When it comes to socially distant socialising, a picnic may be our top pick this summer.
Not only are they guilt-free and good for you but, as caterer extraordinaire, Eunice Power says, who can be grumpy on a picnic? Even the word is evocative, conjuring up lazy days relaxing in the sunshine.
A picnic is many things to many people, says Eunice. Although we’ve come a long way since the summers of our youth when we feasted on bottles of warm orange or lemon cordial followed by the all-important custard creams, a picnic can be scaled up or down depending on what you fancy.
“It can be a matter of going to your local deli, picking up a few bits and pieces, and just heading off somewhere nice with a blanket, or it can be really planned,” says Eunice, who runs her own catering business in Dungarvan.
She is a planner at heart but firmly believes you shouldn’t make too much work for yourself because it can take the joy out of the experience.
“The thing about picnics is that they should have an element of effortlessness about them.” She loves the relaxed ambience surrounding a meal in the great outdoors.
Once you’ve settled yourself at your picnic spot, all the hard work is done and, as she points out, “it’s just a matter of opening boxes and helping yourself.”
Although traditional picnic baskets look great, they are not always practical, so Eunice tends to carry food in a cool box.
“The ice packs usually used for sports injuries are great because they’re malleable and can fit around food and bottles.”
She says that it can be hard to get nice, pretty containers with lids on them, but she recently borrowed a tiffin box, which is a tiered Indian lunch box, from Paul Flynn of the Tannery.
She says they’re great because you can use them as both storage containers and eating vessels, adding that a picnic can be as big or as small as you like.
Eunice goes swimming with a group of friends in the mornings and, on Sundays, each one takes a turn to make scones or some other treat to have with their coffee after their dip. Last time, she brought gooseberry friands and put the buns in the tiffin box, along with some Greek yoghurt in the bottom tier.
She also used the tiffin boxes for a picnic she made recently for a couple who were celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. Eunice had catered their wedding in Lismore Castle, and she took great joy in making their picnic for this milestone occasion.
Her menu inspiration came from their wedding meal. She made crab crème brulee for starter, followed by rare roast beef with bulgar wheat, kale and walnut salad. For dessert, she baked gooseberry friands, “which travel really well”, served with crème fraiche.
That picnic was a veritable feast, but Eunice says that one of her favourite go-to dishes is the gorgeous but easy combination of shredded roast chicken with orzo pasta, pesto, sundried tomatoes, parmesan and feta cheese.
She recommends buying thoughtfully, saying that toasted sourdough, hummus, sundried tomatoes and cheese are useful ingredients, while pate and pitta breads are easy to eat and a quiche with a green salad is really handy.
Eunice is passionate about the importance of buying locally and seasonally. “Covid has opened all our eyes into what we buy and how we buy.
“Berries and cherries are in season now. I was lucky to get a few punnets of cherries from Jamesons in Tourin House near Cappoquin. They were absolutely delicious with cheese or a little dark chocolate.”
Eunice who has catered for the biggest sit-down dinner in Ireland — when 2,450 people enjoyed her food at an event in the 3Arena — says that she comes from a long line of good cooks.
Her mother is her inspiration and her grandmother was also a culinary whizz. “I have her recipe book and her mother’s recipe book, so I’m kind of fourth generation of capable women who understood food.”
She believes that good nutrition nourishes the soul as well as the body and that it’s crucial to look after yourself. “Eating outside is such a positive experience, every mouthful seems so precious.”
Fresh air definitely stimulates our appetite, so if you’re planning a family picnic, Eunice recommends that you bring more food than you think you actually need. For her, little portable barbecues are a great investment. “You can’t beat sausages at a picnic, especially at the beach.
She recommends having a waterproof blanket to keep everyone nice and dry, preferably one that you’re not too precious about.
“There’s no escaping grass stains and the odd spillage. And if you can, pack a few cushions to create some extra comfort and cushy seating.”
We’ve been doing a lot of zoom calls with our colleagues and now that restrictions have eased, a picnic is a good way to bond with them again in real life.
Eunice says simplicity is essential, as is making sure that everyone brings something to the picnic blanket, the “divide and conquer” approach. She recommends coronation chicken salad, or pasta with pesto, sundried tomatoes and lots of fresh mozzarella. “Lots of nice summer flavours.”
Not everyone is comfortable cooking so put the non-chefs in charge of keeping the picnickers hydrated.
“Fermented drinks such as Kombucha are a great alternative to soft drinks with the added benefit improving your gut health and mood.”
Nuts are another happy food, according to Eunice. If you’re planning a more romantic occasion, she suggests some whole blanched almonds roasted with olive oil, Maldon sea salt and paprika as the perfect accompaniment to a chilled glass of rose.
Follow these with some nice crab or smoked salmon with brown bread. She says that there’s nothing like rare roast beef with a lovely salad for mains. Finish up with cheese and biscuits, and some ripe strawberries and a little pot of cream.
The perfect ingredients for a memorable day out.
This is a rather luxurious salad. The main ingredient (crab) is the most important piece to get right. We are very fortunate here in Dungarvan as we have access to wonderful hand-picked crab from Fishermen in Helvic where you can buy from their gate or from Helvic seafood in Dungarvan.
Flour and Water - a new bakery in Dungarvan - opened its doors for the first time today. I bought a selection of breads. The rye and seed bread I cut very thinly, rubbed in a little olive oil and baked in the oven until crispy. It was absolutely delicious with the crab and robust enough to be packed up for a picnic.
Serves 4 300g
1 chilli very finely diced
A few pieces of pickled ginger finely diced
2 avocados, halved, stones removed and cut into chunks
A handful of chives, very finely sliced A handful of coriander leaves
A dessert spoon of mayonnaise Juice of one lime
Mix the mayonnaise, lime juice, finely sliced coriander and chives, finely diced chilli, finely diced pickled ginger in a largish bowl and stir to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the avocado and crab. Pile onto plates or into jars and serve with toast
This is my favourite salad this summer! I use fillet of beef, but rib-eye will work just as well cut in thin strips having rested after cooking. I have a huge supply of Kale thanks to the pandemic- enforced gardening break — the Covid-19 cloud truly had a kale lining! I feel it’s important to mention that the walnuts you use are very important for the overall flavour. They must be fresh — that open pack of walnuts in the back of the cupboard since Christmas just won’t cut it!
400g Fillet of beef (if using rib of beef, use steaks)
150g Bulgar wheat
1 red chilli de-seeded and finely chopped
4 shallots, peeled and finely sliced
2 garlic cloves peeled and finely sliced 1inch of ginger – grated
A handful of walnuts
2 tablespoons of hoisin sauce
4 tablespoons of teriyaki
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Pre-heat the oven to 180C Begin by sealing the fillet of beef on all sides in a hot pan, season then transfer to the oven for 8/10 minutes for rare beef. Allow to rest for at least 20 minutes.
Whilst the beef is in the oven pop the walnuts in the oven on a baking sheet and toast for 5-7 minutes until golden, allow to cool then chop roughly.
Put the bulgur wheat into a pan with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pan with a lid and cook for 15-20 minutes over a low heat. When the bulgur wheat is tender, drain off the excess water and set aside in a large bowl.
Sauté the shallot in a little olive oil, add the chilli, garlic and ginger and stir fry for 2 minutes or so, then add to the bulgur wheat.
Prepare the kale, remove any thick stems, then shred the leaves with a sharp knife. Put a pan of water on to boil, when boiling add the kale, use a wooden spoon to stir the kale around for about a minute until it wilts then drain off the water using a colander, give the kale an encouraging squeeze with the back of a wooden spoon to get rid of any excess water. Then add to the bulgur wheat.
Pour 2 tablespoons of hoisin sauce and 4 tablespoons of Teriyaki over the bulgur and kale, mix then season with freshly ground salt and pepper to taste.
Arrange the kale and bulgur wheat salad on a large platter, then thinly slice the beef and place on top, sprinkle with chopped walnuts.
These are DIVINE! The gooseberry and elderflower are fantastically zingy. Together, they spell summer!
175g butter melted
120g ground almonds
6 egg whites lightly beaten
180g icing sugar – sieved
60g plain flour
36 gooseberries topped and tailed
3 tablespoons of elderflower cordial
A tablespoon of flaked almonds
Preheat the oven to 180C First gently poach the gooseberries in the elderflower syrup until tender, about 5 minutes. Strain off the cooking liquid and reserve, allow the gooseberries to cool down.
Lightly butter 12 hole mini muffin tin Mix the butter, ground almonds, egg whites, icing sugar and flour together and half fill the muffin holes.
Divide the gooseberries between the friands and sprinkle flaked almonds on top.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until set Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes or so before gently removing from the tin and cooling on a wire rack.
Brush each one with a little of the cooking liquor.
Serve with crème fraiche
One of my favourite shops in Dungarvan is Cass and Co. It can always be relied upon for fantastic coffee, great cheese, Seagull sourdough and a plethora of wonderful well-sourced ingredients. I buy some wonderful Crozier Blue here every week. I tend to favour Crozier for picnics as the texture isn’t quite as creamy as it’s sister, Cashel blue. These cheese biscuits are wonderful with Crozier, their sweetness complements the saltiness of the cheese.
100g butter (at room temperature)
100g Porridge oats (Flahavans of course)
50g Plain flour
Preheat the oven to 160C Cream the butter and sugar together then add the oats and flour. Mix the flour and the oats, then lightly knead the mixture until smooth and roll out to a thickness of 5mm on a lightly floured surface.
Cut into desired shapes and place on lined baking trays.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes until beginning to colour.
Cool on a wire rack.