25 Ways to Upgrade your Picnic

Picnics evoke romantic notions of leisurely afternoons on a blanket in the grass. A spread of cheese and charcuterie is laid out, ready to be paired with crusty bread and maybe a squeeze of Dijon. A chilled bottle of wine rests nearby, just waiting to be uncorked. Of course, in reality you slap together a sandwich, grab a bag of chips and forget the stupid blanket altogether. It’s time to live up to the fantasy. When the sun is shining and skies are blue, don’t settle for a PB&J and bottled water. Here, 25 ways to transform your picnic from a simple outdoor meal into a bona fide party alfresco.

1. Think outside the bottle
Boxed wine isn’t exactly synonymous with refinement, but who cares? You’re eating on the ground, after all. Nonbelievers, take note: Boxed wines have come a long way from the days of boozy Juicy Juice. Now, you can find a full range of wine inside those cardboard boxes, some of which can hold the equivalent of nearly seven 750-milliliter bottles. Not only are boxed wines convenient for transporting and serving (no corkscrew necessary), but they’re also inexpensive, eco-friendly and last longer than bottled wines, whose flavors change significantly once opened. Your best bet among boxed wines is Big House Red. This 3-liter blend is tasty, balanced and takes a chill quite well. – Ben Wood$17. Lukas Liquor, 15921 Manchester Road, Ellisville, 636.227.4543, lukasliquorstl.com

2. Grab and go
“Zip into Fozzie’s for veggie gyros and Parmesan herb chips (and extra napkins).” – Dee Ryan
Fozzie’s Sandwich Emporium, foodatfozzies.com

“Blues City Deli’s muffuletta is the closest thing to NOLA (and nirvana) in St. Louis. Get the olive dressing on the side and dress the sandwich on-site. The gorgeous sammies are heavy enough to weigh down a blanket but barely last long enough to do so.” – Maggie Pearson
Blues City Deli, bluescitydeli.com

“There’s rarely wait time when you stop to get your carryout order, and there’s nothing better than messily eating succulent ribs under the sun on the grass. Just remember to stock up on the wipes!” – Amrita Rawat
Bogart’s Smokehouse, bogartssmokehouse.com

“Stop by Piccione Pastry for those adorable, delicious, soft, almond-y, chocolaty Italian tri-color cookies for dessert.” – Byron Kerman
Piccione Pastry, piccionepastry.com

“The unexpectedly buttery, fruity flavor and neon green hue of Castelvetrano olives from Extra Virgin turn a meat and cheese board into something really special.” – Ligaya Figueras
Extra Virgin, an Olive Ovation, extravirginoo.com

3. Floating feast
Romantics, consider trading that checkered blanket for a Forest Park paddleboat. Thursday evenings through September, The Boathouse offers Moonlight Paddleboat Picnics featuring personalized picnic baskets stocked with goodies that could include vegetarian or turkey wraps, flatbread, cheeses, marinated olives, grapes, chips, popcorn, biscotti and brownies. Upgrade your basket with a bottle of wine or a bucket of beer and paddle off into the sunset. Online reservations required. – Georgia Kaye
$35. Thursdays, June to September – 7:15 to 10:30 p.m., The Boathouse in Forest Park, 6101 Government Drive, St. Louis, 314.367.2224, boathouseforestpark.com

4. The Basket
The basket is critical to your picnic’s success. We could wax poetic about how woven wicker and folding handles take us back in time, but practicality also matters. Without insulation and a zipper closure, your meticulously packed spread could spoil or (gasp!) fall out and become a feast for undeserving bugs. Look cool – and keep your meal cool, too – with this Bungalow Stripe Insulated Picnic Basket.
$25. World Market, 24 Brentwood Promenade Court, Brentwood, 314.918.7800 worldmarket.com

Picnic do's and don'ts
Picnics are certainly more casual than restaurant affairs, but the rules of society and food safety still hold true. Before you throw down a picnic blanket, check out these do’s and don’ts to keep the day fun for everyone. – Kellie Hynes

5. Do plan your menu. Dining alfresco presents unique transportation and temperature challenges. A chilled soup is less elegant when it’s sloshing all over a hot car. Mayo-filled sandwiches and deviled eggs turn toxic after too much time in our St. Louis summers. If you wear white, odds are a melting chocolate chip cookie has it in for you. Don’t fall prey to these classic picnic faux paux; check out page 42 for easy to carry and consume recipes.

6. Do venture outside your backyard and your comfort zone. St. Louis County park ranger supervisor Steve Tiemann wants you to explore off the beaten path and Highway 40 corridor. He recommends Fort Belle Fontaine Park in North County and Bee Tree Park in South County for gorgeous walking trails and peaceful views of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, respectively.

7. Don’t be a litterbug. Or bug other people. Or attract bugs. It’s obvious, but needs to be said: Trash is unsightly at best, dangerous at worst (broken glass bottles). Also, be courteous to your fellow park revelers and keep your music down and your clothes on. Finally, remember the bug spray, especially if you ignore the clothing rule.

8. Do keep your pup on a leash. Yours is the Best Doggie Ever. Mine is, too. But a free-range dog violates park leash laws and can scare other people and pets. For everyone’s sake (including Fido’s), keep him close or leave him at home.

9. Don’t be a redneck. Drive on the streets, not the grass. Yes, people really do go off-roading, said Dan Skillman, St. Louis’ commissioner of parks, and it kills the turf and trees. Keep the park healthy by transporting your coolers to the picnic benches the old-fashioned way – make your kids carry ‘em.

Picnic essentials
A delicious meal is only half the battle. From beautiful napkins to vintage basket alternatives, here’s everything you need to take your picnic to the next level. – Maggie Pearson

10. A Mason jar is good for so much more than canning. Prepare drinks in quart-sized, screw-top jars and toss them in the basket – no spills, no cleanup, no waste. Set of 12: $18. Kitchen Conservatory, 8021 Clayton Road, Clayton, 314.862.2665, kitchenconservatory.com

11. A picnic is only as good as its foundation. Spread out a blanket from Pendleton Woolen Mills, a century-old company known for heavy-ply wool and classic American design. $145 and up. Clay & Cotton, 159 W. Argonne Drive, Kirkwood, 314.394.1400, clayandcottonkirkwood.com

12. Shields up! Keep the flies off your hoagie with a foldaway, mesh food protector. $3.25. REI, 1703 S. Brentwood Blvd., Brentwood, 314.918.1004, rei.com

13. Save a tree and leave the paper towels at home. Instead, wipe your chin with reusable Sferra Festival linen napkins that come in a rainbow of colors. Set of four: $50. Sallie Home, 9821 Clayton Road, Clayton, 314.567.7883, salliehome.com

14. Weary of wicker? Pack a vintage leather suitcase with service for four and always be prepared for a stylish picnic. Selection and availability vary, so be on the lookout. $35 and up. The White Rabbit, 9030 Manchester Road, Brentwood, 314.963.9784, thewhiterabbitstl.com

15. Forgetting a corkscrew or bottle opener can really put a kink in your style. Pick up a charming bottle opener that pops both your wine and your beer and let it live in your picnic basket year-round. $12 and up. K. Hall Designs, 8416 Manchester Road, Brentwood, 314.963.3293; Plaza Frontenac, 1701 S. Lindbergh Blvd., 314.991.6988, khalldesigns.com

16. If there’s no cheese, are you really on a picnic? Share that Gruyere and effortlessly spread the brie with a four-piece Swissmar Petite Lux Cheese Knife Set. $50. Bertarelli Cutlery, 1927 Marconi Ave., St. Louis, 314.664.4005, bertarellicutlery.com


17. Spiced Lentil Dip

4 servings

This dip is like Antonio Banderas, circa 1990: smooth, spicy and impossible to resist. – Dee Ryan

1 cup brown lentils
1 small carrot, chopped into 1-inch pieces
¼ red onion, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
Pinch kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
2 cups water
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp. chopped jalapeno
1 Tbsp. garam masala
1∕8 tsp. cayenne pepper
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
Lavosh or Classic Cham Pita Bread, for serving

• In a medium saucepan, cover the lentils, carrots, red onion, bay leaf and a pinch salt with the water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered 25 to 30 minutes, until the carrots are fork-tender and most of the water has evaporated.
• Remove the bay leaf and drain the lentils, reserving any excess liquid. Transfer the lentils to the bowl of a food processor. Add the garlic and jalapeno and purée. Add the reserved liquid a few tablespoons at a time and purée until the mixture reaches the desired consistency. Set aside.
• In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, saute the garam masala and cayenne pepper in 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 minute, until aromatic. Stir in the lentil purée and cook 3 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a serving bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
• Stir in the lemon juice, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and garnish with cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature with lavosh or pita.

Locally made Classic Cham Pita Bread is a perfectly chewy base for this hearty dip. It’s delivered fresh Tuesday through Sunday to Global Foods Market, 421 Kirkwood Road, Kirkwood, 314.835.1112, globalfoodmarket.com

18. Asian Pork Lettuce Wraps

4 servings

Don’t bother with silverware (or chopsticks) on a picnic. These Asian-inspired pork lettuce wraps make delicious finger food. – Dee Ryan

¼ cup plus 1 tsp. sugar, divided
1∕8 tsp. kosher salt
½ cup white vinegar
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
2 shallots, thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
1 Tbsp. chopped jalapeno
1 Tbsp. lime juice
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1∕8 tsp. sesame oil
1∕8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. fish sauce
1 lb. ground pork
2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
2 Tbsp. thinly sliced garlic
8 Bibb lettuce leaves
Chopped peanuts, for garnish

• In a small bowl, dissolve ¼ cup sugar and the salt in the white vinegar. Add the red pepper flakes, carrots and shallots and stir to coat. Set aside.
• In another bowl, stir together the cilantro, mint, jalapeno and lime juice. Set aside.
• In another small bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar, sesame oil, cayenne pepper and fish sauce. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and set aside.
• In a large skillet over medium heat, saute the pork, ginger and garlic, until the pork is no longer pink, about 6 minutes, breaking up the pork into crumbles. Remove from heat. Drain the fat from the skillet and discard. Return the skillet to medium heat and add the soy sauce mixture. Saute another 2 minutes, stirring to coat the meat. Set aside and let cool.
• Place the cooled pork into a large serving bowl, draining off any excess liquid. Add the herb-lime juice mixture and toss to combine.
• Meanwhile, drain and discard the liquid from the carrot mixture. Toss the carrot mixture with the pork.
• To serve, spoon ¹∕³ cup pork mixture into each lettuce leaf and garnish with chopped peanuts.

19. Roasted Carrot Salad

4 servings

This roasted carrot salad packs all the nutrients needed for an afternoon hike, travels beautifully, and is tasty at any temperature. – Anne Marie Lodholz

2 lbs. rainbow carrots, peeled and trimmed
1 medium red onion, halved and sliced crosswise into thin half-moon shapes
2 Tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. ground cardamom or several fresh thyme sprigs
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar

• Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
• Cut the carrots on the bias into ½-inch slices.
• In a large bowl, toss the carrots and onion with the olive oil, salt, cardamom, pepper and vinegar.
• Spread the mixture evenly on 2 baking sheets. Roast 10 minutes, stir, and roast another 10 minutes.
• Pour into a serving bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve at room temperature.

20. Mushroom Tarts

12 servings

Whether you forage for mushrooms in the forest or at the farmers market, these flaky goat cheese-mushroom tarts are the perfect way to transport your favorite fungi on a springtime picnic. – Anne Marie Lodholz

1 cup flour
1 tsp. kosher salt, divided
10 Tbsp. cold butter, cubed, divided
4 Tbsp. cold cream, divided
8 to 10 Tbsp. ice water
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, finely minced
8 oz. cremini, button or other spring mushrooms, stemmed and finely minced
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp. white wine or sherry
2 oz. goat cheese
¼ tsp. sugar
1 egg, beaten

• In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour and ½ teaspoon salt. Add 8 tablespoons butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-sized lumps.
• Add 2 tablespoons cream and the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until the dough is evenly moist and begins to pull away from the sides. Form the dough into a 1-inch-thick disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
• Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In a large saute pan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the olive oil over medium heat until the butter begins to foam. Saute the shallot until golden, 2 to 3 minutes.
• Add the mushrooms, the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, the pepper and the thyme. Saute until the mushrooms release their liquid and the moisture has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
• Add the wine and simmer until the liquid has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons cream and simmer until the mixture thickens, 1 to 2 minutes.
• Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the goat cheese and sugar until the cheese is melted and incorporated into the mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside and let cool slightly.
• Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
• On a floured surface, roll out the chilled dough to 1∕8-inch thick. Use a pastry cutter or large glass to cut 12 3-inch circles. Place 1 teaspoon cooled mushroom filling in the center of a pastry circle, then fold over to create a half-moon shaped pocket. Seal the edges with a fork. Repeat with the remaining pastry circles.
• Place the tarts on the prepared baking sheet and brush the tops with the beaten egg. Bake 20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool completely. Serve at room temperature.

21. Lamb Lollipops with Herb Dipping Sauce

4 servings

A vibrant dipping sauce made with fresh mint is a bright twist on lamb’s normal sidekick, mint jelly. Use the bones as handles for finger food at its fanciest. Pinkies up! – Dee Ryan

8 frenched lamb chops
¼ cup olive oil plus more for brushing, divided
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
3 green onions, ends trimmed and cut in thirds
1 cup fresh parsley
½ cup fresh mint leaves
¼ cup fresh marjoram
¼ cup fresh oregano leaves
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
½ cup water

• Prepare a charcoal grill for high, direct heat. Brush the lamb chops with olive oil and season both sides with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon pepper. Grill 4 minutes. Flip and cook another 4 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 145 to 155 degrees. Place on a serving dish and cover with foil.
• Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce. Place the green onions, parsley, mint, marjoram, oregano, vinegar, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and the remaining 1 teaspoon pepper in the bowl of a food processor and pulse, scraping down the sides as needed. With the food processor running, drizzle in the remaining ¼ cup olive oil and ½ cup water until blended. Transfer to a serving bowl.
• Serve the lamb chops warm or at room temperature with the dipping sauce.

22. Toasted Black Bean and Quinoa Burritos

4 servings

These protein-packed, dairy-free burritos can stand up to St. Louis summer heat. Make a double batch and freeze the extras for easy weekday lunches. – Kellie Hynes

2 15-oz. cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro, loosely packed
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. lime juice
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup diced red onion
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, cooked
1 cup cooked quinoa or white rice
4 9-inch flour tortillas
Salsa and guacamole, for serving (optional)

• Place the black beans, jalapeno, cilantro, olive oil, lime juice, red wine vinegar, cumin, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 5 to 8 times, until coarsely blended. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside.
• In a separate bowl, combine the red onion, corn and quinoa.
• Spread ½ cup bean mixture in the center of 1 tortilla. Add ½ cup quinoa mixture. Fold the left and right sides of the tortilla toward the center, then roll the bottom of the tortilla up and over the filling, continuing to roll until the burrito is snug. Repeat with the remaining 3 tortillas.
• Toast the burritos in a dry cast-iron skillet over medium heat for a few minutes on each side, until the tortilla is lightly browned. Serve with salsa and guacamole, if desired.

23. Pink Citrus Bars

9 servings

These lovely pink bars are the perfect on-the-go treat for a sunny picnic and won’t melt the way chocolate is prone to do. – Amrita Rawat

1 cup granulated sugar, divided
Zest of 1 small lemon or lime
1 cup plus 4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour, divided
½ cup (1 stick) butter, cubed
Pinch kosher salt
1 cup raspberries
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. lime juice
Powdered sugar, for dusting

• Grease an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
• In a small bowl, use your fingers to rub together ¼ cup granulated sugar and the zest. Transfer the citrus-sugar mixture to the bowl of a food processor and add 1 cup flour, the butter and the salt. Pulse until a dough forms.
• Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes, until lightly browned at the edges. Remove and let cool completely.
• Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In the bowl of a food processor, purée the raspberries, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Discard the seeds.
• In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons of the raspberry purée, the eggs, lemon juice, lime juice, the remaining ¾ cup granulated sugar and the remaining 4 tablespoons flour until combined. Pour the filling over the par-baked crust. Bake 25 minutes, until the filling is just set.
• Let cool completely, then sift powdered sugar over the top. Slice into 9 bars and serve. Store any remaining raspberry purée in the refrigerator for future use.

24. Whiskey Sour Slush

8 servings

Courtesy of Heidi Goss

This unfussy frozen whiskey sour slush is a staple at our family Christmas gatherings, but its portability also makes it ideal for a warm weather picnic. The recipe doubles well, so batch up and no one will go thirsty. – Ligaya Figueras

4 cups hot tea
¼ cup sugar
12 oz. frozen concentrate lemonade
6 oz. frozen concentrate orange juice
1 cup Jim Beam bourbon whiskey

• Pour the tea into a 2-quart plastic container with a lid. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the lemonade and orange juice concentrates and the whiskey. Whisk until combined. Cover and freeze 24 hours.
• To serve, use a metal spoon to break the slush into chunks and scoop into cups.

25. Blueberry Pie in a Jar

4 servings

These individual pies are easy to put together and even easier to transport. You can top with either a pie or crumb crust. Screw on the lid, attach a little plastic fork and you’re good to go. – Amrita Rawat

1 package prepared pie dough
3 cups blueberries
½ cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch kosher salt
1 Tbsp. cold butter, cubed
Coarse sugar, for sprinkling

Special equipment: 4 half-pint Mason jars with lids

• Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
• Unroll the pie dough and use a jar lid to cut 4 circles of dough to top each pie. Set aside.
• Use the remaining pie dough to line the bottom and insides of each Mason jar, tearing and pressing it together as needed to cover the glass. Stop just below the lip of the jar. Set aside.
• In a large mixing bowl, stir the blueberries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon, salt and butter together until incorporated. Divide the filling evenly among the jars.
• Place a circle of pie dough atop the filling inside each jar, then use a fork to press the dough evenly around the edge. Cut a slit in the top of each and sprinkle with coarse sugar.
• Bake the Mason jars on a sheet tray 45 minutes, until the pies are bubbling and golden. Let cool. Cover with the lids until ready to serve.

Prefer crumble tops to crust? Use a pastry cutter or fork to combine
2 tablespoons flour, 1 tablespoon oats, ½ tablespoon brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon and 1½ tablespoons cubed cold butter together until a coarse mixture forms. Sprinkle on top of the pie filling instead of the top crust and bake.