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Hey JIF! Your Peanut Butter is a Gourmet Treat!

Monday night, I washed out the now empty 40oz. jar of JIF creamy peanutbutter given to me by my friend who moved to Israel. My friend had called me from the airport Sunday night. I did not want to throw the jar away. It is sitting in my dish drainer. Now in it's place sits an eighteen ounce of JIF. I'm a believer, not just because peanut butter makes great sandwiches, but because it also is the base of terrific supper dishes. Unfortunately, the recipes on the JIF web site are seriously flawed. They lack fresh ingredients. They store and reserve poorly. They are often too gloppy and rich. Peanut butter is a rich food to start with. You don't need to gild it with cheeses or meats or destroy it's mild and strong taste with too much seasoning.

OK, you want a recipe. I think this one is an original. I'll have to check other peanut butter company web sites and look for books on peanut butter cookery (The specialty has existed for about fifty years or more), to see, but any cook who tries to be creative innovates. I am one of a handful of rutabega salad making cooks. If more amateurs publish their recipes, there would be many original and interesting dishes out there.

That said here it is:

Peanut Butter, Brussel Sprout, and Noodle Casserole

You will Need

1 16oz bag of frozen brussel sprouts (or half a two pound bag)
8oz of egg noodles (The wider the better, and please don't use the ersatz ones unless you have to.) 6-8 medium carrots
The white, business ends of two bunches
A small amount of oil (preferably peanut oil because it doesn't scorch!)
4 oz water
Hot and Spicey Spike Seasoning to taste (Use sparingly and add a bit at a time. It is an exotic ingredient, available at health food stores and natural food departments of supermarkets. If you don't have it substitute regular Spike and red pepper and/or black pepper)
Salt to taste (You need more than you think.)
1/4 cup (2 oz or a bit more) creamy peanut butter (or crunchy if you prefer. Salted or commercial peanut butter works better than the all natural kind, and I'm not sure how reduced fat peanut butter works.)
Oil for oiling the casserole dish.

Yes, this recipe is pareve!

Cook eight ounces (half a package) of noodles according to package directions. Drain them in a collander. Run some cold water over them to speed cooling. Put the collander on a small bowl and set the "pedestal" on the table to free sink space.

Wash out the noodle pan and use it to perpare the brussel sprouts according to package directions. Move the drained noodles to another container to free the collander. Put the cooked brussel sprouts in the collander to drain. Put the collander back on the small bowl and move the "pedastal" to the table or fridge to free sink space.

Wash out the pan in which you cooked the noodles and the brussel sprouts.

Peel and nub the carrots. Cut them up. Throw out any carrots that are like rubber. Put the carrot slices in a bowl.

Wash the scallions. Cut the hairy ends off of the scallions. Cut them up. The green end is for salads if you still have it. Usually, the green end is long gone and I have an excess of white ends for cooking. You can substitute one or two onions for the scallion bottoms.

Put a very small amount of oil in the bottom of the pan and heat it on medium or until a piece of carrot inserted sizzles. Watch this oil. Since peanut butter all ready has oil in it, you want to keep the amount of oil low. When the oil is hot enough, put on pot holder mits, and dump the cut up carrots and scallion bottoms into the oil. Bring the pan down to medium to low heat, and cover. Let cook for ten to fifteen minutes, until everything is thoroughly cooked. You can stir this occasionally but you don't have to. Wash out the veggie bowl. Don't wash off your cutting board yet. You can use it to protect your table or counter.

When the veggies are starting to get done. Add some Hot and Spicey Spike Seasoning. Add some salt. Stir and taste. Adjust the seasonings. The Hot and Spicey Spike lives up to its name, so add in increments and adjust. Then add four ounces of water. Stir. Measure out a quarter cup of peanut butter. You can make the measuring cup a little too full. Stir the peanut butter into the cooking vegetables until it dissolves. The sauce should get good and thick. Keep stirring to prevent sticking.

When everything is stirred and thickened, take the pot of veggies in peanut butter sauce to the table and put on the cutting board. Add the noodles and the brussel sprouts and stir. Oil a roasting pan or casserole dish. A roaster with a cover really works well. Taste the casserole mixture. Adjust the spices. Stir and taste again.

Put the casserole mixture in the oiled roaster. Cover the roaster. Put in the oven at 350 (F). Let cook to preheated plus ten to fifteen minutes. Everything is all ready cooked so ten minutes is a better target.

Take the casserole out of the oven and let it stand a few minutes before eating it. The brussel sprouts which are a strong vegetable do very well with peanut butter, and egg noodles are sweet and luxurious.

Eileen H. Kramer 6/30/10

A Sweet Surprise

The crop failure of winter squash in Mexico (There was a Pacific hurricane that decimated Mexican squash country. One gets to know this stuff after a while.) still nags me. I wanted dilled spahgetti squash in the worst way, and didn't get any. Some time in midSummer, the California squash rolls in. That will be a relief, but right now string beans and even field peas are back.

The biggest sturprise of all was yard long beans. These look like huge green shoe laces and at the DeKalb Farmer's Market are sold in at one of the Asian vegetable tables. You probably have eaten them in Chinese restaurants as an ingredient in those mysterious fried Chinese string beans. I became acquainted with yard long beans by growing them in Ithaca in the mid 1980's. They are the world's easiest string beans. They survive when other sting beans quit. They taste great. I have grown them a couple of times since. I have eaten them both as a snap bean and a shelly bean. The ones sold at DeKalb Farmer's market are in the snap bean stage.

You fix yard long beans as you would fix any other string bean. The difference this week and other weeks was in the taste. They are skinny which gives them a different texture, but unlike skinny European beans, they are sweet and assertive. Given how easy they are to grow, yard long beans come to the market overpriced. I have sometmies paid two two and a half dollars a pound to get them in my soup. This batch of yard longs ended up blanched and in pasta and pink eyed pea salad, and they cost only $1.49 a pound. For yard longs this is a very good price. These yard longs were also sweet and strong in the right way. They were among some of the best I've had. I guess my mother is right. When the price of produce comes down, its quality goes through the roof.

Eileen H. Kramer 6/27/10

Carrot Appreciation Again

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to cook for two or three other people besides myself on a consistent basis. In the times when I have lived with a boyfriend, our grocery bill usually more than doubled. Some of that was due to setting up a household. I also think some of it was diseconomies of scale. If there were four of me, or three other individuals, what would my groceries look like? I wonder this when I am eating at friends and the wife who does the cooking goes on and on about how important it is to have organic fruit even if it is twice the price. I boggle, especially when it comes to apples. Only some varities are available as organics and it is fun to try new ones organic or not. Also, I need to lay in a supply, and doesn't she? She has four children, three of which are old enough to enjoy whole apples, and one of whom might be old enough plus a husband. Apples, peaches, any fruit are something one buys in industrial size quantities, or at least they would be for me. My joke is that a family pack takes care of one member of a family. Each needs their own family pack.

What is true for apples, pears, oranges, peaches, plums, pluots, and papayas (depending on time of year) is all the more true for carrots, and probably rutabega and beets as well. If it's just me, I consume about two pounds of carrots a week and then some other kind of root vegetable as well. I don't avoid the premade lettuce salad in a bag (Even the romaine lettuce does not really interest me) just out of food snobbery or fear of bacteria. There's simply better and tastier salads and lettuce is NOT and ingredient in them. Most salads start out with carrots. They can be the only or main ingredient as in carrot salad or copper penny salad, or one of the ingredients as in cole slaws or gardineras. I usually either grind carrots on a grater or cut them in slices and blanch them. Neither of these is hard. They are a part of my kitchen routine. Pre-peeled baby carrots are close to tasteless, but the ones you peel in your own kitchen, the big baseball bats and ox hearts, are juicy and sweet. I'd miss them if they were not in my diet. I notice them when they are absent.

If I had two or three other people to feed, my routine would mutliply by two or three or maybe some number in between. I'd be looking at five to ten pounds of carrots a week. To get that large an amount of carrots, you need one of the big bags the Farmer's Market offers for monster bunches of collards. The bulk carrots are frequently the cheapest, even cheaper than a five pounder. There must be other carrot fanatics out there, because they make five pounders. The next size up is a twenty-five pounder. That's for people who juice carrots, a practice that makes no sense unless you really love carrot juice, becuase it leaves behind all the pectin-rich, gut soothing fiber.

One time I was buying seven pounds of carrots and a lady asked me if I was juicing. I pointed out to her the price difference and my huge need. Apparently, most people don't share my carrot addiction. I've often wondered how I acquired this taste. Carrots naturally taste good, but most people aren't as fanatical about them as I am. Clearly something happened somewhere. I did love carrot salad as a child, but it was a love of a hard to obtain novelty. My mother couldn't see grating all those carrots. This was in the days before food processors. I ate carrot salad in cafeterias. It was one of my favorite lunches when I was a small child.

But the roots of carrot addiction lie elsewhere. My mother was fond of carrots. We ate them with potroast, and no soup or stew was complete without them. They were ubiquitous in frozen mixed vegetables and later in frozen fancy mixes. Raw carrot was a diet snack. My mom was always trying to lose weight when I was growing up, and carrots helped her succeed. Then somewhere along the line, when I was in middle school, I got on a pickle kick. I had to try all the kinds of pickles. I'm still a pickle expert. Since pickles are not as healthy as fresh vegetables, I have to watch my intake. I try to use as many fresh vegetables as possible, but pickles are there to love. The problem was pickles have leftover tastey juice, and it seems a shame to waste the juice. One drinks the juice from canned fruit or offers it to a child or sick person. The Settlement Cookbook also suggests saving it and cooking with it, but there's never enough for that. It was harder to find a use for pickle juice. Of course my mother hit on it. She tried sticking whole raw carrots in a jar of leftover pickle juice. They soaked up some of the juice though not that well.

Later on, my mom had some kind of dental trouble. She could not longer bite into raw carrots until she had her teeth fixed. She took to cooking whole raw carrots. Surprisingly these tasted good. Canned carrots and cooked frozen ones left out unflavored and unloved in a steam table give cooked carrots a bad name. The bowl of whole lightly cooked carrots and the carrot pickling experiments are the roots of the copper penny salads I make today or the salads with copper pennies in them.

The carrot salad is part of my young adulthood and independence. My mother never made it. I always craved it. Carrots back in the mid 1980's in Ithaca, New York were .20 a pound. I was a poor exstudent. I knew how to peel and grate carrots. You can guess the rest. I've been searching for the "perfect carrot salad" ever since. I'm close to getting it right at least for Open Door, though when I make this dish for me, I vary the recipe trying new fruits and substituting lime juice for lemon.

The third piece of the carrot puzzle came from the Settlement Cookbook's recipe for butter simmered carrots. I've butter simmered a lot of vegetables since then and also made sauteed medeleys. One recipe can become twenty-five others. My mother never did this, though she makes great cabbage stir fry. Then there are the roasted medeleys. Carrots just lend themselves to a good roasting, especially with zucchin and rutabega. The carrot-zucchini-rutabega combination was Cornell Dining's fancy vegetable. I call roasted carrots, zucchini and rutabega (which is a late summer/early fall dish) Ithaca Style Rutabega or Ithaca Style Zucchini.

So the carrot is the vegetable of a million uses, well not a million, but it's sunk its roots deep into my cooking. I feel like a horse sometimes. I feel even weirder having to explain a love of carrots. Carrots just aren't that special, except they are.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/23/10

Vanishing Foodstuffs

Sometimes food just vanishes. There were neither apriums nor apricots in the Farmer's Market. I don't even try the supermarket. I know the season for apricots couldn't have stopped so abruptly. This was the first year for apriums. I bought them while they had them. I have white peaches and purple pluots (the other plum apricot hybrid. They keep coming up with new, good fruits) instead. I wonder what happened to the apricots and apriums. I find it weird when food disappears.

Now this is not a crop failure like that plaguing winter and spaghetti squash or string beans last winter. This is more inexplicable, like the fact that there was no rhubarb season. Yes, I notice all this stuff.

Another near disappearance that is even more inexplicable is rye flour. Whole Foods on LaVista and Briarcliff did not have it. Kroger's on North Decatur did not have it. I finally found it at Farmer's Market. Now, Atlanta is a big city, and I'm not the only one making rye bread or rye biscuits. Rye flour is really not that exotic. What could have happened? They say we scratch cooks are a vanishing breed. One has only to walk to the root bins in the back of the Farmer's Market to hear some oggler say: "Those are for cooks." Actually beets and radishes are easy to fix and great for beginners, but people are not logical in the kitchen or many other places.

I wonder if I'll have a hard time running down rye flour again. Yes, I am planning to make Roman Meal bread or my own version of it. It is kind of a household staple. The zucchini bread came out tastey. I made one regular pan loaf, and two smaller loaves as fancy braids. I don't know what got into me. Sometimes I just do things like braid bread on impulse. It is fun and even easier than braiding hair. Yeast dough is fun, period!

I have nearly also used up the 40oz. jar of peanut butter my friend who is leaving or who has left for Israel is giving me. I'll feel sad when the jar is gone. He said how big it was and how his family of three would never use it up. I said it would take me two weeks to a month. Now the jar is nearly empty. I'm glad I'm making pink eyed pea and pasta salad this shabbos rather than another peanut butter casserole. The jar could well be empty.

I'm not sure what I am going to do with the empty jar. It is a token of my friend's generosity. I guess I will wash it out and use it to hold pencils and pens. It is too good for taking detergent to the laundromat, and oddly too precious to throw away.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/22/10

On Top of the Fridge

A long time ago, I did a cost out on a meal at home versus fast food. I had ten dollars to spend, and among the items I bought on my not-so-imaginary shopping trip to the Kroger's on North Decatur was a three dollar bag of tangerines. That bag and one recent occupant in that space on the top of my fridge got me thinking about fruit.

First, fruit tends to be competitively priced. The papaya that had its home on top of my fridge for less than twenty-four hours was priced at .69 a pound, the same price as beets or carrots. A good size papaya will feed six fairly greedy people each one very generous portion.

Fruit eating, however, just like scratch cooking requires a different way of thinking and a skill set all its own. First unlike a box of cookies or doughnuts or candy, fruit is alive and even good fruit is never uniform. Some pieces are larger. A few get damaged, and some arrive green rather than ripe. Fruit is mostly water. Hauling fruit is like hauling bottles of soda, only fruit is more bulky. You can't just shove fruit in the fridge. Apples, especially summer apples do go straight to the fridge, but other fruit has to be ripe (but not too ripe because then it gets afflicted or overripe and mushy) to go to the fridge. Some people do like overripe fruit. Some like me prefer their fruit ripe but firm. Some fruit goes bad if it gets too ripe so you have to refridgerate it at the firm ripe stage. This means that one has to sort most fruit, with the exception of apples and oranges, by ripeness. The green fruits usually go to a ripening bowl. Papayas and melons, however, are sent to the top of the fridge. Mangoes can sometimes have a bowl of their own because they are kind of medium size.

Every day one must check the ripening bowls. Though some people ripen pears in paper bags, a bowl is better because you don't want out of sight out of mind. You also have to learn not to eat fruit out of the ripening bowl. The ripe stuff is nearly always in the fridge.

Then it gets more complicated than all of the above. Fruit, apparently is an acquired or a lost taste for some people. As primates we ought to be wired to eat fruit, any and all types of fruit. We prefer sweet tastes. We have eyes geared to see ripeness. Fruit tastes good, but if you don't eat a lot of fruit, some of it tastes strange. I have seen this with nonfruit eaters or I would not believe it. There are mouth feel issues. Everyone knows a kid who won't eat peaches (or apricots) because of the fuzz. A colleague at work tried an aprium and said it tasted "spongey." Apricots do have a slightly fibrous and drier textures, and apriums share that texture. So what...I wondered. I had always enjoyed it. Pears have stone cells. Good pears have lots of rough stone cells. Apples are tart. If you are used to eating pastries, even a good apple tastes "sour." Papaya has an acid kick inside its super sweetness.

Then there is the problem of seasonality. Most good fruits go in and out of season. Apples are not in season in June. Strawberries are now grown in green houses for year around consumption, but those one buys in the winter.... I don't buy them. Some apple varieties are only around for a limited time, Paula Reds at the start of the season, and Arkansas Blacks in the late fall. Blood oranges are another short lived delicacy as are satsuna mandarins. To eat fruit is to accept change and to some extent enjoy it.

Then there is the issue of processing the big fruits, mainly melons and papayas. You have to buy most melons when ripe. Picking a ripe one involves looking at the stem end for a clean, easy break. A ripe melon picks easily. I green one doesn't. Papayas and mangos can and do ripen at home. In fact, you probably want to buy them a little green and wait out the few days.

I didn't have the luxury of a good wait with my papaya. All the papayas at the Farmer's Market were wonderfully ripe and a rich golden yellow. I chose mine on the basis of its size and lack of blemishes and bad spots. Still, it was ready to go, so Sunday night, I took it down and put it on a clean garbage bag spread out and opened up on my big, fiber glass cutting board. I peeled it with a carrot peeler. It was very soft and slippery. It made my hands itch. Papain is what gives papayas their little kick. I cut off the ends and one small bad spot, cut it in half and seeded it out into the garbage bag where the peels formed a slimey pile. I tossed the peels nad the seeds and cut up the papaya into chunks. I put the chunks in a plastic container. The whole procedure took twenty minutes. It was neither hard nor inconvenient, but I had to do it on the papaya's schedule, and not my own. The papaya by the way has beautiful, scarlet flesh and a very intense flavor.

I did not grow up eating papayas. The first ones I bought came in bargain packs of assorted marked down produce. They did not have much taste at all. I tried them again after eating papaya in canned tropical fruit salad. They tasted good, but not fantastic. There is kind of a dead time in the fruit calendar when papayas are in season and very little else is avaialble. Papayas in 2007 were better than nothing. Then two years ago, something changed. Someone improved the breed of papayas and the price fell. Papayas started to taste terrific. If I were not a fruit person though, I would never have tried and I would not be eating papayas. I also would not be eating apriums or pluots either.

The papaya shared its spot on top of the fridge with a jicama. A jicama is a root rather than a fruit. As you can guess by now, the top of the fridge is the place for large items to ripen or the storage slot for vegetables that do badly in the refridgerator. Rutabega and jicama often sojourn on top of the fridge as do winter squash. This week's jicama was reasonably priced and smooth skinned, but I've probably been eating jicama for less than ten years. They are one of the vegetables I tried when I got bored in Columbus, Georgia. They are not well suited to a peeler and have a fibrous outer skin. Worse yet, a pretty jicama on the outside, may be all brown and disgusting on the inside. Buying a jicama is always taking a chance.

Jicama, however, are an interesting vegetable. They are sweet like carrots, but white like radishes, with a somewhat creamy taste and a nice, somewhat fibrous texture. If you have one of those sensitive mouths, you are probably not much of a vegetable eater or a very adventurous one. They are a good substitue if someone in your family won't eat radishes. Last night though, they were a substitute for carrots in a Mexican style macaroni salad with pinto beans, oranges, and red peppers from a jar. Mrs. Dash' Chipotle Lime Seasoning and lime juice added South of the Border flavor, or my American take on it, to a very common dish. It's fun to experiment in the kitchen some time.

Of course now it is very lonely on the top of the fridge, and it will stay that way until I pick up another papaya at the very least. Next week I get to try making some sort of shredded, raw beat salad. These salads are quite trendy, and beets have a lot less acid than they did even a few years ago. Tonight though I get to try adapting my carrot bread recipe (sandwich bread not cake) in Truille's book to zucchini bread. I have a lot of zucchini in the house. Everything has a use if you can think of it.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/16/10

The Peanut Butter Casserole Smackdown

Eat your heart out Jif.com. I reworked your casserole and here is the recipe.

Spicey Red Peanut Butter Casserole

You will need...
1/2 lb of extra wide egg noodles
Water and salt for cooking.

2 reasonable size black radishes or 1 medium daikon or the equivalent in daikon pieces (which is what I had) or even the equivalent in red radishes. Radishes should be hard as rocks. If they're not, don't buy them.
The bottoms of two bunches of scallions. (This is the white business end. Use the green parts in salad. In my kitchen the green parts are long gone.)
3 cubanelle peppers (or two bell peppers. Cubanelles are better for cooking. They're also called frying peppers)
2 mild chilis (Anaheims or pablonos are good.)
A small amount of oil for sauteeing
Salt to taste
Vegit Seasoning to taste (Buy this in the health food store.)
Cumin to taste
1 10 oz can of tomato puree (unflavored tomato base for sauces)
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter (You can use crunchy, but some of us can't have crunchy.)
Oil for greasing the casserole pan (a roaster please!)

Two nights before you serve this casserole, cook the noodles. This is not such a big deal. Drain the noodles. Rinse them a bit, and let them cool by placing a bowl under the collander and setting the collander on a table or better yet, in the fridge. When the noodles cool so that you can handle them and they are drained, put them in a container.

The night before you make the casserole, cut up all the fresh veggies. CUT UP THE CHILIS LAST. Remember to throughly seed out, pith, devein and rinse the chilis, before cutting them up. Wash your hands and all untensils and the cutting board after this. Capsacin burns are nasty! Put all cut up vegetables which should be in bite size pieces, in a big bowl.

VERY THINLY coat the bottom of a stew pot with oil. Any sort of cooking oil will do. Peanut oil is the easiest because it has the highest scorch temperature. You should have to tilt the pan to get it coated. You want to keep the amount of liquid in this recipe down. The vegetables make some pot liquor anyway. Heat the oil on medium (5 on my electric stove).

When the oil is hot enough that a piece of radish inserted sizzles, add the veggies and drop the heat a bit. Add the salt, Vegit, and cumin as the veggies get closer to done. Cover the veggies and let them cook thoroughly. This took about fifteen minutes. When the veggies are done, preheat the oven to 350.

When the veggies are done again, drop the heat to simmer (about a 1-2 on my electric stove) and add the tomato puree. Stir. Measure out a quarter cup of peanut butter and add this too. Stir until the peanut butter melts into the sauce. Taste. Adjust seasonings and put the pot on an UNLIT burner. This prevents sticking and makes cleanup easier. A cooler pot is also easier to handle.

Oil a casserole dish. You can butter one if you prefer, but I'm trying not to make things dairy due only to what I use to grease the dish. Make sure this is a dish with a lid. A roasting pan is ideal. Mix the pasta with the veggies in their sauce. The mixture should be coated thoroughly, but not soupy. Spoon the pasta, vegetable, sauce mixture into the oiled casserole dish. Cover. Put in the oven. Keep it there until it is preheated and then for about ten minutes more. It isn't going to cook for very long because everything in the casserole dish has all ready been cooked.

Remove the casserole to refridgerator. To serve, simply reheat or eat as a cold leftover.

Notes and Substitutions: You can use cut up carrot in place of some or all of the radish. You could make a white sauce with vegetable water and powdered milk or even liquid milk for a more dairy experience. There is also a classic peanut butter casserole that uses pureed carrot in lieu of tomato puree. This is why one has a blender.

By the way, this came out tasting really good. I forgot how good peanut butter casseroles taste. I'll probably make the classic version some time this summer. My next peanut butter dish though is going to be a main dish pasta salad with peanut butter dressing. The Jif site actually has a workable peanut butter dressing recipe. And if you've ever wondered if people actually make those peanut butter dishes that show up in pamphlets and on peanut butter company web sites, the answer is "yes."

I suppose I should also tell the story of how I got started with the peanut butter casseroles this summer. A friend of mine who is leaving the country asked me if I wanted his forty ounce jar of Jif peanut butter. I said: "sure," but then wondered aloud why he didn't just eat it. He said it was too much for his family of three. He said he can't even get through an eighteen ounce jar. "More for me," I thought. I usually buy peanut and honey spread for sandwiches. Regular peanut butter is far closer to the savory end of the taste spectrum. That big jar on the table all but screamed: "soup or casserole!"

I am going to miss my friend and his family. All ready our trips to Farmer's Market are a thing of the past. His kitchen is more or less dismantled in anticipation of the international move. The weird thing about these trips was that neither of us could guess how long we would take or how large an order we really had. He always said that he had nothing much to buy and I always groaned about how big my order was. I think having an empty fruit bowl in the fridge used to drive me to want to restock provisions. Anyway, we'd usually finish about the same time. He always had twice as much as me. He always spent more than he thought he would. I sometimes spent more. I somtimes spent less. The upshot was that I realized niether of us could estimate our time or order size reliably. We both decided his wife could do a perfect job of this, but she never came shopping with us. We also never socialized in the store together. Don't ask me why. I never learned how he shopped and he never learned how I shopped. And that is all.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/11/10

A Night of Pleasant Surprises

All right, so that does not sound like much of a title, but it describes my life in the kitchen. First, I cooked the egg noodles for the spicey, red sauce, peanut butter casserole smack down that's happening tonight. They were Mueller's instead of the usual store brand. I always buy extra wide egg noodles, and not ersatz egg noodles. I buy the kind made with real eggs. Look in your supermarket. The pasta department usually has them on the bottom shelf.

Egg noodles are sybaritic. Before I started keeping kosher, one of my favorite treats was fried egg noodles with vegetables at Mama Fu's. Mama Fu's no longer exists, and it would be off limits if it were still around, but egg noodles have a luxurious flavor and if mixed with sauteed vegetables, well... let's just say I can do it just as well as any restaurant, so can you.

The extra wide egg noodles stand up to whatever casserole treatment I give them, so I always get extra wides. They are easy to find, except that Publix, which does not have as good a produce department as Kroger's. Publix' own brand of extra wide real egg noodles was missing. They had Mueller's though. I don't have much of a good opionion of Mueller's pasta. I am a bit of a pasta snob and like Italian brands like Barilla and Goia or I buy Kroger's Private Label or Whole Foods 365. Pasta is not a generic product.

Well, I made the egg noodles and when I dumped them out of the hot water, I was in for a pleasant shock. Mueller's egg noodles were short, wide, squares of pasta. Kroger's Private Label extra wides are just wide egg noodles. Shape effects pasta taste, and the Mueller's is a terrific product. They should make a very intresting casserole tonight.

After the noodles it was time to prepare the beets for Refridgerator Pickled Beets. I used to make something like this with canned beets when I was in grad school, and summer really is the time for marinated vegetable salads. Red beets are something most cooks dread. Even I dread them. I knew I'd have stained hands and a stain on the cutting board. I figured, I'd just wash up when done. These were good looking beets and not expensive. They were the size of small rutabegas. Usually the beets I buy, which I can get without tops ("bunch beets" sell at a premium and are a deliacy used in either borsht or borsth style casseroles or for beets and greens) are the size of soft balls. Like carrots, I prefer beets large. The reason is simple. There is more beet and less skin.

Normally, I don't peel beets. I wash them well, cut off the stem end and tail, and then cut them into small pieces. This is to speed up the roasting process. For a salad though, I needed to get the skin off of there. Beets the size I had would have taken forever to cook. Whole beets take forever even when normal size. The solution was to peel the beets just like carrots, rutabega, or turnips. It doesn't take that long, and yes it stained my hands. Cutting up the beets stained the cutting board. I have a big fiber glass cutting board that is also my pastry board. Everyone should own one of these. They make clean up really easy! The good new is that beet juice washes off with soap and water. Clean up was easy, and yes, I remembered to take a broom and a sponge to the flooor around the garbage pail. I have to do this when peeling other root vegetables too. Yes, you do need a peeler. It makes this job a snap. Good tools are a big help.

Cutting up the beets was easy. A sharp paring knife takes care of that. I also cut up what was left of a pound bag of carrots I bought. They were wretched carrots, but they'd make good carrot money which was what they were going to be. I heated up the big blanch pot. It's my biggest stew pot and I use it for big batches of sauteed or blanced vegetables. When the water hit a crazy, boil, in went the beets and carrots. Four minutes later, I dumped them in a collander and sprayed them with the cold water hose, put the collander on top of a small bowl and shoved the collander and pedestal into the fridge to drain and cool some more.

Now while I was cutting up the beets, I nibbled some of the pieces raw. Maybe I still am of the opinion that beets, like rutabega and turnips are better lightly cooked or fully roasted. I even like cooked black radish, but raw beets have oxalic acid in them which gives them a bit of a bite that vanishes on cooking. Well, I was wrong. These beets probably have some oxalic acid in them but they were sweet as sugar with that earthy taste that I find really pleasant. There is a vogue for raw, shredded beet salads. Now I know why. I've eaten raw shredded beets in the Farmer's Market Cafeteria in the days before I kept Kosher. I remember they did taste very good. I guess I have a new challenge. I'll need to find a shredded beet salad recipe that is not full of nuts or fancy cheeses, and not overloaded with garlic. Some people have no fear of dragon's breath. I just hope those folks don't breathe on me.

My guess is that beets have improved since I first started cooking them. This is also true of winter squash and white peaches and a few other vegetables and fruit. Produce breeders don't get half the credit they deserve. Oh well, I won't try making shredded beet salad next week since I like to not serve the same vegetables two weeks in a row for a side dish, but two weeks from now, I'm up for the challenge.

On a sad note, I wanted to make dilled spaghetti squash for a during the week side dish this week, but the Farmer's Market had only one, rather sad looking specimen. They also had no butternut squash or kobacha squash. Most of the winter squash this time of year comes from Mexico. This is fine with me. There would be no winter squash any other way, and the Mexican product can be superior to the stuff imported from the north in the fall. I remember hearing that there was a hurricane in the Pacific that hit Mexico. I guess the storm is responsible for a crop failure. If you cook with fresh vegetables, crop failures are something you can't help but notice.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/10/10

Scratch Cook Brain

It's taken me a long time to realize that as a dedicated and habitual scratch cook, I just don't think like everyone else. This really got brought home at the Jif Peanut Butter web site. I was looking for a good, peanut butter based, salad dressing. This is not one bit weird. The entire world, except for Europeans and Americans, eats peanuts and/or coarse peanut butter) as a savory legume. The peanut butter soup and peanut casseroles one finds in American cookbooks are latecomers to a game the rest of the world has been playing since the 1600's.

Well, I didn't have any luck with the salad dressing, but I did find a casserole that sounded interesting, until I looked harder. First, it's a skillet dinner and not al forno. This may speed up cooking if you are making it right before you want to eat it (not a great idea since casseroles benefit from standing.) , but you have to find a separate storage container for the leftovers, and heating them up again means either the microwave (ugh!) or another dirty pan. Second, this recipe uses readymade salsa, dietetic peanut, butter and no fresh ingredients. I'm not a big salsa fan. There are better ways to get a great, tasting peanut butter red sauce. Having both peanut butter and cheese in the same casserole is gilding the lily. Finally, and this is the big one, this recipe uses a whopping twenty ounces of liquid for eight ounces of pasta (two and a half cups cooked). Actually, since the cheese melts this is even more liquid. This makes the casserole almost impossible to serve as a cold leftover.

Fortunately, I can fix this recipe, but it takes my scratch cook way of thinking. I don't think it's really any more work to make it from scratch. The initial preparation does take longer, but the other labor (pots to clean), storage, and handling as a leftover are a lot less. The trick is to think ahead. I realized as I read preparation times for recipes, that I almost never cook any kind of complex dish right before I eat it. I cook nearly all my meals the night before. What this does is allow dishes with longer prep times. It also stops making prep time a dreaded obstacle, because I do the cooking when I have time on my hands. In the summer, especially, late nights are good times to cook because it is not so hot. I keep a boom box parked outside the kitchen (where there is a good outlet for it) to play talk radio or music. And face it, there are much nastier tasks than chopping up vegetables.

Sunday I bought the ingredients for the rework of the spicey red peanut butter casserole. Instead of salsa, which I don't care for anyway, I'm going to use a can of tomato puree (unflavored full strength cooked tomato), and either anaheim (They're a week old and may not last until I'm ready to cook this on Thursday night.) or pablono chilis, cubanelle peppers, and daikon radishes. I wanted black radishes, but they were soft. The daikon were beautiful. I bought all the broken ones since they were crisp enough to break. Cooked radish should add a pleasant kick to a peanut butter and tomato sauce. The hot peppers speak for themselves. The sweet ones do too. I'll have the bottoms from scome scallions to use as onions. I may peel a couple of carrots and cut them up too. The spicing will probably be Vegit. I don't want to lose either the flavor of the tomato or peanut butter. The original recipe called for cumin. I may add some sparingly.

The game plan is to cook the pasta on Wednesday night and have it ready to go. Then sautee the vegetables Thursday, add the tomato puree and peanut butter. Then mix the sauce with the pasta and put it all in an oiled casserole dish with a lid, probably a roasting pan. I'll heat it for fifteen minutes beyond preheat and then put it back in the fridge to stand. Friday, it's supper.

Yes, it takes two nights, but the sauce is fast, and the pasta cooks itself in eight minutes and besides, I'll be making the side dish for Shabbos in the kitchen on Wednesday (It's a marinated salad so it's not something you want to make any other way). The pasta will just go along for the ride.

Now I can hear some folks out there say they don't want to spend two nights cooking. I can hear other folks wonder how I got this anal and organized. I think I grew up around organized people. Also, I spent one summer in an unairconditioned frat house and I worked a modified second shift. I learned about night cooking by accident. As for spending two nights cooking, if you make a "quick dish" every night and measure everything only by immediate prep time, you are going to be spending lots of nights cooking. As for this casserole, I can reheat and serve (These things taste good reheated) it on Friday, eat it as a cold leftover on Saturday (no need for a warming tray), and probably eat it a couple more times. For a family of four, I'd double the recipe and serve it for several days. At some point, one starts hitting economies of scale, but I'm not sure about this. There are economies of scale in cooking for one, and you get them again with more than fiften portions. I don't know where they start. Going from one to two actually means more than doubling everything though I am not sure why. I haven't figured that part of it out yet.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/7/10

The Last Time for Fresh Chick Peas

I wanted morels, but morels are like truffles. Well, they are cheaper than truffles, but $25.00 to $40.00, a pound depending on how badly you want them and where you go, is still not chump change. What does one do with such an expensive delicacy? First, one tries to buy the dried product. Mushrooms have a short shelf life. Mushrooms have no shelf life. The dried ones last for weeks. Second, if one does buy the fresh product, one buys only as much as one can afford. Between five and eight dollars worth at the lower price is about right for me.

There are ways to stretch these beauties. My classic morel dish is split pea soup with morels. They would also be good in lentil soup.T They have a smokey, earthy flavor similar to and really better than bacon. I was going to make a morel, bean, and noodle casserole. Bean and egg noodle casserole is a staple of my Shabbos menus.

As you know from reading previous entries on this blog, none of this came to pass. I never got my morels. They are often unavailable. Here in the Southeastern United States this probably was just not a good year for them. I bought fresh chick peas instead. Your DeKalb Farmer's Market still had them at $2.99 a pound. The Atlantic said the season should be over, but the chick peas looked good. In fact, they looked somehow, as if they would cook up pretty.

I started playing chick pea jacks with the beans. I got tired of it and just shoved a bunch in the bag. The goal is to buy just a hair over a pound. There is surprizingly little waste. The shucks weigh next to nothing. As I picked through the chickpeas I offered others space at the bin. Periodically South Asian or Mexican men came by, eyed the beans, picked one or two up and then walked away. I began to wonder: "Did they know something I didn't know?"

I thought about these men as I shucked the chick peas, and felt real trepidation as I put them up to cook. Earlier in the season, fresh chick peas took eight minutes to cook. I figured these might take twice as ong since some of them were clearly older. There were also some tiny specimens which are the result of bad pollination. Our honeybee population is decimated by Colony Collapse Disorder which followed on the heals of several other bee diseases. Without pollinators, you don't have agriculture. Most of the chick peas I shucked had only one pea in them. That maent that very few blossoms got completely pollinated.

The chickpeas cooked in ten minutes and were delicious, which leads me back to the men and their disdain for perfectly good beans, and a real seasonal delicacy. Could it have been the price? That is possible, but I think it may be something more. A South Asian lady asked me long ago if it was not a lot of work picking out the beans in the bin. To me, it was more like playing jacks, and it was kind of fun. It took me back to the kind of chores I did as a kid. I also think that shucking beans is ideal kid work. I don't ahve a kid, so I get to do the honors.

At the field pea bins later in the summer (Field peas will be alogn in July. Bring them on!) I often meet ladies who shuck their beans in front of the TV. I shuck mine in front of the computer while playing Second Life. The avie dances and I shuck away. I think Americans have a time honored tradition of shucking beans and peas while either talking or doing some other leisure activity. In other words, it's not onerous work. Also most of us never had cooks. If there were manual chores in the kitchen, hey it was not working in the office. Put another way, if you want it, you fix it. The South Asians may have looked upon shucking as pure and unhappy drudgery.

By the way, I won't shuck lima beans because I find them too difficult. There is probably a secret to getting the pods off easily. Don't ask me to know it. Edamamme are also a bear to shuck.

I made barley, artichoke, and vegetables salad wtih the fresh chick peas. Barley salad is a summer staple in this house. It's also a classic Shabbos dish. My other Shabbos dish is turnip greens sauteed with turnips and carrots. That's in a reheating pan which is just a big roaster. It's probably too greasey, but maybe not. The fresh turnip greens, are much tastier than the frozen ones, and fresh turnips (well there's no comparison).

I get a break from cooking for the next few days. I did think about next Shabbos' menu while I was swimmiing earlier this evening, but I'm nto sure what I'm making for a main course. I want to make some kind of marinated, red beet salad. I can use the iron in my diet, and beets are just that good.

I got tempted to look at the recipes on Jif.com. A friend of mine gave me a forty ounce jar of Jif peanut butter, which is not the usual peanut and honey spread I buy. This salty product is great for cooking savory dishes. The recipes were a disappointment, though I may rework one. It is going to need a lot of work. All of them took way too little time because they did not contain enough fresh vegetables. Sorry, good home cooking, starts at the green grocers, and it's not that hard to use a board, knife, grater, and peeler. It's even fun to shuck things. As we used to say when I was in college: "Cooking is a study break!"

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/4/10