Saturday, December 31, 2011

Red Beans and Rice

I have a friend who dropped a huge amount of weight by taking a daily power walk with her mother and by adding a cup of beans to her diet everyday. The beans are very filling and therefore she ate less. Of course, once she got going and lost some weight it was easier to forgo desserts and other caloric foods.  It is very inspiring and I might give it a try. So I looked through some recipe sites. Emeril's five star recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of bacon grease, one pound of ham and sausage links. I'm sure its good. Simlyrecipes.com has a southern beans dish that calls for 2 pounds of ham. Again, sounds good but I doubt it will do for my purposes. Epicurious.com had a similar ham and sausage recipe for its red beans dish. So I tried "fat-free" and "red beans".

In my Internet search for beans and rice recipes, I came to find a lot of "southern" recipes and wondered why this was considered a southern dish. Wikipedia says that Mondays were traditionally wash days and women could put beans on to boil and spend their time scrubbing the wash. I wonder if Sunday dinner tended to be ham or sausage. That would explain why so many of these recipes include ham and/or sausage.

There is an Indian dish called Rajma Chawal which literally means red beans and rice.This dish is prepared by soaking beans in water overnight (or opening a can, if you can't be bothered to soak beans overnight) and boiling with tomatoes, onions, ginger, garlic, and coriander. Spoon the beans and sauce mixture over rice and you're done!

There is a Mexican version that uses salsa and sour cream. I found a good recipe from Jeanne Lemlin's book, Quick Vegetarian Pleasures. The picture of this dish looks delicious! The basics are that you boil the beans with the salsa and some garlic and you pour this over rice and have sour cream on the side for taste.

There is also a Korean-style black beans and rice recipe which has garlic, soy sauce, honey and sesame oil boiled with the beans. It sounds similar to a sweet and sour spareribs recipe I have tried in the past. I bet this one is good!

I bet that the ingredients - red beans, rice, spices and whatever leftovers you have available - make this dish a staple in kitchens all over the world. Additionally, brown rice is a starch, rich in energy and nutrients. Beans are rich in protein, iron and fibre too.  Rice and beans are common and affordable ingredients, often available even when times are hard. You could have rice and beans for breakfast, and I am sure that many people do. For me, it is lunch or a side dish for dinner. The true lure of this recipe is my ability to make it on the weekend and bring it to work for lunch over the work week.

Finally, I found a site called "fat free vegan" and it had a recipe for " Real Louisiana Red Beans and Rice". I'm cooking it right now, without the liquid smoke(and I'm using canned rather than dried beans). I don't generally have liquid smoke but I have gone looking for it in local shops and I've found it is very expensive. A woman at the shop told me to just use fake bacon bits (or imitation as the label says). I'm no gourmet, just someone looking to expand her repertoire of recipes, and so, the bacon bits substitution sounds good to me.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tassimo Coffee Machine - not for me

A few months back my old, tried and true coffee maker died. It just went, in the middle of a pot, without fanfare and I didn't notice until I tried to make the next pot and the old thing didn't work. Some trendier friends of mine had recently bought Tassimo coffee machines and were raving about them. So much so, that they even began to call their coffee machine "Tassimo" as if it were a person. "Tassimo is great" or "Tassimo reads the barcode and makes the coffee or tea from that" or even "doesn't Tassimo make the best coffee?". Now, if it were a possession you would likely say "My Tassimo...or my coffee machine". But wait! I was still in the land of coffee makers and I hadn't named mine at all. Obviously I was a bit behind. So when my machine died, I decided to treat myself to a Tassimo Coffee Machine. They were on sale at Walmart for $98. I, ever the frugal shopper, found a store model on Ebay for $35. It was from Quebec so there wasn't even duty to worry about just $10 in shipping. I congratulated myself on my keen skills in buying things for less, and awaited the arrival of my "coffee machine".

Once it arrived, I went to Walmart and bought three packs of Maxwell House Colombian Coffee t-disks (price $3.67 for 8 t-disks). Then I discovered that one could get three 16 t-disk packs from Costco for $20 and that included an additional bonus pack of 8 cappuccino t-disks as well. I bought it. In three weeks, I was out of coffee and down approximately $35 it. I decided this was too much. I began conversing with others - where is it on sale? who sells it cheap? Everyone had the same problem as me but instead of re-thinking their Tassimo purchase, they simply raved about the coffee. And to be sure, it is good coffee.

So, I decided to give it one more try. I loaded up on 16 packs of Colombian coffee t-disks and a pack of 8 chai tea lattes and spent approximately $50 on coffee. I  decided that this should last me about a month (which, if it had, would have been more than three times my budget for ground coffee with my old machine). It lasted about 10 days.

So I am back to a coffee maker. I bought it for $12 from Canadian Tire and paid $14 for 1kg of coffee at Metro. I plan on putting the Tassimo away, and pull it out for special occasions.

All in all, the Tassimo probably makes sense if you buy lattes or other specialty drinks at Starbucks. Otherwise, the t-disks are very expensive. On Saturdays, I like to make a pot of coffee and drink two or three cups before going to the dog park with my basset hound. That would be 3/8 of the Tassimo pack. And that is the biggest drawback - if you like to linger over a pot of coffee, Tassimo is not for you!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Betty Crocker Snack-Size Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix

A few weeks before Christmas, I bought one of the many specially-packaged bakery products that lined the aisles of my local Walmart. I bet you know the packages I am talking about, the most common of the Christmas ones being the pre-baked gingerbread houses that come with candy and a mix for icing so you can assemble the house yourself. Walmart is a champion at creating the smells and flavours of the season with huge displays of treats that one only seems to enjoy at Christmas. There were all kinds of baking products on sale - in huge warehouse quantities - and the mixes were there too. I even saw a boxed mix for fruit cake! I think fruit cake tastes a lot like cardboard, and looks considerably less appetizing than cardboard!

The packaged mixes offer the chance for fraudulent homemakers like myself - people who largely have no interest in baking for most of the year - to pretend that they too can make home-made breads, muffins, cakes or cookies too.  I know they sell these mixes throughout the year, but it seems that Walmart really stocks up on them at Christmas. (Or maybe, I just ignore them until Christmas time.)

I bought a snack-size cookie mix from Betty Crocker. I imagined that sometime over the Christmas season I would enjoy fresh-baked cookies, warm from my own oven, and so I bought a mix. The package claimed to make 18 cookies, which I reasoned would be enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. Well, I bought more than one flavour - the chocolate chip mix and the sugar cookie mix too - and at $1.47 per mix, I was happy with that.

Last night, I decided to make them. I added the 1/4 cup of butter (I used margarine) and tablespoon or two of water and made a dough mixture that was easily spooned onto the cookie sheet. I made two flavours, the chocolate chip and sugar cookies, and in all they took about twenty minutes to bake. Each cookie was okay.

I think the chocolate chip cookies were better. The edges were a bit crispier than the middle but they tasted pretty much like I expected: not as good as homemade but better than Chips Ahoy.

The sugar cookies were a disappointment. Let's face it: sugar cookies are made of flour, butter, baking soda, eggs, vanilla, and sugar. Its not much more difficult to assemble them from scratch than to use this mix. And the ones from scratch taste worlds better. I have the feeling that if you added vanilla, cinnamon or lavender, the taste of the cookie would be improved. Overall, I'd say that sugar cookies can really only be made from scratch.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Flying Saucer Restaurant

Today I decided to bring my friend to the most interesting place in Niagara Falls, Ontario: the Flying Saucer Restaurant. I know a lot of people think the falls are the most interesting part of any trip to Niagara Falls but its simply not true. The falls can be seen easily when driving by those long winding roads that fence the lookout points. Many people still shell out $18 for a not-so-near parking space and force themselves to walk along the fenced falls, but they only see a longer look of the falls, not a better one. And let's face it, whether you choose to look out from your car or walk along the pathway, the whole sight lasts from five to fifteen minutes. What do you do then? Do you walk up to Clifton Hills and see the obnoxious museums that are over-priced?

Well, if you're a local, you stay in your car and boot up to Lundy's Lane and grab a seat at the Flying Saucer Restaurant. Of course, some locals confuse Stanley Avenue with Lundy's Lane which is what I did today. So after the obligatory drive by the falls, we drove up and down Stanley Avenue looking for the Flying Saucer to no avail. I worried for a few minutes that the place had gone out of business, but after getting home and googling it, I realized it wasn't on Stanley but Lundy's Lane. We'll have to try to make it again later in the week. After all, the Flying Saucer is one memorable place. It's worth a second attempt!

We found the Flying Saucer years ago, after seeing a City TV special on aliens. The owner of the restaurant was quoted on the special and the restaurant was featured but he did not appear on camera -- perhaps because people would think he was nuts. Anyone who has been, knows that even cheap meals are expensive in Niagara Falls. Not at this greasy spoon! Once we arrived, we found the atmosphere to be unique (the building is shaped like a flying saucer). The menu was LARGE with a nice variety of choices. The menu is kind of like a diner with a little bit of everything. The prices all seemed reasonable, especially for a tourist destination. Its good, predictable food at good, reasonable prices and it has a great atmosphere to boot! Of course, I missed going today - so I will have to report back on whether the prices and atmosphere still live up to this!

So my friend will just have to be patient. We'll get him there in the next few days. After all, how often do you get the chance to eat lunch in a UFO?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hello, this is my new blog and I am really looking forward to sharing my thoughts about a variety of things with everyone. I hope to make some new friendships through this as well. I'll write more soon!

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