Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Your guide to eating cheap including tips, recipes and techniques

Archive for April, 2009

[ Currently Eating: Funny BLT Sandwicho ]

Leftovers Stuffed Peppers - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

So it ain’t the prettiest of meals, these leftover Stuffed Bell Peppers. But they’ll do in a pinch for lunch the next day. We make stuffed cabbage more frequently than the peppers, since we have extra cabbage more frequentlyin the fridge. But when there’s a sale on green bell peppers, we usually plan a stuffed pepper night. And the next day I’m rewarded with Leftovers for Lunch.

Lately, I’ve been on a ground turkey kick – previously we’d go with a mixture of 2 parts ground beef to 1 part ground pork. But I’ve found the ground turkey works just as well – you can also mix it with the pork to give it some tenderness, but it’s not really necessary. We add cooked rice and sauteed onions (cooked until they’re very soft) to make the meatball interior mixture less dry. Maybe add some bread crumbs, toss in an egg or two for binding power. Fill up the peppers, add tomatoes and tomato paste (or tomato paste diluted with water) plus chicken stock and throw it in a big pot. That’s pretty much it.

The next day, the stuffed peppers will sometimes taste better now that the flavors have had a longer chance to meld. Inevitably, you’ll have some “pepper” breakdown – they can get a little mushy and the meatball mixture tends to fall out of the pepper. That never bothered me, though. It becomes more of a tomato pepper meatball stew, which is fine with me for a quick lunch the next day.

4/28/09 | Olives

[ Currently Eating: Mysterious Breakfast ]

Olives - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Once upon a time there was a woman who constructed a house made entirely of Olives. Black olives, green olives, kalamata olives, stuffed olives filled with pimientos, cheese and garlic and raw uncured olives (not recommended for eating). The olive house, which covered 1500 square feet and included a peaked roof, was held together with an insane amount of cream cheese and liver pate. Each corner of the house featured a Dirty Martini bar. She wore dresses woven entirely out of olive branches with olives for buttons.

This is not her story.

I’m going to apologize in advance for this post – I’m not an olive expert. I like them well enough, but I’ve never really paid attention to the different types. I know the standard black olives that go on top of wannabe enchiladas and into gooey 7-layer dip. The pic above is your standard whole pitted black olives that I like to slice up and put into pasta salad. And so on.

My parents have had an olive tree on their front lawn ever since I can remember – I guess that would be over 35 years. It’s smack dab in the middle of the lawn and for some reason, it’s outlasted pretty much every other tree on their property. I remember ducking under the overhanging branches laden with fruit whilst mowing the lawn (non-electric mower, OMG, you can’t imagine the horror).

When the olives ripened and dropped, they’d stain the sidewalk and driveway if they were stepped on. I can’t imagine why they didn’t cut the fricken tree down because of the nuisance. I think they had a psychological attachment to the tree. Maybe the whole peace symbol thingy.

I always wondered why these “olives” were so green – at the time my knowledge was limited to black olives out of a can. Several times, I remember my parents getting the bright idea of curing their own olives. They did it the traditional way using a lye solution. As a kid, I never understood how it was that they were cured by putting it into a poisonous solution that would burn you. Actually, it still amazes me that this is the way a lot of olives are cured.

Anyhow, so the question is: are Olives a good candidate for Cheap Eats?

I believe the answer is yes, in most cases.

I like to keep at least a can of black olives and a jar of the green Spanish style olives in the pantry at all times. They last for a long, long time. Even after you open a can of olives, they last a heck of a long time when stored in the fridge properly. I sometimes splurge on the Kalamata olives at TJs or Whole Foods, but for the most part, I stick with whole, pitted black olives in a can.

Olives are just a really versatile food – you can snack on them whole, slice them up for salads, mix them into pasta, cook them in a sauce, use them as a topping for party food (dips are a fave), and serve them as part of an antipasto. I don’t really buy the stuffed olives frequently, but there are millions of different varieties of those should you be in need of some quick appetizers. I had some Habanero cheese stuffed ones the other day – wooo, they were good.

One of my favorite things to do is to chop olives and add them to sandwiches. Once upon a millenium, there used to be a chain store called Fedco. If memory serves me correctly (and it never does), this was my first experience with green olives. They used to have an item called a Sandini Sandwich that had green olives in a mayo spread. I like making a similar poor-boy style sandwich with turkey or ham and olive spread. Just chop up the olives and mix them with mayo. Makes the sandwich taste sort of tangy and refreshing. It’s almost like relish, but it tastes better to me.

For standard canned black olives, I usually buy the whole ones as opposed to the sliced or chopped. The reason is that you can cut up whole olives, but you can’t put sliced ones back together into whole ones. I mean, unless you’re some kind of Wizard (I guess Harry Potter might incant Olivus Reparatus, but then I’m just a Muggle). In addition, I like to slice up olives thicker than the pre-sliced olives from cans.

If you buy whole green Spanish olives with the pits still in them, it can be cheaper than pitted green olives. The issue is getting the pits out. Previously, I’d tried to cut the exterior off which took forever. It was like carving a mini-turkey. A better way to do it, especially if the olives are on the firmer side, is to smack them with the flat blade of a kitchen knife. You do it much like the method for smacking garlic cloves to remove the skin. Smacking the olives should cause the pit and meat to separate pretty easily so that you can just pick out the pit. Hm… did I just say “Smacking Olives”? Geez. Oh yes, smack my olives, baby…

The one issue about olives for me is that depending on what kind you’re looking for, they can be rather pricey. The Kalamata and stuffed olives will set you back quite a bit. But the standard canned black olives aren’t that expensive – a standard six ounce can of whole black olives should set you back anywhere between $.50 and $1.50. When you open a can, store the unused remainder with its liquid in a glass storage container or a jar. It’ll last for quite awhile. I spoon a few out, chop them up, and throw them into whatever recipe I’m making.

And no, despite what you may think, I do not have an olive or olive oil fetish. And yes, those things do exist.

[ Currently Eating: Coffee and Nothing Else ]

BK Onion Ring Snacks - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

I’ve been sort of sitting on these Burger King Onion Ring Snacks. I don’t mean actually sitting on them as in squatting and placing my butt-rear directly over these holes, er, rings, er, roundish snack things. (Hey, that rhymes!) I mean I’ve kept them in the dollar store food Cheap Eats review cache for a rainy day. They just seemed like such an easy review to put up, and I had great gasping plans for them.

But seeing as I’m gasping in other ways due to the 98 degree heat today, I figured I might as well have a go at them. Give it the old college try. You know. Cram as many onion rings into my mouth as possible and then sit back and watch a hockey playoff game or two. See if I can shoot a stream of pee through the ring. Purely puerile things that stifling heat makes you do.

These are Burger King branded snack chips that are supposed to be the equivalent of their onion rings. Now, I haven’t been to BK in awhile, although it’s not because I dislike the food. I’m sorta ambivalent toward their offerings, no lingering hate here. Apparently, they have made a mess of their commercials though, according to the preliminary results of the “Worst Fast Food Commercials” poll that’s running. I haven’t seen too many BK commercials at all lately – it’s kinda weird.

But anyhow, these onion ring snacks actually look surprisingly close to what I’m assuming their real onion rings would look like. They’re sort of the size of the smaller onion rings you might get in an order, from about 1-2 inches in diameter. That’s 1-2 inches across, for those of you who failed math like I did.

BK Onion Ring Snacks - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

I actually find it quite interesting that the rings are not all the exact same size. They must have some sort of onion-ring-diameter randomizer function embedded into the extruder machine. I bet you it’s patented, which is unfortunate because I was just about to submit that idea to one of those “Invention Patent” websites and watch the pennies roll in. Jingle, jingle.

I guess the big question you’ve been patiently waiting for me to answer is: How are these compared to Funyuns?

Besides having a name that’s 95% better grammatically speaking (I can only imagine how many gallons of paint one has to gulp in order to come up with a proper butcherizing of the name “Funyuns”), the BK Onion Ring snacks are decidedly darker and browner in color. The texture of the outside of the ring looks very similar to the breading on an onion ring. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance.

They also appear to be “chunkier” than Funyuns – I know real onion slices are pretty flat and skinny, so maybe they’re trying to imitate a really thick batter. Actually, if they were shooting a(nother) remake of “Honey I Shrunk The Kids” next door (and they’ve been known to shoot Hollywood drivel films all around our area), I might be tempted to think these were Cinnamon Cheerios cereal props. They look an awful lot like them.

As far as texture goes, they aren’t that dense like Cheetos, but are more like cheese puffs. Not as light as the puffs, though – I would say they fall somewhere in between. They have a nice crunch to them – I want to say they’ve got around the same crunch as Funyuns do. Dang it, I keep typing FunyuMs. Stupid ‘N’ and ‘M’ close together on the keyboard. Where’s my Dvorak

As for taste, they’ve got a good strong onion flavor – no doubt enhanced suitably by a few tablespoons of MSG. But not the worst tasting onion chips I’ve ever had. I wish I had some Funyuns so I could test them side by side. If memory serves me correctly, and it never does, I think Funyuns were actually saltier than these BK Onion Ring chips. I was quite surprised I didn’t have to immediately take a drink after eating these. Well, OK, I did have to run to get a drink after about six of the rings. That MSG sort of creeps up on you all sudden-like.

In conclusion, I think that I was suckered into buying these onion ring snacks just because they had the Burger King name on them. In that respect, their evil corporate marketing machinations worked beautifully. I’m going to have to take some of those new Name Brand De-Sensitizer pills I’ve been hearing so much about. But I guess I was fairly surprised that the actual product was decent and they went to some trouble to make it interesting instead of just slapping their name on a bunch of baked cornholes.

Sorry, I meant corn rings. And I just realized I used the words slapping and cornhole in that sentence.

Sigh, time to call it a day – the heat is Funyunizing my brain.

Price: $1.00 for 3 oz.
Found At: Dollar Store
Cheap Eats Score: 6/10

[Editor's Note: I apologize for not being able to come up with a suitable joke incorporating "Have It Your Way" and cornhole ring. These things just do not come naturally to me.]

4/14/09 | Lefovers: Sukiyaki

[ Currently Eating: Pizza Bread Thing ]

Leftover Sukiyaki - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

URGH I didn’t really feel like writing a novel today (again). So we’re going with Leftovers for Lunch. While we do cook at home fairly often, we still hit the restaurants sometimes for meals throughout the week. I know that J food isn’t the cheapest type around – but what are you gonna do. Yes, I know I could drive 10 minutes to my mom’s house and ask her to cook Japanese food, but sometimes you don’t want to do that. =)

Anyhow, we find that even with a more expensive restaurant, taking home the leftovers can cut a chunk off of the higher price. Or, at least it’ll make you feel like you saved a little extra. It helps that we’re not the biggest eaters on the planet, so we usually do have leftovers. The trick is to “doctor up” the leftovers at home. I’m not talking about making it look pretty, although that’s another good way to make cheap food taste better. I mean just add stuff to it.

One of our favorites to fix up is soup or stew. To this leftover Sukiyaki I added a pack of enoki mushrooms, some chicken stock to thin it out (often necessary when you’ve got leftover soup) and a small pack of cooked udon. It made a pretty good lunch. One trick for couples who get tired of eating the same leftovers from last night – switch and eat your partners leftover meal. Works pretty well – except when the leftover meal is so good you don’t WANT to switch, hehe.

[ Currently Eating: Leftover Spaghetti ]

Van Camp's Pork Beans - Cheap Eats at BloglanderAfter my earlier Defcon-ish review of Beanee Weenee, I was a little hesitant to dive back into the murky waters of Van Camp’s cheap but questionable offerings. I mean, I’ve got about 55 cans of Rosarita refried beans in the pantry already which are certainly good enough for my heart (and fart) when I need a quick bean fix.

As well, I just can’t get into sweet side dish offerings. Often, they’re “southern” inspired or traditional dishes that just leave my savory taste buds whining. I pretty much categorically hate yams, sweet potatoes, sweet bean anything, sweetened tea (come on now, give me a break), and anything sweet on pork . God, strike me down if I’m forced to eat applesauce with meat.

But anyhow, these were on sale for only 37 cents so I decided against my better judgement to pick up a can.

The first thing I noticed, that didn’t surprise me too much, was there was no “pork” to speak of in these beans. Oh sure, it’s listed there on the ingredients label. But what surprised me is that it is listed under the “less than 2% of” heading. That would explain the lack of pork in these beans. Maybe it’s just me, but this seems like false advertising taken to an extreme level. I mean, they should force VanCamp to call it “Beans and Pork”, or “Beans in Tomato Sauce With a Smidgen of Pork Flavoring”, or “Pork and Beans, PSYCHE! NO PORK, HAHA” or “Beans That You Should Eat WITH A Side of Pork Because There’s Really No Pork In Here”.

And so on.

The beans themselves are pretty average. They’re the small white bean variety and are soaked in tomato sauce or puree. I could’ve used a little more spice, anything to kill the sweet-madness. I tried dumping in a load of hot sauce into it, and the flavor improved about 300%. I still could only choke down a few spoons of the beans.

Sorry, I have a frequent repetitive-motion shoulder and back issue that has ramped up this past week. So it’s making me especially grumbly about not seeing a single shred of pork inside these beans which taste like they’ve been soaked in a gallon of sugar water. Ugh, my sweet tooth hurts. In fact, I’m going to stop talking about them because it’s not worth my typing. I’ve got a timer by the computer that’s set so I don’t spend longer than 15 minutes typing since it affects the shoulder. Ding, time’s up. Plus, if you like these crappy beans, there’s probably nothing I can say to change your mind otherwise.

Van Camp's Pork Beans - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

These beans were pretty bad. But your hyperactive, sugar-freebasing kids may love them. However, you may want to keep the beans away from the young’uns lest they decide, in a sugar-induced fit of fantasy, to take the family van out for a cruise.

Price: $0.37 for 15 oz.
Found At: Fresh & Easy
Cheap Eats Score: 2/10



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