Creating the Perfect Birthday Picnic
Last weekend Kalo turned the big 3-0 and what better way to low-key celebrate than with a picnic, chilled white wine and salted chocolate cake? Yes, salted!
Picnics and British summertime go hand-in-hand, toss my husband's birthday into the mix and it's a party. Not a "crazy" party per the birthday boy's wishes, so instead of inviting a bunch of friends to the park, I was determined to make this picnic extra special starting and ending with the food. On the menu were BLT Skewers with a honey, dijon dressing, Tricolore Arancini with marinara for dipping and Salted Chocolate Cake. Aside from being delicious, each dish hit all 3 of my picnic criteria: tasty at room temperature, easy to eat with hands and no trouble to transport. Let me tell you more so that you'll be prepped and ready for your next picnic.
Warning! Assembling BLT skewers can cause childish meltdowns. Do not attempt if you prefer thin, crisp bacon or be prepared to eat more broken pieces off of the counter than you dare admit to your blog readers. However, after several failed attempts and 3 packages of bacon later I was able to find a work-around. The trick is to roll and pierce the bacon while it is still sizzling hot (ouch be sure to use tongs). The slices are more pliable when warm and will then harden around the skewer. Of course you can always purchase thicker cut bacon if you can find it. Curse my local grocery store! Oh and here's another tip, sandwich the bacon between bread cubes in order to secure in place and catch all the yummy drippings.
Without a doubt, these skewers are real showstoppers. Each layer is a celebration of crunch and colour. The tomatoes burst in your mouth, the lettuce is peppery and who doesn't love bacon? I put my own spin on things by using tangy sourdough bread, adding chunks of cheddar cheese and spooning a honey mustard vinaigrette over the top. I recommend toasting your bread on the stove with plenty of butter. Hello nuttiness! Also, instead of toothpicks, consider using the large bamboo skewers like I did. They'll turn these bite-sized ingredients into an actual meal. Finally, for the dressing, simply eyeball a dollop of mayonnaise and whole grain mustard, 2-3 teaspoons of honey, 2 teaspoons of white wine vinegar, juice from half a lemon, salt and pepper. Drizzle right before serving and make sure your phone is handy to get that boomerang. Ya feel me?
Next, I'm insanely proud to tell you about these arancini a.k.a. deep fried risotto balls. I had never fried anything before so I didn't have a fancy thermometer or that spider contraption for draining. All I had were my wits and some determination. Turns out that is all you really need. Giada's recipe is incredibly easy to follow and follow it I did. Exactly actually. Are you shocked? But now that I've gone through the process once I wrote down a few tips and ideas to share with you all.
Feel free to cook the risotto the night before and pop it into the fridge to firm up and become a little tacky. I promise, tackiness is good when it comes to forming arancini. When it's time to start dredging and frying, have all your balls rolled then breaded before dropping them into the hot oil. I was a total spaz going back and forth between rolling, dunking, shaking and frying. It wasn't pretty but I learned a valuable lesson that preparation is the key to any successful dish. Another piece of advice, sprinkle the arancini with salt once they come out of the fryer so that the salt sticks. It's a game changer.
Overall, the arancini balls were delicious, the perfect marriage between crunchy exterior and creamy interior. Guessing which colour/flavour we had picked up was a fun game and we even made a few wagers. Believe it or not, I think the plain parmesan were my favourite, dipped in loads of garlicky marinara sauce that I made fresh just for Kalo. Next time I make this recipe, I'd like to experiment by putting cubes of mozzarella in the centre or adding crispy prosciutto to the mix. Sky's the limit now that I'm a deep frying professional.
"Now, I'm sure that you've all heard of salted caramel but salted chocolate seems to fly completely under the radar. Not anymore! I want to shine a bright spotlight on this amazing flavour combination."
No birthday picnic would be complete without a cake. Since the most important man in my life was turning 30 I thought he deserved to have the most decadent cake I could find. Now, I'm sure that you've all heard of salted caramel but salted chocolate seems to fly completely under the radar. Not anymore! I want to shine a bright spotlight on this amazing flavour combination. The salt brightens or elevates the richness of the chocolate in a mind-blowing manor, you all just have to try it. Quick suggestion, use the 2, 9-inch round pans that the recipe calls for. I baked my cake in a 9x13 glass dish and it turned out too dense in the middle and dry around the edges but hey that's what frosting is for baby.
Before we part, everyone please wish Kalo the happiest of birthdays. HFL would not be possible without him tasting all of my cooking, planning trips and taking all of the photos you see on the blog.
Now get outside, get picnicking and enjoy your summer!