Picture this: a basket, stuffed with carefully packed delicacies, set out on a red-checked cloth, perched on a rolling, grass-covered hill with children quietly picking daisies in the distance. Sounds like the perfect picnic.

Of course, picnics are usually a little more hectic than this idyllic scene implies, with not-so-peaceful children running around, hands and faces sticky from dripping Popsicles, a little playground dirt rubbed in for good measure. But who cares? It’s a picnic.

The beauty in the casual nature of dining al fresco is that no one expects a pristine white tablecloth laid out with everyone seated around it, hands on their laps, patiently waiting for someone to pass a china plate filled with deconstructed deviled eggs. Nope. In the alternate universe of picnics, no one judges you if your kids grab a piece of chicken, corn on the cob or cookie as they run past the table at full speed, screaming “Not it!”

A side benefit to this kind of relaxed attitude on the part of the parents is that kids usually associate picnics with a rollicking good time, where the usual rules do not apply.

Another big plus is that the meal most often is completely, or almost completely, assembled and ready to go before you ever leave the house, which allows you the opportunity to enjoy the time along with everyone else.

So the question isn’t really whether your family should have picnics more often, but what to serve at these memory-making meals. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be fancy. A sandwich and apple can fit the bill perfectly. Remember, it’s not so much about the food as it is about the experience.

If you’re anything like me, though, the food does matter, and one of my favorite picnic staples is fried chicken. Well, not exactly fried. In this case, chicken is tossed in a zip-top bag along with a well-seasoned buttermilk marinade and kept in the refrigerator for at least four hours, although overnight is better. It’s then coated in cornflake and panko crumbs and baked. The result is a crunchy, flavorful piece of chicken that tastes just as good cold as it does right out of the oven.

So pack the basket, grab the kids and surprise them with a picnic this summer.

Cornflake-Crusted Picnic Chicken

Serves 8.

Note: Finely crushed cornflakes give this oven “fried” chicken an extra crunchy coating. Marinating the chicken first in a seasoned buttermilk bath helps to ensure the chicken is juicy, tender and flavorful. Panko breadcrumbs are bigger and lighter than the traditional breadcrumb, which could be substituted. From Meredith Deeds.

• 1 1/2 c. nonfat buttermilk

• 1 tbsp. hot sauce

• 1 tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. onion powder

• 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

• 4 bone-in chicken breasts, skinned and cut in half crosswise

• 2/3 c. finely crushed cornflakes

• 1/3 c. panko breadcrumbs (see Note)

Directions

In a 1 gallon zip-top bag, combine the buttermilk, hot sauce, salt, onion powder and garlic powder. Add the chicken breasts, seal the bag and turn to coat the chicken with the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a rack over a baking sheet and spray with cooking spray.

In a shallow dish, combine the cornflakes and panko crumbs. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade, dredge in the crumb mixture, and place on the rack. Bake the chicken for 30 to 40 minutes or until cooked through (should be 165 degrees).

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 135 Fat 3 g Sodium 190 mg

Carbohydrates 6 g Saturated fat 1 g Total sugars 1 g

Protein 19 g Cholesterol 50 mg Dietary fiber 0 g

Exchanges per serving: ½ carb, 2 ½ lean protein.

 

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at meredith@meredithdeeds.com. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.