Living well on a budget, without being truly cheap.

Always having Ramen noodles on hand

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Even if you don't like to indulge in the occasional bowl of Ramen, surely you like noodles.  

Some people eat Ramen purely for budgetary reasons.  Some people truly like it.  Most people fall into a category that includes both, they like Ramen and it's easy on the wallet.

It's all about the noodles.

RamenAnd that's why you need to keep some packages of Ramen on hand, in your pantry at all times.  The flavor doesn't matter, beef, chicken, shrimp, mushroom, whatever.....  You've got instant noodles at the ready for whatever you feel like eating.  I've written before about turning some Ramen noodles into a spaghetti dish, because that was what I was craving.  Today I'm having Chili over some Ramen noodles.

The noodles are great because they only take 3 minutes to cook and it doesn't take a pot full of water to do it.

Like the aforementioned 'spaghetti', other uses for Ramen noodles are:  Crunching up uncooked Ramen noodles to put on a salad; they work great in noodle casseroles of all types; plain, cooked Ramen noodles are fantastic in stir fry; and if you're feeling adventurous, Ramen noodles make a great hamburger bun.  For the most part, any recipe calling for some kind of noodle....  Ramen noodles can be used in a pinch or a twist!

And about those flavor packets... They aren't exclusive to making a bowl of Ramen.  I've got them in surplus in my spice cabinet for any number of uses.  I might use a chicken packet to make a quick chicken broth to braise a pan of chicken breasts with.  I'll use a beef packet to add some punch to a beef gravy.  If I'm making some kind of fish dish, a shrimp packet comes in handy to make a nice quick pan sauce with.  Adding a packet of the mushroom flavor for a cream sauce to pour over that cast iron seared steak is easy and delicious!  If you're not familiar with bouillon cubes, that's essentially what a flavor packet in the package of Ramen is.

Noodle up on some Ramen!  If you're not already a fan, you'll become one.


A batch of chili = many meals

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

ChiliThe definition of chili is pretty broad, that's what makes it so great and one of my top, cold weather, go-to, comfort food meals.  It's easy to prepare and quite versatile.   Fix a small batch for two, or fix a boatload for a crowd.  It's easy!

You can make it hot and spicy, you can make it not-so-much spicy.  You can make it with beans, without beans, one kind of bean or three beans.  You can make a batch of chili with just about any cut of beef.  Make it with ground beef, or cubed sirloin, heck rough chop those two leftover rib-eye steaks in the fridge and put them in the pot.....  My latest venture has been making chili with smoked brisket - YUM!   And don't restrict yourself.  Beef-based chili is great, but so is chicken chili, pork chili and any combination of those.  I haven't tried lamb yet, but it is on the agenda.  You can serve chili over rice (my favorite way to enjoy chili, served over a bed of white sticky rice), have it Cincinnati style over a bed of spaghetti, or dish it up classic style in a bowl topped with saltine crackers.  Have it with crusty bread, corn bread (with honey), top it with diced red onion, or chopped green onion, or shredded cheddar cheese, or sour cream or "Loaded" (Fritos, onion/shredded cheddar/sour cream).  I don't know anyone who doesn't like chili.  Everybody likes at least some kind of chili.

Then there's all the leftover classics and why a batch of chili is SO Bachelor on the Cheap Friendly!  There's chili dogs, chili burritos, chili-mac, chili nachos, chicken chili enchiladas.  Use your imagination, chili salad, chili shepherd's pie, chili tacos and yes, even chili pizza.  That's how versatile and crowd pleasing chili is!  It's easy to prepare, easy to make leftovers with, and most definitely, EASY TO EAT!  If I was a betting man, I would argue that you can do more with leftover chili than you can a Thanksgiving dinner.

Here's my standard chili recipe, not too spicy, but not too bland either.  It's kid AND adult friendly!  The cost to prepare runs around $15, which translates to about $2 a meal, depending on your portion size.

Cast Iron Chili on the Grill

Ingredients

  • Two pounds of ground beef (I like to go lean ground beef here, using a 90/10.  There's a lot less fat to drain off and you don't have to worry about the meat drying out - we're making chili after all. 
  • One large onion, diced
  • Three stalks of celery, chopped
  • Three - four cloves of garlic, minced
  • Two tablespoons chili powder
  • Two teaspoons cumin
  • One teaspoon dried oregano
  • One teaspoon salt
  • One teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cardamom
  • One Tablespoon light brown sugar
  • Two cans of diced tomato, undrained
  • One 6 ounce can of tomato paste
  • Three cans of beans, undrained (I like to use one each of red kidney, chili beans in sauce, and black beans - three beans = more flavor.  Pintos are good too.  Use any three you like.)
  • One cup beef stock
  • One Tablespoon Louisiana Hot Sauce
  • The juice from half a lime
  • And here's the secret ingredient - never make a batch of chili without it - one small can of diced green chilies.  Kids won't even know it's in there.

Directions

In a cast iron Dutch Oven, brown the ground beef over direct heat, drain and set the meat aside.  Saute the onion, celery and chili powder in the dutch oven until the onion starts to appear translucent.  Add the drained ground beef, garlic, cumin, green chilies, beef stock and tomato paste and let that mixture simmer for about 10 minutes, keep an eye on the pot, you may need to slide it a bit more towards the indirect heat side of the grill.  This is going to give you a nice, deep base flavor.  Add in the remaining ingredients, stir to incorporate and let that come up to a slow rolling boil, then if you haven't moved the pot over to the indirect heat side of the grill already, do so now.  Keep the lid off to tease people in the neighborhood with that great aroma for about 20 minutes, or until you reach desired thickness.  Option:  Serve the chili with another squeeze of lime from the remaining half.

THE tip for a truly great chili:  Chili is ALWAYS better the next day.  Sure, chili is really good the day you make it, but letting all those flavors marry over the next 24 hours makes it even more delicious!  Once you get your chili to your desired thickness, refrigerate it.   Reheat it the next day on the stove and serve with any of the suggested styles mentioned above.

Enjoy!

Serves six, with plenty leftover.  I like to add a little extra Louisiana hot sauce along with the lime juice to my bowl...... 

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Affordable Wines

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Dark Horse ChardonnayI'm not much of a beer drinker, although I will have the occasional Miller Lite or perhaps a Killian's Red.  When I do enjoy an adult beverage, it's usually either a mixed drink with blended whiskey or a glass of wine.

I prefer sweeter wines over dry, whites over reds, but each has its place.  What you pair wine with plays a huge part in what you uncork.  Another plus to having a bottle or two of wine in the liquor cabinet is the opportunity to cook with it.  I only recently discovered in the last year or so of doing more cooking for myself (beyond grilling) how wine can really enhance a dish, giving both savory and sweet dishes a whole new level of flavor!

I stick to the rule of cooking only with wines I like to drink.  Why buy a Merlot for example, just because a recipe calls for it?  I don't like to drink it (too dry for my taste, I hate Merlot), so odds are I won't like it in the dish I prepare with it either (it's true, I don't, been there, tried that).

Dark Horse Big Red BlendI like to keep at least one bottle of a white and a bottle of red in my cabinet, in case of company or if cooking calls for it.  My go-to wines are Dark Horse wines, they taste good and the price is right at around $8 - $10 a bottle.  Their line-up is versatile that's Bachelor on the Cheap friendly.  I like everything they offer - except the Merlot of course, I don't like anybody's Merlot - with my top two Dark Horse favorites being the Chardonnay and the Big Red Blend.

Dark Horse wines are indeed reasonably priced and ridiculously good!


Scrambled Egg Hack

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Queso egg scrambleSo you just emptied a jar of Tostitos cheese sauce to make some nachos.....  Don't throw the jar away!

Save it to make some easy, cheesy scrambled eggs for breakfast tomorrow!

Provided you didn't heat the cheese up in the jar, in the microwave (don't blow off the instructions on such jars that say, "Do not put jar in the microwave"), after you've emptied out most of that cheesy goodness to make nachos, put that jar in the fridge.  That's right, a mostly empty jar of cheese, in the fridge. 

Tomorrow for breakfast, take that jar out of the fridge, 'unlid', throw in three eggs, a generous splash of milk, some salt and pepper, put the lid back on and shake the heck out of it.  Boom!  Eggs 'shaken, not stirred' (yep, I went James Bond) with cheese, ready for the saute pan.

You can use any flavor of cheese sauce you want to do this.  The shaken eggs scrambled up with some diced ham, delicious!  Poured over some golden brown, diced potatoes and bacon bits makes for an awesome scramble!  It's excellent just by itself too, simply wrapped with a tortilla.

Don't be so quick to throw that jar away, do a scrambled egg hack!


The 'Living on Appetizers Challenge': A Salmon Log for Dinner

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Can a guy live on just appetizers alone? I'm on day five of preparing, eating and, 'surviving' on appetizers, nothing but.

20170901_182238Tonight, it's a salmon log and crackers for dinner.  I'm taking a 1960's era recipe, updating it to 2017 and making it my own.

A classic salmon log consists of canned salmon, cream cheese, a little lemon juice and a bit of horseradish.  'Fancy' logs back in the day were rolled in pecans or walnuts.  When I saw this at parties as a young'n, I said to myself, "Yuck!"  I ate crackers plain rather than dip into that stuff!

Tastes change as you grow older though, I have to admit I missed out on some new flavor experiences by denying that back in the day salmon log a try, so updating that old school recipe with some more modern ingredients is a must.... 

A Modern Salmon Party Log

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of salmon
  • 1 package of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons dried, minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon horseradish
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • A healthy squirt of Sriracha
  • 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seed for wrapping

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine canned salmon with all ingredients except the sesame seed, mix thoroughly in a food processor to make all the goodness nice and creamy (they didn't have food processors back in the day, probably another reason the 'chunky' variety of log didn't appeal to me).  Lay out a large stretch of plastic wrap, layer with the sesame seed.  Spoon the salmon mixture onto the wrap.  Roll and wrap into a log shape.  Chill for several hours.  Serve with crackers or toasted bread rounds.

This meal cost me about $3 to prepare, VERY Bachelor on the Cheap friendly and I've got plenty of leftovers for a snack later!


The 'Living on Appetizers' Challenge: Pickled Mushrooms & Onions

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Can a guy live on just appetizers alone? I'm on day five of preparing, eating and, 'surviving' on appetizers, nothing but. 

20170831_190739Needing something a little bit different, not fried, not typical bar food, but still an appetizer, I decided on pickled mushrooms and red onion for lunch.  I've pickled onions in the past for sandwiches, but never mushrooms.  The recipe is from my mother's Better Homes & Garden cook book with a few twists from yours truly.

In a small sauce pan, combine 1/3 cup red wine vinegar (I used balsamic), 1/3 cup salad oil (I used olive oil), 1 small white onion (I used red), thinly sliced and separated in rings, 1 teaspoon salt (I used Kosher), 2 teaspoons dried parsley flake, 1 teaspoon prepared mustard (I used brown) and 1 Tablespoon brown sugar (I used light brown).  Bring to a boil, add two 6 ounce cans mushroom crowns (I used fresh, stems removed).  Simmer 5 to 6 minutes (I simmered for 10 minutes in using fresh mushrooms and then let them steep for another 10 minutes).  Chill in a covered bowl for several hours, stirring occasionally (Use a medium sized Tupperware bowl and just shake it, no stirring necessary).  Drain and serve.

20170831_194805These are excellent served with deli sliced roast beef on a Triscuit cracker!  The crunch of the cracker, the savory beef, the slightly sweet yet tart pickled mushroom and onion is another dose of YUM!

This appetizer meal cost me around $4 to prepare, making it Bachelor on the Cheap friendly!  Did it fill me up?  Yes, five nicely topped crackers did the trick just fine, keeping me full for the rest of the work day.

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