Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Your guide to eating cheap including tips, recipes and techniques

Archive for June, 2005

6/29/05 | Sunflower Seeds

[ Currently Eating: Derek Jeter's Sunflower Seeds ]

David Roasted Salted Sunflower SeedsAt my last job, a bunch of us went through a huge and relatively time consuming phase of eating sunflower seeds on the job. Luckily, we weren’t in customer service because unshelled sunflower seeds can make a huge mess. But we definitely watched each other’s backs by noting when someone had a stray bit of seed in between some teeth or a shell in their hair or clothes (more common than you might think).

I don’t buy sunflower seeds regularly any more, but once in awhile I still pick them up in the store when on sale. This latest bag I got is a pretty ubiquitous brand called David (ConAgra Foods makes them) that comes in a 5.25 ounce bag. I got it on sale for 60 cents which is not the cheapest, though this package usually goes for 99 cents.

But one thing with sunflower seeds is that you absolutely do not want to get STALE seeds. We learned this the hard way when a co-worker bought a gigantic bulk tub of sunflower seeds. It was about the size of one of those huge tubs of laundry detergent and would have been better if it tasted like detergent. Stale sunflower seeds are possibly the grossest thing you can eat.

David Roasted Salted Sunflower SeedsThese David Sunflower Seeds, however, were perfectly roasted and pretty delicious. I know a lot of people who refuse to take the time to eat the “in-shell” version. You can buy the salted, shelled version for pretty cheap too. But what’s the fun with that? I mean, if Derek Jeter is so happy with his sunflower seeds in the shell, then by gosh that is AOK with me. I don’t understand how his teeth can be that white after eating so many of them. Maybe he has one of those Teeth Wipes on one finger while he pops seeds in his mouth with the other hand. Pop, crack, brush, repeat…

My favorite thing about this package besides Jeter’s smirking pic on it is the tagline which is partly obscured in the photo above. Their slogan is “Eat. Spit. Be Happy.” Sounds like a recipe for success to me, except I wouldn’t want to be the one to clean up all the hawked loogies on the ground at company headquarters. Little kids must love this slogan. “See mom, it’s OK to spit!”

Continue reading “Sunflower Seeds” …

6/27/05 | S&W Black Beans

[ Currently Eating: A Strange Pineapple Mini-Cake ]

SW Black BeansThe other day my mom gave me 3 cans of S&W Black Beans because she had gone to CostCo and bought the bulk 12-pack of cans of beans. Well, she gave me the cans the other day, but she actually bought them at CostCo in April of 2004. Hm… the cans are only a year old. I guess that never stopped me before.

I’ve gotten S&W brand beans but never the black ones or “frijoles negros” as they say on the package. The two types of other beans that I’ve tried are Kidney Beans and Garbanzo Beans. You can make a mean pseudo hummus with Garbanzo Beans but that’s for another episode…

So as for generic brand beans, I’ve tried the S&W Kidney Beans side by side with Albertson’s brand kidney beans and honestly I can’t tell the difference. I used them straight up in a pasta salad too, instead of cooking them, so I suspect that it’s a good bet they can be substituted.

I’ve never tried either name brand or generic Black Beans, though I’ve always wanted to. I do like beans quite a bit, whole, smashed, boiled, refried, and even rotten (Natto, haha. You have to see, or rather smell this to believe it.) Everyone should eat more beans. After all, the saying goes “Beans, beans are good for your heart. The more you eat the more you FART”. Toot, toot.

Many people I know don’t like refried beans and/or burritos made with smashed beans. I think a roommate gave me the nicest description of what he felt bean burritos resembled: a used baby diaper. I had to laugh like hell.

Anyhow, I ate a few of these straight out of the can. Not bad actualy, though a little sweet. All these canned beans come packed in a kind of syrupy, sugary sauce that I usually throw out except if you are making some sort of stew or chili in which case you can keep a little of it in there for color and as a thickening agent.

I think in general it’s probably tastier and more economical to actually cook up a mess ‘o dried beans from scratch. A lot more work, soaking and whatnot. But if you must eat from a can, then you might want to fix up your beans a bit. The method I use is including something called a “sofrito”(?). Basically it’s some veggies you cook down in fat until soft. Then you take some of the heated whole beans, add it to the sofrito and mash it up. Then re-add it to the whole beans. Yum, it actually improves it significantly. Not restaurant quality, but certainly better.

SW Black Beans 2I’m not sure if this is called a sofrito everywhere or if I’m doing this right. I got the idea off a package of dried beans. I make mine by first frying up 2 strips of bacon till crispy. Then, set aside bacon, remove all but 1 tbsp of fat from pan, and add in 1/2 cup each chopped onion, celery, red bell pepper and about 1 tbsp chopped garlic. Add 1 cup water and simmer that till it’s soft, about 10-15 min.

Meanwhile, you heat up the black beans along with most of the liquid from can. Might want to add a little more water, or even a little chicken stock. When it’s hot, take a 1/2 cup of the beans and about 1/2 cup of the liquid and dump it in the veggies. Get a wooden spoon and smash up the beans. Cook for about 5 min more and then add back to the pot of beans. Mix in bacon and serve it.

Continue reading “S&W Black Beans” …

[ Currently Eating: Toothpaste ]

Zatarain's JambalayaI’ve seen Zatarain do commercials about their Dirty Rice mixture on TV all the time, but I don’t think I’ve seen them plug their Jambalaya Mix. I’ve been picking up both the Zatarain’s Dirty Rice box and the Jambalaya mix box for awhile now. It is actually not too bad, I like them more than most of the other Rice-A-Roni products out there.

The most important thing for Cheap Eaters to note is that you need to add meat to all of the Zatarain’s products. For instance, this Jambalaya Mix calls for adding “your choice of 1 pound of smoked sausage, chicken (pre-cooked), ham, or shrimp cut into bite-size pieces.” For me, this is actually OK because I generally have one of those items (except the shrimp!) on hand. In particular there is usually either sausage or ham in the fridge, usually left over from making something like Pasta with Ham.

Although you can easily get away with just putting the meat in the dish, it’s common practice at Cheap Eats headquarters to spice up the dish with some veggies. The usual suspects work well in Zatarain’s Jambalaya – chopped brown onion, celery, red or green bell pepper. A garnish of chopped parsley on top sort of takes away some of the slightly gummy feeling that the rice will leave in your mouth. There actually ARE vegetables in the mix in the form of “specks” of dehydrated onion and bell pepper, but we all know how good this freeze-dried astronaut food tastes. Do yourself a favor and throw some of the real stuff in.

Zatarain's JambalayaYou can also make this without meat if you’d like. The rice is pretty salty and has quite a bit of heat in the spice so it can easily stand alone without adding anything but the seasoning packet. The rice itself is OK… but suffers a little bit in substance and fluffiness since as with all these instant rice products, they’ve parboiled the rice in advance to make sure it cooks more evenly in only 25 minutes. But as far as convenience goes, it sure is simple. It’s just like cooking rice, but you add a seasoning packet.

On that note, at a price of nearly two dollars per box, many Cheap Eaters are going to cry foul. Why not make the mix yourself? I’ve actually made Jambalaya from scratch before and it does take a bit more doing. I think the thing that most people will have problems with is making sure they have all the correct spices on hand and with making the roux.

Zatarain's JambalayaWhat’s a Roux anyhow? (I used to pronounce this Rowks when I was a kid, haha). It’s basically flour cooked in oil until the flour darkens to a toasty brown. Roux is sort of like women’s hair color… there are light blonde, brunette, redhead, and jet black variations. You generally don’t want to get your roux to be black because that means its burnt. I think most of the Cajun recipes call for roux that is light to dark chocolate brown, like the color of an old penny.

You take an equal amount of flour and oil. You gotta do it in a deep pot and be careful because the oil reaches crazy hot temperaturees. Heat up the oil for awhile in the pot and then sprinkle in the flour gradually, stirring like a madman with a wooden spoon. I hope you don’t need that spoon anywhere else, because it’s going to turn a nice black burnt color.

Continue reading “Zatarain’s Jambalaya Mix” …

[ Currently Eating: An Interesting Burrito ]

Coke Is ItThe 900 pound gorilla that is Coke was a shoe-in for winning the Favorite Soda Poll. I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember the Pepsi Challenge that they used to have outside of supermarkets many years ago. They’d basically blindfold you and ask you to drink from a cup of Pepsi and a cup of Coke. Then they’d ask you to pick which one you liked better.

My cousin and her friends took the challenge and she said it was kind of funny how nearly ALL of them picked Coke, after which the people running the challenge became extremely rude and basically told them to “move along”. Funny, but typical. Anyhow, going by taste alone I’m a Coke guy myself, and I really like their newer additions, Vanilla Coke and Lime Coke. I hope these don’t go “out of print” like their earlier forays into non-classic style colas.

Soda Poll

It’s no surprise that Pepsi lost to Coke in the poll, but what I’m a bit more surprised is how WELL that Dr. Pepper did in nearly beating out Pepsi. Dr. Pepper is a bit of a love it or hate it deal, at least with people I know. I actually like Dr. Pepper a lot and will generally choose it over Classic Coke when given a chance. However, many people I know liken the taste to “medicine” or cough syrup.

Mountain Dew, our good old nuclear green-yellow friend, brought up the rear unsurprisingly. Apparently, “doing the Dew” is not the best slogan in the world. I get that confused with “doing doo-doo” which is an altogether different slogan, hehe. I felt their commercials were pretty lame. But then, there aren’t too many good soda commercials as it is… they all seem to want to show lame untalented pop stars. I’m sure someone will write to prove me wrong. Just don’t get me started on American Idol…

The new poll up at the top of the page is for your favorite chips. I was going to have an “other” category, and then I just decided to hell with it. I’m going to make you pick one of the four… Doritos, Cheetos, Lays, or Pringles.

6/20/05 | Tuna Sandwich

[ Currently Eating: Ice Cream ]

Tuna SandwichAh.. the tuna sandwich. When it comes to sandwiches, tuna is a pretty popular way to go for picnics, bag lunches, and marketing meetings (the in-house catering service for where I used to work seemed to have nothing but tuna and egg salad). It’s a pretty popular sandwich, but is it Cheap Eats?

In many cases, the answer is no because of the price of tuna. There are many different brands to pick from like Chicken of the Sea, Bumblebee, and Starkist, but the price seems to be pretty static for them. They also have Generic tuna, but this is one food where I think I might pay the extra 25 cents per can.

I make sandwiches from tuna pretty frequently, sometimes as a standard sandwich and other times as a Tuna Melt, which I’ll save for another time. One thing I like to do is to change up the consistency of the tuna by putting something “crunchy” in it. If you don’t like the crunch, in this case provided by celery, you can easily substitute it or omit it completely. I think it makes it less boring, though. I also put in tomato and/or lettuce usually:

Simple Tuna Sandwich

1 can Chunk Light tuna — $0.79
1/2 tomato, sliced — $0.25
2 slices white bread — $0.10
1 rib celery, minced — $0.10
1 green onion, minced fine — $0.05
2-4 tbsp mayo — $0.10
Salt / pepper — negligible

Total: $1.39

I don’t need to tell you how to make a tuna sandwich do I? Oh, all right. Mince the green onion really fine, this is kind of important so you don’t bit into onion chunks. Chop it super fine and it will add flavor without being annoying. Mince the celery too, but leave some chunkiness for texture.

Pop the bread in the toaster and toast away to your liking. Drain the tuna and empty into large bowl. Break it up with a fork and then add the celery, onion, mayo and salt and pepper to taste. Mix up well. Spread the mixture on bread, top with tomato slices, and cover with other slice. Yay, tuna sammich is done.

Continue reading “Tuna Sandwich” …

6/17/05 | Loco Moco

[ Currently Eating: Coffee ]

Loco Moco

You are probably looking at the above picture on your screen and wondering if I’ve lost my marbles. What in the world is a Loco Moco and did you make that up?

Nope, this is a real dish and contrary to your first impression is not a Mexican or Spanish dish (at least I don’t think it is). Nor does it have anything to do with El Pollo Loco. There’s no chicken in it.

This is actually a “Hawaiian” dish that I’ve been eating for a long time (my dad’s side is from Kona). I think they’ve always sold it over there, but recently there has been a huge influx of Hawaiian BBQ restaurants into the area where I live. This is the latest fad in California (and a few other Western states); everyone and their mom wants to open one of these Hawaiian BBQ deals (a big chain that came over from Hawaii is called L&L) nowadays because they have been making a huge amount of money, primarily because people on the Atkins diet can gorge themselves off the meat heavy menu.

Not every Hawaiian BBQ chain sells Loco Moco, but most have something similar. So what is in this “crazy booger” of a meal? Why, it is a veritable layered heart attack on a plate. The usual consists of 2 scoops of Japanese sticky rice on a plate. Layer on TWO grilled or fried hamburger steaks, then add TWO fried eggs on top, and then douse the whole thing with artery clogging brown gravy. Sometimes there is a scoop of macaroni salad on the side. Whew, I rarely finish the whole thing when I eat it at a restaurant; it’s just too much.

Which is why I make a “mini” version at home. It’s slightly better for your arteries as well. The key for me is: less meat, less eggs, more gravy. Indeed, you can barely see the hamburger underneath the gravy. Here is how it goes:

Loco Moco Mini

1-2 cups cooked sticky rice — $0.15
1 egg — $0.10
1/4 lb hamburger meat — $0.50
1/4 brown onion, sliced — $0.15
3-5 mushrooms, sliced — $0.25
1/4 cup flour — $0.05
1/3 can chicken stock — $0.15
1 tbsp Bread crumbs — $0.03
Dash soy sauce — $0.02
2 tbsp oil — $0.05
Salt / pepper / water — negligible

Total: $1.45

(If hamburger meat is frozen, gently defrost on plate in 1 minute intervals… you don’t want to cook it!)

Warm up the rice in microwave if cold. Spread out the rice fairly thinly on a large plate and set aside. Heat a small pan on high. Mix the hamburger meat, bread crumbs, soy sauce, and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Form a “patty” that is not round like a hamburger but elongated, like a Salisbury Steak almost. It should be very thin, so it will cook fast.

When pan is hot, add 1/2 tbsp of oil and sizzle that hamburger patty, about 1 minute on either side. It should be nice and chared. Remove to the plate on top of the rice and put it in the oven to rest. Now, DON’T wash the pan… add 1 tbsp of the oil in the pan and throw in the sliced onions and mushrooms. Sizzle that for about 5 minutes on medium or until onions are soft.

Meanwhile, get another small non-stick pan going with 1/2 tbsp of oil. Crack an egg in there and fry it, turning once through the cooking, until done as desired. Put that egg on top of the hamburger patty and put it back in the oven.

Returning to the onions and mushrooms – reduce heat to low and sprinkle flour evenly over mixture. DON’T mix it yet; let it stand there for about 3-5 minutes. This will cook the flour, preventing the gravy from tasting flour-ey. Now increase the heat to medium and slowly add chicken stock in thin stream, stirring frequently with wooden spoon. You may need more or less liquid to get the desired thickness. When gravy is done, add some black pepper to it, pour it over the hamburger/egg and you have a mini loco moco!

Continue reading “Loco Moco” …

[ Currently Eating: Cookies ]

Seattle's BestWell, as for the title of “Seattle’s Best” coffee, I’m really not going to touch that with a 10 foot pole because I know there are a lot of coffee lovers out there who would rip me a new one for suggesting ANY coffee is good since I’m in Southern California, home of Starbuckian latte-loving yuppies. But in any case, this is not an argument on which coffee is better than another, nor is it a discourse on whether patronizing a Starbucks hurts the small mom and pop coffeeshops. This is a free coupon, and it’s pretty good since it has a larger time window than the Krispy Kreme coupon I mentioned before.

This is for a free 12 oz. beverage… which is interesting. Because I assume that even means that you don’t have to get coffee but can get something else like tea? That might be a wise decision because the coffee is being served at Borders and I can’t vouch for the quality of the coffee at a bookstore like that, even if it IS labeled Seattle’s Best.

Seattle's Best Free at Borders

The coupons is good from 6/18 – 7/01 which is a nice window of time. Plenty of time to drive down to borders, provided you live near Pleasanton, Roseville, Glendale, or Pasadena (I think these are all California) because that’s the only stores that will honor the coupon. The only problem for me is that the nearest of those stores, in Pasadena, is still a little bit of a drive… so I’ll have to weigh the cost of gas versus the coffee. I guess if I was going down there anyhow… but because of the need for a drive, I gotta give it a lower score than a full 10.

How much does a cup of coffee cost nowadays anyhow? I make my coffee at home. I remember certain diners still having 10 or 15 cent coffee the last time I checked. That’s diner coffee though… drinker beware! I’m actually thinking of going down to Borders just to see what other “beverages” I can get with the coupon that is a 12 oz. drink. I wonder if I squash a danish into a 12 oz. cup if it will count…

Cheap Eats Score: 9/10



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