Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fruit salad

Sometimes, for me, the salad makes the meal.

For years, I never made or experimented at restaurants with a green salad that wasn’t your basic lettuce, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper mixture topped by some gooey dressing. Gotta love that gooey, fatty dressing!

But in recent years, my husband and I have loved experimenting with new salad combinations, and, more than anything, new dressings we make ourselves.

Twice this summer, we’ve made a delicious salad using a fruited dressing recipe of my sister’s. The dressing is so delicious and so simple to make using an envelope of Good Seasons Italian dressing mix. I saw this recipe again when I was thumbing through a school cookbook my sister helped with several years ago. Susan has several ideas for the toppings for this salad, but I tweaked that (of course) and used what I had on hand each time I made it.

The first time we made the salad dressing, which uses the juice of an orange, I topped my romaine lettuce with chunks of fresh orange, crunchy gala apple and toasted, sliced almonds. The citrus-based dressing was the perfect complement for my choice of ingredients.

I had planned to make the same salad the second time, but when it came time to assemble the salad, I realized I didn’t have any apples (which is unusual for me.) So instead of oranges and apples, I used oranges, fresh blueberries and toasted pecans. Both versions were so delicious! And I was a happy girl when I realized there was salad dressing for leftovers the next day.

I’m sure many fruit and nut combinations would work with this salad. I’d love to try strawberries, blueberries and oranges with toasted pecans or walnuts. And I know all versions would be delicious as a main course salad topped with strips of grilled chicken.

Salads are so perfect for these hot summer days, and I hope you’ll give this easy one a try.

Orange Dressing
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar because it’s what I had)
  • 1/3 cup orange juice (I squeezed my own)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (0.7 oz.) envelope Good Seasons Italian dressing mix
Combine ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Store in refrigerator.

Use on a variety of fruited salads. I’ve used romaine lettuce topped with chunks of apple and orange or romaine topped with oranges and blueberries, both sprinkled with toasted nuts.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Peach cobbler

When my sister, Susan, moved to South Carolina a few years ago she started bringing baskets filled with beautiful peaches to Wilson when she visited in the summer.

There’s something different about these fragrant peaches, which boast a layer of bristly peach fuzz. They are sweeter, fresher and more juicy than the ones I buy at local grocery stores (although they are good in their own right, and I purchase plenty in the warm weather months.)

Susan has been home twice this summer, and each time, I’ve been the recipient of a basket of peaches. Reggie and I made a batch of deliciously sweet peach jam with the first peaches as well as a cobbler. I also enjoyed them sliced with my breakfast or for a bedtime snack.

When Susan came back this past weekend, she brought Red Globe peaches that had just started to ripen. I had been wanting to try a cobbler recipe Susan had shared with me the week before, so I decided to make a batter peach cobbler to go with our grilled dinner.

I usually make cobbler using a very simple recipe of our mother’s that’s topped with a frozen pie crust. This new cobbler, adapted for other recipes, makes its on crust from the buttery batter. Susan added cinnamon to her recipe, so I did the same.

The pie makes up quickly, with only a few steps. Peeling the peaches is the only time-consuming part of the process. But I don’t mind peeling peaches because I get to sample as I go along!

The house smelled so good as the peaches started to cook, and we couldn’t wait to try our cobbler. I loved the taste of the sweet peaches and the touch of cinnamon I could taste in the crust.

The recipe was well-received by my family, and I will certainly make it again.

I might toss in a handful of blueberries next time. And Susan tells me the recipe is equally as good when made with blackberries instead of peaches.

I know baking a dessert that takes 50 minutes to bake really heats up the kitchen on a hot July day, but turn on the fan and turn down the thermostat, because peaches won’t be in season much longer.

Mama's Fruit Cobbler
  • Fresh fruit
  • 3/4 to 1 cup sugar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons flour (more for fruit that will be runny when cooked)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter (or less)
  • 1 pie crust
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Fill pie pan with fresh fruit. I use blueberries (fresh or frozen), fresh peaches or cooking apples.

Mix sugar, flour and salt and sprinkle over fruit. Dot with a little butter. With apples, add cinnamon to taste.

Top with a pie crust (I use frozen). Slit top of pie crust.

Bake at 425 degrees for 30 to 50 minutes.

Peach Cobbler
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 3/4 cup self-rising flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 4 to 5 cups of peeled and sliced peaches (choose amount based on size of baking dish)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Cinnamon sugar to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place butter in a square or round baking dish and place in oven to melt. Keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn.

While butter is melting, mix flour, sugar, milk and cinnamon until incorporated.

Remove pan from oven when butter has melted. Pour batter mixture on top of butter, then spread peaches on top of batter. Don't mix. Sprinkle top with cinnamon sugar. (Remember pan is hot, so be careful when moving it back to the oven.)

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until brown on top. Cool slightly before serving.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fill up your cookie jar this summer

It’s summertime, and at my house that means there are lots of people in and out. And those people get hungry!

I try to keep snacks around for my family and their guests to munch on, and I like to make those treats myself when I can. Thanks to a book I came across while browsing in the library’s new books section the other day, my cookie jar is now holding some delicious home-baked cookies.

“Cookies: More than 200 Recipes” by Jill Snider was enticing to me right away. I enjoyed reading the tips and descriptions she puts with each recipe, and I loved the combinations she came up with for her cookies. How about crunchy cereal cookies — a breakfast cookie recipe with crisped rice cereal, rolled oats, almonds, coconut and sunflower seeds? Or chocolate cherry mounds with pecans, dried cherries and two kinds of chocolate?

The cookie names alone make you want to start baking: butterscotch cashew cookies, Hawaiian chews, chocolate caramel oat cookies, cranberry almond oatmeal cookies.

There are many traditional favorites in this book as well, and I chose an oatmeal cookie as my first recipe from this book. A number of cookie recipes in the book use oats, but I tried oatmeal candy cookies and made them the last two Saturday afternoons.

This is a simple, basic oatmeal cookie recipe that uses candy pieces. It also calls for coconut, but I omitted that so I wouldn’t be the only one eating them. (My crowd can spot coconut hidden in any recipe.)

The first time I made this recipe I used my small cookie scoop and made small, uniform cookies that everyone gobbled down. I wasn’t sure if there would be a cookie left before they had time to cool! I cooked these cookies a minute or two more than what the recipe suggests because I love crunchy oatmeal cookies.

I made a few changes to this recipe other than leaving out the coconut. I used self-rising flour instead of all-purpose flour and left out the baking powder, baking soda and salt, and instead of using 1 cup of candy-coated chocolate pieces, I used a mixture of miniature M&Ms and miniature chocolate chips (about half-and-half.)

The cookies were a big hit at my house, and I feel confident I’ll make them again and again.

This is a good recipe to use if you have kids around who want to help. Both times I made this recipe, my 2-year-old granddaughter was at the house, and she poured in the chocolate chips and M&Ms. She also helped me hold the mixer.

Before writing this column, I wanted to try something different, so I made a second recipe, using ingredients I’ve never put in a cookie. I chose white chocolate, fruit and nut cookies.

These buttery, tender cookies are packed with white chocolate, chopped cashew nuts, dried cranberries and dried apricot. I wasn’t sure how I would like the combination, but it was a delicious cookie, and everyone who tried it agreed.

When you’re making these cookies, try to get some of each ingredient in each cookie because the combination is really good.

White Chocolate Fruit and Nut Cookies
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour*
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest*
  • 8 squares (1 oz./28 g each) white chocolate cut into chunks*
  • 1 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cashews
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried mango*
Preheat oven to 375F.

Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

On a sheet of waxed paper or in a bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and brown and granulated sugars until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add orange zest. On low speed, gradually add flour mixture, beating until blended. With a wooden spoon, stir in white chocolate, cashews, cranberries and mango.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 8-12 minutes or until golden around edges. Cool for 5 minutes on sheet, then transfer to a rack and cool completely.

*I used self-rising flour and omitted the salt and baking soda. I didn’t have an orange, so I didn’t use orange zest. Also, instead of cutting squares of chocolate, I used a cup of white chocolate chips. And I also used apricot instead of mango.

"Cookies: More than 200 recipes" by Jill Snider

Oatmeal Candy Cookies
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats*
  • 1 cup candy-coated chocolate pieces*
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut*
Preheat oven to 350F.

Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper or by greasing.

On a sheet of waxed paper or in a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, granulated and brown sugars, egg and vanilla until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. On low speed, gradually add flour mixture, beating until smooth. With a wooden spoon, stir in oats, candy pieces and coconut.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls on prepared cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 9-13 minutes or until golden. Cool for 5 minutes on sheet, then transfer to a rack and cool completely.

*I made the following changes: I used self-rising flour and omitted the baking powder, baking soda and salt. I didn’t have quick-cooking oats, so I used old-fashioned. I omitted coconut, and I used a mixture of miniature M&Ms and miniature chocolate chips instead of 1 cup of the candy pieces only.

Another good variation: instead of M&Ms and chocolate chips, I mixed in about a cup of dark chocolate chips and 3/4 to 1 cup chopped dried cherries. Delicious!

"Cookies: More than 200 Recipes" by Jill Snider