In Good Taste: Moveable Feast
Caterer Caroline Bevon opens the lid on festival-inspired picnic fare
Spoleto Festival USA celebrates arts all around, even seeking creativity in the culinary world with a picnic basket contest during its Middleton Place finale. With spring full-blown, the possibilities for packing a fresh festival feast are at their most alluring. To warm up for the annual sunset soirée, we decided to open the lid on an elevated alfresco menu. And since Caroline Bevon’s charming food-to-go shop in South Windermere, Caroline’s Market, is known as the go-to place for creative provisions, she was just the expert to turn to for a picnic primer beyond PB&J. “I’ve only been to the Spoleto finale once,” she admits, “but it was glorious listening to the symphony and taking in the beautiful butterfly lakes and the warm night.” Since her first professional stint at the stove in The Long Room Club in 1983, studying at The New York Restaurant School, and subsequently setting up her company, Caroline has become known for her culinary flair.
“A picnic is about much more than finding a spot, spreading out a blanket, and setting out sandwiches,” says the Beaufort-born chef/caterer. “Part of the fun involves the surprises in the hamper. People take pleasure in realizing you’ve planned a perfect meal just for them.” A picnic provides an easy formula for successful entertaining, and it’s a lovely way to dine on the beach-house porch, bring the family together in the garden before graduation, or provide a little lunch between a chamber music concert and a marionette matinee.
Snack: Marinated Kalamata and green olives with Champagne Cobbler cocktail
Soup: English pea soup with curried yogurt garnish
Salad: Calypso beans and asparagus with herb vinaigrette and Serrano ham crisps
Sandwich: Veal meat loaf with red pepper spread and fresh spinach on multigrain bread
Dessert: “Chocolate Drop” cookies
“These marinated olives are addictive,” says Caroline of her mixed olive snack. “The tart sweetness of the pomegranate molasses complements the natural bitterness of the Kalamata and cracked green olives. Add the lemon, and you have a taste sensation that always astonishes people.” A Middle Eastern ingredient produced by reducing the juice of a particularly tart variety, pomegranate molasses can also add pizzaz to salads, sauces, and even stews.
For the picnic, Caroline serves this seductive snack with crusty bread and Champagne Cobbler, an old-fashioned drink popular with both ladies and gents in the 19th century. “I’m a big fan of Champagne, so anytime I see a recipe using bubbly, I have to try it,” she says of this concoction, which she found in The Essential Cocktail by Dale DeGroff. While the book calls for muddling the fresh citrus and pineapple for the base on a drink-by-drink basis, Caroline simplifies the process to make it portable, muddling the fruit all at once, straining it, adding the Maraschino liqueur, and putting the mixture in a plastic container. Then she just pours a little into each flute on site.
If you have trouble finding Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, which is clear and won’t discolor the fruit, Caroline suggests substituting a simple syrup. And for an extra squirt of flavor from the zest, she leaves the rind on the citrus when she muddles it. As for choosing the Champagne, “I personally prefer using a brut (very dry) for the
cocktail,” she says. Also included in the libation selection: a light Italian beer, such as Peroni or Moretti, in case a guest prefers sipping suds over bubbles or as a change of beverage to accompany the sandwiches.
(see Marinated Kalamata & Green Olives recipe below...)
With its base of chicken broth only slightly enriched by cream, this chilled, garden-fresh pea soup with Greek yogurt garnish makes a refreshing addition to a picnic. Unlike soup from split peas, English pea soup is light and bright, so it’s a good pairing for spring menus. “English peas, in season now, provide a sweet, substantial base, but frozen baby sweet peas can be substituted when fresh English peas are no longer available,” instructs Caroline, who purchases hers through Rosebank Farms, which also sells them to the public at their farm stand on John’s Island and through its CSA. Also look for the peas at the downtown Charleston Farmers Market, where Thackery Farms, a Wadmalaw grower, usually has them at their stand.
Caroline sets the color of the soup by putting the pan of simmered peas in a large bowl of ice to cool it down and stop the cooking process, since overcooking can cause the peas to lose their vibrant green hue. This has the added effect of keeping boiling hot liquid out of the blender and minimizing accidents. Depending on the size of your blender, the soup may need to be blended in batches. “I like to stop just short of a fine purée,” says Caroline, “leaving a little texture.” The soup can be made and refrigerated up to two days ahead; after that, the color will begin to fade.
To kick up the flavor, Caroline spices her yogurt with Madras curry powder. “I like it because the color blooms better,” she explains. Named for a town on the east coast of southern India, Madras is the hotter of the two commonly found commercially produced curry powders, both being made of a blend of up to 20 herbs, seeds, and spices.
(see English Pea Soup with Curried Yogurt Garnish recipe below...)
Sandwich & Salad
While the choice of meat loaf for the main event may seem a retro move, Caroline’s veal version, more like a country pâté, is highly flavored, thinly sliced, and layered between two pieces of munchy multigrain bread—making it a remarkably classy picnic entrée. Her careful construction with the added coolness of roasted red pepper and fresh spinach yields a savory, satisfying sandwich. “You could substitute ground turkey if you don’t want to use veal,” advises Caroline. “But don’t substitute fragile baby spinach for the good old-fashioned curly kind. It takes a little more work to wash and stem the leaves, but you’ll get the dual benefit of decidedly better taste and texture.” Caroline’s choice of cream cheese for the base of the freshly roasted red pepper spread rates A-plus for safety, as it keeps mayonnaise out of the equation and the sandwich out of the salmonella zone.
As for the calypso bean and asparagus salad, “this is one of my favorite sides,” says Caroline. “It’s hearty, colorful, and again, lacking mayonnaise, so it’s safe for a picnic. The beans have great color; the ability to pick up the flavor of the vinaigrette, with its nutty base notes of sherry wine vinegar; and the texture of cannellini beans, which contrasts with the asparagus.” The beans also bear the nuance of the chicken stock that plumped them to softness. The shallot brings a slight bite, still more subtle than a yellow or white onion. And the little bits of basil tease. The sum of the parts is a sophisticated riff on a bean salad that—at its best at room temperature—is perfect picnic fare.
(see Veal Meat Loaf with Red Pepper Spread & Fresh Spinach on Multigrain Bread recipe below...)
Since the Carolina Chocolate Drops are returning to Spoleto this year for the finale, Caroline decided she must create a cookie called “Chocolate Drops.” Rich and evidencing every bit of their triple chocolate content, the cookies are best the day they’re baked but can be kept in an airtight container for up to five days. However, she advises against freezing them. “They would taste fine, but their crackly tops are a tad fragile.”
(see Chocolate Drops recipe below...)
Whether for a day at the park or for the Spoleto Finale, there’s an art and a science to packing a portable meal. Here are tips to keep you from ending up a basket case:
- Avoid mayonnaise as a dressing or spread. Oil and vinegar or oil and citrus juice dressings are perfectly safe.
- Refrigerate drinks the night before so that they will already be very cold.
- Prechill or preheat your thermos, depending upon whether you are using it for cold or hot soup.
- Put the drinks in a separate cooler, as people will open it frequently during the picnic to get beverages, which can prevent other foods from staying well chilled.
- Pack your hamper and cooler just before leaving home. Drinks can be packed in ice; use frozen, hard-side Blue Ice for keeping food cold, rather than gel packs, which can rip or leak.
- Place food in the hamper in reverse order: dessert first, then the main course, and snacks last. You want what you will eat last in first (i.e., at the bottom) and vice versa.
Keep the hamper inside the air-conditioned car instead of in the hot trunk during drive time.
- 1/2 lb. medium to large Greek or Mediterranean-style green olives
- 1/2 lb. medium to large Kalamata olives
- 5 Tbs. pomegranate molasses
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced
- 1/8 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
Rinse olives thoroughly under cold running water. Drain well. Pat dry with paper towels and place in a medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss to blend. Let stand two hours at room temperature so flavors can meld. Cover and refrigerate. (Recipe can be made up to a week in advance.) Let stand at room temperature for one hour before serving.
- 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 lb. fresh English peas
- 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, for garnish
- 1 tsp. Madras curry powder, for garnish
- Whole English peas, for garnish
In a heavy saucepan, melt butter and cook onion with salt to taste over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally until softened, about five minutes. Add peas and stock and simmer, uncovered, until peas are tender, five to seven minutes. Remove pan from heat and place in a bowl of ice to stop peas from cooking.
In a blender, purée soup in batches until moderately smooth. Pour into one container. Whisk in cream and add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill soup until ready to serve.
For garnish, blend yogurt and curry powder thoroughly in a mixing bowl. Dollop onto cold soup. Garnish with fresh whole peas.
For the veal meat loaf:
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 2 cups chopped onion
- 2 Tbs. minced garlic
- 2 cups fresh French bread crumbs
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
- 2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
- 6 Tbs. ketchup
- 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
- 1 Tbs. Heinz 57 Steak Sauce
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 2 lbs. ground veal
For the red pepper spread:
- 1 large red bell pepper
- 1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
- 3 oz. fresh curly spinach
- 8 slices multigrain bread
- Red pepper spread
- Veal meat loaf
For the veal meat loaf:
Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, about five minutes. Add garlic and sauté until aromatic, being careful not to burn it. Transfer onion mixture to a large bowl. Stir next nine ingredients into onion mixture. Mix in veal.
Form into loaf and place in a 9x5x3-inch metal loaf pan. Refrigerate for one hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake meat loaf until brown on top and a meat or instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 160°F, about one hour and 15 minutes. Cool for one hour. Refrigerate overnight.
For the red pepper spread:
Char red bell pepper over a gas flame or under broiler until blackened on all sides. Wrap in a paper bag and let stand for 10 minutes. Peel pepper and dice into quarter-inch pieces. Cool. Fold into softened cream cheese. (Avoid beating pieces of pepper, as they will break down and lose their integrity. If necessary, slightly beat cream cheese before adding bell pepper to soften it and make it easy to blend.)
Wash and dry spinach leaves. Remove stems, wrap leaves loosely in a damp dish towel, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Spread half of bread slices with red pepper spread. Top each with two thin slices of veal meat loaf. Place a few spinach leaves over meat loaf on each sandwich and top with slices of bread.
- 8 oz. semisweet chocolate
- 3 oz. bittersweet chocolate
- 6 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350°F. Melt semisweet and bittersweet chocolates with butter over low heat, stirring occasionally until smooth. Cool.
In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. In another mixing bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla until fluffy. Add melted chocolate and then flour mixture. Beat until blended. Stir in chips and nuts.
Drop by the tablespoonful onto lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until tops of cookies are uniform in color and no longer look wet. When done, they should come off of the baking sheet easily. Cool on racks.
- 8 orange wedges, peel on
- 8 lemon wedges, peel on
- 8 chunks fresh pineapple, each about 3/4-inch square
- 2 oz. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
- 16 oz. Champagne or sparkling wine
- Long, thin spirals of orange peel, for garnish
Muddle fruit with Maraschino liqueur in a pitcher. Add ice and Champagne and stir very gently. Strain into flutes. Garnish with orange peel and serve immediately.