Which is what we did last Saturday, at the Allen Toussaint show in Prospect Park. I took responsibility for dinner, and our friends Mike and Jo were in charge of covert cocktails and wine ("Nothing in this bag but a blanket, sir!") and cupcakes.
When thinking about what to make, my mind went to all the usual picnic places: chopped vegetable salads, baguette sandwiches, fresh fruit, some cheese. All nice options but I felt like making something heartier, a real dinner we could eat in the grass. After browsing Epicurious, I found a recipe for picnic meatloaf from an old issue of Cookie magazine that made me pause. The photo showed a pinky-brown slab of meat with a perfectly round slice of hard boiled egg in the center. Picnic meatloaf?
"Is this weird?" I asked Dan. "No," he said. "It's like pâté." Now, pâté is something I can get behind.
I like meatloaf as much as the next person but I've never made it before. It's just one of those dishes I never think about. But a nice person at Strauss Free Raised recently sent me some beautiful free-range veal, and there was a pound of ground meat in my freezer, waiting to be used. The recipe called for a mixture of ground chicken and pork, plus chopped up cooked chicken sausages, but I could easily sub out the ground chicken for veal. Picnic meatloaf time!
The recipe also calls for grated apple, thyme, and onions, which I sauteed in a pan to release their sweetness. And the eggs: you nestle three hard boiled eggs down the center of the loaf before you bake it so that each slice, when cut, has a bit of egg in the center, like magic.
Although the loaf came out of the oven perfectly cooked, smelling of apples and pork, I was a little nervous to bust it out at dinner. What if everyone was expecting sandwiches? And did Jo eat meat? (Later, I found out she doesn't.) Oh, well. Picnic meatloaf it would be. Into the Tupperware it went.To my relief, everyone was game. No one shrunk away. Jo even took a few bites, proclaiming it delicious. Served up with a roasted potato and green bean salad and some fresh corn and tomatoes, it was the nicest picnic I've ever packed. The cupcakes didn't hurt either.
Adapted quite a bit from Cookie magazine via Epicurious.
(Serves 6 to 8 people)
Olive or vegetable oil
1 tart apple (such as Granny Smith), peeled and grated
1/3 cup diced onion
1/3 cup bread crumbs
2/3 cup cream (or evaporated milk, any fat content is fine)
2 tsp. dried thyme
1 lb. pound ground veal
1 lb. ground pork
3 cooked chicken sausage links, casings removed, chopped
Salt and ground black pepper
1 egg, plus 3 hard-boiled eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Pour a small amount of olive oil into a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions, apple, and thyme. Cook until the onions are translucent and the apple has softened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside the mixture until cool. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients but the hard-boiled eggs. Press half the mixture into the pan, then gently press in the hard-boiled eggs, end to end. Mold the remaining mixture on top. Cover with foil and bake until the juices run clear when you poke the loaf with a sharp knife, 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and let cool for 30 minutes. Take the loaf from the pan, let it cool completely, then wrap it well and chill overnight. (If you are pressed for time, I chilled the loaf for three hours in the fridge and it was fine.)