Note: Lee Zalben, a.k.a. "the Peanut Butter Guy" is the creator of the Peanut Butter & Co., a New York sandwich shop with a national line of nut butters. Every week he chimes in with some nuttiness.
Even though they call me the Peanut Butter Guy, which sounds like a rather salt-of-the-earth position, but I'll be honest. I can be a bit of a food snob. Don't get me wrong, I love diners, street food, penny candy, and all sorts of simple fare. But when I cook and bake, it's mostly from scratch. When I develop product recipes with my team at Peanut Butter & Co., it's almost always from scratch as well.
My mom is another story all together.
She is a big fan of kitchen shortcuts, using combinations of ready-made ingredients to "doctor up" foods. She's always calling and emailing me with her peanut buttery shortcuts, and I think she was a little hurt when I didn't use any of them in our cookbook.
But a couple months ago I went home to Philadelphia and she taught me a little lesson. A week before my visit, she told me about a chocolate peanut butter mousse pie at a local bakery we frequented when I was younger. When I got home, she casually mentioned "that chocolate peanut butter mousse pie" she picked up.
Dinner was great: barbecued chicken, potatoes baked on the grill, and steamed veggies in a lemon parsley sauce. After the meal she asked me (with a glint in her eye) if I had room for dessert. I should have suspected something was up.
She went to the fridge, took out the white bakery box tied with red-and-white twine and pulled out a luscious-looking pie with crushed peanuts on top.
"Looks promising," I said. She cut slices for everyone at the table and I took a bite. Chocolatey and peanut buttery. Very creamy. Very good. It had a rich cocoa flavor without being too sweet or bitter.
This was a lot different than the chocolate peanut butter pie we serve at our sandwich shop, but I liked it. Light and sweet, the pie was very rich-tasting. "It must really take skill to make this. You can tell they made it from scratch."
I went on, postulating on whether they used whipped heavy cream or cream cheese for the base. I considered the possibility of cocoa powder, or if it was a ganache from chocolate and cream. "We should call the bakery and ask about the recipe." That's when Mom stopped me. This is the moment she had been waiting for.
"I've got the ingredients Lee, I've got the ingredients right here."
She zipped around the kitchen for a moment and laid a jar of Dark Chocolate Dreams, a tub of Cool Whip, and a Keebler pie crust on the table.
"Here. These are the ingredients I used to make the pie. Does it taste like it's from scratch? Cooking doesn't always have to be so hard when you have a few shortcuts," she said.
So there it is—how my Mom taught me a valuable lesson. Sometimes the simplest things can be the most delicious. And, most importantly, listen to your mother. She's almost always right!
About the author: Lee Zalben was a PB&J-loving kid that grew up to be the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co, which began as a Greenwich Village sandwich shop serving nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and expanded to include the now-famous line of all natural flavored peanut butter. Lee is a graduate of Vassar College and enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting foods made with peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. When he's not working, eating, flying or writing, he enjoys scuba diving and training elephants.