Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Your guide to eating cheap including tips, recipes and techniques

Archive for June, 2009



[ Currently Eating: Homemade Toast ]

Coffee Syrup - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

I like flavored coffee.

I guess that counts as a sheepish confession. Though, I prefer to call it an antelopish or gazellish confession. You know how it goes: Wild animals and coffee.

I decided to say that up front so that all the hard-core coffee drinkers could immediately hit the back button and go back to drinking whatever passes for the Real Coffee Deal nowadays.

I also can’t drink coffee straight black. I need milk or cream or 1/2 and 1/2 in it. Or at least some whiskey, especially early in the morning. I suspect this is somewhat less of a heinous offense in the eyes of coffee drinkers (and alcoholics) around the world. But I’m throwing that out there too, just in case.

I also sometimes nuke day old coffee in the microwave, drink fricking Folger’s instant coffee on occasion, and I have been known to tentatively eat some of the grounds in the mistaken belief that it will make me grow a few inches.

I meant in height, you maniacs.

For the three people still with me after those confessions, congratulations!

OK. So I like the flavored coffee and coffee drinks, but I really hate to drop an Abe Lincoln every day at Stirbuks. So, we’ve been buying the standard Torani Syrup to flavor up our morning drinks. The only thing is that they’re sort of expensive, especially considering they’re mostly sugar water. We usually get the 750ml large sizes, and those usually run between $7 and $10 at specialty stores. On Amazon, I discovered you can pick up a three pack of syrup for $16.30 which comes out to about $5.40 a bottle.

Not too bad, but I was thinking – how hard could it be to just make your own coffee syrup at home?

Coffee Syrup - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

The answer is that if you know how to boil water, you know how to make your own coffee syrup. The most difficult part is the flavoring. If you’re just looking to get simple sugar syrup, hey, add equal parts sugar and water together, reduce it by half, and there you go. I have to admit, I never really got into making simple syrup – but it’s a really handy thing to have around, especially when you need to flavor cold beverages. And yes, it’s just boiling sugar and water together.

I looked up a bunch of different recipes for coffee syrups, and a lot of them have you scraping vanilla bean pods, harvesting your own hazelnuts, etc. Ugh-a-bugga. The method I settled for flavoring the syrup just uses vanilla extract.

Yes, I realize that the price of these extracts if you buy them JUST to make your coffee syrup sort of defeats the purpose of making your own syrup. However, I think most people have Vanilla extract in the cupboard – and if you’re using a teaspoon, I think it’s worth it. Based on a 2 Fl. Oz. bottle of vanilla extract that costs $3.50, I think 1 tsp should run you about 30 to 40 cents.

I’m sure that using an authentic vanilla bean pod will make it taste a ton better – let me know if you try that out. My vanilla bean plant is tired after doing all those pushups this morning.

Vanilla Sugar Syrup

1 cup sugar — $0.35
1 tsp vanilla extract — $0.35
1 cup water

Total: $0.70

Get a pot. Dump the sugar, water and extract into it. Stir it up with a wooden spoon to kind of dissolve at least some of the sugar.

Flame up that pot with a medium flame. I wouldn’t walk away, because it won’t take that long. I’d also stir the pot once in awhile. Don’t watch the pot too hard, or it wont boil. Haha.

When it starts to boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the mo-fo. Everyone says to reduce it by half, but my eyes aren’t very accurate. So it’ll be about 4-7 minutes I think. It won’t really thicken up THAT much, which is correct because the syrup that you buy is pretty watery as well.

Let it cool, and that’s pretty much it. Congratulations.

This whole shebang seems to result in about 1 1/3 cups of syrup, or, if my shoddy math (and googling) is correct – about 1/3 Liter. So, 750ml (3/4 Liter) of Torani costs at the cheapest, say $5. That same amount of homemade coffee syrup would be, uh, about $1.60? Please don’t check my math work, I’m that embarrassed.

In any case, $5 versus $1.60 seems worth a shot. I suspect that the price will change dramatically if you use real vanilla bean pods, or if you try other extracts like almond or hazelnut. Who knows. The syrup I made seemed to be adequate, although it definitely wasn’t as fragrant. I might try doubling the vanilla extract next time or something.

The consistency of the syrup is about right. It doesn’t seem like it’d be sticky, but I did spill a considerable quanity on the stove top. The resulting mess was both sticky and tasty, though not in that exact order…

One thing I noticed is that while I don’t require any of the preservatives that Torani puts in their syrup, they also sometimes add stuff like citric acid. I didn’t notice it at all until I tasted the store-bought and homemade coffee syrup side by side. The citric acid definitely adds a little something, a bit of a zing. I haven’t thought about experimenting with stand-ins for the citric acid yet – maybe some lemon?

I know some folks also recommended using brown sugar in some of the recipes – I think I might give that one a go later. Others try to use homemade caramel. But I think I’ll leave that one to other people. Boiling sugar and water for 5 minutes is plenty dangerous enough for me right now.


[ Currently Eating: Rice Crispies Treat ]

Pringles Bold - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away, there was a Bag of Chips. These chips were called Pringles Bold Crunch, and they were of the Jalapeno variety. No, I’m not going to stick the “N-yay” on the “n” in Jalapeno, because I’m too lazy. Anyhow, were these bold? Yep. Were they crunchy? Quite. Did they have a Jalapeno taste? Indubitably. And were they Pringles?

NOPE.

And, this IS their story…

OK, I have to admit I’ve been suffering writer’s block after a can of Juanita’s Pozole fell out of the sky and hit me on the head. Actually, it fell out of the kitchen cabinet but since my high cabinets were made for aliens 8 feet tall, and aliens tend to fall out of the sky, I guess you could say that an alien can of Juanita’s Pozole hit me on the head after falling out of the sky.

Thank you very much for the scattered applause.

I had originally written up a fake interview with a Mr. Bold C. Pringles. The C stands for “Crunchy”, or at least that’s what he told me. You know how it is. People lie sometimes just because they think they can get away with it…

In the interview, I was going to have Mr. Pringles go postal on me, or at least call me a lazy, good fer nothing product reviewer. I was going to make him all in your face bold and crunchy, booyah! He was going to berate my chip eating skills and tell me to go back to the dollar store and return them because I didn’t deserve to eat them.

I was going to finally muster up the strength to launch my own counterattack: these Pringles ARE NOT PRINGLES. No they’re not. I don’t care how delicious they are, they’re not fricking Pringles, no sir. They don’t look like Pringles. They don’t really taste like them. And they’re not in a can, they’re in a bag.

FAIL.

But you know, I’ve learned something today. No one cares about fake interviews with products. Unless they’re really awesome. We should just eat or use the products and then type up a short single spaced paragraph on the Smith Corona (not beer you idiot) in which we discuss exactly what we liked and disliked about it. We shouldn’t bring any emotion or idiocratic (that’s not a word) idiosyncrasies into the conversation.

Pringles Bold - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Instead, we should sit properly at the table when eating our chips and talk about them rationally with our friends and neighbors. For instance, the heady aroma of the Jalapeno (sorry, again no N-yays) that tickles my nose as it wafts out of the bag. And the powdery pifflepuzz of tangy seasonings that glossen each wittle chip goodly. Forsooth, the wunderful crackle and munch of the compressed potato snackling as it slides dutifully down the throat. Verily thy capsicum, it tingles the tongue or bung. But oh ye small but bold chipple (or nipple), why dost thou surface be uncurvaceous and non-stacking? Get thee to a cannery, why woulds’t thou be a breeder of flat chips? Woggle, woggle the pringlebones think they’re bold and munchy but hey-ho your price has skyblocketed while you become uncannedeth!

And so on.

Price: $1 for 5.5 oz.
Found At: Dollar Store
Cheap Eats Score: 6/10

[Editor's Note: Sorry, this was another one of "those" reviews. I suffer from Glossolalia occasionally. It only goes away if I write a review out of it, generally of the Reverse Flowers for Algernon variety. Companies hate me for this incoherence. I receive 4 or 5 emails a month telling me how weird or strange I am or smell. I can't help it, my jeans are blue. But seriously, these are pretty decent chips, but they're just not Pringles. Damnit, Pringles come in a can - the end.]


[ Currently Eating: Yummy Chips and Stuff ]

Enchilada Sauce - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Hola. I’m JA, and yet the amount of Mexican food cooked in our household when I was a kid was pretty significant. I grew up on it. Granted, it was kinda “fake” Mexican food – the kind that the Better Homes and Gardens included in their cookbooks in the 1950s in order to show how ethnically diverse they were. But still, it was better than Taco Bell. Not that I didn’t eat at Taco Bell frequently too.

To this day, it’s kind of stuck with me. I would say Mexican food is my favorite cuisine. When people learn I don’t eat sushi, sashimi and wasabi, they usually say, what kind of freak Japanese person are you? Yes, I’d rather eat a plate of enchiladas than a plate of sashimi any day. Well, I do eat a lot of rice.

The story is that my step-grandfather, who was born here in the 20s in the OC, learned to really like Mexican food. And that was passed down to my mom, when she came over after the war. I guess I’m continuing the tradition. My dad and brother aren’t as huge fans of it.

The complaint I hear the most from Asian Americans about Mexican food is that they don’t like the cumin flavors. They say it smells like B.O. Yeah. And natto, fish sauce, stinky tofu and durian smell like farking flowers.

(By the way, a post about Natto is coming soon.)

We make quite a few enchiladas and enchilada-type casseroles at home nowadays. For some reason, I’ve never really thought about making my own enchilada sauce. I usually buy the cans, made by Ortega or La Palma or whatever’s on sale.

One thing I always noticed, when you get red sauce enchiladas at a halfway decent Mexican restaurant, the sauce seems a little different than what you get out of a can. I think it’s less tomato-ey and more brown in color. When I made my own, I discovered that sure enough, it’s more like what they have in restaurants.

Actually, the first time I made the sauce was when I was all set to roll up some enchiladas and I discovered we didn’t have any cans left. I was too lazy to drive to the store. I think some people may not like this type of enchilada sauce because it’s not what they’re used to. It has a slightly bitter note to it. I like it a lot better, however, and I think it comes in a little cheaper than buying cans.

Now, as I’ve said before, every time I try to do the old recipe under $3, I get 99 people writing in telling me that I haven’t calculated the price of a pinch of salt correctly. My response has always been that it’s not so much the exact price you should be concerned with. It’s the fact that you’re making this at home, instead of buying it in a can. Five cents misquoted here and there isn’t going to make a lot of difference.

The amount of mail I get about it is tiring, but I’ve decided to do the recipes again. And yes, there are a whole lot of blogs and content sites who’ve jumped on the cheap bandwagon and started doing “recipes under $X amount”. I’m proud to say I was doing it since the beginning, before it was cool. I may have not had the original idea, but this blog was one of the first to do it.

Enchilada Sauce

4 tbsp white flour — $0.05
1/4 cup cooking oil — $0.05
2 tbsp chile powder — $0.05
4 cloves garlic, smashed — $0.10
1 cup tomato sauce – $0.30
1 tsp salt — negligible
Cayenne pepper if desired
2 cups hot water

Total: $0.55

Get a pan. Get a wooden spoon. Well, you don’t need a wooden spoon, but I like it better. Also, it might work better if your pan is not a non-stick variety. But whatever.

Over low to med heat, brown the flour and chile powder. Make sure to stir it pretty frequently, scraping into the corners. I forget how long it takes, probably a few minutes. Just try not to burn it. If it starts to smoke, take it off heat.

Then add the oil and mix it into a paste. You could probably do the oil first and make a roux, but the recipe I took this from said flour first.

Slowly add the water and tomato sauce, stirring frequently until you get the right consistency. You can fix it by adding more liquid, so don’t add too much to start. Throw in the garlic cloves and salt to taste. Add cayenne pepper if you like it spicy. Simmer it on low until thickened slightly. It’ll probably be about 20-30 minutes. Off heat, remove garlic cloves and let it cool a bit. You’re ready to make enchiladas.

This recipe is an adaptation of one I found online somewhere. I can’t remember which one it is. It’s about good enough for a medium pan of enchiladas, depending on how wet you like your enchiladas. You can easily multiply the quantities in the recipe to get more sauce. You may want to mess around with the amount of garlic. Also, this is a “smooth” sauce – I’ve seen many others that include crushed tomatoes or sauteed onions for a chunkier one.

Enchilada Sauce - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

I dunno if toasting the flour is really necessary, but it did seem to take the uncooked flour taste away from the sauce. Just be sure you don’t burn the flour.

I omitted cumin in the recipe because I didn’t think it was necessary. You can throw some in, and for that matter, any other spices you want. The cayenne may not be necessary if you’re going to add heat to the enchilada in other ways. I increased the tomato sauce from 2/3 cup to a full cup – I think some people may like even more tomato taste in it. To get the right consistency you may need to add more or less water as well. This sauce will keep pretty well in the fridge for a week or so.

By the way, enchiladas are one of the messiest things I’ve ever cooked. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I always make a huge mess and use up a ton of dishes. I always feel like a four year old after making them. Wait, I always feel like a four year old anyway…

Ga Ga Goo Goo, Coo Coo Ca Choo.


[ Currently Eating: Random Breakfast Things ]

Chick-Fil-A Cheap Eats at BloglanderOh, Chick-Fil-A – why must you build your restaurants so far away from me?

That goes for In-N-Out and Sonic as well.

So, I’ve received some coupons for a FREE Spicy Chicken Sandwich at any participating Chick-Fil-A restaurant. The thing is that the restaurant is so far away from where I live, that it’s going to be awhile until I can come up with an excuse to drive out to where they are.

But I didn’t want these Spicy Chicken sandwiches to get lonely, so I’ve decided to give some of the coupons away. Would you like one? There is a slight catch, and if you’re a regular visitor to Chick-Fil-A, you might have guessed it. The Spicy Chicken sandwich is ONLY on the menu currently in test markets. Specifically, at all the California locations, Baltimore, MD locations and Jacksonville, FL locations. Sorry, I’m not the one who decided this.

Because of that, I thought it wouldn’t be fun to do a “real” contest. So I’m just going to give them away first come first served. So here is the lowdown:

THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR PARTICIPATING – THE CHICK-FIL-A GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.

I have FOUR (4) coupons, each good for ONE (1) Free Spicy Chicken Sandwich
• They’ll be given away to the first FOUR people who “@ Message” me or DM (Direct Message) me about it on my Twitter account.
• I’m assuming you live near or can get to a PARTICIPATING Chick-Fil-A. That would be the test markets of California, Baltimore MD or Jacksonville FL.
• One per person. I’ll need a mailing address to send it to you.
• This giveaway is open until all four coupons have been claimed.

So yes, this is actually an underhanded way to try and get a few twitter followers… but I’ll most likely follow you back regardless. Unless you’re marketing weight-loss formula or canned (and digital) spam. By the way, if you don’t know about the other site I run, it’s called Cheaplander – this is the reason for the different twitter name.

OK, I would say good luck, but no luck is needed. Just timing. Fire away. I’ll post up a message when the coupons are all claimed. Also, I have comments turned off on this post – the whole point is to contact me via twitter!


[ Currently Eating: Gallons of Coffee ]

Pozole - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Here are my first thoughts about Juanita’s Pozole:

CornNut Soup.

That is all.

Just kidding, there’s more. Well, I decided to skip a lame joke about how much I love to eat Juanita’s pozole (as in “everybody say hey, we want some Pozo-le”). Homina hominy, haha. But still, there’s more to say. I also decided to skip a poll on who is hotter: the gal in the Juanita’s or the Sunmaid logos. (Incidentally, I think the Sunmaid gal is a little bit last century’s news, and gosh if her digital facelift sorta makes me think of an fugly bonneted version of Lara Croft.)

No, there is more to the pozole made by Juanita’s Foods than just that. And surprisingly, the majority of it is rather favorable. I say surprisingly, because usually my untrained eye tends to pick out the absolute worst mystery canned foods possible. This leads to lot of dumped meals, which depresses me – especially in this depression where we shouldn’t be wasting food if possible.

Not so with the pozole. I actually made 2 different meals for two people out of this one large can. That’s the first thing about it – It’s a really big can, almost 2 lbs worth of soup. And the second thing is the price – this was a definite impulsive buy at only 99 cents. But I liked it so much, that I later went back and bought more cans at the the same price. I’ll take this as earthquake emergency food over absolute balderdashcrap like VanCamp’s Pork&Beans. Ugh on that. Yum on the Pozole.

I guess it’s at this point that I should admit something. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never really tried pozole before, despite living in the midst of a veritable paradise of Mexican restaurants all my life. I’ve tried a lot of different Mexican foods, but this one was off the radar.

I knew it was a soup/stew and that it had something to do with corn. For those of you who, like me, are pozole virgins (I want to make a joke here but I can’t quite make the connection) – this is a Mexican style pork and hominy soup. From Wikipedia: “a traditional pre-Columbian soup or stew from Mexico and New Mexico… made from hominy, with pork (or other meat), chili pepper, and other seasonings and garnish…”

Pozole - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

With that description out of the way, we get to the CornNuts connection. Ah yes, many a pleasant day as a kid was whiled away obliterating unsuspecting molars with those oversized pieces of corn. I actually don’t know exactly what type of corn Hominy is, or even if it’s a different type (is the large size only due to the soaking treatment with the lye solution?) and I want to prevent you from falling asleep from wacky pseudo-agricultural BS. So, I’ll leave that up to you to discover in your free time.

But yes, seeing as my only experience with larger corn kernels has been CornNuts, this is what I thought of. CornNuts Soup. Juanita’s Foods Pozole is a pork broth based soup, flavored with chile peppers and Mexican spices. I thought at first it had tomato based product in it, but from the ingredient list, I don’t think it does.

The main parts of the soup are the hominy corn and the chunks of pork. Maybe I was just still pissed off from the non-porkiness of the VanCamp’s Pork&Beans sweetcrap I had earlier, but this pozole was really amazing. See for yourself in the picture – I just didn’t expect gargantuan chunks of pork in a can of soup like this. They were truly large. The chunks in the photo are smaller than the ones in the can were. I actually had to break them up. It was like playing Pork Asteroids.

The abundance of pork seems supremely generous, I can’t figure it out. Oh sure, I’m sure some naysayer out there has a tale of how this is inferior pork lips, snouts and asses and blah blah blah. Dude. It cost a dollar. It tasted pretty much like some sort of pork shoulder to me. Well, to be fair – it doesn’t say exactly WHAT kind of pork it is…

Actually, I have the suspicion that this can of pozole isn’t normally that cheap – especially after seeing it being sold on a online Mexican grocery site for $6.95!

The large hominy pieces were pretty good and there was a ton of it in the soup. They taste like softened corn-nuts, but have a masa-like texture that reminds me of the outer corn parts of tamales. Indeed, I think that they often make masa out of ground up hominy. I think that they leave part of the corn kernel shell on, so sometimes you encounter some rather rough bits on the pozole. But that didn’t deter me – I had an enormous bowl.

Did I mention this is a 30.5 ounce can?

We ate pozole for lunch, pozole for dinner and I also had pozole the next day. I should’ve eaten it in the morning since I’ve heard that, like Menudo, it’s a favorite for breakfast. I also hear that there are an absolute ton of “garnishes” that are eaten with pozole. The can label suggests fresh radishes, oregano, shredded cabbage, chopped onions and lime. We actually did something rather weird – we chucked some chopped up Kale in it, like you would do for a Tuscan bean soup. It was pretty good.

I also threw some grated parm cheese in it and that gave it even more body. Some people might think the soup is a little “watery”, but I believe it’s supposed to be that way. The cheese thickened it up nicely.

The overall flavor was a little bit on the salty side – but if you know me, you know I always complain about foods being too salty. I added a little water and it was fine. The spices were just about right, but I felt it could use a little kick with cayenne pepper. There was a little bit of “metal can” taste to the soup, but it wasn’t as bad as some other canned food I’ve had.

Ok, the story is almost done here. Truthfully, it’s hard to make any more jokes about this pozole. I was just very surprised at how decent this was. I mean, at a dollar a can, I wouldn’t complain too much if it was crap. But it was rather good – I suspect you could use this as the base for a more “homemade” type of soup if you doctor it up enough.

Price: $0.99 for 30.5 oz.
Found At: Fresh & Easy
Cheap Eats Score: 9/10

[Editor's Note: Dear Sunmaid - I apologize for dragging your gal's likeness through the mud. She actually is kinda cute in that Uncanny Valley sort of way.]

6/2/09 | Yoo-Hoo


[ Currently Eating: Bánh Cuốn ]

Yoo-Hoo - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Oh, wonderful innocence and naivete for consumables. You have been lost in the hallowed halls of time. It pains me to say this, but Yoo-Hoo is not really chocolate milk. ‘Tis a chocolate drink.

Boo-hoo.

Well, actually it’s been awhile since I realized that not all “chocolate milk” is really chocolate milk. I would say that it occured somewhere between the time I found out Santa Claus was not REALLY a jolly red and white, coke-gulping senior citizen with a facial hair problem, and the time I discovered that the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express tag team were not in fact double-dropkicking their opponents fo’ reals.

Yes, Virginia – wrestling is fake.

In any case, it’s not like they say anywhere on the box that Yoo-hoo is actually chocolate milk. And it does contain non-fat dry milk. And it has whey – uh, better known as milk plasma. You know, little Miss Muffett sat on her tuffett eating her curds and milk plasma.

Tee-hee.

Still, I have good interesting memories with the Yoo-hoo drink. I remember having them at baseball games. Yes, we were the team that always won the championships. However, I was not the player who always hit or caught the ball. In fact, I think I was more concerned with the quality and quantity of the refreshments that parents bought to the games. Oh Kevin’s mom – you think you can get away bringing that fake Pic’n’Save Kool-aid crap to the game?

Hell-no.

There were a few parents who insisted on bringing Yoo-hoo to the game. When I first tried it, I thought it tasted like Chocolate Spit. I dunno, something to do with the amount of HFCS, xanthum gum or corn syrup solids, but it had a really gummy taste to it. Not to mention the fakey chocolate milk taste. Eventually, I grew to learn to drink it, but I was never a big fan. Then again, I never really liked pre-mixed chocolate milk. It had to be the kind you poured and mixed yourself. Nestlé Quik rabbit coming at ya full force.

Boo-yah!

Yoo-Hoo - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

If you fast-forward, I hadn’t probably had a sip of Yoo-hoo in 25 years. So when I saw this 3 pack at the store I had to pick it up for a buck. These seemed to be seriously small containers at 6.5 ounces each. But I guess it’s about half a can of soda or so. Maybe it’s better it’s such a small package, considering the waist sizes of Americans today.

With my new adult taste buds, I was a little more forgiving of the flavor. In addition, it could be my imagination, but it seems to feel less mucous-like than before. (Side Note: someone needs to make a product called Mucilage Milk. I would try it.) I did make the mistake of drinking this at room temperature first. The flavor improved greatly when I chilled it. Speaking of drinking it at room temperature – apparently Yoo-hoo is known to have a (and I quote from Wikipedia) “famously open-ended shelf life” for a milk product. Mine actually did have “best if used by” dates of April 25, 2010. Actually when I first read the date, I thought it said April 2510! That would be some really old milk product.

Moo-cow.

I’m also rather glad that they haven’t gone the “sugar-free” route. I can’t stand the mouthfeel that fakey sugar substitute drinks of any kind inflict on your tongue. Yes, yes Diet Dr. Pepper is still fake Dr. Pepper to me. Yoo-hoo does have a little bit of an aftertaste, but I don’t think that’s due to the sweetener. Especially seeing as how real honest to goodness delicious High Fructose Corn Syrup is the second ingredient on the box list.

I guess I wasn’t terribly disappointed with Yoo-hoo after so many years. If anything, my impression of this faux chocolate milk has improved slightly. However, my baseball skills have not. In fact, I am currently being chosen next to last whenever the guys get together for softball games during the holidays. This is OK with me since I have gained the secret knowledge that prowess with the bat occurs as a semi-compensation for personal “bat-length”.

Po-Tweet.

Price: $1.00 for 3 boxes (6.5 oz ea)
Found At: Dollar Store
Cheap Eats Score: 5/10

[Editor's Note: Man, I was trying to work in some Imperial Teen into this article, but then I realized no one would no what I was talking about... ... ... ... see what I mean?]




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