Monday, January 31, 2011

Chili Verde the Cheap Way

I'm still looking for ways to use the huge can of chopped jalapenos I bought, and I also have leftover cilantro. So when I saw the pork loin in the 99 Cent Only Store, I also went in search of tomatillos to make Chili Verde.

Sometimes the 99 Cent Only Store has fresh tomatillos, but this time I had to settle for canned.

Chili Verde satisfies my 5 basic ingredients rule -- pork, tomatillos, jalapenos, cilantro, and onions. Garlic, oil or butter or margarine and some chicken stock can help as well as a little cumin if you are so inclined.

The pork in the freezer was in the form of 4 oz loin, individually packed and sold. Like the frozen chicken I bought at the 99 Cent Only Store, it is very salty (as is the canned tomatillos), but fine for a soup or stew like Chili Verde.

So here are the basics, and a general idea of how to assemble your Chili Verde.

8 oz pork loin (2 - 4 oz packs)
1 12oz can tomatillos (drained)
1/3 cup chopped jalapenos -- if you are timid, maybe less
1/3 cup cilantro -- again, you could use less
1/2 chopped onion
1 tsp garlic (minced)
1/2 tsp cumin (optional)

Blend the tomatillos, jalapenos, and cilantro in a food processor or blender.

Defrost the pork and cook in oil, butter, or margarine. Cut the pork in bite size pieces. Drain if there is excessive oil.

Add the onions, garlic, and a little chicken broth or water to cook until they are tender. Add the tomatillo, jalapeno, and cilantro mixture, along with the cumin. Adjust the consistency with chicken stock, water, or beer (my go to liquid when I'm cooking, as I'm usually drinking one or two).

Simmer until everything seems just right.

Chili Verde is great by itself, served in tacos, tostadas, burritos, or with chips -- it's delicious.

This recipe will serve 2 - 4 depending on how you dish it up.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Oh, I'd Love to be an Oscar Mayer WIENER!!!

I got a package of Oscar Mayer wieners, and a package of hot dog buns at the 99 Cent Only Store. A can of Allen's baked beans (my favorite), some fixin's and some potato chips and I'm a happy camper!

Quisp French Toast with Blueberry Syrup

I always like to make a little something special for Sunday Brunch, and today the Quisp I blogged about last week was just begging to be put to use.

I'd heard about Cap'n Crunch french toast, and since Quisp tastes similar, I thought I'd give it try.

This also afforded me the opportunity to get out my trusty hammer, and beat the tar out of something -- in this case Quisp -- which always makes me happy.

French toast is so easy -- all you do is beat an egg (more beating, seems to be a theme), add a little milk (or not) and cinnamon, and beat some more.

Next you heat butter or margarine in a skillet or a griddle. Now dip bread in the egg mixture and fry it up.

For Quisp French Toast, use Quisp crumbs as a coating for the bread dipped in egg. This is like the chicken cutlets I made for the Chicken Piccata earlier in the week -- the concept is the same -- egg acts as a binder for the crumb coating.

To crumb the Quisp, I put it in a ziplock bag and wail on it with my hammer.

A couple of weeks ago, I got some very nice Blueberry Syrup from Maple Grove Farms of Vermont at the 99 Cent Only Store, which tasted great with the French Toast.

When I was looking over the syrup in the store, a lady urged me to buy it, and told me it sells for over $4 at discount stores like Walmart. It goes to show that you just never know what you will find at the Dollar Store, and those of us who frequent them are more than happy to share our discoveries with others -- but If you are reading this, I think you already knew that.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Piccata Caper

Today I made Chicken Piccata. I've never made it, and truth be told, I don't remember ever eating it, either.
I was vaguely aware however, that it is chicken in wine and lemon sauce -- not to be mistaken with Chicken Marsala, which is chicken in wine and mushroom sauce.

I found the recipe on the side of a can of Montini Italian Style Bread Crumbs, from the (98 Cent Super Dollar Store - yep, that is really its name). I simplified the recipe, but it was pretty basic to begin with, which defitely fits my criteria that a recipe with more than 8 (5 being preferable) major/basic ingredients isn't worth the trouble.

So here we go -- you'll need:

Chicken cutlets
1 egg
Bread Crumbs
Butter or Margarine
White Wine
Juice of 1 lemon
Chicken Broth (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Capers and/or Parsley (optional)

So did I find chicken cutlets at the Dollar Store? Well, funny you should ask -- yes, yes I did. The 99 Cent Only Store had frozen chicken breast meat. The quality was questionable (lots of injected sodium) -- but as luck would have it, they were of cutlet size (meaning I didn't have to cut or flatten them), and perfect for this dish.

I beat one egg, dipped the cutlets. in them and covered in bread crumbs. I fried them in a pan of margarine, and them removed them, while I made a sauce of the drippings, lemon, chicken broth and white wine. The original recipe didn't call for it, but I added a pinch of flour to thicken the sauce slightly.

I served this over a bed of spaghetti, and as I didn't have parsley, or capers, I used a little left over cilantro just as garnish for the photo.

Even though I couldn't find capers at the Dollar Store, I was curious enough to find out exactly what capers are.

The are salty, and lemony, and briney like olives (as sold today in jars), but I was surprised to learn that they are actually a flower bud from a caper bush. Now commonly pickled, and used as a garnish, they were thought to be an aphrodisiac in biblical times.

You learn something new every day.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Confessions of a Dollar Store Addict

I guess it is time to come clean -- saving money isn't the only reason I only shop at the Dollar Store. I love the look, and smell, and feel of the place . . . I love the thrill of the hunt. I love the excitement when I find an incredible item, and it costs . . . a dollar!

You see, before Dollar Stores became so popular, I was addicted to thrift stores. I've also been addicted to auctions, estate sales, and well, I've never been much into yard sales, but that is because there is too much planning involved to find them, and you have to get up so darn early to beat out the competition.

I love the element of surprise! I pretty much know what I am going to find at the grocery store, but a trip to the Dollar Store is always a new and entertaining experience.

I used to call the Dollar Store 'the Twenty Dollar Store', because invariably I wouldn't leave without spending at least that. I have altered my spending habits in this new, rotten economy, but I do find enough lee way to cram at least one of two frivilous items into my Dollar Store bag. . . maybe it is a sparkly hair accessory, or a pair of seasonal socks -- I'll explore those joys on my "Dollar Store Diva" blog -- but it is always a little something special just for me.

So that is my confession. . . but who could resist such a pretty savings place that co-ordinates with the color of the sunset? Not me, not ever.

Monday, January 24, 2011

On the Road Again with Snacks from the Dollar Store

There's just nothin' better than hitting the road with a snack bag.
Now I'm guessin' if you are traveling with Willie Nelson, you better have lots of snacks handy, if you know what I mean . . . but seriously, a few snacks can save you time and money when you are trying to get from point A to point B.

Thankfully, the Dollar Store is Snack Central, so you can load up on your favorites on the cheap, and avoid pricey meals.

Last summer, I went to Manhattan with the intent on surviving on Dollar Store snacks, save but one "good" meal a day. As I was packing I didn't have as much room in my luggage as I would have liked, but a traveling companion took my edict a little too seriously and actually brought a snack suitcase.

So along with my "Lunch for a Buck" series, a will also highlight some of my favorite snacks.

The 99 Cent Only Store lately has had Madi K's Hickory Smoked Almonds, and these are incredible. I'd pay more than a buck for these, but luckily I don't have to.

You actually get a 5.5 oz. bag for a buck, and If I'm not careful I could wolf them all down in one sitting.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Quisp and Quunchy Save the Day!

When I turned over my box of Quisp, I found an entertaining serial comic entitled "The Adventures of Quisp", filled with punny quips from our hero, his sidekick "Quunchy" -- politically incorrect if he is indeed supposed to be Asian -- and an angry comet "commeted to destroying earth."

You can go to the Quaker website and watch a fun video produced by the guys that do Ren & Stimpy that solves the cliffhanger.

The Return of Quisp!

Anyone remember Quisp cereal? It tastes like Cap'n Crunch, but with a lighter texture that is less abrasive to the roof of the mouth.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this goofy propeller head alien smiling at me from the shelves of the Dollar Store!

You can learn everything you always wanted to know about Quisp, but were afraid to ask here. There is fascinating stuff, like the fact that Quisp is related to Rocky and Bullwinkle, and the reason he was much more popular than his archrival Quake.

So if you want some "quazy" energy, grab some little flying saucers, and enjoy the sweetened corn crunch.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Salsa, Cilantro Sauce, and Soup - Some Like it Hot

I do like to make a couple of things at once if I am using similar ingredients. I bought a huge can of chopped jalapenos and diced tomatoes, and I had onions and cilantro, so I decided to make salsa. You can't really screw up salsa, unless maybe you go to heavy on the jalapenos . . . but then, some like it hot.

I also made some cilantro sauce, which is basically garlic, cilantro, green sauce, some lemon juice and sour cream.

I still had some remnants of the Thanksgiving turkey in the freezer, so I defrosted that and made a soup with chicken stock, beer, the salsa ingredients chopped, then added some baked beans. This is similar to the Drunken Bean with Bacon soup I made. The combination of chicken stock, beer, beans, veggies, and meat is hard to beat.

Now I'm set for a few days. The soup will be delicous with corn bread, or Dolly Parton biscuits, and I'll eat the salsa and cilantro sauce with chips.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Not just Granola Bars -- But Cafe Squares!

There are plenty of granola bars to choose from at the Dollar Store, but every now and again, a top notch hoity-toity kind like Quaker Oats True Delights Cafe Squares hit the shelves.

You get six of these tasty Raspberry Mocha treats, and they are delicious -- if a little close to their expiration date. Buy 'em if you see 'em, and eat 'em if you got 'em. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Happy Birthday Dolly Parton! Dixie Stamped Garlic Cheese Biscuits

You jump outta bed and you stumble to the kitchen,
pour yourself a cup of ambition,
and yawn and stretch and try to come alive.
You jump in the shower and the blood starts pumpin'
out on the street the traffic starts jumpin'
with folks like me on the job from 9 to 5!

I was on the street, stuck in traffic, on the way to work, when I heard on the radio that it was Dolly Parton's birthday. Dolly is 65 years young today, and I'll never forget that Dolly was the first live concert I ever saw. She was young, and I was even younger, and I've loved her every day since.

I love her website , and even though I don't own her cookbook (I love the title - Dolly's Dixie Fixin's), I'm happy to swipe a recipe or two, and make the Dollar Store version.

Let's make some biscuits, as served in her Dixie Stampede!

5 tablespoons melted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups baking mix
2/3 cup whole milk
2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
In a small bowl combine the butter and garlic; set aside.
In a medium bowl combine the baking mix with the milk and mix just until a soft dough forms. Do NOT over-mix. Add the cheese to the dough and stir to combine. If the dough still seems just a tad dry/sticky, go ahead and add a drop or two more of milk or water.
Using a teaspoon, drop the dough onto an un-greased cookie sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Remove the biscuits from the oven and lightly brush with the butter-garlic mixture.
Serve warm.

Mmmmm . . . these are so good, I'm going to have to spend a week eating nothing but Dolly Parton soup, aka 'the Cabbage Soup' diet to fit into my Nudie Suit.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Honey Buns -- a Prisoner's Best Friend

A couple of weeks ago I read this article about Honey Buns being coveted and used as currency, more than cigarettes in prison.

Prisoners have used these sweet treats in homemade wine, to pay their lawyers, as a motive for murder, and as the perfect dessert complement to their last meal.

The preferred Honey Bun brand is Mrs. Freshley's, so when I saw a package of 4 at the 99 Cent Only Store, I had to pick one up to see what all the hub-bub was about.

I was disappointed to learn that my Honey Buns were not the "Grand" Vending size iced confection that the prisoners enjoyed, but rather the smaller glazed variety.

Still, mine at roughly 25 cents each are delicious, though I wouldn't "shiv" someone for them.

Monday, January 17, 2011

MLK Day, and HOTY Zenyatta!

Two acronyms today, and two simple recipes. It is of course, the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, which falls on the Monday closest (I think) to his birthday, which was January 15th.

Now, I'm not going to make the mistake that the Denver Public School system did a few years ago, and add a bunch of stereotypical (i.e. racist) Southern Soul Food recipes to the lunch menu -- even if Fried Chicken, Collard Greens, Cornbread, and Pecan Pie, was Dr. King's favorite meal -- it is not appropriate to celebrate it in such a blatant fashion. After all, what are school kids to think? Where's the Kool-Aid, and the watermelon?

Actually, I would be more than happy to be eating such a wonderful meal in honor of MLK, but the Dollar Store doesn't sell fry-able chicken, collard greens, or pecans. So, I'm gonna have to settle for cornbread.

But you know me . . . cornbread, plain ole cornbread? Where's the fun in that?

So I found a very simple recipe online that had just 5 simple ingredients (1 corn muffin mix, 1 can whole corn, I can creamed corn, 1 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup margarine), that can all be purchased at the Dollar Store -- Jiffy (you can use any mix) Cornbread Casserole.

But, this isn't just MLK Day . . . this is also the day the Eclipse Awards are announced, horse racing's version of the Oscars, and fabulous Zenyatta is up for Horse of the Year, once again.

Zenyatta, of course, isn't your average horse. She drinks Guinness, she dances, she soothes crying babies, she infuriates the Fuhrer, she has songs written about her, she adores her fans, and she was undefeated in 19 races against all comers, including the boys in the Breeder's Cup Classic in 2009.

Last year she lost by a nose in the Breeder's Cup Classic when the twilight racing and bright lights, confused her as to exactly where the finish line was. Of course, she lost with dignity and grace, and it is *I* who is making excuses for her . . . after all, she doesn't talk (or does she?), no one can talk to a horse, of course !

So . . . cornbread with beer? That sounds good, but how about a little jalapeno, and cheese to really make these muffins put on a show? Okay, so let's start cooking. Add 1/2 cup of beer to the corn muffin mix. Add 1/4 cup whole kernel corn (drained), 1/8 cup finely diced jalapeno (a little kick goes a long way), and about an ounce of finely shredded cheddar cheese. Mix this all together, and spoon into 6 muffin tins (I line with cupcake cups, as opposed to greasing the tins). Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. That's it.

Now, let's make that casserole (I like to hedge my bets, and cook a couple things at once that have similar ingredients). Mix the whole corn (drained - the rest of the can you opened), and the can of creamed corn together with a package of cornbread mix. Add 1 cup sour cream, and 1/2 cup of melted margarine. Mix by hand and pour into casserole dish (I like to line one with foil, instead of greasing). Cook at 350 degrees for about an hour or until it starts to brown on top.

The Cornbread Casserole turned out to be the clear winner here. It had a slightly crunchy crusty bread like top, that gave way to a creamy bottom. A trifecta of corn deliciousness . . . so yummy. The muffins are good too, with an interesting blend of flavors . . . but I keep returning to the casserole -- comfort food at its best.

This will go great with my leftover Drunken Bean with Bacon soup. So Happy Birthday MLK, and Congrats to Zenyatta for winning HOTY!!!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Trader Vic's Scorpions and Lemon Dump Cupcakes for the Golden Globes

Today the L.A. Times featured a recipe for one of my favorite cocktails, Trader Vic's Scorpion . This is in honor of the Golden Globes tonight, that takes place at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Trader Vic's used to have a restaurant on the corner of Wilshire and Santa Monica outside the hotel, but that has closed, and now it has moved inside the hotel poolside, where the coffee shop used to be.

My love of Trader Vic's goes way back, and I come by it honestly. My grandfather sailed the South Seas in the 1930's, around the world in the 1950's, and lived in Oakland. He knew Trader Vic, when he opened his first bar and restaurant, known as Hinky Dink's.

Trader Vic is off course famous for inventing the Mai Tai, though others such as Don the Beachcomber, have also laid claim to its creation.

There are Trader Vic's restaurants all over (they have made a resurgence in recent years), but the best one that is closest to the original vision  of 'Trader' Vic Bergeron, Jr. is waterfront in Emeryville, California.

Trader Vic authored 8 drinkbooks and cookbooks in his day, with such colorful titles as "Kitchen Kibitzer", and "Helluva Man's Cookbook", their website pays homage to the man and his outsized hospitality.

To make a Scorpion true to recipe, you need Orgeat Syrup, orange juice, lemon juice, light rum, shaved ice, and a gardenia for a garnish. I don't have all that stuff, but I do have some dollar store items that should do the trick. I'm out of orange juice, but I do have a jar a mandarin oranges I bought at the 99 Cent Only Store, and something tells me the juice in the jar, will suffice beautifully. I also have some lemons, pineapple juice, rum I bought last year, and club soda. I do like my drinks to sparkle, so I'm set to mix up a festive drink.

I also decided to clean out the fridge and cupboard, and made up some Lemon Dump Cupcakes. Dump cake traditionally, is just a bunch of whatever you've got thrown together, and I had lemon cake mix, pineapple, banana pudding, and coconut. So in the spirit of Trader Vic I went tropical, and got a little creative.

I dug out some tiki stuff, and am ready to throw a little Trader Vic's themed Golden Globe party. I've stayed at the Beverly Hilton a few times, and have attended the "Golden Boot" awards, which are the Western version of the Oscars, that used to be held in the Universal Ballroom, same as the Golden Globes. Yes, I have used the powder room of the stars, and as the Golden Globes is a sit down dinner with copious amounts of alcohol, I'm sure the loo will get lots of use tonight.

So here is to Trader Vic, the Golden Globes, Hollywood, the Scorpion, and Lemon Dump Cupcakes!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Drunken Bean with Bacon Soup

I had some bacon left from my Oscar Meyer Fully Cooked Bacon package, and I had a can of Luck's Great Northern White Beans, so I decided to make Bean with Bacon soup.

I also had some diced tomatoes, carrots, onions, celery, chicken stock, garlic and spices -- so everything went in the pot.

That's it -- that's the recipe. Oh, and some beer went in there too -- I love drinking beer, and it seems to make everything I'm cooking taste better as well.

If you need a little more direction, here goes.

Cook some bacon, and crumble.

Put some minced garlic in the pot with about 1/4 cup chicken stock. Heat and stir. Chop up some carrots, and throw them in there with some more chicken stock. Then chop onions and celery and throw them in there too. After about 5 minutes on medium heat, throw some stewed tomatoes in, add some pepper and cumin (if you like), and splash some beer in there (if that's what you're drinking, and you are so inclined).

Next, open up a can of Great Northern White Beans, and remove some of the mush from the top. Stir them into your soup, and add some more chicken stock until you get the consistency you like. Add crumbled bacon, and simmer for a bit.

I hate canned soup, because the vegetables are so mushy and it is too salty, so I take care not to overcook or overseason my homemade soup.

Now if you're Italian, or want to pretend to be, you can add pasta, and you'll have a lovely Pasta Fagioli (Pasta Fazool), as immortalized by Dean Martin in "That's Amore!" Sing it Dean . . .

Thursday, January 13, 2011

And Then I Ate . . . a Half Pound Bacon Cheeseburger Jalapeno Hot Pocket.

The 99 Cent Only Store had Jalapeno Bacon Cheeseburger Half Pound Hot Pockets and I couldn't resist. I figured I wouldn't eat the whole thing, but the nutritional info isn't so bad at 18 grams of fat, and 740 mg of sodium, so if I happened to wolf it down, so be it. Well, it happened. That was one delicious Hot Pocket. The Jalapeno gave the melty cheese goo a wonderful kick, and the hamburger bits actually resembled ground beef product. I don't know what was supposed to pass for bacon in there, but it was plenty salty, and the crust was yummy.

I was rather pleased with my "lunch for a buck" selection, until about an hour later . . .

Greek Yogurt is All the Rage -- and Cheaper at the Dollar Store

I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- I like yogurt. Not yogurt that tastes like some kind of pie, or cake, or coffee drink, or will replace your Gastroenterologist, as touted by Jamie Lee Curtis -- just plain yogurt, that tastes like yogurt.

I don't drink milk or eat ice cream, and my cheese and butter and sour cream intake is low these days, so yogurt is my main source of dairy, when I'm not being Vegan.

Thankfully, Greek Yogurt is becoming increasingly popular and I can once again find nice, thick, plain yogurt easily at the 99 Cent Only Store. Sometimes I can get a whole tub of Athenos brand, but lately they have had plenty of little self servings with blueberry or strawberry stuff in the compartmentalized containers.

I read that these were a bargain at 99 cents from Safeway, and even better with printable coupons at 2/$1 from four different "frugal" bloggers. Frugal seems to be a very popular theme for blogging . . . well, I got 'em all beat, because I spend only 39 cents when I buy these from the 99 Cent Only Store.

So forget the coupons, and take my advice -- get thee to the Dollar Store for Athenos yogurt. Now, that said, keep in mind that these are smaller servings at 5.3 ounces than the 8 ounce containers you are used to.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I think I died and went to heaven . . . a dollar store that sells BEER!!!

I drove by a new Dollar Store the other day (we have LOTS of Dollar Stores here in Las Vegas), and made a note to check it out this week. I didn't recognize the name -- Big Dollar Stores -- as being a part of a chain, but for all I knew it was . . . the Dollar Store business definitely seems to be healthy, with new ones getting into the mix all the time.

So, I mosied on in today, recognizing the space as a former Long's drugstore. I honestly didn't expect much . . . everything was $1.00, unless marked otherwise (disclaimer alert!). Now some might argue, that this is not a true dollar store, if some items are more than a $1.00, but I don't mind the variety. I'm pretty Dollar Store savvy, and will not buy something marked $1.29 if I know I can get it for a buck down the street.

The first thing I noticed was the excellent selection of party goods (as advertised on the side of the building), and a whole rack of novelty stuff like whoopie cushions, squirting gum, fake puke and dog doo . . . I had just picked up a "Who Farted?" calendar with 13 different flatulent sound effects at the 99 Cent Only Store last weekend, so I resisted the urge to load up on these charming items.

I moved carefully through the aisles, and was distracted by the lovely selection of sparkly hair clips, but I was completely unprepared for what hit me when I turned the corner.

I saw a cooler that said "Cold Beer", and thought -- well, they are just re-using a fridge for other products, surely there can't really be beer in there. I saw some energy drinks, and some sodas, and then I saw the most beautiful sight -- not only beer, but my BRAND of beer -- BUDWEISER!!!

I'm pretty proud to say that I controlled my joy, and suppressed a squeal of delight, and went over to investigate. Sure enough, single cans of 12 oz. Budweiser and Bud Light were for sale for $1.00 -- that's okay, no bargain, but the 24 oz. cans for $1.69 really made me take notice, and start calculating.

When I started this project on New Year's the goal was to only eat food from the Dollar Store, with the caveat that I would have to buy my beer elsewhere. I set my budget at $200 a month, or $50 a week for my food, drink (beer included), toiletries, and household supplies. So basically, I would only shop at Dollar Stores and where ever I could get the cheapest beer.

Now, I am thrilled to announce that yes, I can survive quite nicely on Dollar Stores alone. No grocery stores, no Target, no K-Mart, no Walmart, no Costco, no 7-11, no quickie mart, no nothing -- just Dollar Stores, all day, every day for whatever I may need to purchase.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I kept my composure, and kept shopping. The Big Dollar Store (s) -- I think there is only one so far, and it is on Oakey and South Rainbow -- had a good selection of chips, canned foods, cleansers, cooking utensils, crafts, hardware, etc. for the size of the store, but the highlight was the devotion to the brewer's craft.

Now granted I can still get beer a little cheaper, but that would involve an extra trip, and I would miss out on the thrill of buying alcoholic beverages the same place I buy my whoopie cushions.

So, my prayers have been answered, and I am now complete. I bought some very nice shiny hair doo-dads, some Granny Goose corn chips, a few other items, and three cans of 24 oz. Budweiser.

Can life get any better?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lunch for a Buck from the Dollar Store

Sometimes at lunch I'm up for assembling an interesting meal, and sometimes I just want to throw something in the microwave and be done with it. This week the 99 Cent Only Store had Lean Cuisine Deluxe pizzas, and that's a quick and easy solution I can live with.

I don't like spending more than a buck for lunch, so this suits me just fine.

These French Bread pizzas clock in at 9 grams of fat, 310 calories, and  700 mg of sodium -- I'm not sure what they cost in a supermarket, but I'm pretty sure it is more than a buck.

So, that's it. It won't ruin your diet, or make a dent in your budget, and they taste pretty good.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Happy Birthday Elvis -- Cupcakes Fit for a King!

A couple of days ago I made King Cake, today is the King of Rock 'n Roll's birthday, and in less than 2 weeks we will be celebrating Martin Luther King Day!

Elvis Aaron Presley was born January 8, 1935 and would have been 76 years old today.

Last week I featured a recipe for his famous peanut butter and banana fried sandwich. Elvis was also known to love bacon, and there is debate as to whether he put bacon on the sandwiches. I believe he ate the bacon on the side, though many restaurants (even a few in New York City) have been combining these ingredients (plus honey) to honor the King with a menu item.

I have even seen cupcakes that pay homage to Elvis the Pelvis, so I'm going to whip up the Dollar Store version.

I start with a Yellow cake mix, and add one 3.5 oz serving of Hunt's Banana Snack Pack pudding. I add the 3 whole eggs the mix calls for, but reduce the amount of oil from 1/3 cup to a Tablespoon (yep, Snack Packs are mostly oil), and the water from 3/4 cup to a 1/2 cup.

I mix it up, and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Now, I have to admit, I am not a fan of bananas, and here is why --

When I was a kid, my mom had a test to see if we were really sick or just faking it. She would say, "Eat this banana. If you can keep it down, you are going to school." Well, suffice it to say, one day I didn't, and I haven't eaten bananas since. Okay, I know TMI -- but you asked . . . oh, you didn't, did you? Oh well, never mind.

Anyways, these cupcakes are delicious, and they don't have a strong banana taste -- but if you like Elvis love bananas, then feel free to mash up some ripe ones to add to these cupcakes, and up the banana factor.

Elvis also liked yellow cake, topped with pineapple boiled with sugar, and buttercream frosting -- so I'm going to top some of these cupcakes with that mixture and coconut, and the rest are getting the peanut butter and bacon treatment.

Here's how to make peanut butter frosting:

1 cup powdered suger
3/4 cup chunky peanut butter
1/2 stick softened butter
1/4 cup milk

That's the basics, but I simply added some peanut butter to my left over sour cream frosting, and it is delicious.

I am getting a little fancy and saving some sour cream frosting mixed with a little cream cheese so I can pipe out little swirls on the top of the cupcake to hold the crispy bacon garnish.

I'm adding pineapple and coconut to that combo for a little variety with the rest of the cupcakes, and to simulate the cake Elvis preferred.

So I have a dozen cupcakes fit for a king! It is no wonder Elvis' weight ballooned in his later years, but whether you love young Gold lame Nudie Suit Elvis, or the plumper, jumpsuit clad, karate kicking peacock, you will love these cupcakes.

It's good to be King!

Bagel with Cream Cheese and BACON!

Last week I wrote that I had never seen full sized bacon strips at the Dollar Store, and this week the 99 Cent Only Store proved me wrong.

Right there next to the hot dogs, sausages, and luncheon meats, was a package of Oscar Meyer Fully Cooked Bacon -- 2.1 oz, 15 slices.

The nutritional information states that 4 slices equal a serving size, with 70 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 320 mg of sodium.

I've always enjoyed a bagel with cream cheese and bacon, so I added 1/2 a serving, or 2 strips (microwaved 30 seconds for extra crispy) to a Western Brand Onion Bagel (230 calories, 1 gram of fat, 330 mg of sodium), topped with Weight Watchers Reduced Fat Cream Cheese (60 caloris, 5 grams of fat, 80 mg of sodium).

I used about half a serving of cream cheese, so my total count is 295 calories, 6.5 grams of fat, and 530 mg of sodium. I washed it down with what was left of my Minute Maid Orange Juice, and I am happy until dinnertime.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tostadas a la Taco Bell

I love fast food, and I believe I come by that affection naturally. I grew up in Castro Valley, California, which in the 1960's had a McDonald's, Taco Bell, Jack 'n the Box, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and a Red Barn.

The Red Bran flourished in the 1960's and 1970's and featured the "Big Barney" and the "Barn Buster" burgers, which predated the Big Mac.

By the late 1980's, Red Barns were history, but you can still see a few of the barn shaped structures standing and housing other restaurants, usually of inferior quality.

I came from a family of five children, and eating fast food was definitely a treat, as mom was always trying to stretch a buck. Even though drive-thrus are seen as the epitome of cheap and easy now, back in the day, they were special events. Or maybe, I just had a deprived childhood -- either way, I cherished the times I was able to indulge in the wonders of these magical places.

The Taco Bell of Castro Valley Blvd. was a walk up with a few tables out front in the open air. Apparently, it was one of the last Taco Bells to modernize as I found this video of the recent tear-down.

As I got older and moved away, I still found Taco Bell's a source of comfort and grew to enjoy their Tostadas and Bean Burritos. Bean burritos used to come red or green, and I miss the green variety, which are no longer available. The tostadas have also gone missing from the menu, but when I get the craving, I now make them with stuff from the Dollar Store.

All you need are corn tortillas, refried beans, red sauce (or picante sauce or salsa), green sauce (if you prefer), shedded lettuce, and shredded cheese. Five basic ingredients for five bucks will yield at least 10 tostadas, and you will save some of the fat and sodium associated with fast food.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

King's Cake for the Epiphany

January 6th is the Epiphany, Day of the Kings, or Twelfth Day of Christmas, and commerates the three wise men (aka Magi, or Kings) who followed the star, bearing gifts to the baby Jesus.

In Latin cultures, gifts are traditionally exchanged today, which I think makes more sense than the American tradition of Santa Claus and Christmas.

Spanish children leave their shoes out filled with hay for the Magi's mounts and pack animals, and receive gifts in return.

I always thought this was such a charming holiday, and to celebrate, I baked a King's Cake. Most Americans, especially those from the South, know the King's Cake to be a Mardi Gras tradition, but it's origins are actually in the Epiphany.

The cake varies around the world, but it usually has a bean, a coin, an almond or some sort of trinket (a plastic baby became popular in the latter part of the 20th century) baked into it. The person who finds the token in their slice, either becomes the king of the celebration and/or has to fund the next party, or King's cake.

Some King's cakes have raisins and other dried fruit, others are more like a brioche -- a sort of eggy braided bread. The ones for Mardi Gras, are pretty sticky sweet and topped with frosting dusted with purple, green, and gold sugar.

Since the Three Kings brought gold, frankinsence, and myrrh -- and the two latter gifts are rather mysterious as to their origins or purpose, I think a King's Cake can be equally open to interpretation and ingredients.

Looking in my cupboard and fridge, I decided to make an apple/cinnamon/spice bread/cake with a sour cream frosting. Reason being, I had an apple/cinnamon quick bread mix from the Dollar Store. I added more cinnamon to the mix, as well as raisins, and since I didn't have a plastic baby handy, I added a piece of left over holiday sugar cookie. Now no one is going to break a tooth on the cookie, but it also poses a problem if no one recognizes it as prize in the cake.

I found a simple sour cream frosting recipe, that goes like this --

4 Tbs butter softened, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp lemon juice, 1/4 tsp salt, and 2 3/4 cups powdered sugar. Whip all that good stuff together, and you have a wonderful crown for your King's Cake. Oh, and speaking of crowns, in England, a paper crown usually comes with your cake. I don't have a tin foil topper, but I do have a wonderful bedazzled crown ornament that I got from the 99 Cent Only Store, which I rested on top of a "Festive Cookie" from a package I bought -- I rubbed some of the red sugar off of said cookies to dust the top of the cake with a little extra pizzaz.

So here it is -- My King's Cake for the Epiphany!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

'Fess up -- You're FAT!!!

I read an article today about how Americans are in denial about their weight. Only 1 in 10 of us say our diet is unhealthy. Forty percent of people surveyed admitted to being "somewhat overweight", but just 11 percent said they were very overweight or obese.

In reality, a whopping 68 percent of us are overweight, or obese. But we aren't simply a bunch of fat-ass liars -- we are misguided, misinformed, and the victim of tricky marketing.

You see, most people actually believe they are eating healthy foods. They believe that the Boston Creme Pie Yogurt must be good for them, because it is yogurt.

Part of the problem, according to an expert, is that the sugar content of food is given in grams, and most people don't have a sense of the size of a gram.

And because sugar is the only element of food for which there's no "daily recommended" amount given on the back of food labels, most people don't know how much is too much. Women should limit their intake to 40 grams a day, and men to 50 or 60, and that Blueberry Cheesecake yogurt can have as much as 33 grams of sugar per serving.

We also have a poor sense of portion size, think we exercise more than we do, and believe we can get part of our recommended allowance of fruits and vegetables from unlikely sources.

Yep, we're in denial.

The yogurt info really stuck in my craw, because I love yogurt. Not flavored yogurt -- that is just too sweet for me -- but the plain stuff.

The 99 Cent Only Store always has a wide variety of yogurt in the dairy case. There are plenty of single serving flavors of different name brands (which I avoid like the plague) for 39 cents each, and usually a large container of plain low fat, and/or fat free. The brand of the tubs vary -- I've bought Athenos Greek Style, Yoplait, and La La.

I like pineapple, so I pick up a can of Dole's crushed, and mix a small amount into the yogurt for a mid-morning snack.

Since reading this article I have checked the sugar content, and the plain yogurt checks out at 10 grams per serving, while the pineapple clocks in at 7 grams. I usually eat less than a serving of each, so even though a small snack can constitute a large portion of my daily recommended sugar intake, it is still better than a whopping 30 plus grams lurking in that innocent key lime pie flavored yogurt.

So, let's all actually think about what we are eating, read the labels, and not trust our digestive systems to Jamie Lee Curtis, huh?

Or we could just go through life like Cartman from South Park, and this precious, precocious little All-American darling --

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Salute to Biff's Coffee Shop in Oakland

My family hails from Oakland, California, and besides the Denny's and Sambo's and IHOPs, there were two quintessential local coffee shops -- Dave's, and Biff's.

Both are now closed, Dave's lasted longer than Biff's, but both were iconic, with wonderful signage. Dave's was a classic rectanglular shaped building topped with a winking neon chef, and Biff's was a Googie masterpiece of flying saucer design with concentric circles and big blocky futuristic Flinstone lettering.

Dave's was an uptown diner, on 42nd and Broadway, near Rockridge, while Biff's was closer to downtown on 27th and Broadway.

Biff's had something on the menu that I will never forget, and still eat to this day. Coleslaw with peanuts. Nothing fancy, mind you, it was just coleslaw with peanuts, but the taste sensation caused me to start putting peanuts in all sorts of things -- macaroni salad with Beer Nuts is still a favorite of mine.

The 99 Cent Only Store frequently has bags of Dole cole slaw mix, and red cabbage, so I usually buy one of each. I like a lot of color to my coleslaw, and am creeped out by mayonnaise, so here is what I do. I shred a carrot, and add that to equal parts traditional cole slaw mix (cabbage, carrots) and red cabbage.

Then I add Ranch dressing (I like Riverton Valley Brand Light Ranch Dressing from the Dollar Store), and some balsamic vinegar, and some white wine vinegar. Add some black pepper, stir, refrigerate a while for the flavors to blend, then top with peanuts before serving.

Of course, if you want to add peanuts to classic coleslaw a la Biff's, that's mighty tasty too.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Vodka with Vegetables

"The beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad, so I had one for dessert," is one of my favorite lyrics ever.

There is nothin' like a little hair of the dog, and one of my favorite breakfast cocktails is the classic Bloody Mary.

Okay, unfortunately you can't buy Vodka at the Dollar Store, but let's just pretend for a moment that we live in a perfect world. You can buy lots of vegetables there, and better yet, you can buy V-8, in both the low sodium and spicy hot varieties, which makes an excellent Bloody Mary mix.

I find the regular V-8 way too salty, with way too much sodium, so I've taken to drinking the low sodium stuff with only 200 mg per 12 oz can. I only drink half a can at a sitting, so that is only 100 mg of sodium, and 35 calories. Now the spicy hot variety has the same caloric content, but 690 mg per can, for 345 mg per 6 oz serving. For a Bloody Mary, I mix half and half for a total of 225 mg of sodium per serving, which is way less than your average BM mix.

Now all you need, is some lemon juice, Worcestershire Sauce (the Dollar Store has Louisiana Gem brand), olives, and a celery stalk. I think black pepper and celery salt is usually part of a classic recipe, but honestly you could get by with just the V-8 and Vodka, that alone is quite tasty.

The best part is you are getting a full serving of Vegetables with your Vodka, so now go find your cleanest dirty shirt!

Sunday Brunch -- Egg Pie with Extras.

Okay, this might be called a quiche, but because I don't want to turn off any potential real men, let's just call it "Egg Pie with Extras".

I'm not a big fan of eggs, or breakfast, but I had some left over from my holiday baking projects, and I do like pie.

Here's the list of ingredients, and as always everything is from the Dollar Stores (99 Cent Only Store, usually, as they have more groceries) --

pie crust
butter or margarine
picante sauce
cheddar cheese
black pepper
sour cream (optional, for garnish)

Now, this is what I had in the fridge, and what I like, but you can put damn near anything as an extra in your egg pie, and not screw it up. Maybe you like peppers (they make me burp), and not onions, and have some hamburger or ham. Maybe you don't want to use a crust, and make a frittata, or maybe you just want to scramble this stuff up and put it in a tortilla for a breakfast (I mean brunch) burrito.

I used the Land 'O Lakes pie crust recipe, which is very simple -- but if you have a ready made pie crust hanging around, that will save some time.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cold butter
4 to 5 tablespoons cold water

Combine flour and salt in large bowl; cut in butter with pastry blender or fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in enough water with fork just until flour is moistened.

Divide dough in half; shape each half into ball. Flatten slightly. Wrap 1 ball in plastic food wrap; refrigerate.

For 1-crust pie, roll out 1 ball of dough on lightly floured surface into 12-inch circle. Fold into quarters. Place dough into 9-inch pie pan; unfold dough, pressing firmly against bottom and sides. Trim crust to 1/2 inch from edge of pan. Crimp or flute edge. Fill and bake according to pie recipe directions.

For 2-crust pie, roll out remaining ball of dough on lightly floured surface into 12-inch circle. Fold dough into quarters. Place dough over filling; unfold. Trim, seal and crimp or flute edge. Cut 5 or 6 large slits in crust. Bake according to pie recipe directions.

Now I didn't bother to read the fine print, so I wasn't really aware that I was making a single crust from a double crust recipe. Silly me.

So I made my crust, and started on my other ingredients.

First I chopped up some onions (half a small onion), and about six mushrooms, and put them in a pan on medium heats with about a teaspoon of garlic and a teaspoon of butter to cook a little. Then I added my sausage, which was two links of Lite Brown 'n Serve, microwaved about a minute and crumbled. Then I added some picante sauce (about 2 tablespoons), half a teaspoon black pepper (I like pepper), and took the pan off the heat.

I had 8 eggs, but to reduce the fat, I used 2 whole eggs and 6 egg whites. I beat these by hand for awhile, and then added them to the mixture in the pan.

Lastly I shredded about 2 ounces of cheddar cheese into the mix, swirled it around, and poured it into my pie crust.

Into a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes, and Voila! Quiche, I mean Egg Pie with Extras. Enjoy hot or cold. Refrigerate extra. It might even freeze, I'll try that if I have extra extra.

It probaby would have behooved me to take more care with the crust, as it is dense as opposed to light and flaky, and my filling rose and then fell and condensed as well. More eggs, and more beating of the eggs would have helped -- still delicious as is, though.

Okay, now it is time to whip up some cocktails.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sauerkraut Sausage Balls for New Year's

I went to the Dollar Store (99 Cent Only Store) looking for black-eyed peas, and they didn't have any. I lived in the South for awhile and it is traditional to eat black-eye peas on New Year's Day for good luck in the coming year.

It is a fine tradition, but although I enjoy many kinds of beans (yes, even Lima Beans), I don't particularly like black-eyed peas. So I bought some Great Northern beans, which I love, instead.

They did however, have Sauerkraut, and I had heard that Germans eat this for luck on New Year's Day. I'm all about good luck, and I do like pickled cabbage, so I bought a can, and started scouting for recipes.

I learned that Sauerkraut and pork is especially good luck on New Year's and since I had some Lite Brown & Serve sausages in the freezer, I wondered if I could make a sort of sausage ball -- these are very popular in the South.

I found many recipes for Sauerkraut Sausage balls, and I simplified what I saw into 5 basic ingredients --

Sauerkraut, Sausage, Bread Crumbs, Cream Cheese, and Chopped Onions.

I love working with cream cheese . . . add onions and breadcrumbs and other seasonings and condiments (like picante sauce, mustard, or cocktail sauce) and you've got an excellent stuffing for mushrooms or peppers.

So, I got to work on the mixture -- I chopped half a small onion, and microwaved the sausage, then crumbled it. My favorite way to make bread crumbs is to crush croutons, as they already have such wonderful seasoning. I put the croutons in a baggie and using a hammer beat the tar out of them, and made crumbs. I took about a 1/3 of a can of Sauerkraut, and with paper towels removed the excess moisture. Then I chopped the stuff a little finer. Next I softened about 4 oz of cream cheese, and combined all the ingredients.

I formed balls about 1 1/2 in diameter -- 1 inch would probably be better, but what can I say -- I like big balls, and put them in a 350 degree oven for about a half hour (it took 40 minutes for my big ones), or until golden brown.

This is a great recipe because you can't really screw it up -- even with improvisation. The amount I stirred up made 12 big balls. The recipes I found online suggested a sweet and sour, or mustard dipping sauce for the balls, but really, they are so tangy and flavorful as is, I wouldn't bother.

The flavor profile is somewhat Asian, as the Sauerkraut is similar to Kim Chee, so this treat really combines all sorts of cultures -- everyone of them believes in Good Luck for the New Year, and as money is sometimes called "cabbage," eat lots of balls and you'll be rolling in the dough!

So Happy New Year, and Good Luck!