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Take the worry out of traveling with food

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - Updated: 7:22 AM


The News & Observer

What makes summer fun -- the picnics, the cookouts, the family reunions, the road trips, the beach vacations -- often involves traveling with food.

It's a challenge to keep food safe from pesky bacteria that can make people sick and choose dishes that provide maximum flavor.

We gathered advice from experts well-versed in the art of traveling with food: DeeDee Stovel, a former caterer from Northern California who wrote "Picnic: 125 Recipes with 29 Seasonal Menus," and two North Carolina authors who have written tailgating cookbooks, Debbie Moose of Raleigh, author of "Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home," and Taylor Mathis of Charlotte, author of "The Southern Tailgating Cookbook."


Follow sanitary practices when preparing food. Wash hands before handling ingredients, especially raw meat. Don't cut raw meat and vegetables on the same cutting board.

Choose ingredients that are safer to eat outdoors in hot weather. Skip mayonnaise-based dressings for salads; try dressings with oil and vinegar or some other acid. Avoid dips and spreads that are heavy on dairy products, such as cream cheese or heavy cream; serve salsa instead.

Chill food thoroughly before packing it in a cooler. Stovel said, "Don't cool (food) in the cooler."


Cold food needs to be kept at 40 degrees or below to prevent bacterial growth. The key, Moose said, is "ice and more ice and then get some more ice." If you don't want to deal with coolers filled with water at outings' end, Stovel offers this advice: Fill clean, recycled milk containers with water, leaving some space at the top for ice to expand. Freeze until solid. Use those blocks of ice to keep food cold.

Keep raw meat separate from other foods to prevent cross-contamination. Pack burger patties, marinated chicken or other raw meat in a separate cooler, and label it as being used for that purpose. The last thing you want, Moose said, is someone grabbing a cup of ice from the cooler that held raw meat.

Keep ice for drinks and even beverages in a separate, labeled cooler. If more ice is needed to keep food cold, raid the beverage cooler. "If the choice is between keeping soda cold and keeping raw meat cold," Moose said, "nobody has died from drinking a warm soda, so act accordingly."

Consider investing in equipment such as insulated bags to tote food to outings and to wrap around casserole dishes. Reusable ice packs come in many shapes and sizes: small bags, large blocks, can coolers, flexible blankets and more. Retailers also sell electric coolers that can plug into a car's outlet or cigarette lighter; prices range based on size from $60 to $150. About the latter, Stovel said, "we got this when we were traveling across the country."


Leave food in the cooler until ready to serve. Once food is served, it should sit out no longer than 2 hours, or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90 degrees. "Pay attention to what the weather is going to be like," Mathis said. And keep track of the time.

Keep hand sanitizer and disposable gloves on hand, especially if you are handling raw meat to grill. "You don't have the sink to wash your hands," Moose said.

Some ingredients need to wait until the last minute: Slice tomatoes to top burgers or salads. Wait to toss salads with dressings until right before serving. "I like to dress salads on site so things don't get soggy," Mathis said. Another tip: Pack dressing in a recycled water bottle or a Mason jar.

Put prepared foods on ice to serve. Mathis recommends using sets of nesting bowls for this purpose: Place the food in the smaller bowl and set it inside a large bowl of ice. Other ideas: Use disposable lasagna pans filled with ice, or even a large black trash bag filled with ice, nestled around the food container. "It's not going to win any decorating awards, but it will do the job," Moose said.

If you do a lot of outdoor entertaining, consider investing in some insulated serving bowls that are placed in the freezer beforehand; prices range from $55 to $130.

Enjoy yourself. "Just have fun picnicking," Stovel said. "I think it's one of the best ways to entertain. The food is all prepared, and you just have to bring it, spread it out and the party's on."



From "Potato Salad: 65 Recipes From Classic to Cool," by Debbie Moose

2 pounds sweet potatoes

1 cup sliced red onion, slices cut into half-moons

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon grated lime zest

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic

1/2 fresh serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped

PLACE potatoes in a large pot, add enough water to cover them, cover pot with a lid, and bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are pierced easily with the tip of a sharp knife, 15 to 20 minutes. The cooking time will depend on the size of the potatoes. Drain and let cool until you can handle them. Peel and cut into 1/2-inch slices, then cut slices in half.

TOSS together potatoes and red onion in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, lime zest, olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar, garlic and serrano chile. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss to coat. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour and serve, or refrigerate for several hours to overnight. Serve at room temperature.

YIELD: 6 servings.


Dressing adapted from "Peace

Love and Barbecue," by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon canola oil or other mild vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, finely ground

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 (14-ounce cans) black beans, drained and rinsed

1 medium green pepper, stem, seeds and ribs removed, diced

1 medium red, orange or yellow pepper, stem, seeds and ribs removed, diced

1 medium red onion, skim removed, diced

MAKE dressing: Combine vinegar, sugar, oil, celery seeds, salt and black pepper in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.

COMBINE black beans, chopped peppers and onion in a large bowl. Pour over dressing. Let sit in refrigerator for 1 hour to overnight.

YIELD: 10-12 servings.


From "Picnic: 125 Recipes

with 29 Seasonal Menus,"

by DeeDee Stovel

6 cups cooked brown rice

3/4 cup dried currants

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1 Granny Smith or other tart apple, cored and chopped

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup capers

1/2 teaspoon peeled and grated fresh ginger root

1/2 cup white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground mace

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup vegetable oil

MIX together rice, currants, almonds, apple, onion, pepper, capers and ginger root in a large bowl.

MAKE dressing: Place vinegar, sugar, curry powder, dry mustard, cardamom, mace, salt, cinnamon, cayenne and black peppers in a food processor or blender and process until blended. With machine running, slowly drizzle in the oil until the mixture is creamy.

POUR dressing over salad and chill for several hours. Pack salad in a two-quart covered container to transport. This salad can be served at room temperature.

YIELD: 8 servings.


From "Picnic: 125 Recipes

with 29 Seasonal Menus,"

by DeeDee Stovel

3 medium zucchini, cut into 2-inch chunks

1 medium onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 sprig of parsley

1 sprig of thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

4 1/2 cups chicken stock, divided

1 1/2 cups plain yogurt

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

PLACE zucchini, onion, bay leaf, parsley and thyme in a medium-sized saucepan with 1 cup chicken stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer mixture for about 10 minutes, or until zucchini is tender. Remove bay leaf, parsley and thyme. Puree mixture in a blender or food processor until it is of uniform consistency.

FOR a smooth soup, strain puree by pressing it through a strainer or sieve with the back of a spoon. An unstrained soup will have a slight texture. Add remaining chicken stock, yogurt, lemon juice, salt and white pepper and stir well to blend. Pour soup into a 1 1/2-quart covered container; chill for at least 1 hour before packing in a cooler.

YIELD: 8 servings.


This recipe is great with chips or as a condiment on sandwiches.

From "The Southern Tailgating Cookbook: A Game-Day Guide

for Lovers of Food, Football,

and the South," by Taylor Mathis

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

1 1/2 cups diced Granny Smith apples

5 cups seeded and chopped Roma tomatoes, drained on paper towels

1 cup chopped cilantro leaves

1 cup chopped yellow onions

3/4 cup seeded and diced poblano peppers

1/4 cup seeded and finely diced jalapeño peppers

1/2 cup chopped shallots

1 tablespoon grated lime zest

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

COMBINE lime juice and apples in a medium-sized bowl as soon as the apples are diced to prevent browning. Stir to fully coat apples.

ADD the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in apples and lime juice until all ingredients are evenly mixed together. Store in a sealable container and refrigerate overnight. On game day, keep in a cooler until ready to serve. Stir again before serving and serve with tortilla chips.

YIELD: about 7 cups.


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