A potato salad (left) uses seasonal goodies; chicken salad (right) mixes roast chicken, blueberries and fresh herbs.

It’s summer! Kick it off with a picnic

At my children’s school, each class celebrates the end of the year with a picnic.

I packed a hamper and made some chicken and potato salads, along with special desserts.

My son wanted sturdy food: Roast turkey breast sandwich, potato chips, the usual mix of raw vegetables. And some of the richest chocolate cookies I’ve ever prepared, a luscious blend of two kinds of baking chocolate, chocolate chips and walnuts.

My daughter wanted to try something new, something that signaled a special occasion to her: Potato salad.

I’ve never thought of potato salads as a special occasion food; truth be told, I don’t really like them. Especially what passes for potato salad in most grocery stores, a gloppy assortment of eggish mush.

But I found a recipe that looked tempting and fresh in, of all places, a supermarket cookbook. It is bursting with spring flavors, using seasonal goodies such as new potatoes and sugar snaps, along with yellow bell peppers and chives. Along with some chicken I’d roasted the night before and mixed with blueberries and fresh herbs from the garden for chicken salad, it made for a pretty lunch. Both salads are great for Memorial Day picnics, or to pack for the pool. Make sure to include some Chocolate Whopper cookies, too.

Lemon-Chive Spring Potato Salad
Serves 8

Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes

Be careful not to overcook the potatoes; mushy spuds don’t make for good salads. Although the recipe calls for a cup of dressing, start with half that amount. We thought a cup was too much.

For the potato salad:
1½ pounds red potatoes, scrubbed
½ teaspoon salt
¾ pound sugar snap pease, trimmed and cut diagonally in half
2 medium yellow bell peppers, cut into thin strips
1 cup Lemon-Chive Dressing

For the dressing:
1 cup sour cream
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup chopped fresh chives
½ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried mustard

Whisk together sour cream, lemon juice, chives, salt, pepper and dried mustard.

Cut the potatoes into quarters and place in a large saucepan. Cover with cold water and add the salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and boil gently for 15 minutes, or until tender. Add the sugar snaps during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Drain the potatoes and sugar snaps in a colander and rinse with cold water. Drain completely. Place in a large bowl with the peppers and dressing and toss to coat well. Let stand for 30 minutes before serving, or cover and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours before serving. — From “Stew Leonard’s Winning Recipes Cookbook” (Kimberly Press, 2005)

Blueberry-Tarragon Chicken Salad
Serves 6

Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes

Chicken salad is amazingly versatile. If you prefer other herbs or fruits, it’s easy to substitute. Halved grapes or dried cherries can replace the blueberries, if desired. Don’t like tarragon? Leave it out or use a half-teaspoon of fresh thyme. Leftover roast chicken, poached chicken breasts or rotisserie chicken works well in this recipe.

2 cups cooked diced chicken
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup fresh blueberries
¼ cup sliced almonds
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon fresh chives

In a large bowl, combine chicken with mayonnaise, sour cream and celery, and mix together well. Gently fold in blueberries, almonds, tarragon and chives.

Chocolate Whoppers
Makes 40 cookies

Hands-on time: 20 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes

Use good-quality baking chocolate for the cookies. I used a mix of Ghirardelli and Scharffen Berger solid chocolate, with Ghirardelli chocolate chips. The original recipe calls for large cookies, about 3 inches across. Because they’re so rich, I used a smaller scoop. If you make them larger, bake for up to 12 minutes.

6 ounces semisweet baking chocolate, cut into large chunks
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, cut into large chunks
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup sugar
1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line three cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Melt together the semisweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate and butter in a double boiler over low heat until just melted, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat as soon as chocolate has melted. Stir to blend the chocolate and butter, and set aside.

With an electric or stand mixer, blend together the eggs, espresso powder and vanilla. Add the sugar and mix until thick and creamy, about three minutes. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl and stir to mix. Set aside.

Add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and blend until well combined. Add the flour mixture and stir just until the dry ingredients are moist. Fold in the walnuts and chocolate chips.

Using a small scoop or tablespoon, drop the batter onto the baking sheets about an inch apart. Bake right away, before the chocolate begins to cool and harden. Bake 10 minutes, turning the cookie sheets once during baking. The cookies will still be very gooey inside and soft, but do not overcook or the cooled cookies will be dry. Cool about 10 minutes on the cookie sheets before gently removing the cookies to a rack to cool completely. The cookies will keep for a week if stored in a plastic container. — Adapted from “The Foster’s Market Cookbook” by Sara Foster with Sarah Belk King (Random House, 2002)

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