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Peanut Butter

We eat peanut butter all the time, topped with a variety of sweeteners. Sliced banana is cool, smooth and sweet – a perfect counterpoint to the rugged texture of toast and peanuts. A drizzle of honey makes for a rich peanut butter bite, thick and super sweet. Like most people, we love fruit jams and jellies with our peanut butter. American’s love to pair it with strawberry jam. What’s not to love about that pair?

A little over 90% of households keep peanut butter in the pantry. Today, the peanut butter market is robust, pulling in a little more than $1 billion in annual retail sales. As prepared food goes, it’s relatively inexpensive and nutrient dense, packing tons of protein and healthy fats.

There are plenty of options on grocery shelves. Just about everyone knows and likes at least one big national brand. But there are smaller producers selling really great tasting peanut butter, albeit at a much higher price. We’re fans of Santa Cruz Crunchy Organic Dark Roast. But as with so many pantry staples, peanut butter is the sort of thing you can make at home, deliciously and inexpensively.

Creamy or chunky? Depends on your gender and where you live. Those of us on the West Coast tend to prefer the chunky stuff. In general, women favor the creamy stuff. So it should come as no surprise that most of the peanut butter sold in America is smooth and creamy. In our household though, chunky always wins. We’re two gay men afterall. No women to tell us what type of peanut butter to eat!

Creamy peanut butter certainly has its uses in home cooking, but when it comes to the simple pleasure of slathering peanut butter onto a crusty piece of toast, nothing is as satisfying as the crunchy texture of all those little pieces of roasted peanuts.

Though peanuts have a pretty high fat content, making peanut butter requires the addition of fat to help turn ground peanuts into a spreadable butter. Peanut oil is the obvious choice, but you can experiment here as well. We used coconut oil in the peanut butter pictured. Coconut oil keeps it super thick and gives it a slightly sweet, tropical flavor. Using raw peanuts gives you better control over the depth of the roasted flavor in the final product, and allows you to fine tune your own recipe with just a little experimentation. Once prepared, peanut butter should go into the refrigerator to extend its shelf-life.

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Roasted Peanut Butter

2 cups (16 ounces) raw, shelled peanuts
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoons honey
1-2 tablespoons peanut oil or other oil (we used warmed coconut oil)

Heat the oven to 350°F and toast the peanuts on a baking sheet until lightly golden and glossy with oil, about 10 minutes. Place the warm peanuts, salt and honey into the bowl of a food processor. Process for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Place the lid back on and continue to process while slowly drizzling in the oil and process until the mixture is smooth, but not too smooth, 1  to 1 1/2 minutes, or longer if you want ultra smooth peanut butter. Place the peanut butter in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.

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Camping: Breakfast, s’mores, and more

We’ve been away from our computers, road-tripping through the west to run a couple of half-marathon races hosted by Vacation Races in Teton National Park in Wyoming and West Yellowstone, Montana. After what felt like marathon drives through California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, we got to spend a week with family in the hills, camping and touring the parks, fishing, and running.

It has been too many years since our last summer camping trip. So it was a great treat to start June with a week of camping in Island Park, Idaho. It was beautiful, if unseasonably warm, but that didn’t stop us from building camp fires, roasting marshmallows and cooking on coals and grills.

Our camp cooking included the essential s’mores, grilled fresh trout from the nearby Island Park reservoir and Henry’s Lake, a delicious breakfast for dinner cooked completely al fresco, and an occasional smokey reprieve from the darned mosquitos that drove us crazy most of the time.

The trout we cooked over the fire was delicately smokey. It was perfect all by itself, but a light squeeze of fresh lemon made it irresistible. Having just come out of the lake, it was as fresh and delicious as it ever gets! And it was made all the better eaten under the canopy of a pine forest.

As good as that trout was, the most memorable meal is a bacon, egg and potato breakfast we prepared exclusively over the open fire. Breakfast at any time of day is a treat. We eat breakfast for dinner all the time. After a day of running and driving around Yellowstone Park, we wanted something hearty and comforting. And as convenient as it was to have an indoor, camp trailer kitchen at our disposal, it was too warm to stand inside when there was a perfectly good fire pit with a grill and plenty of fire wood just outside. We opted for an outdoor cooking adventure.

Bacon and eggs never disappoint. We had potatoes, carrots and onions in the camper pantry, so we diced them up, seasoned them, triple wrapped them in aluminum foil (an essential camping implement), and tossed them onto the hot coals of the fire. The “hobo pockets” need to be carefully placed so as not to burn the crap out of the potatoes. Layers of foil should protect them from the harshest temperatures while the veggies steam in the pouch. If you get it right, the potatoes will be cooked and the rest of the veggies will have a tiny bit of caramelization and very few black bits.

Cooking bacon on the fire was a breeze. We placed a sheet of aluminum foil over the grilling grate on the fire pit, directly over the hottest part of the fire, and used it like a griddle. The bacon cooked perfectly. It did produce a lot of rendered fat which in turn caused some flare-ups that scorched the foil, but the bacon was unscathed.

Our nephew had the clever idea of creating little aluminum trays to cook our eggs. With a few easy folds, we had our egg “pans” which we sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. We sat them on the foil we’d used for the bacon, which added a needed layer between the eggs and the hot fire. The eggs turned out perfectly!

When we opened the hobo pockets, the vegetables were nicely cooked, with very little scorched bits. They were a complete success. We topped them with our “fried” eggs, helped ourselves to a couple slices of bacon, and sat out in the open air, tucking in to awesome camp food and washing it all down with a cold beer.

Our time in West Yellowstone included a volunteer stint at the s’mores table at the Yellowstone Half Marathon Expo. We saw a lot of toasted marshmallows that evening. There is no doubt of the s’more’s importance in the American camping experience, though there is some diversity of thought on the “proper” steps in the s’more ritual. We toasted our graham crackers on the fire grill with a piece of chocolate melting on it while we toasted our marshmallows. Our marshmallows are slowly roasted and tan, not extinguished torches, but we appreciate everyone has their own idea of the perfect fire toasted marshmallow, so no judgement. S’mores are best by a campfire. There’s no other way to get a smokey accent on that sweet mess. But there are endless ways to play with the idea of the s’more at home. More on that in future posts.

Happy Summer!

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Open Fire Fried Eggs and Bacon

bacon
eggs

For the bacon.

Spread a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil over the grill of an open fire. Cook the bacon until crisp. Careful of grease fires.

For the eggs.

Use aluminum foil to make a little tray to cook the eggs, spray with non-stick cooking spray. More aluminum for lids. Cook to one’s liking.

Hobo Hash Pack

2-3 potatoes
1 onions
2 cups root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, etc.
2 tablespoons or more olive oil or melted butter
1 tablespoon dijion mustard (optional — especially for 10 year olds)
salt and pepper
cooking spray
Heavy Duty Aluminum foil

Cut potatoes, onions, and root vegetables into similar sized cubes, and add to a bowl, add the olive oil or butter, dijon mustard and salt and pepper. Toss to coat and set aside.

Tear 8 square pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil about. Place a cup to a cup-and-a-half of the potato mixture to each of four of the foil packs. Fold the foil over in half and each pack on another sheet of foil and fold it over the pack, so you are double layering the aluminum around the potato mixture.

Place the foil packs in the coals of a fire and cook for 30-40 minutes. Turning the packs every 10 minutes or so to keep from burning.

s’mores

1 box graham crackers
1 chocolate bars, broken into pieces
1 bag of marshmallows

Over an open fire with a barbecue grill, place two graham crackers on the coolest side of the grill. Careful not to burn the cracker. Place a small piece of chocolate on top and watch to keep from burning. You just want a warm cracker with just a barely gooey chocolate.

With a marshmallow or two on a stick, toast over an open flame to one’s liking. I prefer just a barely toasty marshmallow. Gooey on the inside and a light toast on the outside. This will take patience. Go slow.

Once the marshmallow is toasted. Put on top of the graham cracker with chocolate. Top with the other one and enjoy the gooey, yumminess.