30 May, 2009

Much Ado about wings and tuna

Right, you all know I am a sucker for a picnic: fitting foods into little containers and packing them up in the wicker picnic basket, complete with tiny plates and salt and pepper shakers in its lid, is my delight.

However, faced with an outdoor play that begins at 8, a half hour's drive away, I was stymied. How on earth would we be hungry at 7 after a late lunch, where would we sit, the whole situation mixed me up. But now I know, and so shall you.

Here's what you do: eat a very late brunch, say bagels and smoked salmon at 11:30, if it's a Saturday, or a tiny sandwich at your office desk at noon if it's a Friday. Then pack up these in a cool box and put a rug over your arm.

Simplest Grilled Picnic Chicken Wings
(serves about 1 person per 6 wings, so 4 for 24 wings)

24 chicken wings (whole, the drumstick not separated from the wing and SKIN ON!)
sprinkle garlic powder
sprinkle paprika
sprinkle sea salt and fresh ground pepper
olive oil to coat all wings
2 tbsps balsamic vinegar
large handful curly parsley, chopped fine

As disgusting as it may seem, you must get your hands in there and roll the chicken wings around in a bowl full of olive oil and all the various herbs. Then line two large cooking trays with foil (aids in cleanup) and lay the wings in a single layer.

Bake at 325 for two hours. Take the wings out and put them back in a large bowl, sprinkle them with the balsamic vinegar.

Heat your outdoor grill to medium high and place the wings on the grill. Watch closely so as not to incinerate, and grill on each side for perhaps 2 minutes. This is just for color and flavor as the wings are already cooked through. Place in bowl again and sprinkle with parsley, then toss well. Serve with some yogurt and more chopped parsley, or fromage frais.


So pack these guys up along with plenty of paper napkins, leave an hour's free time before the play, and head off. Spread your picnic rug out, eat to your heart's content (a baguette and some cheese would not go amiss, nor would a big bowl of cherry tomatoes and some extra sea salt).

Of course, the play has to be as good as the one we saw, "Much Ado About Nothing", at the open air theatre in Regent's Park, on Wednesday night. Simply the best. The sun stays up terribly late here in the early summer, so the play began in quite full daylight, but quickly slid into a sort of warm, blowy twilight, and by the interval, the leaves above blew about mysteriously, causing Avery to tweak me by the elbow and say, "Look up, just look up..."

The performers were on fire! John says he enjoyed the performance almost more than anything else he's been to that he can remember. What stood out for me was the IMMEDIACY and modernity of the play: old Renaissance costumes and swings dangling from orange trees notwithstanding, the play felt fresh. I thought, "Here in England, Shakespeare just... lives. Right alongside us all, his words still being breathed and laughed at and delighted in." It's one of the joys of living here. Shakespeare: just one of us.

The sheerest delight of all the evening was the performance of the constable: at first completely subtle so that no one noticed him, and then he emerged as the most magnificent Mr Malapropism of all time. I am far too ignorant to know if his lines were original to the play, but he was hilarious. When he brings forth the culprits of the great deception, he says gravely, "We have comprehended some most auspicious characters..."

And later, in indignation, "You have not... suspected... my rank! You have not suspected my... age!" And here he held up an old-age-pensioner's Oyster card, the card we use to get around the Tube! Just priceless.

Well, we can't go to the theatre every night, but we've tried our best, and good educational bits for Avery, whose exams at school began today. Perhaps for her relaxation we could get her interested in our latest fad: bowls in our local Ravenscourt Park. You would just shake your head at the cast of characters: John and I agreed that any French game of boules, of Italian of bocce, will boast the very same people, just speaking another language. Two supremely skinny fellows smoking madly, with very few teeth, presided over by a very short but very LARGE lady, motherly and caring. "Just you come with me, dearies, and we'll set up all, right enough." We were given hand-size tests with the utmost sincerity (I am completely average, "for a lady, that is," but John won out as "the largest ball we can give you." Of course he did).

Down to the manicured lawn, with our "woods," the balls themselves, and the "jacks," the little marker balls, all in white. And mats to stand upon, mind you. We had some rare beginner's luck where the balls, with their slightly asymmetrical formation, spun the way we told them to. Then all hell broke loose and our balls ventured onto other people's areas. Sorry, sorry, sorry! But the sun shone, the sky was blue, Avery was happily ensconced in the playground nearby (thereby postponing the answer to my question the day before, "How long before she is too old to enjoy a playground?"). We shall return, which we reported to the Two Skinnies and The Large Lady. "We'll see you around then, any time," they chorused.

Tonight was a new foray into fish for us: I can't think of the last time we cooked tuna, but I went to the supermarket hungry and with the express intention of being inspired by what looked good. And the tuna did. So against the background of the comforting sounds of Avery and Emily's vociferous "revising" for their exams (I bet not) and John arguing with the Tax Man on the phone, and the cats growling at visitor Charlie from next door, I produced:

Spicy Grilled Tuna
(serves about 6)

8 tuna steaks, about 1 inch thick
1 large bunch fresh cilantro
2 large red chillies, deseeded and finely sliced
4 shallots, finely sliced
Grated zest and juice of 3 limes
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 stalk lemon grass, finely minced
4 tbsp soy dsauce
2 tbsp olive oil

Mix all the marinade ingredients and smear them onto the tuna steaks with your hands. Set aside for 20 minutes.

Heat your grill to medium-hot and grill on each side for 3 minutes.


With these we had couscous with sauteed garlic, shallots, mushrooms, peppers and sausage. Very credit crunchy and also... delicious.

Right. I've promised myself an early night. Tomorrow I'm babysitting as John goes to a fundraiser for the bursary at Avery's school. I can't think of the last evening Avery and I had without him, more's the joy. What to cook...?


A Work in Progress said...

Sounds yummy. Unfortunately I probably won't have time to make them before our next outdoor picnic/concert next Friday. These events are one of my favorite things about living in the UK. I love that Waitrose has a whole aisle devoted to these types of elegant picnic foods. Always enjoy reading the blog!

Kristen In London said...

I do always feel tempted by Waitrose and their ready-made foods! Thank goodness for them, for busy people like you. Enjoy!