Saturday, February 25, 2012

In Praise of Peanuts and Peanut Butter

Peanuts! I love 'em.  Roasted. In the shell. They're fun to eat and because it's somewhat time consuming to crack them open to get at the actual nut,  peanuts are a good and healthy snack alternative. There's no way you can consume as many peanuts as you can potato chips or handfuls of M&M's. Not to mention, peanuts are packed with good stuff, in fact, over thirty essential nutrients and phytonutrients. You can't get all that from a bag of chips.

I am not talking about those big cans of peanuts. Those are loaded with salt and oil. I can eat a whole can of those all by myself. The salt is addictive and they taste so good but they're also very fattening. Certainly not the best choice, but if it's between them and a whole bag of candy, definitely choose the peanuts. When I say snack on peanuts, I am mean the good old fashioned peanuts in the shell. Like the ones you get at baseball games or at the zoo. Elephant food. :)

This brings me to the subject of peanut butter. Who doesn't love a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Or my personal favorite: peanut butter spread on a Granny Smith apple. YUMMY!

Most of us shy away from peanut butter because it's so unhealthy.  The traditional brands we've loved since childhood are loaded with partially hydrogenated oil.  We all know that trans-fat laden additive is the enemy. Unfortunately, it's also what makes peanut butter so luscious and creamy. Remove it and you're left with nothing more than a glob of peanut mess that's impossible to spread.

Years ago, when I first set out on a mission to improve my health and that of my family, I did all my shopping at a tiny little health food store around the corner from home. It was the most amazing store with old-fashioned wooden floors.  Grains and beans were stored in big burlap sacks on the floor. I just took what I needed and brought it home in little brown paper bags. All kinds of goodies like nuts, dried fruit, coffee, and homemade carob-covered rice cakes were stored in big glass jars on shelves that lined the walls from floor to ceiling.  I could spend all day in there, browsing, sampling, chatting with really cool hippie owners. They had a peanut grinder all the way in the back of the store.  Every few months, I would bring my own glass jar and fill it with freshly ground peanut butter. It was most delicious stuff I'd ever tasted. Just peanuts. That's it. No salt, no sugar, no additives.

It took awhile for my family to adjust to the taste and texture of this fresh, all natural peanut butter. We'd all grown up with Jif and Skippy  It was also a labor of love to actually make a peanut butter sandwich. My jar of freshly ground peanuts had to be stored in the fridge to prevent rancidity and was impossible to spread unless it was at room temperature. This meant I had to set it out on the counter and wait.  Then I had to stir, stir, stir. Oh, but it was so worth it.  Eventually, we were all hooked.

It was a sad day when a large Natural Foods Super Market (an actual chain store) took up residence in the same neighborhood and put my little health food store out of business. No more peanut grinder. Of course I refused to shop there at first but eventually I had no choice. There were no other independent health food stores around. I tried to convince the manager of the new market to install a peanut grinder, but he refused. It wasn't practical and no one wanted to deal with the mess. Instead, he pointed me to an aisle filled with jars of "all natural" peanut butter.  They all contained palm oil.  Not only is palm oil extremely high in saturated fat, but it's also controversial for the harm it causes to the environment -- rain forests and peat lands in Malaysia and Indonesia have been cleared out to increase production of the palm trees that produce palm oil. Yuck. I bought my own little grinder and from that day on, made my own peanut butter at home.

This was a long time ago. My child is grown and my lifestyle has changed. I am still very health-conscious but I don't have time to grind my own peanuts. I am happy to say that peanut butter has evolved and there are quite a few really good brands out there that are basically nothing more than peanuts and salt. Not quite as delicious as freshly ground but pretty close.  I can actually enjoy and not feel guilty about peanut butter from a jar and you can, too.  Just be sure to choose the healthiest, most natural brand you can find.

Not sure which brand to choose? Here's an article I found on the best tasting (and healthiest) natural peanut butters.

Taste Test- the Best Natural Peanut Butters

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Crock Pot White Bean Pumpkin Soup

You have a crock pot, don't you?

If not, go out and buy one!

A crock pot is essential for folks like us. We want to serve good, wholesome, home cooked food but don't have alot of time. A crock pot makes everything super easy and convenient.  Just toss in your ingredients, turn it on, and forget it.

Hours later, VIOLA! Dinner.

Everyone knows crock pots are perfect for pot roast but if you don't eat meat.......

What can you make in a crock pot?

Homemade tomato sauce
Macaroni and Cheese
Rice Dishes
Homemade vegetable stock


you can make this soup!

Here are more crock pot recipes and ideas:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Skillet Mushrooms with Chard and Barley

"Mushrooms, Barley and Chard! Oh my!"

Call me crazy, but I just can't get enough of these amazing, healing, delicious foods!

Combine them all together in one gorgeous dish and I am in heaven! So, you can imagine my excitement when I stumbled upon a recipe including all three that I just have to share with you!

I'll get to the recipe in a minute. I want you to be as enthusiastic as I am about it so I need to rant and rave a bit about mushrooms, barley, and chard.

A Vegetarian's dream come true. Why? Because sometimes tofu, veggies and brown rice just doesn't cut it. We need to sink our teeth into something meaty, thick and juicy. Enter the mushroom. They're pretty good raw but even better when marinated and grilled. Toss them into salads, rice dishes, soups, and stews. Mix them into home made macaroni and cheese or add a layer of grilled mushrooms to lasagna. YUMMY!

Portabella mushrooms are my personal favoritet! I take whole portabella mushrooms, cut off the stems, brush the mushroom caps with a bit of olive oil and grill until tender. Then I place them on whole grain buns with all the fixin's. They're thick, tender, juicy--better than hamburgers! Honestly.

Did you know mushrooms are the only natural source of Vitamin D? Except for the sun, that is. I know so many people diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiencies.  So they start taking supplements.  Why not do it naturally, instead? Get 10 - 15 minutes of good, old-fashioned sunshine every day and eat your mushrooms!   

A grain and good one. Often neglected,  barley is a nutritional powerhouse and perfect for those with diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, barley is on the list of low GI foods. In other words, it doesn't increase your blood sugar levels as quickly as white bread, potatoes, or other carbohydrates. 

Barley is rich in fiber, naturally cholesterol-free and low in fat. A 1/2-cup serving of cooked pearl barley, a typical grain serving, contains less than 1/2 gram of fat and only 100 calories. Barley also contains several vitamins and minerals including niacin (Vitamin B3), thiamine ( Vitamin B1), selenium, iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and copper.

Commonly know as Swiss Chard and sadly, another often ignored powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. Chard is an excellent source of Vitamins C, E and K, carotenes, chlorophyll, and fiber. It also contains several minerals including potassium. magnesium, iron and maganese.  And let's not forget Vitamin B6, protein, calcium, thiamine, selenium. zinc, niacin, and folic acid. Simply stated, chard is one of the most powerful anti-cancer foods you can eat. So buy it, cook it, and eat it- OFTEN!

Combine all three ingredients in one dish and you have the most glorious, powerful, healing, life-giving meal.

And now....... the recipe:

Skillet Mushrooms with Chard and Barley

Enjoy and let me know how it turns out!  I would love to hear from you!


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Flax Tempeh Fries with Curry Vegan Mayo

I know you're wondering.......

What the heck are tempeh fries?

Well.....they're not french fries, at least not the kind of we all know and love. No potatoes here. But these little beauties are similar, just packed with protein and calcium. And a whole lot healthier.  And if you are trying to limit carbs, you might want to try these to satisfy your french fry cravings.

Sounds good so far, no?

So what exactly is tempeh?

A little Tempeh 101:

Tempeh is a product made from cooked and slightly fermented soybeans and formed into a block or a patty, like a very firm veggie burger. Many commercially prepared brands add other grains, such as barley, and also add spices and extra flavors. Tempeh is made from soy, but it has a unique, mild, nutty flavor.  Tempeh is also very high in protein and calcium, as well as beneficial isoflavones, but looks and tastes nothing like tofu.  If you're not a fan of tofu, you might want to give tempeh a try.

Because it is a low-fat, high protein food, many vegetarians and vegans include tempeh in their diets on a regular basis. Try adding some to a stir fry instead of tofu, or crumble into soups or chili.  It has a very firm texture, so you need to slice tempeh into small dices or cubes, not more than 3/4 inch thick.

Tempeh can be found in the refrigerated section of most health food stores and in the natural foods aisle of well-stocked grocery stores.

My personal favorite way to eat tempeh:

I slice it into thin slices (but not too thin- I don't want it to crumble) and fry it quickly in a little coconut oil. Then I add barbeque sauce ( a tablespoon or two to coat the tempeh) to the pan and let it cook for a minute or two, turning once or twice so it doesn't stick to the pan. Then I place the tempeh in a whole wheat wrap, add lettuce, tomato, a bit of vegan mayo and I have the most delicious BBQ tempeh wrap. YUMMY.

Okay. Now, let's get back to those Tempeh Fries:

Here's the recipe from :

2  8-oz pkgs of Organic Flax Tempeh
4 tablespoons vegan mayonaise ( I use Nayonaise- available at most health-food stores)
2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 cup cornmeal
4 tablespoons of oil (your choice. I like coconut oil. Olive oil will work, too.)

To make dipping sauce, whisk together mayonnaise and curry powder. Slice tempeh lengthwise into 1/4-inch fries. In a large skillet, bring 1 inch water to a boil. Working in batches, simmer tempeh, covered, for 10 minutes; drain. Combine cornmeal and salt. While tempeh is still moist, roll it in cornmeal mixture. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, sauté tempeh for 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm, with dipping sauce on the side.

Enjoy :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Skillet Collards and Winter Squash with Barley

Photo: Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times
My father was born and bred in the South so I am well acquainted with collard greens. Collards are a staple vegetable in every Southern kitchen.  My family still prepares them exactly the way my grandmother did and her grandmother before her-- simmered on the stove for hours and seasoned with fat-back, lots of onions, salt and pepper. Sometimes they toss in a few potatoes and some crushed red pepper. They come out soft and soggy and a light, translucent green. Serve with hot home-made biscuits to sop up the juices and you're in heaven. Pure heaven.

I used to eat them that way all the time.  Since becoming a vegan,  I must now say no to the big bowl of collards passed around the table at every family gathering. I just can't bring myself to eat anything cooked with fat-back, even if it's just a scant amount. And I really prefer my vegetables a bit greener and not quite so well-done.  But I still love collard greens. I've just had to have find healthier ways to cook them.

Collards are green, leafy winter vegetables. They're rich in Vitamin C and fiber and contain multiple nutrients with anticancer properties such as diindolylmethane and sulforaphane.  A quarter of a pound has about 46 calories so they're the perfect food for weight loss. Toss them into soups, steam them lightly and season with lemon or vinegar and crushed red pepper, stir fry them with garlic and oil, or boil them up with potatoes and a dash or two of Liquid Smoke for a long-simmered, smokey flavor. 

I stumbled across the perfect recipe in The New York Times: Skillet Collards with Winter Squash and Barley. This dish is gorgeous and bursting with life: gorgeous green collards, bright orange butternut squash and pretty little pearls of barley. It's a meal in itself or a good side dish to serve to the carnivores in your family with grilled fish or chicken.

Here's the recipe:
Skillet Collards with Winter Squash and Barley

If you've never cooked collard greens before,  I encourage you to try this recipe.  And let me know how it turns out. I would love to hear from you.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tuscan Polenta with Rosemary, Kale and Cannellini Beans

photo from
I've been told I have the strangest taste in food but just looking at this dish makes me hungry. This is delicious, simple, healing food at its best. The perfect dish for a chilly evening.

Kale.  Rich, vibrant, green, sturdy. Literally packed with vitamins and minerals.  A  hearty winter vegetable. I eat kale several times a week from September through March. I love to steam it lightly, or stir fry it with fresh garlic and onions. YUMMY.

Cannellini Beans. Pretty little cream-colored gems that are loaded with protein. Italians use these beans in so many dishes. Make sure you keep plenty of these beans in your pantry; dried or canned is fine. They are delicious. Toss them in everything: soups, casseroles, salads. Put them in a blender with fresh garlic, a bit of lemon juice and a dash or two of olive oil to make a quick delicious sandwich spread or a dip for fresh vegetables.

Polenta is coarse, Italian cornmeal. So rustic. Satisfying peasant food.

Rosemary.  A gorgeous green herb that I recently discovered grows wild all over Los Angeles. Rosemary is fragrant and earthy. Buy it fresh; never dried. Add it to soups, especially lentil soup. Mix it into your mashed potatoes and even potato salad. Sweet potatoes are divine when roasted with a few sprigs of rosemary.

This particular recipe calls for milk but you can make it VEGAN by using plain soy or almond milk instead.

Here's the recipe:
Tuscan Polenta with Rosemary, Kale and Cannellini Beans