What is it about the prospect of eating outdoors that we find so enticing? What leads us to plan, shop, and prepare well beyond the limits of what we’ll do when we simply intend to sit down at the dining room table? Whatever it is, it also inspires us to discover very creative ways to enjoy spectacular food in some of our favorite places under the sun.
In the Wood River Valley, where we take our food seriously, picnicking is nearly a competitive sport. Logistics and practicality seem to be no barrier for devoted local foodies. The Summer Symphony season is a perfect example. Some people arrive with a simple, elegant picnic packed like a bento box and tucked under one arm, a small folding chair under the other. Others back their SUV up to the picnic lawn and unload low-slung chairs and tables, tablecloths and candelabras, ice buckets for wine, and trays filled with elaborate fare.
Chef Peg Phillips has a similar sensibility when it comes to eating high on a ridge somewhere: Why scrimp? As suggested in the title of her upcoming cookbook, Savor A Moment, this chef’s philosophy is that eating should be a celebration, even if a small one, each and every time.
Drawing from nearly twenty years of catering and restaurant experience (her Café Maisonette in San Francisco developed a cult following),
Phillips brought unabashed flair, a background in French cooking, and an Italian familial love of la dolce vita with her to Ketchum, where she now plies her craft as a popular private chef and caterer.
“I challenge people to really get creative when thinking about food, to make their meals special even if they are spur-of-the-moment. Food can be very simple to prepare; but if it tastes wonderful, if it tugs on your emotions and recalls favorite memories, if you are sharing it with people you love—well, that’s just about perfect, isn’t it?” muses Phillips. And, that, she explains, is the essence of her cookbook. “It is a tribute to my family, a reflection on how food plays such an important role in life.”
Reluctant to choose between a simpler hiker’s lunch and a more complex picnic meal, Phillips offers two tantalizing menus for this challenge.
“Really, how could I choose?” she smiles, clearly delighted. “It’s good to treat yourself to a wonderful meal, but it’s also such a joy to share food with friends and family.” Her choice for an afternoon hiking picnic: Homemade Trail Mix; Filet of Beef Sandwich; Home-baked Potato Chips; Out-rageous Fudge Brownie.
For a more elegant repast on a warm summer evening, Peg suggests: Roasted Eggplant Tapanade in Toasted Bread Boxes; Mixed Olives with Caper Berries; Lobster Cobb Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette; Berry Cobbler; Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio.
Peg’s Homemade Trail Mix
2 cups each whole pecans, whole walnuts, sliced almonds
2 cups sweetened, shredded or shaved coconut
11/2 cups dried apricots
1 cup roasted cashews
1 cup each pitted dates, cranberries, dried cherries
3/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup honey
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss the pecans, almonds, walnuts, and coconut together in a large bowl. Whisk together the oil and honey in a small bowl. Pour the liquids over the mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until all nuts and coconut are coated. Line a 13×18-inch baking sheet with parchment paper and pour the mixture onto the pan. Bake, stirring with a spatula, until the mixture turns a nice golden brown, about 20 minutes.
2. Remove the trail mix from the oven and allow to cool, stirring occasionally. Add apricots, dates, cherries, cranberries, and cashews. Store the cooled trail mix in an airtight container. Chef Phillips advises that there’s plenty of room for creativity in this recipe. She suggests using dried peaches or apples, figs, raisins, currants, or even cacao nips or carob chips to replace similar ingredients listed above.
Filet of Beef Sandwich with Creamy Blue D’Auvergne and Arugula Leaves
Filet of Beef
1 whole filet of beef (trimmed, 4-5 pounds)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pat the outside of the filet with a paper towel. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper. Salt a nonstick pan with kosher salt and bring pan to high heat. Sear beef, then roast in oven for exactly 22 minutes for rare, and 25 minutes for medium rare.
2. Remove beef from oven, cover, and allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. This process can be done a day ahead of time and kept refrigerated.
Creamy Blue D’Auvergne Dressing
1/4 pound blue d’Auvergne or other creamy blue cheese
2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
11/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Mash cheese with a fork and blend in remaining ingredients.
TO ASSEMBLE: On thin slices of multigrain bread, spread dressing thickly. Top with thin slices of beef, arugula leaves, salt and pepper to taste.
Lobster Cobb Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
2 ripe avocados
11/2 pounds cooked lobster meat, diced in 3/4-inch cubes*
1/2 pound pancetta, fried and
3/4 cup crumbled English Stilton or other crumbly blue cheese
1 pint of red and yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
Arugula or organic mixed greens
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper
1. Cut the avocados in half, remove seed, and peel. Dice into 3/4-inch cubes and toss with lemon juice. Combine lobster and tomatoes in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss with enough vinaigrette to moisten. Add diced avocados, crumbled pancetta, blue cheese, and greens. Toss again. Serve at room temperature.
*Purchase the lobster meat from your local fish purveyor—pricey, but worth it. Of course, you can always substitute cooked chicken, shrimp, or crabmeat.
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (approx. 2 lemons)
5 tablespoons good olive oil
11/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper until emulsified.