Sorry this invitation is so late getting to you, but we've just been so busy lately--you know, with that outhouse incident and the subsequent laser surgery. The time just got away from us.
But we still wanted to invite you to a Fourth of July picnic.
Seriously, what would a Fourth of July picnic be without you? Remember when you pretended to be a human sparkler? And that time you dressed up like John Philip Sousa?
Well, anyway, better late than never. Here's the invitation. Hope you don't have anything planned.
DATE: Fourth of July, 1997.
WHAT: A picnic with family and friends--and lots of good food.
How good? Well, we picked the brains of a few San Fernando Valley restaurant folks to find out what they would put in a Fourth of July picnic basket.
Damon Bruner, head chef at Cinnabar in Glendale, said he would build his picnic menu around a quality salad.
"When I would go on picnics with my mom, she would bring a potato salad made with new potatoes, whole grain mustard, fresh grated horseradish and white wine vinaigrette," Bruner said. "She would toss all these things together with salt and pepper."
Bruner also suggested a creation of his own--a smoked corn salad that he said is more on the relish end of the scale.
"It's not as hearty or as big or as chunky as the potato salad," he said. "You can grill the corn [cob] or take the kernels off the cob first. If you're at home I would suggest blanching the corn first, then grilling it and taking the corn off the cob and mixing it with fresh ingredients--black beans, avocado, tomato and cayenne pepper." Bruner said he would use the salad to complement a meat or fish dish.
"I have champagne taste with a beer budget," he said. "With my champagne taste, I would definitely do a chilled Dungeness crab salad. My beer budget would do grilled hot dogs or any kind of grilled sausage."
Or maybe spare ribs--a tradition on occasions like this--or Chilean sea bass--not quite a tradition, but a proven success.
"I tried it at a barbecue once--grilled Chilean sea bass," he said. "I put it on top of a salad with a citrus vinaigrette and corn relish and served it with a chilled bottle of Pinot Noir. I didn't know if we were allowed to be drinking in the park, but it was wonderful."
Leo Liano, corporate chef for the seven J.W.'s Downtown Grille restaurants in Glendale, offered some picnic tips based on his experience preparing outdoor meals for his six children and a sizable assortment of relatives.
His 41 years of professional kitchen experience helped too.
Liano emphasized the importance of being selective when choosing the food, being careful only to prepare dishes that are not likely to go bad under the hot California sun.
"For an outdoor barbecue, the temperatures can reach 90 degrees. Between 90 and 130 it's very easy for something to happen," he said. "Seafood, even in 90 degrees I would not recommend, because it could spoil, even shrimp cocktail."
What Liano did recommend, prepared either at home or on an outdoor grill, is chicken, cole slaw, corn bread, baked beans and corn on the cob. For a salad, he said, a three-bean dish is a good choice.
"Beans keep longer, also pickles, beets, those kinds of things are very, very good for outdoors, especially for picnics," he said. "Mushrooms, artichokes and tomatoes can also keep well in a marinade of olive oil or balsamic vinegar."
Marinade, he said, could also prove a lifesaver for the meat eaters at the outing. Preparing the meat in vinegar, olive oil or Kosher salt, Liano said, can help fight off bacteria that can result from leaving the food in the sun.
He suggested ribs, steak or lamb. Pork is OK too, he said, if it is prepared extremely well done.
"These are things the average person can do," Liano said. "And it is very, very fun."
For Gaetano Palmeri, a longtime chef and now co-owner with his wife Rory of Gaetano's Ristorante in Calabasas, the key to preparing an appealing picnic basket is creativity.
"You can just buy cold cuts, like smoked turkey or smoked chicken and put together some nice sandwiches," Palmeri said. "You have to use your imagination. If you don't want to spend much money, take a cold pasta salad with the sandwiches. It's very, very healthy and very inexpensive."
If money is no object, or at least not a major object, Palmeri rattled off a somewhat fancier menu.
"I would suggest poached salmon, baby mixed-greens salad, roasted bell pepper, buffalo mozzarella with beefsteak tomatoes, olive oil and basil," he said. "You can make a grilled eggplant, with a little bit of garlic and bell peppers, like a vegetarian sandwich. It can be all grilled with a little bit of balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil."
WHERE: Just about anywhere you can find an unoccupied picnic table or a plot of grass would do the trick. But that's much more easier said than done on a major holiday.