Jul 03

(Photo And Styling By Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)

Two years ago this holiday weekend, the Washington Post chose me and two other local chefs to design, easy-to-make and good tasting homemade menus that could spruce up an intimate picnic.  In the article entitled “The Picnic Spread,” by Bonnie Benwick, I was given the challenge of doing the entire meal under $10 (a much harder task, I think, than the other chefs who were given $20 and $30 respectively to accomplish the task.)  While the tight budget and parameters were a challenge, I found the assignment a good exercise and I still find myself making these tasty treats  for my family during the summer.

The items on my menu were the following, and I have linked to the recipes:

Shopping List:

  • Pantry items: olive oil, red wine vinegar, honey, salt, black pepper, mustard, sugar.
  • 2 small sweet potatoes (40 cents each): 80 cents
  • 1 5-ounce jar Goya brand pimentos: $1.59
  • 1 large red onion: 99 cents
  • 1 head of garlic: 50 cents
  • 1 15-ounce can of black-eyed peas: 60 cents
  • 1 10-count bag of La Banderita Whole Wheat Tortillas: $1.19
  • 1 liter of lemon-lime seltzer: 69 cents
  • 3 limes: $1
  • 1 peach: 80 cents


Sweet Potato Salad

This recipe gets the maximum flavor from each component: The sweet potatoes are roasted, which concentrates their sweetness while retaining a slight crunch. The vinaigrette gets a tangy boost from red pepper puree. (Any leftover vinaigrette can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)
The salad is best when served on the same day it is prepared, but it can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.

2 servings

2 small sweet potatoes (about 15 ounces)
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 1/2 ounces jarred pimentos, drained (about 1/4 cup; may substitute roasted red bell peppers)
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a large baking sheet with nonstick cooking oil spray.
Peel the potatoes and cut into 3/4-inch to 1-inch cubes. Toss them in 2 tablespoons of the oil until evenly coated, then scatter them in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until browned on the edges; toss once or twice during baking so they brown evenly. Transfer to a medium bowl to cool completely, then add the red onion and toss gently.
Use a stick blender (or food processor) to puree the pimento, mustard, honey and red wine vinegar in a medium bowl until smooth. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil to form an emulsion. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
When ready to serve, add half of the vinaigrette to the vegetables and toss gently to combine. Taste and add vinaigrette as needed.

Black-Eyed Peas Hummus

This American variation on a classic Mediterranean dip gets its creaminess from roasted garlic, and it provides another way to use the pimentos purchased for the accompanying Sweet Potato Salad (see related recipe). Adding caramelized onion gives more depth.
The hummus can be prepared up to 3 days in advance but is best eaten the day it is made. Serve with Toasted Tortilla Chips (see related recipe).
2 servings

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium bulb garlic (containing 10 to 12 cloves)
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 15-ounce can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
2 1/2 ounces jarred pimentos or roasted red bell peppers, drained (about 1/2 cup)
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil over the garlic bulb and wrap it loosely in a double layer of aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes or until bulb is soft. Allow the garlic to cool, then slice 1/4 inch off the root end (bottom) and squeeze the roasted cloves into a blender or the bowl of a food processor.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring once or twice, for a few minutes, until the onion has softened and begun to brown.
Transfer the onion to a blender or food processor, then add the drained peas, jarred pimentos or roasted red bell peppers and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil; puree until smooth. Stop and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sparkling Limeade

This refreshing nonalcoholic cocktail is perfect for warm summer nights. The effervescence of the seltzer paired with fresh lime juice and a little sugar creates a homemade drink that pleases children and adults alike.
It can be prepared a day in advance, but for peak carbonation, it is best served the day it is made.
2 servings


  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Finely grated zest and juice from 2 large limes (about 1 1/2 teaspoons zest and 2 tablespoons of juice)
  • 33 ounces lemon-lime-flavored seltzer water (from a 1-liter bottle)
  • Ice, for serving

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved to form a simple syrup. Remove from the heat.
Combine the lime zest and juice and the seltzer in a 1-quart container; add the simple syrup to taste.
When ready to serve, stir to redistribute the lime zest, then pour over ice.

Stone-Fruit Salsa

This unique salsa makes the most of seasonal produce that is at its peak flavor and can often be found at sale prices. It is best to use medium-ripe fruit that is juicy but can easily be diced into uniform small pieces.The salsa can be made up to 2 days in advance but is best enjoyed the day it is prepared, served chilled. Try it with toasted tortilla chips.

2 servings


  • 1 medium peach, pitted but not peeled
  • 1 medium nectarine, pitted but not peeled
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • Juice and finely grated zest of 1 large lime (1/8 teaspoon zest and 2 teaspoons of juice)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the peach, nectarine and onion into 1/4-inch dice; place in a medium bowl. Add the lime juice and zest, stirring to combine, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill until ready to serve.

Toasted Tortillas


Toasting your own tortilla chips not only is more affordable but also makes for a more healthful version of these chips, which are usually fried. If you have dried spices in the pantry, such as cumin, paprika, onion or garlic power, feel free to sprinkle on a couple of teaspoons along with the salt and pepper. Make sure you allow these to cool before bagging so they stay crisp. 2 servings


  • 4 8-inch fresh whole-wheat tortillas, such as La Banderita brand
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner. Cut the tortillas into quarters and then into eighths. Scatter them in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Drizzle with oil, then season with salt and pepper to taste; bake for 10 minutes or until nicely crisp and browned. (If working with 2 baking sheets at the same time, rotate them and turn front to back after 5 minutes.)

So on this Independence Day weekend, please celebrate America not only with food and loved ones but by remembering our founders and the ideas for which they stood and those who have sacrificed to preserve our freedoms.

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