Another shot at PB pastry

Fans of this blog will know that I will NOT be using low-fat anything in this recipe. But I will be using a curious ingredient, one that I have never used before. Drumroll please: chocolate peanut butter!

chocpb

They sell it at Whole Foods (though I’m not sure that every WF has it. Better call ahead to check.). Whole Foods chocolate PB is much like their house PB – basically just fresh ground peanuts, only this time, with “chocolate” added to it. It’s not clear what kind of chocolate is in it – it does not really have a label. A quick call to WF revealed that the chocolate component consists of cocoa, carob powder, and cocoa butter, along with some sugar and vanilla.

Sounds sweet, doesn’t it? Yes, it’s probably more of a dessert item than something you would, say, spread on a celery stick or an apple. But, hey, if the spirit moves you…

I have to tell you guys that it was not easy trying to find a recipe to retro-fit into this oddball ingredient, but I’m going to give this one a shot:

Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies, courtesy of bakingbites.com

(Makes 16 brownies.)

1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup all pupose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F and line a 9×9-in square pan with aluminum foil. Lightly grease the foil with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and peanut butter until smooth, then beat in sugar until light and fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. In a small bowl, sift together cocoa, flour, salt and baking powder. Mix in to peanut butter mixture at a low speed, stopping when just combined. Stir in chocolate chips and scrape batter into pan, spreading into an even layer.

Bake for 26-29 minutes, until set. Edges should feel slightly firm and the center should not look wet or jiggly. Cool on a wire rack and lit brownies out with the foil when ready to slice.

Results to follow. I think these will be better than the low-fatties. Wish me luck.

Sugar plums

Yes, it’s 4 days after Christmas, but bear with me here and enjoy some classic poetry.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads…

Everyone knows and loves this poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” originally published in 1823. And those of you who are fans of the Tchaikovsky ballet “The Nutcracker” are familiar with the Sugar Plum fairy. But does anyone know what a sugar plum is? Do we take this Christmas treat for granted, not give it a second thought? Yes we do, and that’s an injustice that ends right here.

I found this to be quite an interesting website (godecookery.com). If you are interested in exploring recipes and food trivia from the Renaissance, you’ll enjoy it. Will you be making capon in milk and honey, or dragontail very often? Probably not. But if you are on the way to your local Renaissance festival, or if you just want to get a little creative in the kitchen, give it a try.

A low-fat experiment

Last night, I was looking for a cookie. Show me someone who isn’t usually looking for a cookie, and I’ll show you a liar. Now, this is not my style (it was not my house, either), but there was some Toll House cookie dough in the refrigerator and, even though it was clearly past its prime, I thought maybe I could get away with it (pre-made cookie dough – you know the kind in the plastic tube – is what I affectionately refer to as “slice-and-shove” … you slice the tube of dough into a cookie shape, and shove it in the oven), but I checked the use-by date, and it was something like July (!). So no thanks.

I realized I had the ingredients for peanut butter cookies. A basic recipe includes the PB, flour, sugar, brown sugar, butter, eggs, baking soda, and salt. I had all those things. But the butter I had was “light” butter, and the peanut butter was reduced fat. I’m used to baking with full-fat versions of these ingredients, and I suspected this little experiment could go wrong, but I threw caution to the wind and made the cookies anyway.

They were not the greatest peanut butter cookies ever made. Why not? Well, “light” butter has less butterfat and more water than real butter. With less fat, the flavor of the product won’t be as pronounced, and it will not be as moist or tender. The butter was salted as well, and this can be a problem too, because many baking recipes call for salt as an ingredient, and too much or too little salt in the recipe can throw off the product’s flavor or texture. Using unsalted butter lets you control the amount of salt.

Reduced fat peanut butter, according to Cook’s Illustrated, replaces about 25% of regular peanut butter’s fat with stabilizers such as corn syrup solids. This will not affect the product’s outcome as much as light butter, because the PB is a flavorant and not a base ingredient, and you’re not using as much of it (if you do want to use reduced fat PB, Cook’s Illustrated recommends the Skippy brand).

It appears that using these ingredients in tandem is not such a hot idea. My suggestion: if you’re baking, try to use the real stuff, and if you’re concerned about the calories or the fat … hands out of the cookie jar!

Juggling matzo balls

Tonight, in several cities across America, is what is known as the “Matzo Ball“. You can read more about the origins of it here, but basically, it’s clubbing on Christmas Eve for young people who aren’t spending the evening with their families (as well as those who get tired of their families by around 10 o’clock and want to go clubbing). Ostensibly, it’s for Jewish people, the theory of course being, what else do they have to do on Christmas Eve? I attended one once. Let me tell you – it’s maybe 60% Jewish kids. Maybe.

Anyway, in celebration of tonight’s Matzo Ball, we’re celebrating Matzo Ball soup! A Jewish staple comfort food (it’s been called “Jewish penicillin”), it is starting to become very trendy in the United States among people of all faiths. I’m actually starting the trend.

This is the Smitten Kitchen’s story of their making matzo ball soup, including a recipe, in case you’re feeling adventurous. If you don’t want to make the chicken stock (don’t feel bad – it involves some work, although it’s worth it), you can make life a lot easier by just using chicken broth bought at the market.

Here is another recipe for the soup from the queen of American Jewish cooking, Joan Nathan. If you are interested in Jewish cooking, or Jewish food history, consider her fantastic book, Jewish Cooking in America.

Hey Santa, all I want for Christmas is Matzo Ball soup.

Crab burger?

Yes, not a HAM-burger, not a CHEESE-burger, but a CRAB burger. Sound weird? Well, if you like seafood, or shellfish (like shrimp or lobster), you’d probably like this, if it’s made right. Even if it isn’t, it’s not too shabby.

Today, I had a crab burger for lunch at a restaurant. I’m not sure that it was made “right” — that is to say, made with lump crab meat (tasty whole chunks of crab) and not a lot of filler (such as bread crumbs, to bulk up the patty). Despite our waitress saying that there was fresh crab in it, if there was, there was not a lot of it.

And I didn’t really expect it. Crab is not really the thing here in New England. Here, it’s lobster. Crab belongs mostly to the Chesapeake Bay, at least on the East Coast. Nevertheless, an awesome, real, and “right” crab burger can be had – if not in a lot of restaurants around here, then at home.

This easy recipe comes from Gourmet.com:

  • 1 lb lump crabmeat, picked over
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 3/4 cups fine dry bread crumbs, divided
  • 3/4 cup vegtable oil
  • 4 kaiser rolls or hamburger buns, split and toasted
  • tartar sauce
  • iceberg lettuce

Stir together crabmeat, mayonnaise, scallions, egg, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, cayenne, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 cup bread crumbs in a bowl until just combined. Form into 4 (1-inch-thick) patties (3 1/2 inches in diameter; patties will be soft but will firm up when fried). Spread remaining cup bread crumbs on a plate, then dredge patties in crumbs, knocking off excess, and transfer to a platter.

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers, then fry patties, turning over once, until golden, 5 to 6 minutes total. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Assemble burgers with buns and lettuce and sauce.

Patties can be formed, without bread-crumb coating, 12 hours ahead and chilled, covered. Dredge in bread crumbs just before frying.

As you can see, the recipe does call for bread crumbs. Bread crumbs in some quantity are necessary to hold the burger patty together (it’s called a “binder”). But in this recipe it’s not a problem, because there’s also plenty of crab. If, say, there was to be 1/4 lb. of crab meat, and 3 cups of bread crumbs, THAT would be a problem.

Now, should you go with fresh crab meat or canned? Fresh lump meat is best (found at your supermarket seafood counter), but a little more pricey. The canned will do, and if you can get canned lump meat, go for that. The last alternative would be canned flake crab meat, which, while not the prime meat of the crab, certainly is not bad. Soaking the meat in ice water for 10 minutes, then draining it and patting it dry will take out a lot of the “canned” taste. As you would with any crabmeat, you should pick over the pieces to remove all bits of shell or cartilage that slipped into the can (these crabby tips courtesy of ochef.com).

Finally, is there a difference between a crab burger and a crab cake? Yes, but only a minor one – a crab cake stands alone, while a crab burger is served on a bun.

Cheeseburgers are so yesterday!

Hanukkah sort-of latkes

Last night, my family and I were hanging around in the house, snow-bound with nothing to do except look at each other and wonder what we should have for dinner. On the counter were a couple of boxes of potato latke mix that my Mom had bought. Hunger problem solved, right? But I had long since sworn off making ANYTHING from a mix (I like to pretend I’m a snobby chef sometimes), but the boxes were calling to me … I could hear them … and, also, I didn’t feel like hand-grating a lot of potatoes to make latkes from scratch (yes, you can grate them in a food processor, but there wasn’t one in the vicinity).

Then, I had a light bulb moment. My friend Jonathan had told me that he’s had latkes from a mix with real potatoes added into the mix, and claimed they were BETTER than from scratch. So I said to myself: OK, fine, I’ll use the mix (as long as no one else is watching). I ended up adding two extra grated potatoes, plus a diced onion, to the latke mix (prepare ahead of time according to the instructions on the box).

When you’re ready to fry, don’t be afraid to use a good amount of oil. Use enough vegetable oil (canola or safflower are lower in fat, but peanut or corn oil taste better) to cover the skillet, and then some, to about 1/8 inch.

Tips:

  • Use medium-high heat, and don’t put too many scoops of batter in the pan at once. This will help the latkes brown evenly.
  • Keep a close eye on them, because they will turn from a nice golden brown to not-so-nice charcoal pretty quickly.
  • When you flip them, BE CAREFUL. Flip them away from you. This will help minimize splattering the hot oil all over you, which is not a fun time!

When they’re golden brown and delicious, carefully remove them from the pan and place on a plate with paper towels to drain off some of the excess oil. If you’re making more than one batch, you can keep them warm in a 300 degree oven.

So, when I brought the last batch over to our kitchen table, and everyone was already enjoying the ones I already made, and telling me how great they were, I realized: no longer do I have to grate a zillion potatoes to make “real” potato latkes from scratch! If you’re pressed for time, just make them from semi-scratch. They’ll be more than semi-delicious!

First post. Here we go!

Welcome to my new blog! I have some really big plans for it. I hope it will be a little fun, a little informative… and I want a lot of feedback! I’m not sure how it will develop, but I hope you join me for what I’m sure will be a great ride.