Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Hanukkah!

Latkas, or potato pancakes are delicious no matter is you are a chosen one, or a gentile like me.

Happy Kwanzaa!

Kwanzaa is a new holiday, introduced in 1966, so I will cut it some slack for having an evolving menu.

Boxing Day!

December 26th is Boxing Day across the pond . . . time to eat up, and box up the leftovers, and generally do weird but charitable stuff.

Traditionally, Boxing Day is when the elite give boxes bearing gifts to their servants. . . sort of like Christmas for the lower class.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

When Houses Fly . . .

Histor-tainer Charles Phoenix is never one to let an opportunity pass, so when he made a Gingerbread house under the tutelage of master baker             he thought hmmmm, and let his inspiration soar . . . . let's send it aloft!

Stuffing made with stale bread, old apples, and dried cranberries

I hate wasting food, and stuffing is the perfect use for old bread, but I wonder how many modern cooks have actually used bread as opposed to buying stuffing already dried, cubed and seasoned.

Cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve

A couple of days ago I made No Fail Chocolate Chip Cookies and they are still edible. I'm not sure I should be offering "Aged" cookies to the great bearded one, and they taste pretty good!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dollar Store Christmas Candy

Sure, I like Godiva chocolate, I eat it when someone gives me some, but it isn't something I'm going to go out and buy for myself. Instead I'm going to stock up on Dollar Store Christmas Candy, and eat it, share it, and use it to decorate baked goods and stuff stockings.

It may not taste the best, but it sure is festive, and the price is right.

Most of the chocolate you'll find in the Dollar Stores is made by Palmer Candy of Reading, Pennsylvania , not to be confused with Palmer's Candy of Sioux City, Iowa. Palmer has been making candy since 1948, and Palmer's since 1878, and both are proudly made in the U.S.A.

Palmer has plenty of wonderful Christmas candies but they are best known for their Chocolate Bunnies -- here is how they are made -

Thursday, December 22, 2011

S'more please

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I have mixed feelings about the Cupcake craze . . . I hear it is finally waning, and Cake Pops are the new thing, but before we put all those Cupcake centered blogs to bed . . .

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Counterbalance Soup

What do you eat when you've been surviving off of Christmas Cookies, and other sweets for days? I like to make what I call "Counterbalance Soup".

I has veggies, but not too many . . . it also have cheese and beer, so you know it is going to be delicious.

This version was made with carrots, cauliflower, white beans, Ro-tel and onions simmered in a chicken broth with beer. I added Pace cheese sauce, and viola! One of the tastiest counterbalance concoctions you'll ever encounter!

When Grocery Stores Beat the Dollar Store

Okay, I admit it . . . sometimes it happens. Sometimes your local grocer may beat the prices at the Dollar Store. Today I went to Smith's (part of the Kroger conglomerate) and I was pleasantly surprised to find Pillsbury Super Moist cake mix for a buck (when swiping your Kroger card) and a 32 oz bag of powdered sugar for $1.25 -- which beats the hell out of a 16 oz box of C&H for a dollar at . . . you know where.

They also had foil cupcake holders for 89 cents, and Nestle Toll House Limited Edition Mint and Dark Chocolate chips (so good) for $2.00. Oh and to top it off - Marshmallow Fluff for $1.00.

Maybe it is the influx of Dollar Stores that has driven the market prices down . . . but hey, I am not complaining. That is what made this country great . . . free enterprise, free market.

Personally, as poor as I am, I have never eaten better.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Classic No Fail Chip Cookies with Blue Bonnet Margarine

I know some cooks and bakers turn up their nose at margarine, but if even a french master chef can't taste the difference, it is good enough for me, and always available at any Dollar Store with a fridge.

Here is Blue Bonnet's America's Classic No-Fail Chocolate Chip Cookies. I love this recipe because they put NO-FAIL right in the title, and that does inspire confidence, because let's face it, I am NOT a french master chef.

So here we go -

Hands on: 20 Minutes, Total: 40 Minutes, Makes 26 Servings (1 cookie each)

Now I hate to interrupt so soon, but if you are anything like me, you can pretty much double the time, and half the servings . . . because let's face it, who is going to eat just one cookie.

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup Blue Bonnet stick (melted, cooled) 1 cup = 2 sticks
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cup semi sweet chocolate morsels

1. Preheat over to 375 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, salt in medium bowl and set aside.
2. Beat Blue Bonnet, granulated sugar, and brown sugar by hand in large bowl until combined.

Classic Christmas Cookies

Who doesn't love classic Christmas Cookies - the ones that look like Santa Claus, Christmas Trees, and Bells, and Stars?

This is great recipe, but it does require butter as opposed to margarine, and that is not always available at the true dollar stores, though it can be bought for a bargain at the Dollar General Market.

  • 1 1/2 cups butter, softened

  • 2 cups white sugar

  • 4 eggs

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • Directions

    1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
    2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
    3. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

    The frosting is pretty simple too . . . 

    Luckily the 99 Cent Only Store had dusting sugar and sprinkles, and I still have some mini chocolate chips left over for eyes and buttons.

    Saturday, December 17, 2011

    I love any recipe that requires a hammer, and no baking !

    Tonight I deck a rum ball tree! I've been waiting all week for this, and the time has come to smash Bud's Best Vanilla Wafers to smithereens! I just love any recipe that requires a hammer, and to make rum balls you have to crumble some cookies.

    I suppose in the kitchen, the civilized way would be to use a mallet, or a rolling pin, but screw that . . . I'm using a regulation size hammer. Bye, bye Bud's Best . . . you sure looked purty in your package, sporting that proud "Made in the U.S.A." flag.

    My weapon of choice --

    Okay, it is a "Light Duty 13 oz" (I'm not sure if that is "regulation size") hammer, but it is a Stanley, and it is Made in the U.S.A too -- Yee Haw!

    So here's the recipe -

  • 1 (5 ounce) can evaporated milk

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

  • 1/2 cup brandy or rum

  • 1 (16 ounce) package vanilla wafers, crushed very fine

  • 2 cups finely chopped walnuts (optional)

  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar for rolling

  • Directions

    1. In the microwave or in a metal bowl over a pan of simmering water, melt evaporated milk and chocolate chips, stirring frequently until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the crushed vanilla wafers and brandy until well blended. Roll the dough into small balls and roll the balls in chopped walnuts (or not), then in confectioners' sugar. Store covered in the refrigerator.
    Notice it says "crush very fine", but it doesn't tell you *how* to crush them . . . You might try running over them with your car or tractor (though somehow I don't think tractor tires would do a very good job), or you could try a food processor (boring), or you could just whack the hell out of them the old fashioned way . . . which leads me to believe an iron skillet might do a fine crushing job as well.

    I was able to get all my aggressions out with a hammer until my downstairs neighbors started mimicking my hammering with a broomstick on their ceiling . . . and it wasn't even 9 o'clock yet!

    Now, my Bud's Best cookies from Dollar Tree come in a 10 oz. package, so I'll have to scale down my recipe a bit, but that's okay, 'cuz I got plans to make all sorts of other balls with other stuff I've accumulated. I might even make some of these . . .

    But, I digress . . .

    What crumbled cookie bits you choose to make your balls with, and what you choose to roll them in is completely up to you - I mean, it is a free country right?

    There are lots of options available at the Dollar Store -- almond cookies -- rolled in coconut and almonds, peanut butter cookies rolled in peanuts and Reese's Pieces, or even mint cookies rolled in candy canes.

    Make a bunch and make a rum ball tree, much the same way as the Astro Weenie Christmas Tree. Have fun, and don't piss off the neighbors! Well, maybe just a little . . .

    Great Holiday Packaging

    Who wouldn't want a big tub of Vanilla Snow Cotton Candy for the Holidays?!

    I don't know what I'm going to do with it just yet, right now I just like looking at it.

    I got this at the 99 Cent Only Store.

    I guessing it will end up on cupcakes, but I might have to go all out and make a gingerbread house . . .

    Friday, December 16, 2011

    One door closes, another door opens . . .

    Earlier this year I bemoaned the loss of the 98 Cent Dollar Super Store just a few months after it had opened in a shuttered Longs Drug Store. I love independent Dollar Stores with superfluous or contradictory names a la "98 Cent Dollar" because they usually signal an exciting, unexpected mix of merchandise. While I'm not one to buy food from China, I do love their exuberant embrace of American Pop Culture and over the top (and cheap) products that are so darn festive, like this Christmas Card for example . . .

    It is pink, and sparkly, and Santa is playing a fiddle which I love, and you open it up and you get a heart that lights up, says Merry Christmas, and plays Jingle Bells, and I Wish You a Merry Christmas.

    So, I took the opening of a Dollar General Market, with it's clean but corporate aura with a grain of salt. I knew all about Dollar General from my foray in the South, and I shopped there often, but I don't consider it a "true" dollar store, as most merchandise is not a dollar. Still, there are bargains to be found, and some even surpass those at the local Dollar Tree or 99 Cent Only Store.

    Oh, and they sell booze, and cigarettes . . . and they have plenty of holiday accoutremants made in China.

    I couldn't resist a $3 bottle of merlot from Spring Creek of California. I think 2 Buck Chuck aka Charles Shaw from Trader Joe's is $2.99 a bottle, so I'll spring for the extra penny, and try this out. I got a beautiful bottle box from the 99 Cent Store, and a very gaudy bauble from the (independent) Dollar Discount Store still open (though the closed for a time), put it all together for a lovely gift for around $5.

    The Dollar General Store did beat everyone for their assortment of Holiday Muffin Cups with festive matching picks.

    You get 20 per package, so I'm all set for my cupcake baking.

    All in all, the Dollar General Store is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, and though not a "true" dollar store, with definitely be on my route.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Astro-Weenie Christmas Tree - Dollar Store Edition

    One of Charles Phoenix's most enduring and endearing culinary celebrations is the Astro-Weenie Christmas Tree. It is also one of the easiest to prepare, as it is really an assemblage of ingredients and requires no cooking. He demonstrates thusly:

    The Astro-Weenie Christmas Tree is so versatile, it can be adapted to nearly any occasion and the variations are endless.

    You can get all sorts of weenie products at the Dollar Store, but I decided to stick with the vegetarian version for my tree. Dollar Tree has styrofoam tree forms, but note, that they are small and rather stumpy, more of a Astro-Weenie bush, than a tree . . . but I pressed on, using the scaled down version as the center of a cheese and cracker tray.

    The tray, foil, cheese, olives, and all the veggies were purchased at the 99 Cent Only Store. The crackers are from the Dollar Tree.

    I lucked out finding radishes (the star on top is cut from a radish), and small colorful peppers, but you really can't go wrong no matter what you pick up.

    You'll have enough stuff to make an extra tray of veggies, cheese and crackers, or two trees, or you can splurge, go to a craft store and get a full size cone, if you are not into mini-trees.

    Oh, and don't forget the dip. I like to use a combo of ranch dressing and cream cheese.

    A few tips - I start with the broccoli, and the cauliflower, then fill in with the others, leaving the olives for last - sort of like the ornaments of the tree. Also I found shoving the toothpicks in first, and placing the veggies on the picks worked well. Of course, I was careful not to shove a finger into the picks, because really nobody likes an Astro-Finger Christmas tree . . . just sayin'.

    Check back in a few days when I make an Astro-Rum Ball Christmas Tree for my Office Christmas Cookie Party.

    Saturday, December 10, 2011

    A Fruit Cake That Will Actually Get Eaten

    People like fruit, and people like cake, but put those two words together and it usually causes a gag reflex.

    So I don't call my concoction "fruit cake", I call it "Fruit Basket Brandy Bread."

    It will function as a door stop, but it will most likely get spared that fate, and actually get eaten. This recipe makes very nice muffins too.

    I actually put this together to get rid of Thanksgiving leftovers . . . some whole cranberry sauce, and small pears and apples that are really, really ripe now. I also added some crushed pineapple, and dried cranberries to the recipe. You can add just about anything. Here is the basic recipe -

    1 large egg

    1/2 cup milk or yogurt (sour cream would probably work too)

    1/4 cup melted butter or margarine

    1 1/2 cup flour

    2/3 cup sugar

    2 tsp baking powder

    3/4 tsp salt

    1/2 tsp cinnamon

    1/2 tsp nutmeg

    1/4 brown sugar (for topping)

    So mix everything but the brown sugar - this is to sprinkle on top. The dough will be very thick, so add 1/8 to a 1/4 cup of brandy. Now start adding fruit. I had 1/4 cup crushed pineapple in juice, and 1/4 cup cranberry sauce. This was enough fruit in liquid to get the dough/batter to just the right consistency. I then chopped a couple of small pears, and small apples, about 1/2 cup of each. Then I threw in about 1/4 cup dried cranberries.

    Stir everything by hand, and either spoon into greased muffin tins, or line with paper cups. This also makes a nice loaf, so if you choose pour into a greased loaf pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top, and bake 15 minutes for muffins, or 30 minutes for the loaf, or until toothpick comes out clean.

    Cool, and serve to your guests. Just don't call it Fruit Cake.

    Thursday, November 24, 2011

    Get 'er Done Cornbread Beanie Weenie Casserole

    Apparently, Larry the Cable Guy brand Cornbread mix isn't selling so well even at Walmart, because it, along with Larry's Beer Bread, and Chicken Batter mix has hit the shelves of the 99 Cent Only Store.

    So I bought it, and added a can of creamed corn, Ro-tel, and shredded cheddar cheese and baked it in a loaf pan. Get 'er done!

    It was good, but I had leftovers, so I made Beanie Weenie Casserole by adding Weenies and Beanies (duh) along with chopped onions, barbeque sauce and some mustard, and topping with shredded cheddar cheese.

    You can find Larry's mom's recipe  here .

    Festooned Turkey for Thanksgiving

    The 99 Cent Only Store had these lovely little fruit this week, small tangerines, pears, and apples, and I thought . . . hmmm, those would make my turkey look bigger! Actually, I've never decorated my turkey before, as I always thought it was rather unnecessary to add to its golden glow, but that's the way it is done in the magazines, and on the front of the box of stuffing, so I thought I'd give it a go. The interior flash photography did add a punch of color to the photo, so here is my "festooned" Turkey for Thanksgiving. In a week or so when this fruit ripens I'm sure I'll think of something to do with it, but right now it is certainly lovely to look at.

    Saturday, October 8, 2011

    Baby Potatoes . . .

    I'm not sure how I feel about eating baby anything . . . I don't eat veal, and I avoid eggs. I know these are vegetable, not animal, but shouldn't they be given a chance to warm in the soil and grow before being yanked up to be fried, baked, boiled, or mashed?

    That said they certainly do add color and interest to the dinner plate.

    Monday, July 4, 2011

    Firecracker Cornbread for the Fourth

    Cornbread, sour cream, Ro-tel and cheese, a delightful combination. Add some chopped onions if you are so inclined.

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Pepperoni, Cheese Nips, and a Reese's Peanut Butter Egg for Dinner

    Sometimes you just have to eat what your body craves . . . so tonight (blame it on raging hormones), I consumed Hormel Pepperoni (crisped in the microwave), a pack of 100 Calories Cheese Nips from Nabisco, and a left over Reese's Peanut Butter Egg for dinner.

    Hey, give me credit that the Peanut Butter Egg has survived this long untouched.

    Friday, May 13, 2011

    Baby Arugula at the Dollar Store? You Betcha!

    In the past of touted the virtues of Dole bagged salad mix at the 99 Cent Store, and recently I've been getting a wonderful Spring Mix and Broccoli Slaw there as well - but Baby Arugula??? Like at those hoity toity gourmet markets, and upscale restaurants? Is this my hood or Brentwood?

    Now if I'm going to take a picture of my salad, I admit, I make it pretty . . . but in actuality, I have a little secret of salad making, and I'll share it with you.

    Put the good stuff on the bottom. Make an upside down salad. That's right -- the cheese, and the croutons, and the nuts, go in first, not last. That way you have to dig around for them, and in the process you are sure to get some greens down your gullet.

    Maybe even some baby arugula, whether you like it or not.

    Sunday, May 8, 2011

    Black Forest Cake for Mom on Mother's Day

    Ever since I made the Dollar Store Version of Charles Phoenix's "Cherpumple" last week, baking things inside of things is my new passion. "The Great Cornrollio" I made on Friday was pretty good, but today, I pull out the piece de resistance and make a Black Forest Cake , with Mrs. Redd's (like Hostess) Cherry Pies and Devil's Food Cake Mix.

    A traditional German Black Forest Cake contains alcohol, and the one you may be used to has whipped cream. I have whipped topping, but honestly I think it is a little messy to work with, and prefer dense chocolate, cherries and buttercream.

    The procedure is simple. Mix up the cake batter, pour a little in a greased bread size baking tin. Bake for about 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven until it firms up a little, then place your pie in the center. Pour remaining batter over and around the pie and bake for another 20 - 30 minutes.

    I made two of these as the cake mix will make enough batter for a pair, as they are on the small size.

    Let cool and then frost with this "Quick-as-a-Wink" Chocolate frosting (I got this recipe from a vintage cookbook picked up at the Library Bookstore - no cover).

    6 oz semi sweet chocolate pieces
    2 Tbsp butter or margarine
    3 Tbsp milk
    1 cup powdered sugar

    Melt first 3 ingredients in a saucepan, then beat in powdered sugar until smooth, glossy and easy to spread. If not glossy, stir in a few drops hot water.

    Now make some basic white frosting (butter or margarine, and powdered suger), to decorate your cake.

    Here's what really puts this dessert over the top -- adorn with Queen Anne chocolate covered cherries.

    You can layer this cake and add whipped topping, or buttercream in between and on top if you prefer, but for my first time out, I'm working with the "logs" individually.

    This is such an elegant, delicious, yet fun and easy dessert. Another treat you really can't mess up.

    Mom is going to be so impressed with your creativity, and thriftiness!

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    Don't Call it Derby Pie

    I'm afraid to even type "Derby Pie" as it is trademarked and voraciously protected by Kern's Kitchen of Kentucky which baked up the first delectable batch in 1954.

    So, let me make this perfectly clear -- I am NOT making Derby Pie, I am however making something vaguely remeniscent of this Kentucky Derby favorite with Dollar Store ingredients.

    This treat is called many things to escape the wrath of the Kern's. A quick search will turn up "Pegasus Pie", "Run for the Roses Pie", "Twin Spires Pie" . . . the list goes on. Basically, it is Pecan Pie with Bourbon and Chocolate.

    I'll be replacing Bourbon with copious quantities of vanilla, making a caramel with sweetened condensed milk, and doing all sorts of other changes. I was able to pick up a graham cracker crust, cream cheese, pecans, chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk to build my pie.

    I made a modified cheesecake base with 1 package cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 egg, 4 ounces sour cream, 2 tsp. vanilla extract, and melted chocolate chips. I mixed it up, and baked it a bit before I added more chocolate chips, chopped pecans and drizzled sweetened condensed milk -- which caramelizes as it cooks.

    I put it back in the oven, and took it out after about 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

    The result is delicious.

    Okay, I'll admit it looks a lot like Turtle Cheesecake, just don't call it Derby Pie.

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    The Great Cornrollio

    Ever since I made the Dollar Store version of the Cherpumple (which was just a couple of days ago) I've been obsessed with the notion of cooking things inside of things. Oh, I know this is nothing new, I mean how else would be have Beef Wellington, Black Forest Cake, or Baked Alaska (and that is only stuff starting with B)? But to make a something special with the simple and economical products from a Dollar Store, well, that has become my own personal challenge.

    This morning I woke up around noon, with a wild thought -- what about Pizza Rolls baked inside of Corn Bread -- I would call this creation "The Great Cornrollio"!

    So that's what I did. I got Michelina Cheese Pizza Rolls and a package of Martha White Corn Bread Mix. I put the rolls in the oven for a bit to bake, while I mixed the Corn Bread. I poured a little mix in a greased bread pan, and put in the oven to bake for a few minutes. Then I took my pizza rolls and laid them side by side (this took 8) Then I put more mix around and on top and placed 4 rolls lengthwise on top. After 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven it was done.

    This is a great twist on an old favorite, and now it is time to see what Beavis has to say.

    I'm a Nut for Nuts -- Planters Flavor Grove Almonds

    My strongest weakness is nuts -- I can resist sweets, but nuts get me every time -- especially almonds . . . so when I saw then Planters Flavor Grove - Cracked Pepper Onion and Garlic Almonds in the 99 Cent Store today I was wise to pick up only one bag.

    To make them all the more desirable they are "skinless" --- ooo, sexy. Alright, I know I need a hobby, or to get out more often, but a bag of these nuts is all I need to satisfy me on a dark, lonely night.

    Quaker Oats True Delights Granola Bars

    Lately, the 99 Cent Only Store I frequent, has had two varieties of Quaker Oats True Delights Granola Bars - Dark Chocolate Raspberry Almond (5 per box) and Dark Chocolate Mocha Hazelnut (6 per box). The Raspberry is more traditional rectangular bar shape, and the Mocha Hazelnut is nearly square (actually they are called Cafe Squares).

    They are both pretty dang good, and a definite step up in sophistication from your average bar.

    Like the Newton Fruit Crisps, they go well with yogurt in the morning, and at the Dollar Store they are one sweet deal.

    Oscar Mayer Sandwich Combos with $1 Coupon - FREE!!!

    Okay, who says there is no such thing as a free lunch! I found two varieties of these Oscar Mayer Sandwich Combos (Ham and Turkey) at the 99 Cent Only Store and they both had bright pink peelable coupons on them that said "Save $1.00 Now".

    The only trouble was, by the time I got to the register I had forgotten all about them and I did not redeem them like I had planned. So long story short, I may never know if there truly is such a thing as a free lunch.

    These combos wouldn't be bad if they were free, and they are okay for a dollar, but I wouldn't pay anymore for them.

    They include a ridiculously thin bread bun, some meat and cheese and a mustard pack. As a side you get a 100 calorie pack of either wheat thins, or cracker mix. For dessert there is a chocolate mousse pudding thing, but I'm not really a fan of those.

    The packs I got were very near their expiration date, hence their presence in the refridgerated case at the Dollar Store.

    I grabbed one out of my refridgerator on my hurried way to work yesterday, and it was convenient and kept me from starving, but it was nothing to write home about.

    Today, I am going to combine the veggie sandwich that I made a few days ago that was so delicious with my stuff in the Sandwich Combo, for a more satisfying meal.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    What's for dinner on 5/5???

    A 5 ingredient, 5 Dollar feast for Cinco de Mayo, of course.

    Pour some tortilla chips in a bowl - I love the Granny Goose Brand I get from the 99 Cent Only Store. In fact I usually end of eating the chips and forgoing the rest of the ingredients -- I'm bad, I know.

    Then put some romaine mix, or cabbage, or any other salad type stuff in there -- or not, it's up to you.

    Next comes some sort of beans, I used Rosarita Fat Free Refried Beans.

    Cheese, Salsa, maybe some red onions, and sour cream and you're set. It's pretty, isn't it? You'll never pay $5 - 10 bucks for a single Taco Salad in a restaurant without feeling guilty again.

    Okay, I realize I used more than 5 ingredients, but this is another one of those very flexible creations that doesn't suffer from more or less. So use what you have, and what you like.

    If you eat half the bag of Tortilla Chips before you get the other stuff out, I won't tell.

    Margarita Jello for Cinco de Mayo -- Everyone gets a Worm!

    I admit, I'm not a big fan of Tequila, or Margaritas (they give me a headache), but I do love lime Jello (or gelatin, in the case of the Dollar Store offerings).

    So why not let the kids and the lightweights indulge as well at your Cinco de Mayo Fiesta with Jello Margaritas?!

    Simply wet the rim of a few Margarita glasses with water and dip them in sugar.

    Then make lime gelatin, but get a little creative by adding pineapple or lemon juice or orange juice in place of some of the cold water. Place a gummy worm in the bottle of the glass, and pour your mixture over it. Don't forget to hang a gummy worm off the side, just 'cuz it looks so cool. Chill for 4-8 hours, and delight your guests with this fun dessert.

    Now, if anyone misses the tequila, just play this --

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    The Cherpumple -- Dollar Store Version

    Charles Phoenix is a "Histo-tainer" whose specialty is vintage slide shows, but he is also known for his retro-inspired culinary creations. Sometimes they are straight out his slides, like the Astro Weenie Christmas Tree, and sometimes they are straight out of his brilliantly twisted mind, like the Inchezonya, "Tiki Turkey Thanksgiving Feast" and the "Cherpumple".

    Last year, the Wall Street Journal ran this article about the Cherpumple, which is the dessert version of the Turducken (a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey). Charles was inspired by watching his relatives load up their plate with their favorite pies at Thanksgiving, and decided to make a cake with a cherry, pumpkin, and apple pie in each of its three layers.

    Is it genius, or the embodiment of the second of the seven deadlies? It sounds delicious, but also ambitious, so I decided to interpret it with the Dollar Store edition.

    I got lucky, and found Banquet individual pies in the freezer section of the 99 Cent Only Store. I picked up Apple, Peach, and one damaged Cherry/Mixed Berry. This changed my "Cherpumple" into a "Cher-Pea-Ple", but I forged ahead.

    I found 7" foil pans at the Dollar Tree, which were the perfect size for my smaller pies. To simplify and economize further, I used one package of Yellow cake mix for all layers (Charles uses spice mix for the apple layer, white for the cherry, and yellow for the pumpkin).

    I upped Charles in the frosting department, and went with the classic homemade cream cheese powdered sugar topping. I could easily change the texture, and I figured no matter how sketchy things got (and they did), I could rely on this frosting to hold it all together.

    The first step is to bake the pies, and I opted for the oven. These little pies are just like Banquet's pot pies, except they are fruit -- which means crust and filling uniformity is not their strong suit -- they are a mess to be honest. But once I started, I couldn't stop until I had completed my mission, so I worked with I had. I poured some of the yellow cake batter in the pans (sprayed with Pam -- the Dollar Store version of course) then plopped the pie stuff in the center. More batter in the pans, and in the oven they went.

    I baked the layers until golden brown and let them cool. I was lucky that the tin pans tore away easily and I was able to place the layers without complete disaster. The frosting saved me, and I actually began to have some fun decorating my cake. I shoved the thing in the fridge for the night, and today I'm happy to say that it held its form when I cut into it.

    So maybe you can't really identify the fruit filling as pies, but the taste made up for any shortcoming, and I am actually proud of my Cherpeaple.

    As an encore, I am plotting a cherry fried pie baked in a chocolate cake, topped with chocolate covered cherries . . . stay tuned!

    P.S. The Dollar Store version feeds 4-6, and costs about $6 for the whole pie cake.

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    Sara Lee Thin Style Buns - Honey Wheat -- Veggie Sandwich

    I love finding these great (day old) Sara Lee products on the shelf at the 99 Cent Only Store, and this one had a great recipe on the back.

    I followed it almost nearly exact, except instead of Swiss cheese I used a combo of pepper jack and cheddar.

    So here goes --

    2 Sara Lee Honey Wheat Thin Style bun
    2 tsp spicy brown mustard
    1/4 cup shredded carrot
    3 slices tomato
    1 thin slice red onion
    1/4 cup mixed field greens
    4 slices cucumber
    2 slices Swiss cheese

    It then proceeds to tell you how to build a sandwich, but you know what to do, right?

    Throw all this stuff on the bread, and enjoy. You can't screw it up, and this might actually be good for you.

    This was so good, I actually had to make myself another and eat two -- the combo of simple spicy brown mustard, wheat bread, cheese, and veggies is genius!

    Newton Fruit Crisps - Mixed Berry

    Over on Amazon,com they are raving about this snack from the folks that bring you Fig Newtons (Nabisco!). You can buy a 6 pack of 8 pouches (actually 16 because there are 2 bars per pouch) for around $34 bucks, but I prefer the Dollar Store way!

    That's right, I got a 6 pack for $1 dollar -- you do the math. Amazon = $4.80, the 99 Cent Only Store = $1.00.

    Here's the best part -- they are just as delicious know matter what you pay, but your wallet will like it a lot better if you save the dough.

    These are getting good reviews, being likened to a sophisticated Pop-Tart, and I do enjoy them, if they are a little slim. Be prepared to want to chow through two pouches (4 bars) of these snacks.

    The 99 Cent Only Store had the Mixed Berry flavor, so I can't vouch for the Apple Cinnamon, but all and all a good edition to my midmorning routine. I generally don't eat breakfast, but around 10:30 a.m. I'm hungry enough to grab some yogurt and a granola bar -- a sort of continental breakfast if you will . . . and everytime I say or write the word "continental" I think of this guy:

    Sunday, May 1, 2011

    Garlic Bagel Chips

    Sometimes one of my favorite products shows up on the Dollar Store shelves and I just want to jump for joy.

    Yesterday it was New York Style Original Bagel Crisps -- Roasted Garlic flavor, and I snatched that lone bag I saw sitting on the shelf faster than a Manhattan minute.

    Normally these cost around $2.50 - $3.00 a bag, and they are totally worth the full price, but who pays full price? Not me.

    Their website has all sorts of wonderful recipes, and you know I'm going to trying the Bloody Mary Cocktail Spread .

    The bagel chips or "crisps" as they are called are great with any sort of cream cheese and are the perfect accompaniment to the assortment of salads I have been fixing lately.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2011

    French Fried Onions - It's What's for Dinner!

    So I bought a package of Golden Farms French Fried Onions at Dollar Tree in anticipation of making a classic bean green casserole for Easter, but that never really happened.

    You see, I opened the FF Onions and began to nibble. The nibble led to a taste, which led to a snack, and before I knew it half the package was gone. I was able to resist devouring the whole pack by placing it out of sight, but this evening I found it, and resumed my consumption.

    So crispy and delicious, I couldn't resist enjoying this delicacy with a beer or two. Simple, unadulterated onions and some sort of salty coating --why add anything else?

    When I was done, I was slightly ashamed and realized I wouldn't be making green bean casserole, or crispy mac & cheese, or any other number of incredible dishes without another trip to the dollar store.

    But who cares? I followed with mini semi-sweet chocolate morsels for dessert, a satisfied glow of contentment, and a weird desire to hear Robert Mitchum say "It's What's for Dinner".

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011

    Potato Salad with Hard Boiled Eggs

    So, it is time to use up the beautiful hard boiled eggs from Easter, and I happen to have too many potatoes, so I whipped up some delicious potato salad, here are the ingredients:

    Hard boiled eggs
    Red Onions
    Yellow, Spicy Brown, or Dijon Mustard
    Ranch dressing
    Vinegar of your choice
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Note, I use Ranch dressing instead of Mayo, it gives it a little zip and I like the Riverton Valley brand Lite Ranch Dressing I get from the Dollar Tree. I also use a lot of Riverton Valley Fat Free Italian dressing.

    The Potato Salad recipe is very adaptable depending on your tastes. I like a little tartness, hence my addition of white wine vinegar, but it is not necessary.

    The ratios are about 4 potatoes to 2 hard boiled eggs, to 1/2 cup celery, and 1/4 cup red onions, but it is all a matter of taste and feel. Play around, have some fun, and enjoy some yummy Potato Salad!

    Monday, April 25, 2011

    Improvised Enchiladas

    Enchiladas are simple enough - tortillas, cheese, red sauce, maybe some beans, onions, chicken. You know, mexican food.

    I'm loath to waste food, so my last ditch solution for old stuff is to boil it or bake it. Kills any germs or bacteria that might be lurking, right?

    The flour tortillas that were about a week past the expiration date couldn't be boiled, so I improvised some enchiladas. I know, I know, I'm supposed to use CORN tortillas, but the key word is IMPROVISADO. With some sour cream and a black olive garnish, it is going to be delicious!

    Maybe, not exactly the way su madre used to make, but it's not as crazy as THIS . . .

    I simply wrapped beans, cheese, onions, left over chicken, and salsa in these great little take-out sort of foil tins I get from the Dollar Tree. I poured red sauce and shredded cheese over the top and baked in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. It was so good, I even omitted the planned sour cream and olive garnish. Another great meal that you can't screw up!

    The tins have tops which made taking the leftovers to work the next day super easy.

    Sunday, April 24, 2011

    Dueling Baskets

    Easter is high season for the Dollar Stores. Christmas is busy too, but if there was one activity that is tailor made for a Dollar Store it is the filling of an Easter Basket.

    I enjoy every aspect of it . . . choosing the basket and the grass, the chocolate bunny, the cute, odd toy, the traditional stuff like Peeps and Cadbury Eggs, and Reese's Peanut Butter eggs, and jelly beans, and topping it all off with a big bow.

    The more Easter Baskets you assemble, the more economical it gets, but I stopped at 2 this year, and they averaged $10 each. They are lovely  ones if I do say so myself, but they'll have to duel it out for supremacy.

    I got stuff from Family Dollar, the 99 Cent Only Store, and Dollar Tree. Happy Easter!

    Happy Easter from the Dollar Store Diet!

    I'd forgotten how much fun it is to color Easter Eggs. I still attribute my love of vinegar (and wine) to this ritual. When I was a kid I really wanted to drink the dye, I just loved the look and smell of it.

    I was lucky to find a little kit that had a wax resist crayon in it at the 99 Cent Only Store, and I couldn't 'resist' picking up a package of traditional PAAS as well (no wax crayon included, sadly). You simply write or draw on the hard boiled eggs with the clear crayon before you start dunking them in dye, and you get names, messages, and effects on the finished product. I'm not sure if regular crayons work the same way, but if you can't find the wax, it is worth a try.

    My fingers got almost as much color on them as the eggs, but I did use the little wire dipper as well.

    I sense egg salad sandwiches in my future, but for now I'm going to enjoy the pretty colors!

    Happy Easter!

    Saturday, April 23, 2011

    Chicky and Bunny Cupcakes for Easter!

    I got this simple recipe for chick cupcakes from the Family Dollar website -- but I didn't buy my ingredients there. They didn't have everything, and what was there WASN'T a dollar!

    I knew I could do better at Dollar Tree and the 99 Cent Only store, and I did so well, I was able to make Bunny cupcakes too!

    You'll need:

    Yellow Cake Mix (make according to package with 2 eggs, 3 TBS oil, and 1/2 cup water -- of course you'll need baking cups).

    Butter or margarine and Powdered Sugar for the frosting (the recipe on the sugar box calls for 1/4 milk and 1 tsp Vanilla, but you don't really need it, and a half recipe is enough for 12 cupcakes).

    Shedded Sweetened Coconut

    Yellow food coloring

    Coconut candy to make bunny ears, mini chocolate chips or other candy for eyes, and gum drops or gummy worms for the beaks and nose.

    Bake your cupcakes and let cool. Make frosting and frost 6 with white icing (these are the bunnies). Add coconut to the tops.

    Use a few drops of yellow food coloring to the remaining frosting for the chicks. Place coconut in a baggy with a few drops of the coloring and shake to dye the coconut yellow for the top of the chicky cupcakes. Note there will be some coconut that looks orange from absorbing too much dye, just pick those off.

    Now cut the coconut candy and form into little ears for your bunnies. Add the eyes to all the cupcakes.

    Cut little triangles of orange candy for the chick beaks, and slice red or pink candies for little bunny noses.

    Display with some easter grass and jelly beans and that's it!

    Have fun, enjoy, and HAPPY EASTER!!!

    Friday, April 22, 2011

    Good Friday Fasting

    Traditionally, Good Friday is a day to eat less and avoid meat. This isn't difficult for me . . . how about a Portobello Mushroom burger?

    Not one from Carl's Jr.,

    but one from your own kitchen, made with Portobello Mushrooms from the 99 Cent Only Store.

    Yesterday they had super big ones (1 to a pack), and smaller ones (2 and 3 to a pack).

    I washed and de-stemmed the mushrooms, and stuffed the mushroom bowls with a cream cheese, cheddar cheese, salsa, onions, and bread crumb mixture. I topped them with more bread crumbs, a sprinkling of black pepper and paprika, cheddar cheese and tomato slices (for garnish) and popped them into a 350 degree oven.

    About 15 minutes later, the finished result was excellent and didn't even need a bun.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    Mmmmm . . . Chocolate Covered Craisins

    Do you love Raisinettes? Do you think they are good for you? Well, you do and they are, and you are going to love Chocolate Covered Craisins because they are from Ocean Spray and they only cost a dollar at the 99 Cent Only Store.

    I can't guarantee they will be at your 99 Cent Only Store, but they were at mine today, and I have to stop typing now because I can't stop cramming them in my mouth!


    As Easter approachs, the Dollar Store is the perfect place to fill your basket. And yes, they have Peeps -- traditional multi-colored marshmallow based, or even chocolate coated -- whatever your pleasure, or perversion, look no further.

    Sweet Dreams.

    My Peeps

    I have a very soft spot in my heart and my head for the folks I encounter in the Dollar Store. Simply put, they're my peeps.

    All kinds of characters shop where I shop, and they are a constant source of amusement, inspiration, and empathy.

    I was actually in the 99 Cent Only Store looking for Peeps when I overheard a short conversation between two mature ladies. One was wearing slippers, a mismatched outfit, talking to herself, and pushing a shopping cart full of all sorts of merchandise -- the other was sartorially better syncopated and generally more lucid, but had probably seen better days herself.

    Their brief interchange as they met in the aisle cart to cart went something like this:

    "I'm sorry, but I've lost my mind."

    "I've lost mine too, but I don't want to find it."

    So in honor of these wonderful women (and the glimpse into my future) I offer a favorite of mine by Waylon Jennings.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    White Bean Salad

    I love beans, and one of my favorite is the Great Northern White Bean. Buy a can of these beauties and whip up an easy, tangy salad.

    I rinse the beans, then add Fat Free Italian Dressing and Balsamic Vinegar. Then I chop up some red onions, celery, maybe some tomatoes and mix them in. If you don't have tomatoes, salsa or picante sauce will also work and give it quite a kick.

    Refrigerate for awhile and enjoy!