Sunday, August 30, 2015

Kitchens of the Great Midwest, J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal, is the story of a meal, and ultimately a life. It follows, both up close and from afar, the story of Eva Thorvald who becomes a world renowned chef. Each chapter takes you through moments in her life, but not necessarily by focusing on her. The storyline felt a bit like a boomerang, starting with an infant Eva, spiraling out to those who flit in and out of her life, before coming back to Eva in the present day.

I felt connected to Eva even as the story focused on people who seemed far from her sphere of influence. Perhaps this connection was because she was born roughly the same time I was and so I could measure my life by hers (and regret that I didn't start growing peppers at eleven years old).

What would I eat with this book? Pat Prager’s Blue Ribbon-Winning Peanut Butter Bars, of course!

2 1/2 cups crushed graham cracker crumbs
1 cup melted Grade A butter (I used Grade AA)
1 cup peanut butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup milk chocolate chips with 1 tsp Grade A butter (Again, Grade AA, and I used the entire bag)

Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, peanut butter, and sugar. Pat into a greased 9-by-13 inch pan. Melt the chips and butter and spread them on top of of the bars. Set in the refrigerator until firm. Cut into bars.

After an enjoyable family outing to see Ant-Man (which was fun, but distracting in that it seemed to star Michael Douglas rather than Paul Rudd), I embarked on this recipe. A lifelong baker, this is the first time I have ever left the refrigerator do the work, and so I was worried about giving the bars enough time to sit.

What I should have been worried about was the chocolate. I know semi-sweet chocolate is not the same as milk chocolate... and yet I still made a valiant attempt to substitute one for the other. After that failure, I ran out in the rain and got the milk stuff.

Melting chocolate is much more complicated that it seems. The difference between melted and burnt is the width of a hair. I tried the microwave once with the semi-sweet and then I used a jimmied double-boiler for the milk chocolate. One cup of chocolate? Hardly spread over half the pan. I used the whole bag.

The verdict? A delicious and very sugary peanut butter cup. Better than a peanut butter cup? Melting chocolate is hard, so not necessarily.

Who would I give this book to? Forget the beach bum and give it to a recent graduate.

"She suddenly felt sorry for these people, for perverting the food of their childhood, the food of their mothers and grandmothers, and rejecting its unconditional love in favor of what? What? Pat did not understand." -- Kitchens of the Great Midwest

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