The Magic of Peanut Butter

This week is short and sweet. I want to say that it recently occurred to me that peanut butter is like the trifecta of good nutrition. There is plenty of fiber from the peanuts. There’s loads of nourishing fat, with a variety of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fatty acids. And there is a ton of protein. So if you want to eat something nourishing, but you’re not in the mood to cook, think peanut butter. 

Remember that PEAnuts are a bean, and not a nut, and that beans are a fantastic source of protein. Peanut butter is super satisfying. You get plenty of fiber from the intact carbohydrate, a generous serving of fat, which makes it flavorful and satisfying, and loads of protein. Which makes it the TRIFECTA of good nutrition.

How to eat peanuts? There are so many ways…

  1. Sprinkle steamed green beans with a few tablespoons of whole or crushed peanuts.
  2. Slip a generous spoonful or two of peanut butter on a baked sweet potato.
  3. Stir some peanut butter into your oatmeal to boost its nutritional content.
  4. Spread some peanut butter onto a slice of multi-grain bread (or toast, even better!), and wash it down with a glass of milk, whatever kind you like best.
  5. Slide some peanut butter onto a few apple slices or celery sticks. When my daughter was little, her preschool class learned to make peanut-butter-filled celery sticks, and then to sprinkle them with raisins. They called this project “Ants on a Log,” and my daughter loved it. Them.
  6. Get a bag of peanuts in the shell, and crack open a few when you’re in the mood.
  7. Stir up a sauce from peanut butter, sriracha, a drop of tamari, and hot water, and pour it over steamed veggies or pasta.
  8. Or just eat some peanut butter straight from the spoon.

I can’t think of anything else that has lots of fiber, fat, and protein all at the same time. If you can, please add it in the comments below — let’s see what we can come up with.

Nourishing Breakfast Ideas for Kids and the Parents Who Love Them

A while back, a good friend of mine, an elementary school teacher at a small school north of Detroit, says “The kids are bouncing off the walls by 9:30.” It occurs to me that maybe their blood sugars are falling, though 9:30 a.m. is pretty early for that. Then he says that a snack usually helps get them back on track. Yeh, I think, it’s probably their blood sugars.

My friend says that, in his humble opinion, two of the biggest obstacles to learning that he sees on a daily basis in his classroom are 1) sleep deprivation and 2) the lack of a nutritious breakfast. He knows that their parents are busy, and that the onslaught of targeted marketing makes it that much harder for parents to buy nourishing food. 

But white flour, corn syrup and sugar do not fit the bill, and we are compromising our kids’ ability to learn when we let the food industry decide what they should be eating for breakfast.

So my friend and I enlisted the help of a few more friends, and we made up this list of morning meals that might appeal to kids and their parents:

1. Scrambled eggs. Or hard-boiled eggs (you could make a dozen on Sunday if you want).
2. Sweet potato (microwaved) and peanut butter (or almond butter).
3. Avocado slices, lightly salted, in a whole-wheat wrap (or any wrap).
4. Yogurt (organic, plain, whole milk) with your choice of berries, nuts, oats, and maple syrup.
5. Salmon and cream cheese on a whole wheat bagel.
6. Apple slices and sunflower seed butter.
7. Melted colby cheese on whole grain toast.
8. Steel-cut oatmeal (Mix ½ cup oats + 1 cup water + 1/4 tsp. vinegar per serving) left on the counter all night, and heated in the microwave in the morning for 30 sec.
9. Leftovers from dinner — why not?

If you’d like to add more ideas in the comments below, please go right ahead! We can make a list that includes something for absolutely everyone! Let’s give kids choices, but let’s make those choices count.

As I told my own children once upon a time, I’m not saying you can’t eat white bread at school, and I’m not saying you can’t have the snacks you’re offered at your friends’ houses. I’m just saying that, in our house, on our watch, this is the kind of food we’ll be serving from now on. Make it count.

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Slow And Steady Wins the Race (2 vegan, 1 turkey)

Now that the cold weather has moved in, I thought it would be nice to talk about slow oven cooking. As often happens when food cooks overnight in my oven, its extraordinary fragrance awakens me periodically throughout the night. You have to try it to believe it; the smell is amazing. It’s impossible to go wrong with slow oven cooking. The flavors caramelize and blend to become complex and satisfying. Although it is true that eating well takes more planning, it does not take more time. In the case of slow oven cooking, it actually takes less, and all these recipes can also be made in a crockpot set to low. 

Here are three slow recipes, just for you. Let’s start with lentils in tomato sauce. One thing about cooking lentils in a slow oven is that they don’t break apart when you cook them. Even the small, fragile red lentils remain intact when you cook them in a slow oven. That’s because, for the most part, slow oven cooking keeps them still, hardly moving. Cooking on the stove, on the other hand, puts the lentils in constant motion, and the turbulence breaks them up. 

To make the lentil recipe, fill a soup pot with 1 cup dry brown lentils, a large can of crushed or pureed tomatoes, an equal-sized can full of water, 2 sliced onions, 2 sliced stalks of celery, 2 sliced carrots, 2 Tbsp. honey, 2 tsp. cumin, 2 tsp. curry, 1 tsp. turmeric, plus salt and pepper to taste. Add water to cover the lentils and vegetables by approximately 3 inches, and simply leave it to cook all night in a covered pot at 225F. This will make a great lunch the next day, and, yes, a great breakfast, too. There is no reason at all to wait til lunch to eat it, especially when it smells so great in the morning.

You can also made slow-cooked turkey stock, and then turn the stock into soup with the leftover turkey bits and some vegetables. Place an entire turkey carcass (what’s left after leftovers) into a soup pot, add 1 tsp. white or apple cider vinegar, and fill it halfway with water (approx. 2 quarts). Place the covered pot in the oven, and set the temperature to 225F to cook all night long. Chicken carcasses also happen to make good stock.

In the morning, turn off the oven and leave the stock to cool. A few hours later, once the stock has had some time to cool, you can prepare to drain it. Set a colander in the kitchen sink above a large, clean pot, and line the colander with either an old dishtowel, a few layers of cheesecloth, or a few paper towels. Then slowly pour the liquid with bones into the colander, and allow the liquid to drain, adding more as necessary to keep the liquid in the colander below the edges of the cloth. The resulting stock will be clear, caramel-colored, and fragrant. Divide the stock among a few glass jars (2-4 cups each), each jar no more than 2/3 full. Label and date them, and then freeze them on the diagonal for future use.

If you are inclined, you can divide up the bones and bits into three piles: meat, bones, and other (like cartilage). The meat goes into one container of stock, the bones go into the trash, and the other stuff goes in the dog bowl. Or you can just throw the whole mess away.

To make turkey soup, add one jar of stock to the soup pot along with any salvaged turkey meat, two thinly sliced onions, 2 diced sweet potatoes, ½ cup dry white beans, 2-3 garlic cloves (peeled), and 1 tsp. each of salt and pepper. Place the covered pot in the oven at 225F, and it will be ready in the morning. Be prepared for it to wake you several times through the night. 

Finally, you can make black bean soup, which takes a full day to make (you’ll want to start the night before it will be served) but is worth every minute. This recipe serves 12-15, so you should have plenty to freeze for later. Remember: slow cooking takes some planning, but it doesn’t actually take more time.  

2 lbs. dry black beans, rinsed and sorted
1 large onion, quartered
1 large green pepper, seeded and quartered
4 garlic cloves, slit lengthwise down the middle
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
3+3 bay leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 large green pepper, seeded and diced
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cumin

#1 Evening
Add beans to a large soup pot along with 1 onion (quartered), 1 green pepper (seeded and quartered), 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. Kosher salt, 1 tsp. ground black pepper, 1 1/2 tsp. olive oil, 3 bay leaves, and 4 large peeled garlic cloves, each slit lengthwise down the middle. [Note that some of the vegetables are being saved for a later step.] Add water to cover the beans by 4 inches. Cover the pot, and place in a 225F oven to cook all night.

#2 Morning
In the morning, skim and discard any foam, and add more water if necessary to keep the level 2 inches above the beans. Cook uncovered for 2-3 hours more. Discard the first set of bay leaves. Using a stick blender, puree the vegetables partially, leaving plenty of whole beans and pieces of veggies. If you don’t have a stick blender, ladle half the soup into a blender or food processor, puree, and then return it to the pot. Now add three new bay leaves, plus more black pepper to taste. Cover the pot again and return to the oven to continue cooking at 225F.

#3 Afternoon
About one to two hours before mealtime, peel and dice 4 garlic cloves. Warm 1/4 cup olive oil on low heat, and add the garlic. Stir gently for a few seconds, add the diced onion, and cook 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until glassy and tender. Add the diced green pepper, and cook until soft. Add 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp. cumin, and 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper to the vegetables. Stir once, and then add the contents of the pan to the bean pot. Cover, and continue to cook for 1-2 hrs more.

Serve with any combination of hot sauce, cilantro, plain yogurt or sour cream (vegan or dairy), and/or grated cheddar.

What’s the Best Way to Eat?

An article entitled Can We Say What Diet is Best for Health? by David Katz and Stephanie Meller, from Yale’s School of Public Health, was published in the Annual Review of Public Health a few years ago. A story about the article was published in the Atlantic by James Hamblin, who called it Science Compared Every Diet, and the Winner is Real Food. I would have edited out the word “Real” and simply called it “Food.” Then I might have presented a review of the differences between Food (With a Capital F) and manufactured calories. Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: White Beans with Roasted Tomatoes

This recipe makes a simple and lovely meal that could not be more delicious or satisfying! Like many recipes whose featured ingredient is one or more types of beans, it still tastes wonderful even if you fiddle with the ingredients a little. The name of the game is flexibility. Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Yellow Squash Crockpot Soup

This soup, perfect for fall days and nights, cooks up beautifully in a crock pot. If you put together all the ingredients in the morning, the house will smell heavenly all day, and the soup will be ready to eat when dinnertime comes. On the other hand, if evening time works better for prepping the ingredients, the house will smell heavenly when you wake up, and the soup will be ready at lunchtime and also keep til dinnertime. Continue reading

Can You Believe It? Fat is Good for You!

A few years ago I read a cookbook called Fat, a celebration of flavor written by Jennifer McLagan. A few days later, I tried the sage butter sauce recipe with pasta: Fry 30 fresh, whole sage leaves in ½ lb. butter on medium heat for about 10 minutes, just until the butter begins to brown and the leaves turn crispy. Meanwhile, boil ­­­3/4 pound of pasta in salted water and drain when done. Pour the sauce over the cooked, hot pasta and serve with a simple green salad and some fruit. I added steamed beet greens to the pasta as well. It was heavenly. The sage lost its tangy, sharp, fuzziness as it was transformed into something much softer around the edges. The gentle, flavorful crunch paired with the chewy, slippery pasta was unbelievably satisfying, and we ate nothing more that evening — no popcorn, no chocolate, no ice cream. Continue reading

Newsflash: The American Diet Causes Obesity

Have you ever heard anyone say that all you have to do to make your diet more nutritious is to stop eating white flour and sugar? Does that seem radical to you? What’s wrong with white flour and sugar? What would such a change accomplish? I’m not going to say you can never eat white flour and sugar. My motto is moderation. Most people can tolerate a treat now and then. But let’s look at what’s really happening. Why are two-thirds of Americans currently overweight or obese? Because the standard American diet is so nutrient-poor that most people are literally hungry all the time. So they eat.

It’s not about willpower; it’s about nutrition. Continue reading

Sweet New Year Soup

Tonight, as the sun slips below the horizon, we will begin our celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. Traditional Rosh Hashanah foods tend toward the sweet and the circular: sweet for a sweet new year, and circular to represent the seasons that run one into the next, year after year, around and around. Instead of the usual braid, we even twist our challah (egg bread) into a round this time of year.  Continue reading