Ingredient SpotLight

As the new school year begins, people might envision students taking apples to their teachers ... but when it comes to pairing an ingredient with thoughts of school, few compare with peanut butter! In the ubiquitous peanut butter and jelly sandwich, paired with crackers or used as a dip for celery sticks, peanut butter is as at home in a student's lunchbox as it is in everything from desserts to Thai food!

Peanut butter accounts for over half of U.S. peanut production, and Americans eat almost 7 pounds of peanuts and peanut butter per capita. Until recent times, the vast majority of peanut butter was made and consumed in the United States. Throughout most of the rest of the world it was not a common food until the last quarter of the 20th century. However, it has not taken long for it to become a favorite in everything from noodle dishes to satay sauces.

While high in calories, most people do not actually consume large amounts of peanut butter per serving and it is, therefore, a great addition to a healthy diet. Over 80% of the fat in peanut butter is the unsaturated kind, which is heart healthy. And peanut butter, as with all plant foods, is naturally cholesterol-free.

So it's time to celebrate peanut butter! Go ahead and pack those PBJs in your kids' lunchboxes and know that you are giving them something that is both nutritious and delicious. And, if you want to join the fun, try these two recipes -- one dessert and one main course -- that feature our favorite ... peanut butter.

Peanut Butter Cookies

These delightful cookies are a blast from my past -- they were the most popular variety to spend time in the cookie jar. Granted, it wasn't much time!
  • 1 c. butter-flavored shortening
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 c. peanut butter -- I like the chunky variety
  • 2 1/2 c. flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Thoroughly cream the shortening, sugars, eggs and vanilla. Stir in the peanut butter. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt; stir into the creamed mixture.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Press with the back of a floured fork to make criss-crosses on the cookies.

Bake for about 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Remove and allow to rest for 1 minute before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

  • Yields: 5 dozen cookies
  • Preparation Time: about 1 hour

Easy Sesame Noodles

This quick recipe is a great way to give your weekday a mini-vacation to the Asian continent. For even more sesame flavor, sprinkle the dish with toasted sesame seeds before serving.
  • 1 pound spaghetti or fettuccine noodles
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 c. natural peanut butter
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 5 T. brown sugar
  • 2 T. hot chili oil -- you can find this in the Asian section of your grocery store
  • 1 tsp. rice wine or sherry
  • 2 green onions

Cook the noodles according to the package directions.

Combine the garlic, peanut butter, soy sauce, sugar, oil and wine in a food processor and process until smooth.

If you want to serve your noodles warm, continue with the recipe. If you want to serve your noodles cold, rinse them under cold water, toss them with a little sesame oil and chill them before proceeding. Mix with the noodles until they are well coated.

Slice the green onions on a bias and toss with the noodles before serving. (You can also add any other cut vegetables and even shredded chicken to the noodles to make it a more substantial meal.)

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes, plus chilling time (if desired)