Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Trade Secrets

Tips for dining in and dining out

Required Reading

The problem with the whole "for Dummies" book series is that it's hard to give them as presents. I can't think of anyone I'd want to offend by offering them a copy of 30-Minute Meals for Dummies. (Wiley; $19.99) But it could be a useful cookbook for anyone who wants to eat well without spending lots of time on it, which is almost everyone. It's a lot more than a cookbook -author Bev Bennett offers a quick-cook philosophy and a lot of useful tips. It includes suggestions about how to shop the salad bar, what pans work best for a stir-fry, transforming condensed soup into better meals, even what to do with restaurant doggie bag contents.

What's for lunch

Eating the food available at gas stations is not generally a good way to eat. I know because I took a camping vacation this summer where we somehow ended up getting all our dinner supplies from gas station mini-marts: it was cup noodles, bologna sandwiches, Slim Jims and Snapple for several days in a row. It would have been different had we been in the vicinity of a BP gas station with a Wild Bean Cafe.

There is one locally, in Mason, just off Interstate 71 at Ohio 741. I stopped in recently and was impressed to realize I could get a good thick sandwich with fresh ingredients made for me at the cafe counter. I even went vegetarian, with a sandwich of cheese, romaine, fresh vegetables, roasted red peppers and pesto on tomato herb bread.

They also have grilled chicken sandwiches, BLTs, roast beef, wraps, plus soups, salads and a nice coffee bar. It all beats greasy fast food, especially when you're on the road. Not every BP has a full-fledged Wild Bean Cafe, though many have the Wild Bean coffee.

We tried it

Betty Crocker's latest dessert mixes are for old-fashioned cobblers and crisps - the kind of desserts that are a little like a pie, but not so much trouble. With these mixes, it's not even a little trouble.

I tried the Apple Crisp, and it only took about a minute: Open the can of apples, mix the topping mix with water, sprinkle it on, bake.

But it was awfully sweet, with a mostly brown sugar topping that covered the apple filling. There was little contrast between the apples and the topping, unlike a homemade crisp made with sweet-tart apples and oatmeal.

Besides apple crisp, there is Southern-style peach cobbler and classic cherry cobbler in the line. Suggested retail price: $3.79

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