Monday, August 2, 2010

Dinner for Slobs

The world of bachelor-chow has been getting interesting lately. No longer must one choose between macaroni & cheese and ramen noodles. Here are some of the things I've tried lately to fill that empty space inside... without putting more than one pan on the stovetop!

First off, I love Indian food. But, even though there's an Indian restaurant right across the street from where I live, I don't often dine there. It's too expensive! So, instead of paying $20 for a sit-down meal served by a sullen teenager, I spend $4 on a heat-and-eat entree like the one pictured here. I had this exact product a few days ago. It had spinach and several different varieties of lentil-like gram beans in a richly aromatic sauce. Lots of protein and vitamins, eaten as is. And there's no law that says you can't add rice, noodles, veggies, or meat to it! All you have to do is boil water, drop the sealed pouch into it, and wait a few minutes for the food inside to warm up. Then rip the pouch open and pour it into a bowl. Check out the varieties this brand offers. Eventually, I plan to try them all!

Second, there are these bags of frozen vegetables that you can buy at any grocery store. The example pictured here is only the name-brand variety; you can also buy store-brand ones for a really reasonable price. A generously proportioned, single-serving bag costs maybe $2, possibly less. You want some veg in your diet but you don't want to spend ages cutting, peeling, and heating on the stovetop? Simply take one of these bags out of your freezer, heat it in the microwave for about 5 minutes, and carefully rip the bag open to reveal perfectly steamed veggies. Some varieties include buttery sauces, melted cheese, etc.

Yesterday, I put a couple of these ideas together. First, I zapped a steamer-bag of mixed vegetables (the type with peas, beans, carrots, and corn). Then I opened a single-serving tray of Oscar Meyer Deli Fresh chicken, already grilled and diced. I mixed them up in a pan and poured a pouch of Tasty Bite simmer sauce over them. These lovely things come in several flavors ranging from Indian to Thai and beyond. Heat the whole mixture to a simmer and let it bubble for a few minutes, just so that the flavors swap around. The result was a couple of helpings of deliciousness!

I have already plugged Zatarain's rice products. Last week, I made a batch of their Spanish rice. Only, instead of adding a 15 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, as indicated on the package, I added a 10-ounce can of RoTel diced chilis and tomatoes. RoTel is so handy to have around that I've taken to buying cartons of 8 cans at Sam's Club. Melt a chunk of cheese, any kind of cheese (Velveeta, cream cheese, whatever); and stir in a can of RoTel; and you have a more than reasonable queso dip. Pour it into a pan of browned crumbled hamburger and diced onions; heat until simmering; and add cooked beans if you wish (they're totally optional), and you have a very basic & simple chili. And together with a cup and a half of water, a teaspoon of butter, and a box of Zatarain's Spanish rice mix, and you get something moist and zesty in only 25 minutes.

And finally, I would like to plug my current favorite brand of frozen pizza: California Pizza Kitchen. Though I am not generally fond of the thin-and-crispy school of pizza-crustology, I don't mind so much when I'm dining home alone and I don't want to have leftovers. I HATE leftover pizza! And a nice, flat, cripsy, toasted-in-the-oven pizza, like CPK's "limited edition" varieties, fits just right in a fat, stupid jerk's tummy. Their awesome flavors, at the moment, include BBQ chicken, garlic chicken, spinach & artichoke, cheeseburger, four cheese, and of course pepperoni. I think there may also be a "white pizza" and/or a spinach pizza sans artichokes. I don't care. I have already stuffed my freezer with more than enough flavors to keep me fat and happy for a long time.

No food is worthwhile without a good drink to go with it. Liquid happiness abounds, even on a poor bachelor's cheapskate budget. One of my recent purchases was a "Folly Pack" of 12 bottles in 4 varieties, all bottled by the New Belgium Brewing Co. of Fort Collins, Colorado. The four varieties included Fat Tire (a good place for American beer drinkers to dip their first toe into the taste of Belgian-style ale), Skinny Dip (a light, seasonal brew), Mothership Wit (a tangy, citrusy, hoppy ale), and 1554 (a dark, malty, stout-cum-Trappist concoction). My tastebuds enjoyed them all. More recently, I swilled a six-pack of Woodchuck pear cider, very refreshing. The same outfit also does apple, naturally. Everything goes down better with a nice beer or cider, don't you agree?

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