Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back to School: Ranger Cookies My Way

It isn’t even September yet and my two little darlings are already back in school. This really makes me sad, but since we go through this every fall I do my best to heal my broken heart with a series of girly luncheons and bottles of wine. It eventually works but it takes me awhile to get back in the swing of things.

Before I can even start to wrap my head around our new routine, the school e-mails begin. For those of you who have children in school, you know the kind of e-mails I’m talking about; the begging for volunteers e-mails, the e-mails about the $50 you owe for your son’s parking permit and then there’s the dreaded Back to School Night e-mail.

Our school’s Back to School Night consists of parents following the same daily school schedule as our children. We spend ten minutes with each teacher so they can tell us their philosophy and expectations of our little darlings and we are to then move on to the next class without cornering their teacher about the best way to get our child into Harvard.

Inevitably there is some rude parent who feels like this is the only chance they will ever have to let everyone know how intelligent their child is, and somehow they manage to bombard the entire ten minute time period. This really annoys everyone so I decided to do something about it this year and told my husband that he really needs to stop.

By the time your child gets to high school interesting changes begin to happen with their teachers. With a few exceptions, long gone are the perky young elementary school teachers who look like Talbot's models with a sparkle in their eyes and an optimistic tale of how much will be accomplished over the next nine months.

While high school teachers are a hearty breed, many of them often have an unkempt look, with a worried smile and a slight tremor in their hands. A school teacher friend of mine once told me that this is caused by years of wondering if anyone in his class peed in his coffee while he was out of the room. I understand that.

Last year my son’s favorite teacher was my favorite too. The gruff looking Mr. L taught Aquatic Biology and was very upfront with us at Back to School Night with the fact that if our student needed a little extra credit all we had to do was send in snacks. He didn’t want wordy research papers, dioramas or cold hard cash, he just wanted cookies. Oh man, he is my kind of guy.

Over the course of the semester last year, my son was in need of a couple of rounds of extra credit. I didn’t fool around with your run of the mill chocolate chip cookies, I hit Mr. L with the big guns right off the bat, my version of Ranger Cookies or as some also call them, Cowboy Cookies because of their lack of corn flakes.

Even though I don’t like baking cookies much, these are worth the trouble. They are big, chewy, a little bit thin and contain a little bit of something for everyone. Besides, you never know when you might need a little extra credit with someone yourself. I know it worked for me; "we" got a B in Aquatic Biology.

Ranger Cookies My Way

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (you can substitute the nuts for 1 heaping cup of cornflakes or rice crispies if you are allergic to nuts or just don't like them)
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups quick cooking oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. Add the coconut, nuts, chocolate chips, vanilla and eggs and mix well; set aside.

In a medium size bowl, stir together the flour, oatmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Slowly add the flour mixture to the wet mixture in the bowl, mixing well after each addition until it is completely incorporated.

Drop dough by the heaping tablespoons onto a non-stick cookie sheet; bake for 10 – 12 minutes or until cookies are a golden brown around the edges. Remove cookie sheet from the oven and allow cookies to cool for just a couple of minutes before carefully transferring them to a cool surface to cool completely.

Makes approximately 30 large cookies.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Little Something on the Side: Spicy Corn Salad and Bacon and Egg Potato Salad

It's no secret that I love a good barbeque. I love the way the hickory smoke permeates my hair and clothing and makes my eyes water. I love the way it gives you an excuse to do nothing but cook, no store runs, no picking up kids, no housework. I have to stay close to the grill just in case there should be a sudden flame up, so Dad's in charge of the grunt work on these days. Yep, it's just me and a glass of wine, alone with my thoughts and some smoldering meat.

Then at the end of a "hard" day slaving over a pile of hot coals, there’s nothing more rewarding than slicing open a well-tended brisket and seeing that much sought after beautiful pink smoke ring beneath a nice crispy bark-like coating.

I learned my respect of barbeque from the grand master himself, my dad. I have very fond memories of his routine; carefully stacking the charcoal briquets then dousing them down with just the right amount of lighter fluid before throwing a match on them. I wish he was here today so I could turn him on to the ease of a chimney starter (no more lighter fluid taste Dad!). If you haven't discovered these yet you are really missing out on a great little tool to start your charcoal fire.

Dad would then soak a couple of big handfuls of mesquite or hickory chips for 30 minutes (no more or less) in lukewarm water. I recently read that soaking the chips is unnecessary, but I still do it in honor of him. Then after what seemed like an eternity, he would announce that the coals were just right and the real fun would begin.

On the other hand there is one thing that I don't often enjoy about barbeque, the side dishes that are usually served with it. The run of the mill baked beans and coleslaw just don’t really do much for me.

I have managed over the years to run across some pretty good side dish recipes and I've even managed to develop one or two. Since we are still in the middle of barbeque season, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites with you and maybe help you to perk up your next cookout.

My first recipe is for a delicious corn salad that I discovered at a small family wedding several years ago. It is easy to make and a real crowd pleaser I promise. I mean how can you go wrong with Chili Cheese Fritos and mayo?

The next recipe is for an easy potato salad which strips things down to basics. It wins over even the toughest potato salad critics with its simple uncomplicated flavors. Put the pickles and yellow mustard away, they're no longer needed and won't be missed.

My super easy version of Swedish Hasselback potatoes are really no more than a simple twist on the regular old baked potato. Here at high altitude where it takes a day and a half to bake a potato the conventional way, this method will help to speed things up so you can eat before midnight. This recipe proves that it is the little things that make something special out of something ordinary.

Spicy Corn Salad

You can make this salad with fresh blanched corn, canned or frozen. It can be white corn, yellow corn or bi-colored, just so long as it's sweet. This is really one of those "dash of this and a pinch of that" recipes that you really make your own. This is just a general guideline.

1 - 14 ounce can sweet corn, drained
2 green onions, chopped
1/3 medium size red bell pepper, diced
1 medium size Serrano, finely diced
1 tablespoon, coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 - 2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 heaping tablespoon bacon bits (optional)
1 heaping tablespoon mayonnaise
1 heaping tablespoon sour cream
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 cup chili cheese flavored Fritos

Place all ingredients except for the Fritos in a medium size bowl and stir well. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving stir in the Fritos.

Serves 4

Bacon and Egg Potato Salad

4 large eggs
2 pounds (about 5 medium size) potatoes
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
5 slices bacon (4 is probably enough, but this gives you a slice to eat)
1/2 sweet yellow onion
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
Pepper to taste
Paprika for garnish (optional)

Place the eggs in a small saucepan. Pour in enough water to completely cover eggs. Place them over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Let eggs boil for 5 minutes before covering the pan with a tight fitting lid and removing from them from the heat. Allow eggs to sit in the hot water for approximately 30 minutes. Peel and chop into large pieces; set aside.

Peel potatoes and cut into large cubes. Place potatoes into a large saucepan and cover with water. Add 1 teaspoon salt to the water. Bring potatoes to a boil and cook until they are fork tender; drain, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

Place bacon in a medium size frying pan over medium high heat. Cook until crispy before transferring to a plate to cool. After it is cool to the touch, chip into small pieces; set aside.

In the hot bacon grease, add the onions and cook, stirring frequently until they are soft and slightly transparent. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently for one minute longer. Transfer onions and garlic to the bowl with the potatoes being sure to transfer some of the bacon drippings as well (about 2 teaspoons).

In a medium size bowl, combine the mayonnaise, vinegar and mustard; stir well. Pour over the cooled potato mixture, add the bacon and toss all together well to combine. Don’t be afraid of breaking the potatoes while stirring as this will make a creamy base. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Just before serving, sprinkle with paprika.

Makes approximately 6 servings

No Hassle Hasselback Potatoes

If you want make these the conventional way, you'll need to peel them and bake the heck out of them in your oven. Personally I like this recipe just as much and I don't have to take my eye of the barbeque for very long to make them.

4 medium size russet potatoes, well washed and scrubbed
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/8 teaspoon freshly milled black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

I've seen all sorts of instructions for cutting these potatoes, but my favorite method is taping two chopsticks to the countertop about 1-1/2" apart. Place the potatoes between them, then with a very sharp knife, slice the potatoes across in 1/8 - 1/4" increments. The chopsticks should stop the knife from slicing all the way through the potato.

Place the prepared potatoes in a glass baking dish. Cover with microwave safe plastic wrap and microwave on high for 6 minutes. Carefully remove the cover and pierce with a fork to test doneness. If the potatoes are easily pearced, then they are done. If not, replace the cover and continue to microwave in 1 - 2 minute increments until they are done. Cooking times will vary depending on the size of your potatoes and the power of your microwave.

Drizzle the oil over the top of the potatoes. Sprinkle with the seasonings. Place uncovered in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the potato tops are brown and crispy.

If desired, top with a mixture of 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan and 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs before placing in the oven. Serve plain or with sour cream, chives, grated cheese, kosher salt or butter.

Serves 4

Monday, August 1, 2011

Against the Odds: White Peaches and Cream Ice Cream

About five years ago I decided to buy an ice cream freezer of this century. For years we had been using one that had been given to us by a relative who had probably inherited it from Julius Caesar. Since we never seemed to have rock salt or enough ice, I decided to buy a Krups with the kind of bowl you stick in the freezer. As usual with most of these one purpose gadgets, I used it only once or twice then quickly forgot about it as it got pushed into the back of the cupboard.

About a week ago, some lovely white peaches hit the store shelves. Since I love peaches, and especially the delicate sweetness of white peaches, I thought I’d make some ice cream. I dug out my flashlight and knee pads and went on a quest to find my long forgotten freezer. Without too many surprises, I managed to find it and all of its parts. I was in business until I discovered that some sort of corrosive substance inside of the bowl had eaten a pin hole through the aluminum and was now leaking pretty much everywhere.

Since I hated to waste the other components that were still in good working order, I decided to buy a replacement. Well, you probably guessed it, the replacement bowl was really expensive, so I decided to go with Plan B and just buy a new one. To make a very long story short, the next thing I knew I was standing in line in Bed Bath and Beyond with an $80.00 Kitchen Aid attachment in my basket and a year old 20% off coupon in my hand. This was the perfect solution until the young woman in front of me told me how much she hated hers. Since I was on the fence about buying a new one anyway, I put it back and just went home.

Back at the ranch, I was faced with 6 very ripe peaches and half an ice cream maker, and decided that I might not need one at all. I mean I’m a good cook and maybe this is an opportunity for an experiment. This shouldn’t rattle me so I decided that I’d try an alternative method and who knows, I might just turn out to be the cosmic gift to all those out there without a freezer of their own.

I’ve seen lots of ice cream recipes where it is frozen and simply stirred every 30 minutes or so until it is set, so I thought I’d give this method a try. I figured that I would use my electric mixer and give the mixture a good whipping at regular intervals which I must admit took me pretty much all day.

The verdict was that while the ice cream tasted delicious, there's no denying that the consistency could have been improved by the constant movement of an electric ice cream maker. So, I guess it’s back to Bed Bath and Beyond for that Kitchen Aid attachment afterall. Now, if I can only figure out where I put that coupon . . .

White Peaches and Cream Ice Cream

Since I think that cooked custard style ice cream bases have a strong flavor which would probably overpower the delicate white peaches, I decided to make a milder tasting Philadelphia style base which uses no eggs.

4 cups (about 5 - 6 medium size) fresh or frozen peaches, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 – 1/8 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

In a large bowl, combine the peaches, lemon juice, sugar and salt; cover and set aside on the countertop for an hour.

After an hour, stir the peach mixture and taste a bit of the syrup to make sure that all of the sugar is completely dissolved. Transfer peaches to a food processor. Add the milk, cream and the vanilla and almond extracts and process for 5 – 10 seconds to purify some of the peaches. There will be some larger pieces but don’t worry, this is the desired consistency.

Pour mixture into the bowl of an ice cream freezer and freeze until it is thick and creamy. Transfer to a container with a tight fitting lid, transfer to your household freezer and continue to freeze until desired consistency is reached. Serve immediately or store in freezer up to a week.

Yield 8 cups.