For the love of peanut butter

Adrienne Freeman/Contributing Writer Published January 23, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Adrienne Freeman/Contributing Photographer

Familiar and comforting noodles form the base for the flavor of peanut butter in this slightly spicy peanut sauce. Fresh red peppers, asparagus and several spices elevate everyday peanut butter to a creamy, savory surprise in this one-dish meal.

After a sugar-laden December and before approaching a chocolate-covered February, one would think the food world would highlight things such as lettuce and carrots, bottled water and beets in the new year — but no. Instead, all in the same week, January serves as host to National Popcorn Day on Jan. 19, National Pie Day on Jan. 23 and National Peanut Butter Day on Jan. 24.

A quick Internet search reveals that peanut butter is almost as American as apple pie. The United States is the third largest producer of peanuts, right behind China and India, with Texas and Georgia as the most peanut-prolific states.

More than half of the American peanut crop goes into making peanut butter. No wonder. Each student eats more than 1,500 PB&J sandwiches before graduating from high school. That’s a head start on the approximately 3 pounds of peanut butter per year consumed by every American — a whopping 700 million pounds annually.

As tasty licked off the end of a spoon as it is in a sandwich, peanut butter is a versatile ingredient; it can be used in sweet and savory dishes. Its earthy nuttiness pairs well with spicy ingredients or can easily be sweetened to serve as the star or as the supporting role in desserts and candy.

REESE’S PEANUT BUTTER PIE

Adapted from the Hershey Chocolate Co.

Ingredients:

Peanut Butter Crumb Crust (recipe follows)

1 8-ounce package Reese’s Mini Peanut Butter Cups, divided

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup milk

1 tub (8 ounces) frozen nondairy whipped topping, thawed

Additional whipped topping or sweetened whipped cream

Directions:

Prepare the Peanut Butter Crumb Crust.

Coarsely chop remaining peanut butter cups; set aside.

Combine peanut butter, cream cheese and vanilla in a large bowl; beat until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar and milk, blending until smooth. Fold in whipped topping. Stir in chopped peanut butter cups. Pour into the prepared crust.

Cover and freeze several hours or until firm. Soften slightly before serving. Garnish each slice with whipped topping and 1 to 2 mini peanut butter cups. Cover before freezing leftover pie.

Peanut Butter Crumb Crust

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups vanilla wafers (about 45 wafers), crushed

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

3 tablespoons butter

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Stir together crushed vanilla wafer crumbs and powdered sugar.

Place the peanut butter and butter in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at medium power (50 percent) for 30 seconds or until butter is melted and mixture is well blended when stirred. Add to crumb mixture, blending thoroughly. Press onto bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake 5 minutes.

Cool completely before filling.

Cook’s note: 1 extra-large graham cracker or chocolate crust may be used instead of the prepared peanut butter crust.

CHINESE NOODLES WITH SPICY PEANUT SAUCE

Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

This is a recipe that can be served warm or cold. For best results, don’t dress the noodle mix until just before serving. If storing leftovers, store in separate containers.

Ingredients:

1 pound thin spaghetti

2 cups cooked chicken breasts, shredded into large bite-size pieces

1/2 pound asparagus, woody ends removed, and cut in thirds diagonally

1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded

2 scallions (white and green parts), sliced diagonally

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted

For the dressing:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup good apple-cider vinegar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

1/2 tablespoon honey

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon peeled, grated fresh ginger

1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

1/4 cup smooth peanut butter

1 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare the spaghetti according to package directions, al dente; set aside.

Remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin, and shred the chicken into large bite-sized pieces.

Blanch the asparagus in a pot of boiling salted water for 3 to 5 minutes until crisp-tender. Immerse the asparagus into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain. Cut the peppers in strips about the size of the asparagus pieces. Combine the cut chicken, asparagus and peppers in a large bowl.

Whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing, and pour over the chicken and vegetables. Add the scallions and sesame seeds, and season to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature.

PEANUT BUTTER POPCORN

Ingredients:

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

6-8 cups popped popcorn

Directions:

Place popcorn in large bowls or on aluminum-foil-lined cookie sheets.

In a small pan over medium heat, melt together corn syrup and sugar. Add peanut butter and stir constantly until completely combined. Be cautious — peanut butter can burn if it cooks too quickly. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Stir mixture into popcorn and cool. Store in an airtight tin.

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