For the Love of Food

by | Aug 23, 2013
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week metals lurk in makeup and drinking water, root-to-stalk is the new nose-to-tail, and making sense of juicing.

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).

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For The Love Of Food

by | Jan 18, 2013

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week Harvard says “whole grains” aren’t always healthy, why you should eat carrot tops, and calling BS on Coke’s new ad.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).

Links of the week


What inspired you this week?

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How To Cook Perfect Rice Without A Rice Cooker (and store it for months)

by | Nov 26, 2012

Rice Balls

I have been getting a lot of questions about rice lately, and I am not surprised. Though some people swear by rice cookers I have found them to be inconsistent and generally unreliable, especially when it comes to brown rice.

My solution? Stove top.

A few years ago I read about this method of cooking rice that supposedly worked “every time” for every kind of rice. I had trouble believing it because I’ve found that different styles of rice have hugely different requirements in both the amount of water and time needed. However, I have had great success with the method and am extremely happy with it (sorry, I do not remember where I found it).

The reason this trick works so consistently is that it does not rely on a specific amount of time or water. Rather you need to test the grains occasionally for tenderness and decide for yourself when it is done. I have found for brown rice the entire process takes about 30 minutes, which is 10 minutes shorter than it took in my rice cooker.

Because rice does take so long to prepare, I like to make large batches and freeze individual servings so that I do not have to wait half an hour for dinner every single night.

For short grain brown rice, I use about 2 cups of dry grain and a large 2 quart sauce pan. Put the rice in the pot and add cold water until it is almost full. Use your hand to swirl the rice around and loosen any dirt and dust. When the rice settles back to the bottom, dump the water off the top and repeat. Continue to rinse rice until the water is almost perfectly clear, about 4-5 times.

After the last rinse add cold water to your rice until you have at least 3 times the volume of water to rice. Do not worry too much about the amount, and err on the side of excess. This is especially important with brown rice which absorbs much more water than white rice. Place the rice and water on the stove and turn the heat on high.

When the rice begins to boil, reduce heat to medium and continue to simmer, uncovered. This is a good time to start the rest of your dinner.

Check on the rice grains occasionally by grabbing a few out with a fork and testing them for tenderness (squish between your fingernails or taste it). Rice becomes opaque when it cooks, so there is no point in checking it while it is still somewhat translucent. Once the rice does start to turn opaque, check tenderness every 2-5 minutes. If too much water evaporates and the rice starts to look soupy, you need to add more water. You should add enough water at the beginning to avoid this.

Boil rice until it is almost tender enough to eat. In other words, imagine you are an impatient person who wants the rice to be finished as quickly as possible so you decide the rice is done and serve it, but later regret that decision because the rice is ever so slightly al dente. It is at this point you want to stop the boiling and begin the steaming.

Next drain off the remaining water. A mesh strainer or splatter guard works nicely for this (hold it over the pot and simply dump the water into the sink), but you can also carefully pour the water off and use a fork to keep loose kernels from falling out (but seriously be careful!).

Place the pot with rice back on the burner and reduce the heat to as low as it will go. Cover the rice and set a kitchen timer for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes turn off the burner and set the timer for another 5 minutes. Do not lift the lid during this process unless you are concerned that you messed up the boiling time and want to check on the doneness. After the rice has sat for 5 minutes, remove the lid, fluff with a fork and serve. Put the lid back on if you are going to let the rice cool in the pot.

If for some reason you think you overcooked the rice when you were boiling it, you can skip the steaming step and just let the drained rice sit covered with the burner off for 5 minutes. If you undershoot, you can always extend the length of the steaming process, but it will take much longer.

I usually wait until the rice has cooled down substantially before wrapping it in plastic. It is the last thing I do in my after-dinner clean up. To store rice, break off squares of plastic wrap and scoop individual rice servings (1/4-1/2 cup) into the middle. Fold over the plastic, twist the ends and tie them in a half knot so that the rice is in a ball, as shown. Put rice balls in a freezer bag and into the freezer.

To thaw, remove a rice ball from the freezer and allow to sit on counter for a few minutes until you can untie the knot without leaving little pieces of plastic stuck in the folds of rice. If you forgot to do this (I always forget!) you can run the knotted plastic under warm (not hot, heat releases toxins in the plastic that can get into your food) until you can untie it. Place unwrapped frozen rice ball in a small bowl and microwave on high for 1-2 minutes. I like to use our microwave cover for this, but you have to figure out for yourself what works best in your own microwave.

Having individual rice servings is very, very handy. Brown rice is a fabulous option to make light vegetable dishes, soups and salads more substantial.

I just dug this recipe out of the archives because it is so darn useful. Use it wisely.

Originally published October 12, 2008.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Mar 25, 2011

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

The internet was overflowing with nutrition BS this week. It’s so often the same issue, people mistaking one special case for general health and safety. But the body is complicated and there is always more to consider. I also found some great articles defending salt and olive oil, and a brilliant demonstration of why portions matter.

I read many more wonderful articles than I post here each week. If you’d like to see more or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. For a complete list of my favorite stories check out my links on Digg. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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Healthy Lunch: Moroccan Vegetable Tagine

by | Feb 6, 2009

If you really want to be healthy, you need to find a way to prepare most of your meals yourself. Eating out is fun and if you are careful you can avoid too much damage, but when you find yourself at restaurants multiple times per week chances are you will have a lot of trouble maintaining a healthy weight.

For many people, lunch on weekdays (at work) is one of the hardest meals to make healthy because bringing your own food requires planning and preparation, which is difficult on a busy schedule. There can also be powerful social pressures at the office to do what everyone else is doing, and that usually means hitting up the local restaurants.

I have combated this lunch issue with delicious food and a little planning. During the summer I make seasonal, fresh salads that are the envy of everyone at the office (aka lab). But since tomatoes and my other favorite salad treats are not available in the winter, I have been on a quest to find the perfect cold weather lunch.

Soup has been the winning ticket so far. The chicken chard soup I posted a few weeks ago was satisfying, delectable and lasted me the entire week. This past week I made red lentil Indian style soup following a recipe from Splendid Soups, my favorite soup cookbook (sorry, no post on this one).

This week I modified Mark Bittman’s Moroccan tagine recipe, skipping the chicken and adding some beautiful romanesco broccoli instead. A tagine is a thick and hearty Moroccan stew made with spices, chickpeas and dried fruit.

Normally a tagine is served with spiced couscous, but I didn’t have any so I used red quinoa I found at my corner market, Valencia Farmers Market (24th Street and Valencia). At first I was really mad at myself for forgetting I was out of couscous, but the red Inca quinoa was amazing and in the future I may actually prefer it for a lunch recipe like this.

Quinoa is substantially healthier than couscous, which is not whole grain.

Bittman’s recipe was quick and easy because I made the chickpeas the day before in my pressure cooker. It was simple and perfect for my lunch this week.

But if you want a tagine that is the real deal (harissa and all), I recommend the recipe from Splendid Soups.

Moroccan Vegetable Tagine

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium head romanesco (or cauliflower)
  • 1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
  • 3 cups chickpeas, cooked (or 2 cans, drained and rinsed)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 0.5 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 0.5 tsp ground black pepper
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 0.5 cup diced dried apricots (or golden raisins or dates)
  • 0.25 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Bittman adds half a vanilla bean and cautions not to use extract. I didn’t have a vanilla bean so I just left it out. Also it appears I forgot to add the parsley. Feel free to use it as a garnish, I’m sure it would be a nice addition.

Saute onions in 2 tbsp of olive oil until tender and soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and spices and stir until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add romanesco pieces, salt and continue to saute for another 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes, chickpeas and dried fruit and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer. Taste and adjust salt. You can add 0.5 cup of water if necessary, but keep in mind a tagine should not be very fluid. Cover and allow to simmer 30 minutes, or until romanesco is tender. Stir occasionally.

While the tagine is simmering, rinse and cook quinoa according to the instructions on the box (takes 15 minutes). You can also toast your almonds during this time if you haven’t already. I tried to toast mine on a cookie sheet in the oven, but forgot about them (as usual) and they burnt. I toasted a new batch in a non-stick pan on the stove. Toast nuts on medium-low heat without oil, turning occasionally for about 5 minutes. If you prefer to use the oven, set a timer!

To serve scoop half a cup of cooked quinoa into a bowl and cover generously with tagine. Tagine is very hearty, so an additional side dish is probably not necessary. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve immediately.

This recipe has fed me 1 delicious meal per day for 4 days.

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Quinoa: Did You Know?

by | Nov 17, 2008

Quinoa is a seed plant common to the Andes of South America. Because it is not a grass, quinoa is not technically a cereal grain. For nutritional purposes, however, quinoa is considered a “whole grain” and is a fantastic alternative to rice.

Quinoa is rich in dietary fiber, phosphorous, magnesium and iron. But what makes quinoa stand out nutritionally is its protein content. Unlike most grains, quinoa contains a high percentage of the amino acid lysine, making it a complete protein.

A complete protein is a food that contains all essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein.

If you are vegetarian, acquiring all the necessary amino acids from your diet is more difficult than if you eat meat occasionally, because plant proteins are usually deficient in one amino acid or another. For grains, the missing molecule is usually lysine. Quinoa’s high lysine content makes it a nutritional powerhouse for a grain, whether you are vegetarian or not.

Quinoa can be found at many grocery stores (e.g. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s) and frequently comes in a box. At some stores (e.g. Whole Foods) it can also be found in bulk.

Quinoa is much faster to prepare than other whole grains. As the New York Times recommends, I like to prepare it the same way I make rice. But it needs to be monitored more carefully, since it cooks much quicker. 10 minutes boiling should be sufficient.

I have not been able to find the red quinoa shown in the article. Let me know if you find it!

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