Friday 30 November 2012

Christmas Baking!

It's the last day of November already!  I must admit that the month has just flown by.  I have no idea where the time went.

Last year, on A Word from Aunt B, I shared twenty four baking recipes between December 1 and December 24.  I'll be doing the same this year and, to start everyone off, I've compiled links to all twenty-four recipes from 2011 in a single post.  

I hope you'll all join me at A Word from Aunt B to enjoy this year's recipes too.  :)

Thursday 29 November 2012

Why You Need This Stuff In Your Kitchen: Brown Rice

I included brown rice in one of my menu posts last week and my friend Mr. CBB,  from Canadian Budget Binder asked “I know the brown rice is good for you but I still haven't been able to get into it yet.. what do you think of it?

Mr. CBB’s question about brown rice got me thinking that it might be a good idea to pass on some information about this wholesome kitchen staple.   

Brown rice is the seed from various cultivars of a wetland-loving grass-like plant, Oryza.  There are two main varieties of Oryza:  Oryza sativa (Asian rice) or Oryza glaberrima (African rice).  It is a cereal grain, from which the nutrition for a large percentage of the world’s population is derived, providing more than 1/5 of the total calories consumed by humans worldwide. [i]

The seeds of the rice plants are harvested and dried, then run through a rice mill, which removes the chaff (the outer husk of the grain) while leaving the bran intact.  This rice – brown rice – is considered a whole grain.  White rice is further processed to remove the bran and germ, leaving only the innermost portion of the seed.  

A cup of brown rice provides 5 grams of protein, and 3.5 grams of dietary fiber.  It is rich in manganese, magnesium and selenium and also provides potassium, copper, and zinc.  It’s a source of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, and pantothenic acid.[ii] 

Brown rice is more flavourful than white rice, and firmer in texture.  Because it’s cooked with its outer bran still intact it does take longer to prepare, but the taste and nutritional benefits make it worth the effort. 

I usually cook my brown rice in the same way I cook pasta:  I fill a large stock pot with water, allowing at least 8 cups of water for every 1 cup of uncooked rice, and bring it to a boil.  Once the water has reached a boil, I add enough salt to make it taste like the ocean and then stir in my rice.  

I cook my brown rice at a medium boil until it’s still slightly al dente (usually 40 to 50 minutes depending upon the variety), then drain it into a sieve.  

At this point I depart from all tradition and rinse my cooked rice well with hot water.  Traditionalists might not approve of this step but the hot water rinse yields rice with less surface starch.  It won't clump together, even when cooled and stored, and that's important to me because I often cook a large quantity of brown rice all at once.

If you prefer to cook your brown rice using a more traditional method, use 3 to 4 cups of boiling, salted water or stock for every cup of uncooked rice and cook it at a low boil in a lidded pot until all the water is absorbed.[iii]

Short grain brown rice is also very good when cooked risotto style.

Since brown rice does take a long time to cook  and it takes as much time to cook a little bit of rice as it does to cook a whole lot of rice – I usually cook a big batch (3 cups uncooked, which yields 9 to 12 cups cooked rice) all at once. 

Once I’ve drained and rinsed my cooked brown rice, I allow it to cool and then portion it into 1-cup packages for storage in the freezer.  

On days when brown rice is on the menu, I transfer the rice from the freezer to the fridge before heading out to work in the morning, or I thaw the rice in the microwave just before using it.  The thawed rice can be reheated in the microwave or a steamer, it can be fried, or it can be stirred into soups and casseroles.

“Brown” rice actually comes in a variety of colours, ranging from the light brown grains we are most familiar with here in North America through red, purple, and even black.  You can find some of these rices in the ethnic food sections of larger grocery stores but if you have an Asian market in your area do take the time to check it out.  You’ll find a whole rainbow of rices there.  Many have interesting, nutty flavours and beautiful aromas.  One of my favourite varieties – red cargo rice – smells like popcorn while it’s cooking!

Like all grains, rice is a calorie-dense food and should be eaten in moderation.  Do include it in your diet though:  It will provide valuable, affordable nutrition and variety to your menus.

  • You can find an excellent chart comparing the nutritional value of brown rice and white rice at Rebecca’s Pocket.  The information is based on information provided by the USDA nutritional laboratory.
  • The proteins in brown rice do not contain all 22 of the proteinogenic amino acids found in meat  but, when consumed in combination with legumes, nuts, or milk products, will provide a “complete” protein source.  Dishes like rice and beans provide an inexpensive, healthful alternative to meat.[iv] , [v], [vi]
  • There used to be thousands upon thousands of regional varieties of rice in cultivation but market demands have caused farmers to focus on those with the most commercial value.  The number of varieties in commercial cultivation has decreased to less than a hundred in recent years.   You can help encourage genetic diversity – important to world food security – by purchasing different varieties when shopping.  Just think:  You can be a good world citizen and have fun exploring new flavours!
  • The rice shown in my title photo is a mixture of short grain brown rice and red cargo rice, both from Thailand.

Related recipes:

[iii] Brown rice can be soaked before cooking to reduce cooking times.  Doing so also removes some of the surface starch, making a less sticky finished product

Tuesday 27 November 2012

A Few Words of Explanation

I received this comment on my most recent "What We Ate" post: 
To help you lose weight you should be eating more frequently throughout the day not just breakfast supper. That might help keep you on budget and also not hungry. Break your supper up and put it in smaller portions through out the day and if you're hungry between have a few almonds on hand (they help to make you feel full) Don't forget lots of water - sometimes we're dehydrated and actually not hungry.
Since I also received a question about "no lunch?" on my Facebook page after writing my post, I feel I need to address this concern.  
My goals of healthy eating and good nutrition do require that we eat lunch, and that we have between meal snacks too.  
We eat lunches and snacks but I don't include them in the meal plans noted in my blog.  
Our snacks and lunches are made from leftovers culled from previous days' meals, from home canned soup, and from fresh produce.  (My husband also has a fondness for peanut butter and jam sandwiches.)
Since we're using up food we've accounted for in planning for previous meals rather than preparing menus or shopping specifically for lunches and snacks, I don't write them down.
I do appreciate the almond suggestion but, while I do include them in foods I cook for my husband, I have diverticulitis and cannot eat nuts or seeds. I do try to boost the amount of protein included in my lunches and snacks by eating small amounts of low fat cheese, fat free homemade Greek style yogurt, and by including legumes (like hummus) in my diet. 
I drink an average of eight 12-ounce glasses of water daily.

Just so you know.  

Nobody's going hungry at our house, and no one is doing without nutritious food at any time of day.  

Hope this clears things up.

What We Spent November 19 - 25

It seems that whatever my spending resolutions might be (provided we have some money left in the budget), I can’t resist the temptation to stock up.  This week, one of our local grocers had twelve pound cases of California navel oranges on sale for $7.98.  Of course I bought a case.  You’ll likely see some orange recipes from me in the near future.

Aside from the oranges, though, our spending this week was minimal.  We spent nothing on household goods and personal care items and – because the price per litre for gasoline dropped by $0.05, we spent less than expected on gas. 

Here’s what we spent last week:

Nov. 19/12
650 ml cottage cheese

.68 kg celery

4 lemons
Nov. 22/12
Nov. 23/12
.54 kg tomatoes
Nov. 24/12
12 lbs navel oranges

1 - 1 lb. bag mixed salad greens

coupons redeemed


image source:

What We Ate November 19 - 25

I’ve been struggling lately with a budget versus waistline debate.  My doctor wants me to lose a total of 42 pounds (I’ve lost 15 so far) and has suggested that I limit my calorie intake to 1200 calories/day.  Cooking as much as I do, this is no small challenge!

So far, I’ve managed to stick to my calorie goal most of the time while still cooking regular meals for my fella.  I do that by cooking whatever’s on the menu for the day and then choosing to eat only the parts of the meal that will work with my diet plan.  It’s expensive though.

We’re pretty good at eating on a budget most of the time.  We stretch our food budget by including lots of vegetarian meals based upon legumes and grains, or upon pasta.  Sadly, while nutritious, these meals are also very calorie-dense.  If I wish to eat rice and beans for supper, very few calories can be used for the other meals of the day.  I either fill up on huge quantities of fresh produce (expensive!) or I go hungry (undesirable).  If I wish to spread my calories throughout the day, I end up relying more upon fish and lean meat for my proteins.  That’s expensive too.

We have a very well stocked pantry, with many home canned fruits and vegetables on the shelves.  The problem is that, in order to get the maximum nutritional benefit from canned fruits and vegetables, you should consume the liquid in the jars too.  With fruits, in particular, this means extra calories.

Clearly we can’t go on spending what we have been, so I’ve been faced with a quandary:  I either stick to my goal of 1200 calories/day and blow the budget, or I stay within the budget and exceed my 1200 calories/day. 

I’ve decided on a compromise:  We will return to our frugal pantry meals but I’ll try to maintain healthier eating habits by avoiding sweets, fried foods, and extra starches, and – in order to help make up for the extra calories – I’ll step up my level of physical activity.  (The exercise part will be the hardest for me.  I’ll let you know how that goes.)

In the meantime, here’s what we ate last week:

Monday, November 19:

Tuesday, November 20:
  • Breakfast –  Toasted English muffins, cheddar cheese, apple slices
  • Supper – Homemade yogurt and applesauce for me, tea and whole wheat toast for my fella (He wasn’t feeling well.)

Wednesday, November 21:

Thursday, November 22:

Friday, November 23:
  • Breakfast – Oatmeal with brown sugar, cinnamon, raisin, diced apples and homemade yogurt
  • Supper – Vegetarian red beans and (brown) rice, carrot and celery sticks, radishes, left over tart from Thursday  night

Saturday, November 24:
  • Breakfast – Farmstead waffles, bacon, poached eggs
  • Supper – Welsh rarebit in multi-grain toast (for my fella), salad greens and sliced tomatoes with herb vinaigrette (for me), Christmas cookies

Sunday, November 25:

Thursday 22 November 2012

Left Coast Crackers

My friend Laurel, who moved here from Ontario, often laughs about our west coast fondness for whole food fanciness.  She once joked that when she orders a grilled cheese sandwich in a restaurant she expects white bread and processed cheese, not a provolone panini.  

Deli crackers would seem to prove Laurel’s point exactly.  Regular triscuits, wheat thins, and rice crackers can be found in the cracker aisle of our grocery stores but, in the deli, where the special stuff resides, rainforest crisps reign supreme.

Rainforest crisps are the whole food cousin of Melba toast, made with honey or molasses, lots of nuts and seeds, and dried fruit.  They’re baked as a loaf, then sliced thin and baked again to make crisps.  The ones in the grocery store are elegantly curled from this second baking process, and then packed a couple of dozen to a box and priced at $6.00 or more per package.

A few years back, a friend emailed me a recipe for a rainforest cracker I could bake at home.  I have no idea where the recipe originated but it’s been a standby in my kitchen ever since I received it.  It’s particularly handy during the holiday season, when we have company drop in and want to offer some quick, pretty nibbles for them to enjoy while visiting.

I’ve amended the recipe a little bit over the years, to suit my personal taste and the ingredients I usually have on hand, and I bake mine in a single 9 x 13 rectangular cake pan instead of in the small loaf pans the original recipe called for. 

Perhaps because I don’t slice them quite so thinly as the commercial product, my crackers don’t curl up like the ones for sale in the deli, but they taste every bit as good.  Better still, I can bake well over a hundred crisps for less money than one single deli package would cost.

To make Left Coast Crackers you’ll need:

2 cups flour
2 Tablespoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup ground flax seeds (I grind my own, in a coffee grinder)
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 Tablespoons poppy seeds
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary (not pictured)
2 cups buttermilk (I didn’t have buttermilk on hand this time so I used diluted evaporated milk with lemon juice mixed in.  You can find the instructions here.)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 cup coarsely chopped dried cranberries
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sunflower seeds

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ground flax seeds, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds.

In another bowl, mix together the buttermilk, brown sugar, molasses. 

Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture, just until combined.

Add in the cranberries, walnuts, and sunflower seeds and stir gently to distribute them through the batter.

Pour the batter into a buttered or oiled 9 x 13 inch cake pan.

Bake it on the middle shelf of a pre-heated 350F oven for 45 minutes.  (I turn the pan halfway through the baking time to help ensure more even cooking.)  Your cracker "cake" is done when the center springs back when lightly touched and a pick inserted into the center comes out mostly dry, with just a few crumbs clinging to it.

Place the pan on a rack and allow your cracker cake to cool completely.

When it has cooled, slice the cake in half lengthwise and then cut each half cross-wise into thin slices (1/8 inch thick or less).  Don't worry if the slices are not perfect.  They'll taste just fine anyway.

Lay the slices flat on parchment paper lined baking sheets.  You can place them close together as they won’t spread during the second baking.

Bake the crackers, one sheet at a time, for about 15 minutes in a 300F oven.  Turn them over, return them to the oven to bake another 10 minutes. 

Check the crackers at this point.  They should be dry and crisp but may still be slightly flexible.  (They’ll continue to crisp up as they cool.) 

I often find that the crackers around the outside of the sheet are done and can be removed to racks to cool, but the ones in the center of the pan may need a few more minutes cooking time.  Just return them to the oven to finish drying.

Once your crackers are all twice-cooked and cooled, store them in an airtight container.  I’m told they’ll keep for a couple of weeks but, at our house, they're eaten long before that.


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Monday 19 November 2012

What We Spent November 5 - 18

When I looked at the total for the past couple of weeks I did a big “gulp.”  It was much higher than I’d hoped it would be.  A second look has calmed me down, though. 

I bought a huge veggie pack on November 5 that will provide our potatoes, white onions, and carrots for the entire month, and I stocked up on veggies again yesterday, for the week to come.  Really, it’s almost a three week total rather than a two week one.

We were able to get through two weeks with only a single tank of gas for the car, and we spent nothing on household goods or personal care items. 

The only real extravagances in the past two weeks were two liters of eggnog and a couple of bunches of Swiss chard that looked so good I couldn’t resist them.

I think we did quite well.  Here’s what we spent:

Nov. 5/12
Family veggie pack (20 lbs potatoes, 10 lbs onions, 10 lbs carrots)

8.4 lbs ambrosia apples

1.86 lbs red cabbage

1.22 lbs broccoli crowns

2.3 lbs tomatoes

3.62 lbs bananas

4 litres skim milk

2 liters egg nog

10 oz. pkg. frozen spinach

8 oz. cream cheese
Nov. 8/12
2 kaffir lime leaves

1 head romaine lettuce
Nov. 16/12
2 bunches Swiss chard

Nov. 18/12
fresh spinach

1 red onion

1 bunch radishes

1 rutabaga

2.42 lbs spaghetti squash

2.26 lbs green cabbage

4 litres skim milk


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