Normally I'm an optimist that says things like "Yay, I still have half of a beer left" or "Mmm, someone left half a bag of jalapeno kettle chips, it must be my lucky day!" And some people will say something lame like oh boy, good sleeping weather is right around the corner! But half of the summer being over is just that: half of the summer. Oh-Ver.
In an attempt to put some sort of positive spin on the holiday and not dwell on the reality that some grocery stores are already stocking back-to-school supplies, I decided to find some new recipes to try. Nothing spectacular or fancy, just little additions here and there to help differentiate this weekend's cookout from the typical weeknight burgers on the grill.
The first thing I found was this macaroni salad. It's so good and reminds me of every neighborhood potluck that I used to attend as a kid, in the days before bringing a bag of chips was considered a suitable potluck contribution. Substitutions and fat-reductions are easily made, I've yet to use exact measurements and it always turns out the same: delicious. Please note, though: It makes a hell of a lot of salad, so unless there are ten people in your family and they all love macaroni salad, cutting the recipe in half is not a horrible idea.
Then I found an article in the paper promoting the benefits of making your own hot dog buns. According to the article, homemade buns "enhance whatever comes off the grill, elevate any cookout to a peak experience" and can become "a memorable part of your meal." Even though the thought of spending several hours in the kitchen to make hot dog buns that could be bought at the store in 42 seconds seemed completely stupid, the picture of the eggy, poppyseed-encrusted bun that accompanied the article did look good, and I imagined it would be even better paired up with an all-beef dog, sport peppers, onions, mustard and relish. So I read the recipe:
- 3 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
- 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
- 1 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 1/2 c. room-temperature water
- 1 tbsp. honey
- 1/4 c. olive oil
- sesame, poppy or other seeds for the topping
- beaten egg for brushing the buns
Combine the dry stuff with a whisk, add the water, honey and oil and mix with a wooden spoon. The ball of dough will look a bit shaggy. (WTF is "shaggy?" Honesty, that adjective should never, ever be used to describe something that will at some point be eaten.)
Put it on a floured surface and knead the crap out of it, flouring only your hands if necessary, which will probably result in flouring the floor, the fridge handle, your hair, the phone and the dog. The dough should then pass the windowpane test, whatever the hell that is.
Put dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap, or if you're out of plastic wrap, go to the store and buy a package of hot dog buns. If you did have plastic wrap, let rise 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until doubled and an indentation remains when you poke it with your finger. Poke it about as hard as you poke your kid when you're trying to get their attention and have said their name four times but they haven't responded so you reach over and poke that super-fleshy part of their arm.
Gently remove the dough from the bowl and put it on a lightly floured surface. Or, if it's stuck because you forgot to oil the bowl, tug the shit out of it. Shape it into a square, or something that sort of resembles a square, cut it in half, or as close to half as you can, then cut each half into four rectangles. At this point, you should have eight hunks of unrecognizable dough, that may or may not end up resembling hot dog buns.
There are more directions for shaping the dough into specific buns, which involves more kneading, pinching, squeezing, shaping, scraping and another hour of rising. When the dough eventually looks like something you think you'd want to jam a hunk of meat into, before you bake it brush it with the egg and dump on some seeds. At least I think this is what you're supposed to do, because I sort of lost interest.
It turns out that homemade buns, from start to finish, take about four hours. Now, I don't know about you, but I say fuck it to the concept of homemade buns. I think I'll continue to buy my buns, use booze to elevate my cookout to peak experience and I'm pretty sure the memorable part of the meal will be spending four hours watching drunk Uncle Mike fall out of the canoe before passing out on a picnic table, using the store-bought package of hot dog buns as a pillow.
Just when I thought that macaroni salad was going to be my only new addition, a hyper-intelligent person named Jennie, who somehow detected my lack of baking skills but sensed that I had excellent drinking skills, gave me a recipe for bourbon slush. Now this is a recipe that justifies having to lug an extra cooler to the cookout.
Bourbon Slush/Double Batch
2 cups boiling water
4 tea bags
7 c. water
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. bourbon
12 oz. frozen concentrate orange juice, thawed
12 oz. frozen concentrate lemonade, thawed
Steep the tea bags in the boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes. In a large, freezer-safe container mix together the tea, water and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Add the bourbon, orange concentrate, and lemonade concentrate. Mix well, then cover and place in freezer.
Remove from freezer ten minutes before serving. Scrape with a spoon, fill glass about 3/4 full, then top with club soda and stir.
Or do like I'm planning and randomly grab hunks out of the freezer throughout the day and pop them straight into your mouth like ice cubes.