As a child, I remember when I first discovered the taste of a peanut butter and banana sandwich and wondered how many others knew about this phenomenon. The contrasting flavours of salty nuttiness and the sweetness opened up a whole new world for me. I then started searching for other ways to indulge my newly established passion for peanut butter. Spreading a spoonful of it on each bite of an apple was my favorite.
My fascination of peanut butter has matured since then, and I have discovered many ways to use this household pantry staple. The most important thing to keep in mind however, is the growing number of peanut allergies in people. Always inquire with dinner guests to discover any allergies you may not be aware of before planning a menu.Peanut butter has been in existence for hundreds of years and is a regular food item in over 70% of households. Peanut butter, in moderation, is a good part of a balanced diet and a source of protein. Although it contains a large amount of fat, approximately 80% of the fat content is unsaturated. Unsaturated fats have been proven to help reduce levels of LDL-cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) without lowering HDL-cholesterol (the good one). If the healthy aspect is your focus however, you are much better off with natural peanut butters where the ingredients are just peanuts. Peanut butters that are not natural may contain unhealthy artificially produced trans-fats, which have been linked to increases in LDL-cholesterol.
We only buy natural peanut butter in our family, but because of the lack of preservatives it needs to be kept in the refrigerator once opened. Many people complain about the natural separation of the oil upon opening a fresh jar and about the hard consistency when using it cold from the refrigerator, but we have a couple of ways to get around this.
When we buy a new jar we store it upside down in our pantry before opening. The separated peanut oil is lighter and will always rise to the top, and since the jar is upside down the oil is now at the bottom of the jar once turned right side up. This allows you to more easily incorporate the oil back in without it spilling over the top - a simple butter knife works great. We also throw in a few pinches of salt for flavour. Now that the peanut butter is blended back together it is ready to go to the refrigerator and it will then stay homogenized together. Some people will remove all of the contents from the jar and whir it in a food processor to achieve this, but to me that seems like a lot of extra equipment to clean.
When it comes to using the hard cold peanut butter on bread or toast, we simply heat the small portion we are going to use. We have a toaster oven and once the bread has been toasted, we place a serving of cold peanut butter on each piece and put it back in the warmed oven for approximately 30 seconds (with the toaster oven off), and then it will spread very easily. Alternatively, if you don’t own a toaster oven, just microwave a portion for a few seconds. The ‘old school’ way would be to plan ahead and leave some out at room temperature beforehand.
The first alternate use for peanut butter that comes to mind is for making sauces and/or dressings. Use it as a base in a spicy peanut dressing for your favorite salad, or in a peanut sauce for your next stir-fry. There are many recipes available to successfully accomplish these ideas. For a fantastic finishing touch make sure that the garnish for these dishes include a handful of roasted peanuts. For added dimension of flavour and richness in chili, soups and stews, a tablespoon or two of peanut butter is fantastic, but again be sure about any allergy possibilities as most people won't suspect it in these meals.
One substitution that always keeps me reaching for the peanut butter, is to replace tahini. I love Greek hummus (ground chic pea dip), and it usually requires a sesame paste called tahini. Since I hardly ever have tahini on hand, peanut butter is a wonderful alternative. It is the same consistency as tahini, and the flavour depth that the peanut butter adds to the recipe is incredible.
In addition to these uses there are many desserts that feature the wonderful taste of peanut butter. I cannot stress enough to take advantage of the free resources like the library and the internet for an abundant number of recipes.
Experimenting in the kitchen is the pathway to creating recipes that you can call your own and take pride in. Have fun trying these suggestions, but if all else fails there is still one use that you can rely on: the next time you have a case of the hiccups, swallowing a tablespoon of peanut butter will usually eliminate them.
Until next time... Happy Cooking!
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