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Nuts for Nut Butters!

Posted: October 11th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: DIY, Lunch, Pantry staples | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

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I might have been the only child on the face of the planet who despised Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches, and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I started eating nut butter. I didn’t know what I was missing! My tipping point occured when I started packing my own lunches for work, and realized all the possibilities for these creamy spreads!

No longer is the pb+j the standard! Looking for a way to liven your lunchbox? A healthy spread for your child’s sandwiches? Something new to dip vegetables in? Consider trying a new nut butter! Nuts are high in protein, fiber and good fats, and even a small amount can add a boost of flavor to your meals.

Most supermarkets carry specialty nut butters these days, but if you can’t find them, your local health food store is a great resource. And for the most economical way to enjoy nut butters, make your own at home!

1. Almond Butter

The almond is a sweet nut, that lends itself well to sweet flavors. A good alternative flavor-wise to peanut butters, goes well in sandwiches, spread on fruit, or stirred into oatmeal. For homemade, process for up to 15 minutes in the food processor (until it forms a smooth, spreadable paste).

Try one of these combos: [Almond Butter + Figs] or [Almond Butter + Apricots] or [Almond Butter + Orange Zest] or [Almond Butter + Honey] or [Almond Butter+ Chocolate Chips + sprinkle of Coconut] or [Almond Butter + Sliced Cherries]

2. Cashew Butter

Cashew butter is incredibly creamy with great mouth feel and a more subtle nut flavor. It lends itself well to Indian flavors and spices. Cashews also go well with other tropical fruits, such as mango and pineapple. For store bought, try For homemade, process for 2 to 5 minutes in the food processor.

Try one of these combos: [Cashew Butter + Curried Chicken Salad] or  [Cashew Butter+ Mango] or [ Cashew Butter + Pineapple] or [Cashew Butter+ Sliced Banana].

3. Hazelnut Butter

Most people equate hazelnut butter with outrageously sweet chocolate and hazelnut spreads, but savory hazelnut butter made out of plain ‘ole hazelnuts is a wonderful addition to sandwiches and can lend itself to a wide variety of flavors. For homemade, process hazelnuts in the food processer for 5 to 10 minutes.

Try one of these combos: [Hazelnut butter (unsweetened) + salty cheese (feta or goat)] or [hazelnut butter+ sliced bananas+honey] or [hazelnut butter + roasted pumpkin (or pumpkin puree)] or [hazelnut butter+ stilton cheese+pears].

4. Walnut Butter

Walnut butter is a slightly bitter, slightly sweet spread. The flavor is definitely more bitter than other butters, but don’t let that deter you! For homemade, this butter processes quickly in just a few minutes. (Occasionally I’ll add a pinch of sugar and cinnamon in my version.)

Try one of these combos: [Walnut Butter+Apples+Honey] or [Walnut Butter+Bananas] or [Walnut Butter + dried figs] or [Walnut Butter+Sliced Pears] or [Walnut Butter+Prunes] or [Walnut Butter+ Roasted Sweet Potatoes +Cumin].

Tips for making your own nut butters:

  • Use raw nuts, or toast lightly for 10-12 minutes before processing.
  • No oil needed – but a pinch of salt can add depth to your butter (without making it salty.)
  • Nut butters are easily made by grinding nuts in a food processor until they form a smooth paste. The time it takes ranges from 2 minutes for cashews to up to 15 minutes.
  • Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl if you see the nuts aren’t blending well.
  • Because they are more perishable than shelf stable butters that you buy, make your nut butter in small batches, and store in the refrigerator, covered, for up to a month.
  • For easy spreading, allow nut butter to come to room temperature.

    For more inspiration on cooking with nuts – here are a few books on the subject:

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    Nuts in the Kitchen by Susan Herman Loomis , 272 pages

    Nuts: More than 75 Delicious & Healthy Recipes , 128 pages.

    photo via thegreendiva

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    4 Great Grains To Add To Your Diet Today

    Posted: October 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Pantry staples | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

    Whole grains are ideal foods to add to your lunches. Healthy and versatile, a small portion of grain can help fill you up and leave you satiated. They can be tossed with vegetables to make a pilaf, added by the handful to soups, or mixed in to salads to add texture and flavor.

    While most people are used to using only a handful of grains (or perhaps even just rice), there are so many options in a range of flavors and textures. Try adding one of these five toothsome grains to add new dimension to your mid-day meal.

    Bulgur Wheat

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    A type of grain originally from the Middle East, made by cooking wheatberries, drying them out, and cracking off the bran. It’s the main ingredient in Tabbouleh, a middle eastern salad with tomatoes and parsley. Bulgur cooks quickly in under 20 minutes – either soaking in boiling water or simmering.

    Millet

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    Millet is a staple grain in India, although it is eaten all over asia and even in some areas of eastern Europe. It is commonly served as a porridge, but lends itself well to curries, and served with beans and squashes. It is best cooked by toasting the grains lightly, and simmering with a liquid for 35 minutes or so.

    Quinoa

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    Not a true grain, Quinoa is technically a member of the grass family, very high in protein. It was historically eaten by the Incas, and is widely used in South America, particularly Peru. It’s taste is slightly nutty, and can be used in place of rice. It tastes particularly delicious with fruit and nuts as a breakfast grain. To cook, rinse quinoa well (to remove the saponins – natural plant defense – which cause bitterness), and cook for about 15-18 minutes.

    Buckwheat

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    Buckwheat is a grain most commonly used in Eastern Europe (the ingredient in Kasha – a pasta dish with buckwheat and onions) as well as in Asian cuisine as the main ingredient in Soba noodles. It is also commonly ground into a flour, and used (for example) in pancakes. It is nutty in flavor, and cooks in 15-20 minutes.

    Ready to start cooking? Here are a few cookbooks filled with useful grain recipes to help get you started.

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    Mark Bittman’s Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living – for quick weekday meals, with very simple ingredients and ideas for experimentation and substitution based on what you have in your pantry.

    Lorna Sass’s Whole Grains for Busy People: Fast, Flavor-Packed Meals and More for Everyone – For quick, everyday recipes based on whole grains in a variety of different preparations and flavor profiles.

    And a few more ideas on the subject over at The Second Lunch:

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    Japanese Ochazuke – A Quick Soup Lunch

    Posted: February 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Balanced Lunch, Healthy Snacks, Pantry staples | Tags: , | No Comments »

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    I’ve been working hard at my studies this afternoon, and somehow 2:30 rolled around and I hadn’t eaten anything yet.

    As part of my nutrition practice (and really because I do it all the time anyway), I’ve been reading up on different cultural food and health connections. When a culture has been promoting the same food remedies for hundreds or even thousands of years, usually they work! Unfortunately, here in the west we are a culture of pill-popping and chemical science, and often overlook some of the most basic home remedies for our ailments. When they recently scientifically proved that chicken soup (a.k.a. Jewish Penicillin) reduces inflammation and clears stuffy airways, it wasn’t anything that I didn’t already know, but I cheered anyway! Hopefully more research will be done in this area!

    Over the past few days I’ve been reading from “Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen “, a new cookbook I was kindly sent to review for my blog. This book makes eastern traditions of healing foods really easily accessible to a western audience. In addition to the 150 recipes in the book, there is a great list of 100 traditional Asian ingredients – including photos, and descriptions of the ingredients, their properties, how they are used, and where they can be found. For anyone interested in Asian cooking, this list is a great way to demystify some of the most commonly used Asian ingredients, and help to widen the palate and make shopping easier!

    One of the recipes that caught my eye was the “Always-on-Call Ochazuke (p. 201)”, which seemed like the perfect lunch for this afternoon. Japanese Ochazuke is a really versatile dish based on cooked rice and green tea, with a variety of optional toppings. Traditional Japanese toppings include pickled umeboshi plum, nori, wasabi, salmon, bonito, or egg – but the possibilities are endless.

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    I made this for lunch today, because it is the perfect dish to use up leftovers, and to ward off any impending sickness (I’ve been plagued over the past few weeks with allergies, and don’t want them to develop into anything else).

    My Ochazuke:

    3/4 cup leftover cooked brown rice (traditionally you would use white)

    1/4 cup cooked chickpeas

    1/2 small avocado, sliced

    1 poached egg

    a small handful shredded lettuce

    a sprinkle of black sesame seeds

    and 1/2 of a nori sheet, snipped into small slices

    I assembled the ingredients in the bowl, and topped with: 2/3 cup freshly brewed green tea*, and some low sodium soy sauce to taste (it was about a tablespoon). *Note: I used Genmai-cha, a whole leaf green tea with toasted brown rice in it.

    * * *If you have a bit of an open mind, according to traditional medicine “this is especially good for anyone with edema, urinary problems, small nodules (such as fibroids), or the feeling of having a lump in the throat; and that it helps regulate qi, resolve phlegm, and drain Dampness”. And I’ll vouch for the fact that the soup warmed me up and made me feel good!!

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    Lazy Night Chili

    Posted: February 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Pantry staples | No Comments »

    I’m EXHAUSTED!

    That yoga class kept me energized, but the actual lack of sleep has finally caught up with me. My eyes have been drooping for the past few hours, and I think I’m about to head to bed!

    Lunch re-cap: For some reason I didn’t pack nearly enough lunch today. I’m not quite sure what I was thinking! I packed these leftover sesame soba noodles from last night, and nothing else! They were however, delicious.

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    After work, I went for a short walk, and then stopped by Whole Foods to pick up the ingredients for a really lazy supper – vegetarian chili. This chili is the easiest dish you could possibly make, for the nights when I am just short of ordering takeout but I decide that eating healthily is probably a better choice.

    I first sauteed some garlic and a red pepper for just a few minutes, and added a dash of red chile powder, a teaspoon of cumin, and some mexican oregano. (On some days I’ll add an onion, and some ground turkey at this step, but I didn’t have any of either, and wanted to keep things light.)

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    Then I opened all four of these cans:

    (This is one of those dinners that you can make with just what you have in your pantry).

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    The key to this chili is are the chickpeas. They add a nice texture and flavor that are slightly unusual in chili, but work wonderfully.

    I rinsed the beans – while canned beans are good for using in a pinch, they often contain extra salt to preserve them and give them flavor. I have some slight sodium issues (I swell if I eat too much), so I prefer to make my own beans, or get beans with no salt added. They didn’t have any no-salt-added organic, so I bought the salty organics, and gave them a really good rinse.

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    Add everything to the pot, and stir it all until it’s hot – and then it’s done!!

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    I ate two big bowls of the stuff, topped with a little bit of shredded Cabot cheddar! Yum!

    [After a few bites, I realized that I had purchased ‘Hot’ salsa, and also put in some chile, so I ended up adding a little dollop of plain yogurt to cool things down. Yikes!!! ]

    Although.. it was so good that we didn’t have any leftovers! I always forget to put away a little portion for my lunch… Sigh…


    Predator, Sesame Noodles, and a Good Workout

    Posted: February 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Pantry staples | Tags: , | No Comments »

    This afternoon when I got off work I was itching to get some good exercise in. It’s been raining all day, so I decided on some quality gym time instead of sitting on my couch, the other likely alternative. Before working out, I went home and had a late lunch – a tortilla with a poached egg topped with salsa.

    This is one of my favorite snacks or light lunches.

    First I grilled the tortilla on the stove.

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    I top it with a poached egg (made in 50 seconds in my microwave egg cooker).

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    Top that with salsa, wrap it up, and eat! For more of a meal, I might add some melted cheese, sliced turkey, or turkey bacon, avocado, or extra vegetables, but usually I just eat it plain like this.

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    Then I headed over to work out on the treadmill. On my drive over I was listening to a particularly interesting NPR story about taking an eighth grade class on a field trip to a mosque as part of their world religions class. My drive to the gym is just eight minutes, about enough to listen to a good story on NPR, and get inspired to work out. I used to be a member at a gym within walking distance, but this new gym is only $20 a month, with a myriad of machines, and I actually am more motivated to work out if I have the short drive to pep me up for it, rather than walking and having to walk home post workout.

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    I hopped on this guy, and plugged in my headphone to watch some TV. It happened to be Discovery’s ‘650 lb. Virgin’ a reality show about a man who lost over 400 pounds naturally, and is now learning how to date. If that isn’t good enough inspiration to work out, I’m not sure what is.

    Now, given that I haven’t been into the gym in a while, I did a lighter workout:

    My Workout:

    At an incline of 1.0:

    • 5 minutes at 3.8
    • 5 minutes at 5.0
    • Alternating 30 seconds between 5.0 and 5.5 (5 times)
    • 15 minutes at 4.0
    • 10 minutes at 3.8
    • 15 more minutes at 4.0
    • 5 minutes at 5.0
    • and a 5 minute cooldown.

    For a total of 60 minutes and roughly 4 miles.

    This is me in my sweaty glory, trying to cool down:

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    When I came home I was HUNGRY. I put together an easy meal made out of pantry staples, and ready in about fifteen minutes.

    I’ve been on a general Asian food kick, so I decided on some Sesame Soba Noodles, and some quickly braised celery. First, I boiled the water, made each sauce, and put them in bowls while I prepped the celery and soba. I roughly chopped up the celery, and steamed them for a just a few minutes in a covered pan with some soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and a dash of chili oil. (The idea was another one from ‘Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys’)

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    I then cooked up the two bundles of soba noodles in about 7 minutes, and then rinsed them well in cold water until they were cool. Soba noodles, made of buckwheat, pack a great nutritional punch, and are quite filling.

    The sauce for the soba noodles was made with tahini, rice vinegar, almond butter, maple syrup, sesame oil, and ground coriander – a recipe from ‘Feeding the Whole Family: Cooking with Whole Foods‘ a simple cookbook that I love to flip through for recipes and inspiration to keep myself on track with healthy eating.

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    I added in some chopped scallions to the noodles, and then topped it with the sauce, and gave it a good toss. I put mine in my favorite tenmoku glazed bowl that my best friend Sara made for me when she was working at Kitt Cornell Pottery in Exeter, New Hampshire. There is something incredibly mindful when you eat out of a dish or bowl that you really love.

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    Then I added in some of the celery. It’s a great new way to cook celery and eat it as a vegetable – particularly when you have a lot of leftover celery from making a soup, etc. without having to eat it raw.

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    After dinner, I treated myself to sliced pear and mango, and a melted piece of bittersweet chocolate. A perfect ending. While watching……..

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    PREDATOR!!!

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    Another 80’s movie that somehow I had missed out on.
    Now for a little bit of reading, and then bed!!!
    ‘Night Everyone!

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