Blanket Recommendations: Delectable dishes for the perfect picnic

July 2016 View more

NMAG0716_Feature_nm Chef Ochoa 18_800px

Trying to trace the etymological backstory of a popular saying or catchphrase can sometimes be a tall task. Some sayings, on the other hand, are so ideally descriptive, so perfectly simple that it’s hard to even fathom an alternative. Take the phrase “it’s no picnic,” which of course is another way of expressing that something isn’t easy and/or pleasurable.

Because what event or happenstance better embodies the
notion of ease and pleasure than a picnic?

Perhaps now is the time to take to heart the lesson of that ideal catchphrase. After all, nothing embodies the carefree, easygoing spirit of summer quite like a picnic. Whatever you choose to do with the sand that remains in the hourglass of your summer, be sure to save some for a sunny afternoon or a warm evening when you can throw down a blanket, pack a basket and just enjoy. Because there couldn’t be an easier or, as these area chefs can attest, more delicious way to spend part of your summer.

Eddie Sweeney

Catch 35, Naperville

NMAG0716_Feature_nm chef sweeney 14_800pxGrilled Shrimp Bánh Mì Sandwich with Bacon-Sriracha aioli

Makes 2–4 sandwiches


12 large Florida shrimp, peeled and deveined

4 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons grated ginger

4 small carrots grated

1 tablespoons fish sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

1/2 cup bacon-Sriracha aioli (see recipe)

1 French baguette

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced thin

1 large handful each of fresh cilantro, basil leaves

Put shrimp in a bowl with the soy sauce, sesame oil and ginger. Stir to combine. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for an hour. Combine carrots, fish sauce, sugar and vinegar in another small bowl. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for an hour, or overnight. Preheat a grill medium-high heat. Grill shrimp, remove from heat and let rest while you grill the baguette halves on both sides to toast. Slather the cut sides of the baguette with the bacon-sriracha aioli. Layer the cucumber, pickled carrots and herbs on one side of the baguette. Lay shrimp on top of the vegetables and herbs. Sandwich with the other piece of baguette, cut in half and serve.

Bacon-Sriracha Aioli

3/4 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 clove garlic

3 tablespoons Sriracha hot sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

4 slices Neuske’s bacon, cooked and chopped

Puree mayo, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in food processor. Pour into bowl, add chopped bacon and stir.

Eddie Sweeney

Eddie Sweeney

“I think fresh flavors are perfect for a nice summer picnic. This sandwich works well because it can be wrapped ahead of time and served at room temperature. The spices pair nicely with homemade kettle chips or some creamy ginger coleslaw, all rounded out by a crisp, cold beer or two.”


Brian Goewey

Gia Mia Pizza Bar, Wheaton

NMAG0716_Feature_nm chef goewey 15_800pxWatermelon and Tomato Salad

2 oz. heirloom tomatoes, quartered

3 oz. cucumbers, English-sliced

3 oz. seedless watermelon, half-diced

1 oz. watermelon radishes

1 tablespoon feta cheese crumbles

1/2 oz. baby arugula

1 1/2 oz. basil oil (see recipe)

Pinch salt and pepper mix

Drizzle of balsamic syrup

3 turns cracked black pepper

Basil Oil

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

4 cups fresh basil, packed

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon whole grain mustard

1 teaspoon garlic, chopped

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 pinches salt and pepper mix

Lemon zest

Orange zest

Add ingredients into blender, slowly add the olive oil.

Brian Goewey

Brian Goewey

“Go for vinegar-based salads that keep well in a cooler and help save you a few calories, and upgrade your water with some fun flavors (lemon, cucumber). Above all, always be thinking in terms of share-ability—picnics should be social gatherings.”

George Engel

CityGate Grille, Naperville

NMAG0716_Feature_nm chef engel 7_800pxSummertime Sandwich

The amount of individual ingredients will depend
on how many sandwiches you’d like to make

Sliced wheat bread

Seedless cucumbers

Cream cheese

Fresh dill


Bean sprouts

Red bell peppers

Hummus (your favorite recipe or pre-made)

Lightly oil the peppers and char on a very hot grill or under broiler. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the skin and seeds and retain only the flesh. Cut the peppers into thin strips.

Soften the cream cheese and add lemon juice, chopped dill, salt and pepper. Spread on one slice of bread. On the opposite slice, spread the hummus. On top of the hummus, add thinly sliced cucumbers in an even layer. Top with sprouts and sliced peppers. Cut sandwiches into quarters and wrap in plastic.

Complete your picnic basket with a chilled bottle of Viognier or Sauvignon Blanc, assorted cheeses, crackers, fresh chilled fruits or berries and chocolate.

George Engel

George Engel

“Keep in mind how long food will be exposed to less-than-ideal temperature conditions. To keep refrigerated items cold for as long as possible, pack immediately before leaving with ice packs, use coolers for transport and eat as soon as possible upon arriving at the stunning outdoor destination of your choosing. More than anything, try to focus on simplicity.”

Filemon Ochoa

Meson Sabika, Naperville

NMAG0716_Feature_nm Chef Ochoa 18_800pxEntrecot a la Parilla

10 oz. New York strip steak

2 medium size zucchini, cut in diagonal wheels

2 medium size yellow squash, cut in diagonal wheels

1 teaspoon rosemary

1 teaspoon thyme

1 oz. Balsamic vinegar

4 oz. olive oil


Diced red onion


Black pepper

Grill or sauté steak with olive oil until both sides are browned (medium–medium rare), cook steak in oven at 350 degrees for 3 minutes. Chill until room temperature then thinly slice steak.

Sauté squash and zucchini slices lightly with olive oil, black pepper, rosemary and thyme. Lay alternating squash and zucchini onto plate, then lay a slice of steak over each vegetable. Sprinkle with capers and red onions. Mix vinegar and olive oil, drizzle over plate and serve.

NMAG0716_Feature_nm Chef Ochoa 16_800px“This dish is a great way to enjoy grilled summer vegetables as well as a great piece of steak. Don’t forget to bring along utensils, plates, a loved one, a big appetite and some great Spanish wine.”

Patrick McLaughlin

Parkers’ Restaurant & Bar, Downers Grove

Pickled Shrimp with Fennel, Orange and Basil

Serves 2-4

1 pound large shrimp (16/20), raw, peeled and deveined

1 cup champagne vinegar

1/2 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon red pepper chili flakes

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup fennel, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped

Fill pot with 1 quart water, add salt and bring to a boil. Simmer, add shrimp and cook until firm—slightly curled with a pink and white color. Remove the shrimp from the water and chill under running water or in an ice bath. Save 2 cups of the water the shrimp were cooked in. Dry the shrimp with paper towels and set aside.

Heat the 2 cups of shrimp “broth” and add the vinegar, juices, sugar, spices and red pepper flakes for 3 minutes. In a separate bowl toss the shrimp, fennel and onion. Place them in mason jars and pour the liquid over them to cover. Let them cool completely, then cover. Refrigerate overnight.

NMAG0716_Feature_nm Chef McLaughlin 8_800pxSpicy Pimento, Spanish Chorizo and Cheese Spread

1 cup cream cheese

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons pimento, chopped

3 tablespoons Spanish chorizo, chopped

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 cup beer—something with malt flavor, such as Newcastle or Domain DuPage

Soften cream cheese and mix until smooth. Add the cheddar, followed by the beer. Turn off mixer and fold in pimento and chorizo. Pour into mason jar, chill and serve with your favorite vegetables or a good piece of bread.

Patrick McLaughlin

Patrick McLaughlin

“I spend a lot of time in Charleston, South Carolina, and I love the idea of chilled shrimp. This version is easy to eat—very much like a Southern ceviche—and it goes well on a salad of mixed greens or by itself with saltines. I also like to give the classic pimento and cheese a little twist, with a grab-and-go version that should be a hit with any golfers out there. Try them both with a little sweet tea.”