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When It Sizzles, a Picnic Can Soothe

June 06, 1996|MARY CARROLL

Both my parents worked full-time when I was young, so my grandmother took care of my younger sister and me. She had her hands full thinking up entertainment for two little girls during the hot Baltimore summers, but one sure-fire way was to bribe us with a picnic on the banks of a nearby stream.

My grandmother's picnics were never rushed affairs, neither in their preparation nor their enjoyment. Her secret: She always cooked the picnic food the day before. She chose foods that could be made ahead, that packed well and stayed fresh for hours in a cooler placed under a tree.

I still follow her basic picnic rules today as I plan our family picnics.

I start with sandwiches made from a variety of spreads paired with rye and pita breads. Making the spreads myself lets me control the calories and fat, and most taste better after being stored in the refrigerator overnight. Packed into lidded plastic containers in the cooler, along with breathable plastic bags of rinsed and torn lettuce, sprouts, red onion slices and other fixings, they become a make-your-own-sandwich smorgasbord. Any leftover spreads can be eaten with sliced raw vegetables for a low-fat afternoon snack.

Around the sandwiches, I build menus that are both fun and practical for the long, hot evening while waiting for the fireworks to start. Chilled soup is often a big hit, especially a spicy gazpacho or a pureed fruit soup made with ripe cantaloupe or berries. Both can be made the day before the picnic, packed into icy thermoses and kept in the cooler until serving time.

Marinated salads are another welcome picnic food if made with crunchy vegetables that won't wilt in the heat (red or green pepper, raw corn kernels scraped from the cob, cucumber and cabbage are great). Coleslaw, potato salads and pasta and rice salads can be made ahead of time also. The longer the flavors mingle, the better they taste. Be sure they are kept cold at the picnic site.

Dessert is always simple: home-baked cookies or fruit bars. And don't forget the lemonade.

GREEN AND WHITE GAZPACHO

Serve this elegant but easy-to-make chilled soup directly from a wide-mouth thermos.

6 cups snow peas

3 cups defatted chicken, beef or vegetable broth

1 small onion, finely minced

2 to 3 cloves garlic, pressed

1/2 cup seeded and minced green pepper

1 small jalapen~o chile, seeded and finely chopped

3/4 cup minced celery

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon lime juice

1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste

Salt, pepper

Combine snow peas and broth in large saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer 25 minutes. Strain out snow peas and reserve for another purpose.

Add onion, garlic, green pepper, jalapen~o, celery, lemon and lime juices, tarragon, cumin, cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill 3 hours or overnight. Adjust seasonings to taste before serving. Serve cold.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Each of 4 servings contains about:

142 calories; 541 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 1 gram fat; 25 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 6.22 grams fiber.

TANGY CARROT-RAISIN SLAW

I serve this salad year-round. It's easy and low-fat but tastes very rich.

1/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt, plus more to taste

2 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise

6 cups grated carrots

1/2 cup raisins

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, well-drained

Freshly ground pepper

Whisk together yogurt and mayonnaise in bowl. Add carrots, raisins, pineapple and pepper to taste. To make salad tangier, add more yogurt.

Cover and refrigerate 15 minutes or overnight before packing into cooler container.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Each of 4 servings contains about:

194 calories; 111 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 42 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 2.23 grams fiber.

OATMEAL-CINNAMON TUILES

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg white

2 tablespoons unbleached white flour

1/4 cup rolled oats

Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Lightly spray paper with nonstick cooking spray.

Cream together butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon and salt in bowl. Add egg white and whisk until smooth. Stir in flour and oats, mixing well.

Drop batter in rounded teaspoons onto prepared baking sheets, spacing cookies 4 inches apart to allow them to spread while baking. Using back of wooden spoon, press batter into 2 1/2-inch rounds.

Bake at 425 degrees until edges turn golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Immediately lift cookies from baking sheet with metal spatula and drape over rolling pin to cool in curved shapes.

Makes about 12 cookies.

Each serving contains about:

46 calories; 74 mg sodium; 5 mg cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 7 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.02 gram fiber.

MACARONI SALAD

Macaroni salad is usually laden with fat, but this version is lean, delicious and easy to make ahead.

1 pound small macaroni

1/2 cup nonfat cottage cheese, drained

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt

Salt, pepper

1 1/2 cups corn kernels

1 tablespoon minced fresh basil leaves

2 cups halved cherry tomatoes

Cook macaroni in large pan of boiling salted water until just tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Drain well.

Process cottage cheese in blender until smooth. Stir in vinegar, oil and yogurt. Combine cottage cheese mixture and macaroni in bowl and toss well. Let stand 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Before serving, stir in corn, basil and tomatoes.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Each of 4 servings contains about:

575 calories; 218 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol; 9 grams fat; 103 grams carbohydrates; 21 grams protein; 1.33 grams fiber.

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