This winning entry for the Salon Kitchen Challenge -- in which we asked readers to share their favorite picnic recipes -- comes to us courtesy of Mamie Chen. We haven't had a chance to try this recipe out yet, but we'd love to hear about it if you do!
I spent the summer between my junior and senior years of college working in the epicure department of Neiman Marcus. That was the year I crossed over to the dark side. I spent all day selling high-end kitchenware and specialty foodstuff. And I spent my breaks trolling through the rest of the store, slowly desensitizing myself to the high prices and making best friends with Prada and Manolo.
I knew I was truly becoming warped when I started to relate to the customers, excuse me..."clients," as if they were normal people. One lady stopped by once a week to buy $20 worth of pate, which she then hand-fed to her pet chihuahua as she walked around the store. The first time I helped her, I was a little disgusted. Within a couple weeks, I thought "who am I to judge?"
Then there was the outraged old lady who returned a small pot, claiming it had nearly caught on fire and ruined her rice. We made proper "oh dear" replies and then opened the lid to find a pebbled, charcoal mess at the bottom. Further questioning revealed that, apparently, not even All-Clad's copper core could compensate for accidentally leaving a boiling pot on high for an extra hour. But she had to blame something, which is just normal human nature, right? Naturally, we gave her a full refund.
The epicure department was patterned after Harrod's Food Halls. In addition to the kitchenware, we carried expensive wines, fine chocolates and biscuits, and other gourmet treats We also had a fresh foods island in the middle of the department, selling freshly cut prosciutto and charcuterie, imported cheeses, crusty baguettes, and fresh salads.
Unbeknownst to most, nothing was made in-house. Every morning, a local bakery dropped off the baked goods in anonymous white paper sacks. Another uncredited vendor delivered plastic containers of carefully labelled ingredients, sauces, and garnishes that we would mix together in the backroom before bringing out to the refrigerated display cases.
They looked beautiful and tasted even better. Every lunch, I used my employee discount to buy a mini baguette, a wedge of pate (if the chihuahua could have some, surely I deserved a piece as well!), a container of corn salad, and a bottle of iced tea. Then I would find an empty bench and a tucked away corner of the outdoor mall and bask in the sun for an hour.
More than anything else in the store, I lusted after the luxury picnic baskets With wine glasses, porcelain dishes, cutlery, and matching linens and blanket, all secured to the basket by leather straps, the hampers evoked Jane Austen romances. I envisioned myself dressed in an empire-waist gown, serving from containers of corn salad and cold chicken.
Alas even in my fantasies, no guy knew looked good in a Regency style cravat. And truth be told, I wasn't really an outdoorsy kind of girl. I hated the thought of bugs crawling or buzzing near my food. And romantic breezes never failed to topple over drinks and blow away napkins. In fact, the closest I came to picnics that entire year were my solitary one-hour lunch breaks.
So I gave up my dreams of picnicking with Mr. Darcy and bought a new pair of shoes instead.
Though I never did get the recipe for that corn salad, this is the closest I've found. Because it is best served at room temperature, it is my go-to side dish for outdoor barbeques and potluck picnics.
Pan Roasted Corn Salad
- 4 ears of fresh corn
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 bunch of scallions, only the green part, thinly sliced
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 cups of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 8 ounces of feta cheese, cut into cubes
- 1 lime, juiced
- 2 tablespoons of fresh basil, freshly slivered
- Using a sharp knife, slice the corn kernels off the raw cobs. (I find that kernel cutters don't cut close enough to the cob, leaving a lot of wasted corn. But I'm not using it the right way.)
- In a sauté pan, heat up 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add half the garlic and stir constantly for 20 seconds to bring out the flavor. Add half the corn and stir occasionally for a couple of minutes, until the corn is just tender. Add half the thyme and scallions and stir for another minute. Transfer to a large bowl.
- Repeat Step 2 with the remaining half of the ingredients. (If you use a large wok, you might be able to get away with cooking the ingredients all at once, rather than splitting them in half. But even with a deep-sided sauté pan, I found that the corn didn't cook evenly when I used all the ingredients at once.)
- Set aside the corn mixture and let it cool to room temperature.
- In a separate bowl, gently mix the cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and remaining tablespoon of olive oil. (Sometimes I leave out the feta if I am serving to people who aren't used to stronger cheese flavors -- aka Asians. The salad tastes just as good, but I use a bit more salt than I normally do with the feta.)
- Add the tomato mixture, lime juice and basil to the corn mixture. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss gently and serve at room temperature.