How to Enjoy Wine On A Budget

The subject of wine doesn't come up nearly as often as it should here at Casual Kitchen. And I'm long overdue to write an article about how this often expensive beverage can still be enjoyed even in the most frugal kitchen.

Many frugal food enthusiasts hold the misconception that you can't enjoy the pleasures of wine without spending a lot of money. And then there's the other side of the coin: too many wine snobs can't bring themselves to enjoy wine unless they spend a lot of money.

Guess what? Both sides are wrong. Good wine can be surprisingly cheap, and cheap people can enjoy good wine.

The goal of today's post is to help you develop a taste for good, inexpensive wine. I'll share some of the best tips and ideas we've come across here at Casual Kitchen so that you too can enjoy the pleasures of wine without killing your budget.

It's Highly Likely That You Can't Tell
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal quoted a 2003 study by the Oenonomy Society of the U.S. that argued that "80% of wine drinkers can't distinguish between regular and reserve bottles of the identical wine." And at a recent proceeding at the National Academy of Science, there was an equally embarrassing study in which "test subjects were given what was billed as cheap wine and expensive wine. As measured by brain activity, they thought the costly wine gave the most pleasure." Despite the test subjects' perceptions, however, both wines were exactly the same.

The point is this: it's highly likely that you, and almost all of the people you know, can't tell the difference between wine that's really good and wine that's merely decent. And very, very, very few people (like well less than one percent of the population) have a palate that can tell the difference between really good wine and truly great wine.

As much as we all like to think we have refined and highly tuned palates, the truth is, we don't.

Two Buck Chuck
This is not to say that there isn't any difference between, say a glass of Two Buck Chuck and a glass of Bordeaux from Chateau Lafite Rothschild. There most undoubtedly is a difference. But the question is, is pleasure you derive from drinking one 500 or 1,000 times greater than from drinking the other?

Interestingly enough, Two Buck Chuck wines (otherwise known as Charles Shaw Wines) have won some prestigious awards in major wine competitions over the years, yet again giving the lie to the claim that inexpensive wines are by definition low in quality.

Experiment with Blind Tastings

The best way to drive home this very point is to host your own blind tasting. Invite four or five friends over to your home and ask each friend to bring one expensive bottle and one inexpensive bottle of similar wine. Cover all the bottles with paper bags and do an honest, blind tasting.

You will be shocked at the results. And don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that all the wines will taste the same. I'm simply saying that your preferences will be surprisingly uncorrelated to the prices on the wine bottles, and you'll likely prefer some of the lower-priced wines to some of the higher-priced ones.

Slaves to Wine Spectator
Believe me, this is really good news. No longer will you have to slavishly buy only wines with a 92 or higher score in Wine Spectator Magazine. Instead, you can see what wines are offered at a deep discount at your local wine store and, keeping an open mind, be pleasantly surprised by something new, different, and not rip-off expensive.

Oh, and if you have any friends who fancy themselves as budding oenology experts, be sure to invite them to this blind tasting too. When it's all over, everyone will have a humbler--and more realistic--sense of how finely tuned their palate is. And of course everyone will have a really fun evening too.

If you think you're at risk of becoming a mindless wine snob, a blind tasting could be the best thing that ever happened to your wallet.

Value and Price Are Often Completely Unrelated
Way back in this blog's life, a commenter left this comment regarding one of his coworkers:

I recently asked a coworker who's renowned for his wine collection whether he could recommend any good value wines under $30 a bottle. His reply: "I don't even cook with anything under $30 a bottle."

Aside from this being one of the most asinine things ever said, it also proves that people can grievously confuse price with value. If this guy can tell the difference between over $30 and under $30 wine in, say, a batch of my Risotto or my Casbah Curried Chicken, then he either has the best palate on the face of the earth (unlikely), or he lets others decide "quality" for him by setting high prices (highly likely).

Don't let others define for you what you like. It's the best way to avoid being separated from your money. Think of all the instances where people confuse price with value to their detriment (Jaguar cars? Le Creuset cookware?). Often, there can be an extreme lack of correlation between price and value.

Start a Tasting Group
One of the best ways to enjoy many different types of wine at very little cost is to start a regular wine tasting club. You'll want to have at least four or five members at each session to insure that you will have a solid selection of wines to try. You can set all sorts of parameters for what wines to choose--from the highly specific (Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand) to the highly general (red wines, dessert wines, sparkling wines, or just wines, etc). Establish a reasonable guideline for prices and let the fun begin. We'll discuss wine tasting groups in much greater depth in a coming post in this series.

Try Wines From Other Countries
There are a lot of factors that can make the best wines from some countries a relative bargain. Labor and growing costs in countries like Chile or Argentina are much lower than in France or the USA. On top of that, changes in currency values can at times make a given country's wines extraordinarily inexpensive. Laura and I were recently in New Zealand, and we took full advantage of the fact that the New Zealand dollar had fallen to about half the value of the US dollar. Heck, it was as if the entire country was having a 50% off sale, so we drank everything we could! We found several really good wines selling at prices below US$10 a bottle.

Mixed Cases
The next time you visit a wine store or a winery, ask if they offer a full-case discount. Quite often, wine-sellers will give discounts of up to 15% if you buy a full case of wine, and even more often they will let you mix and match bottles. Instead of buying just a bottle or two, do your wine shopping for the next several weeks by buying a full case at a big discount.

Buying Wine in Restaurants
This article wouldn't be complete if I didn't say a few words about ways to save money when you are buying wine in a restaurants. The short (and not exactly helpful) answer is: don't. Wine and alcohol are almost always the highest-margin products in the restaurant business, and mark-ups for wine in a typical restaurant can be as high as three to four times the retail price.

However, if you still find yourself considering a restaurant purchase of wine, I can still suggest two strategies to help limit the damage to your wallet.

First, you can consider buying two kinds of wine by the glass and sharing them with your dinner companion.

A second strategy is to buy the cheapest bottle of wine on the menu. Not only is it almost always a legitimate bargain, it also reveals one of the most clever profit-maximization techniques used in restaurants today.

What exactly is this technique? Well, have you ever bought the second cheapest bottle of wine on the wine list? I sure have, but since doing the research for this article, I won't do it any more. Remember, diners resist buying the cheapest bottle of wine on the menu--after all, that would be cheap, wouldn't it? So restaurants, banking on this tendency among their customers, do a clever bait and switch: they take an inexpensive wine, mark it up massively, and sell it as the second cheapest item on the wine list. The restaurant makes a ton of profit on what seems like a bargain, and you spend more money that you should have on a wine that's overpriced.

And remember, unless they hate their customers, no restaurant will put a crappy wine on their wine list.

Readers, what other money-saving wine tips can you think of that you'd like to share?
Stay tuned for the next installment of Casual Kitchen's series on wine: How to Start a Casual and Inexpensive Wine Tasting Club.

Related Posts:
27 Themes and Ideas for Wine Tasting Club Meetings
Why You Should NEVER Use "Cooking Wine"
Countdown: The Top Ten Low-Alcohol Drinks
How to Make a Tequila Sunrise
How to Make Your Own Inexpensive Sports Drink

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by linking to me, subscribing to my RSS feed, or submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like, digg or stumbleupon.

Open That Bottle Night--February 28, 2009

I want to tell my readers about an important wine-related event coming up just a few days from now, on February 28th: It's called Open That Bottle Night.

Open That Bottle Night was invented by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, writers of the weekly wine column in the Wall Street Journal, as well as the authors of The Wall Street Journal Guide to Wine. If you haven't yet heard of them, they are two of the most wonderful and unpretentious wine writers out there, and they've been the spark for much of the interest in wine we have here at Casual Kitchen.

But back to Open That Bottle Night. In their column leading up to last year's OTBN, here's how Dottie and John described it:

"So very many of us have that special bottle -- from a departed loved one, from a visit to a winery, from a vacation -- that we're always going to open for just the right moment, but, of course, that moment never comes. So the wine sits and sits and sits and becomes more and more precious, so it sits and sits some more."

Do you have just such a bottle of wine, laying around, collecting dust, and waiting for a "reason" to be opened? Well, that's exactly what Open That Bottle Night is all about. This Saturday, February 28th is the night that you will simply open that bottle, enjoy it, and create new memories.

I love celebrations like this because they show us that great times and great moments are all around us. Open That Bottle Night actively encourages you to celebrate life now. After all, what's the point of waiting, passively, for memorable or celebratory events to come to you? Why wait to open a bottle at some point in the future when you can make memories today?

I've even started to think of OTBN as an annual holiday, since it always falls on the last Saturday in February. And OTBN grows each year in popularity--every year, more and more readers send their stories to Dottie and John of the special bottle of wine they chose, why they chose it, and most importantly, what memories they celebrated.

And Dottie and John always write a follow-up column sharing some of the best reader memories from that night. It's always one of their best columns of the year.

And if you want to add a little bit of extra fun to your evening, jot down the kind of wine you're drinking, the vintage year, and any thoughts on what you like (or don't like) about the wine. Keep the paper somewhere safe so you can use it to write down notes for next year's OTBN. Who knows, maybe this will be the start of an annual tradition for you!

At Casual Kitchen, we'll also be opening our own bottle of wine on February 28th, and I'll be sure to share the story with you. I also intend to use OTBN as a kick-off for a brief series of posts on wines at Casual Kitchen.

What are you going to do on Open That Bottle Night this year?

Related Links:
Dottie and John's Tastings Column in the Wall Street Journal

Related Posts:
How to Spend Exactly the Right Amount of Money For an Important Celebration
Countdown: The Top Ten Alcoholic Drinks of Summer
How to Be a Satisficer
How to Start a Casual and Inexpensive Wine Tasting Group

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by linking to me, subscribing to my RSS feed, or submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like, digg or stumbleupon.

Greek Pasta with Spinach, Olives, Tomatoes and White Beans

I'd like to share with you today yet another extremely easy and healthy pasta recipe. You'll love it: it takes only 20-25 minutes to make, it conveniently combines all four food groups in a single pot, and at about $1.75 per serving, it's laughably cheap too.

It's always a pleasure to find a simple, honest and dependable recipe like this. Dinner doesn't have to be so complicated all the time.
Greek Pasta with Spinach, Olives, Tomatoes and White Beans

2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped coarsely
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 (14.5 ounce) cans plain diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 ounce) can small white beans, rinsed well and drained
1 cup olives, pitted (canned okay)
black pepper to taste
About 4-5 ounces (about 4 cups) fresh spinach
1 lb penne or other similar pasta

1/2 to 3/4 cup (3-4 ounces) crumbled or cubed feta cheese

1) Saute onion and garlic in olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes, until tender.
2) Add tomatoes, olives and beans, bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes while the pasta cooks.
3) Add the spinach to the sauce, combine well, and continue simmering for 1-2 minutes. Let spinach wilt a bit, but not too much.
4) Place cooked pasta into shallow plates or bowls, add sauce on top of the pasta. Crumble feta cheese on top.

Serves 5-6.

Four brief recipe notes:
1) The prep time for this meal should be about 10 minutes, followed by cooking time of about 15 minutes. And to think people claim they don't have time to cook healthy, inexpensive food at home.

2) The nice thing about feta cheese, besides it's innate Greekishness, is that it's one of the more reasonably priced cheeses out there. However, if you don't like feta, you're in luck, because you can make an "extreme frugal" version of this dish--something befitting even the Frugal Fu blog--by leaving out the feta entirely. Doing this can get the recipe cost down as low as $1.20-$1.30 per serving.

3) There are a number of variations of this recipe floating around on the internet (incidentally, the last two of those three look suspiciously identical), but my recipe above is Casual Kitchen's official, scientifically tested version. Feel free to borrow and adapt it to your whims. It's fun to look over similar versions of the same recipe and think about which ones might taste better or worse, and why. This exercise can also be a great source of potential recipe modification ideas.

One final question: after taking a quick look at the the three recipes above, will someone please tell me where in the world you can find a 19-ounce can of beans?
Related Posts:
Pasta Puttanesca
How to Make Risotto
Farfalle with Mushrooms and Gorgonzola Cheese
Six Secrets to Save You from Cooking Burnout

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by linking to me, subscribing to my RSS feed, or submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like, digg or stumbleupon.

My personal photographer:

11 Really Easy Rice Side Dishes

Today's post is a list of easy rice side dish recipes that you can use to complement any meal.

A couple of quick few suggestions to help you make the most of today's post:

1) Consider getting yourself a rice cooker. Not only will it be a great timesaver for many of the recipes here, it will be an enormously cost-effective tool for your kitchen.

2) Do not use
instant rice. Where is the logic in having some company partially cook your rice, cool it back down, dehydrate it, put it in a bag--and then charge you extra for the privilege? Sheesh. One of the worst examples of a second-order food.

Rice is easy to make, and it's one of the least expensive staple foods out there. Today's list should provide you with plenty of interesting sides dish ideas that you can whip up with very little effort and even less cost. Enjoy!
1) Easy Coconut Rice adapted from
Here's a preposterously easy coconut rice side dish that will add an exotic dimension to dinner.

2 cups white rice (optional: jasmine rice if you have it)
1 1/2 cups thick, good-quality coconut milk (not "lite")
2 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt

1) Place rice in rice cooker. Add the water, coconut milk, and salt. Stir well.
2) Cover and adjust setting to cook. Once done, allow another 8-10 minutes for rice to finish "steaming," this will ensure your coconut rice is fully cooked and pleasantly sticky.

Serves 6-8.

2) Mock Wild Rice from Casual Kitchen:
This is a simple and delicious favorite from my family. When it came time for each of my sisters (and me too) to leave home to live on our own, this was the first recipe each of us copied from our mother's recipe filebox.

1 cup white rice
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 10.5 ounce can beef consomme PLUS 1/2 can water
1 small can mushrooms (pieces and stems okay), drained and rinsed
1 medium onion, cut into slices or chopped coarsely

1) Preheat oven to 350
2) Combine all ingredients into a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish, cover, and bake at 350F for 45 minutes.

Serves 4-5. Can be easily doubled.

3) Cumin Rice adapted from CookEatShare:This rice dish has a unique and savory mix of spices, and you'll be able to whip it up in just a few minutes. Note that the recipe calls for whole cumin seeds, not ground cumin, but in a pinch you could probably use either.

1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped or pressed
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 (3 inch) cinnamon stick
Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt

1) Saute onion, garlic, cumin seeds, and cinnamon stick in oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir until onion softens, about 3 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
2) Stir in the broth, sugar, pepper, and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
3) Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes before serving.

4) Cilantro Lime Rice adapted from CookEatShare:
Another preposterously easy dish that will add authenticity to any Latin American meal.

Cook white rice as per rice directions, adding 1 teaspoon salt per cup of rice.
For each cup of rice, add:
2/3 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped scallions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon olive oil

Add cilantro, scallions, lime juice and olive oil to cooked rice. Stir. To enhance flavors, leave in pan with lid on for a few minutes before serving. Serves four per cup of rice as a side dish.

5) Green Rice adapted from
An interesting mix of green veggies and herbs infuses this easy rice dish. For an extra kick of heat, you can add (a lot) more cayenne pepper.

2 cups uncooked rice
2/3 cup green pepper, finely chopped
1 cup scallions, sliced
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1/8 cup olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if desired)
4 cups beef broth

1) Preheat oven to 350F.
2) Combine all ingredients in a 2-quart casserole dish, cover, and bake for 45 minutes, or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed; toss rice and serve.

Serves 6-8.

6) Chickpeas and Rice adapted from Recipezaar:
There's a little bit of extra prep work involved in this recipe, but your extra labor will be amply rewarded with this delicious and highly original rice side. Can easily stand in as a full meal.

1 cup uncooked rice (basmati rice, optional)
2 cups water
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf

1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup parsley
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese

1) Cook rice in a rice cooker (or saucepan) with thyme and bay leaf, according to rice directions.
2) Heat olive oil and half of the butter in a skillet, add drained chickpeas and saute on medium heat.
3) When chickpeas start to lightly brown (about 5 minutes) add parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, oregano, basil, salt and pepper and cook for an additional 5-7 minutes.
4) Remove from heat. Mix rice and chickpeas together until rice is a golden color. Add Parmesan cheese and mix well.

Serves 4.

7) Brazilian Rice adapted from Rice Gourmet:Refreshingly simple and easy.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 cups long-grain rice, rinsed well and drained
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 cups boiling water

1) In a large saucepan, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes or so or until the onion is soft and translucent but not brown. Add the rice and fry for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
2) Add the tomatoes and salt. Cook for 3-4 minutes and then pour in the boiling water.
3) Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and all the liquid has been absorbed.
4) Turn the rice into a warmed serving dish and serve immediately.

Serves 4-6.

8) Lemon Rice adapted from Recipezaar:
A perfect example of Casual Kitchen-style recipe: really easy to make, and it combines simple ingredients in a memorable way. A couple of quick recipe notes: 1) Remember that the zest of a lemon is the outermost, yellow layer of the lemon peel. 2) You can find lemonpepper seasoning in your spice aisle, or if you have extreme ambition, you can make it yourself.

1 cup water
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 teaspoons butter or margarine
1 cup uncooked rice, long grain
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/8-1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 1/4 teaspoons lemonpepper seasoning

1) Combine all ingredients EXCEPT lemonpepper in saucepan.
2) Bring to a boil, then reduce heat.
3) Cover pot and allow to simmer slowly for 20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed.
4) Sprinkle with lemonpepper before serving.

Serves 4.

9) Best Spanish Rice from AllRecipes:
One of the easiest Spanish rice recipes you'll find--anywhere. And like all recipes from the AllRecipes site, the instructions are refreshingly clear and unconvoluted.

2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 1/2 cups uncooked white rice
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup chunky salsa

1) Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Stir in onion, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
2) Mix rice into skillet, stirring often. When rice begins to brown, stir in chicken broth and salsa. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes, until liquid has been absorbed.

Serves 5.

10) Quick, Easy -N- Fast Orange Rice adapted from Razzledazzle Recipes:
Another intriguing combination of everyday ingredients in a striking way. This is the kind of recipe we're always on the lookout for here at Casual Kitchen.

1 cup rice
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 t. salt
1 cup rice (jasmine rice optional)
1 orange, juiced
1 teaspoon grated orange peel

1) Heat oil, garlic, thyme, salt and rice in a saucepan over medium-high heat until until rice turns pale golden (3-5 minutes).
2) Meanwhile, add water to orange juice to make a total of 2 cups of liquid. Add to rice, stirring in 1 teaspoon of the grated rind.
3) Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat and cook over low heat until done, about 20 minutes.

Serves 4.

11) Carrot Rice with Peanuts adapted from Recipezaar:
Another exceptional recipe that combines everyday ingredients in a fascinating way.

1 cup long-grain rice or basmati rice
2 cups water
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
3/4 cup grated carrot
salt and black pepper, to taste

1) Cook rice and water in a rice cooker or saucepan according to directions.
2) While rice is cooking, pulverize peanuts in a blender or spice grinder and set aside.
3) Saute onions in butter over medium-high heat until golden brown. Stir in ginger, carrots. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
4) Reduce heat to low, cover, and steam for 5 minutes. Stir in pepper and peanuts.
5) When rice is done, add it to the skillet and gently combine all ingredients.

Serves 6.


Related Posts:
Seven Rules To Ensure Mistake-Free Cooking
The Dinner Party: 10 Tips to Make Cooking for Company Fun and EasyHow to Create Your Own Original Pasta Salad Recipes Using the Pasta Salad Permutator
Ten Tips to Save Money on Spices and Seasonings

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by linking to me, subscribing to my RSS feed, or submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like, digg or stumbleupon.

Baking for Beginners: Beer Bread

Laura: How much beer does it say to use?

Twelve ounces. A bottle.

A whole bottle? The whole thing? Then what do I get to drink?
One of the key missions of Casual Kitchen is to take away the mysteries and perceived difficulties of cooking, and make cooking simpler and easier for everyone. As a result, I've traditionally considered baking generally, and breadmaking specifically, as just a bit too complicated for this blog.

What a fool. It turns out I'm perceiving "difficulties" that aren't even there.

The truth hit me when I stumbled on a beer bread recipe (it was posted in a recent CK links roundup) that was simply too easy not to make. In fact, it was so easy that I've created a new tag, laughably easy, to go along with this blog's most popular tag: laughably cheap.

Better still, this simple bread recipe is like a blank canvas that cries out for variations and modifications. Recipes like this are tremendously satisfying because they can bring out your inner creativity in the kitchen without taking up too much of your time and effort. This beer bread may be easy, but it will never become boring.
Beer Bread
(adapted from Farmgirl Fare)

3 cups flour
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 12-ounce bottle of beer

Optional spices (see below for more modifications):
2 teaspoons dried dill
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
fresh ground black pepper

1) Preheat oven to 375F (190C).
2) Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add beer, and stir until batter is moistened and well-mixed.
3) Spread the batter evenly in a greased 8" or 9" loaf pan.
4) Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown.
5) Let pan cool for 10-15 minutes, then remove bread from pan and let cool for another 10-15 minutes. Serve warm.

1 loaf serves 4-5 as an appetizer or side dish.
Recipe notes:
1) Regarding loaf pans: You can find these for very little money at any discount department store. Get one that's sturdy and non-stick. And if you would like to put a little money into my tip jar by ordering one from Amazon, here's an extremely inexpensive metal non-stick pan from Silverstone for only $5.99, and here is an even less expensive one from Chicago Metallic for just $4.25.

2) After you add the beer and stir all the ingredients together, the dough will be very thick. I mean break-the-spatula thick. Don't think that you screwed up the recipe.

3) A few thoughts on seasonings. Don't go crazy and add too many types of spices the first time you make this recipe. Remember our first rule of recipe modification (do it one time by the book), and also keep in mind that typically just one or two creative spices can make a dish amazing, but adding a third or a fourth often adds little incremental value. Sort of a reverse 80/20 rule for spices I suppose.

4) Farmgirl Fare has a her own list of potential beer bread modifications that you can try--her garlic/herb and her rosemary/feta cheese variations sound particularly delicious. Let me also suggest my own personal variation: Spicy Beer Bread (add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne or chipotle pepper as well as 1-2 chopped jalapeno peppers to the batter).

5) A word on even deeper modifications. This recipe has nearly limitless flexibility--all sorts of variations are possible. You can use any type of beer, from light beer to the heaviest, richest dark beer you can find. You can add fresh herbs to the batter (basil, parsley, dill). You can add veggies (corn, scallions, onions), nuts (chopped almonds, sunflower seeds, coarsely chopped peanuts), and fruit (dried or fresh) to the batter.

You can substitute a modest amount (say 1/2 cup) of oats, wheat flour, even cornmeal in place of an equal amount of the flour (although note that you do not want to change the fundamental ratio of dry to liquid ingredients--thus for any added dry ingredient you must reduce the flour by an equivalent volume). Once again, make this recipe by the book first. After you understand the look and feel of the basic batter under normal conditions, you can start experimenting.

6) Finally, if you'd like to see each step in greater detail, see below for photos of the making of this recipe.

Related Posts:
How to Modify a Recipe, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3
How to Tell if a Recipe is Worth Cooking With Five Easy Questions
Invigorate Your Cooking with Fresh Herbs
The Greatest Chocolate Mousse in the World

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by linking to me, subscribing to my RSS feed, or submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like, digg or stumbleupon.

Flour mixture:
Adding the beer (we used Yuengling Lager, a classic Pennsylvania beer):
The "batter" is so thick it comes out in one giant clump:
Spread it evenly in the pan:
Baked and cooled bread out of the pan:
Slices of heaven:

Smoky Brazilian Black Bean Soup

Today, we're going to delve yet again into vegetarian cuisine for a healthy, inexpensive and deliciously ethnic soup.

Admittedly this recipe has an ingredient list a bit longer than the typical recipes we feature here at Casual Kitchen. But don't let that discourage you: this soup is really easy to make. It should only take you about 20-25 minutes get everything into the pot, then another 25 minutes to simmer, and then voila!, dinner is on the table.

And when your family samples the amazing spicy and smoky taste of this spectacular soup, nobody will believe you threw it together that quickly!
Smoky Brazilian Black Bean Soup
(modified from Jay Solomon's Vegetarian Soup Cuisine)


3 Tablespoons olive oil
1-2 onions, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
3-4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

1 large tomato, chopped
1-2 canned chipotle peppers, finely chopped
1 28 ounce can black beans, undrained
2 carrots, chopped
4 cups water
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1) Saute the onions, green bell pepper, garlic and spices (cumin, oregano, thyme and salt) on medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes, or until the onions and green pepper wilt and soften.

2) Add the tomato and chipotle pepper(s) and saute for another 2-3 minutes or so.

3) Add the beans (be sure to include the liquid from the black bean can too!), carrots, water and tomato paste. Stir well, bring to a boil and simmer on low heat for 25 minutes. Remove from heat, add parsley, and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

4) Ladle into bowls and garnish with any extra chopped fresh parsley.

Serves 6.

A few recipe notes:
1) The liquid from the canned black beans and the tomato paste combine to make this soup thick. Be sure to simmer it on fairly low heat, and definitely be sure to stir the soup every few minutes or so to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

2) Do not leave out the chipotle peppers. That's the secret ingredient of this soup and it's what infuses it with its signature smoky and savory taste. It is by far the most important ingredient. Also, resist the temptation to use ground chipotle chili powder. You can find canned chipotles in the Spanish/Mexican section of most major grocery stores. We used two chipotle peppers canned in an adobo sauce, and we were really happy with the result.

3) A few words on the laughable cheapness of this dish: Our grocery bill this week exploded far beyond typical (for a variety of ice cream- and junk food-related reasons that I can't really get into right now), so I was too depressed to study the receipt and itemize the exact cost of this recipe. But I'd estimate that this entire dish can be made for well under $10. And since you can serve at least six with a pot of this soup, we're talking about a close-to-preposterously cheap cost per serving in the neighborhood of $1.50 to $1.75.

4) Serve with a side of rice, or better still, Spicy Brown Rice.

Related Posts:
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Cajun Meatloaf: A Meatloaf Recipe that would Burn June Cleaver's Tongue Off

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by linking to me, subscribing to my RSS feed, or submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like, digg or stumbleupon.

Casual Kitchen's Top Five of the Month: January 2009

This once-a-month post is for those readers who may not get a chance to read everything here at CK, but who still want to keep up with the best and most widely read articles. With one glance, you'll be able to see what your fellow readers have been focusing on over the past month.
Top Five of the Month for January 2009:

1) 41 Ways You Can Help the Environment From Your Kitchen

The Muffin Blogroll: 12 Great Muffin Recipes You'll Love to Bake

Six Cookbooks That Should Be the Foundation of Your Cookbook Collection

The Granola Blogroll: The Ultimate Authority on Great Granola Recipes

5) Pernil: Puerto Rican-Style Roast Pork Shoulder

From the Vault: Top Five Posts from One Year Ago:

1) Ten Strategies to Stop Mindless Eating

2) Quite Possibly the Easiest Lentil Soup Recipe You’ll Find Anywhere

Three Easy, Delicious and Inexpensive Homemade Salad Dressing Recipes

4) How to Handle Raw Chicken So That You'll NEVER Get Food Poisoning

5) Capitalize on Your Cooking Core Competencies

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by linking to me, subscribing to my RSS feed, or submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like, digg or stumbleupon.