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.

You got Salt in my Chocolate!

We’re all about being frugal, trying to save a nickel here and a dime there, and when it comes to holiday confections we don’t see what difference a day or two makes when buying a box of chocolate. The box of chocolate will be as good on February 15th as it was the day before and it’s always 50% off the retail price. We also know that giving chocolates on Valentine’s Day is a tradition that many of us can’t resist from year to year. So what to do? We say make your own.

There are few flavors that go together so perfectly that people get into heated debates over someone expressing ambivalence, or worse, dislike for the paring. And we don’t understand how anyone could feel like something so perfect has been made one too many times. With our friend Susan’s Caramel-Dark Chocolate Truffles with Fleur de Sel, the ubiquitous combination of sea salt and caramel proves it is a match made in heaven, or um … France. What is it that makes caramel, chocolate and sea salt taste so good together that even the most jaded food critic can’t resist the flavor combo? Here in the U.S. we’re used to the chocolate and caramel or chocolate and peanut butter pairings. Can you imagine Hershey going a bit French by adding a sprinkle of fleur de sel to their chocolate bars? We can already see the revolt by the crazy-ass wing nuts in the red states. “Sea salt in my chocolate? What the hell?” Remember “Freedom” fries?

What difference does a day make? Buy your heart shaped box of chocolates on February 15th or make your own.

Susan has perfected this recipe and you can taste the love and time she’s put into it. We were lucky enough to taste these delicious truffles at their 2010 holiday party. We’re grateful that she shared the recipe with us and the rest of her friends on Facebook. Steve’s office enjoyed the batch Jason made and we’re sure your sweetie(s) will love them just as much. So we suggest whipping up a batch this weekend and if you still have a hankering for more chocolate, pick up that heart shaped box on Tuesday. It’s a win-win situation. You’ll get great, homemade chocolate truffles for Valentine’s Day and the heart shaped box a few days later. Now go hit the gym and start working out so you can enjoy all the sugar calories you’ll be consuming for the next few weeks.

A little bite of France.

Susan’s Caramel-Dark Chocolate Truffles with Sea Salt

24 ounces fine-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, divided
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon sea salt (fleur de sel if you have it on hand)
unsweetened cocoa powder
additional sea salt

Gently melt 10 ounces chocolate in a double boiler or microwave, set aside.

Combine sugar and water in a heavy medium saucepan.  Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves.  Increase heat and boil, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush, until syrup is dark amber.  Add cream; caramel will bubble and steam.  Reduce heat to low and stir until caramel is entirely smooth, with no remaining lumps.  Mix caramel and 1 t. sea salt into chocolate, cool slightly, cover and refrigerate for at least three hours.

Place cocoa powder in a small bowl.  Using melon baller or tablespoon, roll truffle filling into balls.  Smooth with your hands (gloves highly recommended) and roll in cocoa.  Arrange on a baking sheet, cover, and chill overnight.

Line baking sheet with foil, parchment or Silpat.  Temper remaining chocolate in a small bowl.  Working quickly, submerge one cold truffle center in the tempered chocolate, lift with a fork and tap off excess, and set on lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle with a small amount of sea salt.  Repeat with remaining truffle centers.  Let stand until coating sets, at least one hour.  (Can be made up to one week in advance.  Cover and keep cool.  Bring to room temperature to serve.)

* I do the centers in batches: ~10 rough balls at a time using the melon baller, and then pop them into the fridge while I make the next set.  When I’m all done, I pull out each set of ~10 and smooth them into nice spheres with my hands and dust with cocoa.  I also pull the centers out of the fridge in small batches to do the couverture (dipping the caramels in the chocolate), so that the later ones stay cool.  The centers are super gooey at room temperature, so it’s important that they’re right out of the fridge to ensure the outer coating of chocolate covers them well.