Wednesday, October 27

Amaranth and Apple Porridge with Chopped Pecans

I have spoken before on the joys, wisdoms, and powers of a whole grain breakfast including how to work with whole grains in their original form to make nutritious and delicious grain porridges. This recipe is a perfect example, and it was the perfect fix for the cold, grey, drizzly day when I recently made it. What we eat for breakfast sets the tone for the whole day, both physically and emotionally, so make sure you get off to the right start with a meal that is grounding, full of the nutrients your body needs for your busy day, and soothing and comforting to boot.

Amaranth is a lesser known but stellar whole grain that is similar in appearance, taste, and nutritional profile to a tiny version of quinoa, although the consistency and texture when cooked is more like grits. It is packed with minerals and is higher in protein and calcium than milk, while containing the magnesium and silicon essential to support calcium absorption. This tiny, tasty treat is one of my favorite things to cook in The World's Tiniest Kitchen.

Amaranth and Apple Porridge with Chopped Pecans

makes 2-3 servings (can be reheated on the stove for subsequent days)

2/3 cup uncooked amaranth (available at natural food stores)
2 cups fresh water
1 medium apple
4-6 tablespoons chopped raw pecans, plain (or 2 tbsp per serving)
agave nectar, raw honey, or pure natural maple syrup
unsweetened almond milk
sea salt

Wash the amaranth carefully with your hands in a medium sized pot with plenty of water. The tiny grains will stick to your hands a bit, but just keep rinsing them off in the water. Then drain the amaranth carefully through the finest mesh sieve- you will need this, otherwise the tiny grains will slip through the holes of your strainer- and rinse well. Transfer the washed amaranth back into the pot with 2 cups of fresh water. Wash, core, and chop the apple into small pieces, and add to the amaranth in the pot. Bring to a boil uncovered, then immediately turn down to low, cover, and simmer covered for 20 minutes or so. Check the consistency and give a stir- it is done when the apple is soft and the grain has absorbed the water and turned to a grits-like consistency. If the grains are appearing wet on top but sticking to the bottom of the pan when you try to stir, turn the heat off and leave the porridge to sit covered on the stove for another 5-10 minutes. The steam and moisture will unstick the grains on the bottom. Now you're ready to dress it up!

This recipe makes 2-3 servings, so either portion out what you want for yourself and save the rest to reheat on the stove for the next day or two (when reheating add a little extra water if necessary), or portion into 2 to 3 bowls for yourself and your breakfast companions. Top each serving with 2 tbsp. chopped pecans, a healthy shake of cinnamon, a very light swirl of either agave nectar, raw honey or pure maple syrup (remember the porridge is already sweetened by the cooked apple, so you don't need much) and a subtle sprinkling of sea salt to balance the sweetness and bring out all the flavors. You're ready to spoon into some heavenly Fall in a Bowl! But...

For the final act, if you are so inclined, you can top it off with a gentle pour of unsweetened almond milk, which gives an extra creamy and smooth texture to this already comfortingly soft and sweet dish. It's delicious with it, but perfectly adequate without- chef's choice!

Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation:

Tuesday, October 26

Tortilla Bean Casserole and Arugula Salad with Golden Beets and Artichoke Hearts

I think we can all universally agree that once the wind starts blowing and the leaves start falling, it's time for comfort food! Well, it's always time for comfort food, but this is the time of year when we start to yearn for something warm and hearty; something deep and flavorful that's been baking in the oven or simmering on the stove. In the World's Tiniest Kitchen, that means it is time once again for Tortilla Bean Casserole.

I have a warm spot in my heart (and my stomach) for Tortilla Bean Casserole, because it is one of the first dishes I created back when my husband and I first moved in together and I was learning the ropes of how to cook for two people who had somewhat disparate food habits, while also sticking to a conservative budget and not spending too much time in the kitchen (this was when The World's Tiniest Kitchen itself was also new to me, I had to adjust).

Enter Tortilla Bean Casserole. I like to call it a Crowd Pleaser, which in my book means any dish I can bring to an extended family gathering or a potluck dinner with friends where I won't get the "oh, more healthy stuff?" routine because it'll be gobbled and gone before anyone thinks to raise an eyebrow. It's also super easy, so it's a great recipe for anyone who doesn't have much experience in the kitchen. Today was the perfect day to cook up a big pan of this dish, and for a light and refreshing contrast, I served it with my Arugula Salad with Golden Beets and Artichokes, recipe below.

Tortilla Bean Casserole

serves 6-8

2 cups uncooked beans, either kidney and black beans or kidney beans and black eyed peas
(canned beans can be used if necessary, see note below on cooking beans)
1 package sprouted grain corn tortillas (ex: Food for Life brand, available at health food stores)
1 jar all natural, low sodium/no salt added tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups organic frozen sweetcorn
1 large onion
2 tbsp olive oil
Garlic Powder
Chili Powder
All Spice
Sea Salt
Black Pepper

Soak, wash, and cook beans according to instructions on how and why to cook your own beans here. If using canned beans, you will need at least 2 cans of each kind of bean (4 cans total), and be sure to rinse them well in water. Once beans are ready, set aside. Chop the onion into small pieces, place in a saute pan with tbsp olive oil, and saute over medium -low heat until fragrant and translucent. Set aside. In a large saucepan, heat the jar of tomato sauce over medium heat until slightly bubbly, add the beans, corn, onions, 1 tsp. chili powder and 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, a sprinkle of allspice, sea salt, and black pepper. Simmer on medium to low heat for 15-20 minutes minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a roughly 10" x 13" casserole pan, ladle about 1/3 of the bean mixture into the bottom and spread it out to form one thin, even layer across the bottom of the pan. Top with one single layer of the corn tortillas, covering the entire surface but not overlapping much- tear them into pieces when you need to cover smaller areas. Then top that with another 1/3 of the bean mixture spread into a thin, even layer, and top that with another solid single layer of tortillas. Spread the remaining 1/3 of the bean mixture over the tortillas in an even layer, and top with the last layer of tortillas. You now have 3 alternating layers of each, and the package of tortillas should provide just enough. Press the top layer or tortillas down a little so that they get "wet" with sauce on one side, and then turn them over and re-layer them with the other side facing down so that the top is now moist. Drizzle this top crust of tortillas with 1 tbsp olive oil and use the back of a spoon to spread it evenly to coat each tortilla. For an extra kick, I also drizzled the top layer with a tiny bit of cider vinegar-based all natural barbecue sauce left over from a trip to North Carolina, if you want to get crafty and try that! Otherwise, you're ready to go. Place in the oven and bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until it looks like this:


Cut into square pieces as you would lasagne and remove each serving from the pan carefully with a spatula. This makes enough for 6-8 people and is GREAT as leftovers (add some additional tomato sauce when reheating if leftovers seem dry); it freezes well, too, so don't worry if you're making this for just one or two people- plenty to freeze and heat up another time! According to my husband, it tastes best when reheated as leftovers, and that fact plus it's easy transportability makes this is a perfect bring-leftovers-for-lunch meal. Throw some veggies on the side and you're all set!

Speaking of veggies, I served it with....

Arugula Salad with Golden Beets and Artichoke Hearts

3-4 cups baby arugula
8 pieces frozen artichoke hearts (or roughly 2 large whole artichoke hearts quartered, if using fresh)
1 medium/small golden beet
olive oil
cider vinegar
sea salt

Wash arugula and spin dry in salad spinner or pat dry with paper towel, place in a salad bowl with room to toss. Scrub beet well, remove rough top, and trim any tough skin around the top, along with the skinniest part of the root if still attached. Cut in half lengthwise and then into small half-moon segments as shown in photo. Place into a shallow saute pan with 1 inch water (along with artichoke hearts if using frozen), bring to a boil, turn to medium heat and simmer for 7-8 minutes. (If using fresh cooked artichoke hearts, cook beets alone). Drain and cool beets and artichoke hearts, toss in with arugula. Drizzle with olive oil and cider
vinegar, a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper, and toss well to coat.


This salad is the perfect light, simple, and refreshing accompaniment to the warm, dense layers of the tortilla casserole, but it can be served alongside any dish you like.

So there you have it...a delicious Fall meal, from the World's Tiniest Kitchen to your table. Pull up a seat and dig in!

Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation:

Friday, October 22

How, and Why, to Soak and Cook Your Own Beans

There's always a pot of beans soaking or cooking in The World's Tiniest Kitchen, and if I can do it here, trust me- you can do it anywhere! Cooking your own beans is easy, the most nutritious choice, cheaper by a long shot than buying canned beans, and despite popular belief, it's not actually time consuming. "Time consuming" means that something is taking up your time or taking time away from other tasks, and when it comes to soaking and cooking beans, it's rather a matter of very short periods of actual time spent interspersed with long periods of time when the beans are doing all the work and you don't even need to be in the room. So when you're ready to make that step and see just how easy, cheap, and deliciously nutritious homemade beans can be, read on!

Let's start with the why: when it comes to the intrinsic energy and quality of our food, we always want to consume food that is as close as possible to it's original state, when it came from the earth. Dried beans have simply been dried in their natural state and then sold- no salt or other preservatives, no chemicals or additives or flavorings, and no sitting around in liquid inside a can for long periods of time. Because they exist in this simplest of states and nothing has been added to them or done with them, they are also very cheap to buy in comparison with canned beans. You buy them in bulk, store them in airtight containers in a cupboard or on a shelf, and they last for months and even years! Aside from that, home cooked beans are easier to digest because the process of soaking and careful cooking descreases their gas-causing tendencies, so if you've experienced gas or indigestion with beans in the past, it's time to give home cooked beans a try.

And now for the how: simply measure out the dried beans you want to use depending on the recipe or use you have in mind, figuring that one cup of dried beans will feed about 3-4 people or servings. Place them in the bottom of a pot or bowl that has a lid, and cover them with plenty of fresh lukewarm water (at least twice as much water to beans). Add in either a bay leaf or a small strip of kombu seaweed (available at health food stores and Asian markets) to help break down the gas causing components of the beans, and nestle it under the beans. Cover with the lid, and leave for 8-10 hours. An ideal time to do this is either before you leave for work for the day so you can cook them when you get home, or before you go to bed at night so you can cook them the following morning or afternoon. Work and sleep are chunks of time already in your day when cooking prep like this can be happening on the side, with no effort! The time of soaking doesn't have to be exact- if you soak them for a little bit less than 8 hours or longer than 10 hours, that's ok, but don't soak them for up to 24 hours or more because they will start to sprout. During the soaking time, you don't do anything with them at all, you can be sleeping or not even home- meaning it takes less than 5 minutes total to measure them out, add water and a bay leaf or kombu strip and cover them, and you spend the next 8-10 hours the way you would anyway. See? Not bad so far.

After they've soaked 8-10 hours, drain them in a collander, discard the soaking water, and rinse them very well with fresh water. Reserve the bay leaf or kombu strip for cooking. Place the bay leaf or kombu strip at the bottom of a large pot with a heavy lid (enamel or cast iron pots work well), and top with the soaked washed beans as well as 3 times the amount of water per the amount of dried beans when you started, i.e. 3 cups of water if you started with one cup of dried beans before you soaked them. Bring to a boil uncovered and leave to boil uncovered for 15 minutes, occasionally checking on them and skimming off any foam that has formed on the surface of the water, discarding the foam. The longer you soaked the beans, the less foam there will be, if any. Then turn down the heat to low, cover the pot with the heavy lid, and simmer for a minimum of 1 hour and up to 90 minutes, depending on the kind of beans you are using (some are harder) and how long you soaked for (longer soaking shortens cooking time).

During this time, you don't need to be in the room watching them; they're just bubbling away on the stove- so while 60-90 minutes sounds like a long time, you're not actively cooking during that time at all. You can be in the other room helping with homework or showering and dressing for the day and tidying the house or answering emails. It's not an exact science when it comes to the length cooking time (are you seeing the pattern here? beans aren't fussy!) - the beans are done when they feel very soft to the touch and to the bite, but not mush. This means a minimum of one hour, but remember that well cooked beans are much easier to digest, so if you are someone who has often had indigestion with beans in the past, go for the full 90 minutes.

When finished cooking, strain and proceed to use in your recipe. However if you are cooking the beans for multiple uses over the course of one to several days, keep them in their cooking liquid in a glass or ceramic container with a lid in the refrigerator and strain out servings as you need them- the liquid keeps them from drying out. Home cooked beans can be kept in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, and can also be frozen for use at a later time. They are wonderfully handy to throw into soups, stews, casseroles, stir fries, salads, and all types of home cooked dishes.

So all told, the process of making beans from scratch does take hours- but you're only actively cooking or working for about 30 minutes of that. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be amazed at how easy it is and how you don't even notice the time passing, because you're doing your own thing the whole time and the beans are doing the work!

You will find that between the soaking, the bay leaf/kombu strip, the skimming off the foam, and the long cooking time, the beans are much easier for your body to digest than the ones being cooked en masse by a food manufacturer and sealed into a can with preservatives. Not to mention that home cooked beans save you a ton of money, and are better tasting and more pleasing in texture than beans out of a can, and best of all, you're giving your body this food in its closest to original state, which is always ideal. Closest to the source is best of course!

(All of this being said, canned beans are convenient, and it's ok to use them when you need to- but it's best to make your own whenever you can. If you do need to use canned beans or would like to simply have a few cans on hand for times when you haven't gotten a chance to make your own, buy a brand such as Eden Organics, which uses a safe can lining, avoids preservatives and additives, and includes kombu seaweed in their ingredients.)

Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation:

Monday, October 11

Upgrade your Oatmeal

So it's Fall again, and that's good news for Breakfast! Cooler temperatures mean that we are more inclined to seek something warming and hearty for breakfast, and the best bet for a hearty, healthy start to the day is a whole grain porridge. So why is this such good news? Because whole grains are one of the essential foods most lacking in the modern American diet, and they are absolute nutrition powerhouses- packed with protein, fiber, minerals, and energy, these grains are essential for everything from brain function to digestion to blood sugar regulation and energy maintenance. And what better way to start the day that with a bowl of such powerful goodness? I have given an all-purpose description and recipe for whole grain breakfast porridge here and also described a tasty version in the recipe for Breakfast of Champions , so check out those posts for how-to's on incorporating this healthy staple into your breakfast routine. The sky is the limit: you can use leftover cooked grains and add more water, you can cook the porridge from scratch in the morning, or you can cook it the night before and make enough for a few days at a time and just reheat a portion each morning if you find yourself strapped for time.

So what about the ubiquitous oatmeal? Most of you have had it, and many of you eat oatmeal on a somewhat regular basis as a healthy breakfast option. But, unfortunately, all oatmeal is not created equal. Cooking oats from their original state and eating them as a porridge will get you the same wonderful health benefits as the other whole grains described in the posts above, but simply microwaving up a packet of sugary, pre-flaked, preservative- and artificial flavor-laden oat bits isn't much better than reaching for a box of sugary, processed cereal. Many of my clients come to me and say they've been eating oatmeal, but using this quick-fix version because they don't have the time to make longer cooking oats, i.e. whole grain oats. But they find out from me soon enough that they are missing out, both on nutrition and taste! So luckily, I have a solution for them, and for you.

Steel Cut oatmeal, which some of you may already be familiar with, is not the hassle that you may think. Switching from the pre-flaked, processed and heavily sugared and flavored packets of oatmeal to plain steel cut oatmeal that you make yourself gains you the bounty of health benefits described above, while also delivering a much more satisfying, filling, and delicious breakfast. And don't worry, it won't be boring! Instead of banking on artificial flavors and sugars, you'll be sassing up your oatmeal with wholesome, natural toppings. But first, let's make the oatmeal:

Simply measure out 2-3 servings (each serving is 1/4 - 1/3 of a cup of dry steel cut oats), and wash well with warm water in a pot, rubbing the grains between your hands in the water for several minutes, then drain and rinse in a fine mesh sieve (this is essential for cooking with whole grains because it removes the phytic acid inherent in the grain). If you have the time to soak the oats for several hours before washing and cooking, even better, but washing well is fine- no excuses about not having time! Then, boil four times the amount of water to the total amount of oats (i.e. 4 cups of water for 1 cup uncooked oats, yielding 3-4 servings). Once the water is boiling, add the oats, turn down to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes until a uniform, creamy, grainy texture. Done!

BUT, it gets better....I can hear you now saying "I don't have 30 minutes in the morning to cook breakfast!" and that's fine, many of us don't. But you don't need to miss out: simply switch the cooking time to the night before when you do have some free time, and then reheat on the stove in the same pot the next morning for breakfast, OR, try this nifty trick employed sometimes by myself and many of my clients: go through the initial steps above, but once the water is boiling and you add the oats, simply cover the pot and turn off the heat immediately, leaving the hot pot on the stove covered until morning. The oats cook themselves in that very hot water during the night, meaning no waiting 30 minutes for it to finish; by morning, it's done and simply needs to be reheated for 5 minutes in the same pot on the stove. You can make breakfast for the whole family this way! If you are just making it for yourself, you can still make enough for several servings and reheat on the stove for the next several days (3 days max).

Once you've got your upgraded oatmeal, proceed to the flavor station. Remember from the post on Going With the Grain that the ideal breakfast contains whole grain carbs along with protein and some healthy fat for long term energy and satiation, so a great topping for whole grain, home-cooked oatmeal is a spoonful of chopped nuts, toasted seeds like pumpkin or sunflower, or ground seeds like flax. To kick up the flavor, you can go sweet with a light drizzle of honey, maple syrup, agave or brown rice syrup, or try a sprinkling of dried fruit like raisins or dried blueberries instead. If you like it salty and want to experience how grounding and stabilizing a savory grain breakfast can be, sprinkle some sea salt or seaweed flakes. Be creative!

Once you try this version of the old favorite oatmeal, I think you'll be converted, and you'll see and feel the benefits in your body. Remember, if you try the cook-during-the-night version, this literally only takes minutes from your day! Isn't it worth it for a breakfast that is better in every way?

Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation: