Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Your guide to eating cheap including tips, recipes and techniques

Archive for September, 2009


9/29/09 | Natto


[ Currently Eating: Banana Bread ]

Natto - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

For many years now, I’ve had this fantasy about writing an in-depth account of how one should go about eating Nattō. I was planning on putting forth a Fight Club – like listing of The Rules Of Eating Natto and then having a spirited discourse about its odorific dangers and surprising health benefits.

But for some reason, every time I tried to write it, I’d put it off. The psychological effect of describing fermented soybean consumption in gory detail was just too much to tackle.

So a few rules are as far as I got up till now.

And yes, there SHOULD be rules for eating natto. No, they’re not official and some may say they go against the true spirit of Natto consumption. Rule 1 is probably the most controversial. However, I swear by them. They lead to a more pleasant and efficient natto experience. I also have a few corollaries to the rules.

Here you are then, and so on…

The Rules of Eating Natto

1. You don’t mix your natto.
2. You don’t mix your natto.
3. When someone says stop, or goes limp, even if he’s just faking it, the natto eating is over.
4. Only two people per package.
5. One package of natto at a time.
6. They eat natto WITH shirts and napkins.
7. They only eat natto as long as they have to.
8. If this is your first time here, you have to eat the natto.

Natto Corollaries

0. Don’t smell the natto.
1. Don’t get it on your hands or clothes.
2. Before putting in mouth, they hold the natto still, letting the “strings” subside.
3. Natto crystals are tasty good.
4. Smaller beans are often more tender.
5. While eating natto, you don’t think of boogers, spit or Aliens (the movie)

Yes, Natto is some serious stuff. Because it doesn’t have a really bizarre look like Durian or a cool name like Lutefisk, it sort of lurks under the radar for weird Japanese foods. But oh, it’s weird all right.

To my knowledge, neither Anthony Bourdain nor Andrew Zimmern has not tried it yet. (Oops, I was informed that Bourdain has tried it, as described in his book. However, he did not write up Fight Club rules like I did.) Actually, the Zimmern camp told me that he hadn’t, but they weren’t sure. I heartily suggest they include these beans on their next trip to Japan.

Natto - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

OK, here is a confession. I grew up eating this stuff. It’s a tiny part of my Japanese heritage that still shines feebly through an Americanized life. Whenever people ask why I hate wasabi with a passion and avoid sashimi like the plague, I can just say – well, I eat Natto, so how about you give me a break. That said, I’m no expert in Natto. We just eat it at home occasionally.

To be truthful, there is probably a large segment of the Japanese population that HATES the stuff. I’m not going to speculate, but among the JAs here that I’ve asked, only about 1/3 will eat Natto. As far as Hakujin folks (white Americans) go, I think I know exactly two people who have tried it before. If you frequent sushi restaurants, you may have noticed a “Natto Roll” buried in the menu. I’ve never gotten it, so I’m curious what it looks like. I’ve only eaten it on top of rice. I’m told they also eat it on toast occasionally, like Vegemite.

Natto is Rotten, Smelly, Slimy Soybeans. You can call them “fermented” if you like. It still comes down to smelly beans at the end of the day.

It’s delicious.

They’re usually sold in small styrofoam boxes, three to a package due to the fear of the number four (ask me one of these days about the many ways my relatives’ fear of that number has inconvenienced my life). They usually, but not always come with two small condiment packets inside. One is a soy sauce type mixture and the other is yellow spicy mustard. They have different sizes of beans – we usually like to get the smaller ones because they seem more tender. The price seems to vary greatly – anywhere from 75 cents for 3 boxes to a couple bucks. But it’s usually cheap enough.

You can freeze natto packages, and they will usually come back fine after defrosting in the refrigerator for a day or two. The bean texture may not be as good, but it’s edible. We usually buy two 3-packs and put one in the freezer.

Natto - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Now, as to the eating of Natto. Let’s go over some of the Rules from before. I’m pretty controverial (according to my mom and most articles about natto), but I never, ever stir the package up. Apparently, the more frothy and slimy that you can get the beans, the more rapturous of an experience you’ll have.

NOT.

Most people like to stir it up, but I like to disturb the beans as little as possible en route to my mouth. Let me back up a bit. Before eating a package of natto, you need to prepare your area. The problem with natto is not only the smell itself, but it’s stringy and slimy texture which tends to get all over the place ESPECIALLY if you’ve stirred the stuff up. So, I like to put a paper towel underneath the package and covering my placemat. I keep another two napkins handy. You might not want to wear your best clothes when eating the stuff as well. Or at least, plan to wash your shirt if you get natto goop on it.

Ok, so put your rice in a bowl, on the napkin as well. I prefer a larger soup style bowl instead of a smaller one because it decreases the mess. Open the natto package and bend the connected styrofoam lid back so it stays put. I chuck the yellow mustard, but you might like it (especially if you’re a Stirrer). The soy sauce flavoring packet usually improves things considerably. The top of the natto is “protected” from the lid by a thin sheet of plastic. Grasp a corner of that and pull it off slowly onto the styrofoam lid. See the slimy strings? Imagine that multiplied by 10 if you had stirred that up.

For me, controlled speed is the essence of good natto eating. You want to consume it carefully, but without dilly-dallying. The idea is to scoop up some natto carefully with chopsticks (or a fork, spoon, or spork). Before bringing it to the rice, let the strings subside. It’s pretty amazing how long they last. Place it on the rice, then use the chopsticks to scoop the undisturbed natto and some rice into your mouth. Don’t sit back and eat it – get your face over the bowl, for the love of god. Open your mouth as wide as possible, like you’re at the dentist. (You may want to listen to soft Top 40 music as well, it may help.) Sometimes, I skip the combination of rice and natto and just eat some natto first by itself, and then go for the rice. People who stir it up often like to dump the whole mess on top of rice. If you do that, you’re on your own.

I would seriously suggest you avoid sharing your natto package with others. This increases the tendency for smelly slime to get everywhere. This isn’t the type of thing you want to pass around the table for everyone to sample. But, if you must, two people can share one box. Just make sure you put napkins underneath the area.

Oh, so I guess one of the more important corollaries is NOT to smell the natto. I mean, just don’t go out of your way and put your nose right up to it. That Zimmern guy is cool, but he has the unfortunate habit of sticking his nose into whatever weird food he’s eating and taking a long whiff. I understand he wants the “full experience”, but think he’d be a lot less grossed out by some of the food if he just ate it instead of inhaling it. Anyhow, trust me, just eating natto is enough of an experience. I’ll save you the trouble of smelling it – it smells like ammonia mixed with stinky cheese and toejams. Yum!

I’ve heard that some people are more disturbed by the “slimy” texture of natto than the smell. It’s hard to describe without saying the texture is like loogies. The closest common food item I can think of is the inside of an okra pod. That slime is almost the exact same texture. Now imagine a slimy, smelly okra pod. Again, if you don’t stir the natto up, you’ll have less of that slimy texture.

One of the weird things about natto are the tiny crystal formations that sometimes appear. Yes, crystals. Not every package of natto has them, but I actually find them pleasant, adding a bit of crunch. I’m not sure if this is mold, bacteria action, or what, but it’s interesting (and I hope, not bad for you). Again, if you stir it up, you’re not going to notice the crystals that much. The taste of natto by itself is difficult to describe, since it’s colored by the soy sauce package or mustard. It has a slight bitter tinge to the bean taste.

You might be wondering why some people eat this if it’s such a smelly, slimy proposition. There are supposed to be a whole host of health benefits, which I won’t get into. I just like the art of Eating of Natto as an experience. It really feels like you’re going into battle. With chopsticks a-ready. I don’t expect you’ll like it, but you should at least give it a try one of these days.

[Editor's Note: I hope that y'all know my natto paranoia is in jest. Well, sort of. One other tip: after eating natto, you may want to switch out your bowl for a new one. Natto tends to "contaminate" other foods with it's taste, smell and slime. Also, I usually wash my mouth right afterwards. Wipe down the table and placemats. And don't go kissing each other right after eating it...]


[ Currently Eating: Coffee ]

Leftover Stuffed Zucchini - Cheap Eats

I’m actually in the midst of getting ready for a camping trip, so here’s a Leftovers For Lunch post. The other day I was trying to figure out what to do with some zucchini that was just on the verge of getting too soft. In the past, we’d made soup out of it, but I decided to try out some stuffed zucchini since I’d never done that. We lightly boiled the zucchini, scooped out the innards, mixed that with ground turkey for the filling and bread crumbs for the filling, and just baked them in the oven.

It turned out all right, but they were a little bit on the dense and heavy side. I was curious if anyone makes stuffed zucchinis regularly. I know that most recipes call for sausage and probably lots of cheese. We can’t use a whole lot of cheese due to lactose issues in the house. I did use some egg as binder, but I felt that the filling tended to fall out when bitten because of the lack of cheese to help stick everything together.


[ Currently Eating: Bagels ]

Some Corn Chips Of Indeterminate Origin - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

And now for something completely different.

I’ve been noticing that the ratio of post length to reward factor (i.e. comments) for Cheap Eats is seriously whacked. The more time I spend going on and on about absolutely nothing important, the less fun comments and hate mail constructive criticism wrapped in internet anonymity I receive.

I never set out to be the squeaky mousewheel that gets the gets the grease.

But after this long and winding road which has run five years, you’ll find I like to complain every so often.

I consider complaining my “just rewards”. An inalienable right that tends to alienate readers. Compensation for providing dense thickets of stream of consciousness sentences surrounding a few blurbs about a company’s products, or a 3 Dollar or Less Recipe.

My complaint this time around is that it gets tiring to review Cheap Food all the time. Sometimes I want to review caviar or, god forbid, foie gras. Just to switch it up a bit. It’s difficult to get companies to send this kind of stuff, however, to a website called “Cheap Eats”.

Not that I would ever accept such products for review since that would be an ethical conflict of interest. (*Ahem*, speaking loudly into the mic provided by FBI)

It’s actually quite amazing how much flame broiled email constructive criticism wrapped in internet anonymity I’ve gotten for writing about even normally priced foods. My idea was that I could review expensive or medium-priced products, because of course I’d take the cost into account in the overall score.

It hasn’t really turned out that way. I’ve sort of gotten pushed into the corner of cheap food, 24-7. Instant Ramen and Cheese Wiz beating me up in the ring, and it’s round 13. I suppose some of that is my fault, since I’ve said since the beginning that the blog will be about Cheap Food, minus all considerations of health, taste and general hygiene. So that’s what people expect.

I thought perhaps I’d try and branch out to other cheap products with the Cheaplander website, to make things more interesting. That hasn’t really panned out – mostly because I just don’t have the time and energy that others have to really pour into another site. But it’s also because the number of blogs vying for attention these days makes it hard to get an audience. (Incidentally, I’m seriously weighing whether to keep Cheaplander going. It’s that “work to reward” factor again.)

And I constantly find myself driven back to Cheap Eats, my little haven of nonsensical food reviews and recipes. Even trapped in the Cheap corner, I really do enjoy writing up a wacky “product review”, even if only a few people read it.

But enough about me, you came here for a review. Here it is:

Some Corn Chips Of Indeterminate Origin - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

These Snack Worx “Original” Corn Chips look like Fritos™.

They taste like Fritos™.

They taste, in fact, less oily and fatty tasting than normal Fritos™.

This is, in general, a good thing.

However, they taste just as salty as normal Fritos™.

That is, in general a bad thing.

The kicker is that 12 ounces for $1 is pretty darn cheap.

That is, in general, the best thing.

Therefore, I recommend this product if you are seeking a Fritos™ type of experience but do not have much cash on hand.

I am done, stick a farking fork or chopstick in me.

Price: $1.00 for 12 oz.
Found At: Fresh & Easy
Cheap Eats Score: 7/10

[Editor's Note: Normal people may read this blog and wonder how it is possible that I do not currently inhabit an insane asylum. Let me tell you, chief - hospital rooms have really great WiFi connection these days...]

9/8/09 | Kraft Easy Mac


[ Currently Eating: Stuff You Wish You Were Eating ]

Kraft Easy Mac Woot Woot - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

I like Macaroni and Cheese.

I also like eating a nice package of rotten beans every so often.

In other words, you should not trust me. Everything I say, or do, is suspect. Call the National Guard, or at least Alton Brown’s food police. Hide your women, your children and your sweaty, foot-long kielbasas.

Nothing will save you, no one will come to your aid if you scream while I force feed you a whipped cream out of a can and slap you silly with slabs of Spam.

Oh, excuse me – wrong blog.

I’ve reviewed Mac ‘n Cheese box products before, such as the generic Albertson’s brand of Macaroni and Cheese. What strikes me the most about re-reading that review is NOT the extent to which I debased myself with junk food, but how far I’ve come (or sunk) as far as helpful reviews and posts go. Wow, what was I thinking back then? Or, perhaps, what the hell am I thinking now? No wonder I get hate mail from older fans of Cheap Eats…

Kraft Easy Mac Woot Woot - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Well, for some reason I’ve never reviewed the Easy Mac variety of the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese products. Let’s be honest – there isn’t going to be too much difference between the normal Mac ‘n Cheese you cook on the stove and this little cup of Mac ‘n Cheese. I guess the main difference is you get to avoid washing a pot, and you get to throw away the styrofoam cup in the landfill.

I’m just going to say right now that I AM the stupid type of sucker consumer who will buy this little cup of microwave Mac ‘n Cheese that costs 80 cents when I could be getting a full box of Mac ‘n Cheese for 25 to 35 cents. I AM that idiot, and that is why you should not trust anything I say dinosaurs were killed by asteriods.

But you know, my impulsive buy finger had already triggered and the little tubby was in my cart. Oh well. Actually, what I was most interested in was whether or not microwaving the noodles would be the same as cooking it on the stove.

Kraft Easy Mac Woot Woot - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

I’m pleased to report that it pretty much turns out the same. The sauce consistency and taste was nearly identical. I microwaved it for 4 minutes as opposed to 3.5 because my nuker is notoriously sluggish. Maybe because of that extended time, the noodles were slightly less firm than usual. But in all other respects, it tasted identical.

It’s sorta nice, also, to be able to nuke and eat this in front of your sexy single co-workers. “Look at me,” you’ll say. “I’m so confident in my social life that I can eat this in front of you all.” Instead of eating it while sitting at home on a Friday night in the bathtub like you usually do.

Now, I’d guess one good thing about having a smaller container is portion control. Overweight America, rejoice! This is truly a “snack” as opposed to a full meal. I snarfed it in about a minute. Having a smaller size is probably a good thing considering the crud that goes into the sauce. However, I know some people really enjoy turning their tongues and faces bright radioactive orange. And you can only do that after you eat cups and cups of the stuff, preferably without a spoon.

I’m trying to think of what else to say. But you know what, there’s pretty much nothing else: Instant microwavable macaroni and cheese cups, on the expensive side compared with the normal boxes.

Ok, well, I HAVE heard that there is a worldwide conspiracy among the Tubular Bells rebel alliance to take over the world by releasing hordes of tubular bell shaped instant pasta laced with 6th level wizard Geas-virus spells. But, remember, you didn’t hear it from me.

Price: $0.79 for 2.05 oz.
Found At: Fresh & Easy
Cheap Eats Score: 4/10

[Editor's Note: I swear I do not have a cassette tape copy of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, and that I didn't listen to it over and over again in high school when I really should have been listening to New Kids On The Block]




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