What to Make with Brown Rice

Saving Money at the Grocery Store Begins with a Pot of Rice

Tomorrow I’m presenting a class at Erie Community Library:  “How to Cut Costs at the Grocery Store. . . but not Flavor, Nutrition or Fun.”   One key strategy: scouting out opportunities where you could do for yourself and save money–without too much extra effort.  Brown rice is a perfect example.

Making rice from the bulk aisle requires no more prep time than a box of rice mix or instant rice.  (The longer cooking time is easily remedied by cooking it the one or two nights in advance–or by freezing extra portions for nights when you’re in a hurry.)  However, as a previous post revealed, we pay a threefold markup when someone else precooks, seasons and boxes up our rice in single meal portions.  (It could even be closer to fourfold, because home made brown rice is so much denser and nutrient packed than instant–which makes it stretch further.)

A lot of good these money-savings are, however, if you have no idea what to do with rice.   Over the years, I’ve found dozens and dozens of uses for brown rice, to the point where I always keep a pot of cooked rice in the frig.  It easily lasts a week and provides an excellent launching pad for fast, healthy and delicious meals, like Rice Crust Pizza.

A brown rice crust is far healthier than the usual refined white-flour crust–and it’s quite easy to make, taking about 5 minutes.  It can then be topped with anything you’d put on a flour crust.  For a unique twist, this recipe uses Ciolo Foods‘ Roasted Red Pepper Pesto instead of regular pizza sauce, demonstrating another cost saver:  Buy a couple, high-impact specialty foods and use them to jazz up a meal made with inexpensive ingredients like rice, chard and onions.  Because they are feature strong flavors, only small amounts are needed.  My $5.49 tub seemed expensive–until I saw how its concentrated flavors stretched across three meals!  A great investment for fast, flavorful meals that made us feel like we were eating at a chic bistro!

Rice Crust Pizza with Roasted Red Pepper Pesto, Chard and Caramelized Onions

Make the “Crust”

  • 1 lrg. egg
  • 1/4 cup milk or soy milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried leaf basil
  • 1/4 tsp. each, sea salt and freshly ground pepper, or to taste
  • 2 cups lightly packed, cooked brown rice

Crack egg into a medium-sized bowl and beat lightly, then beat in milk, basil, salt and pepper.  Add rice and stir gently to combine everything thoroughly, being sure to break up any clumps of rice.

Lightly oil a 9″ pie pan.  Pour in rice mixture and use a large spoon to spread evenly across bottom of pan and up sides of pan a half inch or so.  Preheat oven to 350 (F), then bake crust about 10-12 minutes, until eggs are cooked through (a sharp knife inserted into the middle will come out clean when done.)

While oven is preheating and crust is cooking, prepare topping:

  • 1 large  red or yellow onion, sliced 1/4″ thick, then cut into 2″ strips
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lrg. bunch chard
  • 1/2 lb. ground chicken or turkey (omit for vegetarian option)

Ina large saute pan, heat oil over medium heat until an onion sizzles when added.  Add onions and cook, stirring occassionally, until lightly browned.  While onions cook, pull stems from chard, slice 1/4″ thick, then stir in and cook with onions.

Once onions are browned, add chicken or turkey, breaking it up into small pieces with the end of spatula as it cooks.  While meat cooks, pile up chard leaves and cut roughtly into 2″ squares.  Wash and spin dry in salad spinner to minimize moisture.  When meat is almost done, stir in chard leaves and cook, stirring every minute or so, until chard is wilted through and any water has evaporated.

Assemble the Pizza

  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup Ciolo Foods Roasted Red Pepper Pesto (more or less, to taste)
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese or 1-2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese

Remove cooked crust from oven and spread pesto evenly over top.  Spread cooked onion, chard and chicken mixture evenly over pesto.  Bake 5-7 minutes, then remove, top with cheese and bake another 3-5 minutes to meld flavors and melt cheese.  Serve immediately.

Serves:  4

Notes:

1. Ciolo Foods” Pesto  Sold exclusively at Whole Foods, they can be found in a number of states.  However, if you are not in the vicinity of a Whole Foods, there is likely a good substitute in your area, although you may have to visit a gourmet or helath foods store.  Ciolo’s are in the refrigerated section, but also check out the canned section for bottled varieties.

2.  Great for Leftovers It takes almost no extra time to double the crust.  You can then vary the topping and have an easy meal the second night.

3.  Meal Ideas Since this dish has a good balance of vegetables, proteins and starch, it can stand alone.  If you want something more, consider a simple salad, plate of sliced cantaloup, or just crunchy sugar snap peas.

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About CSAs and Pickled Turnips

If you’re CSA member (stands for Community Supported Agriculture), then you know about surprises.  Open your weekly delivery and there could be anything inside.  Last week I got a surprise that probably no one can beat:  A jar of pickled turnips!

As a Certified Vegetable Guide (!), I’m pretty good at devising uses for odd vegetables, but I just had to stash my jar and wait for inspiration.  It came Friday night as I was making a kale salad.  Usually I “marinate” the raw kale with olive oil and lemon juice.  Could the pickled beets plus a little of the pickling brine substitute for the lemon?

You bet!  It worked perfectlly.  Just needed a little sweetness to counterbalance the heartiness of the kale and vinegary-ness of the brine.  A few raisins (chopped to distribute them more evenly) did the trick.  Walnuts added a little more protein to my vegetarian meal.

The only problem:  What if you don’t have any pickled turnips?  I’m going to work on a recipe to share.  It’s a great use for turnips, which are plentiful and cheap, especially when they can then turn a simple kale salad into something quite unique:

So here’s the salad recipe:

1 large bunch of kale, stems removed and leaves torn into roughly 2″ squares

1/4 to 1/3 cup raisins, chopped roughly

1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted lightly

1/2 cup pickled turnips, cut into 1/2″ cubes

Toss together in a salad bowl.

1 clove garlic, finely minced

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1/4 to 1/3 cup pickling brine.

Combine in a small bowl and whisk together with a fork.  Drizzle over salad and toss to coat evenly.  Allow to sit and “marinate” for 30 to 60 minutes, if possible.

Find out more from the Certified Vegetable Guide:  visit the Vegetable a Month Club and check out the demo site for spinach.

What’s for Dinner on Hot Summer Nights?

Put Some “Summer Style” into Your Meals

When the weather turns hot, deciding what’s for dinner can leave you feeling completely cold and clueless.  All our usual standbys seem to lose their appeal in the heat.

The problem may lie less with the weather and more with our mealtime “wardrobe.”  Nobody dons turtlenecks and wool pants to face the heat of summer.  We switch wardrobes for the season!  Likewise, we need to put a little “summer style” into the mealtime lineup when hot weather rolls in.

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While meats go hand in glove with a grill, don't forget about vegetables. I think of the grill as my "summer oven." Whether it's sweet potatoes, zucchinni or asparagus, whatever I might roast in the winter, I grill in the summer, getting the same, tender browned vegetables with a sweetly concentrated flavor.

Beyond Grilling Grilling is the most obvious option, so common in fact, that in some households the stovetop is basically mothballed for the summer.  If you’re ready to expand your summer style beyond the grill, however, there are plenty of other options.  Think *light, *cool and *fresh.

  • Light Instead of those roasts that are so comforting in December, take advantage of the wonderful fresh fish shipped down from Alaska in the summer, like salmon, halibut and cod.  Serve with a fruit salsa or fresh herb pesto.  Maybe even go meatless some nights and combine a couple vegetable dishes and a grain.
  • Light Instead of heavy stews and casseroles, get imaginative with salads.  A bed of lettuce can be the backdrop for a wide range of “accessories,” from proteins like fish, chicken and steak to beans of every color, nuts of every stripe, cheeses of every flavor, fresh herbs and of course, practically any vegetable, either raw, pan-fried or grilled.  Then play with one of the many uniquely-flavored dressings on the market if you don’t want to make your own.
  • Cool When it comes to grain dishes, serve them salad-style rather than as hot skillets.  Cook grains in the morning, cool in the frig all day, then use as a salad base.  Cooled buckwheat, for instance, tastes sweet and nutty.  Combine it with sliced sugar snap peas, sauteed onions and mushrooms, toasted walnuts and roasted red peppers.  Add a simple dressing of olive oil, fresh herbs and lemon juice and you’ve got a refreshing one-dish meal.
Fruit is another stellar salad addition, especially fresh, but dried will work until flavorful fresh fruits come to market.

Fruit is another stellar salad addition, especially fresh, but dried will work until flavorful fresh fruits come to market.

  • Cool Summer is an ideal opportunity to be lazy.  Blame the heat if “all” you get on the table is a sandwich or wrap.  But don’t be fooled; bread and tortillas can easily pack a completely filling, balanced and tasty meal.  Consider even a simple turkey wrap made with a whole grain tortilla, bursting with shredded carrots, red pepper strips, cucumber slices and lettuce.  With or without cheese, it looks like a full meal to me!  Make it even more special with pesto mayonnaise.
  • Cool Or you could skip the bread and tortillas and simply serve up some “cold cuts,” but not the kind with unpronounceable preservatives and colorings in them.  Many stores now carry deli meats that (imagine this) contain just meat flavored only by salt, spices and plant-derived compounds.  (e.g., Applegate Farms Herbed Turkey Breast).  Serve slices rolled with lettuce and tomato inside.  Or serve tofu slices Japanese style, with green onions, soy sauce and sesame seeds.  Or canned canned tuna fillets with light rye crisps and mustard.  Or cold chicken strips dipped in prepared peanut sauce.
  • Fresh Closely related to the idea of cold cuts, finger foods take advantage of the amazing array of fresh fruits and vegetables available in the hot months.  Imagine lounging on the patio in the shade, nibbling on a plate of simply sliced vine-ripened tomatoes, crisp Asian cucumbers, juicy watermelon, and chili-lime corn on the cob?  That’s one of our favorite summertime meals.  For a little more substance, pair it with cheese and crackers, hummus and pitas, nuts or French bread.
  • Fresh Pasta is perfect for summertime, especially in salads.  Hot pasta can be fine, too, just sans the heavy cream and thick tomato sauces.  Instead, combine with fresh vegetables lightly cooked and tie together with light broth-based sauces featuring fresh herbs and olive oil.  Top with a little fresh Parmesan, feta or chevre.  Check out Lynn’s Super Fast Spinach Pasta Dish in the Vegetable A Month Club for a good example–and starting point.  That dish can be creatively modified to showcase practically any of summer’s luscious vegetables.  P.S. Don’t forget to use whole grain pasta.

One final tip:  Don’t wait until 5:00 when you’re driving home in a hot car to decide on dinner.  All these great ideas will vanish like a heat mirage as you just struggle to get home intact.  Take the time now, with everything fresh in your mind, to plan several meals drawing on these ideas.

Mary Collette Rogers, meal planning master, is the author of Take Control of Your Kitchen, the guide to managing our cooking time like a pro.  Find out more about the “Plan Ahead Habit,” the most important piece of a smooth-running dinner operation.

Green Kitchen Tip: Use Citrus Bags for Herb Washing

Keep those yellow, green and red mesh bags that lemons and limes come in.  They are perfect for washing herbs and, more importantly, spinning them dry.  Surely you’ve attempted to chop washed herbs that haven’t been spun dry.  The waterlogged mass turns into a mess of green slush.

Of course if you are on top of things, you wash the herbs the night or morning before they’re needed, in which case they’re nicely dried.  Chopping them is easy and the end result is a fluffy halo of green garnish on a finished dish.

But in case there’s a day when you’re not exactly on top of things, here’s a pretty good option: Use a saved citrus bag as a makeshift spinner.  Cut off any tags, then close one end with a bag closer or simple knot.  Pop the herbs inside, then:

kk

Step 1: Wash herbs under spraying water, separating and shaking to loosen dirt.

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Step 2. Head outside and, holding the open end tightly, fling the bag up an down several times.

kk

In the End: Herbs that are washed but dry and perfect for chopping.

I got this idea from the Veggie Scrub, reviewed in yesterday’s post.  This handy invention does a great job scrubbing vegetables and can also be used as an herb washer/spinner–for small amounts.  however, when I’m washing large bunches (e.g., for pestos, pistous and salsas), a large citrus bag does a more effective job of both washing and drying.

While you likely need only a couple citrus bags for herb washing, you needn’t pitch all the others that find their way into you kitchen.  They are perfect for bagging onions, garlic, potatoes and fruit at the grocery store, sparing the earth a couple more plastic bags.  (FYI:  Each year, 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide.  Each American uses between 300 and 700 plastic bags each year.  This tip can reduce that annual figure to  just 299, or 298 or 297 . . . .)

Scrubbing Vegetables: “Veggie Scrub” Makes It Easier

Check out this great new 2-for-1 find:  A vegetable scrubber + fresh herb colander for just $3.50

Clever

Clever (and easy) gadget for vegetable scrubbing. Especially good for cleaning small produce. The Veggie Scrubber(www.VeggieScrubber.com)

Although I’m a still big fan of my $2.50 nail scrubber from the cleaning supply store, I put the “Veggie Scrub” to the test on Jerusalem artichokes (also known as sunchokes.)  These gnarly and knobby vegetables are the toughest vegetable I’ve ever scrubbed, but the Veggie Scrub did a great job with them.  I am always reluctant to buy sunchokes just because they are so hard to wash, but now that’s not the case.

The packaging instructs to either wear it like a mitt to scrub vegetables with your hand, or to pop the vegetable inside the pouch and rub under flowing water.  The first method worked best with large vegetables, while the second worked best for small things like baby turnips and potatoes.

Either way, you get a decent and inexpensive vegetable scrubber.  But wait, there’s more:  The Veggie Scrub doubles as a fresh herb “colander.”  Washing herbs is always problematic, not only because they’re small and hard to manage, but also because they get soaked and become difficult to chop.  The Veggie Scrub contains them handily while washing.  Then take the pouch outside, fling it up and down vigorously and the herbs are quickly dried enough for a decent chopping job.

Green Kitchen Tip: See tomorrow’s post, about reusing the mesh bags from lemons and limes as an herb washer/spinner

In a recipe, how much is “to taste?”

Make a Recipe Just the Way You Like:  10 Tips

Salt and pepper, to taste.

1/2 tsp. chili flakes, more or less, to taste.

1/4 to 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, to taste.

Recipes seem to be littered with unhelpful directives about “to taste.”  For those of us who aren’t exactly Julia Child in the kitchen, coming across one of them can be annoying, maybe even mildly anxiety-provoking.  “Now what do I do?” might be your response when a recipe says “add lemon juice, to taste

These vague directives may seem like a cop out for lazy recipe writers, but they actually have a good purpose.  When you see “to taste” in a recipe, it’s shorthand for “Caution! Strong-tasting ingredient ahead.  Handle with care.”

I actually worry more about recipes without a warning system.  Just yesterday, I madea peanut sauce recipe that called for 2 1/2 tablespoons of red chili paste.  That amount would have burned a small crater in my mouth!  I never use more than 1/8 a teaspoon.  Made me wonder how many dishes get tossed in the garbage because an unsuspecting chef wasn’t warned that an ingredient had dangerous potential.

Take advantage of a “to taste” instruction to make a dish just the way you like—which happens to be one of the best aspects of cooking for yourself.

It’s easy to focus on the work involved in cooking, and while there’s no question that eating out is a lot easier, how often do you end up with a dish that doesn’t quite do it for you?  At the end of the meal, your taste buds feel shortchanged.  They crave a meal that wasn’t quite so bland, or so burningly hot, or so salty, or so . . . you fill in the blank.

While it might involve a little more effort, cooking for yourself has the distinct advantage of producing meals that taste just right for you.  Which is where the “to taste” business comes in.  There’s just one way to create a dish that makes your taste buds happy:  by tasting and adjusting, then tasting and adjusting again.

  1. Tools of the Trade To begin with, thwart the temptation to taste out of the pan.  Pull out a tasting spoon and plate and keep them handy.
  2. Start Small If a recipe gives a range of measurements, start with the smaller amount.  You can always add more, but not the reverse.
  3. Taste, Taste, Taste After adding the minimum amount of a flavoring, stir it in completely and allow the flavors to meld a minute or two before tasting.
  4. Cool It I am better able to taste flavors when a dish is warm rather than hot.  So I always let my tasting portion cool off before trying.
  5. Unfamiliar Flavoring? Sprinkle just a little bit over a couple spoonfuls on your tasting plate.  Mix in and taste before deciding how much to add.  If you’re ambivalent, keep the flavoring to a minimum and give your taste buds time to adapt to the new flavor.  Reject it outright only if completely distasteful; sometimes the best flavors are ones that grow on us over time.
  6. Portion Control Don’t ruin your appetite:  Tiny tastes are enough to judge flavor.  And call in the spouse and/or children to help.  Not only do they get invested in the meal, the dish can be made to meet their tastes as well.
  7. Balance When tasting, seek balance.  The best dishes achieve that state where no ingredient predominates, but each enhances the other in a “just right” symphony.  So don’t be looking for a major burst of one particular flavor, just a pleasing, overall taste.
  8. No Measurement Given Salt and pepper frequently come with no guidelines other than taste.  That’s because there is such a wide variance in tastes and needs when it comes to these two flavorings.  Some people barely salt their food and might be tempted to omit salt completely.  However, salt often brings out the other flavors in a dish, so try at least 1/4 teaspoon in a dish for four, unless medical reasons require otherwise.  Heavy salters may want to scale back slightly (to maybe 1/2 teaspoon in a dish for four) so other flavors have a chance to present themselves.
  9. Salt and Pepper Speaking of salt and pepper, there may be other ingredients in a recipe that add saltiness or heat, like Parmesan cheese or chili powder.  Adjust your usual salt and pepper amounts accordingly.
  10. Powerful Flavors Generally speaking, the more powerful its flavor the more gingerly an ingredient should be handled.  A few examples of “powerful flavors:”
  • anything having “chili, “hot” or “pepper” in the name
  • ginger and garlic (especially when uncooked)
  • fresh rosemary and sage
  • strong cheeses like blue cheese and goat cheeses
  • spicy mustard
  • cloves

While these flavorings deserve special consideration, just about any of the herbs and spices, when overdone, can make a dish unbearable.

Because our tastes are so individual, learning to add ingredients “to taste” is a very individual process.  The best strategy:  always go slowly.  This can be tedious, especially when you’re in a hurry to get a meal on the table.  But after two or three months, expect to begin developing a feel for your tastes.  The rewards are magnificent:  Having food exactly your way.

Tomorrow’s Post Measurement guidelines for some of the more common “to taste” ingredients.

Summer Refreshment: Cure for the Mid-Afternoon Doldrums

Make Iced Green Tea

It’s 3:00.  The vending machine is calling, or maybe the doughnuts left over in the break room.  You know it’s suicidal to indulge those cravings, but work is so boring and you’re so tired and . . .

Here’s an alternative.  Maybe more than sugar and calories, you need refreshment—as in something cool, revitalizing and calming, like Iced Green Tea.

Pomegranate ice cubes in the foreground; Lemon balm sprigs to the side; my lovely rosebush in the background

Pomegranate ice cubes in the foreground; Lemon balm sprigs to the side; my lovely rosebush in the background

Years ago, a good friend told me about the surprisingly satisfying taste of green iced tea, but I just couldn’t get excited about it.  Green tea seemed bland enough when hot; I could only imagine what a cold cup might taste like.

Things changed a couple weeks ago when I ran across a new decaf green:  Whole Foods’ Green Tea with Lemon Myrtle.  Admittedly, it was the price tag that drew me in.  While most teas now run $3.00 to $4.00 for a 20-count box, this one had 40 bags for $4.00—and it was organic to boot.  Remembering the crush of heat that waited outside the air conditioned grocery store, I decided it was finally time to try iced green tea.  Now I’m hooked.

Ayurvedic Balance There may be a good reason iced green tea is just the ticket for me on a hot day.  According to the Ayurvedic thought system, I’m primarily a “Pitta” gal.  As Jennifer Workman, Ayurvedic practitioner and author of Stop Your Cravings explains, we pitas get hot and bothered easily.  Happily, with something bitter, astringent and sweet our irritability evaporates and we get realigned into balance.  Conveniently, my new tea is both astringent (green tea) and bitter (lemon myrtle), in one easy-to-make, no-calorie beverage.  See the ice cube suggestion below to incorporate a little low-calorie sweetness.

Vatas and Kaphas Will this tea be as beneficial if you’re not a Pitta?  Yes!  Although Pittas are predisposed to irritability, anyone can get hot and bothered when the circumstances warrant, and summer’s heat certainly qualifies as just cause.

Good as a Tummy Tuck? Not really, but among the dozens of health facts to hit the airwaves recently there was a study about green tea’s ability to reduce tummy flab.  Sure can’t hurt to try!

A Special Touch Toss in a couple pomegranate juice ice cubes for a little sweetness.  Make a batch from pomegranate juice, then store in a plastic zippered bag or storage container in the freezer.  Not only will they be quite handy, they won’t acquire a nasty freezer burn taste.

Brewing in the Post-Hippie Era Remember the sun tea craze?  It was a great idea:  Why waste energy brewing on the stovetop when the sun could do the work?  Now it’s possible to go one step further and just brew in the frig.  Put a pitcher in the frig at night and it can go to work in the morning.  Three good reasons to go this route:

  1. Your refrigerator doesn’t have to cool hot or warmed tea, saving energy.
  2. You get better taste.  As explained by tea connoisseur Beth Johnston of Teas, etc., cold water draws out or pulls the flavor from the tea , “a much slower and gentler method [than hot water brewing] that results in a smoother, more subtle, naturally sweet tasting tea.”  
  3. As or more importantly, you’re spared from potentially dangerous bacterial growth.

How’s that?  Both water and tea leaves can harbor bacteria.  Sun tea water reaches only 130 (F), never the 195 (F) required to kill all this bacteria.  So left in the nice, warm sunshine, it can quickly grow and multiply to dangerous levels, enough to make you sick. 

Getting It to Work Of course you can drink iced green tea any time, but it does me the most good at my 3:00 p.m. low point.  So fill a water bottle at home and stash it in the office frig.  Alternatively, consider brewing a bottle at work.

No Whole Foods? No problem.  Any green tea will do.  Add a slice or two of lemon to your glass.  Or, when throwing the tea bags in your brewing water, include a few sprigs of lemon balm, one of those great herbs that comes up year after year without your doing a thing.  Or check out some of the greens that Johhston offers, especially Premium Lemon Citrus Organic.

To a refreshing and uplifting afternoon!

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