Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cooking Beans

One of my favorite ways to save money and be environmentally friendly is to cook my own beans from dried.  It's really very simple and I know what went into cooking them (did you know that canned beans have a lot of salt and some even have corn syrup?).  One pound of beans costs less than 4 cans of beans, and I usually get at least that much, if not more, once I cook the beans.  When I do cook beans, I usually do 2 pounds at a time and freeze them in 1.5 cup jars (I'll do an entry on the freezing process later).  That's the same size as a can of beans, they're ready when I need them, and I know how they were prepared. 

Here are the steps for cooking your own dried beans:

Sort beans and place in a large bowl.  Dried beans are natural and have been sorted to remove rocks, dirt clumps, etc.  However, most of this is done mechanically and some pieces make it through with the beans.  So, you'll want to go through the beans and check for anything that was missed.  I actually enjoy this step.  It makes me slow down a bit, I feel more connected to the food I'm preparing, and I know we're getting a natural, whole food - not something processed.

Rinse and cover beans with plenty of water (approx 8 cups/lb).  For this step I like to use a colander sitting inside a bowl.  This allows easy rinsing and draining of the beans by just lifting the colander, leaving the water behind in the bowl.  Let beans soak at least 6 hours.  I like to start them soaking either first thing in the morning or the last thing at night, depending on when I need the beans to be done.

Drain and rinse beans - they'll be much larger than when the started soaking.

Place beans in large pot or crockpot (my preferred method) and add water until the water is about an inch above the beans.  Turn on the heat.  The length of cooking time will vary depending on the temperature and the size of the beans.  I'd give you a chart, but there are really too many variables.  On example though is that I will let pintos cook all night and all the next day on low heat.  It's about the same for garbanzo beans.  If you want to cook your beans fast, I believe you can replace 2 hours of cooking on low heat with 1 hour of cooking on high heat, with the crockpot.  If you want to cook your beans on the stovetop, you'll want to allow at least 3 hours.

I usually season my beans with salt, about 1-1/2 tsp per pound - still much less than canned beans.  I also wait to add the salt until the end of the cooking time as salt can slow the cooking time of the beans.

Now you're ready to enjoy your beans however you usually do with canned beans.  My goal in a few weeks is to cook a big pot of one kind of bean and then do a week's worth of recipes with that batch - and then share them with you!  Until then, here are some previously posted recipes for you to try:

Taco Soup

Rice and Beans

Pinto Beans

Friday, February 22, 2013

Video of the Week - Dr. Neal Barnard

Tackling diabetes with a bold new dietary approach: Neal Barnard at TEDxFremont 

"Currently 100 million Americans are pre-diabetic or diabetic, and one in three kids born after the year 2000 will develop diabetes. Neal Barnard, clinical researcher and founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), identifies the causes of this serious issue and advises us how we can fight these statistics. "  from the video description

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Children and Nature

This picture is from the National Environmental Education Foundation.  The source for the image is here.  I wonder how many of these stats are true for adults as well?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Richard Louv Post

Imagine a World

Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle are wonderful books.  I highly recommend them.  I especially like reading them outside, when I can.  Grab a moment today, take a step outside (regardless of the weather), and take a deep, long, cleansing breath.  Let it out slowly.  If it's sunny, be thankful for the warmth of its rays.  If it's raining/snowing, be thankful that the ground is being prepared for new life this spring.

Enjoy the rest of your week...

Monday, February 11, 2013


I rarely buy a loaf of bread anymore.  Homemade bread is so quick (esp. with a bread machine) and easy, plus it's cheaper and healthier than store bought bread.  I really don't see the point in buying it if I don't have to.  Also, I know exactly what is going into it - have you read a bread ingredient list lately?  Yikes!  Even the bakery loaves at the grocery store have ingredients that aren't necessary for bread.  Now, admittedly, we do still buy English Muffins and buns because I haven't put time into figuring those out.  I just try to watch my ingredient lists and not buy them too often.

Every time my dad comes to visit, he asks me to make a loaf of bread for him to take home.  Then, last week, a friend came over for lunch and asked for the recipe.  So, I figured I would share it here as well.  I hope you enjoy it.  I do use the bread machine, but only for the dough cycle, as I don't like the shape of the loaf my bread machine makes and I don't see that as reason enough to spend money on a new one.  Besides, I really like the way the loaf bakes in my stoneware pan.


Put ingredients in bread machine pan in order listed:

1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp salt  (can be less, I think I'm down to about 1/2 tsp)
2 cups whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur)
1 cup bread flour (again, I use King Arthur)
1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick)
2 tsp yeast

1.  Run sweet dough cycle on bread machine.
2.  When cycle is done, remove dough roll it into a cylinder the length of your loaf pan (I just do this with my hands, above the loaf pan).
3.  Place in loaf pan and let rise 20-30 minutes (until you like the height/shape).
4.  Bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees.
5.  Let cool for about 10 minutes, then remove from pan and let cook completely on a cooling rack.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Connection between Food and Nature

This is an excellent article about how our diets effect the environment.  It's written by a group of college students who follow a whole-foods, plant-based diet.  They share their experiences and what they are learning.

Beyond the Health Benefits of a Plant-Strong Diet – Part 1: The Environment

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Types of Cookware

Today we're going to cover types of cookware.

Stainless Steel

Relatively inexpensive
Scratch resistent
Keeps shiny look for a long time, easy to shine with Stainless Steel cleaner
Doesn't react with foods
Doesn't warp

generally not a good conductor of heat, unless it's multi-ply


Easy to cook with and clean
Healthier to cook with – need less oil, butter to keep foods from sticking to cookware
Good nonstick cookware will have several layers of nonstick coating. Decent pots and pans have at least three layers, and the best will have up to seven. This will ensure a smoother surface and longer lasting pans. More inexpensive ones, the coating is sprayed on. Higher quality ones will have it baked on.

Can be easy to scratch, don't use metal utensils
Not-dishwasher safe
Shouldn't be used on high heat, us medium-high heat at the most, preferably medium


Multi-ply cookware combines several materials into one piece of cookware. For example, a stainless steel or non-stick pot/pan will have a copper or aluminum core. This combination of advantages make multi-ply cookware user-friendly and versatile.


Lighter weight
Easy to clean
Non-stick without the teflon

Not as high quality as other options

Cast Iron 

Excellent at retaining and distributing heat
good for deep frying
also good for dishes requiring long cooking periods
Relatively inexpensive

require effort to maintain
Seasoning process


Excellent at distributing heat

Reacts to acidic food
Scratches and Dents easily


Best Conductor of heat among cookware metals
Distributes heat evenly
Holds heat well to keep food warm

Dents and tarnishes easily, requires regular polishing
Foods left in contact with uncoated copper become discolored, usually not harmful

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What to Look for When Buying Cookware

  Today we're going to look at what qualities to look for when buying cookware.

 Heat Conductivity

The better the heat conductivity of your cookware, the more evenly and quickly your food will cook.  Some metals conduct heat better than others.  Since no one material is perfect, multi-ply cookware is ideal.  Multi-ply cookware combines several metals in one pot or pan.  Multi-ply cookware usually has a copper or aluminum core (great heat conductors) with a stainless steel or nonstick interior (for cooking style).  The exterior can be a number of different materials.  This combination of strengths makes multi-ply cookware the most versatile and user-friendly.


Your budget will most likely determine what you end up buying.  Keep in mind that your cookware purchase is an investment.  The general rule of thumb with cookware is to buy the best you can afford.  Saving and investing in one piece at a time is better than a "great deal" on a cheap set that does not perform well.


Durability in cookware varies.  Some types last longer and some look better longer.  Stainless steel is often thought to be one of the best.  Cast-iron is also known for its durability and, if well maintained, is often handed down within families.

Gauge is the thickness of metal used in cookware.  The lower the gauge number, the thicker the metal.  For example 18 gauge is thicker than 22 gauge.  Range-top cookware is generally 10-18 gauge.  Cookware any thinner than 20 gauge is too thin for use over direct heat and can result in anything from burnt food to a warped pan. 


Some metals react to some foods.  For example, aluminum tends to react to acidic foods, such as tomatoes.  Your food can absorb some of the metal and your metal can become discolored.  Make sure


Do you enjoy and have time for shining your cookware every night?  Neither do I.  Therefore, you need to consider the amount of maintenance needed to keep your cookware in good shape.  Copper and cast-iron cookware can require a lot of work to keep it looking great.  Stainless steel is pretty easy to maintain, while non-stick is even easier.

Coming up:
Thursday - Type of Cookware

Monday, February 4, 2013

Let's Talk Cookware

Cookware is an investment. You use your cookware day in and day out.  It can make your time in the kitchen easy or miserable.  The problem is that there are many different types of cookware and often we don't know the appropriate type to use for the desired job.  Also, we tend to be intimidated by the price of good cookware.  So instead of investing in a piece that will last, we look for the latest deal.  The problem is that cheap cookware doesn't perform well and doesn't last, costing us frustration in the short term and more money in the long term as we regularly replace under-performing pieces.  So, as you shop for cookware, keep the following in mind:
  1. Better cookware will cook your food better
  2. How much cooking you do (and how much you anticipate doing with tools you enjoy using)
  3. What type of cooking you do
  4. What you can afford
  5. In general, you get what you pay for
This week, lets take the mystery out of cookware.  We will cover what to look for when buying cookware and different types of cookware.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Bowl Foods

Are you looking for something delicious, yet healthy to take to your Super Bowl event?  Here's a list of ideas:

  • Salsa and baked corn chips
  • Veggie tray (I'm noticing that these are going over very well at parties lately) with low fat hummus - check the nutrition label, not all hummus is the same
  • Vegetarian Chili
  • Fruit (grapes, clementines, apple slices)
  • Roasted Almonds
  • Popcorn - top with your favorite seasoning mix instead of the oils/butters

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Food and Nature

This blog has evolved over time as I have learned more about nutrition and health, and as I work to feed my family on a rather frugal budget. Since starting this blog, our family has moved to a more whole foods, plant-based diet and I want to move the blog in that direction as well.  So, from here on out, I will focus on food and activities that will help us feel good now and in the long run. 

I recently found a quote that I find quite motivating when it comes to following a healthy lifestyle - “Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.” That being said, we have a lot of fun developing great tasting, healthy recipes in what I affectionately call our family “test kitchen”. I look forward to sharing many of them here, as well as ideas for fun activities that help keep us active.

Here are some changes that you can look forward to:
1.  More frequent posts - yes, I am going to be better about this!
2.  Weekly video selections, alternating between nature and food/nutrition
3.  Links in the left-hand margin to more information about living a healthy lifestyle
4.  A facebook page!
5.  Regular themed posts:  recipes, cooking tools, quotes, culinary tips/terms, etc.

I hope you enjoy future posts and thanks for reading!