30 August 2011

Peanut Butter Pie

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What good is making your own peanut butter if you don't have a fabulous peanut butter pie recipe to go with it?  I have been making my own peanut butter for about three years, and I love to make this pie every once in a while.  I say 'every once in a while' because this pie is so rich; a little bit goes a long way.  That said, I usually take this pie to parties because it would be too much for my family to eat by ourselves in a reasonable amount of time.

If you are going to make this pie, I would recommend using AB's peanut butter recipe that can be found on Food Network's website.  If you click the 'printable recipe' link below, the peanut butter recipe will be included.  Also included in the link is AB's roasted peanut application.  I have never roasted my own peanuts for this pie, mainly because I can't find raw in-shell Spanish peanuts anywhere.  I buy roasted salted Spanish peanuts from The Sunspot, and they never fail to produce a scrumptious peanut butter.

This peanut butter pie recipe is fairly straightforward.  There are a lot of steps, but the end result is well worth it.  The hardest part is waiting for the pie to cool, which you have to do a couple times during the process of making it.  The wait is well worth it as the reward is a smooth pie, that's not too sweet, where the peanut butter is actually the star.

Peanut Butter Pie
Recipe Courtesy Alton Brown

6 1/2 ounces chocolate wafers
1 tablespoon sugar
5 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1 batch homemade peanut butter
3 ounces powdered sugar, approximately 3/4 cup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the wafers and 1 tablespoon sugar. Process until the wafers are fine crumbs. Melt 3 ounces of the butter and drizzle into the crumb mixture. Pulse to combine. Press this mixture into the bottom, up the sides and just over the lip of a 9-inch metal pie pan. Place in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

After the crust has cooled, place the peanut butter and remaining 2 ounces of butter into the bowl of the food processor. Process for 1 minute. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and process for another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until smooth. Carefully spread the mixture into the pie shell and return to the oven to bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while preparing the topping.

Place the heavy cream into a heat-proof bowl and microwave on high just until simmering, approximately 30 seconds. Remove the cream from the microwave and add the chocolate. Make sure the chocolate is completely submersed in the cream. Allow to sit for 2 minutes. Gently whisk until the chocolate is melted and combined with the cream, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.

Spread the chocolate mixture over the pie and chill in the refrigerator for 1 1/2 hours before serving.

25 August 2011

Pickled Lemon Cucumbers (AB's B&Bs)

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My goal before summer started, and before my garden was even planted, was to pickle something.  I had cucumbers in mind as the season started.  Much to my surprise, I ended up with lemon cucumbers, and since they taste almost exactly like conventional cucumbers, I figured they will be perfect for pickling. 

I hoped to pickle my cucumbers whole, but the round shape of the lemon cucumbers were a bit intimidating to me, so I looked for a pickle recipe that called for sliced cucumbers.  I looked to Alton Brown first to see what was in his repertoire and found a recipe for bread-and-butter pickles, AB's B&Bs.

The pickle prep was short and sweet, and they were sent to the refrigerator for their week long pickling process.  After the week was over, I was excited to try my yellow pickles.  Since they are bread-and-butter pickles, I expected them to be sweet, and I was not disappointed.  They were almost too sweet to eat by themselves, but they are quite delicious on hamburgers.  I imagine they would also be good made into relish, or on other hearty sandwiches like sloppy joes. 

I enjoyed my first attempt at pickling.  I really like the novelty of using lemon cucumbers as well.  Their large circumference made it so that all I needed was one pickle to cover my entire burger.  I do want to make a pickle that isn't so sweet, though.  With a number of lemon cucumbers ready to pick, I think I may try a recipe that calls for whole cucumbers.

AB's B&Bs
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown

1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 cup water
1 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon pickling spice

Combine the onion and cucumber in a 1-quart glass jar.  Combine the rest of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for four minutes.  Then, pour the pickling liquid over the onion and cucumber until the jar is completely full.  Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for one week before serving. 

20 August 2011

The Tale of the Lemon Cucumber

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I was so excited to plant cucumbers in our garden this year.  I enjoy cucumbers fresh, but I was most looking forward to the prospects of pickling.  Looked forward to harvesting a number of little green cucumbers and taking them straight to the pickle jar.  I bought a seed packet with a picture of a lovely green cucumber on the front and was ready to go!

One of the cucumber seeds I planted really took off, and I planted it in the corner of the garden, expecting it to grow along the ground.  After it was planted in the ground, the cucumber plant grew like crazy, and I routed it out of the garden to grow along the fence-line.  The vines grew and grew, and soon pretty little yellow flowers began to emerge throughout the lush green leaves. 

The flowers came and went without any cucumbers beginning to grow.  I inspected the plant every day for changes and still nothing new.  One afternoon after work, I was checked the plant and saw a little white orb by the base of the stem.  It didn't look like what I expected a cucumber to be, but I figured it was young and it would soon take the all too familiar shape I was looking for.

That remained to be the only cucumber on the plant for at least a week, and the little orb wasn't getting any longer, and it wasn't getting any greener.  In fact, it was getting rounder, and it was turning yellow.  I thought maybe this was just an unfortunate mutation since it was the first cucumber on the plant.  Soon, other little orbs began to take shape on the vines, and I knew something wasn't right.

One evening, Kevin came over and we showed him our cucumber plant.  He was also growing cucumbers in his garden, so we asked him if his started out in this peculiar way.  He informed us that his cucumbers started out looking like little cucumbers and just got bigger.  More confused than ever, Valerie retrieved the cucumber seed packet to see if it would offer any answers. 

We looked on the back of the packet for information, and found nothing noteworthy.  Then, we looked on the front.  Underneath the big bold "CUCUMBER" on the front of the packet was the word "Lemon" and it went on to describe it.  We had purchased and planted lemon cucumbers.  We found out they are called "lemon" not because of the taste, but because they are about the size and color of a lemon when ripe.

So, that first cucumber wasn't an unfortunate mutation at all, it looked just as it was supposed to look.  Realizing that the cucumber on the vine was ripe, we hurried outside to pick it.  We were excited to try a new variety of cucumber that we had never even heard of before.  Come to find out, it tastes exactly like a green cucumber.  It was a little strange.  

I was glad the mystery was solved, and the plant soon began to produce more cucumber than we could reasonably consume.  Plus, the yellow orbs became a nice conversation piece with guests and neighbors.  With a surplus on hand, I soon set my sights on making yellow pickles...

18 August 2011


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This is Ari the morning of his first day of school.  Yes, there is a little anxiety in his eyes, and he would be the first one to tell you that he was nervous.  He had every right to be.  His world was about to change.

I was apprehensive, too.  The night before, as I was putting him to bed, a rush a emotions came over me out of nowhere.  I finished reading him a book and I asked him how he felt about going to school.  He looked at me and said, "Daddy, I'm nervous."  There was so much trust, so much faith in his eyes that I could ease his mind.  As I was talking to him about what to expect, it hit me, I started to get choked up.  I managed to finish what I was saying, kissed him on the forehead, and took a moment to collect myself before going downstairs.

That look, that trust, that love, I don't ever want to lose that.  I think I saw his first day of school as a glaring signal that he won't be young forever.  He's growing up, and I am so proud of him. 

He did well his first day of school.  We both survived.  He's almost through his first week of school, and though he is a bit tired, he seems to be getting used to his new routine.  He is still the outgoing, generous, kind-hearted little boy he always has been.  I hope he never loses that.

12 August 2011

Beer Battered Mushrooms

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Bring the fair home with these delectable beer battered mushrooms!  One of the highlights of the county fair for me is the food.  Well, the food may be the only highlight.  Once a year, I look forward to going to the fair and indulging on the guilty culinary delights.  Fried vegetables is always on the list of items to procure.  There is just something about a selection of vegetables battered and deep fried with a side of ranch dressing that I just can't say no to.  The fried mushrooms are one of my favorites, so I wanted to try them at home.

I have made these a few times, consistently enough that the last time I made them I wrote down the recipe.  The batter couldn't be simpler, and the mushrooms are ready in no time.  The batter is versatile enough that it can be used on other vegetables as well.  I have tried cauliflower, onions, zucchini, garlic sprouts, and even cheese.  Even making them at home, the mushrooms are still my favorite.  There is just something about the crispy batter matched with the tender, juicy meat of the mushroom that is just so satisfying.  

Beer Battered Mushrooms

3/4 cups beer (your choice)
3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
8 oz. white button mushrooms
4 cups cooking oil

Pour the oil into a 2 quart saucepan and heat until it reaches 350 degrees.  

Add the flour, salt and pepper to a medium mixing bowl.  Slowly pour the beer into the mixture and whisk until smooth.  Dip mushrooms into the batter to coat well.  Fry mushrooms in batches of 4 or 5 in the oil for about four minutes or until golden brown.  Remove the mushrooms to a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle with a little additional salt.  Serve immediately.

04 August 2011

Strawberry Cream Pie

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When I was young, I loved the strawberry cream pie from Moore's Pie Shop.  In fact, I even had one for my birthday one year instead of a cake.  The strawberries have been wonderful this year, so I decided to try my hand at making a strawberry cream pie of my own.

The components of the pie seemed simple enough; pie crust, cream filling, and strawberries.  So, first I made and blind baked a pie crust, then I made a batch of AB's pastry cream, then halved and macerated some strawberries.  I let the pastry cream cool and strawberries macerate overnight in the refrigerator, and the next day I was ready to assemble my pie.

The strawberries released a lot of their juices overnight, so I put the juice in a small saucepan and let it reduce to a syrupy consistency.  I then poured the strawberry syrup over the strawberries to act as a glaze.  Yum!  I spread the pastry cream on the pie crust, then placed the strawberries on top of the cream, and my pie was complete.

The strawberry cream pie was simply delicious.  The strawberries and cream go together so well, and the tender, flaky crust is the perfect vehicle to bring it all together.  It's a cool, sweet flavor wonderland.  A perfect summer treat!


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