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Spring Picnic Ideas

Everyone enjoys a picnic, and they make memorable surprises. The very word evokes visions of a lazy lounging meal eaten out of doors amid loved ones. Santa Barbara’s spectacular hideaways and some palette thrilling, lusty cuisine could possibly define perfection itself. Sunshine or sunset, with a little pre-planning, a basket and a big soft blanket, your picnic can be a dreamy, relaxed, very special event.

I personally prefer to avoid picnic tables; they seem to make the affair too organized and proper. Being sprawled out on a thick, cushy blanket together, or sitting up casually eating mostly out of hand feels more like my kind of picnic. For a list of sites you may not have considered go to or head for Santa Ynez, lots of the wineries welcome picnicking.

Generally picnic fare should be prepared ahead and packed up cold to better insure its freshness when eaten. Pack soft fruit or foods in hard sided containers to protect them. Bring along a clean wet wash cloth with just a squeeze of lemon in a plastic bag to freshen hands after your indulgence.

In a pinch, a roasted chicken, a wedge of good brie, a baguette, a few pears and a bottle of wine makes a hard to beat menu. But, if you’ve got some time to prepare something sumptuous, here are a few of my all time favorite pack along goodies.

Strawberries with Grand Marnier Crème Fraichè Dip

Serve as many as you like with ease.

This is a gem of a recipe – if you can even call it a recipe – it is just one of those blessed easy combinations that delights all with its simple magic. 

For each 2 baskets of strawberries;

1 cup Crème Fraichè

2 T. Grand Marnier

2T. brown sugar (or, I prefer the deeper, darker flavor of Dark Brown Molasses Sugar)

Blend these together and refrigerate. Serve later as a dip for the berries. This dip will stay thicker if you keep it cold, although crème Fraichè is made by being left out of refrigeration for 24 hours, so it will be fine tossed into a basket for the duration of your journey up the trail or off to the beach.

Cold Roast Beef, Caramelized Onions and Blue-Veined Brie Sandwiches

Serves 8.

Here the humble sandwich is liftedto a whole other realm of picnic fare. You cannot just go buy anything like this.  I will purposely prepare a tenderloin twice the size I need and use the leftovers the next day or two for this. The onions can be caramelized up to three days before eaten and sautéed sliced Portobello mushrooms drizzled with a little balsamic make a delicious vegetarian alternative to this combination.

For the caramelized onions;

2 lb. onions

¼ cup olive oil

2 T. fresh thyme

Splash of red wine (optional)

16 thick slices of well crusted soft bread

2 ½ lb. cold well seasoned roasted beef, sliced thin

2 wedges blue veined brie cheese (Bla Blue is a great one)

Lettuce leaves or Arugula

Caramelize the onions; Peel, halve and slice the onions. Heat well a large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil and cook the onions tossing occasionally for about half an hour over medium heat. Add the thyme and if you like, a splash of wine, salt & pepper to taste and that’s it.

To make the sandwiches divide your ingredients among the bread, start with the brie on the bottom and salt & pepper the beef to taste.

Poached Salmon with Sorrel Mayo

Serves 6-8

This is a very simple method of poaching & produces an excellent flavor, take only a few moments of preparation and the foil makes clean up a snap. I purchase a third of a pound of salmon filet per person, the average whole filet will serve six to eight.

1 whole salmon filet

½ cup good dry white wine

2 lemons, sliced

For the sauce:

Half cup fresh sorrel

Half cup mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. The salmon is wrapped in foil; place a length of foil twice the length of your filet on a half sheet pan or large cookie sheet. Wash & pat dry the salmon and put it skin side down on one end of the foil. Pull the foil up slightly around it to hold the wine. Top with the white wine & lemon slices, enclose fully with the foil and bake for 10 or 15 minutes. Check for doneness after 10 minutes by removing it from the oven, closing the oven door, opening the foil and peeking into the salmon with a fork. Use a thin metal spatula to remove the filet from its skin and transfer straight to the container you’ll be taking it in. Pour the poaching liquid off into a sauté pan and reduce over high heat for a few minutes until 3 or 4 tablespoons remain. With a rubber spatula scrape this reduction into a blender, once cool process with fresh sorrel leaves and mayonnaise. Refrigerate sauce & salmon until ready to pack up.

Tuna Dip

Makes 2 ½ cups.

This is good stuff; it has a high flavor profile and takes minutes to prepare. Pair it with some thick slices of Jerusalem artichoke, Jicama Farmer’s Market fresh carrots that come in great colors.

13 oz. tuna, drained

6.5 oz. can of jalapeño chopped chilies with the liquid

1 small onion, minced

½ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup cilantro

Juice of 1 lemon

salt & pepper to taste

Process all till mushy. Refrigerate till you take off and keep it cool. Serve with Tortilla Chips or the fresh veggies I mentioned.

Asparagus with Sesame Dressing

Makes ¼ cup dressing.

Simple to make, and very delicious.

3T. white or rice wine vinegar

½ tsp. salt

4 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. pepper

2 tsp. sesame seed oil

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 bunch asparagus

1 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

Whisk together the vinegar and the dry ingredients and then whisk in the oils. Flash blanch the asparagus by dropping it into deep, boiling water for a count of 30 to 60 seconds depending on the thickness of the spears, remove them from the pot, drain well and place in a flat container with sides to transport it and then pour the dressing over the asparagus.  Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

Very Chocolate Cookies

Makes about 30.

These have a deep, lusty flavor and can be whipped up so fast out of things I usually have at home already.

½ cup butter or margarine

1 cup sugar

1 egg

¾ cup milk with a squeeze of lemon in it

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

½ cup baking cocoa

1 cup chocolate chips

Beat together the butter & sugar then add the egg and beat again. Fluff the dry ingredients and beat into the wet until just incorporated. Fold in the chips. Spray two baking sheets with vegetable spray or butter them then plop on mounds about a teaspoon size two inches apart. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees & slide the sheets into the refrigerator about 10 minutes to harden the dough and then bake about 8 minutes. Pack cooled cookies into a hard sided container; you can separate them with a bit of waxed paper if it’s going to be a rough trip.

With Love, Lynette La Mere,

Pure Joy Catering


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