This is Virginia Willis’ version of a dessert made by her mother and grandmother. It’s called a batter cobbler: You don’t make a separate top crust, because the batter rises up and makes one for you. It’s particularly picnic-friendly because it is baked and toted in a standard muffin tin. It can be made a day ahead. To serve, use a spoon to remove the cobblers from the tin; top them with whipped cream or low-fat Greek-style yogurt.
5 1/3 tablespoons (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup low-fat milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blueberries (or blackberries, raspberries or chopped peaches)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Melt the butter in a large glass measuring cup in a microwave oven set on medium. Use a pastry brush to generously brush the wells of a standard 12-cup muffin tin with some of the butter. Transfer the muffin tin to the oven to preheat while you make the batter, about 5 minutes.
Combine the flour, milk, baking powder, salt and vanilla extract in the measuring cup with the remaining butter (you should have at least 1/4 cup of it).
Remove the muffin pan from the oven. (If the butter has browned a bit, consider that a blessing.) Divide the batter evenly among the wells, filling each one no more than halfway full. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of berries into each well.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the batter has risen up and around the fruit and is a light golden brown. Transfer the muffin tin to a cooling rack.
To serve, run a spoon around the edge of each well. Scoop out the individual cobblers and transfer to individual plates. (Invert them if you want to display the fruit that has sunk to the bottom.) Serve warm or at room temperature, plain or garnished with whipped cream or low-fat yogurt. Makes 12 cobblers.
Per cobbler: 92 calories, 1 g protein, 9 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 185 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.
Oven-Fried Chicken on a Stick
Fried chicken is a picnic classic. This version is easy to prepare and a bit better for you. You’ll need a dozen 12-inch bamboo skewers, preferably flat-sided. For a dipping sauce, try store-bought honey mustard, honey or hot sauce. The chicken can be made up to 2 days in advance, covered and refrigerated.
For the chicken:
2 tablespoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups low-fat buttermilk
3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (tenderloins removed), each cut lengthwise into 4 strips (1 1/2 to 2 pounds total)
For the coating
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon powdered mustard
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg white
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
Freshly ground pepper
For the chicken: Combine the salt, paprika, powdered mustard, onion powder and garlic powder in a large, stainless steel, glass or plastic bowl. Add the buttermilk and whisk until the salt is completely dissolved and the spices are evenly dispersed. Add the pieces of chicken breast, making sure they are submerged. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes; do not brine any longer or the chicken will be too salty.
For the coating: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, then set a large wire rack on the foil. Spray the rack with cooking spray.
Meanwhile, combine the panko, paprika, powdered mustard, onion powder and garlic powder in a shallow dish. Add the oil and toss well to coat.
Whisk together the egg, egg white and mustard in a separate shallow dish, until smooth. (This takes a few seconds, but make sure it’s nice and smooth.) Season both mixtures with pepper to taste.
Working with one piece at a time, remove the chicken from the brine and shake off any excess liquid. Discard the brine. Insert a skewer into each piece of chicken. Dip the chicken into the egg mixture, coating both sides. Place in the panko mixture, sprinkling with crumbs to cover, and press so the coating adheres; turn the chicken over and repeat the process.
Place the coated breasts on the rack set on the baking sheet. Bake, turning halfway through cooking, until the chicken is golden brown and the juices run clear, 20 to 25 minutes. Makes 6 servings.
Note: Ingredients are too varied for a meaningful analysis.
Lightened-Up Pimento Cheese
The “paté of the South,” pimento cheese is the epitome of a picnic treat. Don’t be tempted to use pre-grated cheese; the result won’t be creamy enough. Try this slathered on a celery stick, on bread or crackers, or straight from the bowl on a spoon. It can be made a day in advance.
4 ounces jarred pimentos, drained and finely chopped
Dash hot pepper sauce
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Combine the cheese, onion, mayonnaise and yogurt in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add the pimentos and hot sauce, and stir to evenly distribute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 4 cups.
Per 2-tablespoon serving: 50 calories, 4 g protein, 0 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 115 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar.
Roasted Green Bean and Potato Salad
The combination of green beans and potatoes is a Southern classic, but it’s normally served warm, with ham hock or bacon. This lightened-up picnic salad is bright with flavor. The green beans turn slightly sweet, and the lemon juice adds a little zip. The salad can be made a day in advance, covered and refrigerated.
Canola oil, for the baking sheet, plus 2 tablespoons for the vegetables
1 pound (about 5 medium) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick on the diagonal
10 ounces haricots verts or tender young green beans, ends trimmed
1 medium onion, preferably Vidalia, thinly sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons honey
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Brush a rimmed baking sheet generously with the oil and transfer it to the oven; heat to 400 degrees.
Combine the potatoes, green beans and onion in a large bowl. Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat the vegetables with the oil, then transfer them to the heated baking sheet and spread evenly. Roast, stirring occasionally, for 35 to 45 minutes or until the vegetables are charred and browned.
While the roasted vegetables are still warm, drizzle them with the honey and lemon juice, sprinkle with the parsley and toss to coat. Taste, and add salt and/or pepper as needed. Serve at room temperature, or, preferably, refrigerate until chilled. If you are serving the salad cold, taste for seasoning just before serving, because chilling dulls the flavor. Makes 6 servings.
Per serving: 156 calories, 3 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 0 saturated fat, 0 cholesterol, 45 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 8 g sugar
By Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Service
Labor Day weekend is a fine time for a picnic. But who wants to haul around a feast that’s barely moveable?
At best, you should make foods that don’t need a load of ice to keep them chilly. Optimum flavor should peak at “room temperature.” (Read: They can sit for an hour or two alfresco.) A touch of Southern might be nice, with some calories magically eliminated.
We knew right where to turn: Virginia Willis, a chef and cookbook author who knows how to celebrate her Georgia roots on a plate. Her menu is the kind of easy, enlightened Southern cooking she offers through her blog, virginiawillis.wordpress.com.
In much of the rest of the country, Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the outdoor cooking season. And you can imagine how thrilled they’ll be to get out their grills in places like Minneapolis, where it snowed just a few weeks ago.
Even done well, a rendition of chicken and sausage can be heavy. Here, the sausage takes on a reduced role, flavoring but not weighing down the dish. The result: a richly favored sauce to marry with the tender chicken.
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