Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Your guide to eating cheap including tips, recipes and techniques

Archive for May, 2005

5/30/05 | Tic Tacs

[ Currently Eating: Salad ]

Lime Tic Tacs
I know what you’re thinking.. Tic Tacs on Cheap Eats? Candy doesn’t get featured much here because a lot of candy just plain expensive and many would argue plain unnecessary. Halloween aside, do we really need candy? Save a couple bucks and save your teeth, right?

Well, the other day I was at the local Dollar Tree. I have been meaning to make a huge run on all the scary looking dollar food items there and review them. Their food aisle is crazy… cans of spaghettios hiding amidst bottles of olives and tubs of Adkins friendly soup. I decided to start off slowly with something relatively safe. These Lime Tic-Tacs fit the bill, because they were 3 for a dollar (I can’t remember the last time that I saw packages of mints for 33 cents).

You will notice that there is only one box left of the 3. That’s because the lime tic-tacs were so good I consumed the other two containers in less than a day. And me, not being a sweets person!

I have childhood memories of sort of gross tasting tic-tacs, I believe it was the peppermint kind. It just didn’t do it for me. Truthfully, I was buying the tic-tacs for the nifty plastic packaging box. They didn’t have fruit tic-tacs like today, which I feel are the best ones because they are really nice and tangy. I usually get the orange or lime, though I’ve been known to deviate and go for cinnamon or spearmint.

Continue reading “Tic Tacs” …

5/27/05 | Bologna Fried Rice

[ Currently Eating: Bologna Sandwich ]

Bologna Fried Rice

I know what you’re thinking. Bologna in FRIED RICE!? Hey, open up your mind a little. After all, what is fried rice anyhow but taking a kitchen sink of leftovers that includes rice and cooking it up in a wok? There are a billion ways to make fried rice and since I tend to have a lot of leftover rice all the time (Asian family, hehe) in the fridge, inevitably this type of meal appears on the table every other week or so.

Most types of Fried Rice feature one or more “main” ingredients such as beef, pork, chicken, fish or shrimp. When I’m in a hurry and don’t have time to defrost and prepare these types of meats, I reach for the old standby, lunchmeat. I’ve made fried rice with diced ham, cooked chicken, turkey lunchmeat, hot dogs, and of course bologna. It actually is not bad for a quick meal.

One of the keys with fried rice is NOT to cook it in a wok, unless you’ve got an extremely high powered stove and the metal wok “holder” that lets you get high temperatures. I think I saw this on TV once… basically if you can’t get the wok hot enough it doesn’t distribute the heat as well or something. I think a non-stick skillet actually works fine and is less messy.

Bologna Fried RiceThe other issue I know is the type of rice. I actually like fried rice that almost tastes like a pilaf… in other words it’s more stuck together instead of individual grains. But you can do whatever you like. If you use American rice or Uncle Ben’s your rice will most likely be looser than if you use Japanese sticky rice which is what’s in my cupboard.

It’s also difficult to make fried rice with “new” rice straight out of the pot. I always use leftover rice (a big hint is to break up refrigerated rice prior to putting it in the pan!), but I think if you must use hot rice then you should cool it first by spreading it out on a cookie sheet and maybe popping it in the freezer or something…

By the way, since I stress leftover rice I’m going to call it free for the purposes of this recipe. See, leftovers are good!

Bologna Fried Rice

Leftover rice, about 2-3 cups (free)
Bologna (3 slices of $2.50 pack) — $0.30
1 egg (from $1.50 dozen) — $0.12
1/4 brown onion, chopped — $0.15
1/4 red bell pepper, chopped — $0.12
1/2 pkg chinese mustard greens — $0.12
1 green onion stalk (from $.40 bunch) — $0.05
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced — $0.05
Vegetable Oil (1 tbsp of bottle) — $0.05
Soy sauce (1.5 tbsp of gallon can) — $0.05
Fish sauce (1 tsp of $1.00 bottle) — $0.05
Sesame Oil (1 tbsp of bottle) — $0.07
Sriracha or Hot Sauce (1/2 tsp) — $0.05
Chicken stock (2 tbsp) — $0.03
Salt / pepper — negligible

Total: $1.16

Note you can easily omit any number of the wet ingredients if they aren’t available. Also for drier rice, use less chicken stock and a little more salt.

Mix soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, sriracha, and chicken stock together in small bowl and set aside. Beat egg lightly in a bowl and add a pinch of salt. Chop up bologna and mustard greens.

Heat a large skillet for a few minutes on high heat. Add vegetable oil and fry bologna for 1 minute. Add egg and stir briskly with wooden spoon to make something like scrambled eggs. Add brown onion, red pepper, chinese mustard greens, and jalapeno. Stir fry this for at least 2 minutes, add a touch more oil if needed.

Add rice to pan and stir to combine ingredients. I like the texture of somewhat “crunchy” toasted rice so when combined I leave it sitting there spread out in the pan without stirring for a minute or so. Then I continue cooking for about 3 minutes.

Add the wet ingredients to the pan. I like to make a little well in the center of the pan and pour it right directly on the pan… I feel it stops the rice from becoming too wet. Mix the rice well and cook for another 3 minutes. If you like you can leave it sitting there to get some further crunch. Off heat add black pepper and salt to taste and serve while hot!

Continue reading “Bologna Fried Rice” …

[ Currently Eating: Chips ]

Manhattan Fish Chowder

The other day, I was looking around in the freezer for something to cook up for dinner. I had a bunch of frozen sole fillets (bought cheap at the Chinese market) and I’ve always wanted to try out making some non-cream based fish chowder. As luck would have it, that same day I had watched an episode of Rachel Ray’s illfated but well-meaning $40 a Day and she got a version of tomato based fish chowder at one of the restaurants featured.

So I hopped on Food and hacked together a Cheap Eats recipe from the one from the restaurant on that show. I had a really hard time getting it to go under three dollars, but I figured I’d post it up anyways. It turned out halfway decent. Oh, by the way, I know there are a lot of fish chowder purists out there that are going to say that this ain’t no Manhattan type chowder. You’d be right. I’m chowder-dumb, really. All I know is that there is a tomato based kind and a cream based kind. I made the tomato based kind and for lack of a descriptive title called it Manhattan Fish Chowder:

Manhattan Fish Chowder

Fish, such as sole (1 lb at $1.50/lb) — $1.50
Butter (1 tbsp of $1.00 4 oz stick) — $0.13
1/2 yellow onion, chopped — $0.30
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped — $0.25
1 whole carrot, chopped — $0.10
2 stalks celery, chopped — $0.10
1 large potato, cubed – $0.15
Parsley (1/4 cup chopped from $0.69 bunch) — $0.06
Petite diced tomatoes (1 can) — $0.50
Tomato paste – (2 tbsp of $0.30 4 oz can) — $0.07
1 teaspoon hot sauce — $0.05
Crushed red pepper flakes — $0.05
Worcestershire sauce (1/2 tsp of $3.00 bottle) — $0.03
Vodka (2 tbsp of $8.99 1.75 L bottle) — $0.25
1 can chicken stock — $0.50
2 cups water — negligible
Salt / pepper — negligible

Total: $4.04

If fish is frozen, defrost in microwave in short 1 minute intervals, turning fish fillets frequently. Be careful not to cook the fish on accident…

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the yellow onion, celery, and chili pepper and saute until tender about 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for another minute. Add carrot, red pepper, potato, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Turn up heat to high and add the diced tomatoes, chicken stock, water, hot sauce, tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and vodka. Simmer over medium heat for 1 hour. Add the sole and stir until the fish is coated and distributed in the chowder. Cook until just done, about 5 minutes. Serve in bowls and sprinkle parsley on top of each.

Continue reading “Manhattan Fish Chowder” …

[ Currently Eating: Egg Sandwich ]

Banquet Mexican Style Enchilada Combo Meal
Part 6 : Banquet Mexican Style Enchilada Combo Meal
Whew, you must be wondering if I’m ever going to run out of Banquet Frozen Dinners to review. There’s at least 3 more to go before I have to repeat eating them. That is if I decide to eat them again.

This one has by far the longest full name: the Banquet Mexican Style Enchilada Combo Meal. I find it sort of funny that they had to say “Mexican Style” enchilada… as if people wouldn’t know? Well, I guess you can’t assume anything with America. But it’s sort of like saying, “Hey, want to go eat Japanese Sushi?”

Well, this one went in the oven on the usual cookie sheet at 350 F. One interesting thing about all these Banquet meals is that the temperature to cook it never changes. I guess they just set the temperature and then reverse engineer how long to cook it and what amount the ingredients need to be precooked?

Banquet Mexican Style Enchilada Combo Meal CookedI have had mediocre Banquet Dinners before (see the Banquet Pepperoni Pizza Meall and Banquet Fish Stick Meal) so I wasn’t really expecting anything spectacular here. At least this one was interesting because it didn’t feature that old standby CORN and had fairly decent (if soupy) mexican style rice instead. The rice grains were surprisingly cooked through; I was predicting they’d be a bit crunchy inside. Little slivers of green and red bell pepper and decent spiciness made it actually the better part of the meal.

Continue reading “Banquet Enchilada Combo Meal” …

5/20/05 | Generic Brand Soda

[ Currently Eating: Toast ]

Albertson's Cherry SodaSo the situation is that Memorial Day is rolling around and you’re inviting a bunch of so-called friends and family over for some BBQ grub. Getting your grocery list ready, you decide to pick up some soda for the masses. Oh sure, it’d be much cheaper to just mix up a big batch of lemonade or fruit punch. But there’s always some naysayer in the bunch who wants a dose of real carbonated, teeth melting sodypop. You don’t want to spend a lot of money, so what should you buy to please that party pooper?

If you know me, I’m always up for a little “generic brand” experimentation. At the supermarket this past week, lured by the cheap prices and the nostalgia factor (I have good memories of drinking Shasta black cherry soda when I was a kid), I picked up this $0.69 two liter bottle of Albertson’s Black Cherry Soda.

I’ve tried generic brand soda before (I think Ralph’s is called “Max”?) but mostly the lemon-lime variety which isn’t so bad, and cola which IS very bad. I usually don’t get the “strange” flavors like this time. Interestingly, I think Albertson’s has a “knockoff” of Mountain Dew called “Mountain Wave” or something that I was also tempted to buy. Just for grins.

So anyway, the major problem that I have with the fakey generic sodas is that the sweetness is inversely proportional to the price. This goes doubly for fruit flavors like strawberry, pineapple-orange and black cherry soda. The kid in me says hooray, but in reality it’s like drinking berry pie filling.

Continue reading “Generic Brand Soda” …

[ Currently Eating: Coffee ]

Sausage Pepper Pasta CloseupI’ve gotta admit that this particular pasta I made didn’t turn out exactly as I thought it would be. Oh, it was edible all right. It just wasn’t as delicious as I pictured it in my head. I was sort of picturing a sausage ‘n peppers sandwich, but with pasta. Oh well… I had made up the recipe on the spot so that was predictable. But I guess that’s how we learn to cook stuff …

I use a lot of italian sausage in cooking; I’m not talking about the pre-cooked smoked sausage or kielbasa that you eat for breakfast or put in gumbo. This is the connected links style of uncooked sausage. I buy it in bulk and freeze it in portions of 2-3 sausages wrapped in plastic wrap so that I can take down just what I need. This recipe uses only 2 sausages:

Sausage Pepper Pasta

2 Italian Sausages from CostCo 30-pack — $0.50
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped — $0.25
Parmesan cheese (1/4 oz of $3.50 8oz can) — $0.11
Any Dry Pasta like Macaroni(4 oz of $0.99 8 oz bag) — $0.50
Leftover corn (1/8 of 1 can) — $0.06
Olive oil (1 tbsp of $4.00 12 fl. oz bottle) — $0.17
Butter (1 tbsp of $1.00 4 oz stick) — $0.13
Chicken Stock (1/4 a $.50 can) — $0.12
Parsley (1/4 cup chopped from $0.69 bunch) — $0.06
Salt / pepper — negligible

Total: $2.43

Start boiling a large pot of water. Meanwhile, defrost the sausages a bit if necessary. Take off the outer skins of sausages (that’s right, squeeze out the sausage meat). Get a pan going on medium high and add sausage meat, breaking up with wooden spoon. Cook until well browned. If you have caraway seeds in the meat, you’ll have fun little pop explosions every so often!

Remove the sausage meat to a plate and set aside. Add 1/2 tbsp olive oil to hot skillet and add bell pepper and corn. Saute for about 3 minutes. Turn up heat to high and deglaze the pan with the chicken stock and about 1/4 cup water, scraping well. You can also use white wine here to deglaze. Just make sure to cook it out so the alcohol evaporates. Cook that for about 5 minutes or so, you want it to thicken.

When water boils, salt it and add macaroni. Cook till al dente then drain (don’t rinse or sauce won’t stick to pasta). Add pasta to skillet and toss well. Add sausage, parsley, parm cheese, butter and 1/2 tbsp olive oil. Cook for about 1-2 minutes more. Off heat add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Continue reading “Sausage and Pepper Pasta” …

[ Currently Eating: Coffee ]

Picked up this news item the usual way, through Google News with a search term of “Cheap Eats”. I’ve been experimenting with finding articles on cheap food lately in different cities and it seems to be pretty on target for a number of stories. I’ve got to start reviewing some local hidey-holes of my own, but this definitely helps to review restaurants in places other than California.

This review of a place called Coffee Odyssey and Eatery was from Carrie Seidman from The Albuquerque Tribune. Now, as I’ve said before, I’ve got a soft spot for coffee shops and coffee related places even though buying coffee instead of making it is definitely not on the Cheap Eats philosophy checklist. But I especially like these small tiny places and prices can often be cheaper than the larger diners. I don’t usually go for the coffee drinks anyhow. It’s the food I’m after.

From the article:

The menu isn’t what you’d call innovative. Carne adovada breakfast burritos and something called “Lisa’s tortilla sandwich” are big sellers when the doors open at 7:30 a.m., and there’s a run on tacos, burgers and sandwiches before closing time at 1:30 p.m.

But everything save a steak sandwich is less than $5 and made with plain but fresh and unadulterated ingredients…

Innovative can be thrown out the door as far as I’m concerned with places like these. Simple food and cheap prices are the reason I head for places like these. It’s interesting that she says that the eatery is in the midst of an office park… I’ve also found that if you can locate them (and if they can stay in business), small eateries like this are hidden Cheap Eats gems.

Carrie says that she got a chicken salad sandwich with chips and pickle for $3.95 with tax which is not bad for a sit down sandwich.

When I was working for a certain big unnamed electronics company, I used to eat at a tiny place 8 table luncheonette tucked between a two parking lots. I used to wonder how they hell it was that they stayed in business because the building was not visible from ANY street. The only way you could find it was to accidently stumble upon it. It had amazingly been in business for over 30 years. They serve delicious pseudo American Japanese brunch diner food. I guess good customer loyalty and patronage is enough to keep some of these smaller places open.

Cheap Eats Score: 5/10

The Albuquerque Tribune
Coffee Odyssey and Eatery



Recommended Reads