Monday, January 23, 2012

Cooking Guide to Grains

Cooking grains is very easy and it doesn't take long. Here is a handy cooking guide with some ideas for flavor additions.

QUINOA    (pronounced Keen-Wah)  
A mild yet satisfying flavor, with a texture like pasta. Goes well with anything.
Serve cold or hot

While cooking you can add chopped or pressed garlic, onions, broth, herbs, ginger, sun dried tomatoes, etc.

QUINOA    (Keen-Wah)  

Rinse Quinoa thoroughly
1 C Quinoa
2 Cups liquid (water or broth)
½ to 1 tsp salt
Bring water to boil, add Quinoa and salt
Cook (simmer) 15 minutes, let stand 5 min
Yield 3+ cups
Goes well with anything


Rinse thoroughly,
½ Cup Quinoa
1 Cup Water (or broth)
¼ salt
Bring water to boil, add Quinoa and salt. Simmer 10 to 15 min
Let stand 5 min. 

A great taste, like corn and a silken texture, makes its own silky smooth broth.

While cooking you can add chopped or pressed garlic, onions, unsalted broth, herbs, ginger, sun dried tomatoes, etc. NOTHING with SALT added. I like it plain with chicken flavor broth added at the end.

Do not rinse, too small. DO NOT SALT WHILE COOKING.

1 C Amaranth
2 ½ Cups Liquid (water or UNsalted broth, Not even tomato juice- too salty)
Bring to boil, Add Amaranth only, cover, 
cook (simmer) 20-25 minutes.
Add ½ to 1 tsp salt after cooking or add broth powder (chicken is good) to flavor.   

Yield 2 Cups
Goes well with beans or red lentils, I don’t mix it together with other grains tho, I like it plain.

½ Cup Amaranth
1 ¼ Cup water
Bring water to a boil, add Amaranth, cover, reduce heat
Simmer 15 to 20 min. Add salt or broth powder right after it’s done.

Wheat flavor, deep and robust, and chewy, yet still able to blend with many other vegetables, beans and other grains. Good cold or hot. It makes a great cold salad with scallions and chopped fresh tomatoes, lemon juice or a dressing.

While cooking you can add chopped or pressed garlic, onions, broth, herbs, ginger, sun dried tomatoes, etc

Bulgur is cracked wheat but pre-cooked, more processed, cooks faster and is slightly lighter in texture and flavor.

1 ½ C Cracked Wheat         
3 C Water, stock, or Broth (I use good broth powder)              
½ t salt (If broth is salty cut salt.)
1 clove pressed garlic (optional)
Bring water to boil, add wheat and salt. Cover, simmer until wheat is desired texture, about 20 to 30 min. If too much water left for taste, drain it off.  
Yield About 3 ½ cups
Especially good with onions, tomatoes and good Olive oil
Can be added to other grain or bean and mixed except Amaranth.

Can also add tomato juice to the cooking water to anything but Amaranth (salty)

½ cup Cracked Wheat
1 Cup Water
Pinch Salt
Bring to boil, add wheat and salt, cook covered about 15 min.

Whole wheat is best, otherwise you are getting mainly white flour. Couscous is really tiny pieces of pasta. Texture smooth and creamy.

While cooking you can add chopped or pressed garlic, onions, broth, herbs, ginger, sun dried tomatoes, etc

1/3 Cup Couscous
2/3 Cup water, milk or broth (tomato juice is good too)
pinch Salt
1 teaspoon (OPTIONAL) Olive oil or butter

In Medium saucepan combine water with any of the optional salt, oil or butter. Bring just to a boil , stir in Couscous and COVER. Remove from heat immediately and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and eat.
Couscous makes a great base for any vegetables, stew or stir-fry. Add parmesan cheese to it with any appropriate meal, really excellent.   

Microwave Couscous

In 2 Quart casserole add water and opt salt. Microwave on high until boiling. Add Couscous and optional oil, stir and cover. Let stand 5 minutes, fluff with fork and eat.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Great Grain Quest

 Picture: Starting at left and going clockwise: Quinoa, Amaranth, Cracked Wheat, and (bottom) Bulgur

One of my New Year's resolutions is to eat more whole grains. I pledged that last year too...and I did eat grains, just not as often as I would like. If you would like to read a great website for a definition of whole grains and get a list of them, here is a link:

Why eat whole grains? They are full of vitamins and minerals and right next to fresh vegetables they are the best thing you can give your body. Actually they are a perfect accompaniment to vegetables and being a vegetarian, they also provide me plenty of protein. 

Over the past few years I have added these whole grains to my diet:

Cracked Wheat
Brown Rice
Whole Wheat Couscous (Couscous is really pasta in disguise but I tell myself that I can get away with it because I buy only the whole wheat, not the white.)  

Now all the dieticians are screaming to add whole grains to your meal and as far as I know, no one is listening. There are several reasons for this:

1) The big carb scare of the ‘90s: this was the time when we were all warned how carbs of any kind were going to turn us all into diabetics or blimps. It is true that diabetics have to be very careful of how many carbs they consume but as far as I know (and you should check me on this) if the grains are whole diabetics can eat more of them safely. As far as weight gain, whole grains fill you up fast and because they are protein they burn slowly in the body and keep you satisfied, so nutrient dense that every calorie counts!    

2) When it comes to buying and cooking grains most people wouldn’t know where to start. There are many kinds of grains out there and they look rather work intensive and intimidating.

3) Without a little know how in the kitchen whole grains can have all the flavor and texture of beach sand.

So I am going on a little quest to cook a grain a week and find something (like sauces) along the way to perk them up and give them a special place at the table. I never want to eat something just because it is good for me. I want to look forward to having it and enjoy the benefits as a bonus! I’ll be posting results soon.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Crisis averted on the "Weak-End"

Well, I was busy doing my thing this Sunday and suddenly realized it was lunch time and I was famished. Thoughts of Cheezits ran through my dark self whispered it would be much easier and faster to just grab the box and munch, "after all we're soooo hungry, just do it". Then I remembered I had leftovers in the fridge...These leftovers were not a run of the mill soggy casserole that no one wanted to finish, but a fresh salad together with rice and beans. It took only a minute to have a nice bowl of half salad, half rice, beans, hot sauce, cilantro and onions. Whew! I was SAVED. Now sitting here thoroughly satisfied I had to reflect a little on this intervention. If I hadn't had what I really loved in that fridge and it wasn't waiting for me I would have been a goner. In diet books I always read that we should keep something ready in the fridge for such times and I think trying to be virtuous we dutifully peel carrots and scrape celery and put them in bags stocking up our Frigidaire with what we think we should eat. It occurs to me that this is a nice idea but if you can't get excited about veggie sticks then that isn't going to help you when the hunger pangs hit. Also just having leftovers available really isn't going to cut it either if you weren't crazy about the meal the first time around. I am frugal but it finally dawned on me a few years ago what leftovers were going to "sell" in the family and which were going to sit around until they changed their molecular structure and had to be discarded with nose held. Now, the only leftovers that end up on the shelf are the ones we really love. Mexican food is big for us so anything of that nationality gets boxed or bagged. I try and make extra of whatever we love when I am cooking for the purpose of tasty meals later on. Whole wheat pasta, even plain, in a plastic dish has many fast lunch possibilities as long as Olive Oil and Parmesan cheese are around the house. Rice, ditto. Whenever I make salad I make a huge bowlful and then it is ready for a side dish or a meal with cottage cheese, nuts, whole wheat toast or even a slice of cheese. These leftovers can obviously come in handy for a quick dinner too! The point is: have what you really love that is healthy (not what you think you should love) sitting around, prepared in a way that is ready for fast consumption and then just watch the portions (that's why a side salad helps). You can have a healthy lunch that you can really enjoy and still feel virtuous.       

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Our Disconnect with Digestion

All my life I have had digestive issues. For some unknown reason this is the weakest link in my body and I am prone to all sorts of miserable maladies. Since this blog is more about eating than the results of it, I won't go too far into the gory details, but those who share these problems know what I mean: constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, flatulence, irritable bowel, you name it, I've had it. To make matters even worse I have food allergies/sensitivities and hypothyroidism. Even if these problems only plague you once in a while they are a sign that food isn't being processed the way it should and that is not a good thing for your overall health. Our digestive system is comprised of some of the largest organs in the body, the intestines alone are, on average, 25 feet long or ten times the length of the body. When they aren't working right it's going to be pretty noticeable. Right up there with the heart and brain, the digestive system is what keeps the body running. It must take all the food and drink that we consume and turn it into something our bodies can use. Not just energy giving fuel but nutrients to renew and replace every cell in our bodies. Think about this for a moment, really think about it. Whatever you eat or drink is ALL your body has to accomplish the monumental task of  making all new cells, nourishing all the organs, provide internal heat, growing nails, hair, etc.and having enough left over to give you the energy to get out of bed every morning and think about your day. That's a pretty tall order. This is the thing that stops me dead every time I start to eat a donut or a bag of chips. I ask myself: "Is this going to help my body with it's goal of keeping me going and feeling good about it? What am I providing for the processes it must get done today?" We've got to have some sympathy for this vehicle of ours, working so hard to keep us moving so we can live our lives the way we want to. When I hear people say things like: "I don't eat much I just live on diet soda" or "The only vegetable I'll eat is potato" I cringe. How can their bodies work without the variety of foods it so desperately needs? We hear a lot about eating right to prevent disease but there isn't much discussion about eating for the daily regulation of the body. This is the most basic and supremely important thing to eat for; to help your body thrive. If you do this you don't have to worry about diseases.    
Although it doesn't feel like it, maybe I've been lucky to have had digestive problems since age 4 because without them I may not have found the will power to change my 50's era diet into something healthier. When you collapse on the bathroom floor in pain you don't run back to the table to have another slice of pizza. When the digestive system revolts you can't fight it you have to work with it. My system certainly has made me aware of it, what it needed and where I was going wrong. For everyone else not on the bathroom floor there's a difficulty in comprehending what the body needs or is asking for. When it ain't broke we don't fix it. Except that it is broke. The incidence of diseases rising every day are telling us that we are doing things wrong, but as long as we are able to get up and get going we won't think about it until we get that life changing diagnosis. Then it's too late. Now don't get me wrong, I am not a saint. I love pizza and cookies and chips just as much as the next guy. I just do my darndest to cram my diet as much as possible with fresh veggies, fruit, and whole grains. Then I have a cookie or two or a handful of chips (putting them in a small bowl so I don't pig out, because I will if I am not careful!) I just try and remember that my body needs me as much as I need it. I want to feel good every day, I want to have a lot of energy to accomplish my goals. To have quality of life, that's what we all want. So please think of your body, of all it's doing for you every day of your life and give it something good to go on today and always. You'll be glad you did.          

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Unusual Foods that Freeze Well and a Couple That Don't.

One thing about living a ways out of town is you learn how to keep food in the house for as long as you can. Since running to the store is not a quick trip for me I have discovered some surprisingly successful things to  freeze. Most people don't realize that bananas can be frozen, they can, and they hold up pretty well.
Bananas: Peel, cut in half, (so you don't have to have a whole one every time) throw in a Ziploc and freeze.It's that easy. Use the oldest first and you will know because after a few weeks they start to turn a little darker. They taste fine, they just don't store indefinitely. Nice to know when they go on sale too. Now, of course you probably don't want to eat them naked out of the freezer but they work well for smoothies and desserts.
Canned tomato paste: How many times have you cooked something and didn't use all the can? I do that a lot. What to do? Freeze it. I just put a baggie over the top and a rubber band and it goes in the freezer door. It doesn't even freeze solid so it is very usable the next time you need it. Or even better, freeze scoops of the paste in ice cube trays and throw in a Ziploc. A great way to use up tomato paste is in canned soup with a tomato base. Canned soup can be so blah. I deepen the flavor by adding paste.
Wine: leftover wine is a problem in our house. Freeze in ice cube trays and then pop out and put in Ziplocks.Wine cubes are great to add to sauces, stews, gravy and soups.
Instead of freezing your leftover home made soup (or stew) in a big plastic dish and forgetting about it, freeze it in metal muffin tins. You don't need to grease the tins. After the soup is frozen, just run your warm wet hand on the bottom and then pop right out. (I sometimes use a dull table knife to pop) Freeze in a Ziploc. You have smaller portions that are easily heated up for one or two people and a quick satisfying lunch on a cold winter day.
Peppers: I do a lot of gardening and have these around. I like odd types you can't get at the grocery store. The surprising thing about peppers is you don't have to blanch them. Just cut and freeze. They will be ready for cooking though, not eating.
Tomatoes: Another vegetables that doesn't require blanching, you can even freeze whole in a Ziploc. I prefer to strip the skins off by submerging in a pot of boiling water for a minute and then freezing in dishes because I make a lot of tomato sauce.
Fresh Herbs: Almost all herbs freeze very well. Basil is a little picky because it can turn black. You can freeze basil by chopping by hand or blender/food processor and mixing with oil or water and freezing in ice trays again and then transferring to Ziplocs. 
Mushrooms: You must saute them in a little oil or butter and freeze on a cookie sheet or in little containers. You'll always have some on hand to add to soups, stews or spaghetti sauce.
Berries of all kinds: No processing required, just freeze on a cookies sheet so they are nice and loose when frozen and throw in a Ziploc. Later, you can dip your hand in the bag and grab any quantity you want.

Now a couple things that don't freeze well even if they are in the grocery store!
Potatoes are terrible when they have been frozen. They get rubbery. Maybe you can get away with it if they are mixed with a lot of other veggies in a soup but even then, the taste is flat and the texture worse.
Green Beans: Yep, that's right, even the bags of green beans in the grocery store freezer are awful. Why? Because they never cook right again and when you reheat them they are like hard, spongy, little tubes that taste like grass. The solution I find is to buy French style green beans at the store and add those to my soups and stews. They do not hold that hard shape and the taste is acceptably better. Even when I freeze my beans from the garden I "French" them now.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Volumetric style Quesadilla

Here is an example of increasing the volume in an otherwise fattening and less healthy dish. Everyone loves Quesadillas, all that melted cheese! However, if you add veggies and other better-for-you items like beans for fiber, you get a very satisfying dish, filling, healthy and still delicious!                                                                              
Black Bean and Sweet Potato Quesadilla

Can of Black Beans
Sweet Potato or Yam
Poblano Peppers
Can of chopped Green Chilies
Fresh Spinach
Jack Cheese, grated 
Flour Tortillas, plain or flavored
Butter or Butter Substitute 

Roast Poblano pepper under broiler until skin is black, put in paper bag for 10 minutes to sweat. In the meantime roast sweet potato in 365 degree oven until soft (about 30 minutes). Using a paper towel pull blackened skin off of the pepper, core and strip seeds out and slice into strips. You can do these steps earlier in the day or night before for faster dinner prep later. Mash sweet potato in a bowl with salt, pepper, paprika and a little chili powder. Drain black beans and rinse. Heat all these items in the microwave if they are cold. Butter a tortilla on one side and set buttered side down on a plate, on ONE HALF of the UN-buttered side of the tortilla, spread the sweet potato, layer black beans, Poblano pepper strips, green chilies, fresh spinach and Jack cheese. Set buttered side down tortilla in medium heated large frying pan and fold over. Fry until tortilla turns golden brown and then flip over and brown other side, by that time the cheese has melted. Slice into wedges. Serve with your choice of low fat sour cream, salsa or sliced avocado.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Portion Control

The more time and energy I devote to my diet the more I am convinced that the real key to weight loss for anyone is portion control. Since I don't believe in diet"ing" eating less must be where the calorie factor is figured in. I am also quite aware through personal experience that putting less on your plate is an exercise in panic and frustration. My body knows and remembers how much food it has been getting and it wants that same amount today that it had yesterday. When it didn't get it, it made me feel like I was starving. This is the thing that makes losing weight so dang hard. Depending on how much we have been over eating the feeling of lack when we trim it down can really amount to torture. Fortunately I found a book with an idea that really helped me in that department. It's called The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan by Barbara Rolls PhD. Her point of view opened my eyes to new possibilities. I will say right up front here that I do not follow this book religiously, as this is not my only regime. I just took some of the great ideas she had and apply it where I can because they are brilliant. Basically it boils down to this. Eat more of the foods that are dense, (or low in calories but filling), like vegetables, fresh fruit and beans and less of foods that are higher in calories but lighter so they don't fill you up like crackers, chips, french fries and cheese. I am looking to increase the volume in my meals while lowering the calories. For example: I love spaghetti, well, who doesn't? Now, I can switch to a better made pasta with some grains added and that is a fine idea but it's still pretty much a heaping plate of the higher calorie stuff. If I eat only half of my usual portion I will feel cheated and hungry. So what if I take out half the the noodles and then add back in enough tasty vegetables to bring the amount back up to snuff? Instant satisfaction! So, for a year now I make spaghetti sauce, adding to it chopped tomatoes, roasted eggplant, sauteed zucchini and mushrooms. Toss with the pasta and cover with Parmesan cheese. It's delicious and I can eat till I am full with the added advantage of getting my daily dose of recommended vegetables as a bonus.