Friday, August 29, 2008

Hunt for the Perfect Peanut Butter Cookie

How can we have “peanut butter month” and not talk about peanut butter cookies? We can't.

Okay, technically we can, but I'm not gonna do it. We're gonna talk peanut butter cookies.

I like peanut butter cookies. Like that was a big surprise, right? Searching the web for the best peanut butter cookie recipe led me down a dangerous path of peanuts, chocolate, and Hershey's Kisses. Not a bad afternoon. The trouble is, the basic cookie recipe kept coming up pretty much the same as the one in my Better Homes and Garden's New Cook Book.

Don't get me wrong. It's a decent recipe. It's just too sweet for my tastes and doesn't have the deep, rich, peanut butter flavor I'm craving in a peanut butter cookie. So, whisk in hand, I kick-started my brain and attempted to discover a way to make a better peanut butter cookie.

My brain got scared and abandoned me so I started looking through some other cookbooks and cooking magazines for ideas, instead.

I found a recipe for Peanut Blossom Cookies in a recent Cook's Country Magazine (published by the same people who bring us Cook's Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen). This is basically a peanut butter cookie with a Hershey's Kiss stuck on top. It turns out that Peanut Blossom Cookies came out of the 1957 Pillsbury Bake-Off. The recipe was submitted by Freda Smith and, as the runner up, she got a GE Stove as part of the bargain. Not bad for a cookie.

While I can appreciate Hershey's Kisses on my peanut butter cookies, that's not what I was after.

Cali Rich, who came up with the recipe, mentioned that the magazine's taste testers wanted more peanut flavor, too. I thought this might be a good start. I also thought, “Maybe I can pack this with even more peanut butter flavor.”

They did it by adding finely ground roasted peanuts to the mix. I thought I'd take it one step further by replacing half the butter with more peanut butter.

The first step was to grind up some peanuts and flour. Not having any dry roasted peanuts, I used Spanish roasted peanuts, instead. Knowing that they had a lot more oil content, it made grinding them with flour even more critical. I wanted a course peanut flour, not more peanut butter.

After putting the peanuts and flour into my food processor I noticed that the output chute guard was missing. No big deal. I wasn't using the grater attachment so, it wouldn't matter.

I was wrong.

After recovering the peanuts that shot three feet across the counter when I turned the processor on, I rooted through the kitchen drawers to find the guard. After the second try, the intense smell of ground peanuts wafting up from the processor bowl made me smile. I was on the right track.

I quickly moved through the recipe, only realizing at the last minute that I'd forgotten to reduce the amount of butter before adding the peanut butter. I didn't want to mess with the chemistry too badly, so I ended up following the magazine recipe, instead. Mostly.

I also wanted a softer cookie than the old stand by recipe made, so I made a couple of batches as simple drop cookies. I was after a nicely crackled surface and a chewy inside. These turned out okay, but it seemed more like a tiny cake than a cookie, so I tried a couple of batches mashed down with a fork, like the classic recipe. This turned out to be the best bet. A little more crispy on the outside, but still a bit chewy on the inside.

Ingredients

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup roasted, salted peanuts
1 /2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Take the eggs out of the refrigerator and let them come up to room temperature while you prepare the rest. Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray two baking trays with non-stick spray, or line with parchment paper.

Put 1 cup of flour and the peanuts into a food processor. Pulse several times to start grinding the peanuts and mix in the flour. Switch to low and process until the peanuts are well ground and the mixture looks uniform. Don't over-process too long.

Pour the peanut mixture into a large bowl. Add the remaining flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Mix thoroughly.

In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until fluffy. Add peanut butter and continue beating until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until well blended. Add the vanilla and mix until incorporated.

Add half the flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Add the remaining flour mixture and do it again. Scrape the mixture down the sides of the bowl as needed. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls and place on the cookie sheets, given them about 2 inches of space between. I got 8 cookies to a sheet. Flatten the cookies a bit with a fork, pressing twice, to create the classic criss-cross pattern. You don't need to mash them too flat. Just enough to get a good pattern.

Bake, one sheet at a time, for about ten minutes. While one sheet is cooking, prepare the next. Using a spatula, carefully transfer the baked cookies to a wire cooling rack to cool for about 5 minutes.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Next time, I'm going to try using dry roasted peanuts, cut the butter in half, and increase the peanut butter by 1/2 cup. I don't know. Maybe I'll keep the extra butter.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Peanut Butter Pie, Take One

A couple of days ago I started wondering if anyone had ever made a peanut butter custard pie. I like to think I'm creative, but let's face it. Most things have already been thought of. So, I went to Google.

It turns out there's a gold mine of peanut butter pie recipes. Trouble is, most of them are the very same recipe. With only one exception, none of them came close to the custard pie I was dreaming of. Even that one didn't look like it was quite what I had in mind.

I also realized that I wouldn't have time to experiment for a while. So, until the fateful day that I can mess up my kitchen enough to come up with my own peanut butter pie, let me offer you a recipe that I found. It turns out that it tastes better than I thought it would. It's also very easy to make. Yes, I'm adding to the glut of this very recipe appearing on a dozen sites already, but hey. I've always liked baker's dozens.

Ingredients

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
4 oz. cream cheese (or neufchatel)
1 cup powdered sugar
8 oz. carton of whipped topping
1 (9 inch) graham cracker pie shell
chocolate syrup (optional)

Cream together the peanut butter, cream cheese, and powdered sugar with a hand mixer until smooth. Add whipped topping and continue mixing until completely incorporated and creamy. Spread into the pie shell, cover, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Drizzle with chocolate syrup and serve.

Makes 6 – 8 slices.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Peanut Butter Tomato Canapes

Canapes are small appetizers made from plain or toasted bread. Normally they are spread with meat, cheese, caviar and so on. The variety of shapes and toppings are only limited by your imagination. This version features peanut butter, tomatoes, and feta cheese.

I first learned to make canapes by watching Jacque Pepin, an absolute hero of mine when it comes to cooking. (Don't blame him if you don't like these. He didn't make up the topping.) I included a lot of pictures, so you can better see how to deal with the bread.

While canapes are tasty, and can be quite elegant if done right, they can also be a lot of work to make. Depending on how many you're making, and how you cut them, they can get to be more trouble than they're worth. The first time I made them I swore I'd never do it again. It took me nearly a whole day and I wasted a lot of bread. It's gotten easier with each try, though. I discovered that the secret is just not to get too fancy with it all. This time, it took me less than an hour, and that included taking all the pictures.

Ingredients

1 loaf of bread
1/2 cup P.B. Loco Sun Dried Tomato Peanut Butter
dried crushed basil and ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Set the broiler to 425 degree Fahrenheit and let the oven get hot while you prepare the rest.

If you don't have P.B. Loco Sun Dried Tomato Peanut Butter, use regular creamy peanut butter. Stir in 1/4 cup of caned diced tomatoes and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. It's a different flavor, but it still works.

Make a small cut (about an inch long) straight down, about 1/2 inch away from one edge of the loaf. This makes cutting the rest of the bread a bit safer by creating a “safety line” and gives you somethings to grab the loaf with, from time to time.
Next, cut wide slices, lengthwise, across the top of the bread. Each slice should be about 1/ 3 of an inch thick. Cut down the “safety line” more as needed.
You don't have to, but for this recipe I prefer toasting the bread. Place the slices on a flat sheet pan under the broiler for about 2 or three minutes per side, until they start to get lightly browned.
Let the toasted bread cool so you can easily handle it. Spread the toast with a thick layer of the peanut butter.
Next, trim the crusts from the bread to make even rectangles.
Cut the bread into whatever shape you want: diamonds, wedges, squares, whatever. To make things easy for me, I cut them into smaller rectangles.
Put the cut pieces onto the same sheet pan you used to toast the bread and sprinkle the tops lightly with basil, ground pepper and crumbled feta cheese. You can use plain or herbed feta, to your taste. I use a local brand, “Shepherds.” It's made in Erda, Utah, just a few miles north of my house.


Place the cut pieces under the broiler one more time, for about 2 minutes, until the peanut butter and feta start to melt.

Let them cool slightly before serving.

If you want to get fancy, and thin the bread out a little more, you can cut the toasted bread lengthwise, again, separating the two toasted halves from each other (this is how you make melba toast). Spread the peanut butter on the un-toasted side.

I like these just as well after they've sat in the refrigerator overnight. That way, the oils from the peanut butter that have seeped into the bread have re-solidified, giving the bread a nice texture and extra flavor.

Makes about 12 appetizers.

NOTE: If you've been paying attention, you've noticed there's one canape missing. My wife scarfed it up while I was distracted, crumbling the cheese.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

P.B. Loco: Are You Loco for Peanut Butter?

As many of you know, I use the micro-blogging service, Twitter. Whether that makes me a "twit" or not, I'll leave up to you. A couple of months ago I started following, and being followed by, a peanut butter company named P.B. Loco. Being a lover of peanut butter, I'm definitely a member of their target audience. Out of the kindness of their hearts, and with the hope of a review, they sent me three jars of their product. They even let me choose the flavors.

You read that right - flavors of peanut butter. That's what P.B. Loco does. They make flavored peanut butter. They've got some pretty good ones, too.

Advertising themselves as the "adult peanut butter," because of the intensity of some of their flavor combinations, they say, "P.B.Loco is peanut butter for adults who already know the scintillating pleasures of cold microbrews, left-of-the dial bands and independent movies. It's for grownups who aren't completely grown up and who are averse to button-down shirts, closed-toed sandals, and life without a dog."

Boy howdy, can I relate. Not in all the details mind you, but I certainly enjoy good peanut butter and new food experiences.

In addition to the good ol' creamy and crunchy peanut butter varieties, P.B. Loco offers some flavors I would have expected - Jungle Banana (peanut butter with banana), Dark Chocolate Duo (peanut butter with dark chocolate), and CocoBanna (chocolate and banana peanut butter, duh) - but also some I didn't expect - Asian Curry Spice (great for kicking up my peanut butter pasta) and Sun-Dried Tomato, for example.

Wanting to have a baseline to judge from, I requested a jar of their creamy peanut butter, as well as a jar of the Asian Curry Spice and the Sun-Dried Tomato. I've been playing with them ever since. Until the peanut butter ran out, anyway. Now I'll have to get some more so I can keep experimenting.

All three of these flavors were great on sandwiches. I particularly liked pairing the Sun-Dried Tomato peanut butter with green pepper jelly. The Asian Curry Spice seemed best with honey or apricot jam. Their regular creamy peanut butter was great, too. My wife said it best after she stuck her finger in the jar to get a very-large second taste, "It's kind of addicting."

Theirs isn't the only commercially available flavored peanut butter I've tried, by the way. The others I've tried just aren't as good as P.B. Loco.

I do have a few problems with P.B. Loco peanut butter, though. One is the inclusion of hydrogenated oils. Much of what was thought to be wrong with hydrogenated oils (trans-fats) has been debunked by scientific studies when it comes to peanut butter. P.B. Loco is not lying when they say their peanut butter has no trans-fats. Still, there's a part of me that wonders about artificial hydrogenation, anyway.

The price isn't all that thrilling, either. $6.95 for a 16 oz. jar of peanut butter seems a little steep to me. That's the price through their website, by the way. To be fair, I found a few varieties for sale at a local Target store for about $1.50 less than the website price.

One other problem I'm hoping they'll fix is with the Sun-Dried Tomato flavor. The idea blew my mind until I discovered that tomato and peanut butter sandwiches are an old staple from out of the South. I loved the flavor, but I had some trouble with the sun-dried tomatoes being really hard at times. Small rocks that crack your teeth hard. It would be a shame if they didn't figure out a way to fix that, and I'm pretty sure they could. (I'm planning on posting a recipe for peanut butter, tomato and feta canap├ęs that uses their Sun-Dried Tomato peanut butter in the next week, or so.)

So what's the bottom line? Would I buy their peanut butter? You bet. It's flavorful, has great mouth feel, and appeals to the part of me that loves to try new flavors. It's also just darned good peanut butter. The high price means I probably won't be buying very often, though. Still, you can bank on the fact that I'll be trying, and enjoying, their other peanut butter flavors in the future.

3 zucchinis (If it wasn't for the price, I'd have given it four.)

zucchini-review-starzucchini-review-starzucchini-review-star

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Call for Help

This is far from my usual fair at Mormon Foodie, but I felt compelled enough to post it because of all my blogs, this one has the most traffic. I want to thank my friend, and fellow blogger, Mark Hansen, for letting me know.

It turns out that Dan Smith, a long time friend of mine, is fighting cancer for the second time. He went in a year ago with thyroid cancer, which they thought they had treated successfully, but it's come back in a form no one expected.

You can find Dan's story here:

http://cad-comic.com/news.php?i=1668#1670
http://cad-comic.com/news.php?i=1673#1673
http://cad-comic.com/news.php?i=1673#1674
http://cad-comic.com/news.php?i=1684#1684

and here:

http://yw7.brushthralls.com/

This has hit me harder than I would have thought it might. It may be because I'm just coming out of losing my father to an aggressive brain cancer. I don't know.

Dan and I lost track of each other some years ago. There was a sort of unspoken falling out, as it were. (The details aren't important.) I've tried to make contact with him on a few occasions through email, but he's never returned them. In spite of that, I want to encourage everyone to go read Dan's story and, if you can, donate through PayPal at the http://yw7.brushthralls.com/ page, to help his family offset the medical costs.

Thank you. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog programming.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Non-Alcoholic Lemon-Ginger Cocktail

I know it's a little out of my normal posting schedule, but I wanted to share this non-alcoholic cocktail I came up with the other day. To be honest, I was sure how it would turn out. My oldest son (who sampled it with me) both were pleasantly surprised by its bright, refreshing flavor. Interestingly enough, it doesn't use lemons.

My wife and I planted a garden for the first time this year. One of the plants my wife bought was a lemon verbena plan. She didn't know what it was, she just like its lemony smell. I've been trying to figure out what to do with it ever since.

Last Friday I picked up some of my favorite ginger beer. It's a little pricey so I don't buy it that often, and I'm pretty jealous about it when I do. With the lemon verbena in the garden, ginger beer in the fridge, and a mind as organized as a tornado in Kansas, I realized I had the makings of a pretty good drink. I just had to think like a bartender.

Keep in mind that this isn't native to my trains of thought. Mixed alcoholic drinks are forbidden as far as LDS folks are concerned. Why they're called mixed drinks is a mystery to me. Heck, I like mixing Sprite and Kool-Aid, is that a mixed drink?

Anyway, if you have access to some lemon verbena, or some other similar herb, give this one a shot.

Er ... not a shot. Never mind.

Ingredients (all measurements are approximate)

2 small leaves lemon verbena
1/3 cup ice cubes
2 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons water
1 bottle of ginger beer

Drop the ice cubes into a large plastic or metal glass, or use a cocktail shaker. Tear up two leaves of lemon verbena, removing the stem portion. Add the sugar and water. Using a large metal spoon or a pestle, crush the ice and stir it all together until the sugar mostly dissolves. The idea is to let the ice and sugar bruise and batter the lemon verbena to get the oils to come out.

Transfer to a tall glass and slowly pour in about half the ginger beer. Stir and enjoy. Garnish with a slice of lemon, if you want to, for extra lemony flavor and fun. (I didn't like the taste of the leaves, themselves, so I left them stuck to the inside of the glass while I was drinking.)

You should have enough ginger beer left to make another one for your sweetie.