Ode to my Rice Cooker – Plus Lettuce Wrap Ideas

Rice Cooker
25 Years Young

I pulled out my rice cooker to make forbidden (we like to call it “forbeeeden” in a scary voice) black rice and my son asked “How long have you had that?”  I remembered that I got it as a gift for my 21st birthday from my college roommates.  No, really.  That was almost 25 years ago.  It’s hard to believe this $40 appliance has seen me and now my family through 25 years of rice and quinoa meals.  It is low tech.  There are no switches and timers other than cook and warm.  Rice and water go in and you press to “cook” then the cooker clicks to warm when the rice is cooked.  Couldn’t be easier.  I wish more things in life lasted as long and were as simple and reliable.  So here’s a sexy picture of my rice cooker in all it’s glory.

 

We’ve been on a lettuce wrap/cup kick with the warm weather.  Here I made asian cups by offering the forbidden rice and added tofu or chicken, chopped peppers, broccoli and mangoes.  I also made rice noodles for layering and added some peanuts for crunch.  Fresh mint and cilantro brought some great freshness.  Kids love to make these.  Each person can assemble themselves to suit their own tastes.  This means no complaining!

Asian Lettuce Wraps
Asian Lettuce Wraps

 

A few nights later we made mexican themed lettuce wraps.  I didn’t have time to make spanish rice (and maybe I should give my workhorse cooker a break) but had everything for a quick meal with left-over ground turkey, olives, cilantro, black beans, guacamole and salsa.  My husband even suggested doing lettuce instead of tortillas on burrito nights because he felt less full.  The kids thought Dad was crazy suggesting no tortillas, but it’s a good option for us, sometimes.

Mexican Lettuce Wraps 

I’m sure I can think of other lettuce cups themes and ethnic variations to use up left-overs.  Maybe next up will be mediterranean.

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5 Essential Foods for Life – Outside Magazine

 

One of my assignments in a college writing class was to write an article for Outside Magazine.  If my memory is correct it was about rafting down the American River.  (It was a long time ago).  However when I was sent this article and slideshow from Outside Magazine about some important foods to have in your pantry I felt compelled to share.  For nostalgia sure.  But also because these are some of my family’s favorites and were always trying to get more of these items in our diets.  To see the entire article and slide show with recommendations for choosing and preparing these foods click here.

Here’s an excerpt…

You’re getting older. It’s time to accept the fact that you can’t stay out for last call, then make it up for a 6:30 A.M. mountain-bike ride. And enough already with your daily routine of coffee-and-bagel breakfasts, takeout lunches, and pizza-and-beer recovery meals. A study in the International Journal of Obesity found that the highest rate of adult weight gain happens between ages 25 and 35—roughly one pound per year.

And on top of your slowing metabolism, you’re producing fewer digestive enzymes, meaning you can’t absorb nutrients as easily. Here’s the good news: you can still run and bike like a 25-year-old—as long as you’re smart about what you put in your body. What’s more, quality food needn’t be expensive, and prepared right, it’s much faster than waiting for the delivery dude.

The key is simplifying your meal plan. Instead of spendy, ad hoc grocery runs, develop a set of go-to recipes and stock your pantry with all the ingredients you’ll need. More importantly, anchor those recipes with high-quality, nutrient-rich staples—these five. —Jen Schwartz

1. SALMON

For a day-to-day routine, there’s no better source of animal protein than salmon—just four ounces packs roughly 30 grams. That same fillet has more than 250 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin D, which is necessary for the absorption of calcium and protects against a range of cancers. It’s also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to boost brain function. Plus, this iconic fish is notable for what it lacks: mercury. Its levels are significantly lower than nearly every other popular species, including tuna, sea bass, cod, and halibut, which means it can be consumed regularly.

2. EGGS

No food is as misunderstood as the mighty egg. Eggs are rich in 13 essential vitamins and minerals, everything from A and E to B complex and D. They also contain high-quality protein, antioxidants, and the brain-boosting nutrient choline. “But the cholesterol!” critics shout, pointing to research on heart disease, including a 2012 study that claimed eggs were as bad for your arteries as smoking. But that study looked at correlation, not cause and effect—in other words, plaque buildup was observed to occur more frequently in people who regularly consumed eggs, but those people were just as likely eating their eggs with bacon, too.

Most agree that the human body absorbs protein from eggs better than from almost any other food. So embrace moderation. Six large eggs per week will give you roughly 36 grams of protein and as much as 1,500 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids—and still limit the fat that contributes to plaque buildup in arteries.

3. QUINOA

The United Nations declared 2013 International Year of Quinoa—and for good reason. The gluten-free seed contains sky-high concentrations of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, which tackle tissue-damaging free radicals. And unlike wheat, barley, and oats, quinoa is a complete source of protein. Compared with processed pastas, quinoa has roughly four times the amount of iron and twice the calcium, yet takes the same amount of time to cook.

4. KALE

No green compares with the nutrient-to-calorie ratio of this dark leafy vegetable. It has off-the-charts levels of vitamins K, A, and C and is a good source of fiber—one cup has nearly 25 percent of the daily recommended amount. Per calorie, kale has more iron than beef and more calcium than milk, and it trumps broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage for its broad range of flavonoids, compounds that help prevent muscle inflammation and cancer. All of which are compelling reasons to stock up on it, but here’s the best: as a cooking staple, kale is endlessly flexible. Throw a shredded handful into soups, casseroles, or frittatas. You can even use it in smoothies and juices.

5. CHICKPEAS 

For the money, these little nuggets, also called garbanzo beans, are unbeatable. They’re rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber (the former makes you feel full and helps regulate blood sugar, the latter keeps you regular); you need both for a healthy diet, and two cups of these legumes pack 100 percent of the daily recommended amount. And just half a cup contains five grams of protein and ten different vitamins. Chickpeas are also wildly versatile. Just ask the guys behind the blog (and forthcoming book) Thug Kitchen, which offers profanity-laced recipes and kitchen tips that dispel the notion that healthy cooking is a realm of rarefied luxury. “Chickpeas, garbanzo beans, whatever you want to call them, they do all the heavy lifting in my kitchen,” says the site’s anonymous founder.

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Quinoa Cuisine – Book Review and Chocolate Zucchini Bread Recipe

My family is not new to eating quinoa, however I had no idea how diverse it really is.  We use it in pilafs, salads and frittata crusts.  But quinoa is a healthy ingredient not only in it’s whole stage, but as flakes and flours and with various colors and properties.  I received the Quinoa book by Jessica Harlan and Kelley Sparwasser.  Reading the introduction there is lots to learn.  For instance quinoa is not a grain, it’s actually in the goosefoot family related to beets, spinach, and chard.  Nutritionists refer to quinoa as a “pseudograin”, like buckwheat and amarynth because it has a similar nutritional profile to true gains and prepared in similar ways.

 

My family wanted to try the baked goods from the book, so I bought quinoa flakes and flour for my pantry (actually needs to be refrigerated ounce opened).  The first thing we made was the Rich Chocolate Zucchini Bread (see recipe below).  The quinoa flour is more grassy smelling and tasting, so it makes sense to pair the baked items with maybe more sugar or spice or chocolate than you’d (actually I’d) usually use.  I went with the recipe and was glad I didn’t cut back on any chocolate chips, after tasting the dough – which is not as yummy as other zucchini breads I’ve made with all purpose or wheat flours.  However once baked this was delicious and satisfied everyone’s palate.  (While combining these ingredients in photo, I wasn’t so sure).  This is also glutten free, so a great recipe to have on hand for potlucks or occassions where gluten free baking may be needed.  Unfortunately I cut the bread when it was still warm (yes, I was impatient) and it crumbled.  I wrapped the slices in plastic to hold their shape better and store, which worked well.

Next we made the Ginger Biscotti.  These too were delicious and wheat free too.  However I cheated and used half wheat flour and half quinoa.  Both because I wanted to try it (they suggest if not baking for a wheat free audience) and because I didn’t want to go to the store for more quinoa flour.  These are heavy on the ginger, so be prepared.  My son loves candied ginger and thuse these were a big hit as he shared them on a playdate.  They get very hard – a true biscotti.  So are best enjoyed dipped in coffee, tea or milk.  These are great for packaging and gift giving (prettier than my bread above) as they travel well.

Book Review

Overall:  I like this book and feel like it is a valuable resource for adding this healthy ingredient to more dishes for my family.  I look forward to trying some of the savory options such as the Tabouleh Salad, Bacon Wraped Dates, and Thai Summer Rolls.

Pros: I enjoyed learning about quinoa and all the various uses.  Also great to know for wheat and gluten free recipes for potlucks and gatherings.   Easy to identify icons for gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, freezes well, healthy choice, etc (yes, if you have my books I’m a sucker for icons).

Cons:  Wish there were photos.  Some recipes have more sugars and fats than I’d like to overcompensate for bitter quinoa flake or flours.  Some quinoa products may be more expensive and harder to find than traditional grains.

 

Rich Chocolate Zucchini Bread

You’d never know that this dense, fudgy bread is (sort of) healthy! It was inspired by a favorite recipe from Cooking Light magazine that I make every year in the late summer when zucchini are bountiful. But luckily, you don’t have to limit this bread to a summertime treat, since most supermarkets stock zucchini year-round.—JH

Serves 8 to 10 (Makes 1 Loaf)

Freezes Well, Gluten-Free, Healthy Choice, Vegetarian

 

⅔ cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons canola oil

3 large eggs

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

2 cups quinoa flour

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

1½ cups shredded zucchini (about 1 medium zucchini)

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (6 ounces)

 

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with butter, shortening, or cooking spray. Place the brown sugar, canola oil, and eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat at low speed until well combined. Add the applesauce and mix on low speed until combined.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the quinoa flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add to the mixer bowl and beat, beginning at the lowest speed and gradually increasing speed, until the ingredients are smooth and well combined. Using a spoon or a rubber spatula, fold in the zucchini and the chocolate chips.

3. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the bread comes out with only a few crumbs clinging to it, about 1 hour. Let cool completely in the baking pan on a wire rack before removing and slicing.

 

Packaging Tips: To give it a professional look, bake this bread in a disposable paper baker (look for them in kitchenware or baking supply stores or online, such as at www.kingarthurflour.com). Or wrap it tightly in foodsafe cellophane or plastic wrap and tie with a ribbon. For a chocolate-lover’s gift, package the bread with a few packets of hot chocolate mix.

 

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