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.

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.

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 the Poor Pantry

Invaluable Kitchen Resource Gets No Respect

Pity the poor pantry.  It’s always getting lumped with all that old-time stuff our mothers (or grandmothers) did.  Remember the stuff they would drag out of the pantry?  Canned vegetables that tasted like cardboard and boxes of Jello that got turned into something with “salad”

Jello--A Pantry Classic, Perfect for Jello Salad!

Jello--A Pantry Classic, Perfect for Jello Salad!

incongruously in the name.  And that thing they did called “stocking the pantry?” That took a whole lot of time, and for what?

Nowadays, we’ve got at least a couple grocery stores within driving distance, selling everything you could ever want and we prefer our vegetable fresh rather than canned, thank you very much.  So why do we care about the pantry?

Well, we might laugh about our grandmothers’ pantries, but the joke might actually be on us.  Under the guise of modernizing our ways, we might have gotten tangled in a time-consuming, health-defeating, taste-stifling trap.  How can that be and, more importantly, is there a way out?

First, how could we have gone wrong by buying fresh at the grocery store?  To begin with, have you ever calculated the time cost of  our “quick” stops at the store to pick up something fresh?  It’s called “overhead” and it amounts to between 20 to 30 minutes, whether you stop to pick up two items or 20.  Secondly, grocery stores “selling everything you could ever want” are not a blessing on a weeknight at 5:30, when you’re racing home from work tired and hungry.  Tromping up and down their mammoth girth can make even Chinese take out sound good, to heck with any New Year’s resolutions to the contrary.

Which is exactly the problem.  Faced with spending 20 to 30 minutes in a stressful, artificially-lit, high-pressured mega-mart at the end of a long day, who wouldn’t opt for Chinese take out, or frozen pizza, or drive-through hamburgers?  So we end up in the curious predicament of having access to an extraordinary wealth of healthful, fresh, delicious foods and yet actually eating a narrow range of highly processed convenient foods.  Adding injury to insult is the fact that a lot (maybe most?) of what we buy on an average jaunt to the store isn’t fresh anyway:  Pringles, breakfast cereal, pasta and jarred sauces come to mind.

So is there any way out of this predicament?  You bet!  Dump any lingering mortification you harbor about the pantry and embrace it fully–but in a new-fashioned way.  No canned spinach and Jello for the modern gal’s (or guy’s) pantry.  Instead, stock yours with the makings for healthful, taste-tempting and fast meals–and skip that every day or every other day trip to the store.

Sarah is a perfect example.  We met at a dinner party last weekend.  She had brought some completely delicious hors d’oeuvres made completely from the pantry, which prompted a conversation about pantries.  “I never go to the store more than once a week,” she informed me.  “I figure out what I’m going to make for the week, then go shopping on the weekend.  What’s always amazing is how little I need to buy for my weekly meals.  Almost everything comes from the pantry.”

I couldn’t help but ask, “So are you able to make pretty good meals, even working more than full time?”  “No problem,” she replied.

Ready to get out of the grocery store and into the kitchen, making great meals instead of tromping up and down the aisles?  Read on. . . Here’s what’s in this series:

Remedy for the Post-Vacation Refrigerator Blues

Time Spent Stocking the Pantry Isn’t Wasted, It’s Invested!

How Many Great Meals Are Hiding In Your Pantry?

. . . or Do a Better Job Working the One You Have

Good News:  The Fun of a Pantry Journey Lasts More than an Afternoon

Pantries Save Time, Reduce Stress, Save Money, Produce Intriguing Meals and Maybe Even Lead to Enlightenment

How to Breathe Fresh Air Into Yours

Pantries Aren’t Museums

How to Breathe Fresh Air Into Yours

If we cringe at the word “pantry,” it could be a reaction to the staleness that seems to go hand in hand with both the pantry and its contents. “Pantry staples” sounds a bit dull to begin with. To make matters worse, our well-intentioned pantry purchases often get buried and forgotten until well past their already lengthy shelf lives.

This series of articles is all about re-discovering the pantry as a hip, happening and helpful sort of thing. This is undoubtedly what you’ll discover when you first create a pantry. I feel pretty certain of that.

But with enough time, any new thing becomes stale, and a newly created pantry is no exception. Over time, stocking the pantry becomes routine:  We figure out what staples we use frequently, we buy extras and have them in place, and we save a lot of time making meals.

All of this is good, of course. Until we start getting antsy and boredom starts nipping at our heels, because the meals we make with our pantry staples are the same ones we made last week, and the week before that, and the week before that. . .

That’s when it’s time to breathe some fresh air into your pantry. Sure, you don’t want to fill your shelves with stuff that never gets used. On the other hand, it’s good to stretch a little, buy something new and different and use that new found treasure as a springboard to refresh your mealtime repertoire.

You could say that pantry stocking is a two way street: Generally, we motor along with our well-known and frequently used pantry staples, but occasionally we should hop the median and drive the opposite direction, letting some wild pantry purchase lead our meal making decisions.

It’s not so hard to find something wild to get your creative cooking juices flowing. An earlier article in this series called this “treasure hunting:”

On your next shopping trip, gift yourself five extra minutes for some “treasure hunting.” Pick one section of an aisle, temporarily suspend the to-do list tapping its toes on your brain, and take time to actually look around at the various products, especially the quirky ones on the bottom and top shelves (that’s where they put the newer, less familiar—and often more interesting—products.)

Here are some other places to look and suggestions for treasures you might like to try:

Magazine Articles and Mediterranean Treats As mentioned in yesterday’s article, O Magazine recently reported that top chef Tony Manturano went on a shopping spree to Europe and refreshed his pantry with seven intriguing finds: capers in salt, chickpeas, harissa, Mediterranean olives, passato di pomodoro, piquillo peppers and tuna in olive oil. Magazine articles like this are a good way to locate fun ingredients that will shake up your pantry, especially since this article included a tempting introduction to each of the seven possibilities.

Friends and Tamarind If a friend serves up a new flavor for you, be sure to ask about it. Ask nicely and she might even give you a small, try-before-you-buy tester, as my friend Claudia did when I asked about the tamarind she used in a dish.

Recipes and Thai Pantry Staples While it’s common to pass on recipes that feature ingredients you’ve never heard of, don’t discount all of them. Every now and then, give one a try even if it does require a new ingredient or two. A recipe for Thai peanut sauce is how I got introduced to the unique flavor or Thai chilies and fish sauce.

Truffles, Gourmet Olive Oil and Store Demonstrations Here’s a suggestion that shouldn’t be too tough: Whenever you come across a demo table at the grocery store, sample the wares. Health food stores in particular are good about offering some unique ingredients. This is how I discovered truffle oil and truffle salt, as well as Lucero’s divine olive oil from California.

Marjoram, Turmeric and the Bulk Herbs and Spice Aisle Herbs and spices offer an easy route for experimentation. They take little in the way of a monetary investment if you buy just a small amount from the bulk section. What’s more, they can be tested in very small portion of a dish, to make sure you like the flavor before risking the entire dish. Over the past year, I have been experimenting extensively with marjoram. It has become one of my favorite herbs. Now I am beginning to use Turmeric not only for its interesting taste but also its healing capabilities.

Once you’ve procured a new pantry treasure, make sure it gets put to use:

  • First, find a recipe that utilizes your new pantry treasure–just do an Internet search if a recipe didn’t come packaged with the inspiration for the ingredient;

  • Second, plan a time to make whatever recipe you find; and
  • Third, keep your pantry organized so you can find ingredients when you need them.

Ignore these rules and you’re practically assured of pantry overload. It’s a problem I hear about frequently: “I’ve got all this stuff in my cupboards and it never gets used #%$%&^*!!”

One final caveat: Passé is OK. Food can be such a trendy thing. I once read an article declaring that sun-dried tomatoes and truffles had officially passed their prime and would reflect embarrassingly on any cook who used them. I almost dumped my tomatoes and truffles before my good sense came to the rescue. Trends and fads be darned; if you like a pantry staple, use it

And now, it’s time to go fix my latest pantry fav: Dried beans. I have always stocked canned beans which are perfectly acceptable. But they are a far cry from the soft, buttery taste of dried beans simmered in a slow cooker. And there are so many uses for a freshly cooked batch. The topic of another day. . .

Ready to begin experimenting with a pantry.  Build one if you’re pantry-less, or if you’ve got a pantry, find out how to make the most of it.   Check out my book, Take Control of Your Kitchen, which explains what to buy and how to store and organize it for easy access, or email to set up some individual kitchen coaching where we focus on setting up a helpful and healthful pantry. If you missed any of the previous articles in this series, here they are:

Invaluable Kitchen Resource Gets No Respect

Remedy for the Post-Vacation Refrigerator Blues

Time Spent Stocking the Pantry Isn’t Wasted, It’s Invested!

How Many Great Meals Are Hiding In Your Pantry?

. . . or Do a Better Job Working the One You Have

Good News:  The Fun of a Pantry Journey Lasts More than an Afternoon

Pantries Save Time, Reduce Stress, Save Money, Produce Intriguing Meals and Maybe Even Lead to Enlightenment

How to Breathe Fresh Air Into Yours

Stocking the Pantry—How to Avoid Time Panic

Good News:  The Fun of a Pantry Journey Lasts More than an Afternoon

timepanicfrombigbox Time panic may be settling in as we talk about stocking the pantry.  By now, it’s become abundantly clear that the job can’t be done in an afternoon–and with our short attention spans, that’s a real problem!  Who has more than 30 minutes for anything?

So is time panic going to win here, and rob you of the opportunity to benefit from the invaluable kitchen resource known as a pantry?  Or could we reframe the picture to make it work for you?  Remember how an earlier post called pantry stocking a journey?

Try this on:  What if “creating a pantry” were not a chore on the to-do list but an undertaking as interesting as learning to ski, redecorating the living room, knitting a beautiful scarf or learning a language.  You certainly wouldn’t expect to achieve those kinds of accomplishments in an afternoon.  You’d expect to put in some time, over time.  In return, you would reap gradual but profound benefits.

Stocking a pantry is like that, really.  It may not have the flair of skiing or redecorating, but it’s got one thing on its side that nothing else can beat:  Incredible deliciousness!

What’s more, stocking a pantry is quite interesting and even creative.  Gradually you get in touch with the kinds of foods you really like.  You begin to open doors to new and different foods.  You put the foods you buy to good use in innovative dishes.  Best of all, every step of the way is delicious.  Why would you want to squash this kind of fun into a single afternoon!

On the flip side, isn’t it nice to know that this journey didn’t have to be done and over yesterday?  You have plenty of time to create a pantry that saves you mountains of time and brings wonderfully healthful meals within everyday reach!

Ready to begin experimenting with a pantry.  Build one if you’re pantry-less, or if you’ve got a pantry, find out how to make the most of it.   Check out my book, Take Control of Your Kitchen, which explains what to buy and how to store and organize it for easy access, or email to set up some individual kitchen coaching where we focus on setting up a helpful and healthful pantry. Also, check out all the articles in this series:

Invaluable Kitchen Resource Gets No Respect

Remedy for the Post-Vacation Refrigerator Blues

Time Spent Stocking the Pantry Isn’t Wasted, It’s Invested!

How Many Great Meals Are Hiding In Your Pantry?

. . . or Do a Better Job Working the One You Have

Good News:  The Fun of a Pantry Journey Lasts More than an Afternoon

Pantries Save Time, Reduce Stress, Save Money, Produce Intriguing Meals and Maybe Even Lead to Enlightenment

How to Breathe Fresh Air Into Yours

%d bloggers like this: