I always consider October the bonus month for outdoor activities — the weather usually cooperates and the crowds are gone. From clamming expeditions, bird-watching and day hikes to football tailgate parties, boating and wine touring, excuses abound to get outside.
And since appetites only expand in the fresh air, familiarity with cuisine that will stand up to the absence of walls is not exactly an optional social grace in these parts. Plus, it seems that in the open air, our senses are easily tantalized by less complicated things.
So the recipes I’m providing for your outdoor adventures are based on high quality but simple ingredients. That leaves plenty of time for just plain fun.
This is a great salad to bring to an outdoor event. No wilting, no tossing at the last minute, and it can be dished out with a single spoon, so in a buffet line diners aren’t teetering a dish of food on the edge of the table to free both hands.
3 tomatoes, seeded, chopped and drained
1 English cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and chopped
1 each red and green sweet bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped dry salami (start with deli-cut slices, cut into strips and chop)
1 cup chopped ham
1 cup sliced black olives, well drained
¼ pound mushrooms, washed and diced
½ cup chopped sweet onion
½ cup chopped green onion (all of the white and pale green portion and a bit of the dark green)
1½ cups coarsely shredded mozzarella, gouda or Swiss cheese
Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Two to 5 hours ahead, combine the tomatoes, cucumber, sweet bell peppers, celery, carrots, salami, ham, olives mushrooms, sweet onion, green onion and shredded cheese in a large bowl. Toss with enough of the vinaigrette to evenly coat the salad. Cover and refrigerate. Makes 10 to 12 generous servings.
VINAIGRETTE: Whisk together 1¼ cups extra-virgin olive oil, ¼ cup red wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 3 cloves finely minced garlic, ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves, ¼ teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon sugar or honey, ¾ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
Coach House Black Bean Soup
This flavorful soup is a wonderful hit when the weather gets chilly. Makes 8 servings.
1 pound black beans
2½ quarts water
5 strips bacon, cut in small pieces
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 medium-sized onions, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
2 smoked ham hocks
3 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, halved
2 carrots, diced
2 parsnips, chopped
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
2 teaspoons salt
¾ cup Madeira (or dry sherry)
2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped
Wash beans, cover with cold water and soak overnight. Drain and wash again. Place them in a large pot with the 2½ quarts water. Cover and simmer 90 minutes.
In another large, heavy-bottomed pot, saute the bacon over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Add celery and onion and cook until the onions are tender and transparent. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add ham hock, parsley, bay leaves, garlic, carrots, parsnips, pepper, salt and beans (with their cooking liquid). Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 3 hours. Add more water if necessary to keep mixture very loose.
Remove soup from heat and remove ham hocks. Ladle half of the soup into a blender and puree. Remove any meat from the ham bone or hocks, chop fine and return to soup, along with the blended soup, Madeira wine and chopped eggs.
Soup may be prepared up to two days in advance. When ready to transport to your outdoor gathering, bring the soup to a boil and gently simmer for 5 minutes. Pour hot soup into a preheated vacuum bottle.
— Adapted from "Colorado Cache," by the Junior League of Denver, Inc.
Red Onion and Blue Cheese Spread
Want to knock the socks off your friends during a day of wine-touring this fall? Pull this gem from your picnic basket. It’s an elegant spread, featuring toasted bits of hazelnuts, gently warmed extra-virgin olive oil and coarsely chopped black olives (kept warm in a Thermos until ready to serve). Add a platter of local grapes, which complement the blue cheese perfectly, and you will improve the flavor profile 10-fold.
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped red onion
½ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
¼ cup pitted and coarsely chopped kalamata olives
1 large clove garlic, minced
¾ cup crumbled blue cheese
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 French bread baguette, sliced into ¼-inch thick rounds (for extra flavor and crunch, the slices can be lightly toasted)
1 bunch of sweet, local table grapes
In a small saucepan over medium heat, gently warm the olive oil with the onion, hazelnuts, olives and garlic. Keep the mixture hot but not simmering, and cook until the onions are softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and pour the mixture into a preheated Thermos.
When ready to serve, place the blue cheese in the center of an attractive platter, then pour the warm oil mixture over the cheese. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Arrange the baguette rounds and the grapes along side on a separate platter and serve with the spread.
Spanish Omelet Picnic Sandwich
This hot egg-and-sourdough sandwich would be a nose-warming treat to have along on a crabbing or clamming expedition. Make it right before heading out, then keep it hot by wrapping in several layers of aluminum foil and a towel. For safety’s sake, serve within 2 hours. Or make ahead and refrigerate the wrapped loaf until the next day and reheat in 400-degree oven until the omelette is hot and steamy, about 30 minutes.
1 large (10- to 12-inch-diameter) round loaf sourdough bread
About 4 tablespoons olive oil
About 12 ounces chorizo or Italian sausage
1 large thin-skinned potato, cooked, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 medium green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
9 large eggs, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper
With a long serrated knife, cut the loaf of bread in half horizontally. Partially hollow centers of halves, leaving a 1-inch thick shell. Brush cut surfaces with about 1 tablespoon of the oil. Reassemble loaf, wrap in foil, and keep warm in a 300 degree oven while preparing omelet.
Remove casings from the sausage and crumble meat in a nonstick 10- to 11-inch frying pan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until lightly browned. Remove sausage with a slotted spoon; discard drippings. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in pan over medium-high heat; add potato, onion, and garlic and cook, turning often, until potato is nicely browned, about 3 minutes. Add green and red bell peppers and cook for 1 more minute; stir in cooked sausage.
Reduce heat to medium and push potato mixture to the side of the pan; drizzle 1 more tablespoon olive oil over pan bottom. Redistrubute vegetables in pan and pour in eggs. As edges begin to set, push toward center and shake and tilt the pan to allow uncooked egg to flow around and underneath the cooked egg mixture.
Continue cooking the omelet until bottom is lightly browned and top is just set but is still moist, about 5 minutes. To turn omelet (so you can brown the top side), run a wide spatula around the edge and under it to loosen. Invert a plate or rimless baking sheet over omelet. With 1 hand on plate, the other gripping the pan handle, quickly invert the pan, turning oelet out onto plate. Add 1 more tablespoon oil to the pan, return to medium heat, and gently slide omelet back into pan. Cook until lightly brown on bottom side, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Remove bread from oven; unwrap. Invert bottom half of the loaf over top of omeoet, then quickly invert pan, turning omelet out into the loaf. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Replace top loaf. See instructions at the top of the recipe for preparing the loaf for a picnic. To serve, cut into wedges with a serrated knife.
— Recipe slightly adapted from “The Best of Sunset,” by the Editors of Sunset Books and Sunset Magazine.
— Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.