Growing up here in Fort Lauderdale I was lucky enough to attend a grade school close to home, with all my friends from kindergarten, boasting a killer baking staff. The East Side School cafeteria ladies didn’t open boxes when it came to cakes, pies and cookies for us kiddies. No ma’am. The predominantly black women who staffed the cafeteria were accomplished cooks and bakers who cranked out old school baked goods on a daily basis. They were kind to all of us students and we in turn bowed down to them with reverence and respect because they were grown ups…you watch your p’s and q’s around grown ups. These ladies were experts in the kitchen and coming from a home where Mama didn’t cook or bake I was highly appreciative and anticipated lunch every day knowing it would be far better than anything I would ever be served at home. Do you recall the peanut butter cake you had in grade school? The squares were heavy and thick in texture yet the cakes melted in your mouth leaving a certain salty sweet taste. Oh, heaven. Lately I’ve been craving that same salty sweet sensation and set about to have it. I came up with this. Alone in the house with two pans was virtual diet suicide. I took four squares over to my friend Rob’s house. He had fiddled with my father’s ancient bedside table lamp which wasn’t working. At 94 years old Daddy really depends on that lamp for the inordinate amount of reading he does. And after 5 minutes of fooling with it Rob had tightened it up, fine tuned the sockets and turned the on/off chains to a place where Dad could control the lamp with ease. Make my Daddy happy, make me happy. I made Rob take a bite of the cake and watched his reaction like a hawk. His first words after clearing his palate of the dense stuff were, “I’m sorry Miz Whitcomb, but I don’t have my math homework cuz I didn’t do it!” He was back in grade school and that’s what I wanted. Old school peanut butter cake will take you back…and in a good way.
This is a crazy simple cake recipe. It’s best served with coffee or milk. Iced water will do but coffee or milk are best. When the cake smells done it probably is done. I have light-colored baking sheets however if yours are dark keep an eye on them as they’ll bake your cake much faster. It’s a thin cake, not big and puffy and you don’t want it to burn. When preparing the icing you must stir continuously. I can’t stress that enough. Peanut butter scorches easily. But if you use a whisk and keep stirring until smooth you will be rewarded with a trip back in time. When you serve this to your children or grandchildren you can regale them with stories of how you had to walk 10 miles uphill BOTH WAYS to school. Enjoy!
Southern Peanut Butter Squares
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter
- 3/4 cup butter (12 tablespoons)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 cups confectioners sugars
- Pre-heat oven to 400°. Set aside a standard 12’X17″ light-colored baking sheet with a lip or 2 12″X9″ light colored baking sheets each with a lip.
- In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan combine peanut butter, butter, water and whisk over medium heat until completely combined.
- Remove from heat and whisk in milk, eggs and vanilla extract.
- Pour the peanut butter mixture over the flour mixture in the large bowl and stir until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
- Pour into baking sheet/ sheets and bake 18-20 minutes or until the sides of the cake pull away from the pan. If using dark-colored baking sheets test for doneness at 15 minutes.
- Remove cake from oven and cool on cooling rack, make the icing as the cake cools.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat combine peanut butter, milk and butter and whisk until all ingredients have dissolved and are combined.
- Add confectioners sugar and continue whisking until completely smooth.
- Remove from heat and pour over cake.
- Allow icing to set, about 30 minutes.
- Cut into 3″X3″ squares and serve.
With autumn settling in I am ready to bulk up. Give me a salad with lacinato kale and Napa cabbage. I want peppery sprouts, sweet shredded carrots and savory red onion. No longer does a light lime vinaigrette dressed on romaine cut it. This girl’s hungry and I have the perfect dressing to tame my runaway appetite. My spicy asian peanut dressing marries well with the heft, sometimes tough and often leathery texture of kale and cabbage. And when it starts getting dark at 5:30 in the evening I’m ready to tuck into an enormous salad topped with an organic grilled chicken breast or a spicy jerked Mahi filet. The dressing keeps well for a week. It’s also superb over cool noodles with grilled or raw vegetables or as a dip for meat or chicken. Children love it but if you are serving it to little ones, definitely scale back on the chili oil as it packs some great heat. Gosh, I almost forgot. All these products can be found in the Asian section of your grocery store. Please, please try the fish sauce. If you’ve not tried it before know it smells bad. Really bad. But only in the bottle. You don’t taste it at all in the dressing but it adds a depth, a level of flavor that you expect in a quality restaurant peanut dressing. Without fish sauce this dressing is flat and one-dimensional. So go for it and enjoy!
Spicy Asian Peanut Dressing
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
- 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter, I use one with no additives what so ever
- 2-3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoons plus 3 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar, packed
- 2 teaspoons hot chili oil
- juice of 1 lime
- 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
- salt to taste
- Place all ingredients in a food processor, blender or Magic Bullet and pulse until mixture is completely smooth.
- Refrigerate until ready to use. Allow to sit out at room temperature for 10-15 minutes if dressing thickens too much in the refrigerator.
Poking around the produce section of my grocery store I found a real treat…fresh peanuts. They’re green peanuts. They’ve not been shelled or roasted, just picked and sent to me. Ready to boil to make this snack. Boiled peanuts. All three of us love these as well as the rest of my family. I was introduced to them when I went to school in Georgia. Friends of mine had all kinds of tips and pointers for me. My friend Parks told me how her daddy’s favorite boiled peanut stand was on a road outside of Athens, Georgia on the way into the university. My college boyfriend initiated me to the joys of boiled peanuts at Southern gas stations So here’s the delicacy that makes everyone just a little happier. Except maybe your doctors. These precious goobers are highly addictive so watch out. You can add flavorings to the salty water making them completely to your liking. A handful of fresh garlic gloves make these tremendous and adding red pepper flakes makes my heart sing. Often they’re eaten outside where you can throw the shell in the grass or on the ground. If you plan on storing them make sure you keep them in the salty water in which they were cooked. It keeps them fresh two or three days longer in the refrigerator. Just a few years ago when Dana, Andrea and I went on girl’s weekend at Hawks Cay I found them at some gas station in Islamorada. Driving around after a full day of sun with a styrofoam cup of boiled peanuts and cold gallon jug of rum punch in the back seat makes for three very happy girls. Oh, wait! I forgot to tell you they’re divine made in a crock pot. Can it get any easier? I think not. So I, for one, am going to count my blessings and pony up to a big pot of boiled peanuts. Or as they say in the South “boll” peanuts.
Southern Boiled Peanuts
- 8 cups fresh, green peanuts in the shell, rinsed
- 1 cup of table salt
- 2-3 tablespoons red pepper flakes or a handful of fresh, peeled garlic cloves, both are optional
- a large pot of water
- Add salt and washed peanuts to the pot of water along with red pepper flakes or garlic if using and bring to a boil.
- Maintain a medium bubble and boil for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
If made in a crock pot use the same ingredients but add a couple of tablespoons of salt for every quart of water used. Cook in crock pot 4 to five hours or all day depending on your taste. The longer they sit in that salty water the saltier and tastier they become.