Real big cookie

Crunchy at its edge, chewy in its center, this is an incredibly peanuty cookie. The recipe comes from Tish Boyle's book, The Good Cookie.

Adapting the recipe a little, I added crushed, dry-roasted peanuts to the cookie dough, which includes two sticks of butter, brown sugar and creamy peanut butter. I also sprinkled the peanuts on top of these bad boys to provide bursts of crunchy, salty, deep-peanut flavor.

Pulling them from the oven once they are golden on the edges guaranteed they would have a soft, chewy center.

These are far and away the best peanut butter cookies I've ever had. I'm sure you'll agree.

Jumbo Peanut Butter Cookies

2 1/2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), softened

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 lg. eggs

1 Tbsp. vanilla

3/4 cup chopped dry roasted peanuts (plus extra for sprinkling on tops of cookies)

Whisk together dry ingredients, set aside.

Using electric mixer beat butter and peanut butter until smooth. Gradually beat in both sugars. Beat in eggs, one at a time. beat in vanilla. With mixer on low gradually add dry ingredients. Fold in chopped peanuts. Cover bowl and refrigerate until dough is firm, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheet, or use parchment or silpat.

Scoop out dough with 1/4 cup measuring cup. Flatten dough with hand a bit. Use a fork dipped in flour to make a criss cross pattern in each cookie. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts. Bake about 15 minutes until golden around edges but still soft in the middle. Do not over bake them or they will not be chewy in the middle. Let them cool on wire racks.


Pampered party

My friend Joa posted a note on Facebook that she was going to host a Pampered Chef brunch party Saturday morning, and she was cooking. "Count me in," I replied.

Pampered Chef sells all kinds of high quality kitchen tools through home parties. It's been at least a decade since I last went to one.

Food and kitchen gadgets? My kind of party!

Times have changed though. Expecting to sit on my rear and watch someone else cook like in the past, I was surprised to learn that guests are now part of the show. We were asked to wash our hands and join Tammy, our Pampered Chef consultant, in the kitchen.

We each took a turn chopping, dicing and basting.

Joa's husband, Ken, loves to cook, so he joined the fun. Here he skillfully brushes our team calzone with olive oil.

Twenty minutes later and $70 lighter, I tasted a slice, which burst with chopped ham, broccoli, onions, Swiss cheese and mustard, and a final dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Did I mention the peach mimosas, cinnamon rolls, mini-sausage quiche, lemon poppy seed muffins and fresh fruit salad that Joa also made?

I can't wait to try my new stainless-steel cookie scoops — all three sizes — mini tart-shaper, pie crust shield and chef's silicone basting brush. Hey, I even won a paring knife!

Nice party, Joa!

Tammy Strickland
(813) 654-7097


Cheers and cheese balls to Mad Men

Last winter, I wrote about my appetite for nostalgia with the airing of the final episode of Mad Men. I love the show.

So for the first episode of this season, I'm again sharing exhibit A in retro — the cheese ball. Mine is a slightly updated version of this classic appetizer. Instead of the standard large spheres that look like a train wreck after one bite, I make tablespoon-size balls served with crackers and a vodka gimlet.


1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened

2 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

2 tablespoons white wine

2 tablespoons paprika

1/2 cup chopped pistachio nuts or pecans

In a medium bowl, blend cream cheese, Gorgonzola cheese, sharp cheddar cheese and white wine. Form the mixture into tablespoon-size balls. On a piece of wax paper, spread the paprika and chopped nuts. Roll the cheese balls in the mixture to coat. Place on a tray, cover and chill for six hours or overnight. As an option before serving, place the cheese balls in small paper liners.


Ooey-gooey caramel sauce

I saw the movie "Julie & Julia" last Sunday, and since then kept my promise to spend less time in front of the computer and more time playing in the kitchen. The movie - and Julia Childs story - reminded me why I enjoy cooking, partly for the love of food and partly for the challenges of preparing it. I set aside a few hours today to do just that.

And what better way than by making caramel sauce. I began by looking for the perfect caramel sauce recipe, one that is sophisticated, yet fun - a true caramel sauce I could drizzle over mini cheesecakes, ooze between layers of vanilla ice-cream or maybe give as gifts for the holidays. And I found one.

My first attempt was derailed by disaster; it burned. Not to be discouraged, I nailed the puppy on my second try. There is a fine line between success and burning it. You have to keep your eyes on the sauce as it turns amber in color.

Serve the caramel sauce warm, or keep it in the fridge for up to a month in an airtight container. When the sauce is cold, it has the consistency of peanut butter. It can be reheated gently in the microwave.
The recipe calls for 1/4 cup creme fraiche. I couldn't find it at my local grocery store, so I substituted Crema Mexicana. You can find Crema Mexicana in the dairy section of your local supermarket.

Creamy Caramel Sauce

1/4 cup water

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 cup heavy cream, warmed to 100 degrees

1/4 cup creme fraiche

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

pinch of salt

Wash and dry your hands thoroughly. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, cup of sugar and corn syrup. Stir them together with very clean fingers, making sure no lumps of dry sugar remain. Brush down the inside of the pan with a little water, using your fingers to feel for stray granules of sugar. Cover the saucepan, and place it over medium heat for 4 minutes. After 4 minutes, remove the lid, increase the heat and bring to a boil. Do not stir from this point on. Keep an eye on the sauce. It will become very bubbly.

As the sugar cooks, the bubbles get larger and the sugar, and the sauce turns golden brown. Insert a candy thermometer, and when the temperature reaches 300 degrees, lower the heat to medium to slow the cooking. Continue to cook the sugar until it reaches 335 degrees. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit for about 2 minutes, until the bubbles subside.

Add the heavy cream to the caramel. The mixture will bubble up vigorously, so be careful. Stir in the creme fraiche, tablespoon of sugar, lemon juice and salt. Serve warm.

Source: Adapted from "Desserts By The Yard," by Sherry Yard


Eat. Drink. Have Fun. Repeat.

I'm posting some of the photos I took when I went on the Foody Tour during my recent road trip to Savannah. I wrote about it this week in my Table Scraps column:

First stop, The Distillery. They put beer in just about everything they prepare, including these burgers marinated for 24 hours in beer, served with fries and a creole remoulade.

All of my senses were captivated at this European bakery. Yum!

My favorite stop on the tour was Polk's Fresh Market, which featured local fruits and vegetables and homemade lunches.
Polk's keeps that old-city market feel. I loved the attention to detail every where I turned, from the overalls worn by the clerk to the handmade aprons for sale. Owner Jerry Polk (on the right) could not have been more friendly.

Wright Square Cafe — how does rosemary flavored dark chocolate, pear truffles or Key lime ganache sound?

The Foody bus also stopped at Paula Dean's Lady & Sons. We were handed a small styrofoam cup and allowed to get one item from the buffet.

I chose the collard greens... melted just like buttah!

I did catch up with Paula, though she seemed a little stiff.

Last were the honey experts at the Savannah Bee Company.

Roller coaster ride for the taste buds, sampling included tastes of tupelo, sourwood, orange blossom and acacia tree honey. I enjoyed the sourwood best.


My summer wines du jour

Here in West Central Florida, at the height of summer's heat and soggy humidity, Riesling and Pinot Grigio are my wines du jour.

Several summers ago, as I looked over the wine options in a liquor store, I asked the owner to recommend a wine for lounging on the pool deck or spending a lazy evening on my upstairs patio getting my butt whipped at Scrabble.

He told me his wife likes to drink a 2003 Schmitt Sohne Riesling Auslese, with a few frozen watermelon cubes in her glass.

Really, watermelon in wine?

I went home, tried it and loved it. The watermelon adds a light, fruity flavor to Riesling, Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blancs.

Here's all you do: simply cut your watermelon into small cubes and freeze them.

The pairing of white wine and frozen fruit proves that wine doesn't always have to be taken seriously to be delicious.


I learned a thing or three

I've been on a high-tea kick lately. Big-time... or is it high time?

The gracious custom of afternoon sips and nibbles is a not-to-be-missed experience. I had my first high-tea experience several weeks ago with some of my Facebook friends, when we gathered at the Tea Cup Tea Room in Brandon.

The experience was anything but stuffy. Its formality is simply meant to help you relax and savor the afternoon. It worked, and I'm hooked.

So you can just imagine my delight when my neighbor Cathy Green invited me over to be a part of the final preparations for a high tea she was hosting for 15 guests at Southern Comfort Bed & Breakfast, which she owns in Ruskin. She's hosted hundreds of teas.

I really like Cathy. A sign in her kitchen reads, "If you want breakfast in bed... sleep in the kitchen." Now that's a woman after my own heart!

I came away filled with new ideas, like this cherry tomato on a toothpick; it's sliced on all four sides to look like a rose.

A thin slice of cucumber is added under the "rose" and stuck into the curried-chicken-salad spinach wraps to keep them from unfolding.

A few slices of fresh lemon and a sprig of mint are added to the pot of boiling water and Gulf shrimp to be later used for shrimp salad.

Aren't these elegant? They are thinly sliced English cucumbers on herbed cream cheese and bread. Cathy sprinkles dill and slender stalks of scallion on top.

Start with the sandwiches; move on to scones with Devonshire cream and jam; and finish with the cakes and pastries on the top tier. Yummy.

2409 W. Ravine Dr.
Ruskin, FL 33570-5635
(813) 645-6361