Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Your guide to eating cheap including tips, recipes and techniques

Archive for May, 2009

5/27/09 | Beef Steak Nuggets

[ Currently Eating: Beans ]

Beef Steak Nuggets - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Once upon a time, there was a group of people called the Denver Nuggets. They partook in a sporting activity where the objective was to repeatedly throw an air-filled rubber sphere into a peach basket with the bottom cut out. At the same time, another group of people called the Los Angeles Lakers would try and stop them from throwing the sphere into the peach basket. In fact, they would try and steal the sphere and then, bouncing it along the floor, would run toward their OWN personal peach basket. They would try and loft the sphere into that peach basket. This, of course, was a very exciting activity and billions of other people watched these groups of people try and throw the sphere into their peach baskets.

This is not their story.

However, these ARE Beef Steak NUGGETS that you see above.

I was originally trying to use a joke about Chicken McNuggets as a segue, but it just didn’t fly. Get it? Fly?

Yes, I am a very bad joke/review writer subsisting on dollar store food.

To tell you the truth, these Beef Steak Nuggets (and apparently they are “Original”, because no one has ever made dried cubes of beef jerky before) have caught my eye more than once in the dollar store. But I’ve always resisted the temptation to get them, because I have a sort of “non-dried meat” rule from these discount stores. The last time I was there, however, I accidentally knocked one of the packages off it’s clip in the aisle header.

I took it as a sign.

Note to dollar store owners: you should make sure all the clips fastening these packages to the hangers are loose beyond belief, because when people knock them off they usually pick them up and might possibly buy them.

Or not.

Beef Steak Nuggets - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

This is a small flat 1.5 ounce package of dried beef jerky cubes. I have to admit I was a little confused at the product description on the back, which states they’re “smoked over mesquite wood”. However, the ingredients state “smoke flavor powder” and even the front of the package says “natural smoke flavor added”. I’m not sure how they can say they’re smoked over mesquite wood, unless maybe they light a little twig of mesquite kindling underneath just so that they can say it on the package. Or maybe I’m just crazy and reading too much conspiracy theory into it.

As with all dried meat products, the price per weight is tremendously expensive as is to be expected. Even with a dollar store item like this, there are exactly 10 cubes of beef in the 1.5 oz. foil pack. Interestingly, it’s claimed on the front that there is “50% more free”. I’m thinking, geez you mean to tell me that normally there are only FIVE nuggets in a pack?

It’s sorta weird how the package makes the beef cubes look “wet”, when in fact they’re dry like normal beef jerky. This is actually what gave me great hesitation in the first place – the beef in the picture looked like wet stew beef. Or Alpo. You take your pick.

I was also very interested to see a small note at the bottom which said “Attention: to enhance freshness and taste, this product is packed with an oxygen absorber packet inside. This packet contains harmless non-toxic minerals, but should not be eaten.”

There was no such absorber packet in mine.

Not that I was THAT disappointed. I wasn’t going to try eating the non-toxic minerals, but hey, you never know.

Beef Steak Nuggets - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

As for overall smell and taste – I was rather disappointed. The meat had an extremely processed smell to it, but if you’ve had mass produced beef jerky products before, you know what I’m talking about. The smoky smell was not strong at all – maybe they should put more of that powder in.

In my opinion, the spices were weak. They tended toward the very sweet. Now, I know America has this fascination with sweet food, but please, keep it out of my beef jerky. This almost tasted like teriyaki beef. If you’ve had asian beef jerky before, it tasted like that, but even sweeter in my opinion. Too much brown sugar here. Besides the horrible MSG aftertaste floating in my mouth, I did notice an afterglow of black pepper powder, which was more pleasant.

The texture of the beef nuggets was rather tender. I think they’re keeping in mind the toothless generations (older folks and babies) when they made these. It does say they’re “enjoyed by Moms, Dads, and Kids alike”. They’re equal opportunity beef steak nugget producers. Me, I like a beef jerky that’s so tough it threatens to rip your teeth out of your gums when you try and bite off a piece. I likes me a dried cow slab that fights back. The thicker pieces did have a bit more chew, but on the whole I was pretty disappointed.

In conclusion, I wouldn’t buy these again. I actually had to chuck about half of it into the can because I couldn’t stand the sweetness in them. But you’ll like these nuggets if you like sweet dried beef. Maybe you can take them to the next Nuggets peach basket game.

Price: $1.00 for 1.5 oz (10 pcs)
Found At: Dollar Store
Cheap Eats Score: 4/10

[ Currently Eating: Leftover Fake Cassoulet ]

Spaghettios - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

I think I’m suffering from selective pasta amnesia.

The reason I think a part of my brain is on the fritz is that, try as I might, I don’t recall Spaghettios that included “donut holes” in the mix along with the hoops.

What in the world is going on?

I’m just an Unfrozen Caveman Cheap Eats Editor. All these extra pasta shapes confuse me.

To be honest, I probably haven’t had Spaghettios since my youthful Camping Days – and probably only a few times at that. This kind of pasta in a can was banned in our household except during special motorhome trips when it just felt right to eat. It’s probably for the best anyway, because as I’ve mentioned, I’ve always felt bad after eating Chef Boyardee and similar products.

Spaghettios - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Anyhow, back to the stupefying inclusion of the inner pasta dots along with the O’s. I’m surprised there aren’t riots in the streets. If you look at the picture on the can, there aren’t any little pasta dots. I just see the O’s, meatballs, and gooey, splashing sauce. As a sidenote: the “liveliness” of the pasta in the picture is a little disturbing. It almost looks like it’s alive. Some sort of viral spaghetti and meatballs that’s about to latch onto your face and telepathically feed you nightmares featuring irate Italian chefs waving cleavers. The Horror.

But yep, there are no pasta dots in the can picture. I wish the product was called Spaghettios with Dots and Meatballs so I wouldn’t get confused. I guess it makes since for them to include them in the can, otherwise they’d go to waste. Last I checked, there is no Home for Wayward Pasta Dots just yet. And they taste pretty much the same.

Oh, the taste. I’ve often written about my dislike of “sweet” things – this usually applies to tomato based products as well. There are only a few brands of spaghetti sauce that we can tolerate (Hunt’s in a can is one of them).

But for some reason, I rather enjoy the oversweetened orangey sauce that comes in these products. I’m not quite sure why, maybe my Sweet taste buds get all nostalgic for it. It has a fairly decent flavor, and I like that it’s very cheesey tasting. Afterwards, I had a slight taste of tin can in my mouth that was difficult to wash out. I find this often happens with canned food that contains tomato products. It wasn’t as bad as some of the other canned tomato items, but it was still noticeable.

The meatballs are tiny 3/4 inch perfect spheres of pureed beef-water-breadcrumb mixture. Incidentally, I keep wanting to type “metaballs” instead of “meatballs“. Something to do with a habit of typing “metadata” I guess. Hmm… MetaMeatBalls.

The noodles are pretty much your plain Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup type of soft, overcooked pasta product. They aren’t spectacular, and you pretty much don’t even notice much about them. It’s like they’re just there to fill up the rest of the empty space that the metameatballs don’t cover.

Anyhow, I guess you aren’t going for texture in this product. I pretty much just wolf the whole thing down – if it wasn’t for the meatballs, I wouldn’t even chew.

The price on this can was a buck fifty at F&E, which I thought at first was kind of reasonable. However, the other day, I think I saw a 26 oz. can of Spaghettios (nearly twice as large) for only a dollar. But I don’t recall if it was plain Spaghettios or if it had the meatballs in it. Surely the meatball variety costs more? Anyhow, the end result is that I upped the review score on this a bit because I’m assuming you can get it for cheaper than I did.

So the surprising thing is that I didn’t feel ill at all after eating this. I don’t know what’s happened. It’s either that they’ve done something to the main recipe over the years to prevent it from irritating my bowels, or my stomach has taken a strange liking to these canned spaghetti products.

For the sake of my health, I sincerely hope it’s not the latter. The last thing I need is the OK to ingest this stuff on a daily basis. It’s almost like it was a GOOD thing that it used to make me feel sick – that way I didn’t eat it very often. As for the stupidity of eating things that you know make you sick – I’m like one of those folks who occasionally hit their heads against the kitchen counter to see if there’s a different result than the last time.

Actually, I’ve been thinking maybe my pasta shape amnesia has been brought on by that very action of me smacking my head on the counter. Or maybe, the dots aren’t really there and I’m just hallucinating them!

All in a day’s work.

Price: $1.50 for 4.75 oz. can
Found At: Fresh and Easy
Cheap Eats Score: 6/10

[ Currently Eating: J&S Taco Plate ]

Deep Dish Pizza - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Remind me to get pissed off at food more often.

The other day I was sitting down to watch a hockey game. I had procurred one of those prepared meals from Fresh and Easy – this one was an enormous lasagna about the size of a small third world country. OMG, it was horrible, horrible, horrible. I’ve had really good experiences with F&E stuff, but their spaghetti meal is crap and this lasagna was probably the worst I’ve ever had EVER (a review is probably upcoming, if I can bring myself to revisit the horror).

Anyhow, here I was with a hockey game and nothing to eat. Farketty fark. I started to get mad. And when I get mad, instead of getting even, I usually cook something (I guess that is sort of getting even with the food). Usually something crazy, or at least something I haven’t tried before.

That something was Deep Dish Pizza.

I had just made up a batch of pizza dough the previous day, so I had the crust covered. I’ve always wanted to try to make one of these deep dish pizza things. I didn’t have the exact ingredients, but I decided to give it a go. In between the first and second period of the game, I set me up a cast iron pan with olive oil, the dough, cheese (I didn’t have Moz, only Jack Cheese), cooked sausage, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, bit of leftover spag sauce, some canned parm cheese.

Then I whacked it in the oven. It’s fun to whack things in the oven when you’re mad.

I came back during the commericals to find a pretty good approximation of a deep dish pizza. I know it’s not like the kind you’d get in Chicago, but I thought it was pretty darn good for being a first try.

Deep Dish Pizza - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

After inhaling about three slices, I cut up the remainder and put it in the fridge for leftovers the next day. They actually held up pretty well which surprised me – as the pizza cools it solidifies, allowing you to move it around more easily. When I first took it out of the oven, it had been a little wet.

For those who make their own deep dish pizza, I had a question: do you cover deep dish pizza with aluminum foil while baking? I thought of doing this, but didn’t. Because of that, the crust got a little too crispy, though it wasn’t bad.

Next time, I also would probably omit the extra spaghetti sauce and just add more chopped tomatoes. The mushrooms were uncooked which was a mistake that I should’ve caught – that extra water came out and added too much moisture. I’d also use mozzarella cheese, and more of it. I think I didn’t use enough cheese. You can never have too much cheese.

Other than these minor issues, I thought it was surprisingly good.

Oh, and we won the hockey game.

5/5/09 | F&E Spaghetti

[ Currently Eating: Yummy Things. Like Popcorn. ]

F&E Spaghetti with Meat Sauce - Cheap Eats at BloglanderGlue.

That would be how I would describe this Fresh and Easy Spaghetti with Meat Sauce if I could only use a single word.

On the subject of less words: I’ve noticed that my reviews here are often long-winded and gratuitously long. I was thinking maybe I should start up some sort of “25 Word Reviews” on Cheap Eats in order to both save my time and your sanity. Anyhow, that’s Cheap Food for thought.

Before I begin to give this spaghetti meal a well-deserved drubbing, I just want to remind everybody that I’m the latest Fresh and Easy fanboy to be converted to their prepared foods. I love Fresh and Easy so much that I wrote a love letter to them earlier. I just want to get that out into the open in case you think I’m backsliding there. One crappy meal isn’t going to change my love for them. Hmm…. that sounds like song lyrics. But I’ll spare you the horror…

Truthfully, a majority of their stuff is really good and cheap – especially if you can sneak in between the gargantuan whales who crowd the F&E discount bin. Luckily, I have skinny arms so I can snake my way in and grab some of the discounted food. On occasion, however, I’ve grabbed a whale flipper by mistake.

This meal is a refrigerated, fully cooked meal of Spaghetti with Meat Sauce. I have to admit this wasn’t my first choice, but it’s what I was able to grab and it was fairly cheap at a dollar fifty for 12 oz. of food. So I went with it.

I somewhat regret it.

Now, I’ve had meals like this before – usually frozen, but sometimes fresh. And the biggest concern with pre-cooked spaghetti is that if it’s not done correctly, it deteriorates or gets clumped together. The taste of the sauce is usually not a problem – it’s the consistency of the noodles which is crucial.

This spaghetti tasted like glue.

It could also be because it was getting near it’s due date, but this spaghetti just tasted horrible. It was like someone got a bushel of hot cooked spaghetti and left it out for a few hours so that it congealed together. I know fricken Alton Brown and all the other fun-alicious Food Network chefs say never to rinse hot cooked pasta. However, if it’s going to be for a prepared meal like this, and you don’t rinse and cool it correctly, it’s going to turn into glue.

F&E Spaghetti with Meat Sauce - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

But you can see from the picture above that it looks pretty decent. The overall flavor of the sauce was: Meh, just OK. It had a normal tomato taste, not heavily spiced, and in fact a little on the bland side. Which is saying quite a bit for me, since I usually think things are too salty or spiced. The sauce featured ground beef, onions and interestingly – carrots. That sorta came out of left field. Although we sometimes do put carrots in our homemade spaghetti sauce, i’ve never really seen it in prepared sauces. That was actually quite different, and it made me want to try it again.

The noodles, as I mentioned, were pretty horrible. I actually had to add about 1/4 cup or more of water to the sauce, plus some olive oil to get it palatable. Spaghetti should not stick to the roof of your mouth in most universes.

Overall, this spaghetti survived a truly low score only because it was so cheap at $1.50. Still: I think I could make better Spaghetti in my sleep. I was actually a little disappointed because I’ve had some of Fresh and Easy’s other prepared noodle meals, such as the Chicken Parmigiana, and the noodles were fine. I believe with these company branded prepared meals, there are going to be occasions where you just get a bad one. So I’ve been meaning to try it again just to see if the one I got was a dud. But it hasn’t gone on sale in the discount bin again. I guess I’ll post an update if I try it again. Toodle-oo, Mr. Glue…

Price: $1.50 for 12 oz. (MSRP $3)
Found At: Fresh and Easy
Cheap Eats Score: 3/10

[Editor's Note: F&E Is pretty damn COOL. I only hope that enough people patronize the one I'm at so that it doesn't shut down. If it shuts down I'm going to be crying for a long, long time.]



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