“Accelerated” Slow Cooker Beans

We love slow cookers, but sometimes they they can be a little too slow (or we can be a little too late!)  Yesterday, for example, I was presenting “How Can You Tell If You’re Eating Well.”  It’s a fun talk about “eating close to the earth” and how that simple approach makes it easy to know if you’re eating well.

Anyway, at the end of the talk I planned to demo a fast, “eating close to the earth” dish using slow cooker black beans.  But while fixing my morning cup of tea, I realized that I’d forgotten to soak the beans the night before, so they could slow cook all day, and be done just in time for my evening class.  As I poured the water over my Earl Grey leaves, I watched my carefully laid plans collapse.  What do I do now?

Innovate.   Fortunately, a bolt of inspiration struck and left behind a formula for  “Accelerated Slow Cooker Beans:”

8:48 a.m.  Put quart of water on to boil on biggest burner on highest heat (with the lid on because that makes it boil faster, too)

8:49 a.m.  Measure out 1  1/2 cups black beans, pour on a plate and pick out dirt clods and bad beans (my beans come straight from a local farm, so they take a couple extra prep minutes, but the taste is well worth it.)

Sorting Black Beans:  Pour into a pile on one side of plate.  Working in small batches, push into a pile on other side of plate

Sorting Black Beans: Pour into a pile on left side of plate. Working in small batches, push to right side of plate, pulling out bad beans, small stones or dirt clods like the one in center of plate.

8:52 a.m.  Pour cleaned beans in slow cooker.  Water is now boiling so pour it in.  Cover and turn to high heat.

1:00 p.m.  Beans have already begun to soften, the same as if they had soaked all night, so I drain them, return them to pot and put another quart of water on to boil.

1:05 p.m.  Second round of water is boiling.  Pour over drained beans in slow cooker, cover and return heat to high.

5:00 p.m.  Return from appointment to find that beans are perfectly cooked–just a little on the soft side, how I love them.

Moral of the Story:  “Slow” cooker beans are possible in just 8 hours instead of 24.

Add salt at the end and that easily (and cheaply) you’ve got a dish fit for a healthy-eating king.

I’m always amazed at how good beans taste when cooked from scratch in a slow cooker.  Canned beans are perfectly fine, but I’m always nagging people to experiment with fresh-cooked–just once (’cause you’ll be hooked).  Experiment with this accelerated method or, if your brain works at night use the more leisurely method and put the beans on to soak the night before.  You can read more about the leisurely method in a previous post:  “How to Cook Dried Beans?

Antioxidants and IV Drips: What They Have in Common

. . .  and why we need to stay steady on the vegetable eating.

I learned something new about vegetables this week.  We’ve known they provide mega doses of antioxidants.  But research now shows that those antioxidants don’t stick around forever.  In fact, they don’t stick around very long at all.  So if we want to benefit continuously from the disease-fighting benefits of antioxidants (and who doesn’t as flu season descends upon us), then our vegetable-eating needs to be continuous.  Kind of like an IV drip, you need to be filling the antioxidant pipeline continuously by eating a steady stream vegetables.

It’s not enough to eat a big salad on Sunday and think you’re covered ’til Tuesday.  Nor is it ideal to cram in all your daily vegetables at dinner.  Experiment with spreading your veggie intake over more hours of the day.

Interestingly, I’ve been eating vegetables for breakfast, lunch and dinner for many years, simply because I feel better in terms of energy and lightness.  Now I see there are even more benefits.

One of the many ideas in the Veggie Diaries: A no-chemicals store-bought sauce and frozen green beans and sweet potatoes makes this a super simple breakfast or lunch option.  Make enough for two meals at a time and you can have it for both!

One of the many ideas in the Veggie Diaries: A no-chemicals store-bought sauce plus frozen green beans and sweet potatoes makes this a super simple breakfast or lunch option. Make enough for two meals at a time and you can have it for both! Of course if feature whole grain, brown rice pasta.

Eating a continuous flow of vegetables has also prepared me for the inevitable question that arises whenever vegetables and meals are mentioned in the same sentence:  “But don’t vegetables take too much time?”  I can now say, based on lots of experience, “No, fixing vegetable-based meals doesn’t take any longer than driving to pick up an Egg McMuffin or a bucket of Kentucky Fried.  The key lies in know fast vegetable combos.  That’s what you learn from my Tweets.  Join me on Twitter and you’ll be first in line for all the ideas I come up with.

How About a Quick, “White-Free” Snack

The previous post offered some theories about why it’s so hard to get the white out of our diets.  While that’s being resolved (BTW, please be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts), here’s an idea if you feel yourself getting sucked into a 4:00 p.m. “White Snack” attack.

As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense.  In this case, that means having a ready, handy, really tasty substitute for the pretzels, crackers, cookies and Goldfish that call to us from the vending machine.  One great option:  Wild Thyme’s Black Bean & Fresh Lime Hummus with Jicima Sticks.

  • Find the hummus at Vitamin Cottage or Whole Foods.  It’s got a little kick which is good for making you feel full.  (Wild Thyme’s will have a website soon, but in the meantime call 303.447.2133 for news of additional outlets in your area.)
  • Jicima is a big, roundish, tan vegetable that resembles a way-overgrown potato.  Peel
    Jicima:  Many people think it tastes like a cross between an apple and potato.  At any rate, they can be quite large but usually grocers are happy to cut them in half.

    Many people think jicima tastes like a cross between an apple and potato. They certainly get large like a potato and some get even bigger. If I can't use a whole one, the grocer has always been happy to cut one in half.

    off the tough skin with a paring knife, then cut into dipping sticks with a chefs knife.

  • 4 oz. Tupperware Snack Cups are perfect to carry dip to work.  Sandwich containers are good for jicima sticks.  Call toll free to order:  1.877.394.1258.
  • For some pretty color, throw in a few carrot sticks (or mini-carrots if you haven’t yet overdosed on them.)

Want to know more about jicima?  I found the image above on Mark’s Daily Apple, by Mark Sisson, author of The  Primal Diet.  Find out more about jicima and some additional ways to use up these behemoth vegetables at his blog.   While you’re there, check out his website for a critical look at the role of carbs in the mainstream American diet–and think twice before digging into that plate of white pasta!

What Makes Whole Grains So Hard to Eat?

. . . and Why Is It So Hard Saying Good-Bye to White?

I’ve been noticing a strange thing:  Magazines and cookbooks in the “health” category frequently feature recipes calling for refined white grains rather than whole grains.

Here’s an example from just last week.  A well-known health magazine has four cooking features.  In three of the four, the carb of choice is a white one:

  • “Banana Walnut Muffins” sound pretty healthy but they’re made with all white flour and sugar.
  • There’s a section on using won ton wrappers.  Clever, but won ton wrappers’ main ingredient is white flour.
  • And then there’s a quick-cook dish made with pearled barley, another refined grain.  At least it’s more nutritious than most refined grains but the fact remains that whole barley can be cooked with no greater time investment by using a slow cooker.

Why this half-hearted embrace of whole grains?  Eating quality grains is no less than one of the four main pillars of healthy eating.  How can it be so routinely ignored?

It’s not like we don’t need help getting whole grains into our diets.  Women aged 31-50 would need to increase whole grain consumption by over 250% and decrease refined grain consumption by 50% to meet the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for whole grains, which only require that three of our six daily grain servings be whole.  (Men have even more work to do!)

In real life, these statistics play out like this:  A super fit body builder buys boxes of white flour crackers at Costco, even though she is a model of healthy eating in every other way.  An energetic mom serves her family only lean beef, chicken and fish but rounds out the weekly meal lineup with a couple big white pasta dishes.  Or a trim 50-something guy likes to go light at night, so he orders a virtuous vegetarian sandwich–on a white baguette.

What makes it so darn hard to eat whole grains?  It’s not like we’re being asked to eat alien-sounding stuff like kohlrabi, kale or rutabegas.  Nor are we being asked to stop eating carbs altogether.  We’re simply being asked to eat whole grain versions of our white favorites.

Here are some theories about what makes the whole grain shift so challenging:

  1. Lack of Knowledge? Maybe we don’t know that there is such a thing as whole grains and that they are nutritionally superior to refined grains.  Maybe we never knew that things like tortillas, hamburger buns, cakes and French toast are all grain products that can be made from whole grains.
  2. Confusion? Maybe we don’t know where to look for whole grain products.  Maybe we don’t know how to tell if a product is whole grain or not.
  3. Taste: Maybe we’re afraid of what whole grains taste like (which might be warranted if your first exposure was whole wheat lasagna ten years ago; it resembled lead in many ways.)
  4. Uncertainty? Maybe we don’t know how to use whole grains.  Can you just substitute whole wheat flour for white in your favorite muffins?  What kind of whole grain noodles would taste good with pesto sauce?
  5. Comfort Or could our whole grain reluctance come simply from a deep, underlying sense that whole grains just don’t cut it when it comes to comfort?

While all five theories are helpful, to my mind, the comfort one gets to the real heart of the problem.   Think about it:  White foods and comfort go together like grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell’s Tomato Soup.  The star of every birthday party:  A white flour cake.  The highlight of practically every great kid get-together:  Hot, fragrant, white flour pizza.  The sure fire remedy for all that ails:  Chicken noodle soup or mac ‘n cheese, your choice.

Searching back through my fondest childhood memories, I invariably melt into visions of the fluffy white pancakes my mother made us every Friday morning before school.  No doubt most of us would find many of our fondest memories inextricably wrapped in white stuff, from Thanksgiving pumpkin pies, Christmas strudels and the Sabbath’s challah to graduation cakes, wedding cakes and mom’s lasagna.

So it’s no surprise when some health nut wants to put your grandma’s marinara on whole wheat noodles and you reply, “No way!”  My Jewish neighbor put it this way when asked about whole wheat challah.  “It can be done,” she said, “but . . . well, you know. . . .”  I think we probably all know that it’s tough to wedge whole wheat into our comforting food memories.

Mess with comfort foods and memories and you mess in dangerous territory.

If there’s truth in this theory, then it might not matter whether we know the importance of whole grains, or feel perfectly knowledgeable about where to buy whole wheat flour and how to use it.  Our desire for comfort is going to trump any whole grain virtue we can muster.

What do you think?  Do you struggle to get three out of six whole grain servings each day?  Have you thought about what makes it so challenging?  Share your ideas and I’ll share them in the next newsletter.

%d bloggers like this: