Sunday, December 26, 2010

99.99% Organic

Los Angeles is the 99 cent store capitol of the world. Just drive any of our city blocks and count the 99 cent and dollar store signage.

Not all 99 cent, or dollar stores, are created equal. Sometimes I leave the store with very little in my reusable shopping bag, but there is always another one a few blocks away to explore. And I often sing the praises of my local 99c only Stores, because of the wide variety of nutritious produce that it carries, as you will see in my annual organic product highlights post.

Pictures do not lie, but sometimes labels stretch the truth. I don't see how anything can be really "organic" once it's been cooked, processed and stuffed into a can or cardboard box, but I would choose it over the normal stock -- especially for 99.99 cents.

This master miser does not live by canned and packaged foodstuffs alone. Some of my amazing fresh finds this year include: portabella mushrooms, white asparagus, "living" butter lettuce and melons; packages of arugula and spinach; small cartons of  blueberries, strawberries and blackberries; packs of tortillas made with cactus and wheat; and all manner of canned/packaged goods labeled "organic."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Spanish Omelet

When I was a bachelor in Glendale, Calif., I had a Cuban restaurant within walking distance. A sometimes Sunday indulgence was to get the fat L.A. Times weekend edition newspaper and grab a window restaurant seat, while sipping a Cuban coffee and savoring a Spanish Omelet. You could skip lunch after finishing this hearty breakfast. And growing up, my childhood breakfast also featured sauteed potatoes and bacon mixed into scrambled eggs and scooped into a homemade flour tortilla. As you can guess, I like eggs with potatoes.

The main ingredients for a Spanish Omelet are cheap at any grocery. For my version I used a russet potato, but red, white or Yukon gold work just as well. The trick to this omelet is the potato-to-egg ratio; too much potato and your omelet won't hold together. If you get a russet, make it a small one.

So try out my Spanish Omelet recipe, it's really cheap, flavorful and filling. 

Ingredients (serves 2-3)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 red, white or small russet potato - peeled and chopped or sliced.
  • 1/2 small onion, white or yellow - chopped.
  • Tablespoon of milk - optional, for eggs.
  • Tablespoon of oil.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.


Chop and dice one half onion. Peel and slice one whole potato. I went for thin slices, but you can chop potatoes into small cubes as well. Heat oil in omelet pan, then add onion and potatoes. Saute over medium heat to lightly brown potatoes, about 10 minutes. Use an omelet pan for easier flipping. If you use a regular frying pan, you will need more oil when you add eggs.

Mix well, then cover pan and reduce heat to low, allowing potatoes (with onions) to steam until tender, about another 10 minutes (depending how thick you slice potatoes). Season with salt and pepper, and try one of the thickest cut potatoes to test for doneness.

For the omelet part, add 6 eggs to a large bowl. Whisk in milk if desired. Make sure potatoes are loosened from the bottom of pan. Add a teaspoon of oil if pan is too dry. Pour in blended eggs and stir into potatoes and onions. Let egg mixture set in pan until the egg edges are done, and the middle of omelet is almost solid (some dampness is okay), about 5-8 minutes.

The tricky part is turning the omelet. Carefully work your spatula down and around the sides of omelet to loosen. Then work spatula underneath to loosen as much of the omelet as you can. It may break apart some, but don't worry, it will taste good anyway.

 Put a plate over the omelet pan and carefully turn the pan upside down, holding the plate firmly against the pan. Omelet will hopefully break free onto the plate. If omelet breaks up just reassemble (I lost a corner, but it went back together fine). Slide omelet back into omelet pan to cook the other side. It should take only a couple of minutes for Spanish Omelet to finish cooking.

Pierce omelet to check that center is not runny. Omelet should be easier to slide onto a plate for serving.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Deal of the Day - Taco Bell Fiesta Steak Bowlz

Yummy and runny is how I would describe Taco Bell's grocery shelf Fiesta Steak Bowlz. My first impression, upon peeling back the plastic cover to reveal a brown mushy mess was: "I hope it tastes better than it looks!"

But don't be deceived by this Deal of the Day's unappealing appearance. An immediate plus was that this monochromatic meal in a bowl is ready to eat (not frozen); so it microwaves to hot in a little over a minute, with no biting into cold spots (a typical problem of microwaved frozen fare).

As for the ingredients, the cover shows a lot of red and green bell pepper slices - mine had just a few slivers but that was enough; this is one pungent vegetable that can easily overpower any dish. I especially liked the Mexican-style tomato and salsa rice, made more intense with garlic and onion. But the refried beans were too mushy and mashed; I would have liked a few larger pieces to recognize what I am eating.

The beef steak strips were tender and flavorful, very well done. I liked the chile sauce that binds it all together. There was even a slight chile burn that lingered on my tongue after the meal.

It's a light entree, just 300 calories, at 9 ounces. This rice, bean and beef bowl won't satisfy a hearty appetite, but it's good enough for a light lunch. On a scale of 1-9, 9 being best, I give Taco Bell's Fiesta Steak Bowlz an 8 ! I would definitely try it again, especially for 99.99 cents. I got mine at this 99c only Store.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Spinach With Sesame Seeds

This is a tasty way to take the boring out of spinach -- sauteing spinach Japanese style with toasted sesame seeds. Plus it's quick and easy to prepare, too.

I've had Spinach with Sesame Seeds at my local 99 cent per piece sushi restaurant, served as a cold condiment (click here for my sushi restaurant review). But I've made it at home as a regular side dish served warm, and I actually like it better that way.

I always find fresh spinach at 99c only Stores, and my local Latin market sells a large bunch for the same price. And I always have a dollar store bottle of sesame seeds on hand for making fresh hummus (video recipe here).

Also, sauteing spinach in a teaspoon of sesame oil makes for a less sloppy side - no need draining typically soggy steamed spinach.

My Oriental styled spinach is a tasty spin I hope you will enjoy.

  • Package of spinach - or an unpackaged bunch (be sure to wash well and cut off longer stems).
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds - lightly browned in pan. Okay to sprinkle uncooked on spinach as well - just results in a milder taste.
  • 1 teaspoon of oil - sesame, or any type.
  • Pinch of salt - to taste.

Add teaspoon of sesame seeds to a medium heated pan, and stir frequently. You'll need to hover over the pan for 2 - 5 minutes when toasting sesame seeds - they can burn quickly once the browning starts. Scrape out seeds into a bowl or small plate when done and set aside.

Pour in 1 teaspoon of oil into pan and swirl to coat well. Add spinach and stir as it wilts - it will soften quickly after a couple of minutes. Season with salt to taste. Transfer to your plate or a bowl and sprinkle on toasted (or raw) sesame seeds. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Restaurant Nocturnes IV - Video

Once again, I'm taking it to the streets!  If you've been keeping up with The 99 Cent Chef, you know I've been cruising L.A. at night, dodging parking tickets while rolling through right turns on red, all to capture a unique portrait of this city's living, breathing nocturnal eatery scene. The newest chapter is now compiled as Restaurant Nocturnes IV.

If you've viewed my three other Restaurant Nocturnes, you know what to expect; if you are new, then fasten your seat belt -- you're in for a deliciously bumpy night!

With The 99 Cent Chef behind the wheel, my latest video is a tasty tour of twilight restaurant exteriors -- from the latest Culver City gastropub, Waterloo & State , to Santa Monica's delicious taco dive, La Playita . You will also see some of the last photos of the wildly popular and cutting edge Test Kitchen , which turned its kitchen over to a new chef every couple of days. There was just no way they could keep going at that breakneck, revolving-door pace (their last meal will be a Dec. 13 charity benefit).

And you'll almost smell the trotters roasting, the duck confit simmering and the al pastor barbequing, while listening in on succinctly edited audio clips of citywide restaurant specialties described by the people who present or cook them (each restaurant video clip runs only 10 to 15 seconds).

So pull up a computer chair and feast your eyes on a unique selection of 24 Los Angeles eateries, personally selected and shot by The 99 Cent Chef.

 Restaurant Nocturnes IV - Video

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Stuffed Bell Peppers - Mexican Style

Uncooked Mexican chorizo has the texture of a meat frosting. Yeah, that's not very appetizing, but when cooked, its fragrance and flavor is intense with Mexican chile and sweetbreads. The ingredients list (try reading it with a magnifying glass) is not for the faint of heart: cheek, tongue, glands, and lymph nodes? Yikes! Nothing sweet or doughy there. But, sauteed with onion and garlic, man is it freaking tasty! Try my chorizo and egg taco sometime if you don't believe me (click here).

It's trendy now to cook "head to tail"
-- but Mexican cooks have been doing this quite a while. Nothing is tastier than a taco made with cabeza (meat scraped off the skull) or lingua (tongue) from an East L.A. food truck (click here for my Halloween video post featuring scary meats).

Even Top Chef 's hunky dude Ludovic Lefebvre created a "chicken marinated in chorizo" dish (I'm going to rip-off, I mean adapt) for his latest LudoBites 6.0 pop-up restaurant (great photos by kevinEats, here).

Most stuffed bell pepper recipes call for ground meat with tomato sauce -- sorry, but that's boring to this cheapie epicurean. How about a budget Mexican version with ingredients including: enchilada sauce, rice, ground turkey and chorizo? I recently came up with it, and it's delicious. Ground turkey is bland until you mix in sauteed chorizo, and enchilada sauce over roasting bell peppers makes a unique savory pairing.

If you can't handle (or find) Mexican chorizo, my recipe is adaptable - just adding enchilada sauce over your typical stuffed bell pepper recipe is a unique flavor combination and well worth a go.

Ingredients (serves 3 - 4)
  • 1 pound ground turkey or chicken
  • 4 bell peppers - medium to large.
  • 1 small can of red enchilada sauce - about 10 ounces.
  • 1/2 package of Mexican chorizo - about 5 ounces.
  • 1 cup of cooked rice - white or brown.
  • 1 package of Queso Fresco (4 oz.) or your favorite cheese - optional.
  • 1/2 onion - chopped
  • 1 large egg (or 2 medium).
  • 1 teaspoon garlic - chopped, from jar or fresh.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin - optional.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • * I had a few leftover mushrooms that I cut up and added - optional.

Saute onions (I added a couple of extra mushrooms) and chorizo until oil renders, about 10 minutes. Break apart and mix in ground turkey (or chicken). Sprinkle in ground cumin (optional) and chopped garlic. Cook about 7-10 minutes until turkey is no longer raw.

In a large bowl, add meat, cooked rice*, egg, cheese and mix well. Slice each bell pepper lengthwise, remove seeds and white membrane. Fill each bell pepper with meat mixture and set in a large roasting pan (or 2). Top each filled bell pepper with plenty of enchilada sauce.

Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes to an hour.

*If you do not have cooked rice on hand, here's a simple rice recipe -- add 1/2 cup of rice in 1 cup of water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about 20 minutes. Allow to rest covered for another 5 minutes.

Friday, November 26, 2010

3rd Year Blogging Anniversary - Video

With over 20 videos in the cookie jar this year, the Chintzy Chef pulls out a few tasty highlights from 2010. And what a year it's been! From a video recipe for my delicious Spaghetti Carbonara with Bacon Bits to a month-long  six-video series on local hot dog haunts. Ever had an L.A. Street Dog? Not only does the Chef take it to the streets to show you where to stuff your face, but I get back to the kitchen to provide step-by-step instructions on how you can make this tube steak classic, wherever you may be. Now that's sharing.

Now, this Chef does not live by encased meat alone.  I've also emphasized healthy fare this year -- be sure to try out these recipes for nutritious and delicious eats (click on name):
Thai Cucumber SaladVeggie Wrap with HummusWatermelon, Mango & Spinach SaladBraised Romaine Hearts, and a Wardorf Salad.

Ever eaten a live, ink-black spiny sea urchin?
My Chasing Sea Urchin video is not for the squeamish --but you'll get to enjoy a slapstick chase sequence straight out of a Buster Keaton silent comedy. And this year's highlights also include my travel videos --  take a careening, thrilling plunge down a Mammoth Mountain ski slope and then hit the apres ski happy hour, or come along to decadent, neon-lit Fremont Street in the old part of Las Vegas to search for a 99 cent Shrimp Cocktail. There's also a video diary documenting the great time had in Seattle shooting my Public TV cooking debut (be sure to view the behind-the-scenes featurette).

For all my local readers, I'm proud to tip you off to a new project I launched this year -- Restaurant Nocturnes, a twilight exploration of the up-to-the-minute scene featuring hip, classic, and old-school neighborhood eateries all over Los Angeles.  I post new entries 3 times a week on Twitter (click here). Restaurant Nocturnes is an arty photo/video series that lets me return to my street/documentary roots.

Each entry is short and sweet - showing the restaurant exterior, with thumbnail entree descriptions and some prices. I've done nearly 200 so far, covering everything from trendy convergence points, like The Gorbals in downtown L.A., owned by Top Chef winner Ilan Hall, to my favorite taco shack, Cactus on Vine Street in Hollywood, home of the city's tastiest flame-charred pork al pastor (after 8pm). I also created brief videos that include audio recorded at each location -- nighttime in L.A. has never looked and sounded so cool.  Zagat, forget about it -- this series is as  local as it gets, and is indispensable to any of my readers who plan on visiting our city. Click on the following links to view each of my three video compilations: Restaurant Nocturnes I, Restaurant Nocturnes II, & Restaurant Nocturnes III.

As I hit the three-year blogging mark (November 30th), I've only scratched the Teflon surface of the food world. And I have a lot more delicious recipes and outrageous ideas left to explore. You can expect the unexpected here: in the months to come, I'll present a 99 Cent Chef original recipe, The Loxaco, that combines Jewish and Mexican cuisines; my politically-charged Tea Party Chicken Soup, and a video cooking demo with my stuffed animal friends T-Bone and his girlfriend Honey Bunny.  Plus, I'm scheduled to make an appearance on the Cooking Channel!  It's going to be a fun year ahead, so do check back.  But first, click to play the video below, of culinary and comedy clips from my blogging third year!
The 99 Cent Chef's 3rd Year Anniversary - Video
Play it here. The video runs 6 minutes, 40 seconds.

A special 99 thanks to all my 99 Cent Players, including: Bob McGuinness (a cameo here), Pete Handelman (see his fun videos here), and journalist Jenny Cunningham; and also to my local markets and the 99c only Stores for offering all the great for-sale ingredients. Special thanks to L.A. restaurants, chefs and patrons for allowing The Chef shooting privileges. And the biggest thanks (with hugs) to my Number Taste Tester and Editor, my wife Amy.

To view or embed from Youtube click here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

French Fried Onions & Green Bean Casserole

Nothing is fresh in my latest cheapie recipe, and I'm proud of it! Yeah, that's right, The 99 Cent Chef's latest dish comes straight from the Mad Men cable tv series holiday dinner table -- I'm talking 1960's Betty Crocker Cookbook can opener cuisine here.

And this recipe involves the same amount of cooking skill as defrosting a Swanson Frozen TV Dinner. This is classic casserole comfort food that will fit perfectly on your Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving table -- an heirloom recipe to continue handing down.

You can read about the creation of this recipe from the Campbell's Soup archives, just click here.

All you need is a warm oven and a baking dish. And it's so easy to make you could do it blindfolded while nursing a martini.

Serve my French Fried Onions & Green Bean Casserole flanked by sliced turkey with stuffing and cool cranberry sauce. This creamy soul-soothing veggie side is over the top in tastiness.

And all the ingredients are on sale for the holidays at any grocery store. French fried onions are a decadent topping -- while canned green beans are boring until you mix in a can of Campbell's Mushroom Soup.

For a 21 Century version, use fresh green beans that are on sale for a dollar per pound from now until Christmas.

I look forward to a French Fried Onions & Green Bean Casserole every November. I first had it at my in-law's Thanksgiving table; and now my mother-in-law, Annette, is generous enough to share her recipe (from a brittle, yellowing magazine clip). I hand it over to you, my special holiday visitors, for safe-keeping. Enjoy.

Click on the following links for more holiday feasting recipes, including: Stuffing Cupcakes with Cranberry Frosting and Gravy, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Homemade Egg Nog Video, Green Beans with Almonds, Bacon Wrapped Dates with Cream Cheese, Mom's Pumpkin PieMom's Mini-Pecan Pies, Cranberry Orange and Coconut Cookies, Roasted Pumpkin with Pasta, Whiskey Yams with Brown Sugar Pumpkin SeedsRoasted Potatoes with Carrots, Honey Orange Glazed Carrots, and my Sage Roasted Turkey recipe.

  • 2 cans of green beans, drained - I used "French Cut", any type will do.
  • 1 can of mushroom soup - or any "cream" soup you like, include vegan. 
  • 1/2 "soup can" of water - Directions call for a full can of water, but I found it gets too watery.
  • 1 package of French Fried Onions - or from a can.
  • Pepper to taste - I find there is plenty of salt in the packaged ingredients.

In a casserole dish combine, green beans*, mushroom soup, 1/2 can of water, and half a package of French fried onions. Don't fill the dish all the way to the top, as it may bubble over when hot. Mix well, cover, and place in a 350-degree oven.

Bake for 20 - 30 minutes; since everything is already cooked you are just heating it all up.
Uncover and top with the rest of the French fried onions, and bake another 10-15 minutes.

This is a great dish to bring to any Thanksgiving gathering (best to bring a half package of crunchy fried onions to add at the last minute -- it will be too soggy otherwise).

* Okay to use a package of fresh frozen green beans. Allow to defrost and drain extra liquid, then add to baking dish with other ingredients.

For a fresh green bean version (about a pound),  remove any stems pieces. Chop green beans in half if they are too long. Blanch beans in boiling water for about 5 minutes (or to the desired tenderness). Remove beans and add to the casserole dish. In this case, you can salt to taste, then follow the rest of my directions.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sausage & Cauliflower with Pasta

Here is a hardy cheap pasta dish that uses up a whole head of cauliflower. And there will even be enough to fill up any ravenous semester final cramming college dorm mate.

Often cauliflower goes bad before I can use it all up, but now that problem is solved with my Sausage & Cauliflower with Pasta.

Normally I would use expensive Italian sausage, but I've found 8 oz. links of Farmer John's sausage links are a tasty and cheaper substitution. Even at a regular market these small packages are barely over a dollar, and my local 99c only Store seems to always stock them. I miss the fennel and Italian herb flavors, but you can get most of the lost spices back by adding dried Italian herbs to cooked breakfast sausage. I usually buy cauliflower there too, but my local chain grocery carries it on sale, too.

The dish is easy to make, just brown the sausage; then steam the cauliflower florets for a few minutes while your pasta is boiling. Three main ingredients and some dried herbs are all that's needed for this latest, and satisfying 99 Cent Chef entree.

Ingredients (serves 3 - 4)
  • Head of cauliflower (about 2-3 lbs.) - break into florets. Broccoli works just as well.
  • 8 ounce package of breakfast sausage links - okay to use any sausage on sale, even Italian.
  • 1 package pasta - any type you like.
  • 1/4 cup of pasta water - to steam cauliflower.
  • 1 tablespoon of dried parmesan - or fresh shaved, optional.
  • Pinch of dried Italian herbs - or fresh.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Break apart sausage links and saute until brown, in a large pan. Remove sausage and set aside. Sprinkle a pinch of Italian herbs on sausage. Leave a tablespoon (or more) of rendered grease in the pan for flavor (some sausage may have more fat, so drain it if necessary).

Start boiling your pasta, after a couple of minutes spoon out a few tablespoons of pasta water (about 1/4 cup) and add to pan. Scrape loose brown bits, then add cauliflower florets. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and steam cauliflower until tender, about 5-10 minutes.

Finally, return sausage to cooked cauliflower, sprinkle on dried parmesan (optional) and stir in pasta. Mix well, heat through for a minute and serve.
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