Mr. Alpenglow’s mind has been churning ever since one faithful reader asked for picnic menu ideas. The OED defines picnic as “an outing or occasion that involves taking a packed meal to be eaten outdoors,” and the mid-18th century word originates from the French words piquer (“to pick”) and nique (“small thing”). Picnics were plentiful in Mr. Alpenglow’s childhood: on school field trips to the local arboretum, during family hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains, even a warm summer evening at the Hollywood Bowl with John Denver. Those picnics were an exercise in freedom. Everything from Chinese steamed pork buns and stir-fried noodles to potato salad and homemade lemon bar was fair game. For this particular picnic just before Easter, Mr. Alpenglow wanted a menu of harmonious finger-foods that would keep well under the sun. Raw vegetable crudités paired with a cool curry yogurt provided freshness. Potted shrimp served as a rich counterpoint. For something more substantial, hot and flaky empanadas such as those ubiquitous in Argentina did the job. And the orange-scented Madeleines? Just for fun.
ORANGE BLOSSOM MADELEINES*
(recipe for 2 dozen by Mimi Thorisson of Manger)
Whisk sugar, honey, salt, and eggs together until light and fluffy. Sift flour and baking powder together, then gradually fold in the egg mixture and mix gently. Add the melted butter, orange-blossom water, and lemon zest, stir lightly, cover, and chill for 1-2 hours in the fridge. It is very important for the batter to be cold before baking; the thermal shock is necessary for a round madeleines. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter your molds and sprinkle with flour. Add one tablespoon of cold batter into each of the molds. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the edges of the madeleines are golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool. Use a spoon to delicately lift each cake out of the mold.
*Marmalade Madeleines, while absolutely delicious, yielded a sticky burnt exterior which made Mr. Alpenglow opt for the Orange Blossom Madeleine recipe seen here.
SERRANO HAM & SWEET PEA EMPANADAS
(recipe for a dozen adapted from Saveur)
for the dough:
¾ cup vegetable shortening or lard
2¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tsp. kosher salt
for the filling:
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, peeled and minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. sweet paprika
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Serrano ham, finely diced
1 1/2 cup of frozen sweet peas
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
For the dough, microwave a cup of water and the shortening/lard together until the liquid is warm and the lard has melted. Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the warm liquid and work the flour into the liquid. Use your hands to form a ball of oily dough. Wrap dough in plastic and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. To make the filling, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and onion; cook until golden about 10 minutes. Add cumin, paprika, salt, pepper, and ham; cook until fragrant about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the peas and eggs. Set aside. When the dough is chilled, heat the oven to 400. Divide the dough into 12 balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough balls into 5-inch diameter circles. Place about 3 tbsp. of filling in the center of each dough circle. Fold over and press the edges firmly to seal. To make the “rope” around edge, pinch the dough between your thumb and index finger and fold edge over onto itself. Repeat this folding around the edge, pressing each fold tight. Place empanadas on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
POTTED SHRIMP with PUMPERNICKEL TOAST
(recipe for a 10-12 servings from Scott’s London)
1 lemon, halved
1 small onion, quartered
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
12 ounces small shrimp (such as pink Maine shrimp), peeled
6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 1/2 tbsp. anchovy paste
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Juice half of the lemon and cut the other half in four. Bring two cups water to a simmer in a saucepan with the lemon wedges, onion, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Cook 10 minutes, then add the shrimp. When the water returns to a simmer, drain the shrimp and cool briefly. If they are not already tiny, chop them fairly fine. Melt the butter in a saucepan with the lemon juice, nutmeg, cayenne and anchovy paste. Blend with a whisk and cook at a low simmer for three minutes. Remove from heat and stir in shrimp. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a ramekin or jar and chill until the butter is solid. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving with pumpernickel toast.