Creating the perfect picnic on a budget

Creating the perfect picnic on a budget

Food stylist and editor Katy Holder explains how to have a sumptuous picnic without breaking the bank.

The opportunities to eat outside are endless in Australia. Think a picnic by a river or at the beach, a day at the races, a camping trip or even just a picnic in your garden or local park. Picnics don’t have to cost the earth and you can create a delicious spread with a little thought and some clever ideas. And because we eat with our eyes, think about how you’re going to style your picnic. Finally, some thought needs to be given to how you’re going to transport your moveable feast.

Budget styling tips for picnics

1. Before leaving home, wrap sandwiches or rolls in baking or greaseproof paper then tie with coloured twine or string, or even just some white cooking string. Write people’s names on the paper and it will be like you’re handing them a homemade gift to unwrap.

2. Look for inspiration in things you already have. Do you collect anything? A few pieces of vintage cutlery or crockery will add instant glamour and quirkiness to your picnic.

3. Buy old-fashioned luggage tags and write people’s names on them and attach them to wrapped muffins, sandwiches or other treats. Or write fun message such as “Oooo, I like the look of what’s in here!” and attach to your parcels.

4. Recycled jam and pickle glass jars can be used in a multitude of ways. Use them to transport food such as salads, to hold a flower arrangement, fill them with colourful lollies or desserts, or serve drinks in them.

5. Arrive at your picnic destination a little early and seek inspiration from the world around you. This could be as simple as placing some beautiful weathered branches in the centre of your table or using a smooth river pebble to prevent your paper napkins from flying away – something they’re notorious for doing!

Smoky corn and avocado Mexican bites

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Here, crunchy corn chips are topped with a smoky corn and avocado topping. For speed, you could miss out the chargrilling step, but the corn won’t have a smoky flavour. Prepare the topping before you leave home then transport it and the tortilla chips separately. Once you arrive at your picnic, these delicious crunchy morsels can be assembled and arranged on your serving platter. Garnish with a few wedges of lime for squeezing over at the last minute.

Makes sufficient topping for 30–35 round tortilla chips.

Cook a corn cob in boiling water for 5 minutes, drain and sit for 2-3 minutes. Brush with oil, then chargrill in a pan or on a barbecue for 10-15 minutes, turning regularly until it’s chargrilled in several places. Cool slightly, then stand corn upright on a board and slice off the kernels using a sharp knife.

Quarter two tomatoes, scoop out the seeds and dice the flesh. Combine in a bowl with the corn, 1 finely diced avocado, 2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander, 1 tablespoon lime juice and 1 deseeded and finely chopped chilli.

When ready to serve, arrange 30-35 round corn chips in a single layer on a serving plate and top each one with a spoonful of filling, add wedges of lime for squeezing over.

Goat cheese, black olive and herb muffins

Muffins are fairly inexpensive to make and homemade ones generally taste far better than shop-bought ones. Find a basic savoury muffin recipe then add a few extra-special ingredients like goat cheese and olives. If you’re making 12 muffins you’ll need to add about 150g crumbled goat cheese and 120g finely chopped Kalamata olives to your mix. Adding chopped herbs such as coriander, parsley and thyme is another great ways to add instant flavour.

Muffins are best eaten the day they’re made. However, if you do have any left over, warm them up and serve with some butter the next day.

Make your muffins extra special by individually wrapping them in baking paper and tying with rustic string.

Italian deli-stuffed loaf

Instead of making six separate sandwiches, make one large filled loaf and then slice it to serve – every slice is packed full of flavoursome ingredients. This loaf is filled with chargrilled vegetables, cheese and meat, but feel free to choose your own combination. To save time, you could buy the chargrilled vegetables from a deli or supermarket. However, I always prefer to make my own – and it’s cheaper! You could also use an oblong loaf if you can’t find a round one. One loaf will serve about six people.

Deseed and halve a large red capsicum then squash flat. Place pieces under a hot grill until the skin is blackened all over. Transfer to a plastic bag, seal it and leave for 15 minutes. Peel off the skin and cut the capsicum into 2cm-wide strips.

Cut a large zucchini in half then cut long thin slices. Brush with oil and chargrill until softened.

Take a round loaf about 22cm in diameter, slice off the top about one-third of the way down and reserve this to use as a lid. Hollow out the bread base, leaving about a 2cm border all the way around. (You can use the scooped-out bread to make breadcrumbs. Freeze them if you don’t need them right away.)

Brush the entire inside of the bread and the bottom of the lid with pesto, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place a layer of rocket in the base then top the zucchini. Top with thin slices of mozzarella and salami then the capsicum. Scatter over some basil leaves, drizzle over a little olive oil and replace the top.

Wrap the loaf in plastic wrap and put on a plate. Place a second plate on top and put a can or two on top to weigh it down slightly. Leave for 1 hour (or up to 4 hours) in the fridge to allow the flavours to develop, or weigh it down in your esky and set off. Either way, wrap the loaf in a clean tea towel to transport it, and slice into thick wedges to serve.

Pistachio meringues with caramel filling

Meringues are pretty cheap to make and look so impressive. Instead of the traditional cream filling, fill them with caramel. Look for caramel in a can in the baking section, or make your own easy caramel using condensed milk (see tip).

Make your meringues then leave to cool completely. Scoop the caramel out of the can and whisk it briefly to soften. Use it to sandwich the meringues together.

Meringues are fine to transport filled – just don’t squash them into a tin. Also ensure they don’t have much room to move about, otherwise they may break.

Tip: If you don’t have caramel in a can, make the caramel filling first. Remove the label from a 395g can of condensed milk and make two small holes in the top. Put the can into a saucepan and fill the saucepan with water up to 2cm below the top of the can (be careful not to let any water get into the holes). Bring to a simmer, uncovered, and keep simmering for 4 hours. You’ll need to keep an eye on the water level and top it up with boiling water as necessary. Never let the pan run dry, otherwise your can may explode! Carefully remove from the pan and leave to cool completely.

Images from A Moveable Feast cookbook by Katy Holder, published by Explore Australia Publishing. Photography: Natasha Milne.