New Approach To Memorial Day Picnic

Planning a picnic this Memorial Day weekend? You may think you don't have many menu options beyond the usual sandwiches and side salads, but Tori Ritchie begs to differ.

With the right preparation, she says, you can server almost anything.

Rather than sandwiches and side salads, Ritchie suggests Baguette with French Ham, Gruyere & Cornichons, along with Couscous Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Bell Peppers, as well as Coconut Cupcakes with Lime Curd Filling.

She showed how to prepare them Thursday, in the flagship store in Manhattan of specialty home furnishings retailer and The Early Show partner Williams-Sonoma.

RECIPES

BAGUETTE WITH FRENCH HAM, GRUYERE AND CORNICHONS


French ham, also sold as jambon de Paris, is a delicately flavored cooked ham that is best eaten cold.

1 long baguette
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1/2 lb. French ham, sliced paper-thin
6 oz. Gruyère cheese, thinly sliced
8 cornichons, thinly sliced lengthwise

Using a serrated knife, cut the baguette in half horizontally. Spread the butter evenly over the cut side of the bottom half of the baguette, and spread the mustard evenly over the cut side of the top half.

Layer the ham slices on the bottom baguette half, followed by a layer of the cheese slices and then the cornichons. Cover with the top half of the baguette, pressing down gently so that the sandwich holds together.

Cut the sandwich crosswise into 8 equal portions. Place each portion in a waxed-paper bag and seal the bag with an adhesive label. Refrigerate until serving. Serves 8.

Shopping tip: Look for French ham (jambon de Paris) at specialty-deli counters and many well-stocked markets. If you can't find it, substitute any lightly salted, non-smoked sandwich ham.

Adapted from "Williams-Sonoma Easy Entertaining," by George Dolese (Simon & Schuster, 2005)

COUSCOUS SALAD WITH CHERRY TOMATOES AND BELL PEPPERS

Although couscous is commonly mistaken for a grain, it is actually tiny pasta made from durum-wheat semolina. In North African countries such as Tunisia and Morocco, where it's a staple, it's traditionally made by hand, then steamed twice in a special two-tiered pot called a couscousière. Elsewhere, precooked dried couscous, sometimes called instant couscous, is available either packaged or in bulk. It requires no cooking at all — just re-hydrating in boiling water-before serving.

2 cups water
1/4 cup plus 1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
2 cups instant couscous
1 1/2 roasted red bell peppers, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped (see related tip at right)
1 1/2 cups mixed red and yellow cherry tomatoes, stemmed and halved lengthwise
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint, plus whole sprigs for garnish
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 Tbs. grated orange zest
3 Tbs. red wine vinegar

In a saucepan over high heat, combine the water, the 1 tsp. olive oil and 1⁄2 tsp. of the salt and bring to a boil. Pour in the couscous, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes. The liquid will be fully absorbed and the couscous will have plumped.

Transfer the couscous to a large serving bowl. Using a fork, fluff the couscous grains to separate them. Add the bell peppers, tomatoes, chopped mint, orange juice, orange zest, the 1⁄4 cup olive oil, the vinegar and the remaining 1⁄2 tsp. salt. Mix gently but well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours before serving to allow the flavors to blend.

Garnish with the mint sprigs and serve the salad chilled or at room temperature. Serves 8.

Make-ahead tip: Because this salad is best when the flavors have been allowed to blend for several hours, it is a good choice for making in the morning and taking along to a leisurely picnic. It can be carried easily in a covered bowl.

Adapted from "Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Salad," by Georgeanne Brennan (Simon & Schuster, 2001)

COCUNUT CUPCAKES WITH LIME CURD FILLING

In lieu of using a pastry bag to fill the cupcakes with lime curd, you can cut a small cone-shaped wedge out of the top of each cupcake. Spoon 1 to 2 tsp. of the curd into the center and replace the wedge. Then glaze the cupcakes and sprinkle with toasted coconut, as directed.

For the lime curd:
3 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) softened unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

For the coconut cupcakes:
2 cups sifted cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. coconut extract
4 egg whites

For the glaze:
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp. dark rum
1/2 cup lightly toasted shredded coconut

To make the lime curd, in the top pan of a double boiler or in a nonreactive saucepan, whisk together the eggs and granulated sugar until blended. Then whisk in the lime juice. Set the top pan over but not touching simmering water in the bottom pan, or set the saucepan over medium-low heat. (If using a saucepan, take care not to heat the mixture too quickly.) Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spatula or spoon, until the mixture is warmed through, 1 to 2 minutes.

Begin adding the butter a little at a time, stirring each addition until blended before adding more. Continue cooking, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan, until a finger drawn across the back of the spatula leaves a path, 8 to 10 minutes more. Immediately remove the pan from the heat. Pass the curd through a chinois set over a nonreactive bowl and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 weeks.

To make the cupcakes, have all the ingredients at room temperature. Position a rack in the center of an oven and preheat to 350°F. Line a 12-well muffin pan with cupcake papers.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on high speed until creamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add the granulated sugar and continue beating, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl, until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.

Reduce the speed to low and fold in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour, until just blended. Stir in the vanilla and coconut extract.

In a large copper beating bowl or mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, fold 1/2 cup of the egg whites into the batter until smooth, then carefully fold in the remaining whites until smooth and blended. Divide the batter among the wells of the prepared muffin pan. Bake until the cupcakes are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pan and let cool on the rack to room temperature.

Fit a pastry bag with a No. 2 tip and fill the bag halfway with the lime curd. Insert the tip into the top of each cupcake and squeeze the bag to fill the cupcake centers with the curd.

To make the glaze, in a bowl, combine the lime juice, confectioners' sugar and rum, and whisk until smooth and blended. Brush the cupcakes with the glaze and sprinkle with the toasted coconut.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Adopted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen
  • Brian Dakss

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