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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Healthier Versions of Two Family Favourites - Peanut Butter Cookies and Banana Bread

My husband and I have always believed in eating good foods which for us translates in home cooked from scratch.  Over the past few years I have modified many of our family favourites so they are slightly to moderately healthier versions without losing the tried and true flavour of the original dish.  Why would I do this?  The culinary world and that does include home cooking like any discipline is constantly evolving.  New knowledge comes to light that gives insight into the nutritional aspect of cooking, improved cooking methods and in many ways how to use old fashioned methods in an ever changing modern world. 

healthier peanut butter cookies and banana bread
We eat a rather healthy diet by avoiding food preservatives, artificial food additives, HFCS, excess sugar and salt.  We eat hormone free meats, free range chickens and eggs and rely heavily on locally grown produce as well as grow our own.  It is little wonder that about 90% of the baked goods we consume are home made from scratch, including most breads.  There is always room for improvement in healthy cooking. 

Let's face it, cookies are not as healthy of a snack choice as a carrot stick but they are certainly a lot healthier than some snack choices.  Home baked cookies are healthier for you than the chemically laden mass produced cookies.  I've been making the very same peanut butter cookie recipe from the 1969 Betty Crocker's Cookbook.  The recipe calls for either butter or margarine.  I use butter as we do not use margarine in our home.  I substituted organic additive free unbleached flour for the all-purpose flour and organic granulated sugar for the white granulated sugar.   I substituted Kraft light 25% less fat smooth peanut butter for regular peanut butter and reduced the salt (I only use sea salt) because there is salt in the peanut butter.  The cookies tasted the same as always!  The next batch I am going to use homemade peanut butter.  If that works well, I will have reduced the fat in the cookies by a fair amount.  I also want to try making the cookies with spelt, an ancient grain that is healthier.

Mass produced peanut butter is not as healthy for you as the food industry would have you believe.  It is laden with fat and sugar giving it a smoother texture than homemade peanut butter.  It doesn't separate like homemade peanut butter because vegetable oil is added to prevent separation.  It also contains corn dextrin, something of concern to those with a corn allergy or insensitivity.  We are not huge consumers of  peanut butter at under a purchased 1kg jar per year for cookies if that and about half of that in homemade peanut butter.    I'm hoping homemade peanut butter will work in these cookies just as well!

Banana bread is wonderful for breakfast or snacking and it travels well for lunches.  It is my frugal standby for using up over ripe bananas.  I have been making this same banana bread recipe since our newlywed days.  It is handwritten in my very first cooking journal, overwritten with copious modifications to the recipe it has become today.  I have experimented using whole wheat flour in place of all purpose flour which gives the loaf a denser, grainier texture but is still quite good.  The combination that works well for texture is 1 c of unbleached flour and ¾ whole wheat flour, both healthier than all-purpose flour.  I use sea salt rather than iodized salt, organic sugar rather than regular white sugar an butter instead of shortening.  Recently, I have been making this bread with organic bananas that have just recently become available at our local Walmart.  The organic bananas are currently 10¢ per pound more expensive than regular (57¢ per lb) and I doubt they will go on sale the way regular bananas do but time will tell.  Aside of trying this recipe using spelt in place of the unbleached flour, it is about as healthy as it is going to get.

It is surprising how a few simple and inexpensive changes can make a recipe healthier without affecting the taste.  These changes are part of moving towards a healthier diet while still enjoying the comforts of your favourite dishes.  I have found pretty much any organic substitutes without a problem for its non-organic equivalent.  Canola oil (GMO) can be substituted with an non-GMO light tasting oil.  Cane syrup is a good substitution for corn syrup.  Whole wheat pasta and pastas enriched with vegetables pretty much have the same colour and texture as plain pastas although there may be a colour difference.  Through trial and error, it is surprisingly rather easy to find healthier ingredients for your favourite reciepes. 

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