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Picnic Ideas – The Complete Summer Guide!

Jun 29, 2015

Picnics are undoubtedly my favorite part of the summer. Friends, food, wine, and great weather? What more could you want?

So last week, Maya, Lauren, Kit, Erin, Blair and I got together to do our favorite things: eat great food (my friends are all talented cooks) drink some rosé and catch up–since the summer has been full speed ahead for just about all of us, it was great to finally have a couple hours to chat. So we headed to a grassy knoll by North Avenue Beach for a week night sunset picnic!

Of course, we all made way too much food, but that’s kind of a great problem to have, right? We paired up with Jewel-Osco for the food portion of our picnic, and to say I was astonished when I walked into the West Loop location to go grocery shopping was an understatement. (So many great picnic ideas exploding in my head!)

It felt like a high-end store, but without the prices of Whole Foods. I was really impressed with the produce section (tons of fresh, pre-packaged fruits and veggies, trays, salads, and more–ideal for picnics!), fresh cheeses made in-house, a great selection of just-baked bread–I’m not exaggerating when I say it was easy to go crazy in there.

Are you hungry? Because you’ll want to bookmark these great picnic ideas and recipes:

Pan Bagnet

For my main dish, I decide to make Pan Bagnet, (pronounced “Pahn Bahn-yay”), a French picnic sandwich that is as easy as it is impressive. I found this concept when I was browsing “picnic ideas” on Pinterest and the lightbulb went off. Instead of having to make multiple tiny sandwiches, all you do is make one big loaf and slice it up to serve! Easy to transport, make, and keep for leftovers! (So many leftovers.) I suggest making two versions, one with meat, and one without, to suit everyone’s tastes and/or dietary restrictions:

Caprese Pan Bagnet

  • 1 loaf fresh, crusty bread. It could be italian or ciabatta. Traditionally Pan Bagnet is made with a round loaf, but I used a longer loaf and it worked great.
  • 1 container fresh mozzarella (about 3 mozzarella balls). I used the pesto kind made fresh at Jewel.
  • About 3-4 tomatoes off the vine
  • Balsalmic glaze
  • Olive Oil
  • Fresh basil

Instructions: Cut the top of your bread loaf similar to how you would cut the top of your pumpkin when making a jack-o-lantern. You want it to have a bit of a slant so you can pop the top back on perfectly (no meat or toppings should be visible–it should look like a regular bread loaf front the outside!) When Maya cut into the loaf, she actually exclaimed “JESS! Did you know there’s a sandwich in this bread!?” That’s the kind of reaction you’re going for!

Once your bread is hollowed out, slather both sides liberally with olive oil. (The term “Pan Bagnet” actually translates to “bathed bread”–so that’s where it gets its name, because you bathe it in olive oil!)

Follow by layering on all of your ingredients. I layered the cheese on first, as the juice in the tomatoes will make the bread soggy–so the cheese acted as a nice barrier. After you layer your cheese, add your tomatoes, shreds of basil, and then finish your layer with salt and pepper, and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Repeat this layering process until the loaf is filled to the top.

Now comes the fun part–you want to flatten the sandwich so the toppings all stay together and the shape is easier to slice. I laid my marble cooking slab on top and it worked great. Pretty much anything heavy will do–a stack of coffee table books would also do the trick. Leave it for at least an hour to flatten, and serve by cutting one inch slices with a sharp bread knife.

Ham, Swiss, and Avocado with mustard aoli Pan Bagnet (pictured above): 

  • 1 loaf fresh, crusty bread. I used a rosemary italian loaf from Jewel, which blended perfectly with the rest of the ingredients
  • About 1/4 pound sliced Jarlsberg cheese.
  • About 1/2 pound Dietz & Watson Black Forest Ham
  • 1 ripe avocado, sliced
  • Mustard Aoli (recipe below)

Instructions: Start by making your aoli. (Hold your breath, this is REALLY complicated.) Mix 1 part mayo, 1 part dijon mustard with a dash of garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. (That’s it!)

Then, taking the same steps above, hollow out your loaf, and substitute the mustard aoli for the olive oil, slathering both sides liberally with your aoli. Add your ham, cheese, and avocado in layers, and repeat until filled to the top. Place the top back on your loaf, and wrap it in a paper bag, paper towel, or clean dish towel, and flatten it under any heavy household item that you like! Leave it for at least an hour to flatten, and serve by cutting one inch slices with a sharp bread knife.

Blanched Crudites

I absolutely love veggies and dip (I’m a dip fanatic), so when I stumbled upon this one from one of my very favorite ladies–The Barefoot Contessa–I thought it was a perfect picnic idea! Plus, it’s much more delicious and a little more elevated than your basic veggie tray!

The veggies: 

  • 1 bag french green beans
  • 1 bag trimmed and cut asparagus (I loved that Jewel had this, which saved me so much work!)
  • 1 bag trimmed and pre-cut radishes
  • 2 bundles freshly picked carrots, with the stems still attached (these taste so much better!)
  • Optional: Marinated veggies, such as artichoke hearts, and peppadew peppers.

The herb dip: 

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 4 scallions, white and green parts, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

Instructions: Start off by heating a pot of salted (don’t forget the salt!) water, bringing it to a boil. While you’re waiting for your water to boil, fill a bowl with ice water (use a LOT of ice!) to use for blanching. Blanching quickly cooks the asparagus and green beans while still giving them that perfect “crunch” that makes them so great for dipping.

When the water has boiled, blanch your veggies separately, leaving in the boiling water for 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and move immediately in the ice water–which shocks the veggies and stops them from cooking any further. Remove the veggies when cool, and dry on a clean dish towel. I blanched my green beans, asparagus, and carrots. (But remember, you don’t want to blanch veggies that you wouldn’t normally eat cooked–like celery–bleh!) Chill in the fridge until ready to pack for your picnic!

Then, make the herb dip: 

Mix cream cheese in a bowl until smooth, adding sour cream and mayo little by little, stirring, until smooth. Add in your chopped scallions, dill, garlic powder, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Salty Basil Watermelon Salad

  • 1 Seedless watermelon (or you can buy the fresh, pre-diced watermelon in Jewel’s produce section–super picnic friendly!)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • A handful of fresh basil

Instructions: Cut watermelon into bite sized chunks, season with salt, pepper, and rips of basil. Serve immediately, or within 1 day. (Really complicated, right?)

Erin’s Sparkling Rosé with herbed ice cubes

You don’t need to spend a bunch of time whipping up a specialty cocktail! Instead, make some easy gourmet ice cubes to pop into your favorite rosé! See Erin’s recipe for her delicious fruit & herb ice cubes here. 

Erin’s Avocado & Pea Toasts

Like guacamole, not. We ate up Erin’s avocado & pea spread with garlicky crostinis! See her recipe on her blog.

Kit’s Roast Beef, Brie & Caramelized Onion Sandwiches

These bite-sized sammies Kit brought were delicious and packed with flavor! Check out the full recipe on her blog, The Kittchen, today.

Kit’s American Flag Cookie Pizzas

Just in time for 4th of July, these cookie pizza’s scream ‘Merca, and are one of the most delicious (EVER) desserts! See Kit’s full recipe here. 

Lauren’s Panzanella Salad

Bread salad? Sign me up! Lauren’s included plenty of fresh veggies and basil! Read her recipe here!

Maya’s Strawberry, Mascarpone and Chocolate Trifle

Maya brought one of her go-to recipes, a strawberry, mascarpone, and chocolate trifle! She said her roommate used to make this for her in college (so you know it’s easy and inexpensive!) and it’s been a classic standby ever since! See her full recipe on her blog,

Picnic Supplies:

Aside from all the amazing food we picked up at Jewel-Osco, we also snagged some ADORABLE supplies that made for the perfect picnic! The monogrammed go-vinos, napkins, turkish towels, trays, and ice buckets from White Elephant Designs are all beach-friendly plastic, and make adorable gifts! Plus, I will never buy another boring flimsy paper plate again, thanks to Elliewood! All of the cute plates, yellow napkins, and wood cutlery you see here come in a pre-packaged party box along with cute coasters and straws. How easy is that? (Best picnic ideas ever!)

Photo credits: Mary M. Cinema & Photo and myself!
This post was sponsored by Jewel-Osco, but all opinions are 100% my own!

What are your go-to picnic foods for summer? 

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