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Archive for the tag “Peanut butter”

I couldn’t think of a title for this post. OR, The food’s more important than the title anyway, so here’s a post about smoothies.

We all have those snacks and meals that we keep coming back to again and again because they’re basically perfect.  My latest greatest go-to is a smoothie.  Well, all kinds of smoothies, really. They’re versatile, quick, healthy and filling.  Really, it’s a perfect snack, breakfast or light meal.

You can put pretty much anything your heart desires into a smoothie, but I have some basics that I always keep on hand–frozen bananas, frozen berries and plain Greek yogurt. (Vanilla or fruit-flavored works too, so does regular yogurt.  I’ll use whatever I have at the time, but I try to keep some plain Greek yogurt around when I can.)

Fresh fruit’s great, but it’s hard to find year-round.  Plus, frozen fruit eliminates the need to add ice to your smoothie, which streamlines the process (it’s all about efficiency, people!)  I like using frozen bananas especially, because they give an icy, creamy texture to smoothies.  I keep my freezer stocked whenever I buy bananas–inevitably, I never finish the bunch before they start to turn, so when it looks like they’re starting to go bad, I cut them up and freeze them in plastic bags. I also do this with leftover banana halves after I use them in cereal, oatmeal, etc. if I don’t want to finish them.

I’ve been so busy lately, running from work to rehearsal with little time for dinner in between.  So smoothies have become even more of a go-to for me lately. I whip one up and get some protein, carbs, fiber and vitamins all in one! Plus, it’s light enough that I can go dance and not feel weighed down.

You’d think I’d get sick of the same thing all the time, but that could only happen if I had the same thing all the time. Smoothies are so versatile, I mix it up each time. Two of my favorites: a chocolate power shake and a pb & j smoothie.

I use my bullet blender to make smoothies, which makes it even quicker! (And means less clean-up! Just one cup.)

Both of these use a base of plain Greek yogurt and frozen bananas. For the chocolate power shake, brew 6-8 oz. of strong coffee and let it cool (you can add ice to speed this along.) To the Greek yogurt and bananas, add about a tablespoon of chocolate syrup (Hershey’s and Fox’s U-bet are my favorites), a tablespoon or two of natural almond butter (I use Trader Joes’ brand) and the cooled coffee.  Blend until smooth.

You get a great mix of protein from the yogurt and the almond butter, sugar and carbs from the chocolate and caffeine from the coffee.  This is the kind of smoothie I make when I need a real pick-me-up after a long day of work or before a grueling rehearsal or workout. The almond butter-chocolate-coffee combo may sound a little weird at first, but it’s sort of like an amaretto coffee. The almond butter actually has a very light flavor and doesn’t come through very strongly through the chocolate and the coffee.

The pb & j smoothie really tastes just like peanut butter and jelly! Start again with the Greek yogurt and banana base.  Add whatever fresh or frozen berries you like–my favorite are blueberries and strawberries. Add one to two tablespoons of natural peanut butter (again, I use TJ’s. I go for salted, but unsalted would work well, too) and blend with skim milk until smooth.

Antioxidants, vitamins and protein, and it tastes like childhood! With the protein from the yogurt and peanut butter, the fiber from the fruit and a little natural fat, this smoothie can really keep you satisfied for quite a while.

The best part about making smoothies at home? It’s so quick, easy and cheap! It saves a whole lot of money over going to those smoothie shops in the mall, plus you have complete control over what you put in it. Vegan? Try silken tofu and almond or soy milk. Or just fruit–frozen bananas puree into a soft-serve like consistency. Let your mind wander!

All this writing about smoothies has really gotten me craving one now.  I think there’s a nice fruit smoothie in my future! (Sometimes just a straight yogurt, fruit, juice combo is perfect, too!) Or maybe a bit of extra nut butter protein to power me through a late rehearsal tonight. I’ll never get sick of these things.

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Sometimes life gets in the way

Whoa. I’ll be honest, I knew it had been a while since I’d posted something, I did. but I didn’t realize it had been quite this long–two and a half weeks is quite a gap.

I’d like to explain. You see, I’m coming to the end of what may be the busiest month of my life. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m involved in theater and am currently in production for a cabaret-style show going up TOMORROW NIGHT! (Yikes!) Needless to say, that has encompassed an exorbitant amount of my time lately. One of my best friends from college also got married last weekend, and so wedding preparations and travel also added to my load. The last few weeks have been meticulously organized, with every minute of my days after I leave the office planned out.

Unfortunately, this kind of overload does not leave much time for culinary explorations, or even food shopping for that manner. So, I have been largely subsiding on frozen meals, take out and the occasional vegetarian treat from the cafe down the street from my office. The quantity, overall, as well, has often been minimal.

This feels like a dirty, dark confession from a self-proclaimed foodie and food blogger, but nonetheless, it is life. Sometimes we’ve all been just too swamped to sit down and prepare a delicious healthy meal or savor a wonderfully prepared dinner from our favorite restaurant.

I’ve been trying to get better about making something out of nothing–that is, looking in the fridge and pantry and trying to assemble a meal from what’s there, but it’s been pretty scant–perhaps I just lack the creativity and inspiration to create a fantastic meal out of deli ham, greek yogurt and plums. (Seriously, though, if anyone has suggestions I’d love to hear them! Let’s get creative, folks!)

Now that the weather’s warming up (though that’s a relative statement–it’s been an unseasonably warm winter) I’m getting inspired to expand my culinary repertoire.  I don’t know the first thing about gardening, but I want to grow fresh herbs. And I want to have picnics by the water. And I really can’t wait to bust out the grill again.

But right now I’m just trying to get through opening and closing night, so if that means subsiding on pizza, Kind bars and alcohol for the rest of the weekend, so be it. We all deserve it sometimes, after all.

But this situation has inspired me–what is your biggest gastronomical “sin?” I’ve actually had a double-whammy this month (whoa baby, I’m gonna be in trouble for this one):

  • First, the wedding prep. I borrowed a gorgeous dress from my younger sister for my friend’s wedding. But my sister is skinnier and narrower than me, so the dress just fit. Therefore, I was determined to drop a couple of pounds by the wedding so I could actually have some wiggle room in the dress. (Because, come on, I wanted to EAT! Is there any doubt about that one?) So the last two weeks were focused on a high-water, low-sodium diet culminating in a week where I ate a LOT of celery, yogurt and peanut butter and drank a ton of peppermint tea. Result? The dress fit with room to spare and I admittedly (and probably expectedly) gorged myself at the wedding. (Cocktail hour was mostly great with a few misses, same with the Viennese dessert table. The actual dinner? Barely touched it, didn’t even need it.) Fun note: By the end of the night, I indirectly got the entire bridal party drinking French martinis–and I wasn’t even in the bridal party! Such a trendsetter I am.
  • The second one’s no secret–the aftermath of the wedding diet resulted in me laxing up even a little more than usual on what I eat. I tend to try to stay pretty healthy with obvious and acceptable exceptions here and there. This week wasn’t awful, but more exceptions than I usually make. Plus, living off of frozen and drive-through food isn’t the healthiest, no matter which way you slice it (and definitely the antithesis to my low-sodium kick of the past weeks.)

However, we all do it, and we all recover. When life gives you lemons, sometimes you have no choice but to make really sweet, terrible-for-you lemonade. And you know what? You enjoy it.

**So tell me–what’s your biggest gastronomic offense? Trust me, I’m in no position to judge!**

Thai-Style Lettuce Wraps: It all started with a jar of peanut butter

A jar of spicy peanut butter, to be exact. My mom bought Kevin a jar of Peanut Butter & Co. “The Heat is On” peanut butter as a stocking stuffer this holiday season, and ever since, I’ve been dying to make some kind of Thai-style peanut butter sauce with it.

Peanut Butter & Co. "The Heat is On" spicy peanut butterBetween the two of us (Kevin and I), we decided to make Thai-style lettuce wraps inspired by the ones at the Cheesecake Factory. (Side note: yes, I know it’s a chain, yes I know most of its menu is terrible for you. Nonetheless, those lettuce wraps are awesome. And Kevin’s favorite.) I found various recipes online for all the components, and made some changes along the way. Inevitably, with that many parts, there were some successes–and some failures. (See: peanut sauce. More on that later.)

As I said, there were several components to this recipe. So, to start, here’s the breakdown:

Boston or bibb lettuce leaves (for the wraps)
Thai-marinated grilled chicken
Spicy peanut sauce
Thai sweet chili sauce
Coconut curry noodles
Marinated cucumbers

Extras:
Chopped green onions
Cilantro
Rainbow salad

For many of these, I used recipes based on the actual lettuce wraps served at the restaurant. The rest I found on other Web sites, and some I tweaked.

First things first, make the marinade for the chicken and let the it sit while you prepare other components.

Thai-marinated grilled chicken

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts (I used about 1.1 lbs)
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced (or pressed)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons water
Pour all ingredients (except chicken) into a large shallow dish or large plastic zip-top bag. (I used the bag method.) Add chicken and stir or toss to coat. Set in fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes.Marinating chickem
To cook, remove chicken from marinade and place on either a grill, grill pan or indoor grill (I used a George Foreman grill.) If you don’t have access to a grill, go ahead and cook in a pan. During cooking, brush or baste with extra marinade. If using a traditional grill or pan, turn chicken halfway through cooking (just a few minutes on each side, depending on thickness of chicken.) If using a George Foreman or some other kind of press, leave in to cook for about 5 minutes, or until completely white inside.
Remove from cooktop and let rest for a few minutes before cutting into small strips.
Cooked chicken
While the chicken marinates, go   ahead and start making the other components of the dish. I made the marinated  cucumbers next so they could sit in the fridge for some time, as well. (Note: This recipe came from the blog “Meemo’s Kitchen” and I followed it exactly as is. And they were delicious! The marinade would actually make a great salad dressing on its own.)
Marinated cucumbers
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon course ground black pepper
1 large cucumber seeded
In a small pan, combine vinegar, sugar, water and salt; cook over medium heat, stirring, until liquid boils and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Peel or score cucumber, if desired and cut lengthwise into quarters; then cut quarters crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Place in a serving bowl, pour marinade over cucumbers; stir to blend. If made ahead, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours.

Cucumber marinade/dressing

Now the chicken and the cucumbers are marinating and its time to move on to the sauces and the noodles. First, the spicy peanut sauce:
I adapted this recipe from two recipes that I combined, and I added the spicy peanut butter in addition to the regular to give it more of a kick. I actually had to make this sauce twice, though, as the first attempt was an utter disaster. (Yes, I see the irony there.) When I first followed the recipe as it read, the sauce became thick and caramel-like and I had to add water and vinegar as it cooked to bring it to a sauce-like consistency. Then the sauce separated and took on a very unpleasant texture, and it was too spicy for my taste. (Originally I used half spicy peanut butter and half regular. If you like heat, you can still try that ratio, but for me it was too much.)
The second time around with the new adapted recipe worked much better, though the sauce still thickened more than I would have liked as it sat and was not nearly as smooth as I expected. By the time we ate, it had only a slightly thinner consistency than regular peanut butter. It tasted great, but we had to spread it on the lettuce rather than drizzle it over. So, this is the adapted recipe I used, but I’m still searching for a better recipe for a smoother, thinner peanut sauce. (If anyone knows of one, please pass it along!) In the meantime, I’ll have to use trial-and-error.

Failed peanut sauce--Take 1

Spicy peanut sauce
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
3/4 tablespoon spicy peanut butter (or 1 full tablespoon to up the spice)
3 1/4 tablespoons regular peanut butter (or 3 to 1)
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over low to medium heat. Continue stirring over heat until mixture is combined and smooth and thoroughly heated through. Remove from heat and transfer to serving bowl.
Of course, if you want this recipe less spicy or don’t have spicy peanut butter on hand (because, really, I know it’s not common to), use 4 tablespoons (or 1/4 cup) regular peanut butter and add spices if desired. Try chili powder or chili oil, garlic, cayenne, paprika, crushed red pepper flakes and/or ginger.

Peanut sauce Take 2--Success!

The second sauce, the sweet chili sauce, was also a tweaked recipe. I couldn’t find any red hot chiles in the produce aisle of my supermarket or any plain red chili paste. So we bought one Serrano chili and one green long hot. Most recipes also call for cornstarch as a thickener to create a more gelatinous texture, but we didn’t use it and created a more vinaigrette-style sauce. We grated down the chiles to create something almost paste-like and so there were no large pieces of chili since the original recipe I worked from called for chili paste.
Thai sweet chili sauce
1 fresh Serrano chili, grated
1 fresh long hot pepper, grated
2 teaspoons minced (or pressed) garlic
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Combine everything except cilantro in a small sauce pan and mix. Once blended, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool and stir in cilantro. Sweet chili sauce
If you want the thickened sauce, add 4 teaspoons of cornstarch to the recipe with everything else in the saucepan. As it cooks down, the cornstarch will thicken the sauce to create more of a dipping sauce than a dressing.
Finally, the last component of the dish is the coconut curry noodles. Again, I adapted this recipe by paring it way down, but it still came out tasty. I made mine with only part of the noodles in the package, but I ended up with way more sauce than noodles and they were a bit over-saturated, so I recommend using the entire package to create a more even noodle-to-sauce ratio.
Coconut curry noodles
1 package flat rice or egg noodles (I used rice noodles)
1 tablespoon minced (or pressed) garlic
1 cup coconut milk + extra for topping
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock (I used vegetable)
1/2 tablespoon to 1 tablespoon curry powder (based on taste)
1/2 tablespoon to 1 tablespoon soy sauce (again based on taste)
1 tablespoon lime juice
Coconut curry noodles
Separate noodles in hot water, as per instructions on the packet. Drain & keep warm. In a medium saucepan, heat the coconut milk on low heat. When it begins to simmer, add in the remaining ingredients. Heat and stir approximately 2 minutes to heat through. Stir in the noodles, drain any excess sauce and serve. If desired, toss with more coconut milk before serving. (I felt it needed more coconut flavor, so I added some more coconut milk and it helped.)
To serve the lettuce wraps, tear full leaves off of a head of Boston lettuce for the wraps and fill with the ingredients however you’d like. Add some bagged rainbow salad (carrot, broccoli, cabbage) or any other vegetables you’d like–bean sprouts, grated carrots and shredded cabbage would work well. Chop plenty of green onions and fresh cilantro for topping.
All in all, it took about two hours from start to finish, including remaking the peanut sauce. It was a lot of work, but so worth it in the end. All of the components of the dish work wonderfully together, and I really believe that is the point. Some of the parts tasted only okay on their own (I kept trying to figure out what the noodles were missing, and the sauces were pretty spicy) but when put together, magic. Crunchy, fresh, spicy, sweet and exotic.

It took all this...

It was a lot of work and time, and I can still see the appeal of going out for Thai food, but it was definitely an experience, and when you consider the amount of leftovers I have (at least one or two more meals’ worth), the time involved doesn’t seem so bad. Also, some of the individual components can make good meals on their own–the marinated chicken would be delicious with just some veggies and rice; the cucumber marinade would make a great dressing. So go ahead and try making some Thai-style food at home. It’s refreshing, delicious and fun!

...to get this. The finished product. Yum!

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