Getting More Beans Into Your Diet

Get to Know Them Gradually is Key

The last post on cooking tips for beans got me going on a bean theme.  So you’ll be seeing several quick posts on beans.  The timing is actually quite good, as it’s winter here in Colorado and the cold always stirs a desire for comfort food. While most people consider things like mashed potatoes and mac ‘n cheese to be the ultimate comfort foods, beans are right up there in terms of a food that soothes, warms and comforts.

Asparagus Soup with Black Beans

Beans add delightful contrast dishes. Here, a plain asparagus puree gets highlighted with black beans.

Granted, many view beans as “desert island” food, as in, something reserved for when they are stranded on a desert island.  But those in the know see gold in a batch of colorful beans.  In case you’ve yet to discover this treasure, read through this series for know-how and insights to help unlock the incredible, comforting goodness hidden within the humble bean.

Practical Tips

Willing to try?  Then to begin with, don’t look at beans as a substitute for meat, especially if you’re a meat lover.  They are two completely different foods and aren’t meant for comparison.

Butternut Squash and Potato Hash

Ditto for this butternut squash and potato hash. It tasted fine without beans, but why not add a little color and extra nutrition?

Next, get to know beans gradually–good advice whenever you’re getting to know a new food.  You wouldn’t get to know a new friend by climbing in the car for a 5-day road trip.  You’d chat at a party, go on a group hike, meet at the movies.  Similarly, don’t make a big bean casserole as your first foray into the wonderful world of beans.  Start instead by just throwing a few into already-familiar dishes, enhancing them with the color, texture and substance of beans.  See the pictures for some examples.

Finally, beans don’t have to preclude a steak or any other meat.  Go ahead and have it, but maybe not quite as big a piece.  This hearty salad (see recipe) on the side will make up for a smaller portion.

The Beauty of Relishes

Want a Good Way to Save Time, Money and Stress?  Relishes Make for Easy Meals and Great Taste

I’ve been wanting to experiment with relishes ever since reading A Thousand Acres, a novel profiling the lives of  several Iowa farm familyies.  While the novel itself was pretty unsettling (although masterfully so), the summer harvest always brings to mind its description of Iowa food preservation rituals.  It puts my paltry canning efforts completely to shame.  The novel’s women didn’t settle for putting up a few jars of plain old tomatoes and peaches.  They preserved almost everything from their gardens–much of it in the form of interesting sauces and relishes.

I remember thinking that seemed like a ridiculous lot of work!  But as the months and years passed, I realized those Iowa gals may well have something on us.  Sure they worked hard for a couple of months each summer, but think of the benefits their investments yielded:

  • Mealtime Speed  Need dinner in a hurry?  Fry up pork chops and top with a flavorful relish.  With the relish providing the pizzazz, side dishes can be super simple.  Get a totally satisfying meal together in practically no time.
  • Stress-Relief  No need to worry all day about what to make for dinner.  Just pull a relish from the shelf, mix ‘n match with different meats, sandwiches, wraps, salads, etc.
  • Affordability  We all know that seasonal produce is the best in terms of taste–but its also very reasonably priced.  So preserve those savings for year-round enjoyment.

It took a couple years, but this summer I dug up some of the relish recipes I’ve been saving and took the plunge, making a gingery beet relish.  I feel like I struck gold!  Beets are so plentiful and cheap right now.  Make up a batch and it stores for a couple months.  Pull it out and use with abandon on meats, sandwiches, salads, rice dishes–you name it.  Get not only color and flavor but a valuable nutritional boost.

I’m excited to share the many joys of relish with you–and to relish some as well.  Join us for one of our Farmers’ Market classes this week to, cook, learn, taste and chat relishes.

Best Practice Secrets of Good Every Day Cooks

What Good Everyday Cooks Know that Struggling Cooks Don’t

Picking Up Barbeque Sauce from Honeysuckle

Exploring the Louisville Farmers’ Market at our first Market Morning.  Here, Kristen Hall talks about  she is reformulating all her sauces to use real ingredients–like what you’d have in our own pantry.

For a recent magazine article, Martha Stewart was asked how often she orders take out.  Her response was something like a couple times over the last 15 years.

How many people are in the “0-5” range for takeout during the last 15 years?  Initially, Martha’s response made me wonder whether she is some kind of freak.  But then it struck me:  I haven’t ordered takeout more than a couple times in the last 15 years either!

Fact is, there are people “out there” who make healthy, good-tasting meals night after night like it’s no big deal.  What do they know that most people don’t?

Here’s one big secret:  They know the difference between healthy and unhealthy convenience foods, and they know how to use healthy convenience to make good meals manageable.  Case in point:  The Honeysuckle Gourmet’s Black Jack Barbecue Sauce we discovered at our first Market Morning in Louisville.

Barbecue Sauce

Kristen’s Black Jack Natural uses her homemade ketchup to avoid unhealthful ingredients.

How did we know it was healthy?  At our Market tour, we got to chat with Honeysuckle’s Kristen Hall.  She explained how she is painstakingly reformulating each of her sauces to use all “real” ingredients, i.e., the same stuff you’d find in your own pantry.  If you could replicate a sauce yourself, you’ve got a healthy time saver.  You’re just paying to have someone else mix all the ingredients.

What about the cost?  At $7.00 a jar, it’s tempting to write off the sauce as “too expensive.”  But as FORK owner and class participant Christine pointed out, our group of 8 used only a quarter of the jar!  That means I’ve got at least 4 to 6 more meals in that jar for my husband and I.  Which brings us to the third point:

How do I use the rest of the sauce to make great meals, manageably?  This is the key to making condiments cost effective, i.e., finding ways to use them rather than having them waste away on the refrigerator door.  In addition to using the sauce to top sautéed chicken breasts at our class, I’ve found two other easy ideas:

Fast Recipe 1–Slow Cooker Chicken Legs  In need of a fast meal that could be prepared in advance, I skinned a couple chicken thighs and legs and plopped them into the slow cooker with 1/2 cup of sauce.  Eight hours later, I had melt-in-your mouth pulled chicken and sauce that went perfectly over warmed up leftover rice and broccoli.  Fast food couldn’t be faster!

Fast Recipe 2–Barbeque Chicken Soup  A couple days later, the leftover chicken and sauce became the flavor base for a quick, light summer soup with leftover broccoli, potatoes, new carrots from the garden and onion and garlic, of course.  I used another 1/4 cup of sauce + a little hot sauce for flavor.  Again, faster than fast food–and I still have half a jar of sauce.

So that’s how good every day cooks make good meals manageable–and delicious.  Learn more:  Join one of the everyday meal making classes with The New Kitchen Cooking School.

Superfood Parsley Pesto: Go-To Sauce for Winter Cooking

Yesterday’s post talked about parsley’s superfood status and why that should come as no surprise since all real foods are good for us.  Start getting more of parsley’s goodness into your diet with this quick and versatile pesto that tastes great on everything from spaghetti squash and salmon to white fish, chicken and pasta.  Because it doesn’t rely on warm weather basil, it’s affordable and easy to make in winter, when its luscious green is a welcome sight.

Pesto Parsley

  • 3 cups loosely packed parsley (stems included)
  • 3 cups loosely packed cilantro (stems included)
  • 2 med. cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. minced jalapeno pepper (to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1 large lime)
  • 1-2 tsp. red wine vinegar, to taste
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 large orange, skin and membranes removed, diced to ¼”

Combine everything but orange pieces in food processor and pulse three or four times until fairly well blended, but not mushy.  Pour into a small serving bowl and stir in orange pieces.  Taste and add more jalapeno, lime, vinegar and/or salt and pepper, to taste.

Whole Grain Pasta: New Food for a New Year

New Pastas Pass the Taste Test

The new year is a good time to try new things–especially if they’re healthy and not hard at all.  Here’s a great idea from Lauren and Pete, recent Whole Kitchen participants:

The next time you’re buying pasta, STOP.  Instead of automatically grabbing the spaghetti or penne you always buy, take a few seconds to peruse labels and muster up some courage.  How about introducing your family to whole grain pastas, which have a lot more nutrients than traditional pastas.   There are lots of alternatives at the store these days, like those made with brown rice flour, and they easily pass the taste test, even when presented to picky eaters.

Pete is experimenting with the Barilla brand of whole grain pastas.  The company offers one that is 51% whole wheat, as well as the new Barilla PLUS® line, a multigrain pasta with ALA Omega-3.  The whole wheat option is “a little heavier and more chewy than plain white pasta,” said Pete, but it offers a healthy 6 grams of fiber. For a sauce, he “doctors up” Prego Heart Healthy sauce or uses the organic Cabernet Marinara sauce by Muir Glenn.

Barilla PLUS® is an interesting blend of semolina, lentils, chickpeas, flaxseed, barley, spelt and oats. It has almost twice the fiber of traditional pasta as well as 10 grams of protein.  Pete likes the Barilla PLUS® because it doesn’t seem as “heavy” as the whole wheat option.  In fact, most guests “don’t even notice the difference between Barilla PLUS® and normal plain pasta,” he discovered.

Lauren recently took the pasta challenge, experimenting with a pasta bar that had a couple new sauces alongside two or three different choices of pastas, just to prove there isn’t anything too out of the ordinary with pasta that has a little color or a slightly different texture.  Her “bar” turned out to be a good way to elicit comments and start a conversation about the benefits of eating complete grains and other types of flour.  She shares one additional piece of advice:  Be strategic and limit choices to healthy options. When white pasta is available, those looking for the familiar may gravitate to that choice. When it’s not an option, it won’t even be missed.  Remember how our taste buds can happily adapt to healthier foods.

Lauren's Pasta Bar

Pasta Fun! Lauren's Pasta Bar

Want more new for the new year?  Try our Whole Kitchen cooking classes and discover new flavors, new foods, new recipes, new ideas and a whole new way to get great, wholesome meals on the table, everyday.  Next session starts January 13.

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.

Coconut Milk: Tips for Buying, Using and Storing

The previous post talked about sparking up mealtimes by weaving in recipes and dishes using new pantry ingredients.  Coconut milk is a great one to try:  creamy, rich and not at all expensive.  Here are some pointers to increase your comfort level with this new ingredient:

Tip 1:  What Kind to Buy?

One class participant bought coconut milk at a regular grocery store that curdled and didn’t taste good.  She felt the milk we used in class was far better, so here are the two brands we used, purchased at Whole Foods or Vitamin Cottage.

Thai Kitchen Coconut Milk Native Forest Coconut Milk

Tip 2:  Skim Cream from Milk or Stir Before Using

Like unhomogenized cow’s milk, coconut milk separates, with the heavier cream rising to the top of the can.  According to my friend (see below), Asian cooks frequently skim off the cream for special uses, like adding a creamy finish to a dish, much as we would add a splash of heavy cream to finish a soup.  If you don’t do this, then be sure to shake the coconut milk well before opening the can or stir it well once opened.  Sometimes, the cream will harden slightly, requiring careful and patient whisking with a fork to blend everything together before using.

Use a small gravy ladle to skim cream from coconut milk. . . . . . then pour into a jar . . .and store in the frig for use within 4-5 days.

Tip 3:  Freeze Leftover Coconut MilkFreeze extra coconut milk in small containers.

A friend who is a great Asian cook shared this tip, a great one since coconut milk is often used in small amounts and the excess can sour after just five or six days in the frig.  If you can’t use it up extra coconut milk in that short a time, simply freeze in small containers or ice cube trays so it can be used in small amounts.  After freezing the milk will separate and have a curdled texture, but will taste just fine.

The bigger lesson for any new pantry ingredient:  Learn how to store to maintain freshness for later use, since many are used in small amounts.

Pantry Stocking: Coconut Milk, Catch 22s . . .

. . . and the Methodical Pantry Expansion Method

  • Typical Complaint:  “I’m so tired of making the same old things for dinner.”
  • Response:  Stock a few new and interesting pantry treasures to spark up mealtimes.
  • Counter-complaint:  “But when I buy something new, it gets used for only one dish and  then it just sits in the cupboard.”

Faced with this Catch 22, many people just give up and make the same old boring things, over and over.

Tired of this ending?  If so try the Methodical Pantry Expansion Method:  After buying and using a new ingredient for one recipe, don’t let it migrate into the forgotten corners of the pantry.  Make a conscious effort to journey further with it!  Find other uses for it, then put it to use and gain a feel for and familiarity with it.  Pretty soon, you’ll be using it as easily and naturally as onion and garlic.

Here’s an example for coconut milk from the first Whole Kitchen Cooking Series:

  1. First we used coconut milk for an Asian Style Creamy Asparagus SoupCan of Native Forest Coconut Milk
  2. Two weeks later, we used coconut milk for Saag Paneer (an Indian creamed spinach)
  3. A week later, we found that coconut milk made a delightful addition to tapioca pudding.
  4. A couple days after the series, with leftover coconut milk sitting in my frig, I created this month’s Creamy Gingered Pea and White Fish recipe for the class.

No Catch 22 here.  Just lots of interesting dishes with no waste, and class members began acquiring an ease and comfort using coconut milk.

I certainly didn’t start out with any ease or comfort using coconut milk.  In fact, I sputtered and nearly stalled several times, as cans of coconut milk accumulated and sat idle in the pantry.  Finally I realized that new pantry ingredients don’t become helpful, boredom-busting friends without conscious and methodical (but not at all difficult) effort.  Hence:

The Methodical Pantry Expansion Method

  1. First, find a recipe that features one or two intriguing new pantry ingredient(s.)
  2. Focus on less expensive ingredients when learning the process.
  3. For the first couple purchases, opt for small amounts over larger or bulk buys.
  4. For more expensive items, try to taste in a class or demo before committing to a purchase.  Or go in with a friend.
  5. Test the new ingredient in an initial recipe, but–here’s the critical point–don’t stop with just one try.  Get busy and try it a couple more times, bearing in mind that it might take a few tries to fully appreciate a new flavor.
  6. Now keep an eye out for more recipes with your new ingredient.  This will happen with surprising frequency.  Looking for particular recipes has a way of drawing them out of the woodwork, as I explained in the post on recipes with targeted spices.

Doing this much may be all the farther you go.  You discover three or four favorite recipes and move on to another new find.  But you may also come to a point where ad libbing seems appropriate.  All of a sudden, you have enough of a feel for and familiarity with an ingredient that spontaneous uses break forth:    “Hmmm . . . I’ve got a great curry here, but it’s a little too spicy.  What if I add a dollop of coconut milk to smooth it out?”

I was a year or two into following Thai recipes when I suddenly began mixing and matching Thai seasonings on my own, with delicious results.  At the outset, of course, I didn’t ever think I could throw together a dish with things like fish sauce, chili paste and lemongrass.  But time and experimenting does indeed make tinkering possible–and really fun.  It’s at this point of “creative convergence” that cooking leaves the realm of “tiresome chore” and enters the realm of “enjoyable and engaging.”  I hope you’ll experiment and experience it.

Lemongrass, popular in Thai cooking

Want to make coconut milk your new ingredient?  Checkout the next post for tips on using and storing coconut milk.  And don’t forget this month’s recipe for Creamy Gingered Pea and White Fish.

Pity Poor Pea Soup

Is it time to grow up?  Poor pea soup keeps getting ignored just because its color has squeamish connotations that date back to childhood.  How I got the courage to dive in and discover a dish that’s really quite delicious.

Some foods have a hard lot in life.  Pea soup is one of them.

It’s sad, because pea soup is just as good as any other of the creamy vegetable soups like corn, broccoli and tomato.  But I doubt there are many among us who are so evolved from our 10-year old roots that we can ignore the resemblance between pea soup and you-know-what.

I was surprised at the effort it took just to buy box of pea soup.  A bright red flag on Imagine’s Creamy Pea Soup boasted “New Look! Same Great Taste.”  But the box was still a distinctively suspicious green color, and the bowl of soup on the front was still a matching hue of green, a fact that couldn’t be hidden even by the sweet garnishes arranged on top.

Imagine Pea Soup with Roasted Red and Yellow PeppersNevertheless, being an open-minded foodie, I magnanimously set aside my prejudices and bought a box. (Didn’t hurt that it was on sale!)  And just last week I plucked it from cupboard for lunch. (Didn’t hurt that I was starved after a workout and the frig was uncharacteristically void of any leftovers.)  It took conscious effort to quash the giggles and automatic “eeew” response, but once past the first bite, the going got easy, quickly.  The soup was quite tasty.

I found it helped to add roasted yellow and red peppers (frozen from last year’s farmers market), not only for color but also texture.  I imagine that baked and diced potatoes or sweet potatoes, roasted carrots or thin strips of sun-dried tomatoes could be similarly helpful.

So happy pea soup as we head into the season of spring peas!  I might actually try to make a batch now.

P.S.  One more reason to get past your green soup hangups:  one cup of soup contains a whole serving of vegetables.  So the bowl of soup I had for lunch delivered a total of 3 vegetable servings:  2 servings of peas (in 2 cups of soup) + 1 serving of peppers.

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!

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