Tips for cooking outdoors on Memorial Day

May 23, 2013 3:20:13 AM PDT
With Memorial Day weekend almost here, the definition of "dining out" will be changing. Rather than a meal in a restaurant, we're more likely to think in terms of food outdoors, whether in a park, on the beach, or in the back yard.

Summer also brings the Delaware Valley an amazing selection of fresh produce. Go ahead and enjoy it all, but do so safely.

We went to Reading Terminal Market's teaching kitchen, "La Cucina at the Market" , where resident chef Anna Florio gave us some pointers.

By all means, grab up that farm-fresh produce and make a flavorful meal that's portable. But keep some simple safety rules in mind.

Produce spends most of its "life" growing outdoors. Once picked, it still keeps well, usually for days. But the fresher the produce, the more likely it is to retain its vibrant color.

Chef Anna told Action News it's vital that you wash all produce before eating, even products that say they're pre-washed.

At the worst, this won't harm anything, and it could save you a food-borne illness.

Proteins like meat and seafood need to be kept under refrigeration until you cook them. Once they're done, refrigeration is the rule unless you're serving them right away.

Once you do set them out for serving, a general rule is to keep them out no more than two hours. But as summer arrives and temperatures rise, this "out" time could be considerably less.

If you're not sure, hold these products under refrigeration as best you can. A cooler or ice chest will help. With that, note that those compact freezer packs will stay cold in a chest for five or six hours.

As an alternative you won't have to transport back home, freeze the "brick pack" juices you pack in your child's school lunch and they'll do double duty, .as a cold pack and a beverage.

For further "insurance", place the serving platter on a bed of ice.

Condiments keep for months on your grocer's shelf and in your pantry. So if you're bringing anything like ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise or a dressing, leave it sealed in the original container until you get where you're going.

If you make a dressing at home, refrigerate it, then keep it in the cooler for travel. Mayonnaise is number-one on a lot of experts' lists of foods that can spoil this time of year. So ask yourself whether you really need it.

Chef Anna made a potato salad colorful by adding tomatoes, then dressed that with a blend of olive oil and some vinegar. In that, she used the ingredients which would flavor a mayonnaise but omitting the eggs that make it a candidate for quick spoiling.

She garnished a macaroni salad, again, mayo-free with some bright green basil leaves. And more of those leaves went into a fresh pesto featuring olive oil and pine nuts. It makes up in your food processor in seconds. The chef brushed that on shrimp she pre-grilled.

It's true, these need to be kept under refrigeration until served. But most people enjoy shrimp across a wide temperature spectrum, from hot off the grill to refrigerator cold.

These, served in the middle, are tasty with the pesto. As long as you transport them with safety in mind, you and your guests will love them at your destination without a concern.

La Cucina at the Market is famous locally for cooking classes, everything from basic techniques to preparing seasonal favorites.

You can learn all about those classes and sign up on their website, La Cucina at the Market. You may also phone 215-922-1170.

Reading Terminal Market is Philadelphia's oldest fresh food merchant, tracing its history back to the open-air markets which dotted Head House Square in colonial times. It's been at 12th and Arch Streets for more than a century. You may find them online at Reading Terminal.