I received an invitation to go to a cookout-style picnic on Labor Day, complete with hamburgers made on the grill. In these cases, my mind gets very suburban. I sort of go on autopilot and pull out of my brain the old childhood/family stand-bys to bring, dishes that I would normally never make. "Potato salad," I offered. "I'll make potato salad and... I'll bring cookies."
These aren't my own recipes but, rather, long-time family favorites. In fact, both of them are older than I am. My mom helpfully dug up the potato salad recipe, which at some point I'd typed up on a recipe card. "Stain Dating" (related to carbon dating) indicates that this card has been around for a while, and the "barbecue" on the top leads me to believe that I think I must have typed this up for some Girl Scout project that had to do with putting together meals or something. [This was in the days before stress management was a badge topic.]
This is more correctly called "Curried Picnic Salad." As my mom and I discovered when I'd asked her to see if she could track down the original. It comes from a Better Homes & Gardens barbecue cookbook. In researching this on the internet, I came across several copies of the recipe, none of which attribute it to BH&G, but it is the same one. Here it is from Cooks.com. I do omit the artichoke hearts, as a matter of personal taste. For the potatoes, I boiled them, let them cool a bit and then just lifted off their skins.
My sister is really at fault for giving me the idea of what cookies to make. Normally, I would have just whipped up a batch of brownies, as I'd done for the picnic that I went to earlier in the summer (see "Picnic in the Park" post from May 2007). A week or so ago, I'd packed up some cookie cutters that I didn't need and sent them to her. When I called her to let her know that they were on their way, she asked if I'd, by any chance, also put some cookies in the box that I was sending. I told her not to press her luck on that one. She said that she just had to ask.
We then started to talk about sweet treats from our childhood. She reminded me that I went through a big phase when I was in high school of making "Chocolate Crinkles" from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book. I had completely overlooked them in my though process for what to bring to this gathering on Labor Day. These were my bake sale special. Brownies were suddenly (and to the dismay of my picnic host) out the window.
This book is the cookie bible. I spent hours reading this as a child, as has also been admitted by other folks to whom I told this story. I've made quite a few recipes out of this book, some with mixed results. Still, when my mom gave this to me as a present a few years ago, when they reissued the original 1963 edition, I was in heaven. This is a warm, wonderful piece of my childhood, and looking at the pictures has no calories.
Not so the cookies themselves, however, and I have to confess that I had quite a few "samples" when I made them for the picnic. It was interesting to bake something that I hadn't in a while. I think that they came out looking pretty good for the first try making them in over 20 years. I will point out a few things I discovered: a. letting the batter sit in the fridge overnight gives the best results; b. it doesn't make nearly as many as the recipe says it does, unless you make them very small; c. you have to be generous with the powdered sugar when you roll the cookies in it prior to baking them in order to get the right effect.
My culinary gifts were warmly received. The guests actually seemed a bit in awe of the vat homemade potato salad that I put out on the table for them to eat. I'd increased an already substantial recipe by one-half as I wasn't sure how many folks would be at the party. For the 10-12 people who were there, this was plenty. I probably could have even just made one full recipe without increasing it at all.
The cookies were chocolaty and almost brownie-like. I'd also added pecans to them to make them a little more special. The leftovers were warmly received by my coworkers, a few of whom I'm convinced have "sweets radar." I think that we can whisper the word "cookie" and one of my male colleagues will hear it three sets of cubes away. It took no time at all for them to be devoured, even by a senior manager who took a couple of trips out of his office to grab a few.
Those stand-by, family favorites have stood the test of time once again, and made me think that I should dig deeper into the recipe card file to see what else might be worth trying the next time I get an invitation that involves bringing something edible. I might even get around to making the cookies that my sister blatantly told me I should bake and send to her. Then again, I might not. She has her own copy of the cookbook.