Sunday, September 23, 2012

Always Have Something - Whole Grains

The easiest way to make sure you've got an easy meal in no time flat is to have cooked whole grains already in your fridge. When I use the last of my grains (or before that), I start my next batch. My favorites are the ones you put in the pot, set to simmer and then leave until the timer goes off.

If I've made nothing in advance, quinoa (which cooks in 15 minutes) is my go-to, because it's quick and nutritious - a full source of protein.

Gluten - There is a lot of awareness about gluten sensitivity, intolerance and Celiac's disease surfacing these days. Glutenous grains do tend to be "heavier" in the body, meaning they take more effort to digest, so even if you don't notice any adversity to it (which I don't myself), do take notice of how you feel when you eat a lot of it, since there is a lot of gluten-heavy wheat everywhere (too much of it makes me feel sluggish). Getting away from processed foods will make this significantly easier.

Grains with gluten:
wheat, barley, bulgur (cracked wheat), kamut (a wheat variety), rye, spelt

Gluten-free grains: 
brown rice, buckwheat (aka kasha), oats/oatmeal (though questionable due to content and contamination - look for certification), amaranth, corn, millet, quinoa, wild rice, teff

Soaking - I do this when I remember to. When I don't, I just skip this step and make a note to myself to do it next time. Soaking helps grains to cook down softer and quicker, and to be more easily digested and nutritionally available to our bodies. Read more about the why and how of soaking at Just Making Noise, a great blog for recipes and reference.

Cooking - Varies a lot by grain. Here is a great chart with measurements, cooking times, and yield basics for most basic whole grains from the Whole Grains Counsil.

How to get started - Pick one grain (like brown rice or quinoa) that is an easy substitute into your meals. Buy organic. If your local grocery store has a bulk section, it's a great way to save money by not paying for packaging. I store my grains at home in glass jars (save your mayo and salsa jars). It's also a great way to try out a small amount of something new. Make a big batch this week - cook double what you think you'll eat so that you only have to cook once to eat many times. Grains reheat and freeze wonderfully.

Whole grains are chewier and have a nuttier, fuller flavor than refined grains. You and your family may find this unfamiliar at first. But after a month or two, refined grains may start to taste plain and uninteresting in contrast. Stick with it until your palate adjusts and you'll reap the health and taste benefits!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My "Famous" Roasted Tomatoes (and Sauce)

We've been getting the last of the heirloom tomatoes in our CSA box and at the farmers' market.

Capitalize whenever your oven is already on: I had the oven heated up to bake bread this weekend so I looked around for whatever else I could roast while I was at it. I chopped up some tomatoes and garlic, tossed with a few glugs of olive oil and some sea salt and made this outrageous (Evan calls it my "famous") roasted tomato sauce - though I find it hard to claim fame from something I put so little effort into.

Popped them into the oven at 400 degrees F for about half an hour... though, typical me, I didn't actually time it. I took them out when they looked done. That's how I've found roasting works best.

Simply smash the tomatoes with fork and you've got sauce. Blend them if you want it smooth or just eat them whole and chunky. They fall apart when you touch them. You can add herbs or some freshly ground black better, if desired, but I love letting the sweet ripe simplicity of these amazing tomatoes shine.

Spoon over any cooked plain whole grain, pasta, or bread. Serve with some high quality cheeses, olives, and a green salad and you've got a simple meal that will make you feel like you're savoring the heart of Italy. A nice glass of red wine (for the antioxidants, of course) steps it up to a date night.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How to Get Ahead: Roasting (think meal planning!)

Whenever I turn my oven on, I capitalize. Whatever has been sitting around in my fridge too long, or whatever I'm going to want to have on hand to eat later in the week - goes in.

Tamar Adler's book An Everlasting Meal will teach you basics and comfort in the kitchen, fresh-ingredient Italian-style. (If that's your style, order that book immediately.) The third chapter, called How To Stride Ahead is all about roasting. One-stop cooking for a whole week.

Watch the nuts and bolts basics in Tamar's beautiful video:

Roasting Basics:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. (If I'm making something else at another temperature, go with that, but be aware that cooking time will be effected.) 
  • Gather veggies to be roasted. Set out a rimmed pan or baking sheet for each type (as cook times vary). 
  • Chop veggies - similar sized pieces among like types, to ensure even cooking. I almost always leave skins on, unless veggies are not organic. Beets are the exception: roast whole, in skins, with a bit of water and olive oil, covered tightly with aluminum foil (see video).
  • Spread veggies on baking sheets so they have some room (no piling over overlapping).
  • Drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Toss to coat (I use my (clean) hands).
  • Place in oven and roast until fork-tender. Different veggies with have different cook times, which will also vary according to their size. Keep a watchful eye while you get something else done. I clean up the kitchen while roasting is happening. Perhaps you will put on a pot of rice or other grains to cook. Perhaps you will boil eggs.
  • Allow veggies to cool before storing in (preferably glass) containers. Old jars work wonders.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Easy Tool for Your Box: Saute

Get out your ingredients! The actual cooking process happens quickly, so prep your ingredients ahead of time. Here you'll see me saute kale with fresh garlic (you can use regular garlic and/or onions).

Kale secret: with left hand fingers, pinch kale at base of stem where the leafy part starts. Hold onto the stem with your right hand while you strip up the stem with your left, removing the toughest part. Rip leaf roughly and toss into colander.

Always rinse veggies (usually best to do before chopping/ripping ... oops!). Perfection in the kitchen is a myth.

Have all ingredients handy: greens or other veggie you want to saute (such as peppers, green beans, zucchini, carrots, cabbage, etc.), oil, salt, pepper. Heat pan over medium high heat then add about 1-2 Tablespoons oil (coconut oil and olive oil are my favorites). When you're making veggies, make them delicious.

Add onions and garlic, saute for a minute until soft, but not browning. If they are sticking, add a splash more oil and lower heat slightly.

Pile on the greens! If you are sauteing or stir-frying multiple kinds of veggies at once, add them based on how long they take to cook. (Check out this wikihow for basic cooking lengths).
I use a lid to help trap the steam from the greens so they will wilt quickly and all at once. Not necessary, but makes the cooking process even faster, which I like. If sticking is happening, add a splash of water to "deglaze" the pan.
Test your veggies (pull them out, cool, and eat) for done-ness. When they taste good to you, they're done, generally a fork-tender level. Sauteing generally only takes a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper while still in the pan and serve immediately! If you're making other things to accompany, you can put a lid it and let it sit on the stove, then reheat quickly and serve when it's time.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Confidence in the Kitchen

This month, I've decided to document all the basic cooking tricks and techniques that keep me eating the healthy food I love at all times. I want you to challenge yourself to carve out some small chunks of you-time in the kitchen. If you feel comfortable in the kitchen, stay tuned, this is going to change your world.

Kitchen-time IS you-time.

These are the tools that help me to eat what I want to. So much of the food out there is full of excess sugar, salt and mystery ingredients and additives. A HUGE part of getting healthy and feeling energized in your body is giving yourself the food you know will get you there. Get this down, and your body will practically take care of itself.

What self-sufficient cooking is all about:

1. Make what you like and know. For me, that's fresh Italian food. When you like and know the flavors of something already, it's a lot easier to replicate. Think about your go-to's. What did you grow up eating?

2. Keep it simple. Don't start, like I tried, with recipes that take a lot of time, steps, techniques and gourmet ingredients. Start with the easiest things you can think of and if it's too plain, add condiments as you eat!

3. Think ahead. Stock your kitchen up with the basics. Once you have a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, some salt and fresh pepper, soon you'll be able to whip up almost anything into deliciousness whenever you feel like it. No one likes to cook dinner when they're already hungry if it means you have to go back out and shop first. I'll post my favorite go-to condiments and basics later this week! Until then, clean out and save your glass jars.

4. You get to say what it is. Some of my best meals were things that I completely made up, or that turned out totally wrong. In either case, put it in a pretty bowl and make up a gourmet name for it. The best part about cooking for yourself is that there's no pressure to impress. Just trust your taste buds. And fudge the rest.

5. Eat quality. You are a quality person. And you are what you eat. When you give yourself the good stuff, you'll find it's more satisfying, you eat less, and you appreciate it more. This is the secret to easy cooking. When you start with the good stuff, you barely need to do anything to it to make it taste incredible.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Changing the Mirror Game

Something to write on all of your mirrors! I saw this piece from the SF Mirrors Project the other day near the train stop for Ocean Beach.

It made me think about my experience with mirrors. In high school, I spent hours obsessing over the way my body looked in the mirror, practicing sucking in my stomach, pulling back the "pudge" over my hips so they'd look slimmer, watching myself do situps and crunches, nit-picking over ever blemish on my face, eternally fighting with my body... UCK.

We all want to love and accept ourselves more - so start getting aware:

How much time do you spend looking in the mirror?
When you see yourself looking back, what do you say to yourself? Are you kind or mean?
What judgments do you pass on yourself?
What do you make your body mean?

What would you like to be saying to yourself? ... Now SAY IT.

Start choosing to change the mind game you're playing with yourself!

Choose the most loving, affirming, and healthy thoughts you can conceive of...

For more ideas and inspiration for your mirros, check out the SF Mirrors Project Gallery and Louise Hay's daily affirmations.