Perfect time to embrace eating in great outdoors during National Picnic Week

tis  The Timble Tea and Dinner Service Smoked Mackerel Pate.  (120419M2b)
tis The Timble Tea and Dinner Service Smoked Mackerel Pate. (120419M2b)

Picnics – a joy in theory, not always in practice.

We’ve had some lovely weather lately and the excuse to pack up the picnic basket and cool boxes and head to somewhere scenic to enjoy it.

In reality, rain, wind, midgies and other insects will more than often burst the bubble. This is national picnic week and no better time to embrace eating in the great outdoors.

As someone who prefers my food eaten at a table with real crockery and cutlery, the thought of a eating from a paper plate, juggled on my lap and perched on a rug, does little to inspire me. The food can sometimes be a bit humdrum too – lacklustre sandwiches, soggy quiche and limp lettuce. It needn’t be so and this year I’m going to make a real effort when the weather allows. Americans lead the way in picnics or tail gates. Tail gating involves packing up your dishes and serving them from your open boot. That way it’s covered from the elements and you have a ready made serving area. When I lived in the States, cold fried chicken was a favourite thing to serve. At first the thought of this appalled me but cold crispy chicken, served with cornbread and slaw is actually really delicious. For my first recipe this week I’ve used scrunched popcorn as the crust. Dip the chicken in egg, then flour and then roll in the crumbs before frying and finishing off in the oven. Crispy chicken, warm cornbread and crunchy slaw – good for a picnic or simply enjoy in the comfort of your own home.

Proper smoked mackerel is one of my favourite things. The oily robust fish really stands up to a pop of smoke. Sourcing it isn’t easy. There are a few fishmongers in Northern Ireland that are doing it properly like Ewings in Belfast and Donegal Prime in Derry/Londonderry. The variety you buy in supermarkets is ok but is better at giving you indigestion than anything else. You could smoke your own – line a roasting tray with tin foil, scatter over woodchips and place a rack on top. Season mackerel fillets and place on top. Cover tightly with foil and place on a high flame or bbq. It’s best to do it outside unless you have a state of the art extraction system – smoked mackerel permeating through the bedrooms isn’t great. My other recipe is for potted mackerel topped with a cucumber jelly. The mackerel is flavoured with horseradish, lemon and butter. Serve them in small kilner jars – easy to carry and everything’s compact in one space. Serve with wheaten bread or crackers.

Keeping food safe should be a priority. You can buy fridges that plug into where the cigarette lighter used to be in the car. They’ll keep everything cool. Alternatively use a cool bag with ice packs. Anyway there’s nothing worse than warm sandwiches and salads never mind the safety aspect.

The frogspawn was in the middle of the pond this year – a sure sign of a good summer. Optimism is always the best policy.