When it came to picnics, Edouard Manet broke with tradition. For this very reason his technically innovative and risque 1863 painting "Dejeuner sur l'Herbe" (loosely translated as The Picnic) was snubbed by critics. Today, however, the painting is considered by many to be a turning point in the history of art.
Though your picnic may be somewhat less dramatic than Manet's woodland scene, you too can benefit from innovative techniques by using the microwave to help with food preparation. Some cooks consider the microwave good for nothing more than reheating foods, but in fact it really shines when used to help prepare meals, picnic or otherwise.
You can microwave potatoes for potato salad without having to boil a single drop of water. Blanch vegetables, like carrot batons and broccoli spears, in the microwave for marinating or for crudite's. And while you can't duplicate the effect of grilling in the microwave, you can quickly poach fish or chicken cutlets to make salads or sandwiches.
Apart from keeping you cool and saving time, microwaving picnic foods can also save on calories and fat. Microwaving is a moist cooking method so you can use less oil than normal and the food will still have an appealing texture. This works best for high water-content, low-fat foods like vegetables, fruits, chicken cutlets and fish. Try microwaving peeled shrimp that have been tossed with lemon juice and fresh thyme and they'll come out tender and silky without a trace of added fat.
If people roll their eyes when they hear that you actually prepare food in a microwave, invite them to a picnic. And remember that at first people turned their noses up at Manet, too.
These recipes were created in a 700-watt microwave. If yours has less wattage, increase the timing slightly. For example, if your microwave has 650 watts, the pa~te' will take about 9 minutes.
CHICKEN PATE WITH SAGE AND THYME (8 servings)
1 1/2 pounds chicken or turkey cutlets, coarsely chopped
2 scallions, minced
1 clove garlic, mashed through a press
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon prepared Dijon-style mustard
Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and whiz with on/off pulses until finely chopped but not pure'ed.
Press the pa~te' firmly into a 7-inch microwave ring pan and level out the top. If you don't have such a pan, invert a small juice glass in the middle of a 9-inch glass pie dish and carry on.
Cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on full power until cooked through, about 7 1/2 minutes, rotating the dish midway.
If there's fat in the dish carefully drain it away. Then chill the pa~te', covered, for at least 2 hours. To serve, unmold the pa~te' and slice thinly. It's great with tiny pickles and coarse bread.
To pack safely for a picnic cut the pa~te' into slices while it's cold. Wrap in serving-sized packs and transport with frozen blue gel packs in a well-insulated container.
Per serving: 143 calories, 27 gm protein, .4 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, .9 gm saturated fat, 72 mg cholesterol, 71 mg sodium.
POTATO SALAD WITH TOMATOES AND MUSHROOMS (4 servings)
1 pound new potatoes, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup water or defatted chicken stock
3 large dried porcini mushrooms, chopped
3 sun-dried tomatoes (packed without salt), chopped
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme or basil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 scallions, finely minced
Combine the potatoes, water, mushrooms, tomatoes and rosemary in a 9-inch glass pie dish and cover with vented plastic wrap. Microwave on full power until the potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes. Then drain, discarding the water and rosemary.
In a small bowl whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil. Toss with the potatoes, adding in the scallions as you go. Serve warm or chilled.
To pack safely for a picnic, scoop into portion-sized containers and transport with frozen blue gel packs in a well-insulated cooler.
Per serving: 136 calories, 2 gm protein, 25 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, .5 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 6 mg sodium.
CINNAMON-LIME FRUIT SYRUP (Makes 1 1/4 cups, enough for 10 drinks)
1 cup brewed cinnamon-spiced tea
1/3 cup honey
Juice of 4 limes
Combine the tea and honey in a 2-cup measure and stir well. Microwave uncovered on full power until boiling, about 1 minute. Pour in the lime juice and continue to boil until slightly thickened and syrupy, about 3 minutes more. Pour into a glass jar, cover and refrigerate until chilled. To make a refreshing beverage, stir 2 tablespoons of fruit syrup into an 8-ounce glass of sparkling water.
To transport for a picnic, set the glass jar of syrup in a well-insulated cooler filled with frozen blue gel packs and other food.
Per serving: 38 calories, 0 gm protein, 10 gm carbohydrates, 0 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 mg sodium.
Judith Benn Hurley is a Pennsylvania cookbook author; her latest book is "The Healthy Gourmet."