Almond Butter

My sophomore year in high school I had an infatuation with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. No really, I did.

Or maybe I just did because it was edible, and other food in the high school cafeteria wasn’t so much. Therefore, I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch every single school day that year. Whether or not I actually enjoyed it is debatable. The most unfortunate part of this story though, is that I actually bought the sandwich from the cafeteria, and not a single time did I pack my own lunch. Imagine the possibilities! I could have used white or multigrain, crunchy or creamy, grape or strawberry. But no, I paid a dollar every day for that silly sandwich with white bread, creamy peanut butter, and grape jelly. Oh high school me, how I’m glad that is over.

Almond Butter from Arts and Tarts

Another pbj story: I always imagined the classic sandwich of peanut butter and jelly to be infallible. It never let me down when in need of a quick, tasty lunchtime food. BUT, when I was fourteen I had surgery for my scoliosis and was in the hospital for a week. Hello terrible food. Can I just have a pudding cup, please.

I didn’t have much of an appetite; however, that was not acceptable according to all the people monitoring me, so I was forced to pick a meal. The first few picks were all offensive.  Then, I saw the never failing pbj on the menu and thought, ‘perfect, they can’t mess that one up.‘

Almond Butter from Arts and Tarts

They did.

I have never had worse peanut butter in my life. I think it was actually ground up cardboard with some water added to make it spreadable. Really, it was that bad. Give me the pudding cup NOW.

Regardless of my pbj past, I still enjoy a good peanut butter and jelly erry once in while. I have discovered my new favorite version of the sandwich though, which is a bit more sophisticated than my high school or hospital versions. Multigrain bread (preferably homemade or from a bakery), my momma’s strawberry jam, and stick to the roof of your mouth almond butter. Goodbye peanuts, hellooooo almonds.

But don’t go buy that $8 tiny jar of natural  almond butter at the grocery store. (Well do, if that’s really your only option). What you should do is buy the bag of plain ol’ almonds, pour ‘em in a food processor, and let it go. And go, and go and go, for twenty minutes. And then, magically, you have the best almond butter for the best pbj, or abj, ever. I promise.

Almond Butter

-A few handfuls of almonds

Pour almonds (not roasted or toasted or blanched or anything) into the bowl of a food processor. Turn on high for twenty minutes.

The magic starts happening around ten minutes, and you may think its never going to have enough oils, but it will. You do not need to add any extra oil, as some recipes say. Just let the processor go, scraping down the sides as needed, and breaking up the ball of almond paste that forms. Eventually, around twenty minutes later, the almonds will be ground enough and they will have released enough of their own oils to be considered almond butter.

Notes – The noise from the food processor tends to get annoying; hello headphones. Also, the almond butter probably will get hot. That’s because of all the friction going on in there. It’s totally okay. Also also, I like to add a bit of cinnamon to my butter. I typically use about 2 cups almonds, and when it’s almost done add in about ½ teaspoon cinnamon. Also also also, some people enjoy a bit of salt or some sugar in it.

Almond Butter from Arts and Tarts

Love,

B

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Pita Bread and Hummus

My very first job was an interesting one, to say the least. It was in a small American/Lebanese restaurant that primarily sold gyros. I worked there for two of my high school years, and it was a very unique job, one that I’ve realized I’ll never quite experience again.

When I began working there, I already knew the owner, a friendly man who loved to talk with his customers; He was a very chatty man. And when you got him going, he would get so hooked on whatever story he was telling that he became oblivious to everything else.

He was also a pretty fun boss – my coworkers and I would always be joking around with him (because he was so easy to fool) and he never minded. This, we took advantage of…

One evening, as I was filling up mustard bottles in the back while another employee was washing dishes, our boss came to the back and started chatting with us. He was taking a break and happened to be enjoying an ice cream cone (as he had quite the sweet tooth). While we continued working, he talked and talked, going on and on about some crazy customer or the like, without notice to any of his surroundings. As he was speaking, I walked closer and stood there, nodding my head along to the story as I began squeezing the mustard bottle I was holding onto the top of his ice cream.

He didn’t notice.

He bit into the ice cream.

He made a face.

The face he made that moment he licked the mustard was probably the best thing I experienced the entire time I worked there. It was absolutely hysterical – a combination of surprise, confusion, a “did I just imagine that,” thought, followed by “what the heck was that??” thought, ending with wide eyes and a pucker face. He looked at me, and all he could say was, “my ice cream” as I grinned and held up the mustard bottle.

And that was not the only time we messed with his food. I recall a salty salad and a peppered sandwich as well.

Along with giving me my first job (one I even considered fun occasionally), this restaurant was place I discovered the wonders of pita bread (and feta cheese and kalamata olives). Every time I ate a sandwich there, I would make it with pita bread. Fluffy, bubbly, grilled pita.

Since then, I’ve learned that pita is actually quite simple to make homemade (albeit, sort of a long process). And more delicious, of course. This bread even poofs up and gets pockets in the middle, perfect for stuffing full with veggies and hummus and other delicious stuffs.

Oh yeah, and homemade hummus is super easy and quick to whip up. I make a batch about every week; it’s just that delicious. You should make some!

Whole Wheat Pita Bread

Makes about 8 pitas, easily doubles for 16

3 cups whole-wheat flour (all purpose works too)

1¼ cup warm water (about 110-115 degrees F)

2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (or one ¼ oz packet)

1 ½ Tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons salt

1 Tablespoon honey or sugar

Begin by proofing the yeast – dissolve the yeast in ½ cup of the warm water and the tablespoon of honey. Wait about ten minutes until it’s nice and foamy.

Combine the rest of the water, flour, salt, and olive oil in a large bowl. Once the yeast is foamy, mix it in with the flour mixture. All of the ingredients should form a ball. If some of the flour isn’t forming into the ball, add a bit extra water. Once a ball is formed, place on a work surface covered in flour and begin to knead the dough – press the dough down firmly, fold it in half toward yourself, turn it 90 degrees, and repeat. Once you get the hang of it, it will all be a swift motion. Do this for about ten minutes, until the dough becomes smooth, stretchy and elastic. (You could also do this in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment on low for ten minutes.)

When you’re finished kneading, place the dough ball in a lightly oiled large bowl, rolling it around a bit so the dough has a thin coat of oil all over. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Once doubled, punch the dough down to deflate and divide into 8 balls. Let rest again for 10-20 minutes (they will rise more). While they are resting, place a baking stone in the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. If you don’t have a baking stone, a cookie sheet will work too.

After the dough balls have rested, roll each one out to ¼ inch thick disks. Now, this may seem monotonous, but let the disks rest once again for ten minutes. I tried skipping this step for a few and they didn’t form the big pockets in the middle that we’re aiming for. After they’ve had a nice ten minute nap, place the a few pitas on the hot baking surface, being careful not to burn yourself, and bake for 3 to 6 minutes. They should get nice and puffy in the oven. Remove from oven with kitchen tongs or a fork and cool on a wire rack or kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining dough disks.

Notes: The purpose in kneading for so long is so the ingredients are thoroughly combined and the flour starts to “glutenize”. (I may have made up that word?) The dough will start to become elastic, which is necessary for it to rise properly because the yeast mixes with the other ingredients and releases gases, which stretch the (elastic) dough and form air pockets, giving the bread a lovely texture. So knead away!

Serve with hummus and veggies, make a wrap, or any of your favorite sandwich ingredients!

We also made our own chicken gyros for dinner – pita, grilled chicken, homemade tzatziki, tomatoes, sautéed onions, kalamata olives, and feta cheese! It was delicious.

Hummus

1-2 cloves fresh garlic

1 15oz can fresh chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

¼ cup tahini

2 Tablespoons water

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

¼ teaspoon salt

Dash of cayenne pepper

Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all in a food processor, pulse until desired texture.

Notes:

-If it’s too thick, add extra water or olive oil.

-Add more or less salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper to taste.

-I’ve tried being lazy and used a magic bullet. Trust me when I say food processor, I had to switch and just ended up with even more dirty dishes.

-This is a recipe I have memorized and just guess the quantity of ingredients I pour in whenever I’m making it. To write this recipe though, I did use these exact measurements as I was putting the ingredients in. I just wanted to let you know that the proportions do not need to be exactly these – if you like more of an olive oil taste, add more, if you want less garlic, only put one clove in, etc.

-Try experimenting with different flavor combinations. I personally love the simplicity of this by itself, but variations such as olive, roasted red pepper, or cilantro are really good as well.

-I garnished mine with toasted pine nuts, fresh parsley, and a drizzle of olive oil. Perfect.

Pita recipe slightly adapted from The Fresh Loaf