Dining on Salad Olivier at the Russian Tea Room, a Waldorf Salad at the Waldorf Astoria, or a Delmonico Steak at Delmonico’s, is beyond compare. These dining experiences may be only a dream for those with five-star tastes on a three-star budget, but you can create your own five-star dining with a little help.
Taking a cue from these restaurants can give you an advantage when planning a special picnic this summer. A five-star restaurant inspired picnic will certainly please and impress your guests. Using fresh ideas and gourmet foods will make your picnic memorable and a culinary delight. Turning ordinary foods into grand presentations is the five-star restaurant’s secret. And, now it can be yours. Here are a few simple twists to get you thinking like a prize winning chef:
Imagine a New Main Dish
Picture yourself in an idyllic setting, among rolling hills with a beautiful view. Now, add some simple yet elegant picnic necessities laid out on an inviting blanket. You have the start of a five-star restaurant style picnic. With the right setting and accessories, you are all set. But, what about the food?
You could serve a few hastily prepared picnic staples, like tuna sandwiches or fried chicken. Or, you could present an impressive chicken liver patè served on crostini. Even a classic chicken salad can be made gourmet when you add curry, grapes, raisins, and toasted almonds. Your main dish can start out traditional and turn into five-star worthy with just a few creative twists.
For instance, instead of the usual burgers or steaks as a main course, consider a honey baked ham with a sweet glaze of pineapple and brown sugar. Or serve it with a honey and raisin sauce. You may want to consider grilling salmon. Served hot or cold, salmon is the perfect upscale food at any picnic.
Another fun main dish that can go from ordinary to five-star with just a few tweaks is home-made pizza on the grill. Cut pizza dough into individual pizza size, six to eight inches each. Then top with anything BUT the ordinary toppings. Instead of mozzarella, choose gorgonzola or fontina cheese. Use sun-dried tomatoes, arugula, watercress, baby-bella mushrooms, and a variety of sprouts. Caramelized onions dress up your pizza much better than raw onions. For meat, choose panchetta, or other favorites that you normally don’t see at the pizza franchises.
Salads and Sides Move Uptown
But, don’t stop there. You’ve got salads and sides to consider to spark interest and conversation at your five-star picnic event. Salads are actually a great place to add a gourmet twist because there are so many ingredients to choose from and variations to try. You could make marinated chickpea salad, with garlic, Greek olives, feta cheese, and olive oil, rather than the typical three bean salad. How about a roasted new red potato salad with a tangy vinaigrette dressing and lots of herbs instead of the typical potato salad with mayonnaise dressing?
Other gourmet-style sides and salads might incorporate seasonal favorites like asparagus, kale, snow peas, and radishes. Asparagus, for example, can be roasted in olive oil, pine nuts, lemon, and parsley, then served warm or cold. Create a Parmesan cheese sauce to pour over your vegetables to add a gourmet flair just like the five-star restaurant recipes. Other ‘gourmet’ ingredients might include fennel, baked orzo, or couscous in your salad or side dish creations. Cooking like the five-star restaurants just means being creative and trying new foods in new ways.
Or, substitute the salad entirely with a creamy dip surrounded by an assortment of crisp, cold vegetables, which can be very upscale when you use unusual ingredients. Instead of your usual spinach dip, try chopped kale instead to add a new texture and ‘zing.’ Instead of using grape tomatoes, use heirloom tomatoes, with their varieties of flavors, colors, and textures. Broccoli and cauliflower are classics, but why not use broccolini and any variety of differently colored cauliflower. Be creative with your choices. That’s what the five-star restaurants do.
A Fine Dessert is the Finishing Touch
Every five-star restaurant meal deserves a five-star dessert. You may not be able to serve a classic like Baked Alaska at your picnic, but what other upscale desserts come to mind? Think old fashioned desserts, first, like apple pie, cheery pie, and other fruit desserts. Make individual fruit pies and put them on the grill for a different approach that looks, and tastes, like a chef created them. Rice puddings are popular in many five-star restaurants. Parfaits and layered cakes are also popular.
Use seasonal berries just like the fanciest restaurants do to create any number of desserts. Make a fruit compote simply by simmering a variety of fresh fruit together, then spoon crème fraiche over the top for an elegant, yet simple dessert. Or, make individual layered cakes by slicing pound cake into thin slices, then spreading a layer of filling made with cream cheese and fruit compote, then cut into small servings and wrap each up tightly. These little ‘personal cakes’ are very fancy and five-star worthy.
You could also make the simplest fruit dessert by spooning berries into a dish and drizzling a vinaigrette reduction sauce over the top. This is another ‘trick’ of the five-star restaurants; mixing sweet with savory for a flavor explosion.
Of course, chocolate of any kind can always be made ‘gourmet’ with the right combination. Shave slivers of dark with milk chocolate together over a bowl of rich vanilla pudding for a simply elegant dessert. A drizzle of flavored liqueur over a slice of angel food cake, topped with chocolate shavings is another five-star dessert that’s almost too simple to believe. That’s what the five-star restaurants do; they take the simplest ingredients and combine them in unusual ways. When put that way, it doesn’t seem too difficult to cook like a five-star chef, does it.
See how simple it is to turn an ordinary picnic into a five-star restaurant style picnic? It doesn’t require a big expense, just choosing wisely, and combining complimentary ingredients to create delicious dishes. It takes a bit of imagination, but it’s something you can easily learn, and enjoy!