Did you know that next Sunday, April 22nd is International Earth Day? Ever wondered how a day to celebrate the Earth ever got started? This observance arose from the interest of two men to gather national support in America for environmental issues. In 1969 at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honor the Earth and the concept of peace. He called for a grassroots demonstration and selected March 21, 1970 (the spring equinox). Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson sanctified the event in a proclamation that was signed by Secretary General U Thant at the United Nations. A month later, a separate Earth Day was founded by Senator Nelson as an environmental teach-in.
While the April 22nd Earth Day originally focused on the United States, an organization launched by Denis Hayes back in 1970 took it international in 1990. Today millions of people in over 100 countries around the world celebrate Earth Day. People are encouraged to recycle, pick up trash, plant a tree and participate in events that heighten our awareness, many with a set political agenda. For some of us, that might be a bit much.
Here’s a thought – why not enjoy some fresh air, walk in the woods, smell the wild flowers and commune with nature? Gather your family, unplug for a moment and simply breath! If you happen to plant a tree along the way, all the better. No matter the weather, get outdoors and embrace Mother Earth!
As picnics go, this is what I like to call a picnic with style. The chicken is wonderful – moist and packed with wonderful flavors. The large sour dough bread rounds not only make for a great way to pack and serve your chicken, they add to the meal. The pasta is superb – colorful and so very yummy. Fresh fruit round out the main attraction. And for dessert, Pineapple Up-Side-Down Cake is an excellent selection. It travels well. So grab your picnic basket and let’s head out on an adventure.
A word of advise – the recipes that follow will require advanced thought and preparation. (Hence, the early Earth Day posting). The Spice-Rubbed Chicken is not a dish that you can wake up in the morning and decide to throw together. You’ll need to rub your chicken the night before to get the full beauty of the spice rub. As for the pasta salad, it’s best when made early in the morning or even the night before for all the wonderful flavors to marry. Believe me, it’s well worth the advanced planning.
One final note: the pasta salad is made with Farfalle pasta. Here in American, it’s commonly known as Bow-Tie Pasta. However; I prefer the Italian translation – butterflies. It just sounds prettier to me.
Let’s get to cooking, shall we?
Spice-Rubbed Picnic Chicken in Sourdough Bread
For the Rub:
6 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
1/4 Cu Kosher Salt (reduce by half if using table salt)
1/4 Cup Chili Powder
1/2 Cup Paprika
4 Teaspoons White Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (increase for a spicer flavor)
For The Chicken and Everything Else
2 Chicken Breast, split
4 Chicken Thighs, trimmed
4 Chicken drumsticks
2 large or 4 small Sourdough Bread Bowls, hollowed out (save bread)
2 large or 4 small sheets of foil (to wrap the chicken-filled bowls)
Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with foil and top with wire racks. Combine sugar, salt, chili powder, paprika, pepper and cayenne in a small bowl. Coat chicken pieces with spice mixture, gently lifting skin to distribute spices underneath while leaving skin attached to chicken. Place chicken skin-side up on prepared wire racks, tent with foil and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, up to 24 hours for best flavors.
Adjust oven racks upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 475-degrees. Remove foil covering from chicken and roast until brown, crisp and breasts register 160-degrees. Roast chicken for 20 minutes. Switch and rotate baking sheets, continue to roast 15 minutes longer.
Transfer breast pieces to a platter or dish, cover to keep warm. Continue to roast thighs and drumsticks until they register 175-degrees, about 10-15 minutes longer. Turn off oven. Place an assortment of chicken pieces inside each bowl. Top with bread “lid”. Wrap tightly in foil and keep in the warm oven until ready to pack into picnic baskets. Bread will absorb some of the chicken flavoring while keeping the chicken warm.
This chicken will travel well and remain warm. It’s not only great for picnics, but outdoor potlucks, too!
Butterfly Pesto Pasta Salad
3 Garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 Cup fresh Basil
1 1/2 Cups Baby Spinach
1/1 Cup Pine Nuts
1/1 Cup Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese
1/2 Cup Mayonnaise (Best Foods)
1 lb Faralle Pasta (bow-tie)
Toast garlic in a small skillet over medium-heat, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant and color deepens slightly, about 7 minutes. Let garlic cool, then peel and chop coarse.
Process garlic, basil, spinach, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in food processor until smooth, stopping to scrape down bowl as needed.
Add Parmesan Cheese and mayonnaise, continue to process until thoroughly combined. Transfer pesto to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until needed. (Mixture can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours).
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring often, until pasta is just past al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of pasta cooking water, drain pasta. Toss pasta with a little olive oil and spread into a single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Let pasta cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
In a large bowl, toss cooled pasta with pesto, adding reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until pesto evenly coasts pasta. This dish is just as delicious served cold as it is at room temperature, which makes it perfect for outdoor entertaining.
Prosciutto Wrapped Melon Crescent Moons
12 Oz Thinly Sliced Prosciutto
1 Large Cantaloupe, peeled, halved, seeded and cut into 12 thin crescents
12 sprigs of fresh mint (optional garnish)
For a picnic, keep melons and Prosciutto in separate containers, then wrap melons when ready to eat, otherwise the Prosciutto will discolor the melons. For easier handling, place some waxed paper between slices of Prosciutto before packing it. Prosciutto has a tendency to stick to itself and can sometimes be difficult to work with. A mixture of cantaloupe and honey-dew melons may be used for a more colorful presentation.
Wrap Prosciutto around middle of each melon slice, arrange on platter, garnish with mint and serve immediately. If desired, melon can be sliced in advance, then assembled just before serving.
Pineapple Up-Side-Down Cake
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
¾ Cup Chopped Walnuts or Pecans (optional)
1 Can pineapple rings, drained, reserving pineapple juice
1 Box Yellow Cake Mix
1/2 Cup of Oil
Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
Over low heat, melt butter in a 9-inch cast iron skillet, thoroughly covering the surface. Remove the skillet from heat. Add brown sugar, mix with butter to dissolve, then spread to coat bottom of skillet. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Arrange 8 pineapple slices in a single layer in the skillet (your 9-inch skillet should accommodate 8 slices without overlapping). Place a maraschino cherry in the center of each slice. Set aside until ready to use.
Place eggs and oil in a mixing bowl. Beat until well blended. Measure reserved pineapple juice and add enough water to make 1 cup of liquid. Add to eggs, beat 1 minute.
Add cake mix, beat on low 30 seconds to blend, increase speed to medium-high and beat 2 minutes.
Gently pour cake batter evenly over pineapple slices, taking care not to disturb the arrangement of the rings. Bake cake for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool the cake in the skillet for 30 minutes; then invert it onto a serving plate.
Pineapple Up Side Down Cake is perfect for picnics. It travels well, and you don’t have to worry about frosting dripping everywhere on warm days. Another alternative would be to make individual Up Side Down Cupcakes. Melt butter, pour into the bottom of cupcake tins. Sprinkle with brown sugar, then place a pineapple ring in the center of each tin, with a cherry in the middle of the ring. Pour batter into cupcake tins and bake according to package directions. Let cool, insert a knife around the edge to loosen cupcake, then invert onto a cutting board. Store in a air-tight container and away you go!
Hope you have a wonderful day exploring the beauty of our Planet! Please don’t forget, if you pack it in, pack it out.