Peanut butter is your friend

Who says you can’t have peanut butter anymore? It hurts me that peanut butter sales have dropped since the salmonella scare came out. If people just paid a little attention to the news, they’d know that the peanut butter came from one specific plant in Georgia, and that 99% of the peanut butter available in this country is fine to eat. What about all those kids out there who want Fluffernutters?

We’re lucky that we have Teddie in our markets. It is absolutely the best peanut butter I’ve ever had — the best —  and it’s the natural kind, no junk in it, just peanuts and salt (you can even buy it unsalted). And it’s made right here in Everett, MA.

So, peanut butter, semi-sweet chocolate chips from Trader Joe’s in the pantry…. you know what I’m thinking?

pbchocchip

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup cane sugar
1 egg
1 cup natural creamy peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 cup all-purpose flour

Heat oven to 375 degrees F, line a couple cookie sheets with parchment paper (or butter the pans). Prepare the cookie batter first. In a mixer, mix the butter until it is soft and creamy. Then add both the brown and cane sugar, until it is well mixed. After that is mixed, add the egg, peanut butter, vanilla, baking soda, and salt. Finally, add the chocolate chips. Fold the flour into batter, but don’t mix too well. Once the flour is folded in, scoop out spoonfuls of dough, and place them on the prepared pan. Press down with fork. Bake for 14 to 17 minutes (depending on your oven) until golden brown. Let cool on rack.

Adapted from Food Network.

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Quik and easy

It’s time to play “What Leftovers Do I Have That I Can Make Something Out Of”!

The ingredients in today’s game:
1. Non-fat dry milk
2. Unsweetened cocoa powder
3. granulated sugar

Can you guess what I made? If you said “homemade hot cocoa mix,” you’re absolutely right!

I bought the dry milk a long time ago, possibly for the exact same reason, to make cocoa mix. Because there’s virtually no fat that would go rancid, this keeps for quite a long time. I checked the expiration date, and the date was December 2008. I pretended it was Christmas. Good to go.

While it’s still winter out there, I thought hot cocoa mix would hit the spot. Couldn’t be easier, with whole, natural (if not completely fresh) ingredients. Next time you want to buy the supermarket brand of hot cocoa mix, or even Nesquik (though that stuff does taste pretty good), take a look at the ingredients, report back to me, and we’ll compare.

Here’s the recipe. This should yield about a dozen servings.

2 3.2 oz. packets nonfat dried milk
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients, and store in airtight container. You can make the cocoa with water or milk.

cocoa drinkingcocoa1

Pictures of my cocoa, and yours truly enjoying it. You might have noticed a couple of tubular-shaped items in the cocoa. Those are cinnamon sticks, added for some extra flavoring. A vanilla bean would similarly work.

My favorite fruits

The other night I made a little snack out of some leftover pineapple I had. Pineapple is fantastic, isn’t it? Extremely underrated as fruits go. In fact, I’d say that pineapple is quite possibly my favorite fruit of all time (next to Carson Kressley).

kressley2

But as delicious as it is, when you buy a whole pineapple for yourself, it takes about 3 days to get through it, and after a while you’re maybe looking for some different things to do with it. There’s grilled pineapple, which is tasty, but since I don’t have a grill, I was wondering what would happen if I put it under the broiler, and maybe jazz it up a little, maybe caramelize the top with some sugar and make a dessert out of it.

I didn’t find an exact match with the ingredients I had on hand, but I found this simple little recipe that I tried with salted almonds and smaller pieces of pineapple.

1 whole pineapple, ripe
1 cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 pinch salt

Preheat the broiler to very hot. Cut off the top of the pineapple. Cut a slice off the bottom to stabilize the pineapple, then peel from top to bottom with a sharp knife. Cut out any “eyes” in the fruit. Cut into 1/2 -inch-thick slices. Using a small cookie or biscuit cutter, cut the core out of each slice. Divide the slices on ovenproof plates. Chill until ready to serve. In a small bowl, toss together the macadamia nuts, sugar, butter and salt. Spoon over the pineapple slices. Broil (not too close to the heat) until the topping is caramelized and bubbly, about 2 to 4 minutes. Serve hot.

Here it is, before I cooked it:

pineapple

I made a couple of goofs: I think I put it too close to the flame, and the nuts got singed, plus, I’m not sure that salted almonds were quite right for this. The flavor was off.  And then the hard, crackly topping kind of slid off the moist pineapple. Oh well.

But it was an interesting experiment nonetheless. Any time you combine brown sugar with butter and then make it bubble, it’s gonna be pretty darn good. I confirmed this when I licked the bowl of the topping mixture. Melted butter and brown sugar… try it some time.

Aioli … almost

Today, I made something, then I threw it away. So it goes in the world of cooking. Let me explain:

I had a left over egg yolk, from when I had to use an egg white recently to make a chicken recipe. I don’t like to waste food, and an egg yolk is still food. So I searched recipes that contained “egg yolk,” and among the things that came up was a recipe for aioli. An aioli is basically a garlic mayonnaise. So, I’m essentially making mayonnaise from scratch. Yes, you can do that. No, it’s not that hard, but you do have to be careful and pay close attention to the instructions.

4  garlic cloves, peeled, chopped fine
2 egg yolks
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1 cup olive oil
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. cold water
1 tsp. lemon juice

Add the garlic and salt to a mortar bowl and grind slowly with the pestle, moving in one direction only.  You can do this first step in a food processor if you’d like, then transfer the mixture back to a medium sized bowl. Whisk in the mustard first, then the egg yolks. At this point you can transfer the mixture back into the mortar or use the whisk in the bowl. Now you will add in half of the oil.  This must be done very slowly or the oil will not emulsify and your sauce will not thicken.  Add the oil in a slow, fine stream while either whisking with a wire whisk or using your pestle.  Once the first half of the oil is incorporated, then add the water and the lemon juice, whisking or stirring constantly with the pestle. Then slowly add the rest of the oil.  The mixture will thicken as you continue to blend it. The mixture should be slightly thinner than commercial mayonnaise.  If it becomes too thick you can add a bit more warm water, one teaspoon at a time.

My first problem was that I do not have a mortar and pestle. This would have made it easier to grind up the garlic and the salt. What happens is that the salt cuts into the garlic with it’s sharp edges (at least, for a particle as small as a salt crystal), so when you rub salt against garlic, eventually the garlic turns to a mush-like paste, and that is the flavor basis for the aioli. I did this in a food processor, which worked OK, but I still had to mash it up more.

The trick then is to pour the oil in a slow stream while whisking vigorously. If you pour the oil in too much or too fast, the sauce will not emulsify correctly, and you’ll arrive at what happens when you mix oil and water – i.e., it’s not pretty. By adding the oil slowly, you give the oil molecules a chance to blend with the water-based mixture. It was successful for me. Despite having some chunks of garlic in there from the lack of mortar/pestle, my aioli came together quite nicely:

aioli1

But, as I mentioned, I tossed it. I suddenly realized that the yolk that I used that was left over, was probably over a month old, and I was not cooking it, meaning it may or may not have been OK to eat raw. I decided not to take a chance.

If you want to make this at home, be sure that your eggs are as fresh as possible and from a reputable farm, or, buy pasteurized eggs.

Winging it

I had a chicken-wing-filled weekend. Saturday, after feeling peckish after a movie (no “doubt” about it…), I went to this dive in Newton, Mass. called Buff’s Pub, which is locally-renowned for their achievement in wing-ology.

The wings were good, though I’m not sure the earth moved when I bit into one. If you ever find yourself there, my recommendation is the honey hot version. It’s like chicken candy.

Sunday, during the Super Bowl, I found myself at a bar in Connecticut, where, with a wink and a smile, the comely bartender told us that the wings were half price and the draft beer was $3 a pop.  I had little resistance. Why is it that once they sell you on food and beer, they don’t wink or smile at you anymore?

Not that I’ll want to look at another chicken wing for a little while, but I found this finger-licking-sounding recipe for orange glazed wings, adapted from Food Network, that are baked, not otherwise greasified, as they are in restaurants. Take a look:

Nonstick cooking spray
12 whole chicken wings, separated
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon Morton’s Nature Seasons Seasoning Blend to taste

GLAZE
3/4 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with nonstick spray. Pat the wings dry. Season them with salt, pepper and seasoning blend to taste. Arrange the wings on the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine all the glaze ingredients; heat over medium heat until slightly thickened. Put half the glaze in a small bowl. Once the wings have baked 20 minutes, baste with half the glaze. Bake another 20 minutes, while basting, or until the wings are cooked through.

Remove from oven and serve with remaining glaze as a dipping sauce.

Jell-o pudding this is not

I found this little beauty the other day at a bake shop in the Publick House Inn in Sturbridge, Mass.

indianpudding

Old Fashioned New England Indian Pudding. I don’t think you see this very much, really. I’m not sure I’d ever tasted it until one day I was out to dinner at this old school Italian restaurant. I ordered their prix fixe menu (it was more like “need fixe”) which came with a mandatory choice of three desserts, two of which were sort of sad-sounding items, like “cranberry cobbler” and “flan” (again, this was an Italian place, so it was probably not exactly flan, but, you get the idea). I was in the mood for neither, so I went for the last remaining option, the indian pudding.

I wasn’t expecting to like it. Doesn’t it sound like something they served in the Catskills in the 1960s? I just figured, hey, stuff tasted good in the ’60s too. It was described to me by our salty waitress as a thick, sweet, molassesy concoction, which sounded pleasant enough. It was tasty. I filed it away for future knowledge, and I pulled it right out of my head when I saw this can sitting in the Publick House bake shop.

It turns out they did serve Indian pudding in the ’60s – the 1660s! And even before that. According to whatscookingamerica.net, documented recipes for an English version of the dessert (referred to in those days as “hasty pudding”) date to 1599, and it was soon to be brought here by the first colonial settlers. Back then, it was a more rudimentary cornmeal and molasses mush, but it was later refined to include sugar and spices.

The following recipe was posted on the aforementioned website, though it is just one variation.

3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup molasses
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Preheat oven to 275. Lightly grease a 6- or 8-cup soufflé or baking dish with butter (you can use margarine, but DON’T use non-stick sprays).

In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat, scald the milk. While the milk is heating, pour the cream into a medium to large bowl, add the cornmeal, sugar, molasses, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Add this cream/corn meal/spice mixture to the scalded milk. Cook, whisking constantly, over medium-low heat until the pudding has thickened to the consistency of syrup (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat.

In a bowl, beat eggs with a whisk. Temper the eggs by adding 1/2 cup of the hot cornmeal mixture to the eggs while whisking rapidly. Vigorously whisk the egg mixture into the remaining cornmeal mixture. Add butter, one piece at a time, stirring until melted.

Pour mixture into the prepared soufflé dish, and place dish on a shallow baking pan on the center oven rack.  Pour enough HOT water into the shallow baking dish to come 2/3 of the way up the outsides of the soufflé or baking dish. Bake until pudding is set, a tester inserted close to (but not in) the center comes out clean, usually about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and remove from the water bath and let cool slightly.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream or heavy cream.

Here’s what it ideally will look like when done. If apple pie is the quintessential American dessert, this runs a close second. This recipe is a bit ambitious, but try to lay your hands on some this winter.

indianpudding1