India's favourite packed-lunch box is the only way for a posh picnic to travel this summer. Mark Hix shows how

When you're going on a posh picnic, setting off on holiday or out for a day's fishing, you'll have to think about food you can take on your travels. The everyday picnic usually conjures up an image of sandwiches and a packet of crisps in a sweaty plastic box. But why take less trouble preparing a meal to eat when you're out and about than you would if you were making dinner at home? And if you start with a different approach and let the container determine the contents of your portable meal you really could end up with a mini, moveable feast.

When you're going on a posh picnic, setting off on holiday or out for a day's fishing, you'll have to think about food you can take on your travels. The everyday picnic usually conjures up an image of sandwiches and a packet of crisps in a sweaty plastic box. But why take less trouble preparing a meal to eat when you're out and about than you would if you were making dinner at home? And if you start with a different approach and let the container determine the contents of your portable meal you really could end up with a mini, moveable feast.

Years ago I was given a tiffin box, which sat on a shelf in my larder collecting dust like every other unwanted wedding present. Some of you are probably asking, what's a tiffin box when it's at home? Well, to start with it shouldn't be sitting around at home - they're for moving food around. These cute little stainless-steel stacking boxes, three round containers with a clamp to keep them all together and a handle for carrying, are what Indian labourers use to take their lunch to work. They keep food hot for a while, and cool too. However if you intend to eat some time after you set out on your journey, I'd recommend putting the tiffin boxes in a cool bag with ice packs to keep it chilled.

This summer I've started seeing tiffin boxes everywhere. Habitat have some sexy-looking square plastic ones that bring tiffin dining into the 21st century, although you can't go torching the burnt cream (see recipe below) in them. Keep your salads in these and try and find authentic Indian, metal tiffin boxes if you want to cook food in the container. Either way, they're so practical for portable dining - one course per box and no dishing out or plates required. When you're done just stack up the empties and put them back in the boot.

I was thinking inside the box now, and planning what to prepare for a tiffin session. I had a couple of duck breasts in the fridge, so I made a noodle dish with spices and the pink, sliced duck sitting on top - look out for that recipe in a couple of weeks' time. I also made an Indian-influenced rice pudding with cardamom and lemon. If these two courses sound a bit starchy, that's because it can be hungry work pulling fish out of the water. This time, I tried every fly in the box to catch a trout. Tiffin was the highlight of the day.

If you want to combine a meal on the move with a barbecue, you could add a bit of drama by bringing the salads in the tiffin boxes, grilling some meat or fish on a portable barbecue when you reach your destination and plonking it on top of everyone's box. Mind you don't rely on catching your fish or you may go hungry.

Cucumber and caraway soup

Serves 6

Cucumber consists mostly of water, so it needs gentle cooking with flavourings to help it blend smoothly and prevent it separating once it is chilled.

1 leek, roughly chopped and washed
2tsp caraway seeds
1tbsp vegetable or corn oil
4 cucumbers, roughly chopped
600ml vegetable stock
A few sprigs of mint
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently cook the leek and caraway seeds in the vegetable oil, in a covered pan, for 3-4 minutes until soft. Add the vegetable stock, bring to the boil and add the cucumber and mint. Season and simmer for 3-4 minutes, then remove from the heat and blend in a liquidiser until very smooth. Strain through a medium-meshed sieve (a fine mesh will trap too many bits) into a bowl set over some iced water to cool it quickly and prevent discolouring.

If you're eating straight away, garnish with finely diced cucumber, or a blob of yoghurt or crème frâiche. If you're taking it with you, keep the soup cool in a flask and add the garnish at your picnic spot.

Tabbouleh with smoked duck breast

Serves 4

Home smoking can be quite fun, whether you have a home smoker or convert your barbecue into a smoker. Or try it my way. Line a heavy pan with foil, add wood (usually oak) smoking dust (you can buy this from DIY or fishing-tackle shops) to the bottom and sit meat or fish on a rack over the dust under a tight-fitting lid. Poultry works particularly well, as do oily fish such as salmon or mackerel. The oak flavour penetrates nicely into the fat and flesh and because it's cooked pink you get a subtle smoky flavour.

Savu food smoker bags are also great. These are tin-foil pouches from Finland. Put the fish, or other food, into the bag, pop it in the oven or on to the barbecue, and out comes smoked food. They're £1.95 each, or six for £9, from Carrilon (0870 3803 3000). If you don't fancy the home-smoking palaver, then there plenty of smoked duck breasts you can buy, although some are a bit fatty. f

4 smoked duck breasts - buy ones which don't have too much fat, or smoke your own

for the tabbouleh

4 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
1 heaped dessertspoon dry couscous
50g flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked, washed and coarsely chopped
30g mint, leaves removed, washed and coarsely chopped
2 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1-2tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Tabbouleh should use very little couscous, but most people pile it in so they don't have to chop so many herbs. Put all the ingredients into a bowl, season and mix well. Cover with cling film and leave for an hour to stand. A little more olive oil and lemon can be added to taste. Serve with slices of duck breast on top.

Mixed tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella and basil

Serves 4

This is the time of year to pick up plenty of different varieties of tomato - beef, plum, vine, cherry, and orange, golden and stripey coloured ones - especially if you grow your own. I think using different colours gives a nice little twist to a simple tomato salad - as long as they taste of something, of course. Beware the plastic lookalike mozzarellas that taste of bugger all. Try to find a good fresh buffalo mozzarella from an Italian deli or a cheesemonger. It will be worth it.

250g mixed tomatoes, cut into wedges, slices or whole for cherries.
4 small (80-100g each) good quality mozzarellas or 2 larger ones
A handful of basil
4tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pick a few small basil leaves and arrange them with the cut tomatoes in your tiffin boxes or other suitable containers. Blend the rest of the leaves with the olive oil - stopping the blender and pushing the leaves down as necessary, to get a purée. Put this in a small container with a lid to pour on at your destination. Cut each mozzarella into slices or chunks and place on top of the tomatoes. To serve, drizzle the basil purée over the tomatoes and season.

Elderflower burnt cream with raspberries

Serves 4

If you have metal tiffin boxes, make your dessert in the box, ready to take with you. Is this delicious dessert French or English in origin? It's difficult to say, as burnt cream seems to have been around for as long as crème brûlée. We've been swapping recipes with the French since the Norman Conquest. It may even have been that both were derived from crema Catalan. But whoever had the idea of putting a mirror of burnt sugar on top, well, they deserve a golden custard tart. Crème brûlée and burnt cream come in many versions. I have added some concentrated elderflower cordial I made a month or so ago. (I can't resist picking free food if I'm walking past it and the elderflowers were no exception.) Those elderflowers are turning into berries now, ready for the game season - so it's too late to make your own cordial, you'll have to buy it.

If you don't have a blowtorch in your shed then you can get handy little domestic cheffy ones for that perfect, glazed topping.

600ml thick Jersey cream
100ml elderflower cordial
8 egg yolks
60-70g caster sugar
120g raspberries

Start the day before you want to eat the burnt creams. Bring the cream to the boil, add the elderflower cordial and simmer gently, whisking occasionally, until it has reduced by a third. Meanwhile, mix the egg yolks with 1 tablespoon of the caster sugar. Pour the reduced cream on to the egg yolks and mix well. Return the mixture to the pan and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly without allowing it to boil, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.

Remove from the heat. Pour into your metal tiffin tin or 1 large or 4 individual heatproof gratin dishes like ramekins and leave to cool overnight in the fridge. Before you set off, sprinkle an even layer of caster sugar over the cream and caramelise under a pre-heated hot grill or with a blowtorch. Serve with the raspberries on top, or take them in a separate container.

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