In a world where video games, texting and social media rule the day for many of our children, it’s hard to imagine that a low-tech activity like a picnic would hold much appeal. Still, there are few kids who don’t get excited by the mere mention of the word. There’s something magical about packing up a meal and heading to the great outdoors to enjoy it together as a family.
Although I don’t remember a lot of picnics when I was young, I do vividly remember the annual event my family would attend, along with a few other families in the neighborhood. The kids would talk about it and plan activities in the days preceding. We’d figure out who was going to bring the Frisbee, who had a kite they didn’t mind offering up to the inevitable telephone pole and, most important, who would bring the water balloons.
It was pure joy, not just for the kids, but for the parents, too, as it was a low-cost way to have fun and create lifelong family memories.
Of course, today when I think about a family picnic, I think about the food, not the water balloons. Picnic fare can encompass a wide variety of items, ranging from a simple PB&J and grapes to fancy salads and complex desserts. From my perspective, I want to eat well, but I don’t want to stress over whether the dish I spent hours laboring over is going to make it to the picnic table in picture-perfect condition. I’d much prefer to make good, wholesome, but fairly simple dishes that won’t need any fussing over once I get them packed.
On the menu
So what to bring? I stick with easy items that are less likely to wilt if they have to sit out for a few minutes on a hot day. That includes kids’ favorite sandwiches (on a roll or baguette, so they don’t get squished in the transport), non-mayonnaise based slaws or pasta salads, fresh fruit salad or better yet, fruit kebabs, cheese and crackers and, of course, a big pitcher of homemade lemonade.
For me, though, it’s just not a picnic without fried chicken. While my mother’s fried chicken was delicious, it was a bit heavy and definitely not healthy. Over the years, I’ve played around a bit with different, less “fried” versions, and I think I’ve landed on a winner, one that makes both kids and adults happy. And, not so incidentally, it’s equally delicious at room temperature or even cold, as well as hot out of the oven.
Yes, my fried chicken is “oven-fried.” It’s not a new culinary concept by any stretch of the imagination, but some versions still include a great deal of fat and salt, so making one that doesn’t can be a little tricky.
In this recipe, I’m removing the skin from the chicken pieces before breading. This does two things: It keeps the fat down and prevents that annoying phenomenon of all the breading coming off on the first bite when the skin pulls away from the meat. I’m also soaking the chicken in buttermilk, a common technique for fried chicken, as it imparts lots of flavor and provides something for the breading to hang onto.
The breading itself is a combination of flour and panko crumbs. The flour gives the chicken that old-fashioned taste of fried chicken, while panko is sturdy and lends crunch to the coating. Lastly, I spike the crumbs with a liberal dose of fresh herbs. I’m using a combination of thyme, rosemary and basil, but any fresh herb will work well. Have only one herb on hand? That’s fine, too.
Once the chicken has baked and is crunchy and golden brown, just cool a bit and toss into a container.
The beauty of a family picnic lies in the no-fuss/no-muss philosophy. And the fact that once you’ve packed the blanket, the toys and the food, the hard part is over and you can simply enjoy the day with your family. Perhaps that’s what makes it so appealing to kids, too. And if a stray water balloon gets thrown? Well, let’s just hope it doesn’t hit the picnic table.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.