How to Make the Best Brown Rice . . .

. . .  and Be a Green Cook at the Same Time

A Bits and Pieces Cooking Tip: Use the cooking water from slow cooker beans to cook brown rice.  Earlier posts have described the benefits and how-tos for making slow cooker beans and how to accelerate the process if the slow cooker is too slow for your circumstances.  Now there’s another advantage to cooking beans this way.  The cooking water can be used to cook brown rice, making it really tasty.

  • This simple trick saves water, a good thing in an increasingly water-constrained world
  • It also saves nutrients.  No need to send them down the drain.
  • Finally it saves time and hassle.  Pour bean water into a quart jar, then store in the frig so it’s pre-measured and ready to go when you’re hurrying to get a pot of rice cooking.

The cooking water for this rice began by boiling some carrot and onion tops too tough to cook. Then some pork chop bones were added. The resulting broth was used to cook pasta, a "bits and pieces" cooking tip from Eugenia Bone. After cooking the pasta, I saved the water for one more use: cooking this rice, which came out almost like a risotto, since the cooking water was so rich by this time.

Pasta water works, too. Good chefs often use pasta water in their sauces with delicious results.

In the same way, cooking rice in leftover pasta water yields very delicious results.  Not surprisingly, the rice ends up tasting a lot like the pasta we all love.  Some tips:

  • When draining the pasta, I pour off the top portion, saving  just two quarts from the bottom of the pot, where all the pasta “dust” packed with pasta flavor settles.
  • If you salt your pasta water (which is a good idea) be sure to adjust the amount of salt you add to the rice before cooking.  In fact, you may not need any additional salt beyond what’s in the pasta water.  Taste a spoonful to see.
  • Gluten free?  No worries.  This trick works with brown rice pasta, too.

See how tempting whole grains can be!

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Women, Weight and Protein

Canned Chicken to the Rescue!

Did you know there’s a connection between what’s in your pantry and what’s on your thighs?  It’s true, so pay attention to this often overlooked part of the kitchen–not only to what’s there, but also to what’s not there–like high-quality canned chicken that can stave off a hunger attack in a hurry.

Weight loss is a perpetual issue among us, sadly.  Eating loses so much of its fun when accompanied by worries about weight.  So can I share a trick that helped me break out of the

I just discovered Shelton's brand but assume it will be good, as I've always been impressed by their products.

perpetual eating cycle that was threatening to turn me into a weight worrier?

Protein Balance It’s nothing new and it’s very simple, as with everything else about healthy weight eating.  And I know it works.  Just yesterday, I was on the road and had breakfast at a Whole Foods:  roasted veggies, roasted beets and yummy chicken curry salad.  I was amazed when lunchtime rolled around and I hadn’t even registered a blip on the hunger meter.

So if it’s simple and effective, what’s the catch?  As always, implementation.  For me, carbs like bread, cereal, tortillas, bagels, muffins, pretzels, chips and crackers were always easy things to have on hand.  And they were easy to grab quickly to stave off hunger.  Proteins, on the other hand, were far more problematic.  I cooked animal protein only rarely, and it was rarer still that I had any leftovers.  Plus, animal proteins have to be refrigerated, are messier to eat, and just didn’t hold the satisfying appeal of, say, a muffin.

Pantry Stockers for Healthy Weight Meal Making So it was with delight that I discovered canned chicken, but not the miserable, indescribable stuff swimming in salt water that’s sold at drug stores.  No, a can of Valley Fresh Organic Chicken is packed with clearly identifiable, very moist pieces of breast meat in a tasty broth (which can be used as a cooking element of its own as explained in the Bits and Pieces article.)  Would I serve canned chicken as a main dish for dinner?  Of course not.  But is it perfect for adding a hit or protein to a salad I’m throwing together for lunch?  You bet, and here’s a recipe where I used it:  Green Salad with Chicken plus Fresh Fruit and Herb Dressing.

Now, About the Cost. Valley Fresh is more expensive than vapid drug store chicken because of a time-honored principle we all know:  “You get what you pay for.”   Pay $1.79 and you get barely a serving of chicken that tastes like nothing, is mostly water and grosses you out.  Or pay $3.69 and get a can of chicken that makes two, really tasty protein servings and is not contributing to environmental degradation.  Make it even cheaper with a 10% case discount at Vitamin Cottage–and then you always have something on hand that can turn off the perpetual hunger machine–and help you return to a place of eating joy.

Learn more about how to stock the pantry to make healthy weight meal making easy in the Whole Kitchen Way to Wholesome Meal Making.

Looking for a Quick Lunch?

Green Salad with Chicken plus Fresh Fruit and Herb Dressing

Think you can’t cook?  This recipe’s great flavor comes not from fancy cooking skills but simply from good ingredients.  Stellar ingredients make a cook’s life easy!  So be sure to read the Buying Notes for each ingredient to help you get the best.

Making the Strawberry Apricot Dressing

The combination of apricots and basil is as lovely to look at as it is to eat.

Step 1  Make the Dressing

If you can dump things into a blender and push a button, you can make this dressing:

  • 3/4 cup fresh apricot-strawberry puree (from about 3 apricots and 6-8 small strawberries)
  • 2 Tbsp. walnut oil (or high quality olive oil)
  • 1 Tbsp. brown rice vinegar (if you don’t have some, it’s worth stocking)
  • Double handful of fresh basil leaves (see picture)
  • Single handful of fresh parsley (see picture)
  • Just a small spoonful of fresh tarragon leaves (they are a lot stronger than basil and parsley)
  • Sea salt (start with 1/4 tsp.)
  • Freshly ground pepper (start with 1/8 tsp.)
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar

Directions Combine everything in the cup of an


A double handful of basil

immersion blender (or food processor or blender) and process for just 20-30 seconds to combine.  Now comes the most critical step:  TASTE.  For ANY recipe, there is a 90% chance that the flavors need to be adjusted to suit your taste buds.  So pour the dressing into a small bowl, dip a piece of lettuce into it and taste.  Stir in more salt and pepper first, then more chopped basil, parsley or vinegar to find a taste that is good to you.  Always go slowly and taste after each addition.

Serve dressing at room temperature.  To my taste buds, fruits taste better when they aren’t chilled.

Buying Notes Flavor-less fruit = flavor-less dressing.  For fruit that taste like fruit not

A single handful of parsley

cardboard, head straight to the source:  the grower, usually an organic one.  Next, taste before buying very much.  If the grower doesn’t offer samples, buy just one piece and taste.  Once home, let stone fruits like apricots and peaches ripen.  Doing so in paper bags is often recommended.  Let the fruit get pretty soft, since that point, just before it goes overboard, yields flavor most reminiscent of heaven.  Keep a close eye on the fruit (especially if it’s hidden in paper bags!) and keep tasting each day, watching for optimal flavor.

Variations Could be equally good with whatever fruit is in season: sweet cherries and apricots, peaches and raspberries, or pears and raspberries.

A Double Handful of Basil

A small spoonful of tarragon leaves

Step 2   Make the Green Salad

  • 4-6 cups very fresh lettuce, washed and torn (or cut with a serrated knife if you’re in a hurry)
  • 1-2 med. carrots, grated finely

Directions Nothing too complicated about this step, although it does help to wash the lettuce in a good salad spinner, so you end up with crispy, not soggy lettuce.  Another trick:  Wash the lettuce the night before.  Place in salad storer, cover with a clean, folded tea towel, then seal and refrigerate until the next day.  The tea towel extracts excess water, leaving the lettuce crispy and light.

For the carrots, grate using the fine hole on your box grater for something different.

Buying Notes A salad is only as good as its greens.  They need to taste fairly good on their own, so the dressing is just enhancing flavor, not making up for an absence thereof.   Good lettuce is where local farmer’s markets shine, since lettuce is a crop that really tastes best when fresh picked–so good you barely even need dressing, if you can believe it.

In mid-summer, finding good lettuce can be tricky, since it’s is a cool weather crop.  I always taste a bit before investing in a bag to make sure it’s not bitter.  Also look for farmers who have taken steps to work around the heat issue, like Oxford Gardens at the Boulder Farmers’ Market, where owner Peter Volz sells a heat-tolerant variety that is quite good.  Abbondanza, also at the Boulder Market, seems to have perfected a technique for hot-weather lettuce growing as I’ve gotten great lettuce there even in July and August.

Step 3  Add Chicken to the Salad

  • 1-2 cups chicken, shredded or cut into small pieces

Buying Notes Again, this is another simple step with finding good chicken being the only tricky part , since not all store chickens are not created equally.  Again, it is usually local and/or organic birds that have more flavor.  This salad is a great way to use of leftover bits and pieces.  If you don’t have any however, then try canned chicken for a highly convenient option.  Before you blanch at the thought of canned bird, read the next blog entry on two, surprisingly taste brands I’ve recently discovered.

Want to learn more about the little tricks and tips that make everyday good meal making natural, stress-free and even a little creative?  Join Mary Collette in one of her Whole Kitchen Way to Wholesome Meal Making classes.

Is Cooking Really the Problem . . .

. . . when meals don’t turn out so great?

Meals that are interesting and inviting, lively with vegetables, rich in whole grains and clean proteins, and high on color and flavor that come from real ingredients not test tubes.

Meals that taste really good, that you can feel good about eating, and that synch with the good of the planet.

Put in terms like this, good eating is pretty simple, right?  But then we head to the kitchen at 5:30 or 6:00 or later.  Suddenly, that simple goal seems completely illusive, as we cast about for something to fix for dinner and end up rushing some not-that-good thing to the table.

Then comes the reckoning point.  We’ve sweated and stressed to produce a meal, but it’s not that satisfying or rewarding.  So now we are ready to lay some blame.  “Cooking” is a ready, obvious and reasonable culprit:  “I just can’t Cook,” “This is why I hate to Cook,” “Cooking takes too much time,” “Cooking is too expensive anyway . . . ”

It’s understandable that we want something to blame for the disappointing way meals often unfold, but is Cooking really the problem?

Here’s a surprise:  It’s not.  Hooray!  You’re not doomed to dismal meals because of a belief that you can’t or hate to cook.

Experiment yourself.  Over the next week, cultivate this awareness if you’re struggling at dinnertime:  Do I really not know how to cut up fruit for this month’s Fresh Fruit and Herb Salad Dressing?   Is it really a mystery to wash a head of lettuce for the Green Salad with Chicken?  How about opening a can of chicken for some quick protein?

If these “cooking” steps are entirely doable, the plot thickens, because if cooking isn’t the problem, “what is?” you’re left to wonder.  Here are some potential candidates:

  • I don’t feel like cooking because I have no idea what to make.
  • I’m bored with cooking because I always make the same things (even though I have a hundred cookbooks!)
  • There’s nothing in the frig.
  • I forgot to take something from the freezer.
  • I don’t want to go to the store to get the lemons (or ginger or rice or whatever) a recipe calls for.
  • My kitchen is a disaster and it’s so awful cooking there.
  • Etc., etc., etc.

After 20 years in the healthy meal making business, can I tell you that  seven times out of ten, these “non-cooking barriers” are what keep clients, class members, friends and family from Everyday Good Eating.  Too bad, because we need good, nurturing, nourishing meals made from sustainably grown foods that will save our health and the health of the planet–and that also comfort us with delightfully good taste.

This is why I’ve developed The Whole Kitchen Way to Wholesome Meals, a 6-week series of cooking classes + a whole lot more.  I share helpful, building block cooking  skills, but as importantly, we address the non-cooking barriers to Everyday Good Eating.  Based on my book, Take Control of Your Kitchen, we develop skills, tips, tools and habits that beat boredom, keep kitchen chaos at bay, promote confidence and comfort in the kitchen and make the meals of your dreams an everyday reality.

Hope you’ll join us.  The next session begins August 11, 2010.  Here’s the flyer describing the recipes we’ll make and skills we’ll learn.

Bits & Pieces Cooking: An Evening with Eugenia Bone

What Unbored Cooks Know that Bored Cooks Don’t:  Trash Can Be Treasure

More than helpful food preservation know-how turned up at a talk last week by Eugenia Bone, author of Well Preserved (Clarkson Potter 2009) and the Denver Post’s Well Preserved Blog.

I’m on a “travel quest” these days, not necessarily to faraway places, but simply to new places and/or new experiences.  So last week I traveled to Denver’s magical Botanic Gardens (all of 30 miles away.)  The Gardens alone were a treat (memo to file: when April’s dark days get me down I’m heading to the Gardens for a cheap tropical thrill.)  Better yet, however, was a lively talk by Eugenia Bone.

As Eugenia is a food preservation expert, I wasn’t surprised to reap a treasure trove of know-how on capturing the season’s bounty for the cold days of winter.  I was delightfully surprised, however, to learn how strategic food preservation can also be harnessed as a tool to beat boredom at the dinner table.

Long-time newsletter readers know that beating mealtime boredom is a common theme of mine–and for good reason:  Boredom is the #1 mealtime barrier for countless people.  Time after time, a well-intentioned home chef gets lured into dialing for takeout, just because she’s tired of making the same old thing!

That’s why I’m always on the hunt for boredom beating strategies, and Eugenia shared a good one.  Not surprisingly, it revolves food preservation, but not in the usual sense, i.e., Aunt Sue putting up 48 quarts of tomatoes to last until the next tomato harvest.  Eugenia’s definition of food preservation is far more liberal, encompassing a wide range of food combinations, preserved in many ways, for anywhere from a week to a year.

She might make a fresh mayonnaise and store for just a week, oil-preserved zucchini that can last two or three weeks, mushroom stock that can be frozen for months or a tomato chickpea side dish that is good for a year.  The key to her boredom beating strategy lies in using up whatever bits and pieces she finds around the kitchen, whipping up creative concoctions, then preserving them in small batches.  Then she’s perfectly situated for boredom-defying meals.

When dinnertime rolls around, she simply heads to her refrigerator, freezer and cupboard pantries and starts mixing and matching.  Here’s one of the many creative (but easy) meals she described:  Chicken breasts with a frozen wine reduction, complimented by the canned tomato-chickpea dish and maybe a simple green salad with fresh mayonnaise dressing.

Here’s the key takeaway:  Trash can be treasure. In other words, what un-bored home cooks know that bored cooks don’t, is that some of the best flavor in the kitchen comes from leftover bits and pieces that most people would pitch.  Use those bits and pieces immediately or go one step further by transforming them into creative preserved foods that add easy pizazz to later meals.

  • Happily, Eugenia brought up the wonders of leftover duck fat, so now I can safely mention how I use leftover bacon grease or lamb drippings (just a tablespoon!) to saute onions and other vegetables , imparting all sorts of delightful flavor for very little in the way of calories.
  • Two days ago, faced with a few strawberries and apricots on the verge of rotting, I took Eugenia’s advice and blended up a Fresh Fruit and Herb Salad Dressing (recipe in next post) that was so good, my mixed greens needed only a little canned chicken for a superb lunch.
  • The leftover broth from that canned chicken got cooked with a batch of sauteed tofu.   You wouldn’t have believed it was tofu!
  • A bit of leftover brine from feta cheese went into the garlicky zucchini and pulled the whole dish together–for no calories
  • This morning, more apricot puree got mixed with ginger, soy sauce and rice vinegar to top a fast stir-fry with greens from the garden.  (See my Vegetable Queen Twitter column for more fast ideas like these.)

But wait, there are more benefits of bits and pieces cooking!  Besides delivering really interesting meals, it saves money by  preventing waste and providing free flavor.  Saving tasty tidbits from landfills and garbage disposals also helps save the planet.  Finally, to the extent you preserve the local harvest, you can eat locally year round–as I’m going to do by saucing and canning the last few of my local apricots to make Apricot-Curry Dressing in the middle of winter.

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