A Simply CHIC Picnic
A home chef shares easy, sophisticated recipes and tips for dining on the beach with friends
Sylvie Coulange is no stranger to eating near the surf. The self-taught home chef and cookbook author (her first cookbook Shine came out last year) grew up in the French Caribbean, surfing all day every day—and also scarfing down whatever fuel she needed to maintain energy to stay in the waves. But it wasn’t until she became a wife and mother that she honed her culinary talents.
Her philosophy is simple: made-from-scratch food that’s not overly complicated and can be enjoyed anywhere.
To kick the beach picnic up a notch, Sylvie—and her good friend and hat designer Florencia Gomez Gerbi—created an eclectic, boho-chic vibe, and Sylvie conceived a menu rich with color, taste and easy eating (much of it with your fingers) to match. Here she shares her advice to help you vamp up what you bring to the picnic blanket this summer.
Setting the Scene
Entertain during the early evening hours when it’s still light out but not overwhelmingly hot and you don’t have to lug shade structures and umbrellas to the beach.
Not all of us have private beach access and the ability to bring a table to the beach, which Sylvie and Florencia did for this shindig, but fashioning comfy seating is simple. “Make it a bring-your-own-blankets-and-cushions event,” Sylvie suggests. Get creative. A sarong can serve as a cover-up on your journey down to the sand and transform into a blanket to sit on when you reach your destination. Or toss several washable throws in a straw shoulder bag, overlap them and create one big community spot where everyone can lounge.
Don’t overthink the decor. Flowers are always nice. “We picked our picnic bouquet from the garden before heading to the beach,” Sylvie confesses. Sylvie and Florencia also snipped some of the clippings for additional tablescaping. A few sprigs of lavender perfumed the early evening air. Several kumquats still on a stem with leaves added color, and a few vintage metal candlesticks and cloth napkins made things look decorated but still effortless. You can also work with what’s around—shells, sticks, rocks or whatever has washed up during the day.
Sylvie typically brings eco-friendly, disposable bamboo dishes and utensils to her beach picnics because she’s used to feeding her two boys and husband, but for this daintier fete, she packed beautiful—but breakable—plates and bowls and served the evening’s signature cocktail in mason jars. “I still want the presentation to be beautiful,” she says. “I also like bowls with lids and airtight glass jars for serving salads and desserts.” If fragile scares you, enamelware is a great option for more practical serving pieces and tableware.
Planning the Menu
Consider a starter or two such as hummus that you can serve with bread, pita chips or cut veggies; olives and fruit make good snacks too.
“I like to bring a salad with grains for color, which also makes it a more substantial meal,” Sylvie says. She also favors something you can eat with your fingers like a tart or quiche.
Make what you can ahead of time, Sylvie advises. “After I plan the menu, I map out when everything needs to be prepared; anything that freezes well or keeps for several days gets done in advance.”
For dessert, she makes several to bring a variety of flavors and textures to the table (or picnic blanket)—something light and cakey, something smooth and creamy, something decadent, and her Magic Bliss Balls, a vegan and gluten-free creation she swears is nutritious (though it’s coated in chocolate) and highly addictive.
A signature cocktail is nice (but not allowed on San Diego County beaches). This Mermaid Mojito, a concoction Sylvie and her friends collectively designed, was served with seltzer water on the sand but mixed with rum when the party retreated to the house.
This tasty chickpea dip is way better than anything you find at the store. “I like to garnish it with peanuts, but a drizzle of olive oil is pretty too,” Sylvie says.
- 1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 t. cumin
- 1 T. raw millet
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1/2 c. olive oil
- Fresh cilantro
- Chopped peanuts
Blend together the garbanzo beans and garlic in a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients (except the cilantro and peanuts). Process until smooth.
Garnish with cilantro and peanuts. Serve chilled or at room temperature with pita chips and crudités.
WILD RICE SALAD W/PISTACHIO DRESSING
(Rice can be made two days in advance) | Serves 4
- 2 c. water
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1 c. wild rice
- 1 small broccoli head, cut into small florets
- 3 T. pistachio dressing (recipe follows)
- 1 c. arugula
- 2 T. fresh chopped parsley
- 1/3 c. roughly chopped pistachios
Remove from the heat. Transfer to a bowl. Let cool completely.
While the rice is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli florets and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
Drain and rinse under cold water. Add to the rice with the pistachio dressing, arugula, parsley and pistachios. Toss to combine.
(Can be made two weeks in advance)
- 1 t. fennel seeds
- 1/4 t. coriander powder
- 1/2 t. cumin
- 2 T. fresh chopped rosemary
- 1/4 c. fresh chopped parsley
- 1 t. salt
- 3/4 c. olive oil
- 1 c. whole pistachios
- 1/4 t. crushed red pepper
Pulse all the ingredients in a food processor until combined. Transfer to
a glass jar.
- 1/2 c. fresh blackberries, plus more
- 10 fresh mint leaves, plus more
- 1 lemon wedge
- 2 oz. rum, such as Bacardi Superior
- 1 T. maple syrup
- Juice of 1 lime
- Crushed ice
- Club soda
Place blackberries, mint leaves and one lemon wedge in bottom of a glass. Muddle to release the flavor from the mint leaves.
Add rum, maple syrup and lime juice. Stir to combine. Fill the glass with crushed ice. Add a splash of club soda.
Garnish with mint leaves and more blackberries.
- 2 c. flour
- 1/4 t. salt
- 1 stick butter,
cold and cut
into small pieces
- 1/2 c. water
- 3 eggs
- 1 c. reduced fat milk
- 1 c. heavy cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 oz. cooked ham, cut into small pieces
- 3 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
To make the pie crust, place the flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour with the tip of your fingers until the butter is the size of peas, about 5 minutes. Add the water and continue to work the dough just until it comes together. Do not overmix or the dough will lose its elasticity.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Place the dough in between 2 sheets of well-floured wax paper. Roll from the center to the edge into the desired shape. Flip and flour the dough from time to time. Transfer and fit into the pie pan crimping the edges.
Prick the crust with a fork. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
To make the filling, whisk the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the milk and heavy cream.
Season with salt and pepper. Mix until blended.
Transfer into the pie pan. Sprinkle with ham and top with shredded cheese.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until the center is firm.
TIP: Sandwiches aren’t the only thing that are OK to eat with your hands. Cut a quiche or savory tart into squares and serve cold. It’s deliciously unexpected and instantly elevates your picnic.
Financiers, a traditional French almond cake—and a favorite among the boys in the Coulange household—is easy and quick to make. Replace the flour with brown rice flour for a gluten-free version.
- 1/2 c. butter
- 3 egg whites
- 1 c. powdered sugar
- 3/4 c. almond flour
- 1/3 c. flour
- 1 t. vanilla powder
Preheat the oven to 390 degrees F. Make a beurre noisette (brown butter) by placing the butter in a small saucepan and cooking it until golden brown, stirring constantly with a whisk. Transfer to a bowl. Set aside to cool.
Combine the egg whites, powdered sugar, both flours and the vanilla powder in a large bowl. Stir in the brown butter. Spoon the batter into a rectangular silicone mold; use a piping bag for an easy pour.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until nicely golden and a toothpick inserted comes out dry and clean.
Let the cakes cool and store in an airtight container at room temperature.
- 2/3 c. dark chocolate chips
- 3/4 c. coconut oil
- 4-5 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
- 4-5 T. maple syrup
- 3/4 c. creamy peanut butter
- Sea salt for topping
Line a mini muffin tin with paper liners. Melt the dark chocolate in the microwave, about 1 minute.
Spoon 1 teaspoon melted chocolate into each paper liner. Coat the sides and bottom evenly using a pastry brush. Place in the freezer until firm, about 15 minutes.
Place coconut oil, cocoa powder and maple syrup in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil.
Pour into the chocolate cups. Drop a small spoonful of peanut butter in the center of each cup.
Top with more peanut butter and sea salt, and put them in the refrigerator.
- 1 c. heavy whipping cream, cold
- 1/2 c. Nutella
Place the cold heavy whipping cream and Nutella in a bowl and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Increase to high speed for 3 minutes or until soft peaks form.
Quickly whip with a wire whisk to get a uniform consistency.
Spoon the mousse into airtight glass serving jars using a piping bag.
Refrigerate for 4 hours.
- 1/4 c. sliced almonds
- 1/4 c. chopped cashews
- 1/2 c. rolled oats
- 8 WHOLE PITTED DATES
- 1 T. coconut oil
- 1 T. almond butter
- 1 T. quinoa
- 1 t. vanilla extract
- 1 T. coconut flakes
- 2/3 c. dark chocolate
- 1/2 c. almond butter
For the nut half of the sphere, pulse all the ingredients in a food processor until combined, about 2 minutes.
Press this mixture into a half-sphere silicone mold. Place in the freezer for at least 2 hours or until firm, then remove from the mold.
Save the leftovers in an airtight container and freeze for a future batch.
For the chocolate half of the sphere, melt the chocolate and almond butter
in the microwave.
Pour the mixture into the same half-sphere silicone mold, and place the nut halves on top. Return to the freezer for at least 2 hours or until set.