Picnics, Cook-Outs & TailgatingBy Lori Grossman
Just hearing the word "picnic" brings back childhood memories. My dad was the ringleader -- or instigator, if you prefer. A New York state native who became a thoroughly transplanted Texan, he loved driving the back roads and discovering the beauty and historic sites of his beloved Texas.
As soon as I was old enough, he taught me how to read a Texas road map and how to locate roadside parks (now listed as "picnic areas"). We'd pick one that looked interesting, and early Saturday morning, we loaded the car with a bag full of non-perishable items and the pale green aluminum cooler stocked with several kinds of soda water, a jar of sweet pickle relish, mustard, hamburger patties, and hot dogs. Once everything was loaded -- including me and my older brother in the back seat -- Dad would head out of San Antonio.
We'd drive home in the afternoon with full stomachs and memories of the scenic beauty we'd seen. If you grew up in Texas, you know what I mean. And if you haven't packed up some picnic supplies and enjoyed one of the numerous picnic areas along Texas roadsides, by all means, do! I guarantee you'll make memories for the rest of your lives.
Just about any fare suitable for a picnics or cook-outs works well for tailgating parties, too. The same kind of advance preparation applies, as are the supplies necessary to transport and keep ingredients cold (or hot). There is something special about food cooked and eaten al fresco. (For those of us not conversant in italian, that translates "in the fresh air".) Outdoor settings definitely sharpen appetites.
Homemade Hamburger Buns
In a large bowl, using a whisk (or in the work bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), combine the remaining 1-1/4 cups water, nonfat dry milk, the remaining sugar, salt and butter. Add 2 cups of the flour. Beat hard until creamy (about 1 minute). Add remaining the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the soft dough just clears the sides of the bowl. Switch to a wooden spoon when necessary if mixing by hand.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 4 minutes. Dust with flour, 1 tablespoon at a time as needed, to make a soft dough. If kneading by machine, switch from the paddle to the dough hook and knead for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed. If desired, transfer dough to a floured surface and knead briefly by hand.
Place dough in a deep, greased container. Turn once to coat the top and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1-1/4 hours.
Gently deflate the dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. Grease a baking sheet. Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Shape each into a tight round ball and place seam side down at least 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Use a second baking sheet if necessary rather than crowding the dough. Flatten each dough ball with your palm. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until puffy (about 20 minutes).
About 20 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 350°F. Brush each bun with the egg glaze and sprinkle tops with sesame seeds. Place baking sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until slightly brown and firm to the touch. Transfer buns to a cooling rack. Cool completely before splitting. Makes 12 buns.
Hamburgers with Chunky Guacamole Salsa
Chunky Guacamole Salsa
In a small bowl, mix together the lime juice, shallots, cilantro, cumin and salt. Whisk in the oil. Pour over the avocados and tomatoes and mix gently so the avocados won't be mashed.
Taste and add more salt, if desired. Serve immediately, or cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for up to 1 hour.
Packing for a picnic? Cover and refrigerate the salsa for 4 hours. Transfer to a tightly closed, watertight container and pack in your ice chest or cooler. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before serving. Makes about 2-1/2 cups.
Home prep for hamburgers: Fry bacon in a medium, heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp and golden. Remove and drain on paper towels. Break each slice in half and wrap bacon in aluminum foil. Shape the ground beef into 6 patties about 1/2-inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap. Pack bacon and beef patty packages in the ice chest.
When you've reached your destination and are ready to cook, grill the burgers 4 to 5 minutes per side until cooked through (internal temperature should be 160°F. Place the burgers on bottoms of toasted buns. Salt burgers very lightly and top each with 2 halves of bacon. Mound the burgers with desired amount of Chunky Guacamole Salsa and cover with tops of buns. Makes 6 burgers.
Mini Chocolate Almond Cupcakes
Melt chocolate in top of a double boiler (or in a heat-proof bowl) set over but not touching simmering water in a saucepan. Stir until melted and smooth. Stir in coffee powder until dissolved. Remove pan from heat and cool 5 minutes.
With electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter in a medium bowl until smooth (about 1 minute). Add sugar gradually, beating until mixture is light and fluffy (3 to 4 minutes). Stop and scrape down sides of bowl if necessary. Lower speed and add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the melted chocolate, ground almonds and flour.
You can make these up to two days ahead. To take along on your picnic, place cupcakes in large ziplock bags. If there's room on top of the ice in your cooler, lay the bag(s) on top. If not, keep them in a closed paper bag in a shady area of your car.
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