Thursday, January 8, 2009

red beans and rice

Have you noticed that comfort food is also budget friendly?

Macaroni and cheese or chicken noodle soup use inexpensive ingredients and also remind us of home. We crave these dishes when we are sad, under the weather, or just want that warm feeling. Unfortunately, many of these comfort foods are very high in calories and fat.

For my family, red beans and rice fits the bill as the ultimate in comfort and thriftiness. With a few tweaks, it can also be quite healthy. One serving provides nearly 10 grams of fiber. No, I didn't have the opportunity to enjoy this as a child like many comfort foods. I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba and never tried red beans and rice until I moved to Texas. My family has adopted this, along with many other "southern" foods, as a family favorite.

My recipe uses a slow cooker. The long, slow cooking time coaxes all the flavor of the sausage into the beans. This is a full flavored dish that will leave you satisfied. Don't skip browning the vegetables and meat before adding to the slow cooker. As Anne Burrell from Secrets of a Restaurant Chef says, "Brown food tastes good!". You will easily get 8 or more servings out of this recipe.

red beans and rice

7 cups water
1 pound dried small red beans (not kidney beans)
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped green bell pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
10 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds smoked sausage, sliced (such as Healthy Choice)
8 oz lean ham, diced
2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp paprika
1/2 to 1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp black pepper
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt to taste
hot cooked brown or white rice

Combine the water and beans in a slow cooker and turn on high. In a large saute pan, brown the onions, green peppers, celery and garlic in a little oil or cooking spray. Add the sauteed vegetables to the beans. Add the sausages and ham to the saute pan and brown, stirring occasionally. Stir into the beans along with the spices and Worcestershire sauce. Cover with the lid and cook on high for 5 hours or on low for 8 hours. Discard bay leaves; stir in green onions, parsley and salt. Serve in bowls over hot cooked rice.

"I like rice. Rice is great if you're hungry and want 2000 of something." Mitch Hedberg

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Trader Joe's

I have recently become a big fan of the grocery store Trader Joe's. Unfortunately for me there is only one in the Cincinnati area and it is nowhere near to where I live (about a 45 minute drive). When I make a trip I have to be organized and shop with a list. On my first visit I spent about 3 hours wandering the aisles and picking one of almost everything. When the bill totaled $180 I knew I had gone overboard but I really wanted to try some new things and besides, I did have 8 bottles of wine in my cart. Trader Joe's is unlike your typical grocery store. It is surprisingly small and they carry few brand name products. They have one or two store brand items of almost anything you need. I think what sets them apart is that their products are of superior quality, they use a lot of organic ingredients and they are very reasonably priced, usually cheaper than name brand products at the bigger stores. According to their website, " Our logo assures that the products it is on contain NO artificial flavors, colors or preservatives; NO MSG; and NO added Trans Fats. In addition, ALL Trader Joe's private label products are sourced from non-genetically modified ingredients.". If you are on a special diet, for example low sodium or gluten free, there are signs that indicate products that fit that criteria. Their very helpful website also has lists of these products. Many of their items are convenience foods which kind of goes against my desire to make everything from scratch but some things I am just unwilling to go through all the work to make, like gyozas (potstickers) and samosas. They have a good selection of gourmet cheese at very reasonable prices, beautiful fresh flowers, and a huge dried fruit and nut section. They also have a great selection of wine besides their famous 2 Buck Chuck, which is now I think about 3.49. We haven't yet tried everything I bought that first trip but here is a list of the items we have tried and love. As we try more I will add them to the list. Let me know what foods you like. I'm always open to new things and would love an excuse to make the drive :-)

Thai lemongrass chicken stix
Chicken empanaditas
Samosas (my favorite)
Gyozas (my 17 year old's favorite)
Frozen basil and cilantro
Dried hibiscus flowers
Lacey's dark chocolate almond cookies
Rice noodle soup bowls
Just Clusters ginger granola
Roasted almond butter (my 19 year old's favorite)
Smooth and Mellow blend coffee
Triple ginger snaps (my other favorite)
Tuscan style spaghetti sauce
Gyoza dipping sauce
Sweet chili sauce (I mix the 2 together to dip the gyozas in)
Italian truffle cheese
Montchevre goat cheese trio
Vinho Verde white wine
All natural peppermint toothpaste
Unscented deodorant (aluminum and paraben free)
Pure castile soap

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
J.R.R. Tolkien

Thursday, January 1, 2009

saucy chicken with black bean and corn salsa

Has holiday spending depleted your bank account? Has holiday eating deposited extra into your fat cell account? You are not alone! In conjunction with my good friend at
I will be posting some budget and diet friendly recipes to help us win the battle of the bulge without breaking the bank.
This is a favorite of mine that is great for any weeknight dinner and there is always plenty left over for lunches or to freeze for later. I always stock up on boneless skinless chicken breasts when they go on sale which is quite often. The chicken can be served on a bed of rice and topped with the salsa or as a burrito filling. The combination of brown rice and the black bean and corn salsa will provide you with virtually fat-free protein and lots of fiber.

saucy chicken with black bean and corn salsa

1 - 14 1/2 ounce can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons oregano
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
rice - white or brown
flour tortillas (optional)
sour cream and shredded cheese (optional)

1. Puree first 9 ingredients in blender.

2. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. In 2 batches to prevent overcrowding, add chicken to skillet; saute until brown, about 2 minutes per side.

3. Add sauce from blender. Reduce heat to medium. Simmer uncovered until chicken is cooked through, turning chicken over once, about 10 minutes.

4. Using tongs, transfer chicken to work surface. Continue to simmer sauce until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes longer. Season sauce with salt and pepper if needed.

5. Cut chicken crosswise into thin slices. Return to sauce and heat through.

6. Serve over brown rice and topped with black bean and corn salsa or rolled up in a tortilla. Top with optional cheese and sour cream.

black bean and corn salsa

Combine all ingredients.
2 cans diced tomatoes with jalapenos, drained (I use Kroger brand but you can use Rotel as well)
1 can corn, drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup cilantro (or more), chopped
1/4 teaspoon cumin
dash garlic powder
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)

You know how I feel about tacos. It's the only food shaped like a smile. A beef smile. ~Danielle Sanchez-Witzel and Michael Pennie, My Name is Earl, "South of the Border Part Uno/Dos," original airdate 7 December 2006, spoken by the character Earl Hickey