Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Picnic at the Fountain~Cookies and Potato Salad

Alright, so...originally, this was not supposed to be a picnic day. My friends N (the same friend that didn't make it for D&D), C, and I were supposed to go to the aquarium today. I made an Event for it on Facebook and everything. But through a series of incidents (read: we couldn't get the car for the day) that wasn't able to happen. So we're having a picnic by the Fountain of Freedom (better known as "The Fountain") in Scudder Plaza instead. For this monumental occasion, I decided to make two types of cookies and potato salad. N came over for a baking party (I know, we are totally your average college-bound teenagers, no?) and we made mutilated variations of the Chewy Chocolate Cookies from Stylish Cuisine and Domestic Goddess's Cherry Bakewell Biscuits.

They are variations mainly because of my complete inability to stand and measure every last pinch of flour that falls into the bowl, and my pantry's shortage of the key ingredient of making the Chewy Chocolate Cookies chewy: glucose, a.k.a. corn syrup. Also, the cherry cookie recipe is written in grams. And no way do I have a scale--so I had to make do with an internet converter and a Pyrex measuring cup.

Here's a funny story: I tried to make a sugar syrup by boiling sugar and water together. Somewhere deep down, I knew this endeavor was bound to fail, because I didn't have any cream of tartar, which would have kept the sugar from crystallizing and forming a golden sugar lump. Which it did.

Yes...giant sugar blob. Which, by the way, was very tasty. I definitely want to try my hand at making sugar floss sometime...burn my hands with something other than cookie sheets and hot pots and poke a million tiny holes in my tongue with sharp sugar splinters. Just for a change of pace. (for the record, I do do that quite often--burn arms, cut my fingers, etc. I am something of a disaster in the kitchen.)

Despite my failure at making the cookies chewy, however, the cookies themselves did indeed come out quite nice. N brought over a set of adorable cookie cutters. Now, I have never used cookie cutters before. Plain circles were always good enough for me. But since my friends were going to eat these, they might as well be pretty.

Say they're pretty!

These cookies are the kind that probably need a nice cold glass of milk alongside them. They are not a soft cookie; they are very chocolatey and completely delicious. I'm eating one right now and it's making my throat a bit dry. But it's worth it. The Boyfriend joined us when the first batch of cookies were in the oven and was the first to snatch the hot cookies off the baking sheet.

Not-So-Chewy Chocolate Cookies

5/6 cup granulated sugar (that's 1/2 plus 1/3 cups of sugar for all of you fraction haters)
1 1/2 cups plain flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup of miniature dark chocolate chips

~Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

~Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder in a smallish bowl.

~In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg white and vanilla.

~Beat the butter, brown sugar, and 5/6 cup of white sugar together, then add the egg white-vanilla stuff and mix together. Add the flour mixture and chocolate chips and mix until more or less uniform.

~Chill dough for 30 minutes, then take it out and shape it into whatever shape you want. N and I rolled it out and cut stars, hearts, and moons out of the first batch, and then got sick of rolling out the dough and just made circles.

~Put the cookies on a floured cookie sheet and bake for 10-11 minutes. Then take them out and carefully remove the cookies from the sheet with a spatula and put them on a wire rack to cool. Of course, you can always eat them hot off the cookie sheet...which is what The Boyfriend did. They probably burned his tongue, though.

Yield: Depends on how big you make them, but we got about 24 cookies of varying sizes.

The Cherry Bakewell Biscuits made me nervous, because looking at the recipe it seemed like the dough was about 50% butter. But I had a huge jar of maraschino cherries in the fridge that I have to use up before I leave for NYC, so we were making these cookies. The Boyfriend guinea-pigged himself on the finished product and reported that it tasted strangely nutty. Which was odd, because we'd replaced the almond extract listed in the original recipe with vanilla, and there were no nutty components in the cookies at all.

Mysteriously Nutty Cherry Biscuits

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3 tbsp confectioner's sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/5 cup plain flour
1/2 cup maraschino cherries, chopped

~Whisk butter and sugar together until smooth, then beat in egg yolk and vanilla extract.

~Add cherries and flour and mix ingredients thoroughly.

~Chill the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes, then take it out and wrap it up in plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to roll the dough into a log, and then stick it back in the fridge (or the freezer, if you're impatient like us). Chill the dough until it's stiff enough to cut without deforming it. This will take about 2 hours in the fridge, or 30 minutes in the freezer.

~Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

~Unwrap the dough and cut it into slices about 1 cm thick and put it on a cookie sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes, and then spatula them off the tray onto a wire rack to cool.

Makes about 10 cookies.

Okay, so I don't know about the rest of the world, but for me, happiness exists in the form of potato salad. It's a very basic recipe, and I know some people like to add more zing to their salad with Ranch dressing or mustard seeds, but for me the simplicity of this dish is beautiful. I've been making this potato salad since I was 11, and every time I try a spoonful it it gives me such lovely déjà vu that I always wind up eating about 4 servings. Furthermore, the recipe is so easy it's stupid-proof. There are a few things you can do to make it better--isn't there always? But no matter how you make this it will wind up tasting pretty good.

Simple Potato Salad

4 medium potatoes, cubed
4 eggs
2 sticks of celery, chopped
1/2 cup kielbasa, diced
1/2 cup mayonnaise (NOT Miracle Whip!)
salt and pepper to taste

~Scrub and peel the potatoes, chop them into cubes, and toss them in a pot of water with a pinch of salt and put it on boil. They're done when you can poke a hole in it with a chopstick/barbecue skewer fairly easily, but try not to overcook them because then they fall apart too easily (they should be slightly softer than al dente). When they are done, drain them and let them cool a bit.

~Hardboil the eggs. They work best for this recipe if the yolk is in the center of the white, so every now and then turn the eggs in the water with a wooden spoon. Make sure not to overboil them so that the yolks become pale yellow and dandruffy. At their best, they should still be golden at the center and very moist. Peel and dice all the eggs and set them aside.

~Dice the celery and the kielbasa about the same size and send them to join the eggs.

~Put the potatoes, eggs, celery, and kielbasa in a largish bowl. Add the mayo and mix carefully with a wooden spoon. Try not to crush the potatoes--this shouldn't be too difficult if you haven't overcooked them.

~Add salt and pepper to taste. Don't put in too much salt, because it should already be pretty salty from the kielbasa and the mayonnaise.

~Chill before serving.

Makes enough for about 8 people, but you probably will want to make more than that. I make it for all of my mother's dinner parties and there is never any left over.

N and I will be off to our picnic soon~