Wednesday, September 30, 2009

TIP: Turn your Peanut Butter Upside Down


Yup you read that right, but maybe I should backup a little so this makes more sense.

I love peanut butter. Not "have-it-everyday-on-toast-or-with-jelly" kinda love, but it is one of my favorite post-workout snacks, or when I'm starving for and afternoon munchie that's more "filling", it is pretty high on my go-to list. Usually, my vehicle of choice is a whole-wheat Stoned Wheat Thins cracker, and one or two does plenty to fill the void.

I am also not your typical Peanut Butter connoisseur because we didn't grow up on Kraft, Jiff, or Skippy. In fact, I think I can count on one hand how many times I've actually eaten Kraft peanut butter. My grandpa, when he was alive, actually used to make peanut butter. It was delicious. He roasted the peanuts, ground them up, and put a whole lot of love into each and every batch. When I wasn't at their house, my mom always bought natural peanut butter from wherever she could get it. Not all grocery stores carried it at the time, but health food stores certainly did. And to this day, it's still what I prefer. Peanut butter with just one ingredient - peanuts. As it should be in my opinion.

Currently, my absolute favorite peanut butter on the market is from Safeway, and it is from their "Organics" line (shown above). This one has two simple ingredients; peanuts, and a touch of sea salt. That bit of salt brings it from good to simply decadent. So good. If there is a Safeway in your area I highly recommend giving it a try. But really, natural peanut butter is available in all grocery stores now, so try whichever you can easily find.

Why go the all-natural route? Simple really. Peanut butter will naturally separate if made with only peanuts. All the natural peanut oil rises to the top and it has to be stirred back through the jar periodically (or usually right when you open it), to re-distribute it and return the butter back to it's spreadable state. Modern society thinks this is bit of nuisance (not going to lie to you - it is), and they've found a way to solve this problem. Peanut butter, such as Jiff or Skippy that is naturally "blended", requires hydrogenation. Meaning "bad fats" need to be added to stabilize the peanut butter and make it smooth and creamy. Now, some companies say that they use a minimal amount of trans fats to do this etc, etc, etc... All I can say is google it, and read the labels. Some brands even go as far as adding icing sugar into their peanut butter to further "enhance" the taste. But really, what's wrong with just plain peanuts? If you don't like them as is, eat something else in my opinion. It really should be that simple.

So, back to way I'm telling you to store it upside down. As alluded to above, one of the biggest nuisances of all-natural peanut butter, and one I've obviously dealt with my whole life is that it separates. It's a pain I do admit. What I've done in the past is open my fresh jar, taken a butter knife, and just gone to town stirring like mad until it resembled a more normal consistency. This would then last in the fridge until the jar was mostly gone, when I would realize that the last quarter of the jar was quite a bit thicker and drier than it had been in the beginning. I wrestled with this for a long time, trying different ways to get it stirred properly, until about 3 years ago when I learned the ULTIMATE trick. My mom was hosting out of town visitors that she didn't particularly like. Was finding it hard to come up with conversation topics, didn't share similar opinions on much of anything when she did, and kept thinking "who knew 2 days could last so long", when all of the sudden, out of the blue one of the guests said to her over tea "Do you know that if you store your peanut butter in the cupboard upside down for 2 or 3 weeks after you buy it, all the oil will start to run to the bottom of the jar re-distributing itself through the peanut butter."

What? Brilliant!!!!

I took it one step further - I realized that once I opened the jar, the little bit of air seemed to help speed up this process, so I stored it for the first week or so upside down in the fridge as well.

The beauty of this method? The separation of the oil actually happens fairly slowly. It will take quite a while for ALL the oil to accumulate on the bottom of the jar, but in the meantime, it is slowly running through the peanut butter and returning it to a better consistency. Similarly, when you turn the jar back upright after a few weeks, the oil is again moving very slowly through the jar and it will be weeks before it all collects on the top again (and by then the jar could have significantly less peanut butter in it as well).

It's great. No more stirring, no more peanut butter oil flying around the kitchen, and still a great tasting product that you can feel good about. Those are the kind of tips I like!!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BUY: Fresh Atlantic Lobster!

After a bit of a hiatus, I am back. Apologies for the delay in posting, but I will be back to every other week now, so stay tuned for some great things to come!

And, what better way to start blogging again than to talk about LOBSTER! A couple of weeks ago I had the honour and privilege of being invited to a Lobster Event here in Calgary. The event had been moving across Canada to show restaurateurs, food writers, and home cooks like me just how versatile this little crustacean can be, and how it shouldn't be intimidating to cook with it anymore!

Celebrity and award winning chef Ray Bear was on hand doing demos, and showing us how just one little lobster can easily create so many different dishes!

Having spent 4 years living on the east coast myself, I have surely had the pleasure of eating Lobster, but rarely do I eat it like this. Sure, I've frequented the odd Lobster boil, and I've certainly been there with butter dripping down my chin and on to my appropriately placed lobster bib as I dig into each morsel of succulent meat, breaking the shell into smithereens as I go. There's certainly nothing wrong with that - let me tell you. But, there are so many other ways to enjoy this delectable seafood!

Chef Bear's demo started with a few appetizers. Lobster stuffed with avocado anyone?

He then went on to demonstrate a few more outstanding dishes including Lobster and Bacon Mac & Cheese - a dish, admittedly, I was sceptical about. I mean how would you even taste the delicate lobster under all that cheese and bacon. Well, I was wrong (of course), and it was fabulous (of course)...

...and so was the lobster tempura (wow)......and the lobster skewers with Asian marinated beef tenderloin...
...and a refreshing lobster and citrus salad. There was more too, including lobster scalloped potatoes, lobster sushi, and a lobster and white wine pasta with mushrooms that I couldn't get enough of. Literally. I was wishing at that point that they would stop serving up these little sample plates, and bring bring out the full buffet and the pasta bowls already! It was that yummy.
If the idea of boiling those live lobsters to get at all this meat to ultimately make all these fab dishes intimidates you - don't worry. It kinda intimidates me too, and I don't do it very often. But, it's not that hard. If you know a good fish monger they will probably even cook it for you if you really can't bear the thought. And, as far as getting all that juicy meat out? Well, that's just part of the fun. Not to mention there are many different website you can hit with quick tutorials on how to best cook, and shell a lobster (including the one below). Sure, it's not something we would do everyday, but certainly something that's worth a try - even if only once an awhile. Get the kids involved even - they would love it!
For all the recipes above, click HERE. You will be inspired. Trust me.