help! i need picnic recipes

We’re always happy to help out a reader in need, but we know some of our best ideas come from you guys. That’s why when reader Marisa T. sent over an email asking for help planning her self-catered wedding menu, we decided to open the discussion up to all of you. We’ve tested some reader picnic recipes before during our Picnic Recipe Contest and ended up with a delicious 2nd place winner, an outstanding 1st place entry, and a knock-your-socks-off grand prize winner. We bet you have even more to offer.

We’re getting married in May and will be self-catering our home/ garden reception, and I’m looking for picnic-type side dishes. Can you point me in the direction of recipes that can be served at room temperature, can be prepped ahead of time (at least a day, preferably more) and that can sit out for a couple of hours without getting yucky or unsafe? –Marisa T.

Leave your suggestions for Marisa in the comments!

From our partners

Check out Cook’s Illustrated’s The Best Make-Ahead Recipe. It’s a great book for things like that.


Here’s my favorite recipe for picnics/cookouts/tailgates, etc. It’s always a big hit.

Colorful Corn & Black Bean Salad


1 can of black beans, drained
1 can of corn, drained (or frozen, thawed)
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tsp. Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper


Mix all ingredients together, cover and refrigerate. That’s it! This salad improves upon sitting. It can be served as is as a side dish, in lettuce cups, on top of salad (especially good on a salad made with leftover steak!), as a dip, or just wrapped inside a corn tortilla, with a bit of cheese and some salsa, for a quick lunch. This makes about 4 cups, or eight 1/2 cup servings.

Variations: I like to use a roasted, chopped poblano in place of the regular green pepper. Other peppers (banana, Hungarian sweet, etc.) can also be substituted according to your taste (I also usually add a finely minced hot red Thai or jalapeno chile from my garden in the summer for an extra kick). Corn roasted on the grill would be great, too. If you can find jicama, that also adds a nice crunch. It’s very versatile. I hope you like it!


Here’s my black bean dip recipe – I bring this to every party, picnic and shindig I attend.
Awesome tip – you can use this in place of refried beans in almost any Mexican recipe, AND it freezes really well!

Black bean dip

2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup salsa (any kind you like)
1/2 teaspoon lemon OR lime juice

In a food processor, put in all of the ingredients, from last to first.
Blend until you get the texture you like – smooth or chunky.
Dispense into an airtight container, put in fridge.

If you put the black beans in the processor first, they get gummy – let the food processor incorporate the salsa first.
If you can, let this sit in the fridge for half a day at least – the flavors are so much better.
Serve with baked pita chips, bagel chips, tortilla chips or veggies.

I am usually paranoid about food-safety issues…not sure what the temp. will be or how long the food will be sitting out, but my grama’s recipe for Goat Cheese and Za’atar is soooooo delicious and everyone I have served it to is shocked my how awesome but simple it is…

Hope you enjoy!! :)


Try asparagus blanched then wrapped in proscuitto served with lemon for squirting. holds up great and is really best at room temp. and so pretty.


Try cold peanut noodles tossed with tofu and asian veggies (snow peas, baby carrots, waterchestnuts, etc). There are a bunch of recipes online, and they’re delicious!

Try a grilled vegetable station with olives, thin bread sticks, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, etc.

Also try a crudite station with veggies, peanut dip, salsa, non-mayo guacamole, white bean dip, hummus, etc. There are plenty of ways to make dips that will sit well outside of the fridge!

This Grilled Eggplant and Tomato Salad with Pistachio & Mint Pesto is utterly sublime and actually improves the more it sits around…

holly d

Short kabobs that have mini-mozzarella,grape tomato, fresh basil leave (cut in half) and dried olive (looks beautiful because of all the colors.)

Tall skinny breadsticks wrapped in prociutto, like the asapragus recipe.
These breadsticks can be bought at TJs.

Gold beet, red onion, goat cheese and toasted pecan salad also beautiful to look at and eat!


We self-catered our wedding (many years ago, and with the help of many friends). We went with a Middle Eastern theme, which allowed us to satisfy our many vegetarian friends and also our mostly meat-eating relatives. We ordered chicken and beef kabobs and rice from a local restaurant, then provided our own side dishes – hummus, baba ghanoush, tabouli, dolmades, olives, feta, and fresh sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. There may have been more, but like I said, it was many years ago!

You might be interested in my quinoa tabouli:

It’s pretty tasty and very portable.

We have two never-fail, always go-to favorites. One is essentially the same corn and bean dip posted by Peggasus, above. The other is a grape tomato and feta salad. So easy, and tastes even better the longer it sits.
– Grape or cherry tomatoes; half or quarter these (depending on size)
– Feta cheese, crumbled. If you don’t like feta, use fresh mozzarella, diced into bite-size pieces
– Diced green onions
– Olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Newman’s Own dressing, or any good oil-and-vinegar or basil italian dressing will also work
– Pepper to suit your own taste.
– Mix all ingredients; use as much or as little olive oil or dressing as you like. Any proportions of tomato-onions-feta work.
Easy peasy!

shelterrific » Blog Archive » five things we learned last week

[…] 4. We save old socks in hopes of uses ahead. Tyna writes: “I have lots of cute socks with holes that I’ve been saving to use for paint rags (someday I will paint my diningroom) or… something, now I have a use.” See Orla Kiely’s cute sock pot twist here! 5. You have some great ideas on how to self-cater a wedding. Marie says: “We went with a Middle Eastern theme, which allowed us to satisfy our many vegetarian friends and also our mostly meat-eating relatives.” Click here for some amazing recipe suggestions for a garden wedding. […]