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Sandwiches are beautiful, sandwiches are fine.
I like sandwiches, I eat them all the time;
I eat them for my supper and I eat them for my lunch;
If I had a hundred sandwiches, I’d eat them all at once. 
~Fred Penner 

 

No, I did not accidently post the Pastrami blog again.  This is a tribute to Peanut Butter. I have to confess, I think the only reason the blog ladies assigned this one to me is because I told them my favourite sandwich is Peanut Butter and Pickle.  Yes, you read that correctly, and no I’m not pregnant, and no, this is not some malicious food dare.  But more on my favourite sandwich later, first a few observations.

If you plug “peanut butter” into the Epicurious search line it returns 226 recipes.  Food Network Canada gives you 116.  They run the course from sweet to savoury and everything in between.  Google it and you’ll find peanut butter lovers and peanut butter haters and 2000 things you can do with peanut butter.  (Hold the snickering and fat dog jokes.)  Of course, all the big peanut butter producers offer up plenty of their own suggests hoping to encourage peanut butter consumption. 

Apparently all that advertising has paid off.  According to several unassailable internet sources (and I believe everything I read on the internet) Americans consume over 3 pounds of peanut butter each year.  About half of the American peanut crop is used to make peanut butter.  Canada is the largest importer of American peanut products including nearly $16 million worth of peanut butter annually.  While peanut butter consumption may be easily established, the invention of peanut butter is hotly contested.  Some say the first patent for peanut butter production was held by none other than J.H. Kellogg.  I prefer to believe the Wiki version of events that that credits Montrealler, Marcellus Gilmore Edson with the honour in 1884.  Regardless, peanut butter has been widely available and wildly popular for more than a century.  No wonder it’s been lunch box staple for practically every kid in North American for generations.

Now, I don’t eat peanut butter for lunch everyday, but it does play a supporting role in several dishes that I make.  Earlier this week we had cold soba noodles tossed with a peanut dressing with a tilapia fillet on the side.  (Sorry, no photos.  I wasn’t thinking about the blog, only dinner.) Yesterday, I was looking for something sweet to make for my diabetic grandmother.  She doesn’t eat peanut butter much because it usually has so much sugar in it, but the one in my cupboard has no sugar or salt added.  We decided on peanut butter bars.  I adapted a brownie recipe to create what was an undeniable success.

Cakey, moist and delicious Peanut Butter Squares

Diabetic Friendly Peanut Butter Bars

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter, no added salt or sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups Splenda
  • 2 tbsp fancy molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, optional

 Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease a 9×9 inch baking pan.
  3. Cream together peanut butter and margarine. Gradually blend in the Splenda, molasses, eggs, and vanilla.  Mix until fluffy.
  4. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add nuts to dry ingredients.
  5. Stir dry ingredients into the peanut butter mixture until well blended.
  6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in preheated oven, or until the top springs back when touched.
  7. Cool, and cut into 16 squares.

Now back to my favourite sandwich… I don’t remember the first time I put peanut butter and pickles together, but it never seemed odd to me.  I loved peanut butter, particularly on a thick crust of fresh baked bread.  I loved dill pickles and have eaten pickle sandwiches for as long as I can remember.  No one blinks and eye over peanut butter with jam, bananas, celery and chocolate.  Why not pickles?  You may not think of this peculiar combo as haute cuisine but it possesses all the qualities that you look for in truly good food; a combination of textures and colours and a balance between salty and sweet, and between acid and fat.  Are you starting to see the light?

 I understand your scepticism.  It’s not something you’ll see on the menu at the local deli, though you would if I owned it.  It took a lot of convincing to get the sandwich shop near my office to make a PB&P for me.  Just recently my son’s fiancé refused to make him a PB&P because she was so utterly convinced that he was joking. 

K: Okay, funny, now what do you really want for lunch?

D: I want a peanut butter and pickle sandwich.

K: Tell me what you want now or you can make your own lunch.

D: I’m serious. I want a peanut butter and pickle sandwich.

K: I’m not standing here all day.  Just make your own lunch.

A couple of days later when they were at our place, he made me tell her that we do actually eat PB&P sandwiches.  She looked disgusted.  I’m not sure if she’s tried one yet. 

But I promise you, it’s not as weird as it sounds.  If you like peanut butter and you like pickles, I am positive you’ll like them together.  Many have taken the plunge before you and they’ve all come up extolling the virtues of the peanut butter and pickle sandwich.  Just ask my once incredulous husband.  My personal favourite is thick slices of dill pickle and creamy peanut butter on good chewy multi-grain bread.  Bread and butter pickles might be too sweet but there’s nothing wrong with a good kosher pickle.  And, I see no reason why pickled beets wouldn’t be just as good.  I implore you to give it a try.  No, better yet, I dare you!

Bon appétit.

Della

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French Fish Stew in a French Dutch Oven (?!)

In which our hero succeeds in making an exemplary classic French dish, and fails miserably in figuring out the depth of field on her camera.

First of all, I have to apologise.  I missed my post on the 7th.  It was National Cotton Candy Day.  I had no cotton candy and I had no internet.  And I was out of town on a business trip.  Hence, no post.  It’s a lousy excuse really, but there you have it.

It’s an interesting point to note that many of these so-called “American Food Holidays” are actually celebrations of traditional French foods.  Don’t tell those people who coined the phrase “Freedom Fries” but the French culinary tradition is so deeply engrained in American (and Canadian) food culture that many of the foods that Americans like to think of as traditional American foods are actually French in origin.  Why? Well, let’s think about it.  The three main colonizing countries of the Americas were France, England and Spain.  Spain and France are, like, right next to each other and their cuisine is really quite similar in a lot of ways.  And it’s really really good.  England?  Do I really need to state the obvious?  Mushy peas.  ‘Nuff said.  The Spanish never really got their hooks into the Northeastern seaboard so French food reigned supreme until the next big wave of immigrants from Europe began to hit in the late 19th century.

Which brings me to Bouillabaise.  A challenging word to spell, but a relatively easy dish to make.  A classic peasant meal – it’s easy to imagine French fishermen cooking up vats of the stuff in an old cauldron over the hearth in the days of yore.  As with many classic peasant dishes in the era of Michelin stars and celebrity chefs, it has been elevated to the rarified status of “gourmet food”.  In any event, it is the perfect meal at the end of a long, cold, (somewhat) snowy December day.  Of course, I had to get all “haute cuisine” on its ass and make it all fancy shmancy so it took me all day.  It still wasn’t hard, but the recipe is long on account of there’s a lot of ingredients.

I started out this morning by busting out the trusty ol’ Larousse for some quick research (see my earlier post on Mousse for more on Larousse).  Then I arrived at the grocery store shortly after they opened and I entertained myself by selecting my fish and perplexing the poor fish counter guy: “6 mussels, no 9, 9 mussels, 6 clams, 6 scallops, just a little bit of halibut, no a little less, and a little snapper, no a little more, and some shrimp please.”  I know he was curious, but he was too polite to ask.

At home, in my beautiful enamelled cast iron Dutch Oven (courtesy of the Fabulous Dea), I sauteed:  2 cups diced sweet onion, 5 cloves of Russian Red garlic (a very garlic-ey garlic, with a nice nutty flavour – an aside: did you know that there are dozens of varieties of garlic? Check out this link to discover more about garlic), a sliced/diced fennel bulb, 2 carrots diced, 2 sticks celery diced until onions were soft, translucent and starting to turn golden.  I added s & p, some sprigs of thyme, tarragon, parsley, 2 small bay leafs, 1 tsp. Ethiopian Berbere (a curry powder from a SaltSpring Island company), about 3 tbsp of chopped orange peel and sauteed for a few minutes more before removing from the heat.  I added to this mix four large peeled and diced tomatoes, 1 large can of diced tomatoes, 1 can of clam nectar.   Then I stuck the snapper, halibut and scallops on top, poured olive oil over it liberally, gently mixed it all up and stuck it on the front porch to marinate all day (it was -2 so I figured it was foodsafe).

After a raucous playdate for G with buddy Wyatt, a long afternoon nap and a trip to a baby shower (to which we arrived 2 1/2 hours late having forgotten it was a potluck and bearing the same gift we had already given to the expectant mommy months before), I made my bouillabaise.  I scooped the fish out and set it aside.  Then I brought the veggies and broth to a slow boil, adding two more cans of clam nectar and some chicken broth that was in the fridge (had to use it up – I know, I know – alll wrong in a fish soup – bad me!).  In the meantime, I fried up some potatoes to be added later.  After 30 minutes of simmering, I added back to the broth the snapper and halibut at a slow simmer.  Seared the scallops and set aside.  Deglazed pan with red wine and added to soup.  Scrubbed the mussels and then added mussels and clams.  Scallops and remaining juices went back in moments before serving.

A traditional serving of Bouillibaise (sorry about the focus - like I said, depth of field problems)

I served my serving of bouillabaise in the traditional fashion.  The broth goes in a wide shallow bowl with some bread (I used Thrifty’s “Bake your own bread” Filone) and the fish and other goodies get served separately.  P had his all in a bowl with the bread on the side.  I think the bread was probably too fresh for the traditional method – it got pretty soggy very quickly – but it was a good match flavourwise.  My second helping I had P’s way and I think I liked it better (could’ve been the butter on the bread).  It was awesome.  Reminded me of the fish stew that my dad used to make all the time. Crazy good – sometimes I really love having to do this blog because these are things I just wouldn’t make in the normal course of things.  We, of course, toasted poor Dea who was supposed to join us for dinner tonight, but was sadly held back on account of a rotten cold.

xoxo B.