Friday, April 26, 2013

Cheap$kate Dining Video - KFC's Chicken Littles Sandwich

A chicken sandwich for less than a buck-fifty shouldn't taste this good. But KFC's Chicken Littles sandwich has a pedigree: it was first introduced over 20 years ago. Honestly I don't remember ever having one, but I suspect it was a larger sandwich. The present-day Chicken Littles sandwich is more like a slider -- it's small but still packs a lot of flavor.

If you were here last week then you saw my video review of Top Chef Master Ludo Lefebvre's fried Chicken Tenders from his Ludo Truck. Not the best bite, but just okay -- I thought Ludo could learn a seasoning lesson from the real masters of fried chicken, KFC. So here is my Cheap$kate Dining video review, which is at the end of this post.

The Chicken Littles sandwich is made using KFC's Extra Crispy recipe, not their Original one (which I prefer,) and the fillet is white breast meat. The coating is well seasoned, although, like all fast food, on the over-salted side. While the chicken tender is not freshly fried, the white meat is still moist and tender.

Like a stripped-down classic car in primer, there is no fancy pinstriping -- the presentation is simple: just a small hot dog-like dinner roll with a bit of mayo and a couple of pickle slices for a buck twenty-nine, plus tax. That's it.

If you have enjoyed KFC's Snackers sandwich (I made a PSA comedy video featuring one, here,) this is for you. Chicken Littles use plain tasting mayo, while Snackers had a spicier black pepper mayo, plus shredded lettuce.

For a tasty bite when you're on the go, I can recommend this sandwich. To see my Cheap$kate Dining rating of 1 to 9, 9 being best, just play the video below.

KFC's Chicken Littles Sandwich - VIDEO

Play it here, video runs 1 minute, 30 seconds.

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

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ludo Truck Chicken Strips & French Fries - Cheap$kate Video Review

Bland Chicken Strips from Top Chef star Ludo Lefebvre? Say it ain't so, but when compared to KFC and Popeye's Fried Chicken, the Ludo Truck's Chicken Strips are just second banana. Fried chicken, when done right, has moist meat, with a brightly seasoned crunchy coating. While Ludo's Chicken Strips meet the first requirement, it falls short on the seasoned coating. Chicken Strips start with a handicap -- the skin is usually removed, so the crust has to be exceptional.

Every order is fresh fried which is a big plus. Each nice sized meaty fillet is as good as white meat chicken can be. And the finished product is surprisingly non-greasy for being deep-fried. But the coating is all black pepper with none of the spices that make other fast food chicken so addictive. So you end up with the raw flour taste front and center.

Ludo needs to bone up on Southern fried chicken seasonings, especially if Chicken Strips are your main featured menu item -- or take your fried chicken in a more original and delicious direction.

Now the white meat tenders are moist, and is a generous portion, even at $5.50 for two. While the coating is crunchy enough and not objectionable, it's just bland and boring. I expect more from a Top Chef contestant.

Chef Ludo has stepped into the too deep end of the fried chicken pool. He should visit more South L.A. Soul Food restaurants and take notes on the crunchy skin of Popey'es Fried Chicken. Even KFC's Original soggy coating is loaded with flavorful seasonings. For local purveyors of fried poultry there's lightly coated Dinah's Fried Chicken (my review here), big crusted Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles, or uncoated and succulent Korean fried chicken from KyoChon. These are chicken recipes that have reached fryer perfection.

On the plus side I enjoyed the dipping sauces of super hot Spicy Mayo and lemony Bearnaise. They were so creamy good I used my fries to mop it all up.

The another item I have tried from Ludo Truck is the French Fries -- and I hate to say it, but no improvement here.

You would think French Fries from Frenchman Ludo Lefebvre would be a slam dunk, but they are more like a tiresome foul shot. These fries are limp and under-seasoned. Maybe because I am more of a Belgian double-fried crispy fries type (Chef Ludo, you can checkout my recipe video for a better French fry by clicking here.) The Ludo Truck fries are fresh and thick cut, but again they are just okay. Almost any fast food burger joint makes better fries, even from frozen pre-cut spuds.

Hey, I have no beef with Chef Ludo, I enjoy his TV show appearances, the culinary prowess he displays and his fiery French temperament. But I know cheap dining and Ludo Truck's Chicken Strips and French Fries need to be improved for a return visit from this Bottom Feeding Chef. 

Chef Ludo Lefebvre

There is a glut of food trucking going on in L.A. and most are overpriced and gimmicky. I've done other food truck videos that show how to make delish cuisine served on four wheels -- just click on any name to see what I mean: Night & Day with the Kogi Truck, A Rainy Day at the Nom Nom Truck, Tacos Leo, El Sabroso Fish Tostada Truck, Border Grill Truck, and El Pique Taco Truck.

The Ludo Truck also sells Chicken Wings and Boneless Chicken Thighs. I recently tried the Chicken Wings, which I prefer over the Chicken Strips. Three large uncoated wings are deep fried and come slathered in a sweet garlic sauce. The wings are fried perfectly, and like dark meat are moist and tender.

The only criticism would be the sweet garlic sauce overkill, especially if you are going back to work after lunch -- the garlic pieces keep on giving... for hours. Chef Ludo's Chicken Wing sauce is similar to a typical Oriental egg roll dipping sauce, but loaded with garlic -- a little too sweet, but still quite tasty (click here for video of Chef Ludo making wings.)

Every time I've been to the Ludo Truck they are out of  Boneless Chicken Thighs. I'll update this post if I ever get to try them.

So check out my Cheap$kate Dining Video below to see the rating of 1 to 9, 9 being best. And the last shot of my Cheap$kate Dining video review features an outrageous ending where foul-mouthed Chef Ludo gets in the last word!

(Next up I'll be Cheap$kate reviewing KFC's Chicken Little Sandwich for comparison -- that's also made with a chicken tender. So hopefully Chef Ludo will check in for my video review next week, to see how it's done better.)

Ludo Truck Fried Chicken Strips & French Fries - VIDEO
Play it here, video runs 3 minutes, 18 seconds.

99 thanks to my neighbor Pete for his camerawork.
To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

Extra 99 thanks to the cooks and order takers on Ludo Truck. The food was well presented and everyone was quite pleasant. I saw many diners enjoying their chicken, so don't let my review cause pause -- give them a try and decide for yourself. Chef Ludo's Chicken Strips and French Fries are fine for fast food dining.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Migas, Tex-Mex Scrambled Eggs

After my extended Taco Month Series, I have a lot of leftover tortillas. Corn tortillas usually come in 30 count packages, and I almost never finish a package.

Sometimes I just freeze what I don't use. The problem comes when the corn tortillas are defrosted. Some start to break apart and are unusable for tacos. Well, here is a recipe that takes care of the tortilla problem: a scrumptious Tex-Mex scrambled eggs dish called Migas.

All you do is crisp up a broken down corn torillla and shred it into your favorite egg scramble. This adds an extra bit of delicious heft to your typical breakfast. If you have a little tomato, bell pepper, cheese, salsa and onion, that you need to use up, then definitely throw it all into the mix.

My version calls for frying the tortillas in a small amount of oil, but you can just shred a soft tortilla right into the scrambling eggs. You could even use leftover (and stale) plain tortilla chips. (Although I would brush off most of the salt, and obviously, no extra salt is needed for the Migas recipe.)

So don't waste those broken down corn tortillas, just freeze them and bring them out for The 99 Cent Chef's Tex-Mex Migas.

Ingredients (1 serving)
  • 2-3 eggs - for an egg scramble, your way. Okay to blend in milk, cheese or anything you like for scrambled eggs.
  • 1 corn tortilla - sauteed in oil until crisp, then shred into bite sized pieces. You can also just shred an uncooked tortilla and add it to the scrambling eggs. Okay to use leftover plain tortilla chips.
  • 1 tablespoon chopped tomato
  • 1 tablespoon chopped onion - white, yellow, red or green onion
  • 1 tablespoon oil for frying corn tortilla.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Additional veggies to add include: bell pepper, garlic, jalapeno chile (just a 1/4 teaspoon) and the herb, cilantro.

Add a tablespoon of oil to favorite omelet pan. Saute the corn tortilla over medium heat on both sides until stiff and lightly spotted brown. It should only take 2-4 minutes. To speed things up, you can add uncooked tortillas to the scrambled eggs as well. You will lose some of the crisp tortilla texture, but the Migas will still be delish.

While tortilla is cooking chop about a tablespoon of tomato and onion. When tortilla is crisp remove and set aside -- when cool enough break into bite-sized pieces. Add chopped onion and saute until soft, about a couple of minutes.

Now time to bring it all together. Add chopped tomato, any other optional veggies listed above, plus eggs and tortilla pieces.

Scramble egg to desired doneness, about 3-5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Ready to eat when eggs are firm. Top Migas with your favorite salsa and hot sauce to kick it up a notch.

This is an easy recipe to make for the family, just double or quadruple the ingredients. And adjust the tortilla-to-egg ratio to suit your taste; if you like more eggs, then use half the amount of tortilla. Same thing with the veggies, just add enough to taste, and work with the amount you have on hand.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tacos El Primo - Cheap$kate Dining Video Review

There is nothing better than a neighborhood Latin taqueria.
I have an excellent one nearby. Last month I reviewed Leo's Taco Truck that rated a perfect 9 on my Cheap$kate Dining scale for their perfectly done Al Pastor Tacos. This month I'll turn you on to a local outdoor taqueria that makes a top notch Buche and Tripas Taco, for only a buck apiece. I'm fortunate to live near Tacos El Primo.

This nocturnal noshing oasis is a dining jewel located in an alleyway. Open from about 6pm to midnight, you park on the street and walk up to an outdoor grill with a delicious selection of slow simmering cuts of beef and pork. Under wraps in metal heating trays are Lengua (tongue,) Chicken, Cabaza (skull meat,) and Carne Asada (beef steak).

Anchoring the flattop cooking range on one side is a flaming trompo stacked with marinating Al Pastor pork, and on the other side is a bubbling cauldron laden with Chorizo (sausage,) Carne Asada (steak,) Buche (pork stomach,) and Tripas (beef intestine.)

I've been going for the Buche and Tripas $1 Tacos lately, and that's what on my Cheap$kate Dining Video at the end of this post. I've had plenty of conventional Carne Asada (beef steak) and Carnitas (pork) Tacos, so it was only a matter of time until I began going to the offal side: Lengua (tongue,) Buche (stomach,) and Tripas (intestine.) Tongue, or Lengua, has the strongest organ meat flavor, but Buche and Tripas are surprisingly mild in comparison -- there is just a slight liver-like flavor to contend with.

When I ordered my Tripas Taco, Oscar, who took my dollar, asked "crispy?" I didn't know you could request crispy Tripas. Well, it's a delicious combination to have crunchy, intensely flavored bits, that are studded on tender cylinders of pliant protein.

Like al dente macaroni, Tripas are thin, short tubes with a slight chew. (If you are easily queasy, the Tripas texture could throw you off, but once you get used to it, you may start to order one often.)

I also got a Buche Taco. Buche is also chopped, and similar in texture to Thai flat noodles -- very tender and delicate. (It takes hours of cooking to get them pliable enough to eat.) The flavor is very similar to Tripas, with just less chew and crunch.

Both tacos by El Primo are deliciously done and score high marks from this Frugal Forager. So, to see the Cheap$kate Dining rating of 1 to 9, 9 being best, just watch the video below for an "offally" tasty review.

If you are stuck on the 10 freeway between 6pm and midnight, just exit South on La Brea Avenue, turn on the next street, Adams Boulevard, travel West a couple of blocks to Redondo Blouvard, look North and there you will see a taqueria that does street tacos right. And tell them The 99 Cent Chef sent you.

Tacos El Primo - VIDEO

Play it here, video runs 3 minutes, 32 seconds.

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

Tacos El Primo
In Los Angeles (Mid-City neighborhood,) they are near the intersection of Redondo Boulevard and Adams Boulevard, depending on construction in the neighborhood. 

Hours: about 6pm to 11pm, Sunday to Thursday; and 6pm to Midnight, Friday and Saturday.
Street parking on Adams or Redondo Blvds.
99 thanks to the cooks at Tacos El Primo: Luis, Hector, Oscar & Juan

Monday, April 1, 2013

Carne Asada (Steak) Taco

Taco Month is extended into April! That means another Cheap$kate Dining Taqueria video review and a taco truck recipe favorite, Carne Asada Tacos.

Probably the most popular of tacos, Carne Asada has been adapted by American fast food conglomerates into cheaper ground beef tacos. But the American taco pails by comparison.

 Taqueria and Taco Truck version

The Mexican version uses more expensive steak for their tacos and the price is usually a dollar to a buck twenty-five at most taco trucks -- a great cheapskate deal. And now the Border Crossing Chef will guide you through the simple steps of making your own. I also include a tasty marinade recipe for the steak.

Steak tacos from the Chintzy Chef? Well it can only happen because I find one dollar three ounce rib-eye steaks at my local market and sometimes in 99c Only Stores. This small, but tasty steak, makes enough for a couple of Carne Asada Tacos.

In  Latin markets they sell "flap" meat, which is thin sliced and ready to marinate. (In Latin Market meat deli cases they also have steak in the marinade, that's ready for the grill.) At regular markets you can use skirt or flank steak.

A marinade of oil, lime juice, onion, garlic, cumin and cilantro is used to flavor the steak. As for the grilling, I've seen it done a couple of ways. Mainly it's done on a flat top grill (typical stove top) or the best way, over an open flame. 

For the taco preparation it's really simple, just chop up the steak when done, add to a warm tortilla and top with chopped onion and cilantro, your favorite salsa, or my Pico de Gallo (recipe here.)

Unlike my previous taco recipes from last month, slow cooking Carnitas and fatty Chiccarones (fried pork skin), my version of Carne Asada Tacos are quick to make and easier on the palate.

Ingredients (2 tacos)
  • 3 - 5 ounces of steak - I used a $1 thin sliced rib-eye steak. In Latin markets you can use flap meat. At regular markets Carne Asada is made with thin sliced flank or skirt steak.
  • 1 green onion - roughly chopped. Okay to use a tablespoon of chopped white or yellow onion.
  • A few sprigs of cilantro - roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garlic - chopped fresh or from jar.
  • Juice of 1/2 lime - or use 1 teaspoon from plastic bottle. Okay to substitute with lemon juice or white vinegar. Some recipes call for orange juice for a sweeter marinade, okay to add some or just substitute, instead of lime juice.
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil - or a favorite tasty oil.
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste. 

Chop cilantro, garlic and green onion. Add to a wide shallow bowl. Squeeze in lime juice and pour in olive oil. Season with cumin, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Add steak and coat both sides. Allow to marinate at least half an hour in the refrigerator. But don't marinate for more than a hour as the acidic citrus juice will start to cook the steak.

Before you cook the Carne Asada have all your taco toppings ready to serve. While the meat is cooking you can heat up the corn tortillas for tacos, or flour tortilla for a burrito. Go hear for my homemade Pico de Gallo salsa. Of course, you can use your favorite jarred salsa. A simple combination of chopped onion, cilantro and a slice of avocado is a great taco topping.

You can grill the Carne Asada several ways. I fired up the BBQ grill and cooked one side until charred, then flipped it over and finished cooking it for 30 seconds or so until done. (If you cook each side for the same amount of time then the steak will not char well, so better to have one side cooked perfectly.)

Most street taqueras just grill the marinated beef on a flat top grill. So you could just fry up the steak in a hot frying pan.

Finally a nice method is to use the oven broiler. You get a good char and it's convenient. Again I would broil one side until well charred then flip the steak and finish cooking it through for a few seconds more.

However you cook the Carne Asada, chop it up just before serving.

If you want to feed the family Carne Asada Tacos then you will need to get a large piece of steak, like thin sliced flank or skirt. You could use sirloin or tri-tip but will need to slice the large steaks thinner. An easy way is to semi-freeze the pieces for an hour or so in the freezer to firm up the meat to make slicing easier.

If you are just frying up the steak on your stove top you could chop up the meat into bite-sized pieces first -- that's the way they do it at most taco trucks and taquerias.

This Carne Asada marinade works well for cheaper chicken and pork.

As for the marinade ingredients just increase the amounts: juice of 2-4 limes, 1/2 bunch of cilantro, about 4 whole green onions (or 1/2 white or yellow onion), 1/4 cup of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of garlic, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and salt and pepper to taste.

I like to heat my tortillas in another frying pan over a medium heat for a minute on each side until soft and pliable. You could also microwave tortillas for 30 seconds or so.

You can make a burrito instead of a taco. Just heat up a can of pinto beans and make my  Mom's Mexican Rice (recipe here.)

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