Make Peanut butter: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter Part II

Well, I hadn't planned on making the peanut butter today but when I got home from walking the dogs Dave was shelling peanuts!  While he shelled I got cleaned up and got some other stuff done and when he had 8 ounces of peanuts shelled I made a half a batch of homemade peanut butter.

Nothing could be easier, mix roasted unsalted peanuts, peanut oil and salt in a food processor and in no time you have peanut butter.  It starts out looking like chopped peanuts, then moves to a stage where it looks like really grainy peanut butter, then right before your eyes it's peanut butter.



I slathered some on a piece of that yummy homemade bread and asked Dave if it was worth the work to shell all the peanuts.  Yep!


We don't eat a lot of peanut butter in our house but I do use it in the dogs Kongs!  This is far cheaper than the stuff in a jar in the grocery store.  The kids might be getting fresh, homemade peanut butter from now on!

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese

I know, I don't normally do book reviews here but I can't tell you how excited I am to share this book!  Last Friday I received an email from Tasting Table in which they did a little review of Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese.  It sounded interesting so I downloaded it to my Kindle and started reading.

One page in I was hooked!  The premise of the book is to answer the age-old foodie question, do I make it or do I buy it?  For everything from bacon to Worchestershire sauce, Jennifer answers those questions.  She takes into account cost and hassle and does note that prices in her neighborhood, at the time she worked through the recipes may be different than what you or I find.    She also fully acknowledges the value of convenience.

I think all of my foodie friends would love this book!  Even if you're not a foodie, the stories are funny and you might just decide to make some kitchen staples, like peanut butter, rather than buy them.


Because I downloaded it to my Kindle I can't photocopy the recipes for my recipe stand in the kitchen.  Yes, I can just bring up the recipes on my Kindle but I don't really want to get slops and spatters all over it.  So, if there's someone out there looking to get me a wonderful gift I'd love a hard copy of this book!

It's a very quick read as there are lots and lots of recipes in the book.  Many I want to try sooner (every day bread is already in the oven) rather than later (hot dogs).  I have already re-acquainted myself with the King Arthur Flour Company (I think they missed me) and bought some bulk yeast!  I couldn't wait for that to arrive so I did hit the grocery store yesterday and picked up the ingredients (that I didn't already have in the house) for the Every Day Bread.  It was a snap to throw together and is baking as I type and smelling wonderful!  I also want to try the hot dog buns.  By her description they should be amazing.

Her cost comparison for bread crumbs got me putting our old bread in the freezer starting yesterday!  We often have an end or two of bread that gets harder than I like.  Typically the birds would get it.  Not anymore!  It will go directly into the freezer!  When I have the oven on for something else (which is daily in my house) I can throw the cubes of old bread on a cookie sheet, bake them, cool them, grind them and then keep them indefinitely in the freezer!
Make it or Buy it?  Make it.
Hassle:  None
Cost Comparison:  Homemade bread crumbs cost nothing if you make them from bread you would otherwise throw away.  Store-bought crumbs range from $2.50 to $6.00/pound which is more than ground beef and completely insane.

Who knew you could make your own lemon extract in just 10 days at just $0.53/ounce as compared to the grocery store at $6.29/ounce?

I can't wait to try her homemade Oreos either.  Dave requested I make them double-stuffed.

Jennifer goes "whole hog".  She bought chickens, ducks, goats and turkeys.  Some worked out well, others didn't.  Yes, she's butchered her own foul but in the end usually recommends you buy it.  She has a crawl space in which she's cured meats and made cheese.  She's even made homemade hot dogs and hot dog buns.  She admitted defeat with hamburger buns and suggests you just buy those.

I laughed out loud through the entire book and read many passages to Dave who also at least pretended to find them humorous.

She does do some bashing of foods made by my employer.  Some are true, some are old news (we've removed  trans fats from just about everything now).  Though she was surprised to find that Betty Crocker Potato Buds do actually taste like mashed potatoes!


I've never bookmarked a book so much!  Here are some quotes I found fun or interesting but the book is full of them.

She made her own prosciutto.  After 6 months of curing an entire pork haunch in her crawl space she but it down and laid it on the kitchen counter.  After unwrapping it she found what "might have once been meet, covered with  luxuriant chalk-green mold".  She cut off a chunk of the meat and took a bite.  According to Reese it tasted exactly like prosciutto.  She then writes "About a minute later, I began Googling "botulism homemade prosciutto" because no pink salt was used in the curing of this meat.  After a couple of days when it was clear she was not going to die from botulism she began Googling "trichinosis homemade prosciutto".  A few weeks after than when she had shown no signs of trichinosis, she served the prosciutto to friends and family.  Make it or buy it?  Buy it.

On making Canadian Bacon:
Make it or Buy it?  Make it.
Hassle:  It's a whale of a hassle when your house burns down, so heed warnings about smoking. 
She goes on to tell the story of her unwatched pot!

On making homemade hot dogs:
My favorite highlight from the making of hot dogs:  "I know that fennel seed makes Italian sausage taste like Italian sausage and sage makes breakfast sausage taste like breakfast sausage, but I have never paused to wonder what makes a hot dog taste like a hot dog.  Perhaps because I was afraid of what the answer would be."
Make it or buy it?  Buy it.


Every Day Bread: 
Make it or Buy It?  Make it.
Hassle:  Can you stir?  You can make this bread.
Cost Comparison:  Homemade:  Less than one dollar a loaf, including fuel to heat the oven.  A 1-pound loaf of levain bread made by Acme, a local artisanal bakery costs $5.50.  A loaf of Sara Lee Classic 100% Whole Wheat:  $4.39.

Neutral vegetable oil, for greasing (I used a spray, buy the book to find out Jennifer's opinion on that!)
1 teaspoon instant yeast
3 1/2 cups whey from making yogurt or water (I used water) at room temperature
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup flaxseeds (optional, I put them in)
4 teaspoons Kosher salt

Oil the inside of two 9 by 5-inch metal loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix the yeast, liquid, flours, seeds (if using) and salt.  Scrape the dough into the pans.  Drape with a clean, damp dish towel and let rise for about 2 hours until level with the tops of the pans.  Many recipes specify plastic wrap to cover rising bread; I (Jennifer Reese) don't use it because a) it's plastic and b) it never stays in place.  Occasionally this dough rises extra high and sticks to the towel; just pull it off the best you can.  If the prospect of this bothers you, cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap instead.
 



Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Bake loaves for 30 minutes.

Remove the bread from the pans, return to the oven, and bake directly on the rack for 15 minutes more.  The bread is done when it is richly colored and sounds hollow when tapped.


Ordinarily, you should cool bread before slicing, but a hot, crispy heel of this bread is too delicious to forgo, especially with butter.  Store in a paper bag for up to a week.  For longer storage, wrap tightly and freeze.

Per Serving (1/20th of a loaf): 87 Calories; 1g Fat (7.3% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 190mg Sodium.  Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Fat.

I completely agree!  The bread is delicious warm with butter and even better toasted!  It will make great sandwiches and when we don't quite finish a loaf before "its time" it will make great bread crumbs!



Next, this bread with homemade peanut butter!

Meatball & Pecorino Soup

I am lucky enough to work at a food company!  One perk is the occasional cooking class that is offered.  I've tried to go to several but they are so popular they use a lottery system to determine who actually gets into the class and, well, I'm generally not that lucky.  I didn't win the lottery last week either, but found someone who wanted to part with a couple of tickets so I was able to go.

The class was "Small Bites:  Holiday Appetizers That Won't Expand Your Waistline."  The General Mills Cooking Club (of which I am now a member!) picked 8 or 10 recipes out of the Small Bites cookbook by Jennifer Joyce and divided the participants so we each made one.


I was at a station that had the terribly difficult recipe for dipping strawberries in chocolate!  They were then rolled in toasted hazelnuts.  Very yummy, but I hope you go the hint of sarcasm with the level of difficulty.

Other appetizers included Romesco Dip with Roasted Baby Potatoes, Meatball and Pecorino Soup, Three-tomato Salad with Goat Cheese and Croutons, Rolled Zucchini Ribbons with Mint, Chili Pepper, and Goat Cheese, Gorgonzola Crostini with Seared Garlic Greens and Raisins and Crab and Gruyere Nachos with Charred Tomato Salsa.

My favorites from the night were the Gorgonzola Crostini and the Meatball and Pecorino Soup.  I liked the soup so much I made a batch yesterday for dinner.  In fact, I made a double batch!

The original recipe calls for lamb meatballs.  I'm not a big fan of lamb and in the class we used pork so I used pork.  You could use turkey or even beef and the recipe would still be great.

The recipe is a bit putzy but so worth it.  The soup has yummy kale and caramelized onions along with the cute little meatballs.


You start by caramelizing the onions.  I love how the kitchen smells when onions are cooking!


While the onions are cooking, the kale is blanched for about 4 minutes then tossed in an ice bath to stop the cooking.


Then the meatballs!  These are a pretty standard meatball recipe, starting with bread soaked in milk to make sure they stay moist!


The recipe calls for frying the meatballs.  Since I was making a double batch and had a lot of meatballs to cook, I did them in a 450 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  I just put them in a jelly roll pan with some stock and they come out of the oven delicious and, more importantly, all at the same time.


Once all the components are cooked you throw it all together in a pot to let the flavors meld.  Of course I used the pot in which I caramelized the onions to get all those yummy brown bits from the bottom of the pan!


I served it with three different crostinis, caprese, shallot, ham and gruyere and apple with Maytag blue cheese.  Dave loved it too!


Here's the recipe!

Meatball and Pecorino Soup

NOTES : These tiny meatballs combine with the pungent greens, caramelized onion, and sharp pecorino cheese, creating a satisfying soup.  Veal can be used in place of the pork.
       
The onions can be caramelized 2 days in advance.  The soup may also be frozen for up to 4 weeks.
       
Ingredients:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions -- thinly sliced
8  ounces kale -- chopped
3 cups low-fat chicken broth
2 ounces pecorino cheese -- shaved in slivers for garnish
1 slice white bread
2 tablespoons skim milk
8 ounces  pork -- ground
1/2 clove garlic -- finely chopped
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese -- grated
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil -- for frying
Salt and pepper -- to taste

To make the soup, heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized saucepan.  Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and fry for about 10 minutes until the onions are golden-brown and caramelized.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil.  Add the chopped kale and cook for about 4 minutes, making sure it is cooked but still firm.  Drain, rinse in cold water, and set aside.

To make the meatballs, place the bread in a medium-sized bowl, spoon the milk over to soften, and break up the bread with your fingers.  Add the remaining meatball ingredients and mix well.  Using floured  hands, roll the mixture into 1/2 inch balls.  Heat a small amount of olive oil in a nonstick frying pan, add the meatballs, and fry.  Turn regularly, until browned and crisp.

Add the kale, stock and meatballs to the onions in the saucepan, and heat through.  Ladle into cups or bowls, and sprinkle with the pecorino.

Yield:
  "8 cups"

Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 310 Calories; 20g Fat (53.0% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 102mg Cholesterol; 1081mg Sodium.  Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 2 1/2 Lean Meat; 2 Vegetable; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 3 Fat.

He likes it! Hey Mikey, he likes it!

This is a bit unusual for my blog but here goes.  Those of you who know us know we have two dogs, Cider a 5-year-old border collie mix, though you'd never know it to look at him.  And Cabby, a little black lab.  Cabby will eat anything.  ANYTHING.  We haven't found a people food or dog treat she won't eat.  She loves sticks and anything dead she can find in the yard.

Cider on the other hand, has more refined tastes.  While dead things found along the walk can be tasty, he prefers dog food and meat.  Yep, just meat.  He'll eat bread, if and only if you butter it first.  He wouldn't even think of eating bread without butter!  No french fries for this kid either.  Meat.
Here's my picky eater!
Cider's picky tastes apply towards treats as well.  Sweet potatoes, yes.  Plain old biscuits, no.  When I took him to his obedience class I had to grill a steak and cut it up because it was the only thing that he would accept in training.  I tried cheese, hot dogs, sweet potato treats, that food in a log that the trainers swear by.  Nope, he was having none of it.  I couldn't get him to focus on me until I brought steak.  I'm not kidding!  Just ask Jeff at Canine Coach!  He's my witness.

So tonight I went to the Muddy Paws Cheesecake Fall Bazaar.  It was a great event for a great cause, well several causes actually.  For a donation of a new toy or bag of dog food you got free tastings of some yummy cheesecake and could wander through the bazaar.  The donations support STEP Emergency, The Pet Project and Perspective Kids.  There were some great vendors and I really wished I had brought more cash!

But I've digressed.  One of the vendors there was Barkley's.  They are a local manufacturer of dog treats.  They not only make the treats right here in Minnesota, they source their ingredients from right here in Minnesota too!  Barkley's had a few varieties of treats available, peanut butter and chicken and cheddar and duck confit.  It's actually made with duck confit! 



With all of the stuff in the news yet again about dogs dying from eating treats made in China, Dave and I are really looking for better sources of  treats for our dogs.  Have you tried to find a treat NOT made in China?  It's tricky, but not impossible!

So I thought if Cider doesn't like them Cabby will.  Or I could slather them in peanut butter and put them in his Kong.  He seems to be less picky when the treat comes out of his Kong covered in peanut butter.  I bought a bag of the Duck flavor.

Guess what?  He likes them!  Of course he had to sniff it and nibble it and make sure he really did like it but after he finally ate the first one I gave him another.  No question.  He likes them!  We'll be getting more!  At $5 for 4 ounces they won't be going in Kongs but for special treats!  And lucky for us they sell them at one of our favorite places, The Golden Fig!

Buy local!  If you have a dog and want quality treats, buy Barkley's!

Just what I needed!

Buddy Valastro, a.k.a. The Cake Boss was in town last week.  I had tickets and was looking forward to going but circumstances beyond my control made that not possible.

I knew the daughter of a coworker would probably love to go.  She's  become quite an accomplished cake decorator herself!  They went and enjoyed it and as a thank you for the tickets, they bought me Baking with the Cake Boss.


What were they thinking buying me a new cookbook and giving it to me on the Friday before Thanksgiving.  The Friday before the Thanksgiving where I'm doing the cooking and have a ton of prep to do?  The Friday before a week when I have orders for two custom cakes?  Don't they know they are cutting into precious Christmas cookie baking time?  Don't they know me well enough to know that I would crack into that book immediately?

I was getting tired of Christmas cookies anyway!

I couldn't keep out of the book at work on Friday and called Dave to have him pick me up some new tips that would be needed for the first cake I was going to do out of the book, a turkey!

I love the book!  It has step-by-step pictures of each of the, what I call, putzy cakes so they're pretty easy to recreate in my kitchen.

Buddy uses a bundt pan for his turkey cake but my bundt is more traditional than the one in the picture (mine has more sloped sides, the bundt in the picture had straighter sides.  Looking at how the cake was supposed to be shaped in the end, I figured using a bowl would work just fine!  And it did.



The cake required lots of colors and of course I didn't have nearly enough of the right numbered tip, but I think my turkey turned out pretty darn good despite that!





Wait 'till you see what I'm going to do for Christmas!

Thank you, thank you Monteen, Taryn and Rylee!!

Knoke's Chocolates!

One of our favorite places has a new home!

Every Sunday afternoon, after our stop at either Barker's or San Pedro Cafe, you will find Dave and I at Knoke's Chocolates in Hudson, WI.  We pick up a week's worth of truffles and each night we each have one piece of delicious chocolate!  We're very sad when we miss a Sunday for some reason and have to go without chocolates.

The old shop was a cute little candy store where you could watch the candy being made while you wandered around looking at all the great sweet treats available.

The new space is beautiful!  It's bigger, brighter and there's even more great chocolates, candy and ice cream available.  And you can still watch the chocolate maker at work!





The new space is as cute on the outside as it is on the inside!

There are even more jars of great sweet treats!  Be careful if you bring the kids into the store, you may not get them out again!  I know Dave and I can wander around for a long time when we know exactly what it is we want before we walk in the door.


Remember candy cigarettes?  I didn't think you could get those any more!


How about licorice pipes?


And candy dots?  I know at ate a lot of those as a kid!


These aren't big enough for you?  How about Giant Dots?  I know from experience these make great shark eyes!


And how exactly do you eat one of these giant jaw breakers?  With a hammer maybe?


Ok, so maybe you're not in the mood to walk down candy memory lane or you're looking for a little more "adult" candy?  They have that too! 


We love the truffles, the cayenne is our favorite but we always bring home a variety.  Their caramels are delicious and the mint smoothies, oh my!  Oh and the toffee, yummy!  And they have ice cream too!  Dave's favorite is the Zanzibar.  They have double the flavors in the new store!


Do you need a great gift?  How about one of these amazing gift baskets?


Thanksgiving is right around the corner and Knoke's is ready!


And for those of you who have to watch your sugar, Knoke's has a great variety of sugar free chocolates that you'll have a hard time telling are sugar free!

We love Knoke's and are thrilled that they are now in a bigger space.  We brought them a little store-warming gift, chocolate cake of course!  I hope it measures up to their yummy chocolates!


So if you're in the mood for some great chocolates, ice cream, or any kind of candy, stop by Knoke's in Hudson, WI.  Can't get to Hudson?  Guess what, they ship!  You can order online.   I guarantee you'll be happy with anything you order.

Christmas tradition, Italian Chocolate Cookies

Every year at Christmas my family and many of our friends, anxiously await their portion of these yummy cookies.

The tradition started with my Grandma Cicero.  She would make these cookies every year for us.  I have no idea how many she made, but it was a lot.  My grandmother was a "cook by touch" kind of cook and baker.  There were no measuring cups, it was a handful of this or a pinch of that so there was no recipe for these cookies either.

That is until one year when my mother helped make the cookies and as Grandma "measured" in her hand, Mom measured with cups and teaspoons!  Now we had a recipe!

Mom and Grandma Cicero in Grandma's kitchen.  Lots of great memories in that kitchen!
The next hurdle was doubling the recipe.  We knew we needed to considering the growing number of people wanting these gems each year.  Grandma insisted it couldn't be done.  We proved her wrong!  I've doubled the recipe, halved the recipe even quartered it (considering a batch is 300 cookies, quartering is not unheard of!) and they always turn out great.

Tradition was that these cookies were made the Friday after Thanksgiving.  We're not into the craziness of Black Friday.  There's enough craziness in our kitchen on that day!  Well, with marriages and children and busy adult lives, that tradition has fallen to I make them whenever I can get them done!  My brothers all know how to make these cookies, they choose not to, but they're always very willing to eat them!

We are celebrating Christmas at Thanksgiving with my family this year so the cookies can't wait until after Thanksgiving.  Dave has military duty this weekend so spending the day in the kitchen doesn't cut into any time I could be spending with him.  This year was one of those years I knew I needed to double the recipe so I enlisted the help of the daughter of a coworker to get them done.  It really does go faster when there's two of you.

So here we go!

First there's the preparations.  You have to buy all the ingredients which includes things like 4 pounds of flour, 2 pounds of sugar, 2 pounds of raisins and a pound of lard.  Yes, lard.  Would they work with another shortening?  I don't know.  I'm not willing to risk it.  Lord help me the day the health nuts ban lard from the grocery store!



Prepare the table for the cookies by covering it with waxed paper and get the cooling racks ready!



You will need a very large vessel in which to mix the dough.  Remember what you just read, this is pounds and pounds of dough.  And remember this year I doubled it!  I had to mix 8 pounds of flour, 2 cups of cocoa, 2 pounds of lard, 4 pounds of sugar, 2 pounds of raisins, 2 quarts of milk and a bunch of spices!  In what do you mix this dough?  A canner of course!


I mix all the dry ingredients first, breaking up any clumps of raisins, then add the melted lard and milk.  Mom and I used to worry about which we were supposed to add first.  I don't worry so much about that.  I'm sure we've done it both ways in the past!





I can mix it a little with a wooden spoon but unfortunately I don't own a big Hobart mixer so I have to mix it just like my Grandmother did, with my hands.  I get my upper body workout for the morning.

Once mixed it's time to roll it in little balls and bake.  Typically I would use about a teaspoon and a half per cookie.  It makes a nice 2 bite cookie.  I was feeling lazy to day so I did 2 full teaspoons.


The cookies are baked for 15 minutes.  Lucky for me I can have three trays going at a time.



It's when we get to about this much dough left I want to start making tablespoon sized cookies!


After a couple of hours the canner is empty again!


When the cookies are cooled they are glazed with a mixture of powdered sugar and water then decorated.

Today, with my fantastic helper Alessa, we got 607 cookies baked, glazed and decorated in just under 4 hours!  That has to be a record!


The worst part is, after the cookies dry, packing them up!  That will be done later tonight. Oh yea, and the cleaning up the kitchen!


For those of you brave enough to try this, here is the recipe:

Ingredients:
4 pounds flour
2 pounds sugar
1 cup cocoa
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 pound lard, melted
1 pound raisins
1 quart milk (we use 2%)
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons allspice
1 1/2 tablespoons nutmeg
1 1/2 tablespoons black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cloves

Glaze:
4 pounds powdered sugar
water

Mix the dry ingredients (except raisins) well.  Add raisins and mix well, breaking up any clumps of raisins.  Add lard and milk and mix well.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on lightly greased cookies sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.  Cool completely.

Mix some of the powdered sugar with water to form a slightly thin glaze (mine is a different consistency every year!).  Drop the cookies in the bowl of glaze and pull out one at a time, scraping the excess glaze off the bottom of the cookie.  Place cookies on waxed paper and sprinkle with your favorite decoration.  When dry pack up in air tight containers or zip top bags.

These freeze really well!

Lidia's Stuffed Shells

A month or so ago I ran across a video by Lidia Bastianich in which she made stuffed shells with her Nonna.  They are adorable together!  Ev...

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