Revisiting Alton Brown’s Homemade Peanut Butter

Not long ago I tried making Alton Brown’s recipe for homemade chunky peanut butter in the wok. The big problem I had making it that way was getting a lot of burnt nuts thanks to the circular shape of the wok. I made more the other week and decided to use a high-sided pan and I was able to get a much more even brown on them.

This time around I also added a bit more peanut oil during the food processor portion of the procedure and got a peanut butter that’s still super thick and chunky, but spreads a bit better. I don’t eat it nearly as much as my wife who has it on an English muffin just about every day, but I like the flavor this time around a lot better without those overly-roasted notes.

Oh, one other thing I changed this time around was that I cracked the peanuts out of the shells while watching TV the night before. I was feeling a little restless, but not very energized, so this was the perfect mindless thing to do while sitting on the couch.

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Wok This Way: Alton Brown’s Wok-Fried Peanut Butter

Just last week I wrote about how much I enjoy Alton Brown’s various online outlets for food information. One of his most recent YouTube videos really captured my imagination and it was about making your own thick, chunky peanut butter using a wok. I watched it from beginning to end, even though he spoke with a mouthful of his own product through the whole thing which is like nails on a chalk board for me and soon enough tracked down the written recipe over on Brown’s website.

This is a wildly simple recipe that can take a lot of time if you wind up getting peanuts in the shell like I did. No kidding, it probably took me about an hour to get a full pound of shelled peanuts. I would have gone with the non-bagged kind, but that’s all my grocery store had, so I just dove in and got them done in two different sessions. My hands were pretty beat up by the end, but not too bad.

With that done — or if you get shelled peanuts right off the bat — you’re good to go with the actual cooking process. Heat the wok, toss in the peanut oil and then get the peanuts in the pan. I wish I had stirred them more than I did because I wound up getting some pretty burnt nuts in the process. I did my best to pull the worst ones out, but the final product does have a hint of that burned flavor depending on the bite.

After the salting and cooling process, you toss 1/3 in the food processor and remove. The rest go in processor with some honey and salt and get, well, processed for much longer. The resulting butter was quite thick and got even more so when the first third was added back in.

When Brown says in the video that this is chunky PB, he’s not kidding. This stuff has an almost doughlike consistency. When I first saw that I was worried that it might not spread very well, but my wife and daughter, who eat most of the peanut butter in our house, don’t seem to mind and have enjoyed it pretty much every day since. I use it when I make my morning smoothies, and really enjoy the nutty, salty component it adds.

I also really enjoy being able to make something else that sits in our pantry or refrigerator. Peanut butter might actually be one of my favorites because you don’t need to acquire a lot of materials to make it (like stock, say, or tomato pulp) and it doesn’t go bad really quickly like mayo or vinaigrettes. Now I just gotta find a place that sells shelled peanuts that aren’t too expensive!

I Hope You’re Following Alton Brown On The Internets

alton brown twitter

If you are up to date on Alton Brown’s many online offerings these days, digital high fives all around. If not, here’s a few places you can check him out and enjoy the Mr. Wizard Of Food when he’s not hosting Food Network shows.

First and foremost, Brown’s a pretty big deal on Twitter @AltonBrown. In addition to giving fans the occasional bit of cooking advice he also flipped the script on the social media system by posting photos of hand-written Post It notes with messages and drawings (see above). These are especially entertaining when he livetweets shows like Food Network Star air.

the Alton Browncast logo

Brown also started a podcast over on the Nerdist Network called The Alton Browncast. You can head over there to check out episodes, or download them via iTunes (my preferred method for procuring podcasts). The show has gone through a few different iterations since it debuted. It used to be broken up into segments where Brown would split time between answering listener questions and talking to celebrities of all kinds. I’m not all the way caught up right now, but for the most part, the show has focused mainly on the interviews, though from the looks of it the latest episode is all Q&A. It wasn’t much of a surprise, but Brown is a great interviewer, which is a skill he doesn’t necessarily show off in his other outlets, so it’s cool to hear him use those skills to chat up everyone from fellow Food Network stars and cooks to former Good Eats co-workers and clothiers. If you just want more Alton Brown in your life, this is a great way, though it won’t always be about food, which is fine in my book.

For more straight-up, Alton Brown cooking goodness, you’ve got to check out his YouTube Channel. He’s only posted 10 videos as I write this, but in each one he offers up the kind of great thinking that made Good Eats such a fun show to watch. One video shows him using an old egg carton to organize his mustards while the one above features a better way to hard cook eggs using an oven. I also got a kick out of the below video which has him cooking skirt streak directly on top of charcoal. I’ve never wanted a charcoal grill more in my life!

This is one I have to remind myself to check out every week or so, but each time I see something new on there, I see a new technique I want to use at some point in the near future.

Cooking Alton Brown’s Sweet & Sour Pork

 

I haven’t tried as many recipes from my copy of Alton Brown’s Good Eats: The Early Years for a few reasons. First, I know the book is based on the chronology of the TV show, but I’m not a big fan of the book’s layout. It makes sense for what it is, but I prefer my cookbooks organized by type of meal or ingredient, that kind of thing. I also get a bit distracted by the overly busy page design. And yet, every time I make something from this volume, it turns out good, so I should probably stop complaining about it.

Sweet And Sour Pork (page 342-3 or this link on FoodNetwork.com, if you want to check it out for yourself) was my most recent recipe attempt and, like most of the others, it turned out really well. As noted in the recipe, the first thing to do is cut up a bunch of pork butt and marinate it overnight, which means this recipe takes a bit more forethought than most. I think I forgot to do this the night before and wound up putting it together earlier the day-of and still had pretty solid results.

When you do get to the actual cooking, Brown suggests using an electric skillet. We happened to have one in our kitchen by way of wedding present, so I used that, but it seems like a pan would work just as well. As per usual, I did a lot of my prep beforehand. My wife had cut up the pineapple earlier in the week, so that wasn’t as big a chore as usual. I then got to work on the onion, celery, carrots and peppers, organizing them together based on when they went into the pan. With that out of the way and a flour dredging spot set up in a pie plate, I was off to the races.

After cooking the pork in the pan, you throw in the onion, celery and carrots. Once those get their cook on, it’s time for the more colorful peppers and pineapple to join the party along with the previously removed pork. At this point in the process I was really struck by how colorful this dish is. You can see it in the pictures, but anything with such bright yellows, greens, reds and oranges has to be good right?

The recipe actually called for an easy-to-make ketchup-based sauce to be added to the meat, vegetables and fruit, but it came out a bit sweet and I figured it would be better as a side sauce. I’m glad I made this move because I put a bit too much sauce on one of my servings and it basically washed out all those great meat and vegetable flavors. Drop some of that mixture on top of some rice — I went with Jasmine — and a drizzle of sauce and you’ve got a plate of food that not only looks amazing but also plays to most of your taste buds.

Cooking Alton Brown’s Curry Chicken Pot Pie

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’ll write down the ingredients for a recipe without really processing them beyond the yes/no “do we have this in the house” stage. That was kind of the case when I decided to make Alton Brown’s recipe for Curry Chicken Pot Pie which I came across in Good Eats Volume 1 (page 380), but is also available on Food Network’s website. It’s not that there was anything wrong with this particular recipe, in fact the results were quite good, but I realized while thawing out both puff pastries and a vegetable medley that the intent for this dish probably wasn’t making from ingredients you purposefully bought for this dish, but instead of things you had around the house either partially or in full. Why else would a fresh food proponent like Brown suggest such a recipe?

Anyway, like I said, I still walked away with a wonderful dinner to feed my family, but I’m sure there was a fresher alternative — maybe that’s what his Chicken Biscuit Pot Pie is supposed to be, now that I think about it, there’s no reason you couldn’t throw some curry in that dish.

I followed the recipe as written, but also had to cook a few bone-in chicken breasts which made for a bit more work than I originally thought. Aside from that, though, this dish requires some prep and then lots of throwing the next batch of ingredients in the pot before putting everything in a baking dish, topping with puff pastry and cooking in the oven.

The curry really makes this dish something special, turing the pot pie-esque dish of poultry, veggies and gravy into something that feels a little exotic and deeper tasting.

Making Burgers With Home-Ground Beef

With a meat grinder on hand, I just had to make burgers sooner or later. It wound up being sooner rather than later, though I’m just getting to the post now because of all kinds of business. From the pictures it looks like I forgot to snap a picture of the cut of meat I used to make the burgers, but I believe it was a tenderloin. I read a tip in one of my newer books that suggested freezing the meat for an hour or so before grinding which allows for it to be cubed easier and also grind a little better. I’ve done this with every grind I’ve done and the results have been great.

The ground beef went into the bowl with some chopped onion, grated Asiago cheese and a mixture of seasoning that I pulled from the pantry. I don’t usually plan these things ahead of time and tend to wing it, but I did actually write down what I used this time which means I’m learning at least a little bit as I continue to write about cooking. This time around, I went with an interesting mixture of salt, pepper, steak seasoning, dried mint and Garam Masala. That last one is an Indian spice that I have left over from a recipe I didn’t write about.

Once the patties were formed, they went into two of the cast iron pots we have. I remember seeing a show about burgers on Food Network or Travel Channel and they showed cooks covering their burgers with lids to really get the cheese melted on there. I’ve tried that the last few times I’ve made burgers and you definitely get a much better cheese melt. The rest of the dish just involved getting things prepped: slicing some tomato, cutting lettuce and getting the condiments ready.

I would love to tell you that I could instantly taste the difference between these home-ground burgers and ones made with the store-ground stuff, but I can’t. It’s not that these burgers weren’t good, I just don’t know if I have the kind of palette memory that allows for such comparisons. I do know that these were good burgers. Maybe I’ll even try this combination again next time!

A Very Cook-y Christmas

Hi folks, sorry about the lack of posting lately, but I was busy with Christmas, Second Christmas and New Year’s. We went to New Hampshire to visit my wife’s parents for Christmas, then had my parents at our house for what we like to call Second Christmas (it doens’t really matter when you spend the holidays, after all) and then New Year’s Eve and Day. In addition to spending quality time with family, I also got a good deal of cooking related Christmas gifts that I’m excited to use.

I actually asked for Michael Ruhlman’s latest book Ruhlman’s Twenty last year, but it was sold out everywhere. My wonderful wife didn’t have the same problem this year, getting me that along with his other book Ratio. I chose these books not only because I like Ruhlman in general (he’s a fellow Ohioan), but also because he’s trying to get readers to understand how food works and why it does with these books. I’ve already made three things from Twenty and hope to get through Ratio by the spring. alton brown good eats early years

On that same token, I also wanted to get my hands on Alton Brown’s first Good Eats book. I’m a big fan of his show and how he explains the science behind cooking. I use plenty of his recipes as posted on FoodNetwork.com, but I also like to have the book on hand for deeper explanations. The cool thing about these books is that, while they might be a little busy, they act as cookbook, scrapbook and source of extra information which I like. I’ve got a few things from this book marked for cooking in the near future. kitchenaid meat grinder

My parents, who got me Brown’s book, also got me a meat grinder that attaches to our Ktichenaid mixer. I’m pretty excited about this because it means I won’t have to continue rolling the dice on ground meat at the grocery store. The more I read about things like pink slime, the less I want to even deal with Big Meat. I’m hoping to find a local butcher this summer and really get hooked into that world.

My inlaws also got in on the food-related giving season. My mother-in-law picked out a nice apron/pot holder/hot pad set that will be nice as I current work apron-less and have gotten sauce and splatter on more than one shirt. She also snagged a wooden, covered salt bowl for me. I’ve been using a large white one that’s got a large front opening for a while now. I love the easy access, but it’s hard to clean and a little unwieldy. With this new one, it’s just as convenient, but easier to protect from flying debris by simply swinging the latch shut. nigella kitchen
This one’s more of a gift for myself. While perusing Barnes & Noble for a wall calendar yesterday, I stumbled upon Nigella Kitchen. I’m not super familiar with Nigella Lawson, but what I’ve heard has all been good. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good deal and this $35 book was marked down to $10, so I figured it would be worth checking out after an in-store flip through.

Now it’s time to get cooking!