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Jul 16

"How to Get More Than 750mL of Alcohol into Piknic Electronik", and Other Picnic Recipes

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At Piknic Electronik, a meal can mean PB&J's with a bottle of Dep wine, a pic-a-nic basket of Quebec raw cheeses, organic breads, dried figs and terrines with a bottle of something expensive, or a few cans of beer and baguette. Unfortunately, Montreal puts a legal limit on the amount of alcohol you can consume in public, as if we're not all responsible adults. So you can only bring one 750mL bottle of wine or 3 regular sized cans (or two tall cans) of beer to Piknic Electronik per person, but with a well-planned meal you can get around that problem pretty easily. Sure, a bottle of wine is a fair bit, but if you're hanging out for 7 hours at a picnik, you might want a little more to drink. So here are a few recipes, with and without alcohol, for both the creative drinker and the less alcoholic, stumped cook/picnic-maker.

When choosing picnic food there are some key factors to make sure of:
1. Nothing melts (cheese, frozen things)
2. Nothing spoils or wilts from the heat (meat, leafy greens)
3. Nothing needs to be reheated or chilled
4. Everything is easily transportable and serve-able (not heavy, not messy)
5. Everyone will like, and can eat, the dish (this one is only important if you're the kind of person who shares...It has to be delicious, but you also may have to consider friends who are vegetarian, vegan, lactose-intolerant, gluten-free, allergic to peanuts, etc.)

The trick to getting more alcohol into Jean Drapeau, or any picnic, is to make food with alcohol in it. This Honeydew Melon soup recipe is refreshing and boozy, because it's fruity, served cold (or cool), and the alcohol doesn't get cooked off. It packs well in a thermos, and if you forget a spoon it's not a big deal, as it's an easily drinkable soup.

Ingredients:
1 ripe honeydew melon, cut in half, seeds removed, and flesh scooped into a blender or food processor
1/2 cup fresh mint, plus a little extra for garnish
3 tbsp melon liqueur
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tbsp honey or cane sugar (the sugar will dissolve by the time you're ready to eat the soup at the picnic, but I recommend the honey for flavour)
a pinch of salt

Directions (there is only one step):
1. Put everything in the blender or food processor (in batches, if your blender isn't big enough or powerful enough) and blend. I kind of like it a little textured, so there's more substance and it feels like a meal, not a juice. Garnish with a little chopped mint.

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I'm also a huge fan of fruit soaked in alcohol, like Quebec strawberries or (non-Quebec) grapes, or any kind of fruit salad (since fruid salads are specifically called 'picnic food' by Parc Jean-Drapeau) soaked in Port-style Quebec dessert wines (Try Ete Indien, available at some SAQs, or ask for a sweet red dessert wine suggestion. Ete Indien has a bit of chocolate flavour to it that's nice). Let the fruit soak in the fridge for at least 5 hours, optionally with some long strips of lemon zest (the yellow part) added to infuse the liquid. Obviously find some tupperware, not a glass dish like above, to transport your alcohol-soaked treat.

You can also soak fresh cantaloupe or other melon cubes or balls in more melon liqueur and serve them as a garnish for the soup. A slice of prosciutto also works for a garnish (if you don't add prosciutto as a garnish you may consider adding a little fleur de sel or large salt as garnish, since it's a really nice flavour), so choose between pig and alcohol. Both seems like overkill, but be my guest...you could even wrap the prosciutto around the liqueur-soaked fruit, if you so desired.

Less alcoholic recipe options, and my new favourite recipe:
Mango Pasta Salad

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You don't even cook the sauce. It's perfect on its own, but you can also throw in some mango liqueur. Buy mangoes and wait until they're perfectly ripe, or even one day past perfectly ripe (I know this requires a lot of patience, so buy in bulk from Leopoldo's in Jean-Talon. If you buy. You want them to be at the point where they're more syrup than liquid, so they coat the pasta in a thick glaze. Also, feel free to add more diced vegetables to the salad, use different kinds of pasta and different herbs.

Mango Dressing:
2 sweet yellow mangoes, very ripe (these are nicer for the recipe than the green and red ones)
1/3 cup vegetable or chicken broth (preferably organic and without a lot of sugar or salt. They'll throw off the balance of the ingredients)
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice (it makes a difference, so use bottled only if you absolutely have to)
2 tsp olive oil (if your mangoes are thick and syrupy enough you can use less or none of this, but it's so little anyway, and the salad is already so low in fat)
1 cloves of garlic, peeled

Salad Ingredients:
1 lb pasta of choice (spirals, fusilli or rotini are the best since sauce sticks to them well)
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (or cilantro, or basil, etc.)
1 cup diced bell peppers, diced (red, orange, or green, or a mix)

1. Cook the pasta. When it's done, drain the pot and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Drain again and leave to air dry while you make the sauce. The only way you can mess this up is with soggy pasta.

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2. Slice the sides off the mangoes and scoop out the flesh with a spoon into a food processor or blender. Cut however you can around the pit and scrape all the juice and mango meat into the blender. Mangoes are a bit messy, but the sauce gets blended, so it doesn't have to be pretty.

3. Add the rest of the dressing ingredients and blend.

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4. Put the chopped herbs and peppers along with the cooked and drained pasta in a large bowl. Add the sauce and stir to combine.

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Chickpeas with Peppers, Parsley and Homemade French Dressing

You can make this with a mix of beans or any kind of bean you like. You can use dried or canned beans, but I figure in a salad where you're really going to taste the beans you ought to soak dried beans and then cook them so you don't get the metallic, smelly, brine-y canned taste. I had an epiphanic experience with chickpeas once making a chickpea soup that ended up tasting like hummous and I didn't add even a touch of tahini or sesame oil or seeds. The nutty flavour of the chickpeas was natural. THAT is what chickpeas are supposed to taste like, but all brands are not created equal. Strive for nuttiness...in the nicest possible way.

Ingredients (pictured at the top, along with combined dressing):
4 cups cooked chickpeas (1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas or two 540mL cans).*
1 bell pepper (I used a mix of red, yellow and orange, but any colour, or mix of colours, is fine)
1/2 cup (or less) white onion or shallot (I kind of hate raw white onion in salads because the taste is so pungent and you end up with bad breath for the rest of the day. Also not good on a picnic)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped pretty fine
1 tbsp fresh basil
1 tbsp fresh thyme (I haven't been enjoying basil lately and I couldn't find thyme [who can? Sorry...] so I just bought some pesticide-free herbs from my local store that looked fresh. These happened to be rosemary, sage and lemon balm. Since there was lemon in the dressing already I thought the balm would be a great addition. I also love the fresh leaves for making tea. Iced and slightly sweetened it's also a great lemonade. Very mild)
2 cups cooked pasta, optional

French Dressing:
Please don't use a bottled vinaigrette. There are seven ingredients in this dressing and it's very much worth it.

2 tbsp white vinegar (if you substitute with white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, be careful of the amount of brown sugar and ketchup you add below.

2 tbsp tomato ketchup (I very much do not support the use of Heinz. Something without corn syrup or a huge amount of sugar added is ideal. No sugar added is the best, but this is next to impossible unless you make your own. If you make your own please marry me. If you make your own but it's fruit-based instead of tomato-based, or if you actually use corn syrup or heaps of sugar, do not marry me, please)

1 tbsp brown sugar (start with less and add more as you taste the dressing and decide it needs it)

1/2 tsp paprika (most paprika is bland, and in this case just used for colour, but a smoky paprika or a slightly hotter paprika would be fun to try. You could also use a little cayenne to make the spicing more typically Indian than French or Hungarian. I will marry people from any of these places if they make their own ketchup and use high-quality paprika)

2 tsp lemon juice (fresh is better than bottled, and feel free to adjust the amount to your tastes. Using more lemon juice is actually great because it reduces the amount of oil you'll ingest per serving by diluting the vinaigrette without sacrificing flavour. This is kind of the secret of a lower-fat salad that has taste and no preservatives or additives)

2 tsp grated onion (this is key for flavour and body. Do not skip it)

3 tbsp olive oil (or canola or whatever other oil you like. It's a strongly-flavoured dressing so even if you use a strongly-flavoured oil it'll still work)

Directions:
1. Soak the dried chickpeas overnight in 6 cups of water. Drain them and then put them in a large pot with about 10 cups of cold water. A good trick at this point is add 1/2 tsp turmeric to the water. It doesn't affect the flavour or really even the end colour, but it makes digesting the chickpeas easier.

2. Bring to a boil, skim any scum that rises to the top, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 80 minutes, until the beans are tender. Yes, 80 minutes! It's an eternity, I know. You can do this step in advance, though, and even freeze the beans for months.**

Oh! You can also do the quick-soak method, which is kind of a joke because you still need to cook the beans afterward for 80 minutes. Still, if you forgot to soak overnight, or didn't plan in advance, just bring the 1 1/2 cups of dried beans to a boil with 6 cups of water. When the water reaches a boil, reduce the heat to about medium, and let the beans simmer for 3 minutes. Then cover the pot and remove it from the heat. Let the beans sit, covered, for an hour. Then drain them and proceed with the 80 minute cooking part with 10 cups of fresh water.

3. Now the salad's easy. Combine all the salad ingredients (chickpeas, bell pepper of choice, onion, herbs and optional pasta. Not the dressing ingredients) in a large bowl. Add all the vinaigrette ingredients except the oil to a seal-able container and shake "vigorously" to combine. Don't go overboard. A granny can make this dressing just fine. Then add the oil and shake again to emulsify. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix to combine. The salad tastes better if you let it sit in the fridge, covered, for a few hours (at least 4, ideally) to let the flavours blend. This sounds like a bunch of hooey, but just try it, especially if you use pasta.

If you DO use canned beans make sure you drain and wash the beans very well in cold water before using. Also let them dry off a little after the bath, so you don't water down the vinaigrette.

This is a beautiful salad, and as long as the vinaigrette is pungent it's delicious. Very simple. Anyone can do it.

For more salad recipes, including a TexiCali version with corn, tomatoes and a yogurt lime dressing, you can check out my blog at www.multiculturiosity.blogspot.com

*The annoying thing about cooking dried beans is that each bean has a different cooking time (with chickpeas taking significantly longer), so if you use several different kinds of dried beans for these recipes and cook them all together, at least some beans will be over-cooked and mushy, and others may end up under-cooked and tough. Neither of these things will make you enamoured of beans, which is certainly the point. Why go on a picnic with a chickpea salad that doesn't taste good if you can stay home and BBQ something that will be intrinsically delicious (meat = fat = flavour)? This discourages positive social behavior and general summer fun, unless you like solitude...for which there is something to be said. Anyway, I digress. The point is, it's easier to just cook one kind of bean, whatever you happen to have on hand. You can't store fresh meat in the cupboard for a few months waiting to be invited to a picnic. Well you could, but you certainly wouldn't make any friends that way.

**They'll keep in the fridge for at least 4 days, but that doesn't give you much time to eat the salad once it's made, and it's better to freeze the beans by themselves than to freeze the tossed salad with its fresh herbs, crisp vegetables and vinaigrette. Make sure you have an air-tight freezer bag. You can also make a double batch of chickpeas and freeze half for the next time you need them. This saves the hassle of the process the next time.