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Recipes From Outside the Box: Homemade Minute Rice September 22, 2009

Filed under: Recipes from Outside the Box — Jennifer Kongs @ 4:30 pm
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Alright, so you love brown rice, but unfortunately, sometimes your growling tummy just can’t wait that forty-five minutes.  Or you’re going backpacking/camping and just can’t boil water for that long.  Or you have extra rice you just aren’t going to get eaten in the next couple days.  Never fear, I have the solution for you: homemade minute rice!  That’s right, you can buy organic brown rice (short grain is especially good for this purpose) in bulk, cook it in bulk, and then dry it in your oven to have on hand for an “instant” whole grain.  Unenriched, un-chemically processed, un-adulaterated brown rice that rehydrates in boiling water in under fifteen minutes that won’t cost you a fortune… ah, dreams really can come true.


PROCEDURE: Cook the brown rice as you normally would:  Heat 2.5 c. of water for every 1 c. of rice to a boil, add the rice, let simmer covered until the water is fully absorbed (around 40 minutes).  Spread the rice you aren’t eating right away, or that you want to take camping, or that you want for later in the week – whatever the case may be – and spread into a single layer on cookie sheets.  Place in an oven set at as close to 150 degress F as you can get it (200 is OK, but a little on the hot side).  Prop the door open a smidge to allow or air circulation, and let toast for about an hour to an hour and a half.  Check on the rice every thirty minutes or so, stirring to check i the moisture is gone.  The rice will change color slightly, and become hard and crisp.  Store dried, cooled rice in tupperware, plastice bags, or other airtight containers.  When you are ready to eat it, simply cover the amount you want to eat with boiling water, cover and let sit for approximately fifteen minutes.  Voila and Bon Appetit!

A complete homemade "minute meal

A complete homemade "minute" meal


Recipes From a Box: The Price of Minute Rice

Rice in sixty seconds?  You’ve got to be kidding – well, yes, really it takes fifteen minutes, but who’s really counting?  (Besides me apparently…)  But, still, who could complain about being able to whip up a serving or two of whole grain rice in anything less than 40 minutes? (Again, besides me…).  The truth is, rice that cooks so fast has been processed – sometimes the grain of the rice is even cut open, requiring a re-enrichment of the grain to make up for the loss of the fiber and mineral-rich outer “shell”.

Processed foods come with many hidden costs, those to the environment and our health being the most outstanding.  That being said, I would be incredibly remiss to not mention the most obvious, unhidden cost of processed foods: the added monetary costs.  Compared to a bag of plain brown rice, the cost of pre-cooked rice in a box (or in individual plastic bags, yikes!) is significant.  The recipe below is for a box of enriched rice, which is doubly effective at lightening your schedule and your billfold.

Where Your Processed Food Dollars Go

Where Your Processed Food Dollars Go

INGREDIENTS: Enriched Precooked Long Grain Rice [Rice, Niacin, Iron (Ferric Orthophosphate), Thiamin (Thiamin Mononitrate), Folic Acid]


1. Process and De-Healthify Rice. Several brands of quick-cooking rice split the rice in order to make it cook faster, meaning all the “slow” parts of the rice – which are also most of the nutritious parts – are taken out.  Also, white rice is commonly used, which is also a less nutrient and mineral rich option, compared to whole brown rice.  The rice is cooked, then dehydrated, so that in essence when it is cooked again, it is really just a rehydration process.  This process is energy-intensive, and thus, costly.

2. Re-fortify the Rice. Lucky for all of us, the USDA has determined that these processed rice products still must retain a complete set of the required minerals… so they are processed back in.  So far, a simple, whole food, complete with its nutriontional integrity intact, has undergone two compositional modifications.  That’s not economical, or efficient, folks.

3. Box the Rice (with optional added flavoring). Of course, the packaging not only creates serious waste, it also costs more.  When you buy rice in bulk, it doesn’t have to be individually contained.  However, these rie boxes (and even more so when it’s already divided up into individual serving bags) add a significant expense to the final retail price of the product.

4. Convince People Cooking Rice is a hassle. In the United States, everyone knows that time is money.  This saying now applies to the kitchen:  saving yourself twenty minutes costs you a pretty penny.  Unfortunately, as you can see by looking at the divided dollar image above, the farmer is not the person collecting this extra penny: it’s the multi-billion dollar food processing industry.

5. Entertain yourself for 15 minutes while the rice rehydrates. I propose putting some pre-cut, pre-sauced vegetables found in the freezer into the microwave for the last three minutes, so you can have a complete meal.  Too bad the extra cost of the food cut into your wine budget…

EAT OUTSIDE THE BOX: Take the extra twenty minutes to cook brown rice and enjoy the benefits of a complete grain, and make some extra to try homemade minute rice (also great for camping!).


Recipes From Outside the Box: Secret Chocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins September 15, 2009

FTLogoThe story behind conventional chocolate is truly dark and bitter -a tale riddled with evil players and injustice.  In response to disparate free trade practices, an alternative – fair trade – has taken hold to bring artisan crafts, coffee, bananas, and of course, chocolate, to the United States without devastating the regions that produce them.  While not without its own problems, this form of trading goods improves the environment, the social welfare, and the relationships between producers and consumers around the globe.

The chocolate chocolate chip muffin recipe below uses fair trade chocolate chips, cocoa powder, and sugar.  Instead of hiding abuse and colonialism, these muffins hide a different blood-red secret that’s good for you: beets!  By also replacing much of the sugar from a typical muffin recipe with agave nectar, and most of the oil with pureed apples, these muffins are a sweet treat you can feel good about.


3 medium beets

2 medium apples, cored and chopped

2 eggs

1/2 c. fair trade evaporated cane juice (or fair trade granulated sugar)

1/2 c. agave nectar

1/4 c. (or 4 tbsp.) melted butter

1 tbsp. vanilla

1/4 c. water

1 c. sifted unbleached unenriched all purpose flour

3/4 c. sifted whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 c. fair trade cocoa powder

1/4 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking soda

1/3 c. fair trade chocolate chips


Prepare the fruits and veggies: boil the unpeeled beets whole (cutting off the greens if still attached first) in a saucpan until easily pierced by a fork, about thirty to forty minutes.  Put into a food processor or blender with the chopped apples and puree until smooth.

Prepare the wet mixture:  Beat the 2 eggs with the sugar until frothy (about 3-5 minutes on high).  Mix in the agave nectar, melted butter, vanilla, beet/apple mixture, and water.  Mix just until well combined.

Prepare the dry mixture: Stir the sifted flours, cocoa, salt, and baking soda until well mixed.  Gradually add the flour ingredients to the wet ingredients, and mix until just combined.  Stir in 1/3 c. chocolate chips.

Fill greased and floured muffin tins 2/3 full with batter.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, once a toothpick comes out clean.  Recipe makes 18 muffins.

Ooey Gooey (Beety) and Tasty!

Ooey Gooey (Beety) and Tasty!


Recipes From a Box: The Secret in Chocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins September 14, 2009

Credit: media.photobucket.com

Credit: media.photobucket.com

Chocolate Chocolate Chip :  A pre-fix that sounds magical all on its own,  even without the usual endings – cake, cookies, and my personal favorite, the muffins.  I mean, compared to regular old chocolate chip, it’s like, twice as good – right?  It’s simple mathematics, really – although I’d argue that twice the chocolate could even make them exponentially better, not just a basic doubling.  But really, that’s neither here nor there – the chocolate is good, twice the chocolate is even better – and since it’s mostly produced in other countries by people working for little more than slave wages, it’s not too expensive either.

The truth of the matter is, chocolate may taste delicious, but the industry that turns raw cacoa beans grown oceans away from the United States into the rich, butter chocolate bars we buy – and bake into muffins with chips – is little more than colonialism through trade policies, AKA: neoliberal free trade markets.  Countries with emerging economies that produce raw cocoa have been exploited for their products for centuries, while the colonizing Europeans made money hand over fist selling the finished chocolate products.  Unfortunately, as globalization has increased, these policies have only continued these economic disparities.
The muffin recipe below is loaded with chocolate (and unhealthy fats and calories to boot) brought to us through this unfair trade system:
INGREDIENTS: Sugar, Enriched Bleached Flour (Bleached Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Eggs, Soybean Oil, Water, Chocolate Chips (Sugar, Unsweetened Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Dextrose, Soy Lecithin [an emulsifier], Vanilla), Food Starch – Modified. Contains 2% or less of the following: Leavening (Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Baking Soda, Monocalcium Phosphate), Soy Flour, Whey, Salt, Potassium Sorbate as a preservative, Propylene Glycol Monostearate, Mono- and Diglycerides, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Xanthan Gum, Calcium Sulfate, Lecithin.
1. Find a cacoa plantation. Cacao (or cocoa) plants are typically grown in large plantations, often displacing swaths of rain forests and smaller, traditional fields.  Soil erosion, nutrient loss, and rapid rates of deforestation are just a few side effects of the large scale cocoa production supported by conventional chocolate consumption.

2. Find labor. While in ‘developed’ countries kids commonly pull chocolate treats out of their lunchboxes, in ‘developing’ countries young children are often slaves in the cocoa fields – not that their parents or adults make much better wages.  Few cocoa farmers still own the land or plants they harvest, the industry is reliant on the industrial – and often foreign – management of large plantations worked by locals for very small wages picking the raw cacao beans.

Credit: treehugger.com

Credit: treehugger.com

3. Take the raw cacao oh so cheaply to process and sell. When transnational corporations purchase the raw cocoa beans, they pay incredibly low prices.  The price we pay for chocolate is hardly seen by the producers; instead, it is the food processors and packagers – often multibillion dollar corporations, including Nestle and Hershey’s – are pulling in the big bucks.

4. Bake into muffins with other gross stuff. While the secret story behind the creation of chocolate is tragic enough, this muffin recipe calls for a little more awful – with ingredients like modified food starch, enriched bleached flour, and a handful of artificial flavors.
EAT OUTSIDE THE BOX: Make your own secret chocolate chocolate chip muffins with half the fat and calories (shh! there are vegetables in them….). Plus, by using chocolate from fair trade cooperatives, you can avoid supporting neoliberal trade policies and your sweet tooth with one tasty treat.

Recipes From Outside the Box: Two Simple Homemade Cheeses September 9, 2009

Let’s be honest: cheese is delicious.  It’s creamy, saltiness can go with almost any dish, sweet or savory.  Today’s dairy and food processing industries have, unfortunately, made most cheese available in stores unfit for regular consumption.  The antibiotics and pesticide residues in dairy cattle feed is fat soluble, meaning it is concentrated in food products that contain high percentages of milkfat – including cheeses.  Artificially colored, preserved, and packaged to boot, these “cheese products” are hardly what cheese is meant to be.  Lucky for us, two economically simple solutions exist: homemade ricotta and paneer (a mild, solid Indian cheese).

For the recipes below, you can use either goat’s milk or cow’s milk, as long as it is unhomogenized.  If the milk has been homogenized, it will not separate readily into the curds and whey, which is what has to happen if you’re going to make cheese.  As always, I strongly recommend you find a local milk source that allows their cows to munch on grass rather than antibiotics or artificial hormones.  I have made these recipes both from milking goats at Homestead Ranch and from the cow’s milk available from Iwig Dairy.



1 gallon whole milk

1/3 c. vinegar or lemon juice

1/2 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. butter (optional)

candy thermometer (optional, but recommended)

cheesecloth or fine grained tea cloth (for straining)



Pour the milk in a pot and stir in 1/4 tsp. salt.  Warm gently, over medium heat, until the milk is just about to boil (between 185 – 195 degrees F on a candy thermometer), the milk will begin forming bubbles and a foamy top.  Remove the milk from the heat, and immediately add the vinegar (I like to add it one tablespoon at a time, until the curds begin to visibly separate). Add the remainder of the salt, stir briefly, and then allow to sit for at least ten minutes up to several hours covered with a clean cloth, giving the curds enough time to pull out of the whey.  The curds will gather, leaving a clearish liquid (the whey), the longer it is allowed to sit the more curds you will get, although the process can be done in a rush and still return a good result.  Ladle or pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined colander. (I set the colander over a bowl and catch the whey, which is great for adding to soaking beans, grains, or for various fermentation projects!)

Homemade Ricotta

Homemade Ricotta

Ricotta: Let it drain for a few minutes or up to an hour, depending on how dry or creamy you would like your cheese to be.  It is also optional to stir in a couple tablespoons of melted butter to make a richer end product, especially if using fresh goat’s milk.

Paneer: Let it drain for several minutes, until the visible liquid is gone.  Wrap

the cheese up in the cheesecloth, and press it into an oval shape.  Place the cheese onto a rimmed plate, and weigh it down to press out the remaining moisture, for twenty to thirty minutes.  (I place another small plate on top of the cheese with a couple cans of beans on top to evenly distribute the weight across the cheese’s surface).  Remove the cheese from the cloth, and cut into 1/2 – 1″ squares, which may be eaten as they are or fried until golden (that’s right – fried cheese…yummy!).


Recipes From a Box: Cheesy Tetraziney

Processed Sliced Cheese (Credit: www.answers.com)

Processed Sliced Cheese (Credit: http://www.answers.com)

When I was a younger, if you had told me cheese wasn’t supposed to be orange or yellow, I would have told you you were crazy.  All the cheese I knew – the kind that comes out of a long rectangle encased in foil, the kind that you open in single sheets between two thin layers of plastic, and the kind that comes powdered that you mix with milk to put on noodles – all of the cheese I knew was yellowish orange.  I’m sure I even refused to eat cheesy dishes that didn’t have the appropriate color, except of course that white parmesan powder I ate on my “puh-sgetti”.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that ooey-gooey layer in my grilled cheese “sammiches” didn’t always have the glow of an orange crayon.  Although food coloring has been done for centuries, now that food scientists in labs have isolated the compounds in plants, dirt, and even insects, artificial reproductions of natural coloring compounds are abundant in the food system.  The recipe below, for that plastic-wrapped American “cheese product” populating lunchboxes across the nation, includes three separate coloring agents to make a simple white cheese a more edible yellowy hue:

INGREDIENTS: [cheddar cheese, [milk]], whey, milkfat, milk protein concentrate, salt, calcium phosphate, sodium citrate, whey protein concentrate, sodium phosphate, sorbic acid as a preservative, apocarotenal (color),annatto (color), enzymes, vitamin D3, cheese culture,yellow dye.


1. It all starts with cultured milk. Most milk in processed products are the result of the conventional dairy industry, complete with antibiotics, feedlots, and artificial growth hormones.  This milk is cultured using a specific bacteria blend, to create any variety of cheese.  Today, American cheese no longer meets the FDA’s definition of a real cheese, and is therefore labeled as a “cheese product”.

2. Color me happy. Way back when nearly all farms were mixed grain and animal operations, farmers used to sell their excess milk and eggs alongside their wheat and corn.  Since their animals were all free range and grass-fed, the cow’s milk would look more golden during the summer months when they were munching on more fresh grass – which contain carotenes, like the beta carotene that makes carrots orange.  Most of this color would be skimmed off in the butter making process – as, like harsh chemicals and pesticides today, it is most concentrated in the milkfat – thus, savvy consumers would avoid a “skimmed”, and also whiter, cheese.  Farmers used a variety of natural plant dyes to make the cheese they sold retain a more goldeny color – so even from the start the dyes were used to deceive: today they are used to make product look fresher, play with our psychological tendency towards oranges and reds as food sources, and meet a consumer standard that was created by cheese marketers in recent decades.

Artificial Food Dyes (Credit: www.science-news.org)

Artificial Food Dyes (Credit: http://www.science-news.org)

3. A little more. Many of the dyes used in food products come from natural sources.  Annatto – an extract from the seeds of the Bixa Orella tree – was used by Native Americans to dye foods and clothing, and is now used to help color American cheese slices.  Similarly, apocarotenal is a member of the carotene family (again, think carrots), and has a natural source.  However, the compounds responsible for the color in these “natural” pigments has been isolated, replicated, and patented – on sale at a lab (or dairy aisle) near you.

4. And a little more. Of even more concern is the seemingly benign (and at least recognizable) ingredient “yellow food dye”.  The outbreak of inexplicable allergic reactions to a wide variety of foods – and even increases in behavioral disorders such as ADHD – led researchers to begin thinking about food additives as a source.  Sure enough, a link was found between artificial food colorings – especially a yellow dye (AKA: Tetrazine) – and increased food allergies, especially among young children.

5. Wrap it up. These rubbery, orange sheets are pressed between two layers of plastic, then wrapped in a colored plastic container, and shipped to stores around the globe.  If the preservatives won’t keep the cheese fresh long enough, the artificial colors will keep anyone from being able to tell.

EAT OUTSIDE THE BOX: Using one same simple start, learn how to make creamy homemade ricotta and a solid Indian paneer.


Recipes from Outside the Box: Multi-Colored Heirloom Gazpacho September 3, 2009

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

A complete smorgasbord of fruits and vegetables are available year-round in the grocery stores’ produce departments, but the negative effects of such a global food system on the environment and our health don’t seem worth the watery, flavorless results. As anyone who loves tomatoes knows: there is no better advertisement for the carbon-cutting benefits of choosing local produce over the vegetables that have been trucked hundreds of miles to the grocery store than a thick, juicy slice of a ripe tomato.

The height of August – when we would normally start dripping sweat just by looking outside – makes up for its miserably thick humidity by providing us the perfect conditions to grow a whole heckuvalot of tomatoes.  While you can pick up the standard slicers and red cherry tomatoes year-round in the produce aisle of the grocery store, the taste of a fresh, local tomato is truly unbeatable (and is guaranteed to make you turn up your nose at the ones sitting on the store shelves in December).  Plus something more unique awaits frequenters of the local farmers’ market stands: a full rainbow of unique heirloom varieties, from the rich pinks of Brandywines, to the dark Cherokee Purples, to the sunny Hearty Golds and Jean-Flamés.

One of my favorite ways to incorporate these tasty multi-colored fruits into my week’s meal plan is to add them to a simple gazpacho recipe.  By first puréeing fresh red tomatoes with onions, cucumbers, and peppers, you can create a bright pink soup base to add coarsely chopped heirloom tomatoes of several colors for an edible artist’s palette of ‘matery goodness.  Add a bunch of minced parsley, and you have the makings of a delightful summer dinner.

Multi-Colored Heirloom Gazpacho

Multi-Colored Heirloom Gazpacho



4-5 medium red tomatoes, chopped

1 medium cucumber, seeded, peeled and chopped

2 bell peppers, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 jalapeño, chopped (can remove seeds to lower heat)

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp red or white wine vinegar

1 tbsp honey (or other sweetener)

1 bunch of parsley, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients for the soup base into a blender or food processor until smooth and liquid, about thirty seconds to a minute tops.  You can also reserve ½ – 1 cup of the chopped vegetables to add with the heirloom tomatoes if you prefer a chunky gazpacho.  Pour soup base into a large bowl.

ADD: 3-4 coarsely chopped heirloom tomatoes in a variety of colors.  I especially like to use one each of a yellow, green, and purple type.  Cover, and let the gazpacho rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour, but this soup’s flavor only improves the longer it sits.  It will be good to eat for several days, if you can make it last that long!