Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Jingle Bells

Eat Well Edibles Recipe

We know some of my husband’s thoughts on dessert, but ask for his Christmas must-have: “Mom’s peanut butter balls.”

There were literal gasps of disbelief when I confessed that these oh-so-sweet, chocolate-drenched treats were completely unknown to me until trading my last name for his. And during our first holiday with his family it became apparent that — like my mum’s kringle — they’re essential to the dessert table, and relatives practically mutiny if absent.

No doubt hers will forever remain the best in his eyes, but for the years we’re not able to make it home to Wisconsin, it’s up to me to keep Christmas traditions alive.

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Kitchen DIY: Homemade Roasted Peanut Butter

Eat Well Edibles Recipe

It might seem like it — today’s post notwithstanding — but I don’t make everything from scratch.

I do, however, believe in eating foods as close to nature as possible, meaning those prepared with little or no unnecessarily added salt, sugar, oil/fat, preservatives or artificial flavors. Don’t get me wrong; there are certainly many times and places where packaged and processed foods can and do play a role in our kitchen. In general, experimenting with homemade versions of basic (and some not-so-basic) staples is something I simply enjoy doing. And even better, I feel good about providing these to my family.

One such food: nut butter.

Peanuts_Minute 0

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Rustic (Gluten-Free) Bread Baked in a Dutch Oven

Eat Well Edibles Recipe

The rhythm and method of baking bread from scratch is hands down my favorite kitchen ritual. From start to finish it bathes me in warmth and comforting aromas. It epitomizes what the words “home” and “hospitality” mean to me, and the breaking of a fresh loaf with others is a true act of love.

Over the years a handful of family members and friends began minimizing or eliminating wheat products and/or gluten-containing foods from their diets. Some due to a diagnosis of celiac disease, or of non-celiac gluten sensitivity*. Some due to carbohydrate restrictions for regulation of blood sugar levels. Others because adhering to such a way of eating made them look and feel better. (*Read about the difference here.)

Regardless of what prompted the transitions, parting ways with fresh, bakery-quality bread is commonly an upsetting struggle. As someone who absolutely loves to share my kitchen and its creations with those I care for, these dietary changes presented a challenge for me as well. They also presented inspiration for experimentation and learning about the gluten-free (GF) bread-baking quirks and new, interesting pantry ingredients.

My attempts thus far have yielded successes and, as is the nature of trial and error, some duds. One bread closely resembled a leaden doorstop; one was a sticky, underdone mess; and then there was the loaf that seemed promising but crumbled at the mere sight of my bread knife. It’s frustrating, but I laugh, learn from my mistakes, and try, try again! (Mishaps are re-purposed one way or another into breadcrumbs, croutons… bird food.)

Curiosity and persistence are in no short supply, and today I’m sharing a winner.

GF Crusty Bread-2014

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Som Tam: A Tiny Kitchen Adventure

Eat Well Edibles Recipe

Som tam is the intensely flavorful green papaya salad made-to-order at street-side stalls in northeastern Thailand. Closer to home, you can find it on the menu at most Thai eateries, and occasionally at those specializing in Vietnamese or Laotian/Hmong foods.

My first taste of som tam was five or so years ago at a market in St. Paul, Minnesota, the sleepy sister city of Minneapolis. (Not as curious a place to encounter an authentic version when you learn that the Twin Cities are home to one of the largest populations of southeast Asian immigrants and refugees in the country.) My salad was prepared to-order in the traditional very large clay mortar with a wooden pestle practically the size of a baseball bat used to bash and mash shreds of unripe green papaya with snake (green) beans, chunks of tomato, peanuts, garlic, fish sauce, lime juice, tamarind, fresh chilli peppers, and the occasional sprinkling of tiny dried shrimp.

When the young woman stopped her mashing to ask my preferred level of heat, I responded something along the lines of “make me sweat a little.” Her look insinuated this might be a mistake, but I nodded to confirm my decision — one that seemed less wise as a mess of chillies went tumbling into the mortar. No going back now. We finished our conversation about her returning home to Vietnam over the summer, and she handed me the salad in a large styrofoam cup.

The initial bite was fierce in the best possible way. She certainly dialed it up with those chillies, but it wasn’t so overwhelming that I couldn’t enjoy the contrasting flavors and textures. It’s an impressive feat, and her som tam was enough for me to wish for a mountain of frequent flier miles and an unexpired passport. It immediately became one of my “must-order foods”: if it’s on the menu, I’m ordering it. Purely for research and comparison purposes, of course.

As someone who loves to experiment in the kitchen, and will likely never make it to southeast Asia for a truly authentic version of som tam, I was more than eager to try my own hand at home.

Green Papaya Shreds

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