Let’s Talk Food: Memorial Day weekend perfect for picnics

Coming up this weekend is a three-day Memorial Day holiday and a great time for a picnic, weather permitting.

Picnic food should be easy to transport, keep well and not go bad if left out for a few hours. Place salads in resealable bags in a cooler with ice packs to keep them chilled.


Each recipe in Ming Tsai and Arthur Boehm’s cookbook, “Simply Ming in Your Kitchen,” has an accompanying video and downloadable shopping list on their website.

This recipe for Onion-Burger “Hot Dogs” would be a great picnic dish.

Ming says this about the dish: “I’m a golfing fiend. For a while, I spent as much time as I could golfing at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. One of its attractions, besides the course itself, was its signature dish, hot dog-shaped burgers served in hot dog buns, garnished with a fantastic chile sauce. Here’s my version, which (is) another great party nibble. The burger shape is the same, but I’ve upped the ante by adding onions to the beef and making sure the sauce has an intense spicy-sweet tang. Serve this with your favorite chips.”

Onion-Burger “Hot Dogs” with Sweet Chile Relish

Makes: 8

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add and swirl the pan to coat:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

When the oil is hot, add:

2 large onions, minced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Do not stir for 5-6 minutes. Turn and brown for another 3-4 minutes. Transfer half the onions to a large bowl and cool.

Add to the remaining onions and cook, stirring for 1 minute:

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Add and stir for 30 seconds:

1 large red bell pepper, minced

Add and stir:

1 tablespoon sambal or hot sauce, or to taste

2 tablespoons agave syrup or honey

Stir, and add:

1/2 cup rice vinegar

Bring to a simmer, whisk in:

1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water

Stir until relish is thickened, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Wipe out the skillet.

Place in a large bowl:

2 pounds ground beef

Half of the reserved onions

Salt and black pepper to taste

Combine lightly. Very gently shape the beef mixture into 8 thick ovals the length of the buns, and flatten the tops. Season with salt and pepper. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat, add:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Swirl to coat the pan. When oil is hot, add the beef patties and cook, turning once, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare, 1 minute more per side for medium and 1 minute more per side for medium-well.

Meanwhile, heat in a medium pan over medium-high heat:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

When butter is melted, add half of the hot dog buns, crumb down and toast, moving them in the butter until brown and crisp, about 1 minute. Repeat with:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Transfer the “hot dogs” to the buns and cover generously with the relish. Transfer to a plate and serve.

Ming’s tips:

You can make the relish and store it overnight, refrigerated.

You can toast the rolls without butter in a toaster, toaster oven or under the grill, if you like.


The recipe for parsley and barley salad in the vegetarian “Jerusalem: A Cookbook” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi would pack well for a picnic and be a great side dish with the “hot dogs.”

In the cookbook, they say this about the recipe: “We started off calling this barley and feta tabbouleh, but the longer we spent with our recipes and sources the more we realized how strongly people feel about the names given to dishes. This is understandable in a place where so much is always at stake.”

Parsley and Barley Salad

Serves: 8

Place in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water and boil for 30-35 minutes, until tender but with a bite:

1/2 cup pearl barley

Pour into a fine sieve, shake to remove all the water, transfer to a large bowl.

Break into rough pieces, 3/4-inch in size in a small bowl:

10 ounces feta cheese


3 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons za’atar

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly toasted and crushed

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Gently mix together.

Chop finely and place in a bowl:

6 ounces flat-leaf parsley, leaves and fine stems


8 green onions, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2/3 cup cashew nuts, lightly toasted and coarsely crushed

2 green peppers, seeded and cut into 3/8-inch dice

1 teaspoon ground allspice

4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup olive oil


Cooked barley

Marinated feta cheese

Store in plastic container for a picnic.


William Werner of Craftsman and Wolves in San Francisco makes these “gussied-up pound cakes” inspired by gateaux de voyage, or “travel cakes.” These small treats are meant for picnics and potluck gatherings.

Almond, Elderberry and Lime Travel Cakes

Makes: 2 dozen mini cakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat 2 mini muffin pans with nonstick spray.

In food processor, pulse several times until broken into small pieces:

10 ounce almond paste, broken into 1-inch pieces (l cup)

Do not overprocess or the paste will become oily.

Add and pulse until smooth:

3 large eggs

Add and pulse until smooth:

2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

Pinch of salt


4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 tablespoon St. Germain or other elderflower liqueur

Pulse until well incorporated.

Scrape the batter into a small pitcher and pour it into the muffin cups, filling them about two-thirds full. Bake for 22 minutes, until the cakes are golden, puffed and firm to the touch. Transfer the pans to a rack and let cool for 20 minutes, then invert the cakes onto the rack to cool completely.

Make the icing:

Place in a bowl and use a hand mixer to beat until smooth:

2 cups confectioners sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream

2 1/2 tablespoons St. Germain or other elderberry liqueur

1 1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice

Beat in:

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime zest


Spoon the icing over the cakes, allowing it to drip down the sides.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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