Now that we're fully into the swing of summer, I've been taking every opportunity to dine al fresco. Breakfasts on the balcony, lunch breaks and dinner dates on a picnic in the park... Any excuse so soak up some sunshine whilst I eat is ideal for me. Something I always used to struggle with though is what to pack for the perfect picnic.
A BLT and crisps can feel a little basic, especially when you're pretending you're on the beach in Barcelona not on a blanket in Buckinghamshire haha. For this reason, I've rustled up some quick, easy and healthy dishes that will add a touch of class to your summer picnic, even when you're pinching the pennies.
First, let's address the thirst because the number one thing I want to do after settling down in the heat is have a drink. Citrus drinks are so refreshing in the summer but lemonade can be laden with unnecessary calories or sweeteners. I like to make my own by stirring 1/4 cup honey and the juice of three lemons into some carbonated water - naturally sweet and delicious! Top off with a couple of raspberries or a lemon wedge to make it look extra inviting. If you've got a taste for a tipple, vodka goes beautifully with this (though I must admit, prossecco is a picnic favourite of mine!).
Some sort of salad is a must for me during summer and I find mozzarella, tomato and basil to be the perfect combination of healthy food with a touch of indulgence. When I have time, I'll make mini cocktail skewers with a piece of mozzarella, a baby plum tomato and a basil leaf on each. If you're running out to catch the rays though, just rip the mozzarella ball into bitesize chunks (or buy the mini balls if you're lucky enough to find some) and throw in a box with washed baby tomatoes and basil leaves and sprinkle with salt. When it comes to serving, bring cocktail sticks and encourage everyone to take a stab and dig in!
For my picnics I like to upgrade my simple sandwich to a bagel or an artisan bread roll stuffed with my favourite things. Not only do I prefer these to sliced bread but they tend to fare better in a picnic bag as they don't squash or go soggy as easily. I filled this one with steak and soft cheese, the other halves of which I used in other dishes as you'll see.
I think I first saw steak salad on Pinterest and I immediately knew it'd make the perfect picnic food. Tender, seasoned steak slices on a salad of fiery rocket laced with juicy tomatoes. To save money I bought a lean slice of rump steak for £2.98 from my local Tesco Express. Since I was cooking it rare I knew it wouldn't become tough and as rump steaks are larger this was enough to make two bagels and a side salad for two, great value. I simply seasoned with salt and pepper and seared it on each side for two minutes whilst I packed my picnic bag. Once it was cooked I sliced it into thin slithers and added to my salad along with a sprinkling of crumbled cranberry Wensleydale cheese and finishing with a dash of balsamic vinegar.
A knife is a no-no for me at a picnic - I like lazy food that I can eat with one hand whilst holding a book with the other. Rice is the perfect option then because it's easy to eat and so versatile. For a picnic I love to prep jewelled brown rice, named so because it's mixed with colourful veggies like peas, peppers and carrots that gleam out like little gems amongst the rice grains. Serve this with cold hummus on the side as it really rounds off your dishes to give the spread a very Mediterranean flavour base - delicous.
Finally, dessert. You may be thinking something light like a fruit salad, or sorbet and that's fair enough but personally I don't like to forgo a substantial dessert just because it's hot outside! I love lemon cheesecake in the summer because its light consistency and citrus flavour keep it from being too stodgy but the biscuit base and sweetness still provide plenty of satisfaction. Rather than buy a whole cheesecake though I like to make individual cheesecake cups which are cheaper, much lower in fat and even better, there's no temptation to polish off the leftover cake when you get back home.
To make two healthier cheesecake cups, I like to mix 1 cup cream cheese with 1 cup greek yoghurt. The yoghurt provides less fat but still has a nice, full flavour and the extra protein will keep you feeling fuller and more satisfied afterwards. I then stir in the juice of one lemon and a tablespoon of honey. Place a slightly smashed digestive biscuit in the bottom of your cup and spoon on the lemony mix on top. No processed sugars or extra butter in the base like with store bought cheesecakes. Lastly, top with fruit for some extra refreshing flavour and there you have it - not so naughty cheesecakes! To transport to the picnic I just cover the tops with foil, fuss free, just how we like it.
I hope that this post has inspired you to rethink how you approach picnic foods. Sometimes I like to swap the steak for seafood and have a prawn side salad with smoked salmon bagels instead. There are so many options once you start thinking outside of the box. What you eat is only half of it as you can see, presentation really helps to make a picnic more exciting too. Small touches like wrapping your rolls in brown paper and string or having these pretty pink plastic cocktail glasses from Poundland instead of disposable cups can make your picnic feel that much more special. FYI I've also created recipes for cocktail ice lollies and low fat chocolate fro yo which I'll share in the coming weeks so remember to follow! Do you have any great picnic dishes that you always have? Let us know in the comments section below!
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x Jade Mercedes Fraser x