Nuts to you

The long awaited successful batch of roasted garbanzo beans.

The long awaited successful batch of roasted garbanzo beans.

First, let me start by saying that I am cognizant of the fact that neither peanuts nor chick peas are nuts.

Both are legumes, but they possess a certain nutty quality.  And not just because they think Jaws 2 was the better than the original and sandals with socks are a good look.

Yeah…not so much.

The chickpeas were the toughest, taking the most tinkering.  I’d made them (badly) in the past and was not impressed.  I thought they were just another healthy food that folks had convinced themselves were tasty, so they would munch on them, and not the potato chips.

But when I finally got a batch in which most were correctly roasted, I understood.  They are uber-crunchy (Petey has never actually tried them, because to him, they sound “too” crunchy—not even sure what that is), and flavored with lots of lemon, garlic, and Puerto Rican spices.

The goal when cooking is to roast them until all the moisture is gone, but they aren’t burned.  Which isn’t as easy as you’d think.  I tried lots of different combinations of heat and time, re-baked ones that weren’t done, and tossed many that were blackened nuggets of despair.

Last week, I finally cracked the code.  They take two hours in the oven, but when they’re finished the entire batch is cooked to uniform doneness.

My recipe produces a citrusy, garlic-y result.  But please, flavor them any way you like.  Go Chinese with toasted sesame oil and five spice powder.  Do a spicy Southwest version with cayenne, paprika, and chili powder.  Or make them Jamaican with some jerk spice.  That’s why making your own is so darn satisfying; you’re the boss of your own chick peas.

Trial and error roasted garbanzos

1 15 ½ ounce can chick peas

1 tablespoon garlic oil

Juice of ½ lemon

2 teaspoons Goya bitter orange adobo

Preheat oven to 325.  Drain and rinse beans.  Put into sturdy, dark, 9 inch round, or square metal pan.  Drizzle on oil and juice, sprinkle on spice.  Roll around to evenly coat and put in single layer.  Bake 30 minutes, then remove from oven and roll around and toss.  Do this every 30 minutes for a total of 1 ½ hours.  Then give them one last jiggle, turn off oven and let sit inside, undisturbed, for 30 more minutes.  Makes 1 ½-2 cups.

When I worked for Bosco, we had a customer who was a caterer and each year at Christmas would bring us homemade Buckeyes.  For the uninitiated, they are delicious little peanut butter balls coated with chocolate.  They are to Reese’s cups what steak is to a Mickey D’s quarter pounder–they both come from a cow, but that’s where the similarity ends.

I often give these as gifts.  I make up the balls, and then freeze.  When I need some, I just coat them with the chocolate, without even thawing them.  Use a toothpick to dunk them, then smooth out the little hole you’ve made.  The wax keeps the chocolate glossy, but you won’t taste it.

Buckeyes

5 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1 c. peanut butter

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 teaspoon salt

Caviar from 1 vanilla bean

½ bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

½ bag milk chocolate chips

About 1/3 cup canning paraffin wax, finely chopped

Blend butter, peanut butter and vanilla. Add sugar and beat to dough-like consistency. Form into balls with small scoop and chill or freeze. Melt chocolates and wax in microwave on 20 second intervals, stirring after each, until almost fully melted.  Then stir until completely smooth. Double-dip balls in chocolate, leaving circle of peanut butter showing.  Makes about 6 dozen.

My last recipe is crazy-simple.  But you won’t be able to keep your hands out of these pecans.

Obsessive-compulsive Pecans

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in skillet on medium.  Add 2 cups whole, shelled pecans.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Stir constantly until they’re lightly browned and smell nutty.  Drain on paper towels.

So here you have it.  Three recipes that are perfect to put out for visitors, or give as gifts.

And, if somebody tells you to go nuts, you can say, “Don’t mind if I do.”

Thanks for your time.

General Delivery, North Pole

Dear Santa Claus,

I know it’s been quite a while since I’ve written to you.  I think the last thing I asked you for was a Donny Osmond cassette and a Malibu Skipper doll.

Skipper and Donny-it's Sophie's choice to pick only one.

Skipper and Donny-it’s Sophie’s choice to pick only one.

I decided to send you a letter this year because you’re magic.  And to happen, most of my list needs a healthy dose of magic.

Last year when Petey was in the hospital, I would often stop at Panera Bread for dinner.

The order always consisted of the same two items; broccoli cheddar soup, and their spinach power salad.  The super-delicious salad was baby spinach, marinated mushrooms, crispy onion rings, and hard-boiled egg.  It came with a Vidalia onion dressing, and an entire large salad was only about fourteen calories (I may be exaggerating a touch here).

But for some reason, this spring, they dropped it from the menu.

Santa, please make them bring it back.  I’ve written a few emails to the company, but they haven’t worked. So I’m turning to a higher authority; you, to make this happen.

Tanya, Konrad, and the folks at Daisy Cakes (401 Foster St, Durham) make the best whoopee pies I’ve ever eaten.  The first time I tried one, it was so good, I almost cried.  But, they don’t have them very often.  So I would like for the chocolate/salted caramel version to be waiting for me every time I visit.

After hoping and wishing for many years, Durham is getting a Krispy Kreme.  Thank you very much.  In addition to this cathedral of crullers, Durham desperately needs a Sonic drive-in.  And they should put their steak sandwich back on the menu.

I would really like it if you could make clementines available year-round and take all the calories out of brie.  Put a Nana Taco much closer to my house, and give Locopops an ice cream truck that comes to my neighborhood every day fully stocked with blueberry/buttermilk pops.

Vaguely Reminiscent (728 9th St, Durham) is one of my favorite stores.  Owner Carol Anderson stocks the perfect merchandise for our funky little Bull City, including lots of distinctive, uncommon kitchen gadgets.  And the clothes, shoes, and accessories are just my style.  So, I’d like a $10,000.00 gift certificate, and a social life befitting all the fashionable raiment I will them own.

When you visit my house you’ll notice I’ve left you saltines.  I’d like to give you some of my mom’s improbably scrumptious frosted sugar cookies, but I only have a very limited amount, so can’t (won’t) share.  But I will give you the recipe, because, as they say, “If you teach an enchanted, immortal holiday figure to fish…”

Mom’s Christmas cookies

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

1 ½ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ cup sugar

½ cup butter flavored Crisco

1 egg

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift dry ingredients into bowl.  With mixer, cut in shortening until it resembles coarse meal.  Blend in egg, milk, and vanilla.

Roll out to 1/8 inch, and cut into shapes.

Bake on parchment lined cookie sheet for 6-8 minutes or until golden.  Remove to cooling rack.

Frost cookies when they are completely cooled.  Makes about 1 ½ dozen.

Mom’s Frosting

1 box powdered sugar (equal to 3 ¾ cups unsifted)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 scant teaspoon cream of tartar

1/3 cup butter-flavored Crisco

1 egg white

1/4 cup of water (or less)

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

For decorating: colored sugars and jimmies

Dump all ingredients, except water, into mixer. Beat ingredients at low until it starts to come together.  Put the water in at this point, so you can judge just how much to use. Beat until it is creamy and fluffy. Dye it festive colors, and very heavily frost each cookie, then sprinkle with colored sugar or jimmies.

One last thing.  I’d love to win the lottery, but Petey says I can’t win it, if I’m not in it.  The whole thing is very confusing to me, and because of that, I don’t play.

So, I’d appreciate it if you could slip a winning ticket into my stocking.

Thanks for your time, Santa,

Love Debbie.

Scent of an autumn

Even though it was a dog biscuit, anything that smells that good baking has got to taste amazing, right?
Well, we’ll see.
Y’know, I should probably back up a bit here.
Last year our Anatolian shepherd, Riker was having skin issues. The poor guy had allergies and infections. He was miserable. Licking, chewing, and scratching left him looking like Chupacabra; balding and kind of scary.
While our vet worked on getting him over it with medication, I decided to see what I could do from our end.
His kibble was as simple and healthy as could be purchased. I cut out all table scraps, and looked at the one other thing he ate regularly—his doggy treats.
We’d been giving Riker chicken jerky. I’d heard something about problems with chicken from China. I did some research, and found out that thousands of dogs had been sickened, and many had died after eating the Chinese chicken. Frighteningly, our pup’s brand was sourced from there.
I wasn’t sure if it was the jerky that was plaguing our pooch, but it got tossed that day. I decided to only feed Riker treats that I had made from scratch, so I knew each ingredient.
Every month or so, I make a fresh batch of pumpkin-peanut butter cookies for him. They take about 20 minutes to get in the oven, and bake for another twenty. After that I turn off the stove and they sit inside until they’re completely cooled, so that they dry out and get crispy.
And for whole time, they smell absolutely amazing. Somehow, putting heat to the combination of peanut butter and pumpkin produces a stunningly fantastic aroma. Because they sit for a while in a warm oven after baking, the house is perfumed for hours.
And this is where we came in. I didn’t want to eat Riker’s biscuits, but I knew that a fragrance like that had to translate into fabuliciousness.
I’d never heard of any recipes that used the combo, so I looked online.
Bupkis. There were no recipes to be found. I decided there were two possible explanations for this.
One: it had been tried, but the combination of peanut butter and pumpkin was so horrifyingly noxious that there was an unspoken agreement among the population of the earth to never speak of it.
Two (and much more likely to my mind): that I was a straight-up genius. That future generations would speak my name in hushed tones of confectionary reverence.
So it was up to me to come up with a recipe to test my theory. I ultimately decided to make a gooey butter cake. It’s a sort of cheesecake with a cookie crust, and a sweet, rich filling.

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Peanut/Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake with nutmeg flecked, honey-sweetened whipped cream.

Peanut-Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake
Crust:
1 (18 1/4-ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 egg
8 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla
Filling:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese softened
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup smooth peanut butter
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar
2 big pinches salt
1 pinch cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
1 teaspoon vanilla
Directions
Preheat oven to 350. Combine the cake mix, egg, butter and mix well with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 13 x 9 baking pan.
To make filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, peanut butter, and pumpkin until smooth. Add eggs, vanilla, butter, and combine. Next, add the powdered sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika and mix until smooth and glossy. Pour over cake batter and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Don’t over-bake; the center should still be jiggley. Let cool before serving. If desired, top slices with honey-sweetened whipped cream.

Baking it, the same amazing aroma filled my kitchen. I was crazy impatient for it to finish and cool.
Finally I tried it. It tasted like flannel pajamas fresh from the dryer; warm and cozy.
I’m not sure why nobody’s done this before. But I also suspect I’m probably not the culinary genius of my generation—darn it.
And by the way, Riker’s skin is doing just fine.
Thanks for your time.