Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cheap$kate Dining Video - Wendy's 99c Cheeseburger

This is the first video in a new series I'm calling Cheap$kate Dining. (My video review is at the bottom of this blogpost.) Being a chintzy bottom feeder and living in Los Angeles, we have everything from mega-chain fast food joints hawking dollar Value Meals, to Salvdoran Pupuserias that sell stuffed tortillas, of meat, beans, or cheese, for 99 cents.

Locally, most food blogs and media writers review the latest groovy or high-end eateries -- that's not my beat. Hey, power to them. Number one, I can't afford them, also I'm not on the publicity gratis gravy train....yet.

But there are plenty of tasty and inexpensive places to chow down at, and I'm going to give you the lowdown. The set up is this: I rate an eatery on a scale of 1 to 9, 9 being best - anything above a 5 is worth a taste.

I'll be covering a bunch of places including fast food Value Meal selects, or the best Al Pastor tacos in Los Angeles from the lauded Leo's Taco Truck. I'm including national fast food chains so all my out-of-town visitors can benefit (or be warned) of the best meal deals I think are out there.

When I'm working 10 hour days (and blogposting recipes, photos and making videos) there's not a lot of time to prepare the most nutritious meals. (In a perfect world, fast food would be the last thing I would recommend, but some neighborhoods have very limited dining choices, and what they have can be too expensive for my blog.)

Since this is a new 99 Cent Chef series, I haven't set all the parameters yet. To start with I'm tasting single items that cost around a dollar. And when I hit a fast food joint I don't get the fries and sugary soft drink meal -- just a single deal. (While not the healthiest fare, at least it's a small serving, so I can keep my weight in check.)

So between my tasty cheap recipes, food travelogues, comedic culinary hijinks and photo food artistry, you can now add to the list, Cheap$kate Dining.

First up is Wendy's Jr. Cheeseburger for 99 cents (plus tax.) This hamburger chain began in Columbus Ohio in 1969 by Dave Thomas, and Wendy's is named after his fourth daughter Melinda Lou "Wendy" Thomas. This is real Middle America fast food dining at it's cheapest.

Cheeseburgers are a guilty pleasure and Value Meal ones, while small, are sometimes quite tasty. And I would have to rank Wendy's 99 cent Jr. Cheeseburge, or Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe for $1.19, high on the list.

On the plus side you can ask for all the fixings* on your burger including: lettuce, tomato, pickles and red onion. I especially liked the ring of red onion. Additionally, they put only ketchup and mustard on the burger, so if you like mayo then request it.

It's unusual to get a such a cheap burger with all that, plus cheese. It's just plain American cheese, but I'm a patriot so I salute them for it!

But something I'll never get used to is Wendy's square meat patty. It pokes out from the round buns -- so it seems like more meat for your money. As with most fast food burger chains the cooked thin patty dries out sitting under those accursed heat lamps (or ovens.) The meat patty is grilled on a flat top range like McDonalds. So while the meat is good enough, it's not as fresh cooked and moist as your local Mom and Pop burger joint would do it.

So drum roll please...on The 99 Cent Chef's Cheap$kate Dining Scale of 1 to 9, 9 being best, I give Wendy's Jr. Cheeseburger a 6.

I'll keep going there from time to time for a quick cheeseburger fix -- it's a pretty good chea$kate deal.

*Please note that the Wendy's I went to just opened so they gave me lettuce and tomato without extra charge. They have a value Jr. Cheeseburger Delux for $1.19 that includes those extra ingredients. So I unintentionally scammed them. A typcial Jr. Cheeseburger comes topped with red onion, ketchup, mustard and pickle. I would still rate a Jr. Cheeseburger a 6 and a Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe a 7.

 Wendy's 99 cent Jr. Cheeseburger - VIDEO

Play it here. Video runs 1 minutes, 24 seconds.

99 thanks to Chad Reder for his camerawork.
To view or embed from YouTube, click here.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

Best Food Finds of 2013

The Frugal Forager strikes gold with a great selection of the Best Food Finds of 2012 from my local 99c only Stores. There has to be one of these stores every few blocks in Los Angeles, and I've perused every last aisle in them all. Plus 99c only Stores are now in Texas, Nevada and Arizona, so the fantastic finds are spreading!

I can spot a great deal on the shelf a mile away and have learned that you have to get it right then -- come back 15 minutes later and it may be history. But there are recurring bargains, like: fresh packaged mushrooms, asparagus, fresh strawberries, organic lettuces, yogurt, organic canned veggies or sauces, and wheat pasta and bread. So I always make it a point to drop by a 99c only Store on the way to and from my city travels to work, movies or concerts.

This year is especially noteworthy for the varied beer stock, including 24 ouncers for 99.99 cents plus CRV. Often the beer selections are off-brands; but I've learned to love them all, as the buzz is the same! More airline-sized plastic bottles of wine are carried than the good old days of full-sized ones. (Although these smaller sizes are perfect for a sip and flavoring the sauce of my Roasted Chicken and Grapes entree, here.) 99c only Stores are starting to stock full sized bottles of wine again but charge (about) an extra 49 cents per bottle, still a great deal.

I try to be selective and pass by  the rows of cookies, candy, salty chips and soft drinks (which you'll find at any grocery store) and zero in on the fresh produce and canned goods.

So check out some of the incredible deals I found from 2012, and happy hunting for your own budget food finds. (Click on any image to see it larger.)

99c only Store on Facebook, click here.
Store Locater, click here.
Main website, click here.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Green Beans & Ground Pork Stir Fry - Video Recipe

My Green Beans & Ground Pork Stir Fry is wife-approved!
I do a lot of stir-frying because it's a simple one-pot dish that combines veggies with protein. Just enter "stir fry" in the "Enter Ingredient or Recipe Keyword(s)" window on the top right side of this blog to see the tasty recipes I've come up with.

But the recipes have all been photo and text-based only -- up to now. Well, it's time for an animated recipe video that only The 99 Cent Chef can do, plus it's fun to watch and cheap to make.

Green beans tend to cost more here in LA, but I still manage to get them for about a dollar per pound at my local 99c only Stores, and they are often on sale at regular grocery stores (especially during holidays.)

I usually use ground turkey or chicken in my stir fries because it's cheaper (and leaner), but an inexpensive 10-ounce package of Farmer John ground pork is too good a deal to pass up. (You could also use breakfast link sausage.) This recipe is enough to feed two. To stretch it out a bit more just add the stir fry over cooked rice or boiled ramen noodles.

If string beans are too expensive then use sliced carrots or any fresh veggie you can get on sale, including spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, or local farmers market veggies. I used fresh ginger, but have found that powered ginger, in the dried herbs and spices section of a market, is a tasty substitution. (Biting into a small piece of ginger, even cooked, is intense, so, powered ginger is a pleasing and flavorful way to go.) Soy sauce is found everywhere now, and I only use a couple of tablespoons of more expensive oyster sauce, so you'll get a lot of stir frys out of it (and like soy sauce, it keeps in the refrigerator forever.)

At the end of this post, under Hindsight, I have some lighter variations of my Green Beans & Ground Pork Stir Fry, so there is no excuse not to make it...soon!
Green Beans & Ground Pork Stir Fry - VIDEO

Play it here. Video runs 3 minutes, 21 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

Ingredients (2-3 servings)
  • 1 pound green beans - Okay to use less. Frozen green beans (or a favorite veggie mix) is a cheap substitution. Just add at the end of the recipe and cook until defrosted.
  • 10 ounces to 1 pound of ground pork - I used a 10-ounce package. Substitute ground chicken or turkey for a lighter stir-fry.
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped ginger - optional. Okay to use a teaspoon of dried ginger (add with meat.)
  • 1 teaspoon of chopped garlic - fresh or from the jar
  • 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce - or your favorite Oriental stir fry packet, or sauce, like sweet and sour.
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 small pack of sweeteners - Substitute a teaspoon of regular sugar or any favorite sweetener like honey.
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch or flour
  • 1/2 cup of broth, white wine, or water - or use a 1/4 cup for less sauce, it's up to you.
  • About 3 tablespoons oil for stir-frying - 2 tablespoons for green beans, and 1 teaspoon for ginger and garlic (if needed.) Okay to use less oil, for a lighter stir fry.
  • Pepper to taste - No salt is needed as soy sauce has plenty.

Trim off stems from green beans and any brown or dried tips. I left green beans whole, but you can chop them in half, or into bite-sized pieces.

Add 2 tablespoons oil to a wok over medium heat. When the oil is hot carefully add the green beans. Keep them moving for about 3-5 minutes, to cook to a desired tenderness. I like a little crunch so I stopped the cooking by 3 minutes, but okay to cook a couple of minutes more for more tender beans. When done remove beans to a plate or bowl.

Peel and chop a small chunk of ginger. The skin on ginger is tissue-soft, so the edge of a spoon will scrape it off easily enough. Use a knife for hard-to-reach parts. Slice and chop ginger into small pieces, about a tablespoon amount.

Add one teaspoon of oil to the wok (if oil is used up from frying green beans.) Saute ginger for a minute over medium heat.

Next, chop one clove of garlic or use a teaspoon of garlic from a jar. Add it to sauteing ginger. Reduce heat to low and saute for another minute, careful not to burn the garlic.

 While garlic and ginger saute, open a package of pork. When garlic is heated though for a minute add the ground pork. Mix it with ginger and garlic.

Now add soy sauce and oyster sauce. (If you don't have oyster sauce use an easy-to-get teriyaki sauce, or just go with soy sauce only.) Sprinkle in some sugar and cornstarch (or flour.) Season with pepper to taste. You can add red pepper flakes for extra heat.

Mix well and stir fry pork until done, about 5-10 minutes over medium heat. (No need to add oil, as pork is usually fatty enough.) When pork is done you can strain off some or all of the fat, depending how lean the meat is. I like to leave in at least a couple of teaspoons of fat for flavor.

Now time to finish it up. Add 1/2 cup of broth, white wine, or water. Put in the cooked green beans and stir fry over medium-high heat until liquid thickens and the beans are heated through about 3-5 minutes.

Serve hot over rice or noodles. Also tasty on its own.

This is a basic stir-fry recipe. You can use almost any type of protein, including ground chicken, turkey, beef, or sliced chicken, pork, or beef.

Frozen green beans (or a favorite veggie mix) is a cheap substitution. Just add at the end of the recipe and stir fry until defrosted.

The amount of ground pork and green beans is approximate -- add more or less as you like it.

You could also substitute green beans with cheaper chunks of carrot or any veggie you like.

If you like a lot of sauce then double broth or liquid, and cornstarch amounts. You can also add more oyster and soy sauce.

For a lighter stir-fry steam green beans covered, to a desired tenderness (about 3-5 minutes) instead of frying them in oil. And use less greasy ground chicken, turkey or sliced chicken breast.

I served my Green Bean & Ground Pork Stir Fry over brown and white rice. You could also boil a package of ramen noodles and drain them.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

My Top 9 Recipes of 2012

If you follow The Cheapskate Food Blogger you will never go hungry. And here are my Top 9 Recipes of 2012 to prove it. Although the ingredients are inexpensive, the flavors are varied in their scrumptiousness. And I have personally mined from the last year these culinary multifaceted  gems for your viewing pleasure.

I like to mix it up, from vegetarian to carnivore fare; and a sweet condiment of Mango Chutney, to a slab of Homemade Deli Pastrami. Just click on any Recipe Title below to go into my recipe blog page. So let the countdown begin!

1. Falafel Pita Sandwich
Like most of my recipes, I had never tried making crunchy orbs of Falafel. But sometimes you just roll up you sleeves and jump in. I ended up making way too much, but my friends at work didn't seem to mind - I brought a batch in and they ate them up. And this is a great recipe for Meatless Mondays.

You can drain and roast a can of cheap garbanzo beans (to put back some crunch and texture) or go whole hog and soak dried chickpeas overnight and make Falafels from scratch. I have a neighborhood Middle Eastern market so I got a bag of beans for a buck. Falafel balls are easy to make, as my recipe shows. And as a bonus I came up with a cool accompaniment to stuff into a Falafel Pita Sandwich: Cucumber, Yogurt and Honey Relish.

2. Homemade Egg McMuffin
I've been on a tear lately, cranking out cool stop motion animated food recipes, and one of the more wild ones is my Homemade Egg McMuffin. A wacky highlight is my constructing an egg frying ring out of a tin can -- hey, don't knock my cheap ways, it was simple to do and it works great. And I got a perfectly round puck of egg that fits snuggly between a toasted English muffin.

So do check out my recipe video below; and to see the recipe text with photos -- just click on the title heading above.

3. Beef & Broccoli Stir Fry
You may often ask yourself after reading my food musings a few times, "Where's the beef?" Well, here it is.

This Tightwad Forager seldom cooks with this most expensive protein, but there are small 3 ounce packages of frozen rib eye steaks for $1 to be found in the meat deli cases of L.A. chain grocery stores. It's the perfect size for a serving or two of a Chinese classic Beef & Broccoli Stir Fry.

I love stir frys for their simplicity and sweet, salty and sour flavors. My accompanying stir fry sauce is easy to make and so flavorful. And if you are carb-phobic, this recipe is for you. Plus my chintzy recipe has been highlighted by Fave Health Recipes here.

4. Steamed Artichoke
Everyone knows how to eat a steamed artichoke, right? Apparently not - according to Lesley Bargar Suter, the food and dining editor for Los Angeles Magazine. She posted a link to my recipe video on the magazine's food blog, Digest, so her husband and Chicago friends can see how the Chintzy Food Professor does it! To read her amusing artichoke post, click here.

If you've never steamed an artichoke to tender perfection and worked your way to the creamy choke, then be sure to oogle the animated video below.

5. Homemade Deli Pastrami
My recipe for Homemade Deli Pastrami is the Lawrence of Arabia of stop motion animated food videos. Just check out the epic cinematic culinary artistry on your computer screen. A widescreen vista of cured bovine fresh from a smokey BBQ grill will leave you breathless...and salivating. And there are no movie lines to wait in, and the price of admission is a big fat zero -- take that movie theaters and cable TV.

I directed this deli-story with brevity, featuring tasteful compositions. So, I submit for your consideration, my video of a Homemade Deli Pastrami. Try out this recipe on your family and you will surely receive a Standing O -- but look out because they will want encore after Deli Pastrami encore.

6. Mango Chutney
If you like eating India food then be sure to check out my recipe for Mango Chutney. This fruit-packed jam is the perfect accompaniment to spicy curry or Tandori chicken (my recipe here) that you bring home from your favorite India restaurant. This sweet condiment goes with any of my Oriental or Middle Eastern themed recipes. And if you are looking for a bit of sweetness to go with your favorite savory entree, then chop up some mango and onion, and simmer with vinegar, sugar and a few spices for an easy-to-make Mango Chutney.

7. Shepherd's Pie
This recipe is meat and potatoes, British style. Traditionally made with Lamb, I've substituted cheap ground turkey for a lighter one-pot meal. Shepherd's Pie is also loaded with carrots and peas in a thick gravy, and topped with a charred crust of mashed potatoes. You can't get a more hearty winter's day meal than this; and it reheats deliciously in the microwave -- so you can't make too much. Plus this recipe gets my Wife's Seal of Approval!

8. Delicatessen Coleslaw
I like my deli sandwiches with coleslaw. And my recipe for a deli coleslaw is crunchy perfection. It combines shredded cabbage and carrot with mayo, oil and vinegar, to create a creamy, tart topping, or sandwich side dish. And if you make my Homemade Pastrami then team it with this Delicatessen Coleslaw.

9. Baked Chicken with Grapes
I've saved one of the best Top 9 Recipes of 2012 for last: a sweetly succulent Baked Chicken with Grapes. Roasted chicken with fruit is a winning combination, and the preparation is miniscule. Just scatter on a handful of grapes on an inexpensive leg quarter, along with a splash of white wine, and you have a divinely sweet and savory budget entree.

And remember to just click on any Recipe Title above to read each Top 9 Recipe of 2012 and get all the delectable details.

Well. thanks for being my dining companions this last year. Please do come back and try your hand at a few of my economical recipes - always presented with creativity, humor, and a bit of style.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Breakfast Potatoes

I recently got back from skiing in Mammoth, California. With almost $100 lift tickets and equipment rentals, you have to save a few bucks somewhere, and I do it by not eating out. I packed a few food items for the drive up. Before you hit the slopes it's best to have a big meal with plenty of carbs -- to battle the cold and keep your energy up. One of my meal highlights was a humble ham and eggs with my Breakfast Potatoes.

And my wife and friend Drew ate them up! I thought I made enough spuds, but should have made more -- that's how quick they disappeared and how tasty they were. So here's my Breakfast Potatoes recipe that is great served on a snowy, cold morning.

You can use russet, white or red potatoes. I like to leave the skin on and saute them with chopped onion, bell pepper and garlic. That's it - couldn't be simpler. The only unusal step is to add a couple of tablespoons of water, then cover and steam the Breakfast Potatoes for a few minutes just before serving. This loosens the browned cooked bits on the pan so you get all that extra flavor to mix into the potatoes.

Spuds are cheap all the time and the veggies are too -- especially at my local Latin market, Superior Groceries. This tasty spud side dish can go with your favorite egg recipe. I like to simply fry my eggs so the creamy yoke mixes into the Breakfast Potatoes -- try it this way some time.

As a bonus, check out my skiing video from a couple of years ago, where I hit the slopes for the wildest ski ride you'll ever see!

The 99 Cent Chef Goes Skiing - VIDEO

 Play it here. Video runs 5 minutes, 32 seconds.

Ingredients (1-2 serving)
  • 1 potato - about 1 cup cubed. Okay to use a russet, red or white potato, or any favorite on sale. Small red or white potatoes are smaller so 2 may be needed for this recipe.
  • 1/2 onion - about 1/2 cup chopped. Okay to use less to your taste.
  • 1/8 bell pepper - about 1/4 cup chopped. Again, okay to use less to suit your taste. I got a green bell pepper, but you can use any color.
  • 1 clove garlic - about 1 teaspoon chopped.
  • 1 teaspoon oil - or cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cut potatoes into small cubes, about 1/2 inch or smaller. Add oil to frying pan over medium heat. When oil is hot add the chopped potatoes and veggies.

Mix well. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook until onion and bell pepper start to soften, stirring often. Should take about 5-10 minutes, depending how thick the potatoes and veggies are chopped.

I like to finish my Breakfast Potatoes this way: add 2 tablespoons of water and give the veggies and potatoes a good stir. Cover and let potatoes and veggies steam for 3 - 5 minutes. Done when potatoes pierce easily with a fork or knife.

Finally, uncover and let the Breakfast Potatoes cook for a couple more minutes to make sure all the liquid cooks out. Serve hot, as a side with your favorite breakfast meal. I like fried eggs so the yoke runs into the good.

For crispy potatoes, just add an extra tablespoon of oil and fry one side of the potatoes until brown. Then add the veggies and stir. Cook veggies until soft and potatoes are tender all the way through. And skip the "steaming with water" part.

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