I have been away for a couple of weeks, enjoying our annual family rendezvous in Big Sur. For the last six years or so, we have met at the Pfeiffer State Park, each family laden with food, snacks, and wine. Unfortunately, our son and his family could not join us this time because of school obligations. Those seem to increase as children get older. But the others came prepared for a week of hiking, playing on the beach, enjoying one another’s company, and getting caught up on events since we last saw one another.
One of our traditions is to bring lots of the family’s favorite snacks – “Texas trash” and old-fashioned Southern cheese straws. The Texas trash is our version of the chex mix recipe that you can find on the back of a box of wheat chex. We add a few more items like different nuts, funny pretzel shapes or whatever and more butter. You can be as creative as you like. The cheese straws come from Craig Claiborne’s classic cook book, ”Southern Cooking”. The only thing we do a little differently is to put the dough through a cookie press into the form of five-petal flowers. That shape has been obligatory for as long as I can remember. It has the advantage for the eater of being able to just bite off one petal at a time. That way you feel more virtuous even though the recipe calls for practically nothing but butter, cheese, and just enough flour to hold everything together.
This year, we gathered while my older daughter prepared one of her old standby recipes – “Law School Chicken”. She developed the recipe while she and her husband were both in law school. It was a cheap, easy-to-fix one-dish dinner that could be served to company. It was also a welcome change from instant ramen.
Carol says it is easy to make. First, she dusts some chicken breasts with flour and sautés them in a little butter and oil until they are cooked through and browned and crispy on the outside. While the chicken is cooking, she caramelizes some fresh peeled peach halves along with some slices of red and white onion. She boils some couscous in chicken stock with just enough of the stock left over to moisten everything. A good squeeze of fresh lemon brightens the taste. When everything is done, she serves the chicken over the couscous, peaches, and onions and completes the meal with a green salad. Delicious. It is so good that, unfortunately I got busy eating and forgot to take a picture for you. Nevertheless, you get the idea. Give it a try. I think you will add it to your list of tasty meals to make when you are in a hurry.
The next night we had our traditional cookout with steaks, roasted corn on the cob, beverages, and of course, s’mores over the campfire. This year, though, we did it differently, and I would highly recommend our new approach. In the past we have had big steaks for all of the adults and a shared steak for the children. While that sounds wonderful, the problem is always that the steaks have to be grilled in batches because the grills available in the picnic grounds are too small. Some turn out to be too well-done while others are too rare, and some of the adults have finished eating before others have even started. This year my younger daughter suggested flank steak – which turned out to work beautifully. We bought two large flank steaks for six adults and three children, marinated them all day with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and then grilled them over a charcoal fire. My son-in-law, the chef, grilled them to perfection, sliced them, and served them to everyone at the same time.
Another change this year was to use charcoal for the main cooking and to save the campfire for later. The charcoal gave us an even fire and also let us put ears of fresh corn in the coals. In preparation, we removed all of the silks from the corn while keeping the husks intact to fold back over the individual ears.
All got their fill, so it was soon time for s’mores. We put a log on the charcoal fire, waited until it flared up, and then made classic s’mores with toasted (burned) marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers. If you have not eaten one of these fabled treats for many years, trust me: only kids can eat one of these sugar bombs, So dessert for adults was a delicious plum tart that Sarah had made with fresh plums from a friend’s back yard.
Lunch the next day included a delicious quiche from Sarah. She made a jam from tomatoes that we had brought her from our garden. She peeled and seeded the tomatoes and then cooked them down with flavorings into a beautiful jam. She then ; made a pie shell using a favorite recipe of my wife, Susan, and filled it with a thin layer of caramelized onions, topped it with a custard of cream, eggs, farmer’s cheese, and basil, and baked it. After it had cooled, she covered it with the tomato jam. Beautiful to see and wonderful to eat.
There were a lot more good things to eat, including treats from some of our favorite restaurants in Big Sur. With my next post, I’ll tell you about some of our favorite places to eat in Big Sur
1¾ Cups all-purpose flour
8 ounces cheddar cheese, grated on a box grater
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, cut into 16 pieces
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon Cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce.
- Add the flour and cheese to the bowl of a food processor. Cover and pulse together until well combined.
- Add the butter, salt, Cayenne pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Cover and process until the mixture comes together as a ball.
- Stop the processor and knead the dough briefly to bring together any loose particles. Wrap in plastic wrap and let set at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.
- Divide the dough in fourths or enough to fill a cookie press fitted with the patterned plate of your choice.
- Push the dough out as individual “cookies” on two ungreased baking sheets.
- Place the baking sheets in an oven preheated to 300° and bake for 20 minutes until the cheese straws are crisp and slightly browned. Bake longer if you wish them to be darker, but be careful as they burn easily.
- Transfer to cooling racks. Store the completely cooled cheese straws in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.
Yield: Makes about 60 flower-shaped cheese straws