Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Your guide to eating cheap including tips, recipes and techniques

Archive for January, 2006



[ Currently Eating: Carbonara Pasta ]

Progresso Chicken and Rotini SoupWhen winter’s closing in all around you (Yes I know I should quit complaining about these balmy 40 degree nights), nothing hits the spot like Chicken Soup. Unfortunately, the majority of people are too darn lazy (or sick in bed) to whip up a homemade batch of chicken soup. That’s when it’s time to peek in the pantry to see what cans of soup might make a good meal.

Earlier, we had reviewed Progresso’s Clam Chowder and had been pretty well pleased with the soup. I think as far as cost goes, that’s where it’s really difficult to make a judgement call. After all, you can get plain old Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup on sale for 30 to 50 cents usually but dang do you get what you pay for! Nostalgia aside, unless your idea of “mmm, mmm good” is watery chicken soup with small pasty noodles, you’d best look elsewhere. Anyhow, being able to store soup in the pantry for long periods of time, takes a little of the edge off the price. I’m willing to pay a bit more for canned soup.

When I get Progresso soup, I usually try to buy it in bulk at a place like CostCo or wait for sales in the supermarket. I think the normal price ranges from $1.50-$2.50 for most of their soups. I got this 8-pack of Progresso Chicken and Rotini Soup (there are actually 2 varieties in this pack, Chicken and Rotini and Plain Chicken Noodle) for about $10 which works out to a little over a dollar a can.

Progresso Chicken & Rotini Soup ladle

As far as overall taste goes, Progresso Chicken & Rotini Soup is very good. The spiral Rotini are large and not pasty at all; they have a good bite to them… I think the soup companies must have figured out how to keep pasta in liquid for long periods of time without it going soggy because it sure tastes fresh.

Continue reading “Progresso Chicken Rotini Soup” …


[ Currently Eating: Vanilla Cokes, Of Course ]

Black Cherry Vanilla Coke vs. Vanilla Coke… Annnd in the challenger’s corner, recent fruity upstart made real by a secret cabal of Coke marketeers: Black Cherry Vanilla Coke. Now make way for the reigning champion, the sweet but burp-inducing beverage, the one and only Pepsi-killer: Vanilla Coke. Now let’s get ready to rumble!

Well, truthfully the fight’s been fixed. Black Cherry Vanilla Coke has already won in a forfeit. Good ‘ol plain Vanilla was put out to pasture at the start of this year for reasons yet unknown except to Coke insiders. It had a good run. It was delicious. And now it’s gone.

I’d been waiting for the “replacement” ever since reading the press release about Vanilla’s demise. Sure enough, last week during a Target Xmas Gift Card shopping spree I saw the fridge packs of Black Cherry Vanilla Coke and picked one up to review.

I was actually just going to review the new flavor, but since I had 2 cans of Vanilla Coke leftover, I decided to waste one of these potential Ebay hot OOP products (I’ve been wondering if we’ll see them being sold as the days go on) to do a comparison taste test side by side. So today, I lined them up and poured myself two glasses of the different soda flavors. Incidentally, I highly do not recommend drinking two cans of soda in the morning after a full cup of coffee. Buzz-city.

Hm… today I think I’ll actually divide up the review in sections, like a “real” reviewer would. Maybe this will attract more companies to send in freebees:

Packaging:

Let’s start with the can design first. Both use the signature Coke red, silver and white for the can, and both varieties have some “yellowish” streaks that I supposed stands for vanilla. Vanilla Coke included an abstract piece of art that I didn’t really like. But then again, how do you draw vanilla beans so that people will know what they are? I think people might think it’s peas in a pod or something.

Black Cherry Vanilla Coke has a picture of two cherries floating in water which is kind of cool. However, the writing “Black Cherry Vanilla” is actually quite small and is vertical on the can which makes it difficult to tell at a glance what it is. Vanilla Coke has the letters emblazoned diagonally across the can in much larger letters.

I think it’s a tie as far as packaging goes. I would like to see the “black cherry vanilla” in bigger letters on the can, but the older Vanilla Coke wasn’t so hot in the design. But hey, who really cares about this stuff right?

Continue reading “Black Cherry Vanilla Coke” …


[ Currently Eating: Sesame Poached Fish ]

As a kid, I had more than my fair share of Happy Stars and Western Bacon Cheeseburgers at Carl’s Jr. restaurants so I was somewhat surprised that we actually haven’t talked about Carl’s here on Cheap Eats yet.

I think part of the problem is that while they are definitely pushing their 99 cent items nowadays in order to compete with Burger King and McDonald’s, Carl’s Junior has always seemed more of a “high end” burger fast food place to me. In fact, my mom would always take us there when we were at the mall back in the day, because they just seemed to have “healthier” options. Like Fried Zucchini and numerous Chicken Club sandwiches. These, of course, weren’t exactly the cheapest things on the menu. I must say that I rarely got sick from eating burgers at Carl’s Junior, while McDonald’s was Russian Stomach Roulette.

Fast forward to today, and they’re right up there offering cheaper items with the best of them. I haven’t been to the fast food joint in awhile (they closed down the nearest one to my house) but I am continually getting Carl’s Junior coupons in the mail trying to get me to eat their Six Dollar Burger. You’re usually left sitting there wondering which fry cook was drunk this time in the kitchen.

Unlike the Six Million Dollar Man, the Six Dollar burger doesn’t look like a million bucks in person. Oh sure, you see the commercials of them dropping one of these bad boys from a height of a foot or so and it sure seems to plop down well, fat and juicy and full of goodies. In real life, not only does the 6 dollar burger cost like $4.00 alone (which in my opinion is not cheap enough to make a big deal about the $2 you save) but usually comes looking like a hurricane hit an In-n-Out burger joint.

There’s no semblance to the nice, expensive looking burgers in their commercials. Then again, when has a burger in person ever looked like the one from a commercial? I do applaud them in their adventurous choice of materials to make these so-called restaurant burgers. The Portabello Mushroom burger was at least interesting. Now they’re offering up a “Jalapeno Burger” (sorry, I’m to lazy to grab the tilde “N”).

Continue reading “Carl’s Junior Coupons” …


[ Currently Eating: Pork Chile Verde ]

Food PyramidIf the numbers from our latest poll about food lifestyle are any indication, then I guess the USDA might feel a little relieved. They recently (I forgot if I posted about this) flipped the traditional food pyramid on end and introduced the concept of exercise into the pyramid. (It’s about time, by the way). The food pyramid concept tries to get people to make smart and balanced choices about what you eat.

The little guy walking up the pyramid is supposed to represent exercise while the colored bands are supposed to equal the types and amount of food that you eat. I haven’t really gone through the details on their site yet, but I think that’s approximately what it’s about. Oh, the bands and their food types are below:

Food Pyramid 2

The writing on that little yellow band may be difficult to read. It’s supposed to be “oils”. I’m not sure why they used purple for meats and beans, I would have used red for that and purple for fruits.

Cheap Eats Sense of Taste PollSo anyhow, in this latest poll I wanted to see what everyone’s food lifestyle was like… admitedly there wasn’t many in-between choices and it was pretty much only three different ones, with veggie eaters being split into conservative and strict. But it was nice to see “Equal Opportunity Eaters” win the poll handily. (I had thought I’d completely made up a new phrase, but I’m not 100% sure now.) With 192 votes, equal opportunity eaters formed the majority of Cheap Eaters.

I’m a bit surprised that Meat-A-Tarians didn’t run away with the poll. A lot of Cheap Eaters that I know tend to fall into this camp, what with all the fast food that forms a big part of their diet. I think there are a lot of nearly meat-only Cheap Eaters who maybe eat a salad once a week or something who didn’t check this box. Anyhow, I wouldn’t think that a meat only diet (Atkins, please go to hell) would be very nice on your bowels. But with 90 votes, meat eaters still came out in force.

For the Vegetarians and Vegans, the combined score was only 76 votes but that was pretty respectable. This is Cheap Eats actually, so I expected there not to be that big of a showing. After all, it is fairly difficult (but by no means impossible) to be a vegetarian on a budget.

I actually seperated Vegetarians and Vegans just to see if there were ANY vegans who adhered to Cheap Eats philosophy. There were only 14 votes (1 of them was me accidentally checking the box!) but my hat is off to them. Also, I’m taking the definition of vegan as I understand it… no dairy or eggs at all (veggies, don’t bite my head off beause I just got that information online somewhere). That is some tough tomatoes. I think there is a regimen even more strict than vegan… something like you can only eat fruits and things that DROP off trees. That is double tough tomatoes!

Ok, the next poll concerns a substance that is near and dear to my heart. Perhaps a little TOO dear. I think my intake of caffeinated drinks is way over the recommended daily allowance… but how about you? I’ve only listed the the most popular 3 though. I’d be interested to see how many caffeine abstainers there are in Cheap Eats…


[ Currently Eating: Yogurt ]

Dannon Light 'n Fit Yogurt FlavorsHang onto your hats folks, because we’re about to review Dannon’s Light ‘N Fit Yogurt line. Huh? A diet food review on Cheap Eats? Don’t we scoff at diet foods? Well, I was lucky enough to receive actual yogurt samples in the mail the other day so I’m not about to complain about the price. By the way, they didn’t send me a coupon for yogurt, they sent four ACTUAL Dannon 6 oz. yogurt cups in the mail in a handy carrier filled with blue ice. Pretty cool.

Everyone’s concerned about calories these days, but here at Cheap Eats we could give a floopy rutabaga about staying healthy. Still, for those who are interested, 60 calories for 6 ounce cup of this Dannon Light ‘n Fit seems to be pretty decent for those watching their weight. (The handout sent with it says that their Light ‘n Fit yogurt has gone through reformulations that now make it the “lowest calorie, nationally branded light yogurt available”)

Of a bigger concern for me, was the fact that like nearly all diet foods today it contains artificial sweetener in the form of Splenda. I’m going to preface these reviews by saying that I have a long, well-documented disklike for any artificial sweeteners. It especially bugs me in soda and desserts. Saccharin is particularly problematic. It just leaves a horrible aftertaste that stays in your mouth for hours.

Lately though, the foods that have Splenda in them have seemed less offensive to me in terms of aftertaste. Still, if this doesn’t bother you then I would disregard everything I say about artificial sweetener in the following reviews.

First up is Raspberry Dannon Light ‘n Fit Yogurt:

Raspberry Dannon Light 'n Fit Yogurt Flavors

One of my favorite flavors in candy, yogurt and other treats is Raspberry. So I had some high hopes for this particular flavor. Dannon’s Light ‘N Fit yogurt line (they also have “Smoothies”) is a blended yogurt like Yoplait. So this isn’t the “fruit on the bottom” yogurt I used to get when I was a kid. It’s already mixed and quite smooth in consistency.

The Raspberry yogurt was ultra silky smooth in both texture and taste. Unfortunately, I had an extremely hard time eating this particular one. For me, when I think of raspberry flavor, I actually want to taste the tartness of the raspberries and there didn’t seem to be any “tang” in this flavor. As it was, it tasted cloyingly sweet and 5 seconds afterwards there came a huge sucralose aftershock that lingered around just like Diet Soda. Ugh. In addition, there was a sort of funky smell to the yogurt… not so much like raspberries and yogurt than raspberries and socks. Hm…

I feel that making this flavor lightly more sour would probably de-emphasize the artificial sweetener. In addition, although all 3 flavors I got contain “fruit puree”, this was the only one that didn’t seem to have any chunks of whole fruit in it. It helped to get over the fact that this was light yogurt when there was a little “distraction” in the form of real fruit.

Cheap Eats Score: 4/10

Continue reading “Dannon Light ‘N Fit Yogurt” …


[ Currently Eating: Coffee ]

Apparently, it is not enough to just enjoy a Chili Dog every so often anymore. No sir… all the big diet kids are switching to the high flying, high risk,Chili Dog Diet at Wienerschnitzel.

First, the gory details about Wienerschnitzel in case you don’t know about them:

Wienerschnitzel was started with the opening of a single hot dog stand in 1961. Today, we’re the World’s Largest Hot Dog Chain with over 300 restaurants in ten states and Guam. Besides our signature chili dog, we’re also loved for our delicious corn dogs, chili cheese fries and chili cheeseburgers….

As recent commercials would have you believe, Atkins is out and Chili is in. The one I saw features a Wienerschniztel customer saying something like “Hey, I’m not hungry anymore because I enjoyed a chili dog for breakfast, a chili dog for lunch and then a sensible dinner of two corn dogs and a side of chili cheese fries. I am NOT hungry!” What he neglects to mention is that he’s not hungry because he can no longer hold down any solid food and is spending his teatime on the toilet contemplating the aftereffects of too much chili.

But seriously, I like chili as much as the next person. Chili Fries at The Hat are a transcendental experience. Well, it used to be anyhow. I’m not going to get into an argument over whether chili needs to have real meat in it or whether it can’t have beans in it (Texans, stop giving me that eye). I’m here to actually tell you that you can get a Free Chili Dog by signing up for their “Schnitz Fan Club”.

Have I signed up already? Not yet, primarily because you’ve gotta enter a bunch of personal info and my email box is already filled w/ offers for “hot dog enhancement”. Hehe, that was a good one. But hey, in return for signing up you get that free chili dog (valued at what, a dollar?) and access to special Schnitz “download and clips”.

I don’t know what downloads and clips entails, but if it’s anything to do with a naked hot dog with legs running amuck in downtown Los Angeles, I think I may pass just this once.

Price: Free
Available at: Weinerscnitzel “Schnitz” Fan Club
Cheap Eats Score: 7/10


[ Currently Eating: Cheetos - Finger Dirtyin' Good ]

One of my new year’s resolutions for the Cheap Eats site (besides some minor site redesigning and writing up a Manifesto) is to try and focus more on local restaurants and eateries. Being in Southern California has advantages in that there are billions of local joints and places with a myriad of cuisines to sample… all of them possible cheap eatery candidates.

I really haven’t written about them enough, though many times the problem is that I don’t have a camera handy and I’m too busy scarfing to think about writing up an entry. Plus, I don’t have the unlimited budget that Jonathan Gold has to try all these places…

Anyhow, maybe this is a good way to kick it off. Here is a list of the “Top 9 Cheap Eats” restaurants in Southern California by 9 On The Town which is a human interest segment broadcast on KCAL Channel 9 News. I found this while idly surfing around for cheap food sites.

Tropicalia – 1966 Hillhurst Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90027

Cha For Tea – 5720 E 7th Street Long Beach, CA 90803

Zankou Chicken – 1415 E. Colorado Blvd., #D, Glendale, CA 91205

Dona Rosa (Mexican) – 577 S Arroyo Parkway (@ California) Pasadena, CA 91105

Fassica Ethiopian Restaurant – 10401 Washington Boulevard (@ Motor Avenue) Culver City, CA 90232

Spring Street Smokehouse (BBQ) – 640 North Spring Street (just north of Sunset Boulevard) Los Angeles, CA 90012

El Nido Restaurant (Nicaraguan) – 2112 S LA Brea Avenue (@ 21st) Los Angeles, CA 90016

Ginja Lions (Caribbean/Asian) – 11320 Ventura Bouelvard (1 block east of Tujunga) Studio City, CA 91604

Indo Kitchen (Indonesian) – 5 N. Fourth Street (@ Main Street)
Alhambra, CA 91801

I have only actually been to two of these restaurants: Dona Rosa and the Pasadena branch of Zankou Chicken. Dona Rosa was pretty decent Mexican food, but you may remember my earlier disenchantment with Zankou Chicken. I’ve heard of Spring Street Smokehouse, Cha For Tea and Fassica… anyone try any of these places before? Leave a comment if so…

Interestingly, I was driving around Main Street in Alhambra a couple weeks ago and spotted a restaurant I had somehow missed before called Indo Kitchen but that was before I had seen this list. That’s piqued my curiosity and since that’s 10 minutes away from me I think I’ll be reviewing them soon!

Speaking of reviewing… I’ve been thinking of asking (begging) some “guest bloggers” if they’d like to write about a few Cheap Eats restaurants in their neck of the woods. This is because there’s no way I can do reviews of all of these out-of-state restaurants. If you’re interested, I’ll try get some more details up soon. But go ahead and contact me about what city you want to cover.




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