Tag Archives: cooking

How not to make peanut butter in a Vitamix

14 Jan

Longtime readers will know I have longed for a Vitamix blender since I became obsessed with smoothies at least 10 years ago. Who can forget the famous blender blowout of 2013?

blender explosion

I almost pulled the Vitamix trigger back then, but just couldn’t justify the expense. Instead I found a cheaper high-powered blender, which served me well… until it broke. And then I found another high-powered blender, this one claiming to be on par with Vitamix for 25% of the price. I even wrote a glowing review it here on the blog.  But lately I could tell it was starting to struggle to blend my smoothies, especially when I used melon or other large chunks of fruit. So when Stephen asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I told him I didn’t need any more shoes, purses or clothes.

I needed a Vitamix.

I ordered a certified reconditioned model on Boxing Day, so I got a great deal on it. I read reviews that said certified reconditioned models are often unopened returns, so they’re basically brand new. Plus if anything were to go wrong, it comes with a 5-year warranty.

I felt like a kid on Christmas morning when it was delivered, and made a delicious smoothie that day. I could immediately tell there was something about Vitamix that sets it apart from other high-speed blenders, especially my old Electriq iQMix. I could add ice to my smoothies again without worry! I even used it to make soup. But there was one thing I was particularly excited to try: making peanut butter.

I have a borderline obsession with nut butter. For a while I was buying it in individual portions because I couldn’t be trusted not to eat an entire container in two days. I’m trying to work on eating it in moderation, though, for my health, but also because good, pure nut butter is expensive! And according to the internet, homemade tastes even better.

I bought a kilo of raw peanuts in Chinatown and toasted them myself. I obsessively read recipes and blogs about how to make nut butter in your Vitamix. The top tips were to toast your nuts, which releases their oils, thus making them turn into peanut butter instead of peanut flour, and to allow them to cool fully before blending, as blending will heat them up as well and you don’t want to melt your Vitamix container. (Yes, apparently that can happen!)

I went into my peanut butter-making experience knowing all this… but I was also impatient. I decided to start the process less than an hour before I was scheduled to Facetime with my mom. I let the nuts cool on the tray, then put them in the refrigerator for a few minutes. They weren’t by any means hot anymore, but they weren’t chilled, which was another tip I had read — use chilled, toasted nuts. I was running out of time, though, so I decided the nuts were cool enough. I put the nuts into my blender, slowly increased the speed, then flipped the switch to high. The Vitamix started making noises as the blogs warned me it would, and I used the tamper stick to constantly push the nuts down the sides and into the blades. One blog said the whole process would take 1 minute, so when I didn’t have smooth peanut butter after a minute, I worried something was wrong. I stopped the blender and checked on the peanuts. They were more the consistency of cookie dough, not smooth peanut butter. They were also certainly hot, but my container didn’t feel like it was melting, so I went back to blending. And blending. And blending. Something felt wrong. The almighty Vitamix should not be struggling like it was, I thought. I opened the container once again and noticed some black specks in my peanut “dough,” almost like chocolate chips. But I definitely didn’t add any chocolate chips. Then I pulled out the tamper and was about to lick the end of it, when I saw this:

melted vitamix tamper.png

“Oh no!” I thought. I had done it. I had melted my tamper stick by not using chilled nuts. I poured my peanut dough into a bowl and starting picking out the chunks of plastic.

peanut butter plastic chunks.png

I texted my Vitamix-loving friend to show her what I had done. She told me to email Vitamix customer service since there’s no way that should happen.

I left the kitchen in a state of chaos, lamented to my mom about my peanut butter catastrophe, then spent the night sifting out pieces of plastic because there was no way I was just going to throw out an entire batch of what could be — might be! Should be! — perfectly good peanut butter.

Then I sat down to email Vitamix. But as I was writing about how there was no way the damage to the tamper could have been caused by the blade because the tamper can’t touch the blade when the lid is on, a thought occurred to me: I did briefly run the blender with the lid off. And I used the tamper. I thought the hole in the lid was somehow restricting the movement of my tamper.

That’s when I had a proverbial face palm moment. My peanut butter disaster wasn’t Vitamix’s fault. It was mine.

Looking back at the photos, it’s obvious the damage was caused by a blade and not by heat. I guess I just didn’t want to admit it at the time.

damaged vitamix tamper.png

As embarrassed and frustrated with myself as I was, the good news was that my Vitamix wasn’t broken. And because my old blender was a Vitamix wannabe, its tamper is a perfect fit. I put my peanut dough in the fridge overnight and gave homemade peanut butter another go the next day.

And it worked!

vitamix peanut butter

peanut butter vitamiix

I made delicious, homemade peanut butter, completely smooth save for the odd black plastic speck. Now that I know what to do (and what NOT to do!), I can’t wait to experiment with other nut combinations!

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American vs. British Sour Patch Kids

6 Dec

It’s time for another American vs. British sweets taste test! On the table this time: Sour Patch Kids.

us uk sour patch.pngSour Patch Kids were just launched in the UK in 2012. They are marketed by Maynards (which was sold to Cadbury, which was acquired by Kraft, which goes by the name Mondelēz International, Inc. — have you gone cross-eyed yet?). Maynards is also behind the popular wine gums, which are firm gumdrops that contain neither wine nor gum.

Besides the giant “Maynards” there’s another packaging difference — the American bag is 226g and the UK one is 160g (does this surprise anyone that the American one would be bigger?). I got the US one for $2 (£1.32) and the UK one for £1 ($1.51), which is roughly the same price per gram (the US one is a slightly better value).
us uk sour patch kids.pngThe other main difference is in the list of ingredients. Here’s what’s in the US version:

us sour patch kids ingredients.pngMmm…. corn syrup and yellow 5.

Did you happen to catch the little guy on the front of the UK package saying “We are made with natural colours”? Check out the UK Sour Patch Kids ingredients:

uk sour patch kids ingredients.png

Mmm… Paprika, spinach, stinging nettle  and turmeric extract!

Here’s what the kids themselves look like. The colors, Duke, the colors!

sour patch kids countries.png

See that purple UK Sour Patch Kid on the far right that looks like a naturally dyed blue raspberry? It’s not. It’s blackcurrant.

“What the heck is blackcurrant?” my dad asked.

I showed him this photo:

blackcurrant.jpg

“That looks weird,” he said. Then he popped a blackcurrant Sour Patch Kid in his mouth.

“That’s $%&@!” he declared.

Blackcurrant is not an American flavor whatsoever, but the Brits love it. According to Wikipedia, “in Britain, 95% of the blackcurrants grown end up in Ribena and similar fruit syrups and juices.” During our very first trip to Tesco after we moved to London we bought a bottle of Ribena because it was on sale and we thought it was grape juice. I think we drank almost half the bottle before realizing it was concentrate. Tip: Ribena tastes much better diluted with water.

Sour Patch Kids Soda Popz are only available in the UK, New Zealand and Australia. So naturally I had to walk an hour to Morrison’s (the only place that seems to sell them) to get some.

sour patch soda popz.png

They too are made with natural colours and come in cola, orangeade, cherryade, tropical and apple fizz flavours. Judging by that list, I’m not entirely sure the folks at Maynards/Kraft/Mondelēz International have ever had soda pop. The cola one is especially tasty (and very soda popz), orange can pass for a soda flavour (but it’s also included in the regular pack), but the others do not belong. Why not make cherry cola? Or Dr. Pepper? Or root beer? Basically all the flavors in the Jelly Belly Soda Pop Shoppe collection. And why aren’t Sour Patch Kids Soda Popz available in the US, the world capital of soda consumption? Because they know we would see through their questionable flavor selection?

sour patch kids soda.png

Here are all the kids in a group family photo.

sour patch kids different flavors.png

Now for the important questions I know you’re wondering: how did they taste? Which one is the best?

Like with my Cadbury Egg experiment, the US Sour Patch Kids tasted like what my brain thinks Sour Patch Kids should taste like — like childhood and sweet, sweet corn syrup. They got a natural advantage. The UK ones had a slightly different texture — they were a bit more chewier and dense, almost like Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles. If I had to rank my favorite flavors I think I’d pick American cherry, British cola then American raspberry. British cherry just didn’t have that punch that the American one did, however eating the British bag made me feel like I was somehow being healthy by not consuming handfuls of corn syrup and artificial colors with my buckets of sugar. As for the blackcurrant one, I have come to enjoy blackcurrant as a fruit and flavor — it’s one of my favorite Fruit Pastilles, but it just doesn’t go right with the sour coating. I’ll take a corn syrupy blue raspberry Sour Patch Kid over a blackcurrant one any day.

Silver balls, silver balls, it’s Christmas time at Poundland

2 Nov

When I was little my mom and I used to always decorate Christmas cookies with “those little silver balls.” When my mother was little her mother used to decorate Christmas cookies with “those little silver balls.” Little silver balls became a Christmas cookie tradition. But then suddenly Kroger, and every other store around us, just stopped selling them. Many years went by with me just decorating cookies with icing, elaborate designs I saw on Pinterest, and good old-fashioned … ahem, jimmies. (I really hate that word for some reason. One could say it … rustles my jimmies).

rustled my jimmiesAnyway… today I found myself in Poundland as one of my many stops on my Monday grocery shopping adventure. As what always seems to happen when one wanders into a dollar store or pound shop, I went in looking for one thing — a turkey baster — which they did not have, so I ended up leaving with three unrelated items: the perfect birthday card for my friend, pumpkin seeds so I can make this recipe tomorrow, and little silver balls.

silver balls uk
Yes, the famous little silver balls of my childhood are alive and well in the UK. Naturally I had to buy them to bring with me to the US next month. When I got home I got to googling — I was curious about what happened to the little silver balls in the US, and whether or not customs was going to stop me from importing them.

For starters, their proper name is “silver dragees,” but we all know “little silver balls” is much better. They are actually for sale on Amazon with this disclaimer: “Dragees are classified as non-edible and for decoration only by the FDA in the United States because they contain minute quantities of heavy metals. However, they are non-toxic and safe for use on food and are considered edible in many countries outside of the U.S. where they are consumed on a variety of confections.” According to Wikipedia, early in the 20th century, the silver finish may have contained mercury, but it no longer does. Is the FDA just too lazy to change its stance on little silver balls then?

A 2003 lawsuit in California made everybody freak out (good going, California), so most distributors agreed to stop selling them there. Perhaps other distributors, such as Kroger in northern Kentucky, decided to follow suit just to be safe? I would like to quote a baker from a SFGate article:

“Oh my god, people have been eating them for a hundred years. I will always buy them. I love dragees!”

In short: everyone stop getting your panties in a bunch, eating little silver balls on your cookies a couple times a year is not going to kill you (unless maybe you shotgun the entire container at once and choke, as I always want to do with sprinkles. I love sprinkles (just not when they’re called “jimmies”)). The baker quoted above says she buys her dragees in France. And now I buy mine in the UK. And if the US customs official asks, I do not plan to eat them, I will use them for decoration only.

The time I lost my super power

8 Sep

So far I’ve gone through life thinking I have a magical super power. I thought I had magical DNA worthy of study that somehow made me resistant to a scourge that has plagued humanity for millennia. I laughed when I saw the products invented to ease the condition I was somehow immune to. I almost used it as my fun party trick fact: I can curl my tongue, crush a pop can between my shoulder blades and cut onions without crying.

Until today.

When I was back at my parents’ house in May, I was inspired to make caramelized onions. I wasted an hour of my life stirring onions on the stove-top, only to end up with charred onion crisps. But this week onions were one of Aldi’s Super 6 (1 kg for 39p!) and Stephen is traveling, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to consume copious amounts of onions and make my flat smell like a White Castle. (You’re welcome, neighbors). But this time I was going to do it the fool-proof way: in the slow cooker.

The recipe was easy: chop up onions, toss with melted butter, then set it and forget it (and stir it once or twice). Since I wanted to use the caramelized onions on my salad for dinner, I started chopping them right after breakfast so they could cook throughout the whole day. After I sliced the first one, I started to feel a burning in my eyes. This was unfamiliar. Was it allergies? Dust? Surely it wasn’t the onion, because I have a super power. By the fourth onion when tears were streaming down my burning eyes, I finally came to grips that my super power was no more. The pain was unreal. Even when I finished chopping the onions and they were on their way to caramelization, just walking into the kitchen made my eyes burn. Was the syn-propanethial-S-oxide airborne?!

The tears and burning eventually subsided and I was left wondering what happened. Why has an onion never affected me like this before? Was it because I usually cut onions at my parents’ house, where they’re often refrigerated and I’m wearing contacts, not my glasses? Are room-temperature cheapo Aldi onions particularly high in syn-propanethial-S-oxide in September? Is it because I rarely cut onions anymore? (Because I’m lazy and Stephen doesn’t like them, so I don’t often cook with them). And depending on how good these crockpot caramelized onions turn out, should I invest in these?

onion_goggles

Homemade tater tots expectation vs. reality

24 Apr

Lately I have been craving tater tots. Even when I lived in the U.S., tater tots were not something I ate — or even thought about — very often. They were a pleasant treat in the school cafeteria, or as an adult, at Bar Louie or similar establishment. It’s probably been over a year since I’ve eaten tater tots, and I haven’t felt like I’ve been missing out. But then a couple weeks ago tater tots worked their way into a conversation Stephen and I were having, and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I searched mysupermarket.co.uk and was disappointed to find that tater tots are definitely an American thing, like proper dill pickles and Twizzlers. I temporarily forgot about tater tots, until this recipe came up in my food blog feed.

Homemade tater tots! And I just happened to have a bag of potatoes handy, which I seldom buy, but they were one of Aldi’s Super 6 deals of the week. It was fate!

The first step (after paraboiling) was to grate the potatoes. I do not have a box grater, so I thought I’d do it one better — I’d spiralize, then “rice” my potato “noodles” for a similar effect. I was even feeling cocky, thinking I could submit the idea to one of my favorite food blogs, Inspiralized.com.

spiralized tater tots
That step actually worked out well. I formed the mixture into little tots (with a little bit of a struggle), then waited for Stephen to come before frying them up.

homemade tater totsThis is probably where I went wrong. In an effort to be healthy, I didn’t want to full-on fry them, but baked tater tots are the worst, so I tried to fry them in a tiny bit of oil. They soaked up the oil and started to stick. Some parts burned, some parts wouldn’t cook, and some tots just plain turned into hashbrowns.

cook homemade tater totsA couple of them managed to stay fully formed, but most of them were mush.

homemade tater tots burnt
Expectation:

homade tater tots expectation
Reality:

homemade tater tots failAs far as the taste goes, they were just meh. They were actually really good hashbrowns, but I think factoring in the amount of time and effort that went into making said hashbrowns made me like them less. When I asked Stephen what he thought, he asked why I couldn’t just buy tater tots on Amazon. Amazon does sell almost everything, but I don’t think Amazon.co.uk has cornered the frozen tater tot market yet.

Making homemade tater tots was definitely a learning experience, and this is what I learned:

Non-Americans: Visit an American-themed restaurant in your country or wait until you visit the US of A and get some real tots.

Americans: Go buy some tots, Ore-Ida knows what it’s doing. (And a little disodium hihydrogen pyrophosphate will not kill you just because you struggle to pronounce it.)

Another reason I need a Vitamix

27 Feb

I think I may have mentioned this before, but I’m going through an oatmeal phase. For the past few months I have had nothing but oatmeal for breakfast, and often for lunch too. (If you’re wondering why I’m not 90 pounds, it’s because I often load it with chocolate and whatever the heck this magical stuff I bought from IKEA is:

ikea chocolate butterscotch spread

But this morning I decided to do something different. Last night I discovered a recipe for a strawberry shortcake smoothie, which involved frozen strawberries, cashews and almond milk — all ingredients I had. So instead of busting out the oats and chocolate this morning, I dusted off my blender. (Literally — it’s been sitting on the counter untouched since my obsession switched from smoothies to oatmeal months ago.) I put in all the ingredients and began the blending. Everything was going smoothly (no pun intended). Then I decided to get ambitious. I added two dates for sweetness. The blender chugged along, but I could tell it wasn’t happy about it. It fared better than my mini food processor though. I dipped a spoon in the blender for a taste and it was magical — it really did taste like strawberry shortcake! And it was healthy! I was going to have a great breakfast! I twisted the container off the blender base to pour my smoothie into my glass. That’s when this happened:

blender bottom fell out

blender explosion

The blade somehow remained attached, separating from the container. My entire strawberry shortcake smoothie spilled out the bottom in one quick movement as I lifted the container up. It took me a minute to process what had happened.

anchorman im not even mad

Of course, my first thought was to grab my camera (my point and shoot, not the DSLR. Ain’t nobody got time for that when there’s a breakfast explosion). Then I had to clean the mess up, reminding me that I need to stop buying cheap paper towels, as well as cheap blenders.

You know what the worst part was? Not that I had to throw away my blender — it served me well for the price I paid two years ago — but that after all that work this was what I got for breakfast:

strawberry shortcake smoothie(And the bit I managed to scoop off the machine and counter until I remembered how long it’s been since I’ve washed that counter.) What a waste of strawberries, cashews and almond milk.

It may be time to rethink my stance on ridiculously expensive high-powered blenders.

ToMAYto, toMAHto

30 Oct

So I bought some tomatoes the other day. I know what you’re thinking — “So what?” The thing is, I hate tomatoes. Every time I go to a restaurant, whether it’s Taco Bell, Panera or somewhere fancy, I always amend my order with “no tomato.” I don’t like their taste or slimy texture. Ketchup I love, tomato sauce I like, but I can’t get behind tomatoes themselves.

But then the other day we were at a Japanese restaurant that gave us some free tomatoes as an appetizer. They were sliced and drizzled with some kind of sauce, perhaps balsamic and soy. I had already finished the edamame appetizer and was still hungry — hungry enough to eat a tomato slice. And it wasn’t bad. I didn’t like it enough to eat another slice, but didn’t hate it enough to spit it out. It served its purpose of keeping me busy until my main arrived, and I promptly forgot about the tomato. … until a few days later. I suddenly started craving tomato. So much so that I went to Tesco and bought a whole pack of tomatoes and cooked them with onion, lentils and balsamic vinegar for lunch. It was delicious. But how does that happen? How can you go from detesting something to craving it? It’s happened to me once before. I used to hate sushi. The thought of eating raw fish seemed like the grossest thing ever. Until one day when I was super hungry during my job in college. One of my coworkers had picked up a sushi roll at the student union and was eating it right next to me. And suddenly all I could think about was sushi. Even the soy sauce seemed delectable. So the minute I got off work, I went to the student union and got a California roll  — and it was magical, artificial crab and all. It took me awhile to advance from rolls named after US cities and states (California and Philly rolls were my standbys) to actual slices of raw fish. In fact, I think that only happened because I was in China once and they put a slice of sashimi (raw fish) in front of me and I felt compelled to at least try it so as not to be rude. But now I eat sushi and sashimi at least two or three times a week. I wonder if tomatoes will somehow make it into the rotation (although I still have to scoop out the slimy stuff and I still don’t think I’d enjoy them on a sandwich, but baby steps…)