published Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Stumped by game of thump the melon

I always get a giggle out of watching people try to pick a perfect watermelon. I'll bet you've seen them too -- surreptitiously thumping melons there in the produce section. What are they supposed to be listening for?

I don't even like watermelon, so I can't say I could do any better.

But I did find a page in my mother's recipe files that offers some less conspicuous ways to find a watermelon that's good and ripe.

* Look for a creamy yellow spot on the melon. This is where it sat in the field while ripening and means it fully ripened in the field.

* Compare melons for weight. The heaviest melon with the yellow spot will yield juicy, more flavorful slices.

* Take home the most-uniform melon. Oddly shaped melons hint at poor growing conditions.

Now, if it were just as easy to pick out a good cantaloupe or honeydew. If you have any suggestions, email me at abraly@timesfreepress.com. I'll pass along your tips and use them myself.

I recently attended a reunion with my mother's Sprague family at DeSoto State Park on Lookout Mountain near Mentone, Ala. My cousin Susan Close couldn't have picked a better place. There were plenty of cabins as well as motel rooms, a nice pool and great pavilions to reserve in the picnic area. All in all, it went very well.

However, my aunt Linda Sprague said we shouldn't call our gathering a family reunion. Instead, she said, we should just call it an eating fest.

I couldn't agree more. We all brought incredible dishes, and I came home with a few new recipes perfect for large gatherings.

Here are two -- the first a broccoli crunch salad my daughter, Anne Butler, found at Pinterest.com; the other, a simply delicious shortbread-like cookie from my cousin Julia Greene of Gainesville, Ga.

Broccoli Slaw With Bacon and Cashews

1 package (16 ounces) bacon

3 1/2 pounds fresh broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces

1 cup raisins, packed

1/2 red onion, chopped

2 cups mayonnaise (preferably Hellmann's)

4 tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon apple-cider vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1/4-1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

2 cups candied, honey-roasted or almond-toffee cashews, broken up a bit

In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat until crispy (but not burned). Set aside on paper towel to drain and cool. Crumble into small pieces when cooled.

In a large salad bowl, toss together broccoli, raisins and red onion.

In a separate bowl, whisk together mayo, sugar, vinegar and honey.

Add ground pepper to taste after the mixture has been evenly blended. Pour over broccoli mixture, toss and coat.

Place cashews in a large sealed bag, spread into a single layer on the counter, cover with a towel and pound a few times with the flat side of a meat tenderizer or mallet. It's OK to leave some bigger pieces; you just want quite a lot of little bits so they can nestle up inside the broccoli and mix throughout the whole salad.

Add cashews to salad, toss once more to mix everything evenly, cover tightly and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Special K Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 cup crushed Special K cereal

1/2 cup quick-cooking (not instant) oatmeal

Heat the oven to 325 F, then line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars until light. Beat in egg and vanilla extract, followed by vegetable oil. Stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated, then add in the cereal and oatmeal.

Drop cookies by tablespoonfuls (1-inch balls) onto the cookie sheet. Gently flatten each with the prongs of a fork (dipped in water to prevent sticking).

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies are light gold all over.

Let cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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