Thursday, January 29, 2009

Panini Sandwich Throwdown - Corner Bistro vs Lean Cuisine

The Chef has resisted getting frozen panini sandwiches from the cold case at 99c only Stores.

I could resist no more after working on a recent commercial shoot with an on-set chef, who wielded her portable sandwich grill to make this hearty everyday Italian dish. Now having something to compare, I picked up a frozen Stouffer's Corner Bistro Grilled Chicken Italian and a Lean Cuisine Southwest-Style Chicken Panini (again Stoffer's) from this 99c only Store.
Needless to say, microwaved frozen sandwiches do not compare. Bread and a microwave do not go together; it loses that crispy crust that you get from grilling and turns to a spongy texture.

Time for the Panini Throwdown. The most difficult part of this taste test was removing the panini from its tough plastic casing - make sure to have a pair of scissors on hand.

As for toppings, both of these frozen paninis have a good amount of cheese and chicken, however, Corner Bistro uses a tastier provolone cheese while Lean Cuisine's panini is topped with a mild, dull Monterey Jack. Both have a good amount of chicken, sauteed onion and bell pepper.

After a two and a half minute zapping, the panini comes out nice and hot with gooey melted cheese. Be careful -- the cheese holds heat a little too well.

Both brands are made with plain tasting white bread; although each is described as being sourdough or Italian, I could not tell the difference. So while Lean Cuisine has half the fat, it has half the flavor of Corner Bistro Panini.

If you look at this as a simple, quick, inexpensive lunch, both do fine; however this being a Panini Throwdown, the Cheap$kate Chef gives the victory to Stouffer's Corner Bistro Panini!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Salmon Schmear - 99.99% Kosher

On past film commercial shoots the non-kosher Chef was quick to line-up for a catered breakfast; going past the multitude of sugary confections and heading straight for bagels, cream cheese, lox, sliced red onion and tomato to build a Jewish deli kosher classic.


Now lox (mildly brined, cold-cured raw salmon) is too expensive for this chintzy chef, but canned, or soft packaged, cooked salmon is a fine inexpensive substitute. 

Fold it into room-temperature softened cream cheese, lightly mix with some lemon juice and you have a spreadable feast - a Salmon Schmear.

The Chef sees small tubs and packages of cream cheese in the 99c only Store cold cases quite often; bagels as well as small packs of cooked salmon are usually stocked.

A Salmon Schmear is also a delicious party dip, just set out your preferred cracker, pita or toasted wedges of bagel. This kosher morning starter is a Chef favorite; right up there with McDonald's decidedly non-kosher sausage and egg, syrup-filled pancake sandwich "McGriddle".

Ingredients (serves 2 - 4)
  • 8 oz. package of cream cheese (Philadelphia Cream Cheese is kosher)
  • 3 oz. small package of pre-cooked salmon (Pillar Rock salmon brand is kosher)
  • Sliced tomato and onion (preferably red onion - for this recipe the Chef used yellow onion)
  • 1 tsp. dried onion (optional)
  • 1 tsp. lemon or lime juice
  • 99.99 cent bagels (Western Bagel is, of course, kosher)


Allow cream cheese to reach room temperature. Drain salmon and mix into cream cheese.

I like a chunky spread, so mix lightly if you do, too. Add tsp. of lemon or lime juice. For a party dip sprinkle dried onion on top. Toast bagel and add tomato, sliced onion and salmon schmear.

For a kosher bonus, check out the Chef's humorous "Canter's Deli 60 cent Corn Beef on Rye" video post from October, click here

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dining Around LAX - Video

The Chef just got off the horn with Marc "Mr. KFI and Mr. KABC" Germain for a 35 minute interview on his internet talk show Thanks Marc, it was a lot of fun to be on your live internet talk show!

Airport drop-offs are a pain in the ass. The 99 Cent Chef would like to make this recurring inconvenience a more pleasant experience for all. Now don't get me wrong I have been a recipient to the kindness of friends shuttling the Chef to and from LAX - it is a favor we must all do from time to time. It always seems to be a rush to get there; but once you leave the terminal be sure to treat yourself to a tasty reward before you get back on the freeway.

The Chea$kate Connoisseur found a few dining and drinking establishments within the shadows of the arriving and departing giant silver birds. Some deals are under 99 cents and some are not; this penny pincher has opened his wallet wide for these dining deals.

Allow me to highlight a few favorites (I feature one risque establishment only because arriving airplanes glide over it in a perfectly framed composition - my artistic eye could not resist it - and I apologize if it offends any reader's sensibilities). All establishments are located on the north side streets of LAX.

Start with Randy's Donuts just off the 405 freeway. Crowned by a giant 22-foot sculpted glazed doughnut, this landmark drive-thru features coffee and classic all-American pastries for under a dollar.

Or quench your thirst with $5 Cokes at a strip club on Century Boulevard featuring performers sans pasties.

How about a fresh-made fruit cup for a few bucks at a fruit cart? And down the street is El Sabroso Mariscos taco truck, with an incredible red snapper fish ceviche tostada for a buck twenty-five (one of the best deals around) and carnitas tacos that are just as satisfying.

 For a thirst-quencher, drop into the all day happy hour at Bar Melody, where pints of draught beer go for $3, paired with a killer appetizer of "Elvis (jumbo buffalo) Wings." Finally, grab a double-double right across the street at In-N-Out Burger, and see why the locals consider it a California classic.

Dining Around LAX - Video

Play it here. The video runs 2 minutes 20 seconds.

Dining and drinking establishments featured in the video, in order of their appearance:
Fresh fruit stand - various locations, north of the airport between Sepulveda Blvd & Airport Blvd. on Westchester Pkwy. Fresh fruit cup for $4, includes pineapple, watermelon, strawberries and mango. Daylight hours.

Bar Melody Bar & Grill -
Located at 9132 S. Sepulveda Blvd. All day $3 happy hour until 7 p.m. on well mixed drinks and pints of domestic draught beer. They have a full menu with appetizers including "Elvis (jumbo buffalo) Wings". Go here for more info.

El Sabroso Mariscos Taco Truck
- Parked at about 5745 Arbor Vitae St. (just east of Airport Blvd. were Westchester Pkwy. turns into Arbor Vitae St. - confusing I know but worth locating). A fantastic red snapper ceviche tostada with chopped onion and cilantro. Hours are 11 a.m. to about 6 p.m. every day. Fish Tostada recipe, click here.

Gentleman's Club - Located at 5601 Century Blvd. Overpriced non-alcoholic drinks. Cannot vouch for the floor show as The Chef was too cheap to pay the cover charge.

Randy's Donuts - Located just off the 405 freeway at 805 W. Manchester. Wide variety of donuts, most for less than a buck! Good coffee too. Go to their website to see a full donut selection and a funny video of a soccer ball being kicked through the rooftop donut from across the street. Click here.

In-N-Out Burger - Hey you out-of- towners, taste what the locals rave about! The Chef's favorite is a double-double with onions. Located all over town and near the airport at 9149 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Click here for full menu.

Go here to embed or view video at youtube.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fresh Pasta - Deal Of The Day

Join the Chef tomorrow morning (Thursday Jan. 15th) for an appearance scheduled at 9:40 am on KTLA's Morning News Show (9-10 a.m. on Los Angeles's Channel 5) for a budget cooking segment on local TV.

Watch the Chef as he tries to cook and hold a conversation at the same time! For his local TV news debut, the Chef will try to squeeze in four recipes including: Ragu alla Mario Batali, Pita Pizzas, Eggplant Hummus and Mini-Banana Puddings (with the latest trendy dessert topping: a sprinkling of salt and bacon); all made with ingredients priced at a dollar or less. Tune in tomorrow to find out, will co-host Jessica Holmes taste the Chef's mini-banana pudding with bacon bits!?!

Fresh uncooked pasta has been carried in 99.99c only Stores for over five years now. Spaghetti, fettucini and linguini are sold in 9 oz. packs in the deli or frozen cold case.

While the Chef prefers dried pasta with all its varieties and al dente bite, fresh made pasta is a tasty change of pace; tender and also quicker to cook. Pair it with the Chef's "Artichoke Pesto", "Lighter Than Air Meatballs" or "Mario Batali's Ragu" recipes.

Fresh pasta needs no special treatment; just boil in salted water for about three minutes. When the pasta is pulled out of boiling water, try the following 99 Cent Chef delectable flavor enhancers -- drizzle with lemon juice and dust with freshly ground black pepper, or toss with a fistful of fresh shredded garden herbs and olive oil.

Marinated veggies from a jar, such as zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms or roasted red bell peppers make expeditious delectable vegetarian toppings. Keep a lookout for packages of fresh pasta and grab a few; it also freezes well.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Pollo en Mente or Mint Chicken & Chef Art Photos - Slide Show

The Chef is a bibliophile and would attend many book readings and signings at the eclectically-stocked Skylight Books on Vermont Avenue when he lived in Los Feliz.

During one momentous summer, The Chef took over Skylight Books, hanging his L.A. street art photography; and his wife had a book reading of her just published historical and pop culture look at our world famous storied street, "Sunset Boulevard: Cruising the Heart of Los Angeles"-- all during the same time period. We felt like we owned the place for a day.

To celebrate afterward, we retired to another local favorite -- Mexico City Restaurant, a couple of blocks northeast on Hillhurst Avenue, for a pitcher of margaritas and our favorite entrees. My wife prefers huachinango veracruzano (red snapper in a tomato, green olives and capers sauce); while the Chef always orders the pollo en mente, or Mint Chicken.

This entree comes with a mixed green salad in an oil and sweet citrus vinegrette, a small bowl of charro pinto beans laced with fresh chopped tomato, chunks of ham and a whole jalapeno chile and, of course, half a roasted bird whose skin is perfumed and permeated with minced leaves of mint.

While some think Mexico City is past its prime, the pollo en mente entre never fails to please this Chef. Here is his humble attempt to replicate this mouthwatering experience; along with a slide show of the Chef's street art photography of Los Angeles that was hung in Skylight Bookstore.

A few slide show shortcuts. To play slide show: click on large middle "play" triangle - click on the bottom left small "play" triangle to pause (to see slide show as full screen, click on "4 arrows" box on lower right corner - hit "Esc" button on your keyboard to return to normal size viewing). Slide show takes a couple of seconds to start. Slide show lasts about 1 minute and 30 sec.

Ingredients for Polle En Mente
  • 2 cups loosely packed mint leaves (ethnic markets sell one bunch for 99 cents or less; or, like the Chef, you can get them from your patio herb garden)
  • 1 whole chicken - substitute chicken breast and/or leg quarters for individual servings (chicken on sale from 69c to $1.29 per lb. lately)
  • 1/2 cup of 99.99 cent olive oil blend
  • 1/2 cup of lime juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Charro Pinto Beans

  • 1 16 oz. can pinto beans
  • 1 whole tomato
  • 2 slices of deli ham, ham pieces or sauteed bacon
  • 1 whole jalapeno chile (or slices)


Any type of greens, combining iceberg, romaine and/or spinach
Salad dressing consisting of whisking 1/4 cup each orange juice and olive oil blend.

For a few seconds, blender together mint leaves
, lime juice, olive oil and salt/pepper to a rough consistency. Using your fingers, rub minced mint under the skin of the bird and on the outside as well. Push gently between skin and meat of chicken, including breast meat and leg/thigh meat. Try not to tear the skin too much. If you have time, allow chicken to marinade for a few hours covered in the refrigerator.

Chopped mint inside and outside.

Place bird on a rack in roasting pan and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 2 hours, depending on how big it is. The chicken is done when thigh juices run clear when pierced with a fork. 

To prepare the beans, chop one whole tomato and a couple of slices of deli ham or sauteed bacon. Add to pinto beans with one whole jalapeno (the 99c only Store always sell canned pinto beans, deli ham, tomatoes and canned jalapeno chiles). Cook 10 minutes. 

Whisk salad dressing ingredients and serve over greens.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The 99 Cent Chef vs Mario Batali - Ragu alla Bolognese Recipe & Video

A recipe rumble kicks off the 2009 New Year of recession proof recipes. The 99 Cent Chef challenges heavyweight cooking champ and high-end restaurateur Mario Batali to leave his copper pot-stacked ivory tower for a ragu throw-down. The Chef has the chutzpah to take the rotund Iron Chef's Ragu alla Bolognese recipe (click here) and make it his own; with affordable tasty ingredients -- ground turkey instead of veal, breakfast sausage instead of ground pork, and bacon instead of pancetta. Try the Chef's Ragu alla Bolognese recipe -- you be the judge who comes out as Top Chef !

 Richer than your typical Italian pasta meat sauce with the addition of milk or cream, ragu alla bolognese is a hearty family dinner pleaser. It is guaranteed to draw a crowd once the kitchen fills with the aroma of cream, tomato, bacon, ground pork and chicken, slow-cooking on the stove top. Served over your favorite pasta, this is a dish that tastes better reheated the next day.

Ingredients (serves 4)
2 cups total chopped onion and carrot
2 tbsp. chopped garlic
1 small can of tomato paste
1 lb. each of ground pork sausage and ground turkey (or chicken)
4 slices of bacon
1 cup of 99.99 cent white or red wine
2 cups water or broth
1 beef bouillon cube
1 small carton of half and half cream (okay to substitute with milk)
1 bay leaf and 1 tbsp. total of dried Italian herbs including: sage, parsley and thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, saute turkey, bacon and breakfast sausage for about 15 minutes until brown. Pour out 1/2 of the bacon grease (a lot of flavor is lost if you pour it all) and add chopped veggies and garlic to cook until soft a few minutes more. De-glaze pan with white or red wine, then add tomato paste, herbs, bouillon and liquid including water and milk. Mix well and increase heat to a low boil; then turn down heat, cover and cook at low heat for an hour. Finish cooking uncovered for another hour to reduce liquid and thicken the sauce - this is when everyone will start hovering around, asking when it will be ready. Serve over your favorite pasta topped with a 99.99 cent dried grated cheese blend.

A highlight for the Chef was meeting Mario, as captured on the following video. Flashback with the Chef to see a confrontation he had with the wrong end of Mario Batali's orange Crocks. Watch the Chef feed famished screenwriters on the picket line in his 2007 WGA strike video -- where, in front of Batali's Hollywood restaurant Mozza (co-operated with Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery), The 99 Cent Chef calls out Mario to stop feeding skinflint studio heads (confrontation scene is in the last 30 seconds of video).

The 99 Cent Chef meets Mario Batali - Video

Play it here. The video runs 2 minutes 28 seconds.

Go here to embed or view video at youtube.
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