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3 great picnics for the 4th : Whether It's a Meal of Burgers and Hot Dogs, a Classic Cold Bird for Two or an Assortment of Unusual Sausages, a Fourth of July Outdoor Feast Is Cause for Celebration in the Southland

June 30, 1988|By BETSY BALSLEY | Times Food Editor

When it comes to picnicking, most Southern Californians are past masters of how to pack and port food and other necessities for an alfresco meal in an efficient and pleasurable manner. It's an ability that comes naturally with the location, like learning to drive the freeways with equanimity. But even an expert can use a little help now and then, particularly when faced with what is traditionally the biggest outdoor holiday celebration of the year. New portable menu ideas, designed to make the Fourth of July celebration a success, are always welcome.

It's easy, of course, to stop at a deli or take-out and pick up some sandwiches or other goodies, but that really doesn't provide the spark that an obviously carefully planned open air feast does. And, naturally, there's no better day for a "super picnic" than the Fourth, a very special day for all of us. It won't hurt a bit if a few glitzy touches are added to make this particular occasion a true outdoor celebration replete with bunting and banners and other red, white and blue reminders of what the day represents. The food doesn't have to be exotic or even fancy, but a good picnic menu does have to go together and whet the appetite.

It matters not whether one plans a picnic for the family, a neighborhood outing or a romantic interlude for two. The fine art of dining around the pool, under a shady tree in the park or on the sand at your favorite beach all have the same requirement--good company and good food. Fresh air tends to build healthy appetites, so a picnic is no place for a make-do meal.

For a pool-side celebration, why not opt for a feast of unusual sausages? Grill five or six different types of sausages--Polish kielbasa, bratwurst, knackwurst, Italian sweet and hot sausages, garlic sausages and the like--over hot coals and then cut them into chunks to be served on warmed buns or rolls. Top the sausage sandwiches with apple-sweetened sauerkraut or serve it on the side if you prefer. For flavor contrast and color, add a multilayer hot bean casserole and you'll have a menu that is easy, yet different.

Then, of course, there's the out-and-out cold picnic classic, the cold-bird-and-bottle menu that is the epitome of the romantic pique-nique a deux, whether it's planned for two or more. But even a classic such as this can take on more glamorous overtones when the fowl is Cornish hen and the accompaniments include a stunning papaya and asparagus appetizer and a chilled apricot-laced rice salad.

Those perennial picnic favorites hot dogs and hamburgers need to be a bit festive for this special occasion. So why not add a surprise hidden in the center of the ground beef patty in the form of a sneaky horseradish-flavored sauce. Or adapt the old Joe's Special recipe that combines ground beef with egg and spinach in a patty that will taste delicious.

Hot dogs can be prepared in the form of kebabs or cut in chunks and mixed with a spicy tomato relish. Serve these in pita bread halves for something different.

Splurge on special breads or buns to go with these untraditional versions of traditional picnic foods and serve them with spicy deviled eggs, a vinegary cole slaw and a rich, well-chilled potato salad.

Not one of these picnic menus is based on exotic foods, but all have a few touches that take them out of the realm of the ordinary. And that's what makes them special enough for our country's birthday celebration. Here are the recipes.

CASUAL PICNIC

Mixed Sausage Grill Layered Beer Bean Pot Apple Sauerkraut Fresh Fruit Beer MIXED SAUSAGE GRILL

3 to 4 pounds assorted sausages (kielbasa, knackwurst, Italian sweet and/or hot links, bratwurst, etc.)

While coals are heating to ashy state, place sausages in heavy skillet or skillets and add hot water to depth of about 1/2 inch. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until water evaporates. Dry sausages on paper towels and arrange on open grill about 5 inches from coals. Grill, turning as needed, until sausages are browned and cooked through.

Slice in chunks or halves and serve assortment to each diner. Makes about 6 servings.

LAYERED BEER BEAN POT

1 cup minced onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon dry mustard

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

2 cups beer

Salt, pepper

1 (15-ounce) can butter beans

1 (15 1/4-ounce) can red kidney beans

1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans

1 (1-pound 1-ounce) can green lima beans

1 (15-ounce) can great northern beans

Combine onion, garlic, dry mustard, brown sugar and beer in bowl or measuring cup. Mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper. Layer butter beans, red kidney beans, pinto beans, green lima beans and great northern beans in casserole or bean pot, adding some of beer mixture between each layer. Pour any remaining beer mixture over beans. Cover and bake at 325 degrees 1 hour or place over low heat and simmer 40 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

APPLE SAUERKRAUT

4 slices bacon, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup chopped celery

2 green onions, chopped

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