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Did you know today is International Picnic Day?

While most people probably won’t partake in any official holiday activities, almost any day this time of year is a great day to take a meal outside. It’s a cheap way to entertain little ones and can be a fun, romantic gesture if you’re tired of going to the same restaurant every date night.

Every picnic has a short list of essentials. A blanket and a basket probably are what come to mind first. However, don’t forget other important items: napkins or wet wipes, a trash bag, utensils and a corkscrew or bottle opener if you have an adult beverage to share. If you’re worried about level ground or pokey grass, consider bringing a short table or cardboard to lay under the blanket. To make a whole afternoon of it, include a football, Frisbee or other lawn games in the picnic supplies.

The most important part of a picnic is the food, obviously. But even if something is easy to assemble or transport, that doesn’t always mean it’s picnic-worthy. Eating a meal sprawled on a sun-drenched blanket already is a step above standard lunch procedure. However, you could up the ante even more by preparing something special.

For instance, many people resort to PB&J or deli sandwiches on picnic day. These can get soggy or smashed in the bottom of the basket or cooler, though. Try switching to a loaf of crusty French bread and a few different sweet and savory spreads instead. Tear off hunks of bread by hand and take turns dipping out of the jars.

In a press release about summer food safety, Heartland Wellness Connections encourages picnickers to stick with mostly nonrefrigerated foods, like chips and trail mix, to avoid spoilage and contamination. Bring a cooler for sides that should stay cold, and anything that’s been cooked or requires refrigeration should be eaten promptly.

“Use ice packs to keep cold food cold. ... If there are leftovers that need to be refrigerated, but none is available, do not eat after one hour and discard food once home,” the release states.

Local chef Dawn Forsberg has a tip that can save space in the cooler while also allowing room for cold beverages.

“Freeze water bottles and place on the bottom of the picnic basket. Top with newspaper or some other material to keep food separate from the bottles. They will help keep the food cold. The same works with a cooler. Fruit juice boxes work the same way and thaw by the time you are going to drink them. Liter soda bottles work nicely too,” she says in an e-mail interview.

If you’re enjoying your picnic with a significant other, a bottle of wine or champagne gives it a romantic feel. Don’t worry about spilling on the blanket or bugs getting in the glass. Several companies, like Vino2Go and Tervis produce novelty wine “sippy cups.” They look like plastic travel tumblers but have a wine glass-shaped interior. You can find them online or at stores like Bed Bath and Beyond.

Don’t bother with paper plates that can fly away in the wind. Ms. Forsberg says to use sturdy containers with lids that won’t tip over.

“Individual portions make it easy. Rather than bringing a large container and plates, I use Tupperware-type containers and portion out servings,” she says.

To give readers recipe inspiration, Ms. Forsberg shared some of her favorite picnic dishes with the News-Press. She says the Picnic Chicken, a slightly healthier version of fried chicken, can be made ahead of time and refrigerated; she actually prefers eating it cold right out of the picnic basket.

Asian Coleslaw

  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 cooked skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, shredded
  • 1½ pound green cabbage, cored, thinly sliced (about 12 cups)
  • 4 celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium-size red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Whisk first six ingredients in large bowl to blend. Mix in chicken; let stand five minutes. Mix in cabbage, celery, onion and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper. Chill as least one hour and up to three hours to blend flavors, tossing occasionally. Serves six.

Cranberry Orzo Salad

  • 1 pound dry orzo
  • 1½ tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
  • 19 ounces garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 English cucumber, quartered lengthwise, then sliced crosswise
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 yellow pepper, diced
  • 1½ cups dried cranberries
  • 5 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt or to taste
  • Fresh ground pepper, to taste

Cook orzo according to package instructions, rinse with cold water, drain and place in large mixing bowl. Add curry powder, green onions, garbanzo beans, cucumbers, diced red and yellow peppers and cranberries to orzo. Toss to mix well.

Add rice vinegar and olive oil, mix well. Salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for at least two hours before serving. Can be made up to two days ahead of serving time. Serves six.

Chipotle Turkey Wraps

  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 green onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 2 10-inch flour tortillas (plain or flavored)
  • 8 ounces thinly sliced smoked turkey
  • 2 romaine lettuce leaves, center rib cut away

Combine mayonnaise, cilantro, green onion, chipotle chilies and lime juice in small bowl; stir to blend. Season chipotle mayonnaise with salt. Arrange tortillas on work surface. Spread each with half of mayonnaise; top with turkey and lettuce. Roll up tortillas tightly, enclosing filling. Cut each wrap in half. Serves two.

Picnic Chicken

  • 6 chicken drumsticks, skin removed
  • 6 chicken thighs, skin removed
  • Milk, for soaking chicken
  • 2 cups Italian bread crumbs
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Place the chicken in the milk and let soak for at least 15 minutes. In a plastic bag combine all of the dry ingredients and mix. Place a couple of pieces of chicken at a time in the bag, and shake to coat. Place the chicken on a jelly roll pan that has been wiped with olive oil. Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 60 minutes. Serve at room temperature. Serves six.

Brooke Wilson can be reached at brooke.wilson@newspressnow.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPWilson.

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