Monday, December 20, 2010

Peanut butter

I come from a family of peanut butter lovers.  As a kid growing up in the early 80's, I ate a fair share of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches ... PB&J made with good old white bread, Skippy peanut butter and grape jelly.  As I grew older, the standard grape jelly was replaced with Grandma's homemade plum or blackberry jam, banana slices or alfalfa sprouts.  But my love of peanut butter and jelly runs deep.  I especially enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after a long hike.  The sandwich is usually smashed from being at the bottom of my pack and the jelly is seeping from the sides.  Yum!

In our house, peanut butter was also a condiment for burgers and hot dogs.  (I do not eat hot dogs anymore, with one minor exception.  I have one at my first Padre game of each season and one a year is enough.)  Anyhow, I am not alone in thinking that peanut butter makes an excellent topping to a burger.  The Corvette Diner serves a burger topped with bacon and peanut butter.  It's called Rory.  I suggest you try it before you judge me. Many of my friends know my family's thing, call it an obsession if you want, with peanut butter.  I still get teased for my grade school homemade lunches.  Teased in a good, sweet kind of way.  Even new family members have accepted and embraced our love of peanut butter. My sister's in-laws kindly put out the peanut butter jar for her on burger nights.

Whoever invented Reese's is a genius.  How could you possibly go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate?  I do not know the origin of this Peanut Butter Squares recipe ... it could be my Aunt Jane's or Aunt Ruth's and I happily give them both credit.  These squares are scrumptious and are often a must-bring-or-else for potluck parties and my Christmas goodie tins.

Peanut Butter Squares
1 cup butter; at room temperature
1 cup peanut butter (I use creamy Skippy)
2 cups crushed graham crackers
2 cups shifted powdered sugar
18 ozs. semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a medium microwave safe bowl, melt butter and set aside.  Put one and a half packages of graham crackers in a plastic ziploc bag and smash with a rolling pin (a great exercise to do to relieve stress!).  Add crushed graham crackers, peanut butter and powdered sugar to melted butter.  Stir until well combined.  Dump graham mixture into a lightly greased 9x13 pan and spread out with your fingers so that the bottom is completely covered.  Place in the refrigerator.

In a medium microwave safe bowl, melt chocolate chips (a minute or so in the microwave should do it) and stir until the chocolate has completely melted and is shiny.  Spread melted chocolate over graham cracker crust and put back in the refrigerator.  Allow to cool and harden for 20 minutes, then remove from refrigerator and cut into squares.  Store in refrigerator.

Even now as I am writing this, I am eating a piece of toast (gluten-free of course) topped with crunchy almond butter and apricot preserves.  Yummy love.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Homemade pickles

Several years ago I bought some canning jars with the intent of canning some of summer's greatest treasures.  For me, the craft of canning triggers memories of my childhood summers spent visiting family in Indiana.  Uncle Jim's garden would be brimming with big, juicy, bright red tomatoes and Aunt Jane would can them whole or stewed. She would also make fresh tomato juice.  I was fortunate enough to taste it on a recent trip back to Indiana.  Damn good stuff.  Maybe my interest in canning is somehow connected to my love of old things ... like old run down buildings and trucks.  Canning is an old art form.  Maybe even a dying art form. What is so artistic about standing in the kitchen on a hot, humid Indiana summer afternoon with your elbows deep in tomatoes? Ask my Aunt Jane. My plan was to can tomatoes, just like her.

This summer was unusually cool in San Diego and my tiny tomato garden didn't produce much, so my plan changed.  An article in Eating Well magazine about pickling caught my eye and I thought about the persian cucumbers sitting in my refrigerator.  I could make homemade pickles.  Those would go rather nicely in my infamous Bloody Mary's. Whenever anyone mentions pickles, they assume "Oh, must be a craving," and chalk it up to a bun in the oven.  Not the case here.  Just jars of fresh homemade pickles.  

My first batch of dill pickles were a little sweeter than I expected but were still a hit with my co-workers.  We would sit around the lunch table talking about pickles, telling food-related stories and sharing our weird pickle combos.  Mine was peanut butter and bread & butter pickles (the topic of peanut butter will be a post of it's own). The second batch was better than the first and the third batch was even better. I am addicted.  I will never again buy pickles at the grocery store as homemade pickles are infinitely better.

Are you a Dill or Bread & Butter type?  What is your weird pickle combo?