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A Tailgate Picnic

by Rosemary Furfaro

Usually, tailgate picnics conjure up visions of pre-sporting event dining in the crisp, fresh air of fall or winter. These traveling picnics can range from the simple and basic fare of deli sandwiches to elaborate feasts with grilled meats, chilled seafood, pates and chilled champagne.

Eating habits and customs have changed during the past few years and so have our preconceptions of tailgating. No longer do we need a sport as an excuse for gathering with friends and brimming picnic baskets. Serving from the tailgate of your car or four-wheel drive vehicle can be a delightful experience whether in the middle of your favorite state park, along side a quiet country road or parked at the crest of a memorable, scenic vista.

The quality and pairing of food and drink are important aspects of the successful tailgate picnic. The pleasant company you select to join you in your revelry will certainly add to the day's festive feeling.

I've created a very simple menu that is reminiscent of the impromptu picnics that I shared with my friends while traveling through northern Europe. The menu is easy to assemble and transports well in a tailgate basket: Mediterranean-style torta sourdough baguette sausages with two kinds of mustard imported olives (such as the pungent French picholine, the Greek kalamata and sharp Sicilian) marinated artichoke and mushroom salad sliced fruits tossed with orange zest and fresh mint Choose a chilled, crisp white wine or a favorite beer to compliment your meal.

The advantage of this menu is that you spend less time fussing with ingredients and preparations and more time with your friends enjoying the food and the environment. Just be sure to pack blankets, a cooler, plates, wine glasses and utensils. And, so you can leave your location in better condition than you found it: a garbage bag to cart away your trash. A portable tape or disc player would be a nice addition to your list.

Combine the menu with a fun group of friends and a sunny day and you'll have a complete recipe for a perfect outing.

All recipes serve eight people unless otherwise noted

Mediterranean Torta
This recipe serves eight people with leftovers.
It will keep for a three days, refrigerated. To make this recipe incredibly easy to assemble: purchase the basil and kalamata olive pestos and the roasted red peppers at a specialty food store. Unmold the torta at your picnic site.

8 ounces sheep's milk feta
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons pine nuts or almonds, toasted
1-2 tablespoons green peppercorns or capers, drained well
2 tablespoon basil pesto
3 T. roasted red peppers, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons kalamata olive pesto

Combine the feta, cream cheese, butter and garlic in a food processor bowl fitted with a steel blade. Process until smooth. Add the green peppercorns and pulse to just mix without completely crushing the pepper berries.

Oil a 4-5 cup mold and line with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic to hang over the sides of the mold.

Place two tablespoons of the pine nuts or almonds on the bottom of the mold. Top with one quarter of the cheese mixture, smoothing it with the back of a wet spoon. Spread the two tablespoons of basil pesto on top of the cheese mixture. Gently place another quarter of the cheese mixture on top of the pesto, smoothing with again with the back of a wet spoon. Add the remaining nuts in a single layer over the cheese mixture. Top this with the roasted peppers. Spread another quarter of the cheese mixture on top of the peppers. Top with the olive pesto. Finish the torta with a final layer of the cheese mixture.

Refrigerate 3-4 hours. Unmold the torta onto a serving plate. Carefully remove the plastic wrap.

Smoked Sausages with Two Mustards
This simple recipe produces surprisingly good comfort food. I always serve these sausages with a very spicy, sweet mustard and a traditional coarse-grained German-style mustard. The sausages are best served at room temperature, so pull them out of your cooler about thirty minutes before eating. Begin to marinade the sausage with red wine the day before serving.

2 pounds lean turkey sausage
2 cups dry red wine
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 cups beer
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 pounds smoked turkey sausage
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup orange juice

Pierce the lean turkey sausage casings in several places with the tines of a fork. Place in a bowl with the red wine and fennel. Let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 4-6 hours.

After marinating: place the wine, fennel and sausage in a saute pan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-high and cook until most of the wine is absorbed by the sausages, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Pierce the casings of the smoked turkey sausage in several places with the tines of a fork. Place the sausage in a saute pan. Add the beer and the thinly sliced onion. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-high and cook until most of the beer is absorbed and the onions are very soft, approximately 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set sausages aside. Discard the onions.

Turn broiler on high.

Place the smoked sausage on a foil-lined broiler pan. Blend the honey and the orange juice together and brush liberally on the smoked sausages. Broil on one side until crispy, about one minute. Repeat on the other side. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve, slice each sausage link into 3-4 thick slices. Dip in the mustard of your choice.

Marinated Artichoke and Mushroom Salad
This salad can be served anytime of the year as it calls for canned artichokes. If you are ambitious, you can use the baby artichokes that are available during the late fall and early winter months -- just be sure you peel away enough of their tough outer leaves before cooking.

2 cans of whole artichoke hearts, drained
1 dozen medium-sized white mushrooms, cleaned and halved
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup of juice from navel oranges
1/8 teaspoon anise extract
1 teaspoon sugar
a few grinds of fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
10-12 fresh basil leaves, chopped

Place the artichokes, mushrooms and red onion in a large bowl.

Make the vinaigrette by placing the orange juice, anise extract, sugar, pepper and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and process until the ingredients are emulsified. Remove from the processor and pour over the vegetables in the bowl. Toss with the fresh basil.

Keep refrigerated until one half hour before serving.

Rosemary Furfaro is a freelance food writer.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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