Thursday, November 29, 2007

every day, almost every way

I've had my eye on Lorna Sass's latest cookbook, Whole Grains Every day, Every Way, for a while now. I'd sneek peeks at it in various bookstores and then look at the price, go through the book again, look at Lorna's picture where she stands in a field of grain in a cute polka dot sundress, lament the fact I don't live near any hills, and make a mental note to get the book next time. Well, I finally got it and I really wish I had bought it sooner.

The book starts out with a basic introduction to different types of grains, information about how to buy and store them, how to cook them and what flavors are complemented by them. Then there are pictures of some of the recipes and photos of the grains on their own. The photos do not look done up or fancy - they look exactly how they would if you made them in your own kitchen and they are true to the ingredients. With some cookbooks this is not the case - the Tassajara Cookbook, which I should have read the Amazon review for before buying, has gorgeous pictures of the Zen Mountain Center and the food served there, but the pictures do not always match the recipe, and for that matter, some of the recipes don't work as written. While Lorna Sass's book made me want to cook every grain I could get my hands on, the Tassajara Cookbook made me feel like I needed to go to Tassajara for a retreat to try the gorgeous looking food and unwind from the frustration of the inconsistent recipes. I am going to keep trying some of the non-dessert recipes from the Tassajara book and get back to you - I've given up on the cookie recipes because they've all been not-so-good. But in the meantime I will return to praising Lorna Sass and her love of whole grains.

Once you get through the first 113 pages of grain introduction (I know this sounds like a chore, but it's really not), you are more than well prepared to cook up a feast. What you'll notice is that most recipes have suggestions as to what grains you can substitute in/out (because not all of us have 4 cups of kamut in the pantry) and some simple variations to modify the flavors. I think a lot of people are wary of trying to incorporate whole grains beyond brown rice or oats into their diets because they are not familiar with the tastes or ways to cook them, but between the introductory section and the simple recipes anyone should be able to start exploring the colorful (seriously!) world of hominy, teff and quinoa.

I've tried recipes from each section (soups/salads, mains, sides, breakfast and dessert) and they've all been fantastic. However, I think the one that has been the biggest hit in our house has been the coconut rice pudding. My love for rice pudding has already been documented, but this variation brings rice pudding to a whole new level - wholesome, exotic and incredibly fragrant. Also, it's quite possibly the easiest dessert I've made in a long time. I adapted the recipe from the one in the book - used brown rice instead of black chinese rice, added raisins, didn't top with lychees, used low fat coconut milk instead of regular, but the general idea is the same: rice + water + coconut milk = pudding. It's vegan, it's relatively healthy, it's simple and it's a show stopper of a recipe. Go make it and eat it while you look at Lorna Sass's amazing book.

Coconut brown rice pudding
adapted from Whole Grains Every Way, Every Day

1 cup brown rice, rinsed
1 3/4 c water
pinch of salt
1 can low-fat coconut milk
1/2 c raisins
4 T sugar (or to taste)

1. Bring the water to a boil and add the rice and pinch of salt. Cover, reduce heat and cook for about 20-30 minutes (want the rice to be tender but not totally done). Don't worry if there is still water in the pot.
2. Add the coconut milk and raisins and return to a boil. Stir occasionally so that the rice doesn't stick, and add sugar after about 5 minutes. Cook for another 5 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and has absorbed most of the milk.

Note: the rice will continue to absorb the coconut milk as it sits, so don't be worried if the mixture still looks a little soupy by the time the rice is done.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Quick update

OK. So I haven't posted anything in 3 weeks. Sorry. To make amends I've put up some ridiculous photos of our awesome dog, Jordan. She does not like towels, loves the world and will only eat her food if I sprinkle some Cheerios on top (no photographic evidence of that, yet).

The past three weeks have been really hectic - I got into med school (hoorah!), am figuring out how to finish my PhD (yes!) and getting ready for Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh where I will eat ravioli instead of turkey and have pumpkin pie for breakfast (so good!). Thanksgiving is the beginning of 'ridiculous food eating month', as in short order it will be my birthday, Hanukah (jelly doughnuts! latkes! levivot!), then back to Pittsburgh for Christmas (cookies!).

I recently got some more cookbooks (not that I didn't have enough already), and have been cooking up a storm, so I'll post more later. But in the meantime, here's a link to a great recipe. I made it for Heather's clothing swap party and it was a huge hit. Instead of making it in cake form, I made it into cupcakes. Easy.