Friday Feature: Powdered Peanut Butter(?)

The other day I read an article about a professional bodybuilder who declared his greatest weakness to be peanut butter.  As in he can’t keep it in the house, or he’ll simply eat it–all. In one sitting. Hard to believe that someone with the grit and fortitude to work out like this can’t control himself where his favorite food is concerned.

I think I like him.

There are definitely some things that I like so much that I purposely don’t buy. Like Haagen-Dazs bars, for example.  Or gummy bears. But fortunately for me, while I do truly love peanut butter, I like it in moderation.

But back to the bodybuilder. When the cravings become too strong, when it’s the difference between a pound of muscle or five pounds of fat, he turns to…..powdered peanut butter.

005

I know, right? At the time, I was mildly surprised to find that such a product exists.  I was even more surprised when, three days later, I happened upon it at a local store.  Sitting right alongside all the other nut butters. Like it belonged there.

I checked the ingredients, naturally. I’m a dedicated label reader. Here’s the list:

organic peanuts, organic coconut sugar, sea salt

organic peanuts, organic coconut sugar, sea salt

Hmmm…  You can actually mix the powder with water to make a low-fat peanut butter of sorts.

Here’s what the maker, Betty Lou’s Inc. has to say:

Just Great Stuff Peanut Butter is a healthier alternative to traditional peanut butter. We use perfectly roasted, premium peanuts for superb flavor. Enjoy this Low-Fat product as a post-workout snack! Make delicious, healthy sandwiches for your kids’ lunch. Great in shakes! Take it camping or on picnics. Great with honey!

Here’s what I make of these claims:

Healthier alternative to real peanut butter?  Real peanut butter doesn’t have added sugar (at least the kind I buy). Yes, it has fat, but that shouldn’t be an issue if you’re not consuming it a jar at a time.

Healthy sandwiches for your kids’ lunch?  Mornings are crazy enough as it is. I don’t particularly want to mix up sugar laced peanut butter from a powder (a gram of sugar is a gram of sugar, natural or not) when I can simply use the real deal straight from the jar.  There’s nothing wrong with some naturally occurring fats in your child’s lunch.

Great in shakes? When I make a shake, I typically use a blender. Real peanut butter works just fine in shakes. Is there a problem here?

Take it camping or on picnics?  Again, all that mixing seems messy and destined to create more work than it’s worth. Unless you have to lug a heavy jar ten miles to your camping spot. But then you’re going to need those extra fat calories in order to have the energy to get back.

Great with honey?  It’s already sweet. Are you supposed to sprinkle it on the honey?

 Bottom line: According to another blogger, powdered peanut butter is easier on the stomach if you have gastric problems.  Perhaps there are other good reasons as well.  All I know is that when you start removing things from healthy, whole foods, then other ingredients will have to be added to replace what’s missing. You really end up with a different animal all together. And who knows what that might be.

Is it Real?

Is it Real?

Bean Cookery: One Size Fits All

When it comes to making a pot of beans, nothing could be simpler.  Because even though there are literally hundreds of dried bean varieties, they can all be cooked in the same way.

016

Oh, to be sure, there will be a few minor differences in the amount of water added or total cooking time, but the method is the same.  Small beans cook up faster than larger ones for the most part.  Older beans take longer than fresher ones.  Once you gain some experience with a particular bean, you’ll be a better judge of how much time you’ll need to get the job done.

There’s the question of whether one should soak beans before cooking. Soaking will reduce cooking time a bit.  I have always soaked beans, usually overnight, before cooking. But according to Mark Bittman, one of my favorite cookbook authors, it is completely optional.

While I couldn’t quite break myself of this habit cold turkey, I did concede to a partial soak. I covered my beans with water, brought them to a boil and took them off the heat to stand for a measly two hours.

A watched pot never boils.

A watched pot never boils.

I’m not sure what potential calamities I envisioned from this brief bath.  Beans cooking for hours and remaining hard and inedible? Chalky, tasteless beans? My frown lines were definitely showing.

After rinsing and adding fresh water, I put them back on the burner. It took about one and a half hours for the beans to reach my preferred doneness. And guess what?

They were perfection!

Easy Beans

1. Place rinsed beans (soaked, partially soaked or not soaked at all) in a pot and cover with water by an inch or two.  Bring beans to a boil and then lower heat to a gentle simmer.  Cover.

2. When beans finally soften a bit, add salt.  For one pound of beans I use 1 teaspoon of salt. Adding salt too early creates a tougher bean.  

3. Stir occasionally, testing for doneness.  I like my beans a little more firm than what comes out of a can.

My advice? Don’t mess around with only a cup at a time. Prepare at least a whole pound. Eat them, refrigerate them (they’re good for several days), freeze them.  Beans can be enjoyed in many ways.  They’re extremely useful to have on hand.

  • Add to soup and stew
  • Toss with salad
  • Top a bowl of beans with a scrambled egg
  • Roll into a tortilla with cheese
  • Blend into a dip for crackers

And while canned beans are certainly handy to have about for last-minute dinners, nothing can beat basic home cooked beans for texture, flavor and price.

How do you like to eat beans?

005

#1 Best Food Buy for Your Money

I ate a lot of beans in college. Money was tight, and beans were cheap.  A big pot went a long way in those days towards filling my belly without emptying my wallet.

I’m not complaining.  I happen to like beans.  My family likes them as well. As it turns out, there’s a lot to like:

Nutrition:  It’s no wonder, since Jim became a vegan, that we are consuming more beans than ever.   According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, 1/4 cup of cooked beans = 1 ounce of animal protein. They’re also a great source of vitamins A and C, B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, folic acid and iron. Did I mention that they’re high in fiber and low in sodium and fat?

Low cost:  Despite how incredibly healthy beans are, somewhere along the way they picked up a reputation for cheapness. As in not fashionable. They seem to conjure up images of dirty-faced, Depression era children in faded, patched overalls scraping them up from tin plates.  But, considering the aforementioned nutritional benefits, they are literally worth their weight in, if not gold, then cold hard cash.

Look for them in the bulk section of your grocery store for even greater savings.

Versatility:  Beans are the Marlon Brandos (or Matt Damons, depending on your age and inclination) of the food world.  Hand them a script and they’ll play their part with academy award winning aplomb.  From main dish to dessert there are literally bazillions of tasty recipes out there.

Here are a few I’ve found online that have made repeat performances at our table:

Stored in tightly sealed glass jars/plastic tubs, they have an almost unlimited shelf life. But make a point to consume them in at least year’s time for best flavor. While the unassuming bean may never be chic, it’s an inexpensive, nutritional powerhouse  that deserves a starring role in your meal plans.

And for most versatile performance, the award goes to....

And for most versatile performance, the award goes to….

Homemade. Dinner. Fast.

Homemade. Dinner. Fast. You don’t often see those three words standing so close together. But with a little preparation, it can be done–and done well.  The trick is to keep what you need in your freezer.

It involves three main ingredients:  pizza dough, grated cheese and sauce.

From the freezer: dough, grated cheese, pizza sauce.

From the freezer: dough, grated cheese, pizza sauce.

In the morning transfer them from freezer to refrigerator.  Keep them all in the fridge for most of the day to thaw slowly.  The dough came out a couple of hours before dinner to sit on the counter and finish thawing. I then removed the plastic wrap, set the dough on a plate and covered it with a clean tea towel to warm up and rise a bit.

The crust:  I’ve been using this particular recipe for the past year.  It makes a thin, extremely crispy crust that is absolutely delicious.  Find the recipe on another really great blog, Dinner a Love Story.  The only difference being that I substitute half the white flour with whole wheat.  Works perfectly.  I also am a fan of prepping the dough in my food processor. It’s quick and easy.  The recipe makes enough for two crusts.  Wrap each in plastic wrap and tuck them into a freezer bag.

Grated cheese:  Freezing grated cheese destined for melting works well.  I cut a pound of mozzarella into three equal pieces that would fit through the intake tube of my food processor.  Freeze the cheese for about 20 to 30 minutes in advance for easier grating. Use the grating blade attachment.

002

The food processor will definitely save time, but hand grating works fine, especially if you have lots of eager helpers.  I packed the cheese equally into three pint size freezer bags. One bag works for one lightly cheesy pizza, but use two bags if you like yours rich and gooey.

Ready for bagging!

Ready for bagging!

The sauce:  If all you have is a large can of diced tomatoes (or a freezer full of frozen ones), you can whip up this pizza sauce in minutes with the addition of four more common ingredients.  There is no cooking required! The recipe comes from cookbook author, Amanda Haas.  It’s so easy your kids can make it while you prepare a green salad.  Use some and freeze the rest.  I prefer sturdy jars for freezing this sauce in.

Putting it all together:  Simply spread the dough in a large, very thin rectangle on a heavily oiled (olive oil–it does great things to the crust) cookie sheet.  Cover with sauce and sprinkle with grated cheese.  I brush olive oil on any exposed crust, but I try to take the toppings as close to the edge as possible. I also drizzle some good quality olive oil over the top as well.

Bake at 500 degrees.  Check after ten minutes.  The edges should be brown and the cheese bubbly.

The result?  Gourmet pizza at a fraction of the cost of take-out.

What pizza toppings do you prefer?

With the addition of black olives.

With the addition of black olives.

5 Surprising Foods to Keep in the Freezer

You’ll save money and waste less with the freezer as your friend.  These five foods are handy to have on hand:

1. Tomatoes  When you find a great source for tasty tomatoes (your garden?), and you want to preserve the flavor of summer, it’s a simple matter to pack them clean and whole in a freezer bag.  When needed, simply rinse under warm water, and the skin peels right off.  Core and chop to the desired size while still semi-frozen.  When thawed they will be comparable to canned tomatoes.  Use in soups, stews, casseroles and sauces.

All that's left from last summer's garden.

All that’s left from last summer’s garden.

2.  Avocados  Simply wash, slice in half and peel.  Pop them into a freezer bag just like this.  Alternatively you could mash them up with a little lemon juice and freeze.  The texture of this fruit does change from its fresh state, but previously frozen avocado makes a great guacamole.  I like to use mashed avocado on my sandwich as a replacement for mayo.

Peel and freeze!

Peel and freeze!

3.  Grains  When you have time, make an extra-large batch of your favorite grain.  Let them cool thoroughly, spread out on a baking sheet before freezing.  Then divide grains into small portions in freezer safe bags.  Squeeze out all extra air in bag to avoid ice crystals and freezer burn.  Keeps in freezer for two to three months.  Use as the basis for a quick dinner, an addition to casseroles or soups, or as a breakfast cereal.

Cook then freeze your favorite grains: bulgur, quinoa, farro, rice and more.

Cook then freeze your favorite grains: bulgur, quinoa, farro, rice and more.

4.  Milk  When I started buying organic milk on a regular basis, it was a shock to the pocketbook.  But then I found out that I could buy it on sale and stick the extra jugs in the deep freeze.  Yes, the texture does change.  It may be slightly “grainier” and needs to be shaken before use to blend the fat back into the milk.  Not great for drinking a glass with cookies but fine for cooking/baking, and I happily use it on my cereal.

5.  Ginger  We love cooking with ginger.  Unfortunately, it always seemed that we didn’t use it up before it went bad.  Then I stumbled on a tip in my Cook’s Illustrated magazine that changed my despair to, well, if not joy, then satisfaction…  Peel and freeze.  Easy.  Frozen ginger makes grating simple.  Also, check out this page from Lunch In A Box for more ideas about freezing ginger.

What do you find that works well coming out of the freezer?