Transform your summer spread with empanadas, Bloody Marys

Published 12:46 pm Sunday, May 23, 2021

It’s picnic season, and — in addition to bug spray and vanilla extract for the gnats — you may want to bring along a few new fares.

Picnics can include much more than the traditional lemonade, fried chicken or sandwiches.

Hand pies are versatile, portable and kid-friendly, making them a perfect option with a delicious cocktail, and virgin option for the kids, to wash it all down.

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Hand pies — a pastry with a sweet or savory filling — are very trendy this year. They are easy to make, and can have a multitude of fillings.

If the pie will be your main course, try vegetarian, classic pepperoni pizza or a Caribbean beef empanada filling. Hand pies can be quite versatile — especially when the need to clear out leftovers arises. Have a bowl of leftover crawfish étouffée? Make crawfish hand pies. Have roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy left from Sunday dinner? Make roast beef dinner hand pies. Even turkey and dressing can be made into Thanksgiving dinner hand pies. I am going to give you my recipe for Caribbean beef empanada filling, which is one of my favorites.

A package of rolled pie crusts from the grocery store is practically all you need to purchase to make hand pies for your picnic. If you have a biscuit recipe that you like to use, biscuit dough may be rolled out thinly and substituted for the pie crust.

Choose a cocktail for the adults to sip. Three of my favorite summer cocktails are fresh tomato Bloody Marys, watermelon margaritas and gimlets (2 parts good gin and 1 part Rose’s lime juice shaken with ice and strained) which will all keep you cool and refreshed at the picnic.

Because we have access to fresh tomatoes during the summer, it is absolutely the best time to make Bloody Marys. You would not believe the difference home-grown tomatoes make in this drink! Peel up a couple of tomatoes; throw them into the blender with some Worcestershire sauce, garlic, celery, onion, salt and Tabasco sauce; and blend it until smooth. Pour your mix over some vodka (or gin), and enjoy. If seeds are a problem for you, follow my directions to make tomatoes concasse and worry about seeds no more.

There are several ways to kick up a Bloody Mary. I like to make mine with gin adding a smoked salt rim and garnishing with giardiniera pickled vegetables, green and black olives, and some of my homemade kosher dill pickle green tomatoes. I have even seen them served with an extra-crispy slice of bacon laid over the top of the glass for a delicious snack with your beverage.

Watermelon margaritas are a summer exclusive due to the seasonality of melons. Using your favorite frozen margarita recipe, dice up a sweet, watermelon (deseed it if it is a seeded melon), put it in a zip bag and throw it in the freezer. When it is frozen solid, make a pitcher of watermelon margaritas by substituting frozen watermelon for the ice and a melon liqueur for the triple sec. Blend until smooth and enjoy! If you are a fan of salted watermelon, don’t forget to salt the rim of your glasses.

There must be a virgin option for the kids — and the designated driver. Sweet mint tea is phenomenal and simple to make. Lots of fresh mint, tea bags and sugar is all it takes to make this refreshing summer treat. It is also good with a little bourbon added to it which, of course, would defeat the purpose of a virgin drink. If you don’t have mint growing in your yard, there are plenty of people who would love for you to come cut some out of their yard because it grows like crazy!

Get the kids involved in building their own hand pies. Mix up a pitcher of delicious, refreshing cocktails for the adults. Think outside the norm (or dining room in this case), and take your family and friends on a picnic or two this summer.

Picnics are a great way to have fun, entertain and have quality family time practically year-round here in the Miss-Lou.

Susanna Johnson-Sharp is a long-time Natchez resident and  the owner of Aunt Suzie’s Catering.