Where the Peanut Chews Live

Peanut Chews

My Peanut Chews addiction started when I was a kid in Philadelphia where every grocery store was my supplier. Confession: I can eat an entire package by myself in under two minutes. Okay, two packages.

The Midwest has been my home for eight years; there are no Peanut Chews here. Apparently, 60% of Peanut Chews sales come from Philadelphia and 30% from New York while the remainder comes from chains like Cracker Barrel and Rite Aid.

When our family is on a long car ride heading east, every time we pass a Cracker Barrel restaurant I think three things in this exact order: peanut chews, clean bathrooms, a nice lunch. Happily, Cracker Barrel carries a variety of hard-to-find candies especially for those of us who suffer from road trip induced nostalgia.

I’m not alone in my yearning for these rectangular confections. As of this writing, the Peanut Chews Facebook page has 4,743 likes and plenty of activity. Look at the page; most of the comments are like little love notes – love notes for candy. People are thrilled when they discover them.

It’s difficult to describe their taste because I’m certain that what I taste has nothing to do with the ingredients in the candy. Mostly, I taste childhood; the thrill of scoring several packs in my Halloween bag, a satisfying after-school snack with milk, a good reason to ride my bike to the store with friends.

Peanut Chews come with some history of their own.  In 1917, David Goldenberg, a Romanian immigrant, began selling walnut and molasses chews out of his candy store in Philadelphia. Later, in an effort to contain costs, peanuts were substituted for the walnuts. During World War I, Peanut Chews were given to U.S. military troops as ration bars. Peanut Chews remained a family owned business until 2003 when Goldenberg’s great grandson sold the company to the Just Born Candy Company. (They make chick-shaped marshmallow Peeps.)

So, how do they really taste? A delectable combination of roasted peanuts and molasses covered in chocolate, Peanut Chews aren’t overly sweet like other candy bars. The bar is optimistically divided into 8 bite-sized pieces which suggests that it should be shared. Who are they kidding? Buy them in bulk and find a good hiding spot.

Do you have a favorite childhood candy you can’t live without?

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A Trio of Onions

A trio of onions

baby leeks, Tropea red onions, spring onions

I picked these up at the Downtown Evanston Farmers’ Market in Illinois. They looked so gorgeous in the vendor’s stall that I couldn’t bear to leave them behind. There are three kinds of onions here: baby leek, Tropea and spring onion. Although all three varieties had a similar flavor, the Tropea onions were somewhat sweeter and milder than the others.

This was my first impulse purchase involving onions and I didn’t have a plan. After almost a week in the refrigerator, they started to look less photogenic and I was forced to improvise. Sauteing them in olive oil with garlic and sea salt until they just began to caramelize, I served the onion mixture on top of pan-fried tilapia.

Do you have any good onion recipes to share?

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Marinade from the Tiny Garden

Marinade with Thyme

There are four pots on the deck each  containing one plant: thyme, black cherry heirloom tomato, green pepper and sweet basil. Some years I dream big –  a vegetable garden  I can walk around in and delight neighbors with when I bring them an armful of zucchini for the second time in a week – a hero’s dream.  But, I always end up with four pots on the deck. It’s okay because, realistically, the tiny garden is all I can handle.  Occasionally, it’s plagued by voracious chipmunks, unexpected disease or benign neglect. No matter what happens, something survives and we eat it. This marinade uses the season’s  first harvest of thyme.

Marinade (for chicken or fish)

3/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 chopped shallots

3 sprigs of fresh thyme (leaves stripped, include stems)

1 teaspoon salt

pepper to taste

Combine everything in a deep bowl. Add chicken or fish and marinate for at least one hour or overnight.

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Granola the Hard Way

Granola with Yogurt & Honey

Now, you and I both know that homemade anything always trumps store-bought anything. But when it comes to granola, I’ve been willing to compromise. Granola is something that I don’t make from scratch because it’s easy to purchase a decent ready-made version of it. I use a sprinkling of it on plain yogurt and that’s it. It’s just a sprinkle! How good does it need to be?

Enter practical inspiration: I somehow over-purchased rolled oats and I couldn’t let it go to waste. Crunchy, fresh and sweet, last week’s homemade granola didn’t last more than 2 days.  Apparently, homemade granola is fantastic but you may have to judge for yourself.

Although granola is very easy to prepare, you’ll have to pay attention to it when it’s in the oven as it can burn quickly. Let me know if the homemade stuff was worth the effort.

Granola

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup craisins

Combine everything except the craisins in a large bowl and mix well with a spoon. Spread the granola in 9×13 rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until light brown. Stir every 10 minutes. Remove from oven and mix in craisins. After the granola has cooled, it can be stored in an airtight container for up to 10 days.

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Love Bites

Cake Balls

This is love in the form of cake, just in time for Valentine’s Day.  I purchased these dainty and beautiful cake balls from my favorite local coffee house. We are now in an uncomplicated relationship; I love them. As decadent and addictive as they are, I especially love them for their honesty. They promised to be white chocolate raspberry and that’s exactly what they taste like.

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Lovable Baked Tofu

Nobody is ever ambivalent about tofu. People either love it or hate it.

Tofu Lovers value tofu in the same way they value crossing guards, good oral hygiene, and recycling.  They believe tofu is honorable food. Just ask them. It’s low in fat, high in protein, versatile and inexpensive – you can eat it instead of meat! (How cool is that?) Virtuous and saintly, tofu is consumed by vegans and virgins alike. Some even say they like how it tastes.

Tofu Haters usually dislike tofu for at least one of three reasons: texture, taste, or an aversion to the word tofu. At some point in their lives, these unfortunate souls ingested bland, shapeless tofu. They never recovered from the experience. Don’t even get them started on tofurkey.

Tofu is made with curdled hot soymilk and a coagulant like nigari or calcium sulfate. The resultant curds are then formed into a block. Sounds appetizing, right? There are many variations of tofu.

I’ve used the following:

Firm: Firm tofu is dense and keeps its shape when cooked. It has a higher concentration of protein, fat and calcium. I use this kind the most because it’s substantial enough to survive stir-frying.

Soft: Soft tofu has more moisture in it than the firm variety. I usually use it in soup or with chopped pork.

Silken: Silken tofu is made without curdled soymilk. It has a creamy texture and can be blended or pureed with other ingredients. I once made vanilla pudding out of it.

So where does this leave us? With hope. It leaves us with hope. For most, the following recipe will not result in a transformative experience. However, it might induce a little respect.

Baked Tofu

1 cake firm tofu
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 or 2 cloves garlic minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

Prepare the tofu by cutting it into ½ inch thick triangles. To do this cut the tofu cake horizontally into thirds. Cut each third of tofu in half and then cut each half diagonally to create triangles. Set aside.

In a shallow baking dish combine the remainder of the ingredients. Add the tofu triangles to the mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let the tofu marinate in the refrigerator for one hour making sure to flip the tofu at least once during that time.

Bake at 350◦ for 15 minutes or until the liquid has evaporated. Serve warm or at room temperature with a side of store-bought peanut sauce for dipping.

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Why Are Pine Nuts So Expensive?

Exquisite and delectable, a little bowl of pine nuts is precious. These are pantry diamonds: coveted, expensive, and edible.

Pine nuts were always pricey, but not pricey enough to make me alter how I use them…until now. Recently for a dinner party, I planned to serve bulgur pilaf: a side dish that needs a generous cup of pine nuts to make it magical enough to transport me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. My local grocery sold them in 2 oz. packets for $3.89. Yikes! To keep things reasonable, I decided to reduce the $15 investment and serve, instead, an elegant mushroom tart appetizer with a flavorful but modest sprinkling of pine nuts.

The incident prompted me to investigate (Google) what made pine nuts so expensive.

Diminished supply coupled with increased demand make pine nuts costly. Apparently, the environment in which edible pine nut-producing trees grow is diminishing due to the usual suspects: deforestation and climate change. At the same time, it appears that the world has developed a taste for them. Pine nuts aren’t new; they’ve been harvested for more than 6000 years. It’s more likely that people are aware of the health benefits of eating nuts and, as a result, they’re consuming more of them.

Also contributing to the cost is the way they’re harvested; pine nuts are harvested by hand. Add them to your list of treasured but laboriously acquired foods like saffron and honey. The various methods for collecting and extracting pine nuts range from vigorous tree shaking to enthusiastic pine cone bashing. The pine nut market in the U.S. is worth about $100 million. Harvesting them is a labor of love and avarice.

The mushroom tart was a compromise, but definitely not a cheap thrill.

Mushroom Tart Appetizer

15 sheets phyllo dough (thawed according to pkg.)
½ stick melted butter

1 ½ lbs. white button mushrooms (or assorted mushrooms)
2 tbsp. melted butter/1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2  cup chopped onion

1/2 cup baby mozzarella
2-3 ounces pine nuts
sea salt and pepper to taste

Roughly chop the mushrooms and saute them in the butter/olive oil mixture until they are no longer moist. Add the onions and continue cooking until the onions are soft. Set aside.

Generously grease a cookie sheet and place one sheet of the phyllo dough on it. Lightly brush melted butter over the sheet. Be careful not to saturate the dough with butter.  Add another sheet on top of the first and again brush with melted butter. Layer the remainder of the sheets, making sure to brush each layer with butter before adding the next. Fold the edges of the tart inwards to form an edge. If needed, brush the edge with melted butter to make it stick.

Evenly spread the mushroom mixture on top of the tart. Sprinkle with mozzarella and pine nuts. Add salt and pepper.

Bake in oven at 350 for 7-10 minutes or until the phyllo dough turns a light gold. Can be served warm or at room temperature.

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