Summer Picnics
by Emeril Lagasse

Believe it or not, every now and then in New Orleans we get some fantastic summer days when it's not too hot to be outside. The breezes pick up a bit and clouds block the sun enough to cool things down. When this happens, I just love to picnic.

Picnic fare can run the gamut—sandwiches, fried chicken, homemade ice cream, cookies, chilled watermelon and on and on. I'm planning a small outing soon, have given some thought to my menu and thought I would share some ideas. The location I've chosen is the piney woods, not too far from New Orleans, in Mississippi. The food is good portable stuff that can be easily stored in ice chests and then spread put on picnic tables.

Be sure to pack some quilts or blankets as well as some throw pillows to arrange in the shade where children and adults can lounge, nap and otherwise kick back.

Since this is a family affair, I'm gonna ice down plenty of bottled water as well as a few batches of strawberry lemonade (kids love this stuff!) that can be toted in plastic airtight containers in the ice chest.

The cannellini bean salad can be prepared ahead of time and served at room temperature with pita bread or sliced French bread.

The deviled eggs are a great picnic item as long as they're stored correctly.

Here is what I do: Crush waxed paper in a plastic container deep enough to accommodate the eggs and then nestle the eggs in it to keep them from rolling around. Cover with a lid or wrap in several layers of plastic wrap and keep them chilled in an ice chest.

The fennel salad can be made ahead of time, but don't add the shaved Parmesan cheese and fennel fronds until ready to serve.

The lamb chops can also be prepared ahead of time and eaten at room temperature; pack the cucumber relish separately.

Dessert can be as easy as cookies or chilled watermelon.

Strawberry Lemonade

Ingredients
Makes 6 servings

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1 pint strawberries, hulled and halved
2 cups sparkling water or club soda
Crushed ice Mint sprigs (optional)

Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the lemon peel and lemon juice, and stir to blend. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Strain into a pitcher or plastic bottle.

Puree the strawberries in a food processor or blender. Add them to the liquid mixture. Cover securely and pack in the ice chest.

When ready to serve, fill glasses (or plastic cups) with crushed ice, pour in the lemonade and add a splash or two of club soda. Garnish with the mint sprigs if you wish.

Cannellini Bean Salad with Parsley Pesto

Ingredients
Makes 6 servings

1 1/2 cups fresh parsley leaves
3 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup plus
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans
1/4 cup minced yellow onions
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne
1/3 cup very finely grated Parmesan cheese or crumbled goat cheese
Toasted pita bread or sliced and toasted French bread

Combine the parsley, 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, 2 teaspoons lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a blender or food processor. Process for 30 seconds. With the motor running, add 1/3 cup olive oil and process until smooth. Store in an airtight container.

Put the beans in a colander and rise under cool water. Drain well.
Heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and the remaining garlic and cook, stirring, for two minutes.

Add the beans, the remaining lemon juice, the remaining salt, the black pepper and the cayenne. Cook, stirring, until warmed through—about three minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. Store in an airtight container.

To serve, put the mixture on a decorative platter, sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and drizzle the pesto over the top. Serve with the pita bread or French bread.

Fennel, Orange, Spinach and Olive Salad
Ingredients
Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 large fennel bulb, cored and stems removed, fronds reserved
3 navel oranges, peeled
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups baby spinach (stems removed), rinsed well and patted dry
20 oil-cured black olives
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, thinly shaved with a vegetable peeler

Preparation
Halve the fennel and thinly slice. Segment the oranges over a bowl to catch any juices. Whisk together the orange juice, oil, shallots, salt and pepper. Add the fennel, orange segments and spinach; toss to coat evenly.

Garnish the salad with the olives, cheese and reserved fennel fronds.

Crabmeat Deviled Eggs
Ingredients
Makes 12 servings (two per person)

12 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and cut lengthwise in half
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 pound lump crabmeat, picked over for shells and cartilage

Preparation
Remove the yolks from the whites and put into a medium-size mixing bowl. Using the back of a fork, mash the yolks and then add the mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Stir with a fork to blend. Add the crabmeat and stir gently to mix. Spoon equal amounts of the mixture into the egg white halves.

Chill for at least two hours before serving.

Baby Lamb Chops with Cucumber Mint Relish
Ingredients
Makes 4 servings

12 single baby lamb chops (about 2 1/2 pounds), frenched
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Emeril's Original Essence
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cucumber Mint Relish (recipe follows)

Preparation
Place the lamb chops in a baking dish. Combine the oil, garlic, rosemary, mint, lemon juice, Essence, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk to blend. Pour the mixture over the chops and turn several times to coat evenly. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for up to four hours.

Place the chops in a single layer on a broiler pan. Preheat the broiler and cook until medium-rare, two to three minutes per side. (Or, as an alternative, the chops can be grilled.) Remove from the oven and cool before packing.

Serve with the cucumber relish.

Cucumber Mint Relish
Ingredients
Makes 2 cups

2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut into small dice
Salt
1/4 cup minced red onions
1/4 cup minced red bell peppers
1/4 cup minced fresh mint
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons minced jalapeño peppers
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

Preparation
Place the cucumbers in a strainer set over a bowl. Lightly salt and drain for one hour.

Pat dry with paper towels and transfer to a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and toss to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate for up to four hours before serving.

Stir well before serving.