Post # 172 Picnic in the Park

September 30, 2013 at 12:57 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 172 Picnic in the Park

Since we’ve moved here to Arizona, we’ve had many more opportunities to take advantage of the cultural events taking place in the city.  We live two block from one of the major parks in the city.  It’s a park that holds national tennis tournaments, major golfing events, a zoo which has doubled in size since my college days, and several dog runs.  One of the things the park holds is a medium sized amphitheater where concerts are put on.  The local Pops ensemble gives free concerts every Sunday evening in the Spring and Fall.  Unfortunately, this year the fall schedule had to be severely curtailed and instead of the normal concert schedule, they had only two.  I was lucky enough to attend both concerts, the second of which was held last night.

It was at an outdoor venue.  The area closest to the stage had cement benches, but we chose to sit at the top of the hill in the grass.  The place was crowded both times.  People spread out on blankets or set up chairs.  Some people kept it simple and had sandwiches brought from home.  Others brought pizza or deli subs.  Lots of people brought their dogs which added to the festive atmosphere.  I even saw one older couple who were having champagne and strawberries.  We brought wine and picnic stuff.  Here’s what I did.

Crostini with Caprese Topping:  I took four medium ripe tomatoes and cut them to smaller-than-bite-sized chunks and put them in a bowl.  I took good mozzarella cheese and cut five thin slices from the block.  Then I cut them into chunks the same size as the tomatoes.  Then I took several leaves of fresh basil, lemon balm, and mint and chopped them very finely.  I did this by hand so they wouldn’t turn bruised and pulpy.  All this was stirred around in a bowl with one tablespoon of good extra virgin olive oil, and one tablespoon of good quality balsamic vinegar.  I transferred all of it to an airtight container to avoid spills and put it in the refrigerator to chill.  While it was chilling, I heated the oven to 400 and sliced a medium baguette diagonally into two dozen slices.  I placed these on a cookie sheet, brushed them with olive oil and toasted them in the oven for fifteen minutes.  At the concert, we took the crostini and spread some topping on it and ate it.  Good stuff!  Later, I thought about adding roasted sunflower seeds next time.  And as I was making the stuff, I realized it was sort of an Italian salsa.

Meatballs with Grape Jelly Sauce:  This one is deceptively easy, but I managed to mess it up big time.  The meatball were easy.  I mixed together one pound of hamburger with a half-pound each of bulk Italian Hot Sausage and Italian Mild Sausage.  Then I used a tablespoon to form the meatballs.  Those got baked at 400 for twenty minutes.  Easy peasy.  The sauce was a different animal.  I’ve had the sauce a few times before, but it’s been a long time.  I read through recipes on the web and they all said pretty much the same thing.  Equal parts grape jelly and chili sauce heated together until the jelly dissolves into the chili sauce.  Sometimes people added soy sauce or Worcestershire  sauce.  When we were buying the ingredients, I went to the Hispanic section to find chili sauce.  Partner/spouse suggested the Asian section for a different flavor.  We looked at the selection and chose one that had garlic in it for a different flavor profile.  When we got home, I opened the chili sauce to sniff it to get a sense of its strength.  It didn’t curl my nose hairs, so I figured it would be pretty mild.  Yeah, not so much.  I started cooking the jelly and chili sauce together and I wasn’t getting any burning effects to my eyes or nose so I assumed all was well.  Then I tasted it and nearly screamed.  HOT!!!!!!  Beyond hot, it was surface of the sun hot.  No amount of jelly was going to cool that stuff down.  My sink does not have a garbage disposal on it so I have to be very careful what goes down the drain.  So being very responsible, I strained all the chili seeds that I once thought were minced garlic and all the chili skins, etc. with a fine mesh strainer.  I was left with a light purplish sauce in a bowl which I tasted and nearly screamed again.  Good thing it was a ceramic bowl.  That stuff would have melted plastic.  But I had to have some sauce for the meatballs which were cooling off by this time.  They tasted great.  Partner/spouse said to just use barbeque sauce which naturally we didn’t have.  Okay, I’ve made barbeque sauce often enough, I knew I could mock something together.  As long as it tasted like grape a little bit, everyone would be happy and no one would have to know.  I put half a bottle of ketchup, half a bottle of grape jam (which was normally used for my PBJs, the sacrifices I make!), a tablespoon of brown sugar, and a couple of shakes of Worcestershire sauce with about a quarter cup of water into a pan and heated that until everything was blended.  It was okay, but a little bland, so I added about a quarter cup of the really hot stuff into it, and boom!  Perfect sauce with just the right kick.  I poured about half over the meatballs and tossed them around to get a good coating.  I put the bulk of them in one container and added more sauce.  Covered and into the fridge.  The rest went into another container for FiL who was not coming the concert with us.

When we got to the park and set up, we had the crostini, the meatballs, and my sister had brought some goat cheese and crackers, some sliced fruit, some berries, and then partner/spouse went to the food trucks and got us crème Brule.  People were walking by and asking where we got the stuff from.  One lady asked if I’d cater her next party.

The concert was good too!

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