Friday, August 22, 2008

Lazy Cook's Labor Day Organic Cookout

Toni's Favorite Organic

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

© photo copyright Carrie Boyko

I have one great big problem with parties; I hate spending the whole time in the kitchen and missing out on all the fun. So, when I plan a party menu, I always design it around foods I can prepare ahead of time. Except for grilling, of course; that is the staple of the cookout. For that very reason, everything except the meat is prepared in the couple of days before the party, to assure that I get to enjoy the company, too. Here's my menu and my plan:

  • Barbecued Organic Chicken BreastsGrilled Applegate Farms Organic All-Beef Hot dogs (don't forget the buns, mustard, ketchup, etc.)
  • Organic Baked Beans
  • Cold Organic Vegetable Tray with Organic Ranch Dip
  • Iced Cold Organic Watermelon, Cantaloupe or Honey Dew Melon
  • Toni's Favorite Homemade Organic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
  • Homemade Organic Lemonade
  • Caledonaian Golden Promise Original Organic Beer

Shop for all ingredients 3 days prior to your cookout, to give you time to scout out anything that isn't available at your first or second favorite markets. My best tip for shopping before a party: Don't wait the weekend of the event; shoot for Thursday evening, if possible. Produce gets picked over on Friday evening and Saturday, so the early bird gets the worm. I always leave time to pick up a backup if something fresh or imperative is out of stock. Organic melons are probably the biggest challenge on this menu, but you can always substitute other fresh fruits and make a fruit salad. Mangoes, berries and peaches are plentiful in organic form right now in my area, so this will be my fruit salad if melons are a no-show. Last weekend I bought fabulous watermelon and cantaloupe at my local Whole Foods Market--mouth watering delicious!

Finally, my husband, the beer conniseur, did a taste test of several nationally-available organic beers, and the decision was a clear one. Hands down, he loved the Caledonian Golden Promise. I also found this at Whole Foods Market. Let us know what you think of his choice.

At least 2 days prior to my cookout, I prepare the baked beans and clean all the vegetables to create a tray or array of bowls of colorful finger veggies. Another small bowl of organic ranch dip will be placed in the middle. I'll share my baked beans recipe for serving 6; you can double or triple it if needed.

Carrie's Easy Organic Baked Beans

  • 2 15-oz. cans of organic baked beans, drained
  • 1/8 cup minced organic yellow onions
  • 2 tablespoons organic brown sugar, OR
  • 1 tablespoon organic molasses
  • 1 tablespoon organic BBQ sauce
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon organic pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Mix together well in an 8X8 Pyrex or Corning type glass pan, for refrigerator to oven without more dishes. Cover and refrigerate until the morning of the cookout. Remove from the refrigerator and bake for 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours at 350 degrees, uncovered.

On the day before the cookout, it's time to bake the cookies. Make a double batch because I'll guarantee you a lot will disappear that afternoon. I usually pack up enough for the party and store them hidden in my closet to keep from losing my whole dessert for a party. With 3 kids, I've had that happen before. They love the desserts!

Toni's Favorite Organic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

  • 2 sticks organic butter
  • 1/2 cup organic sugar
  • 1 cup organic brown sugar
  • 2 large organic eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cups all purpose organic flour
  • 1/2 cup organic whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon organic cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 cups organic oats
  • 1-1/2 cups jumbo raisins (I like Earthbound Farms Jumbo Premium Gourmet Raisins)
  • 1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place organic raisins in a heat resistant bowl and pour boiling water over them. Set aside. Cream the sugars and butter until fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs and beat well. Drain raisins and set aside in strainer or colander to continue draining. Combine all dry ingredients and add slowly to the bowl as you continue mixing and scraping the sides of the bowl inward. Stir the oats in by hand, combining well. Add raisins and continue to stir until evenly distributed. Drop rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 13-15 minutes for medium large cookies in center of oven. Remove when bottom of cookies is golden brown and edges begin to crisp. Place the tray on a cooling rack for one minute, then remove cookies to the tray or to cool on several layers of newspaper spread on the counter. (Tip: Reusing newspaper saves you from having to buy lots of cooling racks for baking large batches of cookies; it helps absorb excess fat and heat--makes a good cooling medium).

NOTE: If you are pressed for time, you can substitute Better Bakes 100% Organic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. They're not bad in a pinch.

Also on the day before the big event, cut up your fruit, with the exception of any that tend to discolor (peaches, nectarines, bananas,) and make a colorful bowl of fruit wedges or a fruit salad. Finally, make the lemonade tonight so it will be ice cold for tomorrow:

Carrie's Homemade Organic Lemonade

  • 1/3 cup organic lemon juice (fresh squeezed is best, but bottled will do)
  • 2/3 cup organic sugar
  • Filtered or bottled water to make 1/2 gallon (1 pitcher)

Stir together well and cover in refrigerator. Add a slice of lemon to the pitcher, or better yet to each glass, when you serve. You're almost ready...

On the morning of the cookout all you have to do is set up, bake the beans and find a volunteer grill tender. You can keep an eye on him occasionally, while still tending to your guests. Grill the chicken breasts on low heat, turning often, and basting them each turn with organic Italian dressing until they are nearly ready. Then slather them with yummy organic BBQ sauce a few times before serving. The hot dogs can go on the grill well after the chicken is started, as they won't take long.

Don't forget to bring out the cookies on a nice platter after the cookout. They are a perfect, healthy end to a delicious organic cookout. Enjoy!

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