Get picnic planning advice from an expert

August 20, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The Hungry Hound sought some picnic planning advice from an expert this week. Elaina Vazquez knows how to throw a party. Her Boutique Bites catering business on the Northwest Side helps people plan for all sorts of gatherings. So when we asked her how to plan a successful picnic -- without turning on the oven -- she was quick with advice.

"Definitely, anything that holds well. You don't want anything too hot because you can't heat that up. Something that you can just put on ice really quickly and mix it up and take it out over there and eat it really easily and simply," said Vazquez. "Ceviche you do need to keep cold. That's one of the things you pack on ice and you eat it first."

So hers contain cooked shrimp, tomatoes and onions, plus some corn nuts for garnish. Like many things in her repertoire, citrus is key.

"I use a lot of acid in the summer; lemon juice, lime juice a lot of citrus. You don't need so much salt either because it has a nice tang, so acid works really well in the summer," said Vazquez.

Vazquez loves elotes, or corn, for a picnic. Hers are briefly grilled, then sliced off of the cob. A little mayo is mixed up, along with queso fresco and some fresh cilantro. Lime juice brightens it up, and some cayenne or Japanese 7-spice gives it a minor kick. Another cold dish -- queso blanco -- is simply farmer's cheese cut into cubes, dressed with onions, cilantro and fresh radishes, plus a drizzle of olive oil and lime juice.

Guacamole is another picnic snack that doesn't necessarily have to be mashed up.

"Some people put tomatoes and onions in their guacamole, but I just like to use cilantro, jalapeno and lime juice, and kind of the way you cut it can be nice and shows the texture of the avocado. You can get a nice dice instead of mashing it up and it's a little bit more sophisticated presentation," she said.

So even though we're in the dog days of summer, Labor Day is right around the corner, which means just a couple days left to fire up that grill or get out and have a picnic.


  • 2 ears corn on the cob, grilled
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 T mayonnaise
  • 1 T cotija cheese
  • Togarashi, or chili powder, to taste
  • Salt, to taste

Remove kernels from grilled corn on the cob. Add mayonnaise, lime juice and cotija cheese. Season with salt and togarashi or another chili powder.


  • 2 Avocados, small diced
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, minced
  • 1/2 Jalapeno, minced
  • Salt, to taste

Mix avocados, lime juice, cilantro, and jalapeno. Season with salt. Serve with assorted homemade chips (plantain, malanga, tortilla).

Shrimp & Snapper Ceviche

  • 1/2 lb medium sized shrimp
  • 1 fillet red snapper, skin off, cut medium dice
  • Juice of 15 limes
  • 2 tomatoes, small diced
  • 1 small white onion, minced
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced

Poach shrimp skin on in simmering salted water for 2 minutes. Remove shrimp and add to ice water bath to stop cooking. Peel, devein and butterfly shrimp. Transfer shrimp to a bowl and cover with lime juice to continue "cooking". Refrigerate for an hour, or until shrimp is cooked through. In a separate bowl, cover diced snapper with lime juice and refrigerate for about an hour, or until cooked through with the acid. Mix together tomatoes, onion, cilantro, jalapeno, and lime juice. Season with salt. To assemble: Drain shrimp and snapper. Mix with tomato mixture. Season with salt. Garnish with corn nuts.

Queso Blanco Salad

  • 1/2 lb queso blanco or Caribbean white cheese, cut into 1/2" cubes
  • 1 radish, sliced thin
  • 1 small red onion, minced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, minced
  • 2 T Olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Season with salt.

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