Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tour of Missouri: The French Never Ate So Good

As an excited spectator for the inaugural Tour of Missouri cycling race, I must admit I was as preoccupied with the food that we would serve at our picnic as I was with whether George Hincapie or Alberto Contador would break to the front of the pack. However, having been a casual fan of cycling for years, which means you follow the Tour de France and that's about it, I was proud of my adoptive state for putting on a top-notch sporting exhibition on their first try. (Despite following the first few stages on the West side of the state, it was in Augusta wine country that I first caught glimpse of how major a production the Tour of Missouri was. With over 120 riders and dozens of team, race and security vehicles, I thought to myself "this is a big deal" with each support car that passed). So with family in town from around the country, I really wanted to show them that not only could Missouri stage a world class cycling spectacle but we could serve superb al fresco cuisine to match. The key to a great traveling spread, one where you won't have a kitchen or heat source to prepare, is the variety of dishes you serve. It's important to have a large and varied offering, things like: multiple pickles, good cheeses, spreads, olives, salads & relishes, breads & crostini, fruit, smoked fish and meat, sweets. Not only because it's easier to pack up smaller containers, but also in that it allows for informality when eating. Everyone can be serving themselves something while the rest is making the rounds, it's a more social way to entertain. This method is made easier by the fact that you can purchase most of the components for a meal such as this, things like olives, cheeses, pickles, etc., and then focus on making just a few of your favorites to accompany them. It's also a good idea to invest in a quality picnic basket with well made plastic plates, utensils and cups, one that has a waterproof interior so you can add an ice pack to keep things cool. Here is a delicious relish that goes great with smoked meats, especially smoked salmon or trout.

Creamy Cucumber Relish
Quantity Produced: 3 Cups

Quick Pickled Cucumbers 3 Cups (See Recipe)
Parsley, Minced 2 Tablespoons
Shallot, Minced 2 Teaspoons
Garlic, Minced ½ Teaspoon
Sour Cream 1/3 Cup
Cayenne Pepper Pinch
Fresh Dill, Minced ¼ Cup (or 1 Tablespoon Dried)
Olive Oil, Extra Virgin 2 Tablespoons
Kosher Salt To Taste
Fresh White Pepper To Taste

Preparation Procedure-

Combine everything, season and refrigerate.

Quick Pickled Cucumbers
Quantity Produced: 3 Cups

English Cucumber, Sliced on Mandoline 2
Kosher Salt 2 Tablespoons

Water 3 Cups
White Wine Vinegar 1 Cup
Sugar 2 Cups
Bay Leaves 2
Allspice Berries, Dried 4

Preparation Procedure-
Slice cucumbers thin and toss with salt. Set in colander over a large bowl and drain for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make brine by bringing remaining ingredients to a boil in a large saucepan. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature (you can put into refrigerator to speed this up). Rinse salt from cucumbers and using either a clean towel or salad spinner remove as much moisture from cucumbers as possible. Cover with cooled brine. Will be ready in 3 to 6 hours.