Christmas in the park (+recipe)

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Sean Armstrong suggests packing bread with substance that isn't too delicate and teaming it with flavoursome accompaniments like brie cheese. Photo / Thinkstock
Sean Armstrong suggests packing bread with substance that isn't too delicate and teaming it with flavoursome accompaniments like brie cheese. Photo / Thinkstock

If you want to try something a little different for Christmas dinner this year, how about getting the family together for a gourmet picnic? Pack some hampers and head for the hills, parks or beaches. If the weather doesn't agree with you, you can always spread out the picnic blanket on the living room floor at home as a back-up plan. Here are some suggested perfect picnic spots in and around Auckland for a festive day out, plus chef Sean Armstrong's tips on what to pack.

Where to go:

Auckland regional parks: Pick between the 26 parks scattered from Hunua in the south to Te Arai in the north. Our favourites for Christmas picnicking are Tawharanui, Wenderholm, Long Bay, Omana and Awhitu. Most have barbecues, toilet blocks and even campsites if you want Christmas to last more than a day. Visit arc.govt.nz/parks for a list of all the parks and facilities.

Western Springs: The wide-open spaces of this city park make it a perfect place to enjoy Christmas lunch with the family, and then take a post-lunch walk away from them if you need it!

Cornwall Park: Lots of space under the trees or on open lawn, barbecues and covered tables, playgrounds for the kids ... and you can walk off lunch with a hike to the top of One Tree Hill.

Cornwallis wharf: A family-friendly beach tucked out of the way of the crowds on Manukau Harbour, safe for swimming. The historic 200m wharf is a good spot for testing out new fishing rods.

Harbour islands: You'll need a boat or a mate with a boat but if you can get on the water, head to Kawau or Rakino for secluded picnicking.

How to do it:

Chef Sean Armstrong's guide to the perfect picnic: Picnics over the festive season should be light, no-fuss and fun, and your food should reflect that. I never enjoy picnics when people have spent three days cooking intricate dishes that won't last the distance. Nobody wants cold bacon and egg pies with soggy pastry.

When it comes to perfect picnicking, fresh is best. It's a good idea to pack bread that isn't messy or too delicate. Stick with sourdough, ciabatta and other bread with a bit of substance. Team them with flavoursome accompaniments - cheese and salami are my favourites, just don't forget a knife.

It's best to choose cheese that works well with the summer heat - brie is a good choice as it gets better with warmer weather.

Cheddar on the other hand tends to get sweeter in the sun.

For travelling, pack breads in a brown paper bag or keep them in their original packaging. Refrain from using plastic wrap as this will start to sweat in the heat.

* Sean Armstrong is former executive chef and owner of Prime Bistro in Auckland and owner of Loaf handcrafted breads.

Seeded loaf with hot smoked salmon, capers, cream cheese and red onion

There's not much to this simple picnic recipe - the seeded loaf is great on its own and needs only a few tasty accompaniments.

Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 41 Loaf seeded loaf in Panibois (sliced)

Hot-smoked salmon
Cream cheese
Capers
1/2 red onion (thinly sliced)

1. Toast six slices of seeded loaf. Mix two tablespoons of chopped capers with four tablespoons of cream cheese.

2. Spread each slice of toast with the cream cheese mix, then cut each piece into four triangles. Top with hot-smoked salmon and red onion and drizzle with olive oil.

- NZ Herald

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