cut.

Trim edges slightly, then cut the brownies into 2-inch squares. (Use a ruler for best results.) Makes about 24 2-inch brownies.

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