Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Your guide to eating cheap including tips, recipes and techniques

Archive for November, 2005

[ Currently Eating: Macaroni and Cheese ]

Del Taco Combo Meal 4 for 4 Taco, Burrito, Fries, Drink
If you watch any of the cable or DTV sports stations, you’ve no doubt seen a billion of the same commercials replayed over and over by now. For sports, I guess they are really marketing to the correct demographic because the commercials never seem to change. I’m extremely tired of the farking “Hemi” commercials by now, but for fast food commercials I’m semi-willing to let them pepper me with those for a bit because they can be funny and we’re always interested in cheap fast food.

Anywho, the current Del Taco commercial featuring those Four for $4 combos seems to have wormed its way into my brain, because the other day I decided to try one out. It’s a good thing that the Del Taco near me is difficult to get to; it’s on the opposite direction of a busy street so I’ve got to make an effort to get there (same with Jack-In-The-Balpha, by the way). Otherwise, I might eat there too often.

Taco Burrito Fries Drink Combo at Del TacoI’ve got a lot of good memories from eating at Del Taco in the 70s. I think we used to get the red or green chili burritos quite a bit, as well as the tacos. We pretty much switched off between Del Taco and Taco Bell equally. McDonalds and other hamburger joints didn’t get as much patronage from us.

So, I already knew that 25 percent of this combo would pretty much be a waste. Getting a soda as part of a combo meal is near the top of the Cheap Eats no-nos, especially if you’re taking out. Still, the way the portrayed the meals on TV, they made it sound like the average 6 foot tall 200 pound guy could get full on one of these. I’m a five foot 4 120 pound weakling and I could tell that this meal wasn’t enough just from taking it out of the bag.

The size of the burritos at Del Taco have certainly shrunk over the years. I couldn’t believe that they were calling this was a Del Beef Burrito. I think my mistake was getting the Del Beef Burrito and Taco combo. There are two other four dollar combos that I know of, including one that has a Big Fat Chicken Taco and Chicken Soft Taco and one featuring a Spicy Chicken Burrito and Chicken Soft Taco. Those seem more promising. It’s just that I ate all this poultry recently for Thanksgiving!

One other thing. In the commercial, they also mention that you can a free movie rental if you “up-size” the meal… this might be a good deal for some but I haven’t rented a movie from Blockbuster or any other place for years. I’d rather see more food in the combo meal than a stupid movie rental.

Continue reading “Del Taco Four Dollar Combo Meals” …

11/23/05 | Turkey Time

[ Currently Eating: Lays Potato Chip (Just One) ]

TurkeyBe afraid. Be very, very afraid. Famous words from Alton Brown on his Good Eats show. Why should you be afraid?

Well, to make a short story long: Every year for the last 30 or more years, I’ve relied upon parents and other family members to provide the main dish at Thanksgiving. The piece de la resistance to mangle a French phrase or two. The TURKEY!

We usually had Thanksgiving at my parent’s house or grandma’s house, and though there were many turkey ups and downs (overcooked, dry, undercooked, and soggy) there always WAS a turkey to be had. A full fledged, brown bird. I can’t remember for sure, but I believe I’ve always had The Bird on Thanksgiving without fail. Just like you see on TV, Turkey with all the Trimmings.

Well, this year the task of preparing the Turkey has fallen to ME for the first time ever. I’ve taken on the task in order to give my parents a bit of a break since their home is currently being remodeled and is in poor shape to host a Thanksgiving.

Cooking a turkey… where to start? Well, I guess I’ve passed the first test which is actually buying a frozen turkey ahead of time in order to let it defrost. I didn’t realize that everyone is thinking the exact same thing: buy the turkey on the weekend before Thanksgiving. So I thought I had plenty of time when I headed over there this past Friday night to look for one.

But the turkey icebox at the supermarket was a graveyard! Of gigantic 20-22 pound gargantuan birds. I wanted a 14-16 pound turkey just like the rest of the civilized world. As we pawed through the frozen carcasses looking for the ideal sized bird, I made a resolution to go earlier next year if I got the chance again. Finally, we found a stray 16.6 pound turkey hiding out under its bigger brethren. Whew!

TurkeyI’ve never had occasion to shop for turkeys, Thanksgiving or not, so I didn’t really know what the prices would be like. They always have some sort of sale going on at all the major supermarkets on frozen turkeys. The three biggies near me are Albertson’s, Ralph’s, and Vons. I can’t remember the exact details, except that Vons was the most reasonable.

For all the supermarkets, you have to buy a certain amount of groceries in order to get the deal on the bird. For Vons, it was: Buy 25 dollars worth of groceries and then get an under 16 pound bird for $5 or an over 16 pound bird for $7. Unfortunately, our bird tipped the scales at 16.6, so we had to fork over the extra $2. I believe Ralph’s was, buy $25 of groceries and then get 2 turkeys for the price of one, while Albertson’s was buy $75 of groceries and get a free turkey? Not sure…

TurkeyNow, since it’s still Wednesday and we haven’t yet done the deed, I won’t be able to post any pictures of the roasted turkey that we’re attempting to make. However, we have decided on a plan of attack and it’s going to be the “Brined” turkey recipe from Alton Brown’s Good Eats show. I’ve made brined roast chickens before which turned out pretty fabulously, so we picked the brining method for our first try. Plus, I’ve never had a brined turkey (parents weren’t into the idea) so this’ll be a fun test.

Brining is an extra step and is a bit trickier than a chicken because the Turkey is so darn large! I actually went to Home Depot to get a clean 5 gallon bucket in order to do it.

Well, in case you are wondering, here is the recipe taken straight from the Food Network site. We’re skipping the allspice berries and candied ginger, but we’re planning on following the rest of the steps pretty much to the letter. I’ll report back on the results after the holiday!

1 (14 to 16 pound) frozen young turkey

For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 tablespoon allspice berries
1/2 tablespoon candied ginger
1 gallon iced water

For the aromatics:
1 red apple, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
4 sprigs rosemary
6 leaves sage
Canola oil

Combine all brine ingredients, except ice water, in a stockpot, and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve solids, then remove from heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Early on the day of cooking, (or late the night before) combine the brine and ice water in a clean 5-gallon bucket. Place thawed turkey breast side down in brine, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area (like a basement) for 6 hours. Turn turkey over once, half way through brining.

A few minutes before roasting, heat oven to 500 degrees. Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes.

Remove bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard brine. Place bird on roasting rack inside wide, low pan and pat dry with paper towels. Add steeped aromatics to cavity along with rosemary and sage. Tuck back wings and coat whole bird liberally with canola (or other neutral) oil.

Roast on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cover breast with double layer of aluminum foil, insert probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and return to oven, reducing temperature to 350 degrees F. Set thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let turkey rest, loosely covered for 15 minutes before carving.

Price: $7.00 for just the Turkey
Bought at: Vons
Cheap Eats Score: 7/10

[ Currently Eating: Green Chile Verde Burrito(s) ]

Grill-A-Corn Calbee ChipsAs far as interesting names go, these Grill-A-Corn Chips get at least a little bit of props. Someone in marketing took a long time coming up with that name… or maybe not.

Maybe it was an intern working a late night shift in product development and dreaming of the upcoming weekend BBQ, and suddenly a light bulb turns on in his head and he goes: “Eureka… it’s Grill-O-Corn!” Yeah. Well, the name DOES seem to evoke summertime backyard BBQs where you’d have a bunch of corn on the cobs out on the grill.

But these taste exactly nothing like that. What they DO resemble are Flaming Cheetos in almost every respect. That’s probably because I’ve been getting the “Hot and Spicy” variety (the normal variety is pretty much the same without the spice). These look, feel, and taste almost exactly like Cheetos which is maybe why they needed to come up with such a different name like Grill-A-Corn.

The corn taste of these little crunchy doodles (I forget, are Cheetos baked or does that not even matter because of the crazy stuff that goes into them) is quite nice. I could be wrong but it sure seems like these Grill-O-Corn pieces are more substantial than normal Cheetos.

Neither of the varieties includes any of that powerful “cheese” powder that’s on Cheetos though. Which might be a bummer for those expecting it to be all over their hands.

Grill A Corn Calbee Chips like Cheetos

The actual taste of the reddish powder that’s on these Grill-A-Corn babies is pretty good. There’s a slightly sweet and tangy taste to them to the spice. Salt flavor is manageable and not too overpowering. The actually kick of heat is not impressive though, and goes away after a eating a few. The bag I got is around the size of those standard 99 cents bags of chips that inflation has shrunk to a depressing size. Maybe a little bigger.

One thing that’s nice is that the bag is a pretty high quality thicker one which means that your chips won’t go stale after opened. Not that they’ll last that long anyhow… I can easily eat the Grill-A-Corn bag in one sitting. At $1.09 this is a little pricey, but it’s a nice change from your usual lineup of chips.

Price: $1.09
Bought at: Chinese Market
Cheap Eats Score: 6/10

[ Currently Eating: Pork Rib Bean Sprout Soup ]

Bob The Builder Fruit SnacksOK, this the last of the Halloween candies I’m going to review. We had a few more but I decided to lay off the sweets for a bit.

Even if you’re not a parent, there’s little chance that you haven’t come in contact with Bob The Builder toys. A relative with kids has no doubt had them lying around. As is the case with all kid toys, they eventually make their way onto food items that kids may enjoy. These Bob The Builder Fruit Snacks are made by Brach’s candies. I have these memories from when I was younger of going to the Sav-On’s and heading toward the Brach’s candy bins where you can choose from a whole assortment of their candy and shovel them into a bag. They still have these bins around, but it doesn’t seem the same, maybe because it’s just not as cheap.

Anyhow, I didn’t expect much from these Bob The Builder Fruit Snacks because all that usually matters is the branding. The actual snacks are generic, although these are so-called “fruit snacks”. I always wonder what kind of fruit they use in these things, and since I only got the small non-resale pack I have no idea.

Interestingly, I know for a fact that there are the colors Blue, Purple, Red and Orange and maybe other colors. But in this particular one I got about 10 Purples, one Red and one Orange. No Blue! Sad…

I’m also not certain what the shapes are. The Purple one is definitely a woodsaw. The Red one has these wheels that look like they’re from a tank so I figure that must be from a Caterpillar type dump truck vehicle. The Orange one also has wheels but I can’t tell whether it’s a grocery cart or a wheelbarrow. Probably a wheelbarrow.

Bob The Builder Fruit Snacks in Purple, Red, Orange

By now, you probably guessed that because I’m so interested in what shape was that the taste might not have been so swell. The actual fruit snacks are very generic. But I much prefer Fruit-Rollups that really taste like a certain fruit. These fruit squares were a bit pasty. I’ve had other fruit snacks like these that were a bit chewier. These tasted a bit like flavored playdough. The “Cherry” one and the “Orange” tasted pretty artificial. I wonder what kind of fruit puree is used to make these things. I think the purple one was supposed to be “Grape” but it was pretty awful. Luckily, this was the trial size. I wouldn’t have finished off the pack if it wasn’t.

Cheap Eats Score: 5/10

[ Currently Eating: Patty Melt With Cheese ]

Vanilla Coke[Ed. Note: Earlier, someone created a petition to bring back vanilla coke. Well, yes it seems to have come back (no need to write in to tell me!)... I'm going to close comments on this post for now, unless they decide to take it away again. Remember, I wrote this post in 2005. Thank you all for commenting.] We now interrupt your regularly scheduled Cheap Eats candy birdwalk programming to bring you this news: the Coca-Cola company is planning on phasing out Vanilla Coke at the end of 2005.

This is sad! Vanilla Coke, I hardly knew ye. Coca-cola brought it to market in 2002 along with Diet Vanilla Coke a year later. They did this pretty good marketing push, I remember I was eager to try it even before it was out. But now they say the sales are slipping. So where did all the Vanilla fans go? Could they really have gone over to the “dark side” which is of course Pepsi (a much hated drink around Cheap Eats).

I always thought Pepsi was lame because they were asked what they thought of the new flavors (vanilla / lemon / lime) that Coke came out with, and I remember a marketing bigwig (now fired most likely) saying “Oh, that’s not going to have ANY affect on the market. No one’s going to buy THAT.” Then a few months later they came out with those flavors of Pepsi! Lame.

While we normally don’t give a dang about name brand soda at Cheap Eats, Vanilla Coke totally kicked ass. It wasn’t as cloyingly sweet as normal cream soda. For awhile there, it was actually somewhat difficult to find at stores, at least on sale. We contented ourselves with picking up Vanilla Coke Fridge Packs for $3 each at Target whenever it cycled around to being cheap. I didn’t stockpile any Vanilla Coke, though you can be sure that I’m going to go out soon and load up the SUV.

Continue reading “Vanilla Coke : You Will Be Missed” …

11/3/05 | Sour Skittles

[ Currently Eating: Taiwanese Shabu-Shabu ]

Sour SkittlesHere’s another quickie candy spotlight courtesy of the recent Halloween haul. I had recently “Tasted The Rainbow” through a free package of Smoothie Mix Skittles from Impulsive Buy. Those were very Miami Vice / 80s with the pastel colors, though they had some good flavors.

These newest Sour Skittles I tasted were pretty good too. They had Grape, Lemon, Orange, Strawberry and Blue Raspberry. They have a powdery coating which is where the pucker-up power resides. According to a few candy specials (Food Network’s Unwrapped), the sour stuff is pretty popular with kids. I think they had showed this one place where you just bought the Sour Powder on its own in different flavors, poured it into a tube, and then ate it straight up.

OK, that’s seems to be overdoing it. But I’ve always liked sour candy so this was kind of nice to have it on Skittles.

I ate a few of them quickly and hardly tasted the sourness. If you crunch them straight through they taste just like tangy normal Skittles. However, if you try and put one in your mouth and let the outer sour powder dissolve in your mouth, you’re hit with a fairly decent jolt of acidity. It goes away in about 10 seconds though after the powder dissolves. I actually preferred to crunch them up since Skittles aren’t the type of candy you suck on, so it works out in the end.

Sour Skittles Taste The Rainbow

I think my favorite flavor of the Sour Skittles was the Blue Raspberry… I have never figured out why they came up with the flavor of Raspberry being blue. This just does not make any sense.

I don’t have the info on how much Skittles cost since it was free, and anyhow it’s the Halloween mini-pack size. I think it’s probably about 50-60 cents for a normal size pack which makes me shudder. I still cannot get used to candy inflation and how much less everything cost when I was a kid… it drives me insane!

Cheap Eats Score: 7/10

[ Currently Eating: Turkey Melt Sandwich ]

Hershey Milk Chocolate BarIn honor of the post-Halloween candy bellyaches you probably all have, I decided to feature some candy in some upcoming episodes of Cheap Eats. (For constant candy craving addicts, you need to visit Cybele’s Candy Blog to get a constant candy fix!)

First up is the venerable Hershey Milk Chocolate Candy Bar. Founded in 1894 by Milton S Hershey, the Hershey company is the world’s largest according to Wikipedia. I have lots of good memories from Hershey bars when I was a kid. The one pictured here is the small snack size, which is actually not too much smaller than what passes for a “full size” bar nowadays.

In the 70s, which is when I ingested the most candy, you could buy a Hershey bar for 30 cents if I remember correctly. Interestingly, I remember it wasn’t always the cheapest candy bar per size and weight. The one thing it had going for it was that it was a solid chocolate bar. No nuts, nougat, caramel. Solid. I know some people who swear by the bar as opposed to kisses but I like both of them.

Hershey Milk Chocolate Bar Squares

I actually got these Hershey bars for free from my in-laws which is why they qualify for Cheap Eats. Let’s face it: candy in general ain’t cheap, nor is it necessary to survive (though many might argue that’s not true!). You can get much cheaper chocolate from any number of companies. But Hershey bars strike me as sort of the blue collar working man’s milk chocolate bar. The chocolate ain’t anywhere near top notch. Personally, I’ll take their Special Dark Chocolate mini bar any day over the normal bar. The milk chocolate isn’t very smooth and it just seems way too sweet. But I guess it’ll do in a pinch and for the price it’s not horrible.

Cheap Eats Score: 6/10



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