Food, Wine, Rock & Roll

Part food blog, part jam session

Homecooking is Hard

Posted by Becca On September - 17 - 20101 COMMENT

As the school year gets underway, I’m sure we all find ourselves growing more & more busy.  I know I do.  Because of this, I find I have less & less time to make fresh, home cooked meals.  And, if you are anything like me, the temptation to simply stop at a fast-food restaurant & grab a quick meal increases as the year progresses.  So how does one fight this temptation that, when given in to, not only effects your health but also your wallet? Easy!  I have found some excellent time-saving, pre-packaged foods (both at the grocery store & online) that are not only delicious, but are also relatively healthy & easy on the budget.

1. Tony Chachere dinner mixes: These are awesome if you like Creole food.  My favorites are the etouffe mix, the gumbo (both the dinner mix & the gumbo base mix), & the jambalaya mix.  They take anywhere from 5 minutes (the etouffe) to 30 minutes (the jambalaya) to cook.  Combine them with shrimp, andouille sausage, chicken, &/or crawfish, serve them with warm bread & butter, & you have an instant Creole dinner to serve your family.  The Tony Chachere line also has a wide variety of spices, meats, & marinades for your cooking needs.

2. Bertoli: I love pretty much everything Bertoli makes.  I use the olive oil for regular cooking, enjoy their pasta sauces, & love the frozen meals.  I especially love their frozen meals.  They are tasty and only take about ten minutes to cook.  The classic meals include a nice variety of classic pasta dishes (my favorite is the Chicken Florentine & Farfalle pasta), the Mediterranean style meals are a little lighter, & the oven bake meals are perfect when you want something bubbly and warm from the oven.  Most of these meals are perfect for two people.

3. Bear Creek Soups: As Fall approaches & the nights grow cooler, I begin to crave hearty soups & stews for dinner.  Bear Creek Soups are dry soup mixes that can be found in the soup aisle of your grocery store (usually down by the Lipton soup mix area).  They are inexpensive, quick & easy to make, & can feed lots of people (the small size serves four).  Just add water, cook for 30 minutes, & you have a delicious soup or stew that tastes home-made.  My absolute favorite is the tortilla soup which I like to serve with Mexican cheese, sour cream, avocado slices, & warmed tortillas.  If you have time, you can also mix in shredded chicken to add a bit of protein.  I also like the Creamy Potato & the Cheddar Potato; combine the two for a delicious Creamy Cheesy Potato soup that everyone will love.

4. Amy’s Kitchen: If organic & vegetarian is what you are in to, then Amy’s is the way to go.  This line has a HUGE variety of frozen meals, snacks, pizzas, burgers, international foods, deserts, breakfasts, etc.  You name it, Amy’s has it (as long as it’s vegetarian & organic).  I have enjoyed everything I have ever tried in this brand.  My favorites are the burritos, especially the bean & cheese.

5. Knorr Sides: This used to be the Lipton Rice/Pasta Sides.  These take less than ten minutes to cook &, when combined with a protein, make a great, quick meal sure to make the whole family happy.  I really like to brown hamburger meat & combine it with the Mushroom rice for an instant rice casserole.

6. Comfort Foods/Desert Gardens: I first came across this brand when I was spending a summer in the mountains of New Mexico and instantly fell in love.  The line includes dip mixes, spices, salsas, soup & stew mixes, & even breads & desserts.  The Desert Garden products bring the Southwest straight into your home, while the Country Gardens line is more conventional comfort food style mixes.  I generally stick with the Desert Garden line, simply because I have a deep love for the flavors of New Mexico.  The dip mixes are great & perfect for any party or quick afternoon snack (my favorite is the green chile dip).  My favorite soups/stews are the Tortilla soup & the Green Chile stew, which packs a lot of spicy heat.  I have not been able to find this brand in stores outside of New Mexico so I order in bulk online.  They are reasonably priced & ship very quickly.

7. Mahatma Rice: Mix with your choice of protein & you have an instant dinner.  I like the red beans & rice mixed with andouille sausage or the Saffron yellow rice with chicken.

8. Freschetta: The brick oven pizzas are amazing!

These are just a few of the brands I like to use when time is short but don’t want to give in to the temptation of fast-food.  Hopefully I have given you some great ideas for feeding your self & your family when time is short but the want for healthy meals isn’t.

The Art of Wine(ing)

Posted by Becca On August - 20 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

At this point, some of you may be wondering how in the world I know about so many wineries and wines.  You may also be wondering how I can afford to keep so many wines on hand to try out with my various dishes.  I can assure you, I am NOT a wine aficionado nor am I independently wealthy (remember, I am a teacher).  But I do have a few secrets and I have finally decided to share my secrets with you, especially those of you who enjoy wine but are never sure what to get (or those who are in a rut).

Are you ready?

Secret #1: You must be willing to try new things, even if you’ve never heard of it.  Be adventurous!  I can’t even begin to say how many times I’ve been wine shopping, saw a wine I had never heard of, decided to go for it & ended up LOVING it.

Secret #2: Don’t be embarrassed to ask for advice from the people who work at the store.  Most of the time, the employees at liquor stores, wine stores, and higher end grocery stores (Central Market, etc.) are very knowledgeable and can help you find something you will enjoy.

Secret #3 (this is the BIG one): shop at World Market.  I absolutely LOVE this store for anything and everything, but I especially love wine shopping there.  Why?  Because it is so easy to follow my first two secrets there.  It’s one thing to suggest being adventurous but, in today’s economy, it is difficult to “just go for it” when it comes to expensive wine (for me, $20-$30 is expensive).  The wonderful thing about World Market is that they ALWAYS have a large selection of wines on sale.  And I’m not just talking a little bit.  Wines that are normally in the $20-$30 range are often on sale for $10.  In fact, it is not unusual to find quality wine on sale for $5.  It’s very easy to be adventurous when the wine is only $5.

In addition to their normal reduced pricing, you can get additional savings if you belong to the “Explorer Reward Club.”  I am not normally one of those people that will sign up for Reward Clubs because I get very irritated by all the spam e-mails and junk mail sent by most companies.  However, World Market is a company that truly seems to respect the privacy of their customers.  I do get e-mails when there are special deals coming up or when they have special coupon offerings but it certainly is not to the point of annoying.

If you want or need guidance, the people who work in the wine and beer section are generally incredibly knowledgeable, friendly, and always willing to help customers select the perfect wine for their tastes and needs.  On Saturdays, most World Market stores have wine tasting booths set up so you can try before you buy.

So there you have it: my secrets to wine shopping.  Hopefully, those of you hesitant wine-lovers out there can now go out and find something new and wonderful to brighten your meals.