PB&J, peanut, bread, grape
If I've done my math correctly, I have eaten approximately 10,392 peanut butter sandwiches in my lifetime. Maybe even more than that. In contrast, I have eaten, maybe, 50 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Try as I might, I never really loved PB&J. I simply loved the taste of plain old peanut butter on bread with nothing sweet to muck it up. Still do.
Growing up, there was nothing better than Jif creamy peanut butter in between two slices of white, Holsum or Sunbeam bread, crusts on, cut diagonally, the knife pinching the bread on the hypotenuse of each half. I ate one nearly every day for lunch for years as a kid; and, when I was fresh out of college and making my paltry salary of $17,000/year, I lived on peanut butter sandwiches and Safeway brand macaroni and cheese for quite a long time. If I did ever add jelly to my peanut butter sandwich, it was always Welch's grape jelly because it was the least sweet of all the options, and there was just something uplifting about eating something so purple when you're poor. I can't explain it. It was a little color to brighten up the day.
But I never really liked peanut butter and jelly together (except in this iteration, which I love), and now that I don't really eat bread anymore (gluten-free bread just isn't the same, I don't care what anybody says), I've relegated myself to just eating peanut butter off the spoon -- which isn't a bad thing at all. However, I can't stand the taste of Jif anymore (it tastes plastic to me), and I've become addicted to the grind-it-yourself peanut butter at Whole Foods, as well as the salty, creamy peanut butter available in big vats at the local co-op. Why I didn't just buy those silky, delicious peanut butters for this dish instead of trying to make my own I'll never know, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I knew this dish might be a challenge on a couple of fronts, and while I knew I could make it taste good, I was also pretty sure there was a strong chance my version of it could end up being one of the uglier dishes of my lifetime because of some executive decisions I'd probably have to make in the bread department.
And, away we go....
The first thing I did was separate the 3 pounds of grapes I bought, and cut small sections, remove all but one grape (which is left attached to the stem), and then peel that one grape. Yes, it's laborious. Yes, you're left with a buttload of grapes you either need to eat right away, throw into sangria, or put in a ziploc in the freezer (what I did) and use them as ice cubes all summer long:
They look kind of gross, don't they. It reminds me of when I was a kid and my older cousins set up a haunted house one Halloween in my grandmother's basement. They peeled grapes (eyeballs) and made a bowl of cold spaghetti (intestines), and I very clearly remember them blindfolding us and making me be the first one to get "grossed out." I could hear them snickering as they said, in what they thought were really scary voices, "aaaannnndd, noooowwwwww.... I will place some eyebaaalllllls in your haaaaaaannd...." To which I replied as I held them, "yeah right, those are grapes, you dummies." So, I totally ruined it for all the younger cousins since they were standing right there. And from that point forward, I associated grapes with eyeballs.
So, with the peeled grapes done, it was time to make the peanut butter. I toasted the peanuts on a sheet tray in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.
I measured out 240g of peanuts and put them in a blender with the roasted peanut oil (which smells amazing), water, and salt, then blended until smooth. WHICH NEVER HAPPENED. I know I have a crap blender, but COME ON. No matter how many times I stopped the blender to push down the peanut butter, it wouldn't get smooth. I added a little more oil -- which merely gave me oily clumps. Not the end result I was going for.
It was supposed to be smooth enough that you could "dip grapes into peanut butter and place onto prepared sheet tray." Ain't no dippin' goin' on up in here. I debated whether or not to just hop in the car and go buy some of the unctuous, roasty, delicious peanut butter at the local co-op, but I didn't. I should have. Because what I ended up having to do was clump it on with my hands, resulting in what could honestly be referred to as the national dish of Turdistan:
That ain't right, yo.
I wrapped the stem ends in foil because they need to be protected for the final step in the process, and put the peanut butter-clumped grapes on the tray in the fridge for an hour.
It's at this point in the book's intstructions where I started to lose it. And I quote, "Using a rotary cheese grater or Microplane, grind remaining peanuts to fine powder."
Here's how many peanuts were remaining... the very peanuts I was supposed to hold in my fingers as I rubbed each one against a Microplane to make a powder:
I don't THINK so.
So, I ignored that step completely and took maybe 20 of the peanuts and whacked them up nicely in my coffee bean/spice grinder. Not really a fine powder, but I also didn't shred my fingertipswith any dang Microplane injuries. I think the numbers must've been off in the recipe. I can't imagine why you'd need 485g of peanuts when you use 240g in the peanut butter, leaving you with 245g of peanuts for powder? That you only use for a light dusting? For 12 servings? Hmmmmmm..... Has to be a typo in there somewhere.
Next up? The bread. I bought a baguette at Whole Foods and put it in the freezer the day before so that it would be ready for thin slicing on the mandoline (the book suggests using a meat slicer, which I don't have).
I don't have any photos of the aftermath of trying to slice this on the mandoline, but trust me when I tell you, it did not go well. Things weren't slicing... they weren't even shaving. Pieces were breaking off, and it just wasn't happening. So, I made the executive decision to do with this bread what I'd already done with a few slices of gluten-free bread for my servings of this dish -- I made bread crumbs.
I was bummed that it came to this because the photo of this bite on page 119 of the Alinea cookbook looks really cool with the thin slice of baguette wrapped around it... but I already knew I wasn't going to be serving it in the squid serving piece, so I figured I'd make the best of it and at least focus on it tasting good.
I brought the tray of peanut butter-clumped grapes out of the fridge and glommed on bread crumbs -- gluten-free crumbs on four of them I did on a separate baking sheet -- and the regular bread crumbs on the ones for my friends. I let them rest at room temperature for about 5 minutes, then put them under the broiler for a few seconds -- maybe 15 or so -- until the bread crumbs were toasty and golden brown.
I removed the foil from the stems and lined them up on a platter, then lightly sprinkled on some of the salted peanut powder I'd made in the spice grinder:
The ones with gluten-free bread looked exactly the same as the ones with regular bread. But how did they taste? Well... they were okay. Again, the peanut butter wasn't creamy enough for me, and it made it a little hard to fully enjoy because there were some chunks of nuts (despite my best efforts to remove them). That said, they didn't suck. The kids liked them, and I liked them, but none of us were blown away by the bite. Too much bread, too much peanut butter, not enough of a grape-y burst. The grape part was juicy and nice, but the peanut butter clinging to the roof of my mouth sort of took away from the enjoyment of that part.
I love the idea of this dish, but for me, I'd rather harness the Achatz technological prowess to build a time machine and go back and eat the peanut butter sandwiches of my childhood with a cold glass of milk, in my elementary school cafeteria, with a game of kickball or jumprope right after, and a walk home in the warm sun. That's PB(&J) to me.
Here's a li'l sum-um-sum-um for ya: If you feel like procrastinating on the things you're supposed to be doing, feel free to compare this dish to when I made PB&J from The French Laundry Cookbook.
Up Next: Surf Clam (featuring an appearance by Scott Weinstein, my fishmonger)
Resources: Baguette, grapes, and peanuts from Whole Foods; David's kosher salt; roasted peanut oil from HMart.
Music to Cook By: Old 97's; Satellite Rides. From time to time, All the time, I go on movie-watching binges, where I'll watch the same movie day after day because it's on HBO or some other cable channel I feel like I should watch more often to get my money's worth. Sometimes, that movie is "The Break-Up." I know, I know. The acting is pretty bad, and the story is trite and annoying, but I just can't help myself. Sometimes you get sucked into the vortex and you can't tear yourself away four times in as many days. Ahem. The one redeeming quality about the movie is its soundtrack, and the inclusion of Dwight Yoakam, Ella Fitzgerald, and the Old 97's. After getting past the fact that this band uses an apostrophe "s" (indicating possessive) instead of just a regular "s" after the 7 (indicating plural) [a HUGE pet peeve of mine], I actually really liked their music. It's part jazz, part alt-country, a little bit of surf pop, a little Austin, a little Johnny Cash, a little Toronto (not sure why, but that's what it feels like to me)... Anyway, I like 'em. You might, too.
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