Pulse check

September 9, 2009

PulsesA couple of weeks I ago I traveled to Alberta to learn all about Canadian pulses. It was a great trip that will be remembered not only for good company, great weather and terrific meals, but also because I learned so much interesting information that I hope to organize into witty tidbits of scintillating prose in the coming weeks.

Although Canada is the world’s largest exporter of lentils and chickpeas, I discovered that few people – even food professionals – can confidently define this term when asked. In fact, when I told people that I was going to the pulse harvest, I got a lot of quizzical looks!

So, for your big fat information, pulses are the mature, dried edible seeds of legumes such as dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. (Although soybeans are legumes they are not considered pulses due to their high fat content.)

Apparently the average Canadian eats only about 1/4 cup (50 mL) of pulses a week. How do you compare to this average?

Replace your toast with oats and groats

August 12, 2009

Toasted Oatmeal scones

It’s confession time: I used to eat a lot of instant oatmeal. There, I said it. I was a convenience food user. Not an addict but a habitual user to be sure. More shameful, yet, I tried to drag my child down with me.

It’s not that I didn’t know how delicious homemade oatmeal tasted; it’s just that I got hooked on the convenience of instant oatmeal. This lazy girl’s gruel was a quick way to fill the void when I was too busy to sit down at the table. Instead I’d make my instant oatmeal in a coffee mug to eat at my desk while I wrote recipes for more delicious things.

After a few months, I forgot what a pleasure it was to eat the homemade stuff and I started buying instant oatmeal for my family, too. Rolled oats were still in the cupboard but they were reserved for baking cookies and the toasted oatmeal scones pictured above. These were dark times.

As I personally became more aware of the benefits of soluble fibre, I drifted back into cooking rolled oats and then I picked up a can of Irish steel cut oats. After a few good bowls of the real thing, my son banished instant oatmeal from our grocery cart forever. There was absolutely no going back to the instant stuff or even rolled oats. He just wouldn’t have it.

Does buying oatmeal confuse you? If so, don’t be ashamed, it comes in a lot of forms. Here’s a little glossary to help you choose the right oatmeal for the right cooking occasion:

Steel cut: steamed or rolled, whole oat kernels are cut into pieces and require a long, slow simmering. Although I’ve never used them for anything other than making breakfast cereal, Tara Mataraza Desmond and Joy Manning use them to replace some of the meat and add fibre to the Lamb Albondigas in their book Almost Meatless.

Quick: steel cut oats that have been steamed and then rolled to create a light, fluffy-textured meal that cooks quickly into cereal. Quick oats are often used in baking and for breakfast cereal.

Rolled: when groats are steamed and then rolled and dried, they become whole rolled oats, about the size and shape of the nail bed of your pinky fingernail; they can be used to make cereal or in baking recipes.

Instant: made from cut groats that are cooked and then dried, this form of oatmeal needs only to be rehydrated and is not suitable for baking.

Groats: when first picked, oats are a whole seed on an oat stock. Once the hull is removed by crushing the whole seed, they are called groats and can be cooked like rice.

Cavena Nuda: or Naked Oats are a Canadian oat plant variety developed by Agriculture Canada. While regular oats need heat-treating once the hull is removed, Cavena has a thin, waxy coating that the seed has developed because the hulls themselves are loose. These loose hulls are removed during threshing, leaving the entire seed intact. Cavena nuda is cooked in boiling hot water and is similar in texture to wild rice. It’s used in baking and as a cereal but also as a substitute for rice in savoury cooking.

Toast talk

May 6, 2009

transparenttoasterI was hanging out on Rona Maynard’s blog recently – it’s a favourite indulgence of mine to make a cup of milky, sweet Earl Grey tea, kick off my shoes, tuck my feet under me on the couch and read a few of her posts in one gluttonous, soul-nourishing sitting. As my last sentence suggests, Rona’s writing is wonderful and her subject matter is often thought-provoking and touching. In fact, even when she writes about making a piece of toast, there’s poetry in every sentence.

I’ve always been a big fan of toast (I’m a second generation addict, to be truthful; in fact, my mother has turned eating toast into a lifestyle of sorts), so I pay close attention to all toast-related news. But somehow I’d missed the news that toasters are celebrating their 100th birthday this year. Shouldn’t this anniversary be headline news?

How often do you make toast? Is your toaster part of your daily routine or is it an occasionally-used appliance that helps you to salvage staling bread?

The goodness of sprouted grains

January 7, 2009

sprouted20grainsYou’ve likely resolved to choose some healthier eating options in the new year. I can imagine that omega 3, probiotic and vitamin D rich foods are on your list but what about sprouted grains?

For several months, sprouted grain bread recipes and products have been easing onto my trend tracker’s radar screen. To be honest, I haven’t tried bread made with sprouted grains and, until I read this article, I wasn’t entirely sure why I should.

According to the reporter’s research, people who have trouble digesting traditional breads find sprouted grains easier to digest. Likewise, these breads contain more protein and fibre than a usual loaf.

I’m still learning about how sprouted grains are used as ingredients and found this material on the Silver Hills Bakery website interesting.

Have you tried sprouted grain bread? If so, how did it taste? If not, will you try it now that it is becoming more widely available?