Perfect, Brilliant, & Jubilant

Our last day of Lad and Lassie kindergarten in Mobile Alabama, we had a theme party.  The theme was an airline flight.  This was back when men wore suits, ladies wore hats and dresses, and kids wore their Sunday best to fly. 

Our “flight” had attendants bearing 1970s party refreshments like popcorn balls and cupcakes.  One genius mom had made up a stack of fancy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut into neat triangles with the crusts removed.  But the best part was the jelly.  These sandwiches were made with apple jelly.  The warm, mellow apple flavor is the perfect, and I mean perfect, foil to creamy, smoky peanut butter.

From that day forward, I was a convert.

I always pick up new and interesting flavor of jams, jellies, and preserves whenever I find them.  The store Home Goods is a terrific resource.  They have tons of unusual types, and at outlet prices.

All that jelly used to just go on toast and biscuits.  Then I found Fogwood Farm’s Balsamic grape hull jam.  It’s spicy, sweet, and delicious on a sandwich. 

Since that day I eat a couple nut butter/jelly sandwiches a week.  But I mix it up constantly, so much so that the only versions I have more than once every month or so are my faves that I keep on repeat.

For a great PB&J sammich, there are a few things I strongly recommend.

Bread: Fresh and soft, but robust.  Most grocery stores have a multi-grain sandwich loaf that is Wonder Bread-soft with a long shelf life. 

Nut butter:  The very best peanut butter is Reese’s.  It’s creamy, delicious, and 400 zillion peanut butter cups can’t be wrong.

Big Spoon has an amazing line-up, I love the pecan peanut.  But, they’re gourmet nut butters, which mean they’re pricey.  For me, they’re special occasion sandwiches.

Simons Says flavored nut butters (sold in gourmet shops and local farmers markets).  As smooth as James Bond on a slip-&-slide.  They grind their butters for hours, then flavor them.  My favorite is the hazelnut orange, which remind me, in the very best possible way, of Pillsbury orange rolls.

Sun butter: Made from sunflower seeds.  It’s salty, sweet, unctuous, and brings an unexpected note to a sandwich.  Most supermarkets sell a jar for up to eleven dollars, but Trader Joes comes to the rescue again for $4.89 apiece.  Store it out of fridge upside down so when you open it, it’s easier to spread after just a quick stir.

Jams, jellies, and preserves: Go nuts here; homemade, old school grape, something cheap, or some type of gourmet concoction.  I’ve no desire to judge another human’s PB&J choices.  I frequently eat root beer jelly (What?!?).  So, good; spicy, sweet, and holds up to all other flavors in the sandwich.

Root Beer Jelly

½ bottle or can of your favorite root beer

1-18 ounce jar of apple jelly

1 teaspoon root beer concentrate

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon salt

Put the root beer in a heavy pot and cook on a boil until it’s thickened to a syrupy consistency.  Add jelly and cook until it’s smooth and thickened slightly (it will get thicker as it cools).  Stir in concentrate, vanilla, and salt.  Take off heat and let sit until it’s cool enough to pour into a jar.  Keep refrigerated.

This jelly makes an awesome ham glaze, with mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and Chinese five-spice powder.

A nut butter and jelly sandwich is childhood comfort food.  But, add some thought and a little imagination and it becomes something else—fancy finger food for glamorous old school (old school, get it?) airplane travel.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Oh, Fudge!

If you’ve ever wondered how long fudge can stay in the freezer, I have the answer.

Not sixteen months.

Have you ever seen those giant teeth at the dentist’s office?  You know the ones that are about a foot tall, which open to a cross section of the different parts of a tooth? Well, it’s a life-size model of my sweet tooth.

When it comes to chocolate fudge, there are two different types.  There’s creamy fudge; the kind with marshmallow cream—quick and easy.

Then there’s traditional, classic fudge cooked in a pot on the stove until it reaches a very specific temperature.  Then it’s beaten vigorously.  It can go wrong much easier than right. At the state fair, All-American Fudge makes a stellar example.  It’s better than any old-school version I could make, so I let them do it.  Every year I buy two pounds, bring it home, triple-wrap and freeze it.  I then ration it like it’s the very last pizza at a Super Bowl party.

Well, last year I rationed it too well, and when the fair rolled around, I had about a pound left, so I didn’t buy any more.  Thus, sixteen-month-old awful fudge that broke my heart and left me without fair fudge for Eight.More.Months.But.

There are two fudges of the easy, marshmallow cream variety that are close to my heart.

The first is a PB&J fudge.  I shared my recipe with Lisa Prince, who along with Brian Shrader does a segment every Friday on WRAL’s noon news, called Local Dish.  This was last Friday’s dish.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Fudgepb&j fudge1 7-ounce jar marshmallow cream

1 11-ounce package white chocolate chips

¾ cup creamy peanut butter

¼ cup crunchy peanut butter

¾ cup butter

2 ½ cups granulated sugar

pinch of kosher salt

1 cup heavy whipping cream

¾ cup jelly, jam, or preserves of your choice

Line 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, add marshmallow cream, white chocolate chips and peanut butters. Set aside.In large saucepan, combine butter, sugar, salt, and whipping cream. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 4 full minutes.

Pour boiling mixture over ingredients in mixing bowl. Using electric mixer, beat for 1-2 minutes, until completely smooth and creamy.pb&j swirlPour half of mixture into baking dish. Drop spoonsful of jam. Using a knife, lightly swirl into the fudge. Top with remaining fudge and dollops of the rest of the preserves. Gently swirl again with knife, just until marbled.Refrigerate 4 hours, or overnight, until set. Cut into bites. Store in airtight container in refrigerator up to a week.

The other fudge is a long-time favorite; chocolate peanut butter.  It’s easy and tastes so darn good.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudgechoc pb fudge3 cups sugar

4 tablespoons cocoa

1 tablespoon butter

¾ cup milk

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup marshmallow crème

*When measuring peanut butter and marshmallow cream, spray measuring cup and spatula with cooking spray to facilitate removal from cup.

Mix together first 4 ingredients in saucepan. Bring to rolling boil. Boil exactly 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add marshmallow creme and peanut butter. Stir until melted then pour into buttered 8X8 pan. Let cool.The secret to this is to boil exactly 3 minutes. Use a timer. I’m not joking.

I’m sad and disappointed about my fair fudge.

But.

When I get my next fudge stash, I can’t bear to get less than two pounds, and I know it doesn’t last forever in the freezer.  So, like it or not, to avoid wasting food, I’ll be forced to eat more fudge more often. What a bummer.

Thanks for your time.

I beg you: do what I say, not what I did

This week it’s a warts column.

I’ve always loved to write, but until I got a newspaper-writing gig, my scribblings consisted solely of to-do lists, notes for The Kid’s lunch, and emails.

At the time I was asked to contribute, I hadn’t written for a paper since junior high.  So, I really didn’t know the game.  Would I be given a topic each week?  Was there anything I couldn’t say?  Did they want reviews?  Recipes?  My head was spinning with questions, doubts and anxieties.

Carte Blanche is a French term, meaning “blank check”.

And that is pretty much what I got.  I was given three guidelines.  It had to be G or (this is a family newspaper after all).  No problem Boss.

It had to be connected to food.  I’m on it.

It had to be honest.  While I often use exaggeration and hyperbole, and give my friends and family pseudonyms (You didn’t really think the name on the birth certificate was “The Kid”, did you?), all the columns had to be true; warts and all. Good or bad, what I write should be, and always has been, authentic.

And bad is what I whipped up the other day.  But not just bad, it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad dinner.  It was at least six different shades of wrong.  And bad.  So, so bad.  Did I mention it was bad?

I recently visited Trader Joe’s in Capel Hill.  They have a produce section, with variety and value.  They carry meat and dairy, also with varied selection and fair prices.  But that isn’t really what keeps the parking lot full and the lines long.

The company has the best store brand merchandise I’ve ever seen.  They carry crazy yet delicious stuff like Thai lime and chili cashews, vanilla wafers flecked with real vanilla beans, and Baconesque white cheddar popcorn.  Baconesque; what a lovely, evocative word.But the freezer’s where they shine.  There are meals for every appetite.  They have enough pastas to eat a different kind every day for a month without repeating.

I picked up a cod dinner for Petey, a decadent brie and asparagus pasta for me and arugula-filled ravioli for The Kid.

Next to the arugula ravioli was a type I’ve never seen before.  It was stuffed with chicken pot pie.  I didn’t even hesitate; into my basket it went. Trader Joe’s recommended dressing it simply, with just a little olive oil.  But I decided I had bigger and better ideas for this ravioli.

I would toss it with a rosemary-scented brown butter.  But I wanted something green on the plate.  So when the butter melted, but before it browned, I added three big handfuls of baby spinach.  The toasted, golden butter would impart wonderful flavor to the spinach and vice versa.

Yeah…no.

The butter never browned, but turned the bilious green of antifreeze.  And the spinach adsorbed so much butter it was inedible.  Think oil-soaked rag from a bucket in the shed.

Although I hate waste, the occasional food failure is good for me.  Sometimes I get a big head and food fiascos remind me I’m more Ellie May and less Martha Stewart.  These recurring debacles work like a charm to demolish any creeping complacency.  A flop, while unwelcome, does have its merits.

And, boy howdy was it ever one huge disaster.  But my sweet Petey ate around the tragic spinach and bravely finished his ravioli.  Not me—I dined on peanut butter and jelly.

Thanks for your time.