Archive for March, 2011
1.5 million pounds. That’s how much peanut butter, and peanut butter products, we consume here in the U.S. each year. And I couldn’t be happier about it. I heart peanut butter. Seriously, I was one of those kids who had a daily dose of PB sandwiches (forget the jelly!). Since March is National Peanut Month, I couldn’t let the month go by without highlighting an all-natural peanut butter company.
Grand Rapids, Michigan based Koeze has been making peanut butter the same way since 1925. Their Cream-Nut brand, which lists just two ingredients—Virginia peanuts and sea salt—has been featured in a variety of popular publications, from Oprah’s O Magazine to Everyday with Rachael Ray to Esquire.
And just how did a company that was founded in 1910 by Netherlands immigrant, Sibbele Koeze, go on to sell over half a million jars of peanut butter each year? According to Koeze’s Creative Director Martin J. Andree, it’s all about quality ingredients. Along with explaining more about Cream-Nut, Andree gave me a few more insights into one of my favorite things during our recent interview.
What makes Cream-Nut peanut butter so unique?
What draws people to our peanut butter is that it tastes really traditional. It’s wholesome and old-fashioned. Part of that is our company’s story: We’ve been making our peanut butter the same way with the same ingredients that we have been since the 1930s. It’s the kind of food that takes you back. If you compare ours to commercial peanut butters you’ll see that on theirs the second ingredient is molasses or sugar or something like that. The peanut butter tastes sweet, but ours really tastes like peanuts.
Can you tell me more about the peanuts in Cream-Nut?
There are four types of peanuts in the U.S—Runner, Valencia, Spanish and Virginia. We use Virginia in Cream-Nut. With Virginia peanuts the flavor tastes like a handful of fresh roasted peanuts you might get at a baseball game. Even though the name is Virginia, these peanuts are grown throughout the Southeast in Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas.
With our organic peanut butter, Sweet Ella’s, we use organic Spanish peanuts. It’s really tough to get organic peanuts. They grow in more arid places like New Mexico and Texas, dry ground. With the wet, humid environment in the South they have to do more to keep the weeds away. But with the Spanish peanuts, they grow in different areas and taste entirely different. They’re naturally sweet. And to crush them to use in peanut butter—well it’s a little like we’re making hamburger out of a filet.
What’s more popular smooth or creamy?
For us, it’s a 60/40 split in favor of creamy. But even our creamy peanut butter is more chunky. We use vintage WWII machinery to crush the peanuts and because of that process it still has some chunks in it. That’s why we work in small batches. With commercial varieties they put the peanuts in some like a big, high-speed blender so that the peanut butter almost has more of a yogurt consistency. Ours just isn’t like that.
And your personal favorite—smooth or crunchy?
I’m a smooth guy. I like the Sweet Ella’s organic smooth, but I also like the Cream-Nut smooth too, of course.
Check back in Wednesday for Andree’s favorite peanut butter cookie recipe.
As a kid I remember choosing from a stash of bright-colored, hand-made aprons tucked into our cleaning closet. Some were made of stiff jean material and embroidered with faces made from shapes and google eyes, others had lace around the edges, I tended to choose the one that came pre-stained so that any extra smudges fit right in (I tend to wipe on my apron. A lot).
But I’m no seamstress so when it comes to making my own apron, I rely on my laptop instead of a sewing machine (the sewing gene just passed me by, my mother is amazing while I even mess up darning socks).
Here’s how to make your own personalized apron (and yes, these make great gifts with a whisk or cookbook tucked with it).
Purchase a plain apron.
(Or maybe you already have some plain ones in your drawer?) I’ve found that printing lighter colors on a darker apron turns out easier than dark ink on lighter aprons. I know it seems like it would be just the reverse. Plus, darker colors don’t tend to show cooking smudges quite as much. Stiffer fabrics are also easier to work with.
You can find these at craft or even larger grocery stores. Make sure to buy the type that matches your apron color–bright (white) or dark (reds, blacks, dark blues).
Create your image.
You can use pictures, text, images whatever you can print. A few words of caution, though. Eventually, you’re going to be cutting around the letters, so bigger images and letters work well, more intricate designs and you might have to dig out the exact-o knife. And the blockier designs transfer onto the fabric better too. (FYI–these won’t work with laser printers.)
Print out your image.
Replace the regular paper with the transfer in your printer. I’d suggest doing a practice run so that when you place the transfer paper in you know it’s on the right side.
Carefully cut around the image as close to the edges as possible. Peel the white film from the backing paper.
Iron it on
Preheat your iron and make sure the steam is off. I don’t use an iron board for this next part, instead I break out my largest, wood cutting board and place a clean pillowcase on it, then the apron. Arrange the printed transfer paper on the apron as you’d like it to appear. Place a large piece of parchment paper over the design (usually a piece is included with the transfer sheets). Firmly iron the design onto the apron, holding for about 20 seconds over every printed part. Wait a couple minutes until the paper cools and then carefully peel off the parchment.
Now the transfer sheet instructions have this long list of don’ts: don’t wash with bleach, don’t wash in warm water, don’t line dry. You should be a bit careful with your printed apron but I’ve made aprons, t-shirts, Halloween costumes, and everything in between and so far they’ve washed perfectly–even when they accidentally end up in the hot water cycle:)
Let the kids create a design
DIY aprons is the perfect kids activity–personalize party treat bags, gifts for grandma, you get the idea.
Beyond crafting your own apron, there are so many other ways to brighten up your kitchen–and your whole house–to celebrate spring. That’s right, have you noticed it stopped snowing? I hope. I’ve been looking through Get Fresh this Spring ideas at Motherboard. It’s making me want to do more than just aprons–I’m itching to paint a room or two.
Your turn–are you doing anything to brighten up your house–or kitchen–to celebrate spring?
Usually I don’t even notice when March Madness comes and goes. But this year all three of my kids are not only playing basketball but hungry for any and all things basketball, NCAA tournaments fit right in.
In honor of Ohio State’s recent big win, I just had to make Buckeye brownies. I ran across the recipe months ago while writing up a post about cookie bars. Granted I didn’t need much of an incentive to make anything the combines peanut butter and chocolate! So if you’re looking for something to munch on while enjoying Ohio State’s next game on Friday against George Mason University (they’re also predicted to win the whole tournament, OSU, not GMU), give these a try.
Now to figure out a treat to honor my own alma mater–Brigham Young University. I’d love to see the two play in the final game, but we’ll see…
Prep time: 10 minutes + baking
1 family size box brownie mix
1/3 cup oil
1 cup peanuts
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup peanut butter
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Coat a 9×13″ pan with baking spray.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl combine the brownie mix, eggs and oil.
- In another bowl whip together the condensed milk and the peanut butter.
- Spoon the brownie batter onto the pan (it will be thick).
- Sprinkle the brownie batter with the nuts (the original recipe uses chopped nuts, I like them whole).
- Pour the milk mixture on top and swirl together using a fork or spatula.
- Bake for around 20 minutes or until cooked through.
- These are best on the second day–so chewy!
Sometimes it’s true, sandwiches are a thrown together meal. They’re something you make if you run out of time to make something good. But they don’t have to be. And it’s not much more work to make a restaurant-worthy dish. I’ve found that what separates your average, blah sandwich from a kid-wowing version is a matter of construction (and if you have those party toothpicks to put in them, that helps too).
Sandwich construction? I know–you probably haven’t spent much time thinking about this. My hubby, who happens to be the official “constructor” around our house, sets up a sandwich-making station. Sandwiches are serious business for him. He believes you have to put on the mayo just so and put the ingredients on in the right order for the sandwich to stay together. At first I teased him about this. But then, I had one of his sandwiches and I had to admit—he had a point. His sandwich, packed turkey and bacon, didn’t fall apart on the plate.
Now my kids look forward to sandwich night. Sometimes we mix turkey and bacon for a club. Other times we pair ham and sharp cheddar cheese. Of course you can come up with whatever meat, cheese and veggie combo that your family likes, but instead of throwing it together, put a little time into crafting a towering sandwich that your kids will love, and ask for again. Bonus for you–easy clean up!
Prep time: 15 minutes
1 loaf of sandwich bread (white or wheat or some of both)
1 pound deli-sliced turkey breast
1 pound bacon
Hot sauce (optional)
- Cook the bacon according to the package directions (alternatively, you can use deli ham or precooked bacon).
- Toast three slices of bread for each person.
- Cut the tomatoes into slices.
- Shred the lettuce into long strips.
- Put out a plate to construct each sandwich.
- Slather two pieces of bread with mayo (if you want, add a few drops of hot sauce). On the first piece place one slice of turkey.
- Put the second piece of bread with mayo on top of the meat. Add lettuce, then tomato, then a strip or two of bacon and another piece of turkey on this layer.
- Top with the third piece of bread (the one without mayo).
- Push the top piece of bread down with your hand and then cut the sandwich in two parts.
- If you have decorative toothpicks, insert now!
Yes, these are little flowers made out of carrots, zucchini, green onions and bean sprouts. While I’d love to say that this was all a terribly creative tactic to get my kids to eat healthier, well, it’s not really. I just think it’s fun. My kids do too.
But hey, that’s not to say they don’t enjoy eating their greens just a little bit more because they look even more appealing. You want to give it a try too–don’t you?
Here are some of my favorite plate dress-ups featuring an assortment of greens:
Using the end of the green onion stem, cut in straight from the end to about one-inch. Work in a circle to make several of these slits. Press the cut ends onto a flat surface so that they spread apart.
I have mini cookie cutters for making Linzer cookies that I’ve found also work to make veggie shapes. Press carrots, zucchinis, cucumbers, even green peppers or other sturdy, relatively flat veggies into different shapes. Even if you don’t have mini-cookie cutters as long as you have a big enough veggie slices you can create whatever shape you want (I have a tree shape for Christmas, a heart for Valentine’s Day and even a cactus for Southwestern meals).
Make those flowers even more dramatic on the plate by adding a dark spinach leaf as a background. My kids don’t even ask what the decorations are made of anymore–they just smile and eat ‘em up.
Your turn–are you a veggie decorator? Or do you have ways you decorate your plate (well, and your kids’) with a few greens?
I’m a sucker for those restaurant salads—you know the ones with a list of fun ingredients that cost double what you’d pay for a burger? Then you order the salad and start eating and the thought comes to mind, “Hey, I could do this at home.” And you can.
Salads are easy to dress up with different ingredients and flavors. But you might want to start first with the main ingredient. Yup, lettuce. Forget iceberg. Save that to dice and put on your burger. If you want to make lettuce into your entrée, look for heartier, tastier varieties like argula for a spicy kick; butter lettuce for soft, tender pieces; and crisp, crunchy romaine. This is just a sampling of the different varieties you can use. I usually mix in at least a few baby spinach pieces too, which adds a bit of heft (not to mention nutrients) to the meal.
Once you have a good mix of lettuce, it’s time to consider what kind of mix-ins to use. Don’t stop at grilled or roasted chicken. Think about what kinds of fruits and vegetables you can mix in. For ideas, I turn to menus from my favorite restaurants or even to cookbooks. In cookbooks I look in the entrée section, not the salad chapter. For example, this recipe was based on a favorite pork dish that includes sautéed apples and a mustard sauce. I knew the combination of mustard and apples was a good one, now I just needed to add lettuce into the mix.
I chose romaine lettuce because it’s stiff and holds up to a good tossing of vinaigrette. Then I figured I would just chop fresh apples (sprinkle them with a little lemon juice before putting them into the salad to prevent browning), and add in dried cranberries and walnuts. Why? Probably because I’ve had it once at a restaurant.
Now for the vinaigrette. Vinaigrettes are simple really. I pair equal parts vinegar and olive oil and then spice it. For this recipe, I used Dijon mustard (substituting it with regular doesn’t work well). Add in a little cayenne pepper for a kick and salt and pepper to season and you’re ready to mix it with your lettuce. It’s that easy.
So forget ordering the big salad the next time you go to a restaurant. Copy down the ingredients and make it yourself at home.
Mustard vinaigrette with romaine lettuce, apples and walnuts
Prep time: 15 minutes
4 cups romaine lettuce, torn
¼ cup dried cranberries
½ cup apples diced (tossed with fresh lemon juice)
1/3 cup walnuts
1/3 cup feta crumbles (optional, but good)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup vinegar (I like red wine or something fun like orange)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds (I usually toss in more)
dash of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
- Mix all of the dressing ingredients together in a bowl.
- Add the lettuce ingredients. Toss.
- Serve. That’s it.
Potatoes equal possibilities, but chances are your family might be getting tired of seeing them the same way over and over again—no matter how inventive you get with the baked potato toppings.
The answer? Hasselback potatoes. You’ll need to dig out a sharp knife to pull off this Swedish recipe. The recipe calls for you to make thin slices of the potato so that you can fan out the slices and fill them with breadcrumbs. You can do this with a whole potato, but my knife skills just aren’t that good (okay, I was going to say sharp, but I was trying to avoid a bad pun).
I make it easier by cutting the potatoes in half lengthwise so that they can lay flat while I make the slits. And to ensure that my slits don’t go right through the potato, I put the ends of two wooden spoons (or you could use chop sticks) so that the knife stops in the right place.
Once you’ve cut the potatoes you’re ready to pack flavor into each of the slits. I use breadcrumbs peppered with Parmesan cheese, paprika and garlic, but you might want to put your own spin on the recipe—maybe dried rosemary, thyme or basil.
Prep time: 30 minutes + baking
4 medium-sized potatoes (I use Yukon Gold)
½ cup bread crumbs
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon butter, softened
1 clove garlic (or ½ teaspoon powder)
½ teaspoon paprika (optional)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Lightly coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
- Wash and peel the potatoes (or you can keep the skin on them).
- Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise.
- Place one potato half between two ends of a wooden spoon (the flat end down). This will keep the potato in place while you make slits down the potato.
- Start at the top of the potato and make thin slits from the top to bottom so that the potato pieces fan out. The wooden spoons should keep the knife from cutting all the way through the potato.
- Repeat with the remaining 7 potato pieces.
- Add the bread crumbs, cheese, butter, spices and garlic to a food processor and pulse until combined.
- In a large plastic bag, place the oil and then the potatoes one at a time.
- First coat the potatoes with the oil and then pinching the ends fan out the potato slivers and dip them into the bread crumbs.
- Repeat with the remaining potato pieces.
- Place each potato on the baking dish. Sprinkle the potatoes with any remaining bread crumbs before baking.
- Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are crisped on the outside and soft on the inside.
I can’t see myself in my bathroom mirror. Nah, it’s not cracked or anything, my youngest just got into a cleaning kick the other day and rubbed the entire thing with a sudsy washcloth. She was so proud of herself. Even though I’d like to be able to see a little more clearly, I don’t want to discourage her efforts.
So just how do you convince your kids to clean up? Lately, I’ve been giving that some thought, especially since my kids are in the kitchen with me so much. I don’t just want them to help in the cooking–and eating part–I’d like to get them into the cleaning up afterwards routine too.
That can be tricky with heavy cast-iron pans, knives and caked on cooking gunk. And then there’s the temptation to redo what they’ve already done (which is why I’m still squinting at myself in the mirror). While I don’t have the whole solution, I’ve been getting some ideas from Secrets to Cleaning with Kids on Motherboard.
One solution I’ve been working out is trying to use products I have on hand to clean up instead of breaking out heavy duty cleaners. Here’s a few ideas I’ve found–I’m excited to hear yours.
Baking soda paste for stove tops/counter. Give the steel wool a rest and instead make a paste of 4 parts baking soda to I part water and then spread it on your stove top. And you don’t have to be too precise, just dump a little baking soda in a cup with a little water until it’s a clingy consistency. Leave on the stove top for a few minutes and then let your kids wash it away with damp kitchen cloths.
Mandarin orange rinds instead of sponges. Paige Wolf, author of Spit That Out: The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Children in the Age of Environmental Guilt rubs mandarin orange and lemon rinds leftover from dinner all along the inside of her sink to clean and de-gunk it. She even used it on her stuck-on, stained George Foreman Grill and it came out squeeky clean. Right now, her son is just 18 months old so he won’t be the one doing the scrubbing, but Paige says he’s happy to do the eating part.
Bye-bye stopped up drains. I haven’t tried this yet but I think my kids would get a kick out of it. Fellow blogger buddy Kris Bordessa uses a mixture of 1 cup each of salt and baking soda and pour it down your drain (it’ll kind of pile up on over the drain hole). Then slowly pour 4-5 cups of boiling water over the dry mixture. She has lots of other tips to share on her blog, Attainable Sustainable.
Your turn: do you have any cleaners that your kids can use? Or do you have a tip to share about how to get your crew to clean up?