How I Came To Make Healthy Meals (And Perfect Brown Rice) - Ellen's Tastes Blog at - 217192

Ellen's Tastes

How I Came to Make Healthy Meals (and perfect brown rice) 
Jan. 14, 2011 1:43 pm 
Updated: Jan. 17, 2011 1:24 pm
My mom, bless her soul, raised her 6 children during the Wonder Bread era: hot dogs and beans (sometimes she'd toss in warm brown bread), a Good Housekeeping magazine version of spaghetti (noodles mixed with Campbell's tomato soup and who-knows-how-much grated cheddar cheese), meatloaf and mashed potatoes, fried pork chops with applesauce, English Muffins broiled with cheese, bacon, and tomatoes... the quintessential '50s and '60s dinnertime fare. 

Fast-forward then to early in my marriage when my husband announced that he wanted to live on a macrobiotic diet. He explained that meant no meat, but a lot of fruits and vegetables except for "night shades" (which include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and I can't remember what else, but I was sure I wasn't going to jump in with gusto). There was also no way I was going to embrace Japanese pickled plums (no offense to those of you who do), and — at the time — I was convinced I couldn't warm up to brown rice. It was hard enough making white rice that didn't clump or burn.

And thus my husband began cooking his own meals: oatmeal topped with soy sauce for breakfast; green salads with umeboshi (pickled plum) dressing for lunch; and for dinner — stir fried veggies with brown rice and more soy sauce. Meanwhile, I carried on with cereal in the mornings, sandwiches for lunch, and whatever struck my fancy for dinner. 

This went on for some time until I discovered empty bags from Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's under the front seat of his car. I knew then that I had a chance at a dietary compromise. At the time, I opted not to say a thing about the bags, figuring my discovery might come in handy someday as leverage (it never did, but I still believe the plan was flawless). 

We carried on this way until one night when I awoke to the smell of a skunk. I turned to my husband's side of the bed, but he'd slipped away... a common nightly pattern for him even to this day (he wakes up and wanders around until he gets tired again). So I went looking for him and found him at the stove, cooking tofu in some kind of concoction which — it turned out — was the source of the skunk smell. I still can't tell you what it was, but I suspect it was soy sauce and garlic cooked at a temperature that was much too hot.

It finally became clear that he was going to continue trying to eat healthy foods (supplemented with fast food stops) and, if I wanted to keep sanity in the kitchen, I was going to have to learn to cook in a healthier way.

I began to stir fry vegetables, but I also steamed them and flavored them with garlic, olive oil, and a touch of parmesan cheese. I learned to make my own salad dressing (sans umeboshi). And, before long, my husband was swooning. After several months, and to my great relief, he stopped cooking for himself. In time, I had him eating chicken, good cuts of meat, healthy pasta dishes (with tomatoes), fish topped with herbs de provence, and a slew of recipes I've developed and improved over the years.

Among the staples in my pantry now is the once dreaded brown rice. My breakthrough in learning to make it came thanks to the first Moosewood Cookbook. Although their recipe calls for several steps which I've since shortened (and my method works just as well), the secret to perfect brown rice is to toss a bit of olive oil in the bottom of the pot and gently heat. Then toss in the the rice and stir well to coat each kernel with the oil...before you add the water. Next, turn the burner to medium-low, cover the pot, set the timer for 25 minutes, and you should have perfect brown rice every time.

Here's to your health ;)

Jan. 14, 2011 3:18 pm
I'll have to try the brown rice tip. I always ruin mine :(
Jan. 14, 2011 6:17 pm
Ellen, you sure brought back some memories. My Mom would make macaroni with the Campbell's tomato soup along with some sauteed chopped onions (almost on the verge of being burnt) and no cheese. Ick! Usually served along with Oscar Meyer hot dogs. Nice blog!
Jan. 14, 2011 6:43 pm
My daughter pines for the good old days of white rice (or chinese restaurants). I am looking forward to trying this. Your blog was very entertaining...I often don't have the patience to read one that long. Please keep blogging. Cooking for "health" IS a day by day thing for me. My husband is diabetic and I have lost about 30 lbs.
Jan. 14, 2011 6:44 pm
I meant trying your brown rice recipe...thank you!!
Jan. 17, 2011 1:24 pm
My hunch is that you'll each find the oil will resolve your brown rice dreams ;) But if not, please let me know and I'll see if I can help figure out what's going wrong. Rice is really easy once you know you're the boss :)
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Baking, Slow Cooking, Asian, Mexican, Indian, Mediterranean, Healthy, Gourmet

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About Me
I've loved cooking since I was a kid, and still have my first (very battered) cookbook. Other than cooking, I adore interior design, writing, and playing bridge. Oh... and tasting new wines (or old favorites).
My favorite things to cook
As I've grown older, my tastes and philosophy have changed. I now use organic ingredients whenever I can, and I prefer using unprocessed ingredients.
My favorite family cooking traditions
Well, my mother (bless her) had 8 people to feed, so she made foods that were easy to prepare. My favorites were her baked ribs with barbecue sauce; english muffins topped with cheese, tomato, and bacon, and then broiled; and spaghetti noodles with tomato soup and cheddar cheese stirred in. I wouldn't make these dishes today, but they're full of fond memories.
My cooking triumphs
Adding orange juice to diced tomato sauce • Adding Cointreau to fresh fruit salads or a chocolate sauce • Adding tequila and bittersweet chocolate to chili • "poaching" salmon in orange juice, sprinkled with Old Bay and tarragon • adding cidar vinegar and soy sauce to vegetable soups • adding fresh mint to steamed red potatoes • knowing how to bail out a botched dish (example: over-steamed broccoli mashed with bleu or swiss cheese isn't nearly as bad as over-steamed broccoli on it's own).
My cooking tragedies
Over-steaming broccoli and most any other veggie... and a lasagna that was so loaded with oregano, no one could eat it.
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