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Picnic fare used to be reserved for the extremely wealthy and had very little to do with casual entertaining. Outdoor dining dates back to the medieval era and reached a fever pitch of popularity in the late 1800’s. Status conscious society women perfected the art of throwing Victorian era garden parties.These elaborate affairs featured delicate gowns, extensive lawn games, and formal foods served from tents, but these old fashioned open air affairs laid the foundation for our modern day picnic practices.

Sure we’ve cast aside antiquated formal carpets and frilly parasols for blankets and sunscreen, but the spirit of picnicking remains the same; friends and family enjoying good food and leisurely conversation on a sunny day. What could be better than that?

July is National Picnic Month and thankfully the Oak Park area offers plenty of opportunities to pack a pretty dinner or lunch and head out the door. Our ample parks beckon creative cooks to whip up sturdy sandwiches and hearty salads in an effort to experience a home-made culinary adventure.

I have always been a firm believer grills should never be a part of a proper picnic; baskets should contain nothing more than pre-packed, ready-to eat-foods.That rule, however, shouldn’t limit cooks to preparing heavy mayonnaise laden macaroni salads or one note turkey sandwiches. Putting a modern twist on the old fashioned picnic is as simple as embracing global cuisine. Stuffing a basket full of rich peanut noodles housed in whimsical take-out boxes takes picnic fare to the next level and will have your friends complimenting your adventurous spirit. Be sure to pack an ice cold bottle of sake to enjoy with my picnic peanut noodles and settle in under the sun for a delicious meal.

Picnic Peanut Noodles-Makes 8-10 servings.

If you are looking for a vegetarian friendly meal, feel free to omit the chicken and rely of the colorful array of fresh vegetable garnishes to finish this dish. Feel free to toss a few chopped peanuts and sliced scallions on the finished noodles, too.

For the Noodles:

  • 1 Pound linguine
  • 1-2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled

For the Sauce:

  • 3 Garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 Jalapeno, peeled, seeded and membranes removed
  • 12-ounces creamy peanut butter
  • ¼ Cup Soy Sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
  • ¼ Cup Toasted Sesame Oil, plus extra for drizzling the pasta
  • 2 Tablespoons Chili Oil (optional)
  • 1 Cup light coconut milk
  • ½ Cup Hot Water

For the Garnishes:

  • Cooked Chicken
  • Shredded carrots
  • Mung Bean Sprouts
  • Sliced Cucumber
  • Cilantro Leaves

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the linguine according to package directions. Drain the pasta and rinse it thoroughly with cold water. Transfer the pasta to a mixing bowl and drizzle with some toasted sesame oil. Toss to coat the pasta with oil. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the salad.

While the pasta chills, prepare the peanut sauce. Place the ginger, garlic and jalapeno into the bowl of a food processor. Process until finely chopped. Add the peanut butter, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and brown sugar to the processor and pulse to combine. Remove the peanut butter mixture (it will be quite thick) to a large mixing bowl. Gradually whisk the sesame oil and the chili oil a little at a time into the peanut butter mixture by hand. Once the oils are incorporated, gradually whisk in the coconut milk. Whisk in the hot water a bit at a time until the sauce is smooth and thinned out, but still coats the back of a spoon. Set aside. If the sauce separates, slightly just whisk it again and it will come back together. This sauce can be made two days ahead.

Plate a portion of the noodles in a bowl or in a Chinese take-out box and top with the peanut sauce. Garnish each portion with some chicken, carrots, sprouts, cucumber and cilantro. Top with additional sauce and serve with chopsticks for eating.

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