Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Your guide to eating cheap including tips, recipes and techniques

Archive for December, 2008

12/19/08 | New Poll: Chili

[ Currently Eating: Cran Oatmeal ]

As I sit here typing this, it’s 50 degrees in my room. Yep, winter has come to Southern Cal. My parents were stuck in Vegas (oh noes, how boring) because the roads into Los Angeles were closed due to SNOW. Now if it would only snow in the city, I’d be very happy.

Cheap Eats is going to be taking a little holiday break until the new year. Two reasons – we’re going on vacation, and I need to rest up the ever-present, un-healable, irreversible SHOULDER-BACK issue. This thing has not been healed by a long shot. Will probably get some needles stuck in it at some time again.

Anyhow, before I went into hibernation I decided to at least change out the poll to give people something to talk about. Our last poll – ugh, I don’t even want to talk about it. The new poll is about Chili (since it’s so “chilly” outside, haha). I know there’s some strong opinions about it out there. I make it quite often. Myself, I like beans in it. But I’d be interested to see what everyone thinks. Texans – no need to vote twice… I already know how you feel =)

Happy holidays everyone!

[ Currently Eating: Trader Joes Chicken Pizza ]

Bertolli - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Hullo. I don’t usually wax (on and off, Karate Kid style) poetically about frozen food. Especially high end stuff like these Bertolli Frozen Entrees.

But holy rigatoni, these are probably the best frozen meals I’ve had in a while. And we try a lot of frozen food.

Granted, when you’re eating Banquet Meals on a regular basis, you’re probably going to be blown away just a little bit by such luxurious things as whole cherry tomatoes and grilled steak.

I was sent a few of these Bertolli Entrees and decided to try the Steak, Rigatoni & Portabello Mushrooms Skillet Meal. They come in a bag, weigh 2 pounds, and cost oodles more than a CJ’s Six Dollar Burger.

Incidentally, hey Carl’s Junior: I have a big, fat, enormous bone to pick with you that’s probably going to be the subject of an upcoming rant. I’ve been thinking of writing it for over 3 years now. But you can start with firing all your marketing people, the ones that tell you what your “image” should be and also produce those loathesome commercials. No I’m not Adam Carolla, I agree that guy is a dill-doh. But the bone I have to pick with you stretches magnificently over the course of 25 years. I’m thinking of writing a book about it. I will call it: The Illustrated History of How Carl’s Junior Broke My Heart. More on it later.

Now where was I? Oh yes, the wonderful Mediterranean style Bertolli frozen meals. OK, I know these are expensive. Even though it says “2 Servings of Vegetables & Grilled Steak” on the bag, I was easily able to scarf the whole thing myself. At between $6-8 dollars a pop, that ain’t Cheap Eats. But man, I was getting so tired of reviewing dollar store food. This was a nice change. I felt like I was at the Hamptons picking eggs with Martha Stewart. So upper crust…

Bertolli - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

So, this is a skillet preparation meal – you dump the whole thing frozen into a skillet, cover it, and cook for 10 minutes. Pretty easy – the only thing is I don’t have a skillet cover. So whenever I need to make one of these things, I need to get my second skillet and balance it precariously on top. It’s fun. Wait, no it’s not. But it works.

The ingredients in this thing are pretty damn amazing. I mean, I don’t even buy cherry tomatoes normally. It had WHOLE cherry tomatoes and they didn’t skimp. There were large chunks of yellow bell pepper – not the dehydrated flakes you usually see. There were sliced mushrooms that were actually creminis instead of portobellos – but since the former are baby versions of portobellos, I guess they’re not really lying. There was spinach in it. There was large strips of steak. And there was rigatoni in it that didn’t taste like Campbell’s soup noodles. (Yeah, I know – I actually like the jello noodles in Campbell’s soup too.)

Bertolli - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

I think what impressed me was that the sauce and the overall pasta wasn’t extremely salty like most frozen meals I eat. I mean, I always figured that the cheaper meals jacked up the salt content so that you wouldn’t taste how much the food sucked. But I’ve eaten a lot of high-end meals that tasted like a deer-lick. This had an excellent taste, the noodles were perfect al dente, the salt content seemed about right, and the ingredients were generous. The tang of the tomatoes balanced nicely with the steak strips.

A few things I noticed: the steak in the picture on the bag had grill marks, but the actual steak strips I got didn’t have any. The steak also had a little bit of that “processed” taste – but hey, it wasn’t like salisbury steak or anything. It was real meat. The sauce was a little heavy on the garlic side. But I think I’m really just trying to find something to nitpick on now.

In a perfect world – all frozen meals would taste like this… and they would all cost the same as a Banquet Meal. It’s really an apples to oranges (or a Carl’s Junior to In-N-Out) type of comparison. This isn’t a perfect world, and this is Cheap Eats. But I’m human – so sue me if I liked this high end meal even though two of them cost as much as it does to fill up the gas tank of our Prius. I had to take the score down a notch because it costs so much, but if you happen to win the lottery and you can’t cook, you should fill up your freezer with some of these.

[Editor's Note: I saved the empty Bertolli bag so that every now and again I could huff in some of that wonderful garlicky mediterranean meal smell to remind myself of what a great break that was from reviewing cans of Beanee Weenee. Also, I don't want people to think I dislike CJs because of an isolated incident. They WERE our favorite burger place. This was a decades-long crescendo of gradual disappointment involving our family giving so many CJs franchises across so many states so many chances. I'm no mealy mouthed, one-time customer troll looking to flame a CJ rep. This is something that keeps me up at nights when I should be sleeping. I have insomnia thinking of all the good times in high school hanging with the Happy Star. Sorry, I have a tear in my eye. *Sniff*]

Price: $6-8 for 24 oz.
Found At: Albertsons
Cheap Eats Score: 7/10

[ Currently Eating: Coffee Coffee Coffee ]


Hye there. I’m going to be doing something sort of lame starting today. Since we’re already splitting food review coverage between Cheap Eats and Cheaplander, I’ll be cross-promoting it between the sites. So, if there’s a review over there, I’ll mostly likely post a link up over here.

I know, I know. This is nothing more than a scheme to make it seem like I’m writing more content here at Cheap Eats than I actually am. I’d be stupid not to do it, however, since Cheaplander is just getting off the ground while Cheap Eats has much more traffic and has been around for nearly 5 years.

For those who haven’t visited yet, Cheaplander is “supposed to be” just like this blog, except it deals with any topic – not only food. The main focus of the site has to do with “living within your means” – I guess that’s as good a topic as any in this economy. We’re also running it as a pseudo-group blog, so if you’re interested in contributing reviews, let me know. I might put up a “help wanted” shingle here in a bit. I’m also planning on running “contests” over there eventually.

(A note for all the companies sending in food for review: you have an equal chance of having your product appear on the Cheap Eats site and the Cheaplander site. It’s pretty much random right now.)

[ Currently Eating: Leftover Pizza ]

Thanksgiving After 2008 - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

All righty folks. It’s just about that time when I’m starting to wind down the post-Thanksgiving Festivus 2008 over here at Cheap Eats. Thanksgiving is a very important time of the year for us. It is a time for massive food banditry – the squirreling away of turkey carcasses, carts of mashed potatoe [sic] and slices of pumpkinus pieus while relatives loaf around watching American dorkball. Sorry, I mean football.

You need to start your food sneakage early, preferably right after dinner and before the dessert is served. You snooze, you lose. But just remember the Turkey Bill of Rights – he/she who baked it gets to take it. I mean the bird bones. For that reason alone, I don’t mind trying to cook the turkey usually. It allows us to bag all the bones if we’d like to. Another way to snag extra morsels of turkey is to offer to carve the bird. This method only works if your family doesn’t carve at the table. In the kitchen, you simply sneak pieces as you cut them into a ziploc bag at your waist. Try and distract any would be turkey spies by doing a little dance. Preferably with a song composed specially for it.

Warning: don’t try and hide the ziploc bag in your pockets. No one gains THAT much weight from eating just one dinner. Also, guys, do not put turkey drumsticks down your pants. It is not recommended since the sudden bulge is too big to explain to people. If you must, wear an extra long sleeved pea-coat and hold a drumstick in each hand. But this only works if you aren’t going to shake hands with the inlaws. Also, be careful not to knock over Grandma’s ming vase.

For mashed potatoes, I recommend wearing a fedora. When no one is looking, quickly doff the hat and scoop mashed potatoes into it, replacing it on your head. You can also buffer some stuffing first before you slather the potatoes in. The potatoes will adhere to the inside of the hat, keeping the stuffing from falling out.

Gravy and cranberry sauce are thorny issue since they need to be stored separately. Here is a nice trick. Bring a small kids shovel. Before the party begins, excuse yourself to the restroom. Open up the back of the toilet and place two ziploc bag inside the water well. Dude, it’s not dirty, that’s clean water. If you must, double bag the two ziploc bags. Then, every so often during dinner, get up to go the bathroom and pass through the kitchen scooping gravy and cranberry while jogging to the bathroom. If you meet anyone, just say, “Little Jimmy had an oopsie accident,” and point at the shovel. They’ll steer clear, trust me. Open the toilet and dump (hehe, dump) the cranberry and gravy into each bag. At the end of the party, excuse yourself to the bathroom again and retrieve your contraband. This works VERY well if, like many in my family, you have a genetically small bladder that makes you pee frequently. So they won’t even be suspicious.

Thanksgiving After 2008 - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Pumpkin Pie presents a real problem. I haven’t yet figured this one out, but I had one idea which I might try next year. Bring a ferret (or kiwibird, or iguana) to the party in a shoebox. What you want to do is build a pie-shaped compartment on the side of the box. If anyone asks why there is a pie shaped compartment attached to a ferret box, just say your ferret has a taste for cheese so you keep a wedge of gouda in there all the time. And then, let the pie, I mean the ferret out to “play”. Your host will be so happy about this that they won’t notice you sneaking a wedge into the compartment. Catch the ferret and say “Bad boy, bad…” and put him back in the box. Look chagrined and offer to do the dishes.

Haha, damn that’s entertainment.

OK, back to the real turkey wrapup. We make a number of things with the leftovers. The main one is a turkey stock, as shown in the picture way at the top. You can actually skip making a stock and just make a soup – my mom used to do this all the time. I just like making the stock first since you can use it later in different ways than just soup. I usually make it the day after Thanksgiving. It’s just turkey bones and scraps, water, round onion, celery, carrots, bay leaf, garlic and maybe a few herbs if you have it left over from making a dish that year. Don’t let that guy boil, you just want it to simmer for several hours. Salt to taste. Later, if you want to make soup, strain out all the stuff and restart the broth adding onions, celery, carrots, potatoes and noodles.

Thanksgiving After 2008 - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

One of my favorite Thanksgiving leftover creations is the open faced turkey sandwich. The first time I had this was at a restaurant in the 80s. My first thought was, “Dang that’s good.” My second thought was, “Why are we not eating this every Thanksgiving?” This isn’t the type of sando that you pick up – you eat it with a knife and fork. Get two slices of bread and toast it. Meanwhile heat up slices of turkey with gravy in a pan. Microwave some mashed potatoes and stuffing. Assemble on a plate the bread, mashed potatoes, stuffing and turkey slices. Pour extra gravy on the top – sometimes I add a little cranberry to the top. Usually this sandwich ends up being around 5 inches tall… yums.

Thanksgiving After 2008 - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

I also enjoy a good turkey hash with the leftovers. This uses cubes of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. The idea is to mix everything together (use a little gravy if its too dry) and then fry it in a skillet with a little butter. You want the potatoes to be sorta crunchy on the outside, so be sure to flip the mixture with a spatula once to brown both sides. Some people make little “cakes” out of the potato mixture instead. I usually fry an egg up to go with this breakfast, but you can also mix the egg into the potato for a sort of egg scramble.

Well, I hope your Thanksgiving turned out nicely as far as leftovers goes. I’m sad that it’s over, but looking forward to next year’s after-party. I was also thinking about getting a ferret for the aforementioned pumpkin pie scheme. But alas, they’re not legal here in California.

I guess it’s time to buy an iguana.



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