Peanut Butter Is The Star Of These Cookies

Diana Helfand
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Wednesday - July 01, 2009
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There’s something funny happening over at Manoa Valley Theatre and it’s spelled W-O-N-D-E-R-FU-L!

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has had folks rolling in the aisles - when they’re not tapping their feet to the tuneful stylings of guest musical director Kenji Higashihama. Kenji’s career has followed a wildly diverse path, starting at the age of 5 when he began playing the piano. Through his teenage years, he sang with his church, doing trios and duets. Growing up with Southern gospel music was a major influence. He studied conducting and piano performance at Providence Baptist College in Illinois, and accompanied musical tour groups with his classmates.

Kenji joined the Air Force after 9/11 and became a musical conductor - as well as a Chinese language translator, which brought him to Hawaii in 2005. In four short years here, he has been a synthesizer player with the Oahu Civic Orchestra, an actor and a musical director. In 2008, Kenji landed a role in his first show, Flower Drum Song. He music directed MVT’s Always ... Patsy Cline last summer at the top of its 2008-09 season (40th anniversary!), and is thrilled to do the music direction for Putnam, the season finale. For tickets, call 988-6131 or go to

This column is dedicated to Kenji, a multi-talented musician who’s always smiling. And for those of you who like to plan ahead, MVT has already tapped him for next season to direct both Winter Wonderettes (November 2009) and Hair (March 2010).

Peanut butter, as defined by the U.S. FDA’s Standard of Identity, must consist of at least 90 percent peanuts with no more than 10 percent by weight seasoning and stabilizing ingredients. These optional ingredients may include salt, sugars and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. They may not include lard or other animal fats, artificial flavorings, artificial sweeteners, chemical preservatives or colors. Peanut butter today is remarkably like that made 100 years ago. Some brands add about 7 percent natural sweeteners and 1 percent salt for taste, plus a stabilizer to keep the peanut butter fresh and the oil from separating. “Natural” peanut butter does not have the stabilizer, so the oil will separate and should be stirred back in before using. “Peanut butter spreads,” a relatively new category now allowed by FDA, contain only 60 percent peanuts, but are nutritionally equivalent to peanut butter. Peanut butter contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and also contains protein, fiber, vitamin E, niacin, folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B1, riboflavin, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, calcium and potassium.

Try these cookies with a glass of ice-cold skim milk for a tasty nutritious snack.


* 1 1/3 cups unbleached flour

* 3 teaspoons baking powder

* 1/4 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips

* 2/3 cup sliced ripe banana

* 1/3 cup brown sugar * 1/2 cup white sugar * 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

* 1/2 cup creamy reduced-fat peanut butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees; coat cookie sheets with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, sift flour with baking powder. Stir in chocolate chips until well-coated. In blender container, puree banana with sugars; add vanilla extract. Stir in peanut butter until well-combined and stir vigorously until fluffy. Stir flour mixture into banana mixture until well-combined. Chill dough in refrigerator for about 45 minutes. Using teaspoon-size portions form into balls, place 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for a few minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 32 cookies.

Nutrition Information Per Cookie:

Calories: 90
Fat: 2.7 grams
Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
Sodium: 70 milligrams

(Diana Helfand, author of “Hawaii Light and Healthy” and “The Best of Heart-y Cooking,” has taught nutrition in the Kapiolani Community College culinary arts program.)

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