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Last Minute Labor Day – How to Pack a Picnic that Makes Vegetarians and Carnivores Happy

David Lebovitz shows off a big bowl of the enticing Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Basil.

In preparation for the annual mad-frenzy of BBQ enthusiasm that is Labor Day, the folks at Serious Eats put together a quick “meat quiz” to gauge grilling prowess.  You’ll never believe it, but I scored 80%.  (The average when I took it was 60.)  I know. An amazing score for a vegetarian!

If you are planning a Labor Day feast that includes grilling or barbecuing (and there is a difference), be sure to take the quiz and bone up on important things like cooking temps, resting times and whether or not to soak your wood chips.  And, regardless of your plans to include animal proteins on the menu, I know you’ll definitely want to include some delicious veggie grill dishes to round out (or make) your holiday meal.

However, at our place, it looks like there is too much labor to celebrate “the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country” with a proper lighting of the grill and gathering of friends.  This is because my husband, dedicated worker and loving provider, is on deadline and can’t spare the time to bring justice to the Big Green Egg.  (No worries.  I promise it will happen soon and I’ll tell you all about it.)  Instead, we’re going on a picnic!

And this, my friends, seems like a much better idea given our circumstances.  There will, in all likelihood, be a run on the local grocery stores for choice items from the deli cases.  I’ve already checked the sale flyer and realized Central Market has their Israeli Coucous and Bow Tie with Fresh Dill pasta salad on sale.

Curried Egg Salad sandwiches from A Cozy Kitchen are a great vegetarian selection for picnic fare.

However, it’s not too late to whip up a few last minute picnic dishes sure to make all in your celebratory bunch happy.  Even better:  spread out assignments on what to bring and meet with friends and family in a nearby park to mark the appreciation America has for the working folk.

When considering your menu, keep in mind advice from the master hostess herself, Martha Stewart.  She suggests that you

choose dishes that travel well, can be made mostly in advance, are served at room temperature, and don’t involve lots of sauces or other ingredients that will make the fare soggy. Avoid foods that require cutting; opt for those that need only a fork — or better yet, can be held in hand.

Labor Day Picnic Menu

Beverage

This sangria made of rose and vodka is a refreshing picnic choice. Click the pic to see Cantaloup Alone's recipe.

Choose a classic Sauvignon Blanc with a “vibrant acidity and a lasting, flavorful finish” such as the 2008 Beyond Sauvignon Blanc suggested by Food & Wine ($12).  Or, if you get started early in the morning, you easily have time to make Rose Sangria.  This boozy version from Cantaloupe Alone would be refreshing and appropriate for the wonderful, nearly transitional weather we’ve had here in Houston.

Salads

A hearty grain salad holds up well for travel (per Martha’s suggestions above) and this Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Basil (offered up by traveling epicurean envy David Lebovitz) promises a flavorful and filling grain salad balanced with the brightness of summer tomatoes, ripe olives and herbs.

It would be complemented by a tomato watermelon salad with almond vinaigretteoffered up by none other than New American Table author (and chef superstar) Marcus Sameulsson.  This refreshing end of summer salad is also surprising with spicy North African chile paste and briny capers mixed into the dressing.

Sandwiches

Delight picnic goers with their choice of a vegetarian or meat-centric sandwich.  I have been anxious to mix up a batch of curried egg salad but can’t stop debating two recipes.  The first is a curried egg salad with caramelized onion by Monica Bhide, author of Modern Spice.  Her Indo-American version of the southern staple would be equally delicious over greens, but really beckons for a a soft piece of naan (or, in a pinch, one from the freezer section at the grocery.)  A simpler, but equally appealing version of the curry egg salad sandwich comes from A Cozy Kitchen.  This brighter version of the protein – and cholesterol – rich dish uses raw red onion, zesty dijon mustard and chunks of tangy green apple.  Yum!

The meat-eaters in the bunch will appreciate the Indian Pulled-Chicken Sandwiches from Food & Wine. These tangy meals in hand feature a mango curry yogurt sauce that adds rich flavor to the dish.

The carnivores in the group are sure to be satisfied – after a nibble of whichever irresistible egg salad you choose – with an Indian Pulled-Chicken Sandwich by Nick Fauchald for Food & Wine.  This polished sandwich is a cinch thanks to rotisserie chicken from the grocery’s hot case and mango chutney  to add a big flavor boost to the curry-yogurt sauce that holds the pulled chicken salad together.

Dessert

To round out this perfect Labor Day picnic, pick something sweet to finish the meal.  Personally, I’m a big fan of dessert bars: lemon bars, brownies, you name it.  And, since I don’t really bake, there is nothing more wonderful for me than to read a Smitten Kitchen post and then go buy something that is only half as delicious tasting as whatever I just read.  (Not  to mention, I believe she must have the most beautiful light in her kitchen to catch these wonderful moments with photos.)  However, after reading up on how to make peach shortbread, I think I might be able to handle it and bring together one of my favorite baked fruits with a crumbly topping.  Double yum!

I’m looking forward to packing my picnic – and hearing about yours along with your favorite foods to travel.  The weather is finally changing and all too soon we’ll have the chance to enjoy fall alfresco dining again.

These flavorful peach shortbread bars rely on end of summer fruit for their succulent flavor. Thanks to Smitten Kitten for the amazing pics and recipe.

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