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How to Spice Summer Food Favorites For Picnics and Barbeques

April 25, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 133

Planning a party for a lot of people can seem overwhelming, which is why the potluck idea was invented. The downside can be lack of flavor when everyone brings items bought at the local store. What if you want baked beans, but it needs to be heated when it arrives? What if cousin Bob forgets what he was supposed to bring and it's a crucial item, like paper plates or utensils?

One way to handle this is to figure the cost and have a donation jar on the table for each guest to make a contribution. Prepare them ahead of time by adding up your costs for everything and divide by the number of people attending, including yourself. Tell them the suggested donation. Trust me, your guests would love to avoid making the decision of what to buy and taking the time to pick it up. That way you can avoid duplications or no-shows and have a little better grasp on the timing for serving your meal.

Certain foods are expected at picnics and outdoor gatherings. In the meat category are the burgers and hotdogs. Buy burgers in patties that are ready to go, but spice them up with a meat rub beforehand. Or if you are a do-it-yourself cook, combine some smoky flavors that include chili pepper, paprika and Liquid Smoke. Be careful with the hot flavors, which not everyone can tolerate, especially kids, and keep a jar of jalapeños as a ready condiment.

Although children love hotdogs, the nitrates and nitrites are not good for them. So unless you are willing to do some serious research on the best brands with natural casings, try to get by with just the burgers (preferably post-pink slime ones). Or include a macaroni and cheese side dish just for the children.

Beans are another staple for picnics and family gatherings. Although you could buy canned beans already flavored, consider the less expensive generic beans with no sugar and little or no fat and salt content. Then flavor them the way you want. You might consider baking dry beans yourself, as they are less expensive and quick to cook up in a pressure cooker. You just have to remember to soak them the day before.

The best spices for flavoring beans are mustard, cumin and the same smoky flavors you used on the burgers. A touch of molasses and some Chalula are also crowd pleasers. The beauty of beans is that they are filling, have a lot of protein and are great if any of your guests are vegetarians.

A salad at most picnics is an expected item. If you have a garden, the salad can be at your fingertips. Coleslaw is easy, filling and relatively inexpensive. You can buy pre-shredded cabbage and add color by including red radishes, diced yellow or orange bell peppers or even fresh sweet peas or carrots. Take it easy on the mayo, the veggies themselves provide plenty of flavor. For a creamier texture, use half mayo and half sour cream (or cottage cheese). Thin with a little vegetable oil and give it a little tang with 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice. Add more flavor with caraway, dill, mustard, celery or poppy seeds or chop up a scallion or two. Many dressing recipes call for sugar, but it is not necessary with the sweet veggies. You can substitute fresh leaf lettuce or macaroni noodles for the cabbage.

We all have a tendency to overeat at these types of gatherings. So try to keep it simple. Meat, beans and salad are plenty. If you have those die-hard meat and potato folks, consider a potato salad. Make it with mustard instead of mayo as a change of pace. Other fillers might include chips (blue corn are healthier than potato). If you're really ambitious consider frying up some sweet potato chips. You can never make too many of those. Brownies or pie are hard to argue with for dessert and can be store bought. Just read the labels carefully to avoid too much of a bad thing.

Now it's time to work off some of those calories. Who brought the volleyball set and Frisbees?

Copyright 2012 by Linda K Murdock. Linda Murdock is the best-selling author of A Busy Cook's Guide to Spices, How to Introduce New Flavors to Everyday Meals. Unlike most spice books, you can turn to a food, whether meat, vegetable or starch, and find a list of spices that go well with that food. Recipes are included. To learn more or to sign up for more informative food and flavoring articles go to

Source: EzineArticles
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Plan Outdoor Gatherings


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