Peanut Brittle

Christmas tin

Many, many years ago (in the late ’70’s) I subscribed to a new magazine called Sphere.  It was one of those magazines that didn’t take advertising – which was kind of unusual.  It was all about cooking, crafting, sewing, and fashion.  Later Sphere became Gourmet.

The first Christmas issue featured a story on a small town church Christmas bazaar and included all the recipes.  I could not resist the peanut brittle recipe.  I love peanuts and probably would have died without peanut butter as a child.

My first attempt turned out well and I was hooked.  I have made this recipe every year since – some years I have to begin in November in order to satisfy all the requests.  I’ve shared this recipe with anyone who wants it but most say it doesn’t turn out like mine, and I know why.

Burlap bag of peanuts

It’s the peanuts. The recipe calls for large raw peanuts.  Unless you live in the South, you probably can’t buy these at the store.  I initially got mine from a place called “Jimbo’s Jumbos.”  They merged or went out of business and I started ordering from Aunt Ruby’s.  To save money and time I would order 25 pounds once a year.   When we lived in Utah, it cost as much to ship them as to buy the peanuts but I still felt it was worth it.  Those peanuts that didn’t end up in the brittle were stored in the freezer to be oven roasted year round.  (As luck would have it, I now live about 45 minutes from Aunt Ruby’s.  This could be bad.)

If you are looking for a great Christmas gift idea, this is it!  Give this recipe a try – I know you will like it.  And so will any lucky recipients.

Peanut brittle in pan

Peanut Brittle

2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup warm water

2 cups raw peanuts

1 Tablespoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon butter

Prepare baking soda and butter and set next to the stove.  Butter a jelly roll pan and place on a cooling rack.

Put sugar, corn syrup and water in heavy 3 qt. sauce pan,  Stir with a wooden spoon to combine,  Cook, stirring occasionally, until candy thermometer reaches 240 degrees (soft ball).

Add raw peanuts.  Stir constantly until thermometer reaches 310 degrees (hard crack).   No need to stir vigorously, just keep the peanuts moving to prevent burning.

Remove from heat and remove thermometer.  Add baking soda and butter.  Stir vigorously for about 5 seconds – until candy stops expanding.  Pour immediately onto jelly roll pan scraping pot as necessary.  Be careful – this stuff is HOT!

Let cool completely then break into pieces with a meat mallet or small hammer,

Does Where You Live Effect What and How You Cook?

Our first house was in upstate New York – between Rochester and Buffalo.  I was a beginning cook and learned a lot from three friends who lived there.  They taught me to can using local produce.  By the time we left eight years later, we had become used to having sweet cherries, pears, plums, peaches, grape juice and tomatoes on the shelves and tart cherries and apple pies in the freezer.  And the Polly-O delivery guy stopped at my house to deliver cheese and flour for a coop we set up – because I was on his way to local restaurants.  Life was good.

Then we moved from New York to Utah in the early 80s. People warned me things would be different.  For one thing, there weren’t whole aisles in the grocery store devoted to all the various shapes and sizes of pasta.  With a large Mormon population, grocery stores stocked some rather large sizes of products.  And, about this time, big box stores were just beginning to be popular.  Costco (even before it was called Costco) sold 25 pound bags of sugar.  I had no trouble adjusting to this.  I had a freezer and storage in my house and it almost assured that I would never run out of things.

You wouldn’t think being on one coast or the other would have much to do with what’s in the grocery store.  You might be surprised.  For example, butter sticks are shorter and fatter in the West, for no apparent reason.  And no one makes a butter dish for this shape.  East coast apples are not sold in the West because of an agreement New York made with Washington state.  I found this hard to believe, but was assured this was true by grocery store employees.  Brands were different – sometimes this was good, sometimes bad.  Availability of national brands was iffy at best.  The store would have all the ketchup you could ever want, but if you wanted some other product by that brand, you may or may not find it.  We did get most of our fresh vegetables and fruit from California, a definite bonus.

Food stores

Our recent move from Utah to North Carolina meant I got to adjust all over again.  Big box stores are now ubiquitous and I should be able to get whatever I need.  Or so I thought.  You may know I bake a lot of bread and now suddenly getting large bags of flour became an issue.  Costco does sell 50 lb. bags of flour but not unbleached.  I did finally find a restaurant supply store that had all the baking supplies I needed.  But there are other items that I’ve grown accustomed to that are hard to find.  I’ve developed a liking for Salemville Smokehouse Blue Cheese.  No one around me has it or any smoked blue for that matter.  I like a specific brand of whole wheat spaghetti and only one store carries that.  I get my extra virgin olive oil from Costco in the fall when the first pressing comes out.  I get my favorite Valrhona chocolate from Trader Joe’s and found my Valrhona cocoa at Sur La Table.  The lack of concentrated juice in the stores is surprising.  There’s two aisles of different kinds of grated cheese and only one shelf of frozen juice.  Go figure.  But all in all this doesn’t sound too hard.  And it hasn’t been.

Until now.  I am moving to a small town near the east coast.  There’s no Costco, no Trader Joe’s, no Sur La Table, no Publix (that I have recently learned to love).  There is a Walmart, but I don’t shop there.  (That’s a whole other post.)  These stores are in nearby larger towns, so we’ll be making a shopping trip on occasion.

So should where you live affect how you cook?  Clearly, it does.  Some ways are obvious.  If you’re near the coast, fresh seafood will be abundant and cheaper.  So, of course, you would add those to your diet more often.  If you live in New York, every Italian ingredient known to man will be readily available.

I’m sure I can adjust to new brands, but it will take a little time.  I also make almost all the bread we eat.  It is important to me to get unbleached bread flour in quantity along with unbleached pastry flour and one pound bags of yeast.  I may have to go back to ordering it from Honeyville Farms, my former supplier in Salt Lake.  (They still only charge $5.00 for shipping!?!)

So some things will change with this next move, and I will work to make other things remain the same.

Sandwich Rolls

Summertime and the living is easy.  And meals are less complicated.  In summer, when we get tired of eating sandwiches on my loaf bread, I make these sandwich rolls.  They can also be used for hamburgers or even barbeque sandwiches.  They are a lot sturdier than your average hamburger bun from the store.

Dough on scale

I generally double this recipe and get 22-24 rolls.  Because I cannot judge how much something weights, I use my kitchen scale to make sure the rolls are approximately the same size.  Each piece of dough is 2.4 ounces.  If you need to add a bit of dough to get the right weight, add it to the bottom of the larger piece of dough and pull the sides over it, pinching to seal and create a ball.

If you want larger or smaller rolls, adjust accordingly.  The original recipe called for 6 hoagie rolls.  I found these were too big, but that is also an option.

I have never had a bread recipe call for covering the rising dough with a damp cloth before.  I think this helps give the rolls a chewy crust.  And make sure the towel is only slightly damp.  Wring it out well.

I cannot get two large baking sheets side by side in my oven, so I bake them in shifts.  Even though the second sheet sits for 30 minutes longer, it really doesn’t affect them.  The second set is a bit larger, but that’s not a bad thing.

Because this recipe makes a lot of rolls, I freeze them.  You can defrost them on the counter, in the microwave or toast in a toaster oven.  If you plan to freeze them, you will want to cut them in half first.  Yes, a lesson learned the hard way.  Defrosting the rolls makes them very soft and soft is hard to cut without smashing them.  Plus they defrost faster.

Sub Rolls

makes 11-12 sandwich rolls or 6 hoagie rollsSandwich rolls

3 c bread flour
1 T dry active yeast
1 T granulated sugar
1 T vegetable shortening
1 ¼ c warm water
1 ½ t kosher salt

In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook combine flour, yeast, sugar, shortening, and water. Mix on low speed until dough forms and pulls away from sides of bowl. Add salt and increase speed to medium; knead for 10 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Lightly grease inside of mixing bowl and return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm space to rise for 1 – 1 ½ hours until doubled.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently deflate dough. Divide dough into11-12 (about 2.4 oz.) balls. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rest for 15 minutes.  Place rolls onto a large baking sheet sprayed with oil, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375º . Bake loaves until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer to racks to cool completely. Slice and stuff with your favorite fillings. Enjoy!

Adapted from The Galley Gourmet

Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut butter cookies in jar

I love peanut butter!  I didn’t like to eat much while I was growing up and peanut butter probably saved my life.  Even now I like peanut butter and banana sandwiches, peanut butter and gherkin sandwiches, peanut butter on apples or celery and, yes!, peanut butter cookies.

I have used this recipe since the early 70’s.  Who knows where I got it but I would guess from a magazine.  Over the years I have tried various alterations – adding oat flour for half the regular flour, adding chopped peanuts, adding chocolate chips, adding Reece’s chips, and using chunky peanut butter.  The chunky peanut butter is the only permanent change to the original recipe.

If you add chopped peanuts, you should make your own.  I get my peanuts from Aunt Ruby’s.  You can get already roasted ones, or get raw ones and roast them yourself.  To roast, place on rimmed baking sheet and place in 350 degree oven.  Bake for about 30 minutes – depending on how dark you like your peanuts.  I like them really dark – they almost smell like coffee beans.  Shake the pan or stir about half way through.

Because I don’t buy brown sugar, I have changed the recipe to reflect what I do.  I have, in fact, made them with purchased brown sugar, and they aren’t nearly as good.  (The original recipe calls for 1 cup sugar and 1 cup brown sugar.)

This recipe makes a lot of cookies – over 5 dozen.  I use a small scoop to portion out the dough.  It makes quick work of putting the cookies on the cookie sheets and they are all the same size.

Cookie dough

If you like a chewy cookie, cook these for about 10 minutes.  If you like them crispy, cook them 12 minutes (or a little longer).

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 c unsalted butter, room temperatureCookies
2 c sugar
1 Tablespoon molasses
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chunky peanut butter
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda

Preheat oven to 350˚.

Cream butter, sugar, molasses, eggs and vanilla together in mixer bowl fitted with paddle. Add peanut butter, mixing until incorporated.

Add flour and baking soda.  Mix until incorporated.

Using 1” portioned scoop, drop cookies onto ungreased baking sheet.  Flatten with a fork to get the traditional criss-cross pattern.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Allow to cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes and then remove to cooling rack.

Rhubarb Meringue Pie

Once upon a time I started a foodie group at my church.  We had a wide variety of interests and skills in our group.  Some were adventurous cooks, others were there to learn how to cook.  One lady came because she wanted an evening out.

Cheese Tasting

Cheese Tasting

We had a variety of events.  Our first outing was a cheese tasting class offered by a local supermarket.  We had a local couponer speak and explain his system.  We set up an assembly line and created homemade tamales.  We had a kitchen gadget swap.  A church member who worked at Sprouts Farmers Markets let us taste some of their healthy items.  We sponsored the coffee fellowship time after church with all homemade items.  We had field trips to kitchen stores.  And we went to dinner.

One member (one just learning how to cook) had her father recently move in with her and she asked me to make him his favorite dessert – a rhubarb pie.  I’d never made one but figured it couldn’t be too hard.  Harder was finding fresh rhubarb in Utah.  Lo and behold she called me one day shortly after her request to say she had found some at the grocery store and would be bringing it over.

So the hunt was on for a recipe.  The one I settled on was from “Simply Recipes”.  I was especially intrigued by the meringue.  It included a corn starch gel to help keep the meringue soft and high.

For the crust I used America’s Test Kitchen’s vodka recipe.  You basically substitute two tablespoons of vodka for 2 of the tablespoons of water.  Because the flour does not absorb the vodka, you get a flakier crust.  It really does make a difference.

And I think the pie was a success.  Here’s the proud recipient having a slice.

Bruce enjoying his pie

Rhubarb Meringue Pie

1 pie crust

1 lb. chopped rhubarb stalks              Rhubarb Meringue Pie
¾ c white granulated sugar
1 T orange zest
¼ t cinnamon
¼ t ground ginger
3 T instant tapioca

1 T corn starch
1/3 c cold water
¼ t cream of tartar
½ c white granulated sugar
4 large egg whites (room temp)
½ t vanilla extract

Make crust. Heat oven to 350°. Line pie shell with aluminum foil. Fill two-thirds with pie weights.  Bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and pie weights from crust. Poke bottom of crust all over with tines of fork. Return pie crust to oven, bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned all over. Remove from oven and set aside.

Filling: Gently mix cut rhubarb, sugar, orange zest, cinnamon, and ground ginger in a medium saucepan. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Put pan on stove on medium heat. Stir in instant tapioca. Slowly heat until steamy.  Gently cook rhubarb until it is a little tender, but not yet falling apart.

Meringue:  Preheat oven to 325°. In small bowl, whisk together sugar and cream of tartar and set aside. In small saucepan, whisk corn starch and cold water together until corn starch is dissolved. Heat on stovetop and whisk until mixture gets bubbly and forms a gel. Remove from heat.

Place egg whites and vanilla in bowl of electric mixer. Start on low and gradually increase to medium. Once egg whites are frothy, slowly add sugar and cream of tartar mixture, one tablespoon at a time. Beat until sugar is incorporated and mixture forms soft peaks. Add cornstarch mixture, one tablespoon at a time. Increase mixture speed to high, and beat until mixture forms stiff peaks. Be careful not to over beat.

Filling should be hot when meringue is added. Pour rhubarb mixture into pie shell, spreading it evenly. Using a rubber spatula, immediately spread meringue mixture evenly around edge and then center of pie to keep it from sinking into filling. Make sure meringue attaches to pie crust to prevent shrinking. Create peaks over meringue.

Bake until meringue is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Pie can be refrigerated, but it is best served same day.

From Simply Recipes

A Trip to Asheville

One of the things you can do when you’re retired is pick up and go anywhere, any time.  My daughter was here visiting for just over a week in April and we put over 1,000 miles on our car – sightseeing in Charlotte, visiting family in Durham and Greenville and making a trip to Asheville.

It’s been a loooong time since I’ve been to Asheville.  It’s a good thing she had GPS on her phone because there are a lot of windy one way streets.

Dogwood tree                                  Dogwood branch







While she visited with her friend, we decided to drive South on The Blue Ridge Parkway.  It’s still kind of early for most of the trees and flowers to be blooming but it was still a pretty drive.   There were dogwoods at the ranger visitor station and throughout the forests.  There was almost no traffic although lots of bikers.  Those roads aren’t really designed for bikes and cars to mix, so getting around them was, um, interesting.  Still, if you can ride your bike up the roads to get to the Blue Ridge, more power to you.

Looking Glass Rock

Looking Glass Rock

Blue Ridge Parkway tunnel

Parkway tunnel

Having moved from living at about 4,500 feet elevation, we did laugh when we heard a park ranger warn some people about the elevation.  We started at about 2,000 feet and ended up at about 5,000.

The first night we ate at Strada Italiano in downtown Asheville.  It was excellent.  They make all of their bread in house and it shows.  Our table had lasagna, chicken Marsala and Tuscan duck.  We will definitely go back!

Pansy quilt

Pansy quilt

The second day we visited the North Carolina Arboretum.  Early spring flowers were out and the butterflies were abundant.  One feature is the pansy quilt they plant each year.  The pattern is always different and the gift store had postcards with previous years’ patterns.  The water features had not been turned on, but the gardens are still very nice.  Well worth the trip.



Bonsai garden

Bonsai garden

For lunch we went to 12 Bones Smokehouse.  Once again, it was good someone knew the way because this is certainly off the beaten path.

12 Bones restaurant

12 Bones Smokehouse

Rumor has it that President Obama eats here every time he is in Asheville.  The line was out the door and into the parking lot when we arrived and when we left.  This was the first restaurant that I have seen that only serves Cheerwine products.  You have to be from the south to understand this.  I’ve never actually had Cheerwine but it has been described to me as a cross between root beer and Sprite – really sweet.

There’s a lot we didn’t get to on this trip (like the chocolate store) so I predict another visit is on the horizon.

Extra Lemony Pound Cake

I love lemon. I love dark chocolate, too. I would say they are tied for my favorite flavor.

I’m not alone in my love of lemons.  My father loved lemon. He used to tell us about eating lemons like apples when he was a kid. My mother loves lemon. My sister loves lemon. I think there’s a chance this might be genetic.

I have been on the hunt for the perfect lemon cake for a while and this might be it.

The first cake I found was Glorious Treats’ Lemony Lemon Bread. Oh, my, this is lemony! I made this at Christmas in small loaves to give as gifts. Everyone said they loved it. It is an excellent bread but with 2 cups of butter and 8 eggs, I needed to find one with less calories.

The second find was Becky Charms & Co. Lemony Lemonies Lemon Brownies. Again, an excellent lemon flavor, but more of a brownie consistency. I will make this one again. But I’m looking for a cake.

Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena

Now I’ve found  Ina’s lemon pound cake from The Charm of Home. This is a lemon pound cake infused with a lemon syrup and then glazed with a lemon glaze. Believe it or not I found a way to add more lemon flavor. I added lemon verbena to the syrup and let it steep for a few minutes. There was a noticeable difference in the flavor. Yum!

Lemon Pound Cake

One common theme among all these recipes is the fresh lemon juice (a must), and lots of lemon zest. The more you add of these two ingredients, the more lemon flavor. And if you have trouble with the zest clumping on your beater, try processing the zest into the sugar in the recipe in your food processor. This gets the zest well mixed into the sugar and makes it easier to use. You can even make this lemon sugar ahead. The longer it sits, the stronger the lemon flavor.

Lemon Pound Cake

1 stick butter, at room temperatureGlazed Lemon Pound Cake
1 c vanilla sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 T grated lemon zest
1 ½ c all-purpose flour
¼ t baking powder
¼ t baking soda
½ t salt
1/8 c lemon juice
1/3 c + 1 T buttermilk, room temp
½ t pure vanilla extract

¼ c sugar
¼ c lemon juice
Two 2” sprigs of lemon verbena

1 c confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 T + 1 t freshly squeezed lemon juice

Cake: Preheat oven to 350˚.  Grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2″ loaf pan.  Line bottom and sides with parchment paper. Grease again and flour pan.

Cream butter and 1 c granulated sugar in bowl of mixer fitted with paddle, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  With mixer on medium speed, add eggs, 1 at a time, and lemon zest.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.  In another bowl, combine 1/8 c lemon juice, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Add flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to batter, beginning and ending with flour.  Pour batter into pan, smooth top, and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Syrup: Combine ¼ c granulated sugar with ¼ c lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat.  Add lemon verbena and allow to steep. When cake is done, allow to cool 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and set on rack over sheet pan; spoon lemon syrup over.  Allow cake to cool completely.

Glaze: combine confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth.  Pour over top of cake and allow glaze to drizzle down sides.

Adapted from The Charm of Home