bc-picnicpanic(sh)

Published:

Last-minute picnic invite? You can still bring something good.

Scripps Howard News Service

Must credit Tampa Bay Times

By PATTI EWALD

Tampa Bay Times

Got a last-minute invite to a picnic or barbecue, and have no idea what to bring? We've come to your rescue, and we brought reinforcements.

We traipsed over to Tropicana Field and brought back some suggestions from the Tampa Bay Rays.

Manager Joe Maddon was the most eager to share a recipe -- sausage and peppers. His dad was Italian (their name used to be Maddoni) and his mom is Polish (she still works as a waiter at the Third Base Dugout restaurant in Hazleton, Pa.), so he knows good food.

"It makes my mouth water just thinking about it," he said.

Designated hitter Hideki Matsui added an international flair via his translator, Roger Kahlon.

His Japanese was translated to onigiri, rice balls or triangles wrapped in seaweed with something -- like salmon or plum -- stuffed in the center.

Elliot Johnson said he'd bring chocolate-covered almonds, though he fretted about them melting in the heat. Pitcher Jeremy Hellickson deemed himself the fruit guy: "I'd take watermelon and strawberries, my two favorites."

So, if you find yourself suddenly in need of a dish to share pronto, you can always take a suggestion from one of the players. It'll be a conversation starter, if nothing else.

For something a little more traditional, we offer some tried-and-true crowd-pleasers that use common and/or few ingredients.

6 hours to picnic time

(Recipes below)

1. Not Your Ordinary Mac 'n' Cheese: Make from scratch or doctor a box mix.

2. Ice-Cream Sandwich Cake: So fancy, they'll never know its origins.

3. Corn Pudding: It's a little heavy, but deeelicious.

4. Cocktail Meatballs: The slow-cooker takes the time for this easy recipe.

5. Party Potatoes: There's a reason this recipe has been around forever: When you take these potatoes to a party, you never bring any home.

4 hours to picnic time

1. Pistachio Pudding (or variations)

What you'll need: 2 boxes instant pistachio pudding, 4 cups milk, 1 regular size tub whipped topping and a can of crushed pineapple in its own juice.

Make pistachio pudding as directed. Gently stir in whipped topping. Even more gently, stir in the can of drained pineapple.

No pistachio? Make your own combo. How about vanilla pudding, whipped topping, sliced bananas in a dish lined with vanilla wafers? Or chocolate pudding and raspberries?

2. Noodles and Cabbage

What you'll need: 1 pound of bacon, a package of pasta (bow-tie or your favorite), a small head of cabbage.

Cut the bacon into half-inch slices and fry. Dump out some of the grease, keeping as much as you can in good conscience. Then chop up -- or, even better, grate -- the cabbage and fry it with the bacon until tender. In another pan, cook the pasta as directed (al dente). Drain and put it back in the pot, pour the bacon-cabbage mixture over it and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste. It's a crowd favorite.

3. Rotisserie Chicken Salad

What you'll need: a rotisserie chicken, mayo, cranberries.

Cut or pull the meat off the bone in bite-size pieces, discarding the carcass and the skin. Put it in a bowl. Add low-fat mayo to desired consistency and then sprinkle in some dried cranberries. That's the basic recipe. Add whatever else strikes your fancy, perhaps almonds or celery.

4. Tostados Con Frijoles Negros y Queso Fresco (Refried Black Bean Tostados)

What you'll need: vegetable oil, corn tortillas, canned refried black beans, grated parmesan and grated queso fresco (find it in the refrigerated section).

Heat a saute pan over medium heat. Add a generous splash of vegetable oil and fry the corn tortillas on both sides two at a time until you get as many as you need. Place the fried tortillas on paper towels to drain excess grease. Heat a can's worth (or two if you need) of refried black beans over low heat, adding a splash of water to get to spreadable consistency. Take the tortillas, beans and cheeses to the picnic. Once there, spread a thin layer of warm refried beans on each tortilla and sprinkle with the cheeses. Simple and scrumptious.

5. Thai Salad

What you'll need: 1 package Oriental ramen noodles, 1 bag shredded cabbage, 1/3 cup vinegar, 2-3 tablespoons of sugar, almond slivers, 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Cook the ramen noodles, drain. Put in bowl and mix with vinegar, sugar and the noodle-seasoning packet. Add cabbage, slivered almonds and olive oil. Refrigerate until you leave.

2 hours to picnic time

1. Chili Dip

What you'll need: 1 package cream cheese, 1 can chili (no beans), 8 ounces cheddar cheese, tortilla chips.

Flatten a softened package of cream cheese in the bottom of a glass pie plate. Top with chili and then sprinkle with shredded cheddar. Put in 350-degree oven until edges bubble (15 minutes or so). Stop and get a bag of tortilla chips for dipping.

2. Buffalo Chicken Dip

What you'll need: 2 packages cream cheese, 3/4 cup hot sauce (i.e., Frank's Redhot Buffalo Wing), 3 cans chunk chicken, 1 cup ranch dressing, 2 cups cheddar cheese.

Melt the cream cheese in the hot sauce in a pan on the stove. Add the rest -- except one cup of cheddar. Put in a slow cooker to keep warm and sprinkle the remaining cheddar on top. Serve with tortilla chips.

3. Chex Mix Puppy Chow (aka Muddy Buddies)

What you'll need: 1 box Rice or Corn Chex (9 cups), 1 cup chocolate chips, 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/4 cup butter, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar.

Put cereal in large bowl. Melt chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour over Chex cereal, put into a large plastic bag with powdered sugar and shake well to coat. Spread mixture evenly on wax paper and allow to cool. Take in covered plastic container.

4. Mexican Grilled Corn

Not much to do at home. You cook it on the grill when you get there. (Recipe below.)

5. Champagne Punch

What you'll need: 1 bottle of champagne, 2 cups cranberry cocktail juice, 2-liter ginger ale, 1 package frozen raspberries.

Mix all ingredients; add a little ice. Serve over ice.

Grab and go

OK, so you don't have time to fix anything. We get it. At least buy something good or unusual when you screech into your local market.

1. Watermelon: You can never go wrong and you can never have too much. Just make sure it's cold.

2. Chicken McNuggets: Make sure you buy enough. Overbuy, even. And then put them on the table and run before you get trampled by small children.

3. A bottle of white wine: A hot day calls for a cold and refreshing -- and a little sweet -- thirst-quencher. A Moscato or Riesling would be a fine choice.

4. Ice-cream cups: Most ice-cream treats are too risky, but these little self-contained servings of ice cream that we all loved as kids are pretty safe to tote if you have a cooler in the car.

5. Spread the love: Grab a large order of your favorite takeout from your neighborhood hangout -- barbecue wings, specialty pizzas, a 10-pack of tacos, refried rice. Chances are if you like it, so will everyone else.

NOT YOUR ORDINARY MAC 'N' CHEESE

1/2 box macaroni or other tubular pasta

1 cup Velveeta cheese, cubed, chunk or sauce

1/2 cup milk

1 stick butter

1 cup sour cream or cream cheese

1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 egg, beaten

2 cups extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Salt and pepper

Cook macaroni to al dente stage. Do not cook it completely or the result will be mush. Drain and return to pan. While still hot, add remaining ingredients, except egg and cheddar cheese, and stir to coat as cheese melts.

Add egg and 1 cup of the cheddar cheese.

Taste and add any extra salt, pepper, garlic or Tabasco to suit you. Pour into a 9- by 9-inch casserole.

Microwave for 20 minutes or bake in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes or until bubbling. Top with remaining cheese and return to oven to melt and crisp slightly.

Variation: If you are really in a hurry, just buy a box of macaroni-and-cheese mix (make sure it has cheese sauce, not the powder) and doctor it with the other ingredients. For a 9- by 13-inch pan, use two boxes.

-- Paulanne Oakes

COCKTAIL MEATBALLS

1 package frozen meatballs

1 can chunk pineapple in its own juice

1 each red, yellow, green bell peppers, sliced

1 onion, sliced

Bake meatballs according to package directions. Halfway through cooking time, pour off the excess grease and add pineapple chunks, peppers and onion to the baking sheet. (This allows them to roast and flavor the meatballs).

Drain off grease and put in a slow cooker with sweet and sour sauce.

Variation: Forget about the fruit and vegetables and add your favorite barbecue sauce when you put it in the slow cooker.

-- Paulanne Oakes

ICE-CREAM SANDWICH CAKE

24 ice-cream sandwiches

16 ounces Cool Whip

1-1/2 cups chopped nuts of your choice (optional)

Chocolate syrup

Layer 12 of the sandwiches on the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch pan. Spread 1/2 tub Cool Whip over them. Sprinkle nuts. Drizzle chocolate syrup. Add a second layer of sandwiches and freeze. Before leaving, decorate the cake top with the rest of the Cool Whip, nuts and chocolate drizzle.

-- Patti Ewald, Tampa Bay Times

CORN PUDDING

1 (16-ounce) can whole-kernel corn

1 (16-ounce) can creamed corn

16 ounces sour cream

2 sticks butter, melted

4 eggs, beaten

2 small boxes Jiffy corn-muffin mix

1/4 cup sugar

Mix all ingredients with a wooden spoon. Pour into a 9- by 13-inch pan and bake in a 350-degree oven for an hour. (If it seems a little too Jellolike when you take it out, bake 15 minutes more.)

-- Elaine Glaser

PARTY POTATOES

2-pound bag frozen hash browns, thawed

1/2 cup melted oleo

1/2 cup chopped onions

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 pint sour cream

2 cups shredded cheese (longhorn or cheddar)

Salt and pepper

Coat a 9- by 13-inch pan with butter or oleo. Combine ingredients and spread in pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Note: If you want, you can sprinkle crushed potato chips over the top before baking.

-- Margaret Glowacki

MEXICAN GRILLED CORN

6 ears corn, husks on (see note)

6 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 garlic clove, minced

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1 lime

Get the corn ready by carefully peeling back the husks of each ear a little more than halfway. Remove as much silk as you can and then pull the husks back up.

Combine mayonnaise, garlic, salt and cayenne in a small bowl. Cut the lime into wedges.

Heat the grill to medium high. Place the corn on the grill and close the lid. Every 10 minutes, roll the corn a quarter turn so it cooks evenly. Cook until the husks are charred and starting to peel back from the corn, about 35 minutes total. Remove from the grill and set aside until the corn is cool enough to handle.

Without detaching the husks, peel them back completely, turning them inside out so they form a handle. Brush the corn with a thin layer of the mayonnaise mixture, sprinkle with cheese and squeeze on lime juice.

-- Patti Ewald, Tampa Bay Times

JOE MADDON'S SAUSAGE AND PEPPERS

Joe made it clear right off the bat that it's the ingredients that matter. How much of each you use is pretty much up to you.

2 pounds Johnsonville hot sausage

Bell peppers -- green, red, yellow and orange

Olive oil

Minced garlic or garlic powder

Hard-crusted Italian bread or hoagie rolls

Put the sausage in a large skillet with a little water. The sausage will begin to brown after the water boils down. When it's almost done, cut the sausage into bite-sized pieces.

Cut the peppers into slices -- "You can never have enough peppers," Maddon says.

In another pan, put in enough olive oil to almost cover the bottom and cook the peppers until soft (the different colored peppers add sweetness, Maddon said). Add minced fresh garlic or sprinkle with garlic powder.

Combine the sausage and the peppers and let them sit for awhile so the flavors can blend. You can also keep them warm in the oven at a low heat.

-- Joe Maddon, Rays manager

(Email pewald(at)tampabay.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service www.scrippsnews.com)