Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Your guide to eating cheap including tips, recipes and techniques

Archive for March, 2009

[ Currently Eating: Yummy Things ]

Chili in a Pot - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Fun, fun, fun ’til your daddy takes the chili away.

I’m talking about the latest poll results, if I was your daddy, and you were the pimple faced teenager with the fast chili driving to the beach. Sorry, I had to take away your chili fun – the poll was just up for too long.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the progressive Texans and others out there for giving beans a chance. That’s all we’re saying, “Give Beans a Chance”. The real chili poll winner was: Beef AND Beans. I was pretty surprised at the response, if we are led to believe those constantly vigilant Chili Cooks that the Food Network loves to feature giving beans a bad name.

Poll on Chili - Cheap Eats at BloglanderYes, a full 44% of 996 respondents voted in favor of chili with both beef and beans. Huh. It appears that we CAN all get along.

In addition, 30% of respondents voted for chili with “whatever you want” in it. I fall into this camp – for me, chili has become a sort of slumgullion fusion stew of any type of meat plus appropriate spices and onions, carrots, celery, bell pepper, kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans and garbanzo beans. I’ll stuff that chili up to the gills with goodies and let it hang out for a few days in the refrig. I’ll do the canned stuff once in awhile as well, but usually for reviews only.

Only 20% of repsondents were die hard Chili Meat-heads. I seriously thought this would go higher. Oh, and 6% picked “Yeee-Hah” which is another word for “The Response I Usually Throw In Just For Fun.”

OK, now it is time to get sad. Or mad. Or glad? The latest poll has to do with which company’s Fast Food Commercials you really hate. It’s not possible to list ALL the companies, of course. So go ahead and comment on this post if you feel really strongly about a company. For me, there’s one company’s commercials that I ABSOLUTELY CATEGORICALLY loathe – but I’ll save that post for a rant which I’ve been promising for over a year now.

As for which fast food company in the poll that I LIKE – well, it’s gotta be Jack In the Balpha. Uh, well it appears that after they recently changed their logo, I can’t say that anymore without you looking at me like I’m crazy. What’s that? You say I was already crazy?

Shut up and go eat your chili beans…

[ Currently Eating: Raisin Oatmeal ]

Homemade BBQ Pizza on Cheap Eats at Bloglander

I’ve been on a bit of a pizza kick lately. That’s homemade pizza, including the crust. Up until now, I’ve had a difficult time with making the pizza crust taste somewhat decent. But last week, I received a pizza stone as a gift. Cheap Eaters should note that you can probably go the Alton Brown way and buy safe ceramic tile as a pizza stone stand-in for much cheaper. I just never got around to it.

Anyhow, the difference in the crust is pretty striking. Here’s a slice of leftover BBQ chicken pizza, with ingredients in the style of California Pizza Kitchen. This homemade pizza thing is still new to me, so I’m experimenting with the toppings and such. On this one, it’s grilled chicken with BBQ sauce, red onion and cilantro. I omit almost all the cheese except a sprinkling of parm. Also, I found that it tastes better to me if the onions are pre-cooked. I also found out not to put the cilantro on until the pizza comes out – it’s pretty darn hard to sprinkle stuff into a hot oven, haha.

This one turned out pretty well, and I’ll probably make it again. I’m going to be keeping a blob of homemade bread dough in the fridge at all times so we can make a quick pizza when needed.

[ Currently Eating: Homemade Bread n Stuff ]

Cheeseybread - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Hi hi hi. I’m on a Cheesebread Mission.

I’ve been like this for several months now. Baking up Bread and Cheese. And Bread. And Cheese. And Bread. And a few Jalapeño peppers thrown in. More Cheese and Bread.

It all started about 25 years ago. Ever since I was a young cheap eats brat, my parents had been taking us on trips from Los Angeles north to the Mammoth / Yosemite area for camping nearly every year. This is a 400 mile or so drive. For you east coasters – that’s probably going through at least 3 or 4 states, but here in California it’s just a long drive through the same state.

Anyhow, one of our favorite stops along the way has always been Erick Schat’s Bakkerÿ up in Bishop, CA. We would always pick up some of their Original Sheepherder Bread (introduced into the Owens Valley area during the Gold Rush), and my absolute favorite was the Jalapeño Cheese Bread variety.

The bread is fairly dense but has a chewy quality. It’s not made up of air like a lot of other artisnal breads. The cheese is not distributed through the bread evenly. Rather, there are enormous clumps of orange cheese and peppers in the middle. In fact, there is a gigantic cavity in the center of each flat loaf of bread where all the cheese has accumulated. The entire loaf is extremely heavy because of all the cheese inside of it.

For years now, I’ve been wanting to try and make this type of bread at home because it was too long to wait an entire year to get some. The key came within the past few years or so when I discovered “No-Knead Bread” which was made (in)famous by Jim Lahey in a NY Times article. As I got more confident with bread, I decided to go on a mission.

That mission is to make cheesebread similar to Schat’s.

Now, it’s no big deal to make a cheesebread. I see Vermont Cheese Bread this and Hong Kong style Cheese Topped Buns that.

No, no, no.

I want the cheese to be a big fricken block inside the bread. Crowd Cheer: When I say “bread”, you say “cheese”. I want a big ass cavity (oh, the jokes) inside the bread with the cheese and jalapeños sticking to the walls. I don’t want the cheese integrated into the bread like most recipes insist on.

Needless to say, I’ve had a difficult time. But through experiments, I’ve got it almost right. I think the problem is that not too many people actually WANT a bread to turn out like this. Thus, I haven’t seen many recipes for the cheesebread I’m trying to make. The other problem is that I’m not a very good baker to start with.

I’ve gotten close – but I’m still on my Cheesebread Mission. What I’ve got in my favor is that I’m an obstinate, stubborn SOB.

I have a feeling that a huge part of the failures so far have to do with trying to do this at home where my oven is just passable at best. The other part may be that I’m not adding in the correct percentages of everything (or even have the wrong ingredients), and also, I’ve resigned myself to using a Silpat on a cookie baking sheet. No pizza stone, etc.

Cheeseybread - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Here’s one of the latest incarnations of the Faux-Schat’s Cheese Jalapeño Bread. It actually looks pretty good – this is the closest I’ve gotten. The top of my bread is more smooth, while I know the Schat’s one is rugged looking. The melted cheese has caused a large cavity or two to open up inside the bread. I gave up using an egg-based type of bread for now. I’ve been sticking to a really basic boule type recipe. For the record, here is what I’ve done so far.

Jalapeño Cheese Bread

3 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1.5 – 2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup cold milk
1-2 tbsp melted butter, plus more for brushing
1/2 to 1 cup shredded cheese (your choice)
2-3 sliced fresh sliced Jalapeños

I’ve been using either sharp cheddar or jack cheese since I believe that’s what Schat’s uses. I also use fresh Jalapeños, but I think you may be able to use those pickled slices in jars that go on nachos.

Get a large bowl, with a plastic loose fitting lid. Add hot water, milk, melted butter into the bowl and mix. Then add the yeast. Let it sit for awhile, it should foam a bit. IMPORTANT – you’ll kill the yeast if the liquid is too hot. It should be lukewarm, a little above body temp. If it’s too hot, wait awhile to add the yeast.

Next dump the flour and salt into the mixture. You can use your hands, but I like to use a rubber spatula to mix to start, then switch to wet hands. Get it all mixed, it should be kinda wet and sticky. If not, add more water. If too wet, add flour. Cover it, let it rise for about 2 to 2.5 hours in a warm place.

Sprinkle the top lightly with flour. Get some flour on your hands, it helps. Take out the dough (you may need to use more or less dough depending on the size you want) and cloak it. What the fricking hell is cloaking? While holding the dough in your hands, take the top of the dough and stretch the surface down to the bottom, rotate it a quarter turn and do it again. The idea is to have a smoother top surface while the bottom is more bunched up. I think that’s the idea anyhow.

Ok, then place on a wooden cutting board that has some flour on it. Get a rolling pin with some flour on it. Roll out the dough into a sort of oval. Or, you may just be able to stretch it with your hands instead. You might need to wait a bit because the dough will return to its normal shape. Sprinkle the cheese on top of the dough – you want good coverage but not an excess of cheese. Then evenly distribute the peppers over the cheese. Roll up the dough gently, and tuck the ends in underneath.

Put it on a Siplat (or other silicone type baking sheet) on top of a cookie sheet. Dust the top with flour, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for about 1.5 – 2 hours.

Twenty minutes before you’re ready to bake, get the oven to about 400 degrees. I’ve had trouble with the temp and time, so you’re going to have to play around with it. Basically, put the cheese bread on the cookie sheet into the oven and bake for about 25-40 minutes. Around 5 minutes before you’re done (whenever that is), take some remaining shredded cheese and sprinkle it on top of the loaf.

When the loaf is done, take it out and brush it with melted butter. Let it cool, for an hour at least. When completely cool, store it in a ziploc bag.

Problems I’ve had so far are many. Early on, I found that cutting cheese up into cubes and incorporating it into the dough is not the way to go. You end up with tiny pockets of cheese, which is nice, but not a large cavity of cheese and peppers. You should shred the cheese and layer it on top, then roll the dough up. This creates a sort of spiral of cheese cavity in the middle. I believe having all that cheese clumped together is important in cavitation – the steam from all the cheese and peppers makes the large hole in the middle.

Egg based cheesebread have not worked as well for me, though I’m not entirely sure if Schat’s uses eggs in theirs. You may have to vary the amount of yeast and water as well to get a good rise.

I’d be interested to hear if anyone has tried to make this exact type of bread before. Remember, I’m not interested in cheese interspersed within bread – it HAS to be a big gigantic hole in the loaf with cheese and peppers in it.

One last thing – OMG do NOT touch your eyes while handling Jalapeños. It is TEH Painful…

[ Currently Eating: Leftover Meatloaf ]

Chickeny, Potatoey, Broccoliey - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

I realize I’ve sort of been ignoring Leftover for Lunch here on Cheap Eats. I used to post them up at least once a week since I do eat a lot of leftovers. I’ll try to get that back into the posting schedule. It also saves me a lot of time because I don’t have to write a fricken novel (or love letter) for these type of posts.

Eating leftovers is one of the keys for people looking to save money on food in these tough times, especially for those single professionals who do cook on occasion. You don’t have to cook every day, though you could. But when you do, try and make extra of whatever meal it is and then pack it up for lunch the next day.

The incremental time, effort and cost of making a little extra is nearly negligible – unless you’re making lobster, steak and other fancypants meals. I know it ain’t glamorous and your co-workers may make fun of you. Listen: who cares what they think?

This is a photo from a few months ago of a half roast chicken, roast potatoes, carrots and broccoli. It’s not pretty, the chicken isn’t perfect, but it sure gets the job done for a quick lunch.

[ Currently Eating: Refried beans and chips ]

Fresh & Easy Vindaloo - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

P.S. I wrote this letter a month and a half ago, but only published it today

Dear Miss Fresh & Easy,

You’re a relative newcomer in my neck ‘o the woods. Everyone says you’re the hot tomato (replace the word tomato with whatever scatological phrase you’d like). Straight outta Britain, via Tesco.

The question is, are you really Thee Hotness, or are you just another Jenny Come Lately Crouching Tiger Hidden High End Convenience Market?

Well, I made my first trip today to actually buy something off your shelves, after getting cart-blocked at the grand opening last week by thousands of raving mad Freshandeasyites. And so far, I’m pretty darn impressed. I only hope you can keep up the good times in these bad times. If I get really used to doing all my grocery shopping in your aisles, and you end up bailing on me in a couple years, there is going to be hot, hot hellbath to pay, baby.

Anyhow, more about you later. I’m gonna start off with a review of your Chicken Vindaloo Meal. I see that most of the stuff you keep on your shelves is your “own” brand. That’s nice, keep the prices down that way. You’ve got a lot of convenience style food that young professionals (or unprofessionals) can just pick up and go. But you also stock fresh veggies, frozen seafood and meat, dairy, breads, soups and pretty much everything I’d ever need. That’s hot.

Hey, I don’t need to drive to Trader Joes anymore.

Whoah. Did I hear a little bird just go potweet in your heart after I said that? I hope so. I really mean it, I will love you if you will love me. I mean, we should probably keep an open relationship – you know, we can see other people / supermarkets if you like. I’m cool with that. Check it out: I’m a 21st century dude all the way, babe.

Your delicious vindaloo is freshly made, but sealed so that you can buy a bunch and freeze them. While there, I saw other suitors fondling your wares in the 50% off special of the day section. I tried to push them out of the way to get to your goodies, but they wouldn’t have any of it. I finally got one of your sweet vindaloos, but most of the rest of that section of yours had been ravaged. Those animals.

Fresh & Easy Vindaloo - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Your vindaloo was excellent – it didn’t have an excessive amount of heat, but it was still spicy enough so I didn’t have to add anything extra. Very redolent and fragrant with spices and coconut milk. There were big pieces of chicken breast in your vindaloo – I’ll admit it was a little on the dry side. Maybe you should think about brining? But at least it wasn’t salty like many other prepared chicken meals.

Medium sized pieces of tomato and onion rounded out your delicious dish. I think I would’ve preferred if you cooked your onions a little bit, they were still crunchy even after microwaving for 5 minutes. Your package had a full pound of food – no way I could finish the entire thing. You’re a whole lot of woman…

Overall, so far I’m smitten with your prepared meals – especially when they’re half price on sale. This vindaloo wasn’t restaurant quality, but you’d give any of the other markets a run for their money. I’m sweet on you, honey. For now at least. You keep this up and I might just buy you a ring.

Cheap Eats

Price: $3.50 for 1 lb (reg. $7.00)
Found At: Fresh & Easy
Cheap Eats Score: 8/10

[Editor's Note: I know, I know. It's so Impulsive Buy to pretend-write a love letter to a supermarket. What can I say, I only imitate the best. Well, you should be thankful that I didn't pretend-write my letter to Carl's Jr. I'm going to have to keep a box of tissues and some Häagen-Dazs by the computer when I do that in the future.]

[ Currently Eating: Oatmeal ]

True Lem - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Dear readers,

I’m still not all there yet after a weekend of stomach problems, so you might see some lightness in the posting schedule for awhile on Cheap Eats. I would get into the actual quality and texture of the stool (not furniture), but I’m sure that this is TMI. I’m just hoping this is not a redux of the very bad intestinal ailment I had from a few years back that put me out for several months.

Anyhow, here is another freebee for you to pre-occupy your email address with.

You can get some free samples of True Lemon, True Lime or True Orange. I’ve never tried this stuff, but apparently it’s not the kool-aid mix that I thought it was. It’s supposed to be “100% natural crystalized citrus” that you can use in cooking, drinks, etc. Zero calories, zero carbs, but in reality is that so hard to believe with powder?

I hear some people also mainline the stuff straight into their mouth. Yum. I think those people must have a stronger stomach than I do.

Free True Lemon

[ Currently Eating: Teeny Goldfish Crackers ]

Baby Goldfish - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Once upon a time there was a young boy who could breathe underwater. He was about to be captured by government agents when he was rescued by a round-faced, blonde, breadmaking cheerleader who was invulnerable to all forms of bodily damage. Save the breadmaker, save the world.

This is not their story.

(It is, however, a part of the most recent episode of Heroes in case you should like to watch that.)

This story, instead, is about these Baby Cheddar Pepperidge Farms Goldfish that I bought on a whim while at Tarjey. What does it have to do with Heroes? Like talent in an American Idol show – absolutely, positively, nothing.

I was actually trying to think of some “baby” jokes or cultural references to spew forth like I Love The 70s/80s slurm. But my brain was severely distracted by round-faced, blonde, breadmaking cheerleaders last night. So I didn’t get to make a whole list.

Ok, maybe just a few – Babyface. Ooh Baby I Love Your Way. Laughing Cow Mini Babybel. I’ve Got You Babe. Babe (The Pig). How is babby formed?

Oh yes, and Octopus Mom lives close to me. I should pay a visit and offer her a bag of these mini goldfish – there’s so many in a bag that each of her cephalopodic babbys could have a tentacle full.

Baby Goldfish - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

But, as usual, I digress. I’m actually a huge fan of the standard Pepperidge fan goldfish. I haven’t really tried too many other flavors. I just know the pretzel ones make me thirsty. Yes, those pretzels were making me thirsty. 20 Magic Bonus Points if you got that reference.

I thought these babbbbby goldfish were going to be really tiny – sort of like how mini M&Ms are baby versions of their chocolatey parents. But to be honest, there wasn’t that huge of a difference in size. And since the flavor and texture is identical, I’m not sure why I would buy this instead of normal Cheddar Goldfish.

In retrospect, I should’ve bought another bag of normal sized goldfish so I could compare them side by side. It’s been awhile since I bought a bag of goldfish crackers, so I don’t even remember if the normal ones have missing faces as well.

That’s right, some of these goldfish have no eyes or mouth – just like the poor saps on Fringe who were victims of a scar tissue virus gone awry. I don’t know why they mix these together in the bag – I’m all for goldfish species equality (witness the “Colors” Goldfish that Pepperidge Farm also sells), but I was getting confused while eating these. When I’m eating a goldfish, I like to make eye contact with him. I like to let him know that yesh, Mr. Homo Sapiens Carnivorous is definitely in charge of chomping here. I don’t want him to try and hide behind a blank expression (like our former president, zing).

Baby Goldfish - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Ok, so I admit after eating just about a whole school of these, it did seem like you could cram more of them in your mouth than the normal variety. I wonder if you could get in the Guinness Book of World Records that way – it should be easier than cramming people into a phone booth. I would still like to see the two sizes side by side, so maybe I’ll buy a bag of both next time. I’ll just eat a few of each and give the remaining to the octuplets next time I see them.

I just read back this review, and it doesn’t make any sense. Fun.

[Editor's Note: I know I'm probably wrong about the translation of "breadmaker", no need to write in long emails about that...]

Price: $1.66 for 7.2 oz bag
Found At: Target
Cheap Eats Score: 5/10



Recommended Reads