Living well on a budget, without being truly cheap.

Grilling Good Eats Chapter 12 - Sauces, Marinades, Seasoning, Pantry Items

Chapter 12 - Sauces, Marinades, Seasoning, Pantry Items

Mike ThayerGrilling Good Eats

by Mike Thayer

Even if you aren't an experienced griller, there's no excuse for food that's underseasoned.  That's why I'm starting off this chapter with what to stock in your pantry.  You might wonder what a pantry has to do with grilling.....  FLAVOR!  Remember, we're talking creating layers of flavor, cooking over a fire is one layer, a type of wood is another layer, and sauces, marinades and seasonings enhance and add to those great grilled layers!  With a well stocked pantry, you can create virtually any kind of sauce, marinade or dry rub you can think of. 


Food Review: Casey's Pizza is reliably good

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

If you're traveling for business, vacationing, or just taking an impromptu road trip and you find yourself craving some pizza, Casey's General Store is a reliably good option to satisfy that craving.

In the time it takes to refuel your vehicle, go to the bathroom and get yourself a fountain drink, you can order and pickup a large pizza that in my humble opinion, is better than anything you might get at a Little Caesar's (YUCK!), Pizza Hut (Inconsistent & SLOW delivery), or Papa John's (Eh).

Casey's General Store Pizza
Casey's Pizza

I was on vacation recently and in the mood for pizza.  I was in small town Missouri, so my options were few.  Seeking out a local Mom & Pop to try, I found none, the only choices available were national chains.  Given my options, without hesitation, I decided on a pizza from Casey's General Store. 

Their advertising slogan is true, they are known for their pizza.  Why?  Because it's reliably good, it's ready in 10 - 15 minutes and it's reasonably priced.  My large pepperoni and mushroom pizza cost me $11 and some change and it hit the spot.   The pizza maker was a bit skimpy with the mushrooms but I did get pepperoni in each bite, there was a generous portion of cheese and the crust was baked to perfection. 

Casey's pizza gets three out of five Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  It would have scored four stars with more mushrooms.  And yes, there is better, fancier and with that, higher priced pizza out there, but when a local/Mom & Pop pizza shop isn't available, know that Casey's is reliably good and you can't beat the convenience.  Gas up, clean the windshield, relieve yourself, get a fountain drink and a satisfying carry-out pizza, all in about 10 - 15 minutes.  One stop on-the-road shopping before heading to the hotel.

3 stars

Spend Wisely My Friends.....


Drink Review: Piehole Whiskey - Apple Pie

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Blended and flavored whiskeys are red hot right now, consumer demand for brown spirits continues to rise with American Whiskey in particular seeing some phenomenal sales growth. 

Regular readers know that I am a fan of flavored whiskey, I've always got a bottle of something in my freezer for a chilled shot or flavored specialty in the liquor cabinet to enjoy on the rocks. You can get just about any flavor paired up with whiskey, peach, pecan, spiced, vanilla and more, but the most popular seems to be apple.

Always looking for a new flavored whiskey to sample, I bought a bottle of Piehole Apple Pie Whiskey to enjoy while on vacation.

I've sampled Revel Stoke Apple Whiskey, which was good and I've sampled Yukon Jack Jacapple, which was even better. Both of those are repeat buys.

Piehole Apple Pie Whiskey
Piehole Apple Pie Whiskey

So how was the Piehole Apple Pie Whiskey you ask?

It's not just apple flavored, but apple pie flavored, yes, really.  When buying it I feared it might be overly sweet, but it's not.  It's got the fruity apple note you expect, but bonus - Piehole kicks things up a notch with a very nicely balanced element of a baked pie, an image of a fresh out-of-the oven pie crust dusted with that touch of cinnamon dances in your head when throwing back a shot of this stuff.  This is a very nice flavored whiskey with a smooth, warm finish.  No chaser needed.

Piehole Apple Pie Whiskey gets four out of five Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  Costing around $16 a bottle, it's a repeat buy, it's good, but not quite as good as Yukon Jack Jacapple, which remains my favorite apple flavored whiskey.

4 stars

Spend Wisely My Friends.....


Food Review: Hardee's Mushroom Swiss Burger

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

It can be kind of tough while on a road trip trying to find something a little bit different from the typical burger, slice of pizza or deli sandwich to have for lunch.

Having a little vacation time and spending that on a private lake in Missouri, I stopped in a Hardees for lunch after catching a few fish and decided their mushroom Swiss burger would be a nice change of pace.

The Hardee's website describes the burger as:  1/3lb. charbroiled 100% Black Angus beef patty, topped with melted Swiss and finished with mushrooms, now on a Fresh Baked Bun.

Hardee's Mushroom Swiss Burger
Hardee's Mushroom Swiss Burger

This burger was stellar, the Black Angus beef patty was cooked to perfection, nice and juicy, the cheese was melted nicely, there was an ample amount of mushrooms, but what put this sandwich over the top was the sauce!  I'm here to tell you, the only thing Hardee's is missing with its burgers is a beer menu, because they crank out some really nice burgers, but the price for that upscale flavor is a bit high, we're talking fast food after all.  Both the Hardee's Frisco and the Mushroom Swiss are nice change of pace burgers. 

I paid $9 and change for a combo meal and with that in mind, the fries were very tasty, just out of the fryer, seasoned well, those slightly skin-on fries being an excellent compliment to the saucy burger that I didn't want to put down. 

The Hardee's Mushroom & Swiss Burger, like the Frisco, gets three out of five Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  Tasty, but a bit pricey, for nearly $10, I just need a beer to go with that burger.

3 stars



Hotel Review: Family Budget Inn

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

I recently treated myself to a vacation, four days of fishing fun on a lake. But unlike last time, roughing it in a tent and having to pack things up early with the threat of a golf ball size hail storm looming, on this trip I got a hotel room.

There were several budget-minded hotel chains to choose from in the Bethany, Missouri area I was vacationing in and after doing some online homework, I went with the Family Budget Inn.  I've never stayed at one before, the online reviews were positive, the amenities looked great and the most important thing, the price was right!

20180912_144314I got my room, a queen size bed, microwave, mini-fridge for just $50.50 a night!  And I did my room reservation direct with the hotel.  Part of my research was seeing how cheap I could get using those "low price" outfits like Travelocity, and Priceline, but the best they could do was match the already low Family Budget Inn price, so why bother with a site like Expedia, which can lead to getting pummeled with unwanted travel "extras" in your email for car rentals, plane tickets, etc.  In my humble opinion, the ONLY thing those booking sites are good for is to find hotels and compare prices for the area you'll be staying in.  But once you find what you're looking for, do the actual reservation direct with the hotel.

The Family Budget Inn I stayed at was very clean, the room was huge, the bed was comfortable, the staff was super friendly and all the amenities measured up as viewed online.  The location was super convenient too, just off Interstate 35, I had easy access to several gas station/convenience stores, a number of restaurants, a Walmart and my favorite store - a Dollar Tree!

Family Budget Inn
Best room rate in town

The Family Budget Inn, located in Bethany, Missouri gets five out of five Bachelor on the Cheap stars!  You just can't beat everything you get in a room at this place for $50 a night.  Three key words to remember, clean, quiet, comfortable!

5 stars

Spend Wisely My Friends.....



Pizza on the Grill - Grilling Good Eats

Grilled Pizza

If you are a big time pizza fan like me, then you will truly appreciate how a grill brings additional flavor to an already fantastic dish.  I dare you to compare what you can do on a grill, to a wood fired brick oven pizza.  The key to doing pizza on a grill, is not unlike stir fry, you need to have all your ingredients lined up and ready to go, 'grillside'.   Get your dough, olive oil, all your toppings and grill tools at the ready.  I like to use pre-made dough bought from a pizza place, yes, most joints will sell you pizza dough balls.   Store bought stuff is fine too and of course, making your own is an option if you have a good pizza dough recipe.


  • Pizza dough, personal pan sized, thin crust, as many or as few as you like
  • Olive oil for brushing the dough
  • Pizza sauce, home made is great, but jar/canned sauce is fine too
  • Your favorite meat (pre-cooked) and/or veggie toppings
  • Cheese, lots of cheese....


  • A brush
  • Tongs
  • Spatula
  • Cookie sheets, to use in sauce/topping prep


Remember, the key here is to have everything at the ready to craft your pizzas and space to prep them, you can't walk away from the grill to go get something from the kitchen.  In your grill set up, you want to have a hot spot and an indirect heat spot and make sure to oil the cooking grate.  Brush olive oil on both sides of your dough - shaped into personal pizza pan sized crusts - place them over direct heat.  It's only going to take about a minute or two to give you those great grill marks and pick up some of that great charcoal flavor, so don't walk away!  Peek at the underside with tongs and flip with a spatula after that first minute or two, or until good grill marks are achieved.  Get some good grill marks on the second side and remove from the grill and place on the cookie sheets.  Put on the sauce, your favorite pizza toppings, a load of cheese and return those crusts to the cooking grate, on the indirect heat part of the grill.   Put the lid on, just long enough to melt that cheese until it's golden brown and delicious and that crust picks up some more of that great charcoal flavor, about 5-7 minutes.  Enjoy!


Shopping for truck tires with a budget in mind

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

When I bought my 1992 Ford F-150 three years ago, she had 112,000 miles on her and about a half life left on a set of Goodyear Wrangler tires, which are rated as a 50k tire. 

Pushing 136,000 miles now, 'ol Nellie needs a new pair (set) of shoes!

I've been impressed by the ride and treadwear of the Goodyear Wrangler.  It's considered to be a tire that falls into the 'budget' category of tires, and while a new set of Wranglers was definitely on my shopping list, I was open to other budget-friendly tires without sacrificing quality.

The shopping criteria was $90 - $125 per tire, all terrain, rated for at least 50,000 miles.  Sure, I could get tires cheaper than $90 each, but they would be rated under 50k....  For those of you that live in Valley Center, that means a properly maintained 50k rated tire is expected to last about 50,000 miles.  Quality truck tires start at $90 and up.  I'm budget-minded, not cheap. 

Now 'ol Nellie is a 2WD, she drives a lot of city miles, a fair amount of highway miles, a few country miles, hauls a load once in awhile and needs to navigate roads for all conditions, wet, dry, muddy, slushy, snowy.

Here's the homework/evaluation info, starting with what I'm already familiar with first:

Goodyear WranglerGoodyear Wrangler:  All Terrain, 50K, $96 per tire - Cost for 4 prior to install:  $384.  As stated earlier, I like how they ride, I've been impressed by the tread wear and I'm not bothered by any tread noise.  Wranglers have gotten me through all kinds of weather and on all kinds of road surfaces.

Firestone DestinationFirestone Destination:  All Terrain, 50K, $116 per tire - Cost for 4 prior to install:  $464.  I'd be shelling out another $80 for a set of four of these tires vs. the Wrangler, that's almost another tire in price!  And for the same mileage rating of 50k?  No thanks.  I dismissed this tire on price alone, outright.  The tread pattern, the ride, the road noise, all became irrelevant, immediately.

BF GoodrichBF Goodrich Advantage TA:  All Terrain, 65K, $114 per tire - Cost for 4 prior to install:  $456.  This tire isn't quite as expensive as Firestone's and it has a better mileage rating.  But is another 15,000 miles worth the extra $72?  Will I even still be driving 'ol Nellie at that point?  Shhhhhh, don't tell her I said that!  And is this tread pattern aggressive enough for all terrain needs?  If this tire can't throw a little mud, I have no use for it.

Cooper DiscovererCooper Discoverer:  All Terrain, 55K, $123 per tire - Cost for 4 prior to install:  $492.  This is the most expensive tire of those evaluated.  I would be paying out $108 more for a set of four of these tires vs. the Goodyear Wrangler...  Not only is the price of a tire far higher, but it's for just 5k more in a tire rating.  No thanks, and like the BF Goodrich tire, I don't see this tread pattern as being aggressive enough for all terrain.

General GrabberGeneral Grabber:  All Terrain, 60k, $99 per tire - Cost for 4 prior to install:  $396.  The price is attractive, so is the tread pattern and for just $3 more per tire vs. the Wrangler I could get another 10,000 miles in tread wear....  But the online reviews steered (get it, 'steered'?) me away from buying this tire.

The online reviews for all the tires researched were all over the map, from ratings of 1 to 5, a 5 being the best.  In reading some of those low ratings however, I have to question the knowledge of the buyers, saying things like the tread didn't last long, already gone after 11,000 miles.... That's horse manure!  Hey Sherlock, perhaps you need an alignment and try checking your tire pressure once in awhile!  Tire ratings for mileage are pretty accurate folks, something you can count on - IF you take care of your tires! 

I take caution in putting too much stock into online reviews - they include bad ratings from stupid people who don't know what an alignment is, for example - but overall, they do provide a gauge of sorts in prepping for a purchase and a number of VALID negative reviews on a specific product can raise some red flags.  A higher average rating is a good thing but be sure to look at the number of reviews.  Volume matters, the more, the better.  Don't take a high average rating with only 12 reviews too seriously.  Here's how the online rating averages stack up from a variety of review sources to compile at least 100 reviews (1=sucks, 5=great):

  • Goodyear Wrangler: 4.9
  • Firestone Destination: 4.8
  • Cooper Discoverer: 4.6
  • BF Goodrich Advantage TA: 4.2
  • General Tire Grabber: 3.7

Why was the General Tire Grabber so low in the online reviews you ask?  For the most part, the negative reviews were about the rough ride and tread noise.

So which tire did I decide on?

The Goodyear Wrangler.  The price was right, the reviews were good, confirming what I already knew about Wranglers.

'ol Nellie has a new pair (set) of shoes and she looks PURDY!




Spend Wisely My Friends.....

Drink Review: Jesse James Spiced Whiskey

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Blended and flavored whiskeys are red hot right now, consumer demand for brown spirits continues to rise with American Whiskey in particular seeing some phenomenal sales growth. 

Regular readers know that I am a fan of flavored whiskey, I've always got a bottle of something in my freezer for a chilled shot or flavored specialty in the liquor cabinet to enjoy on the rocks.  My favorite in all this tasting fun so far, has been Revel Stoke Spiced, which ironically, is Canadian.  So in shopping around for something in an American version, I bought a bottle of Jesse James Spiced Whiskey.

Jesse James Spiced Whiskey
NOT a repeat buy

This is a straight bourbon whiskey blended with vanilla, cinnamon and clove flavors according to the Jesse James Spirits website.  They need to go back to the drawing board.  This whiskey is WAY too spice forward.  The nose when you swirl a neat glass is OK, but the taste is sharp and the finish is harsh rather than warm.  I didn't enjoy this whiskey neat, I didn't enjoy it on the rocks, I don't care for it as a chilled shot.  Like the Evan Williams Peach, this is a bad whiskey that will remain in chill status and might - key word 'might' - be used as a topping for some vanilla bean ice cream. 

Jesse James Spiced Whiskey is a sub-standard flavored blend and is NOT a repeat buy.  In my opinion this is a case of a whiskey provider rushing out a questionable product for the money grab.  Costing about $15 a bottle, it's wallet friendly but NOT friendly on the palate.  I'm giving Jesse James Spiced Whiskey two stars.   Revel Stoke Spiced is WAY better and will continue to be my go-to for a spiced Whiskey.

2 stars

Spend Wisely My Friends.....


Pizza Roll Battle: Totino's vs. Store Brand vs. Discount Brand

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Without question, pizza rolls, along with nachos, are in my top 5 list of favorite snacks.   Pizza rolls are that perfect little bite of pepperoni pizza, they're convenient, they're budget friendly.... tasty, tasty, tasty......  And who doesn't like pizza rolls?  Break out a bag from the freezer, pop them in the oven, please yourself, make it a snack for two, or please the party crowd.....

I always have a bag or two of pizza rolls in the freezer, be the bag for me or an impromptu party snack.   But who makes the best pizza roll?  Is it the name brand, or are the store/discount brands just as good? 

Pizza Rolls
The Pizza Roll Battle

For this pizza roll battle, I purchased the predominant player in pizza rolls, Totino's; a store brand version, in this case Kroger; and a discount brand called Mama Cozzi's, a.k.a., Aldi.  How 'bout that for a marketing name huh?  Mama Cozzi's....?  Sort of cozy like, comfort + Italian sounding....  Somebody was thinking.....  But I digress....

I compared price, weight, the look, roll size and taste. 

Pizza Roll #1, the name brand - Totino's:

Totino's has been in the pizza roll business since 1951, then known as Jeno's Pizza rolls, which got bought out by Pillsbury in 1985 and was rebranded as Totino's.  Back in the day, I remember Mom letting us have an occasional snack/dinner night featuring Jeno's pizza rolls and other delights.  Pizza rolls really haven't changed much over the years - if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? - and Totino's remains the King of the Pizza Roll hill. 

Price:  $2.99 for a 19.8 ounce bag

Pizza Roll Snacks
Ready for the oven

Breaking that price down it comes out to 15.1 cents per ounce.  Why 19.8 ounces and not 20 ounces like the other brands?  Only Totino's can answer that.  Maybe Totino's is the more accurate number, who knows, it's just an odd weight....  For the look, roll size and taste factors, I'll summarize all three pizza roll brands in a bit.

Pizza Roll #2, store brand - Kroger:

Price:  $2.79 for a 20 ounce bag

Surprisingly, the store brand isn't all that much cheaper.  Sure, it's a bigger bag, but only by two ounces - so what.  The cost breaks down to 13.9 cents per ounce.  Looks like this challenge will come down to the taste!

Pizza Roll #3, discount brand - Mama Cozzi's, a.k.a., Aldi:

Price: $2.39 for a 20 ounce bag

At $2.39 for a 20 ounce bag, that breaks down to 11.95 cents per ounce, that's the cheapest of the lot.  It's not a significant savings, we're talking pizza rolls after all, a cheap snack food no matter how you shake it out.  Taste will dictate this story.

Pizza Roll Battle
Out of the oven, golden brown and... delicious?

OK, so we've talked price and weight, now it's time for the look, roll size and most importantly, the taste. 

I put six (serving size suggestion) of each brand of pizza rolls on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven at 425 degrees.  The serving size and baking directions for each brand was essentially the same. In a side by side, by side comparison, the Totino's is the smallest of the rolls. In a review of the product ingredients, Totino's had the longest list, to include a lot of stuff that's tough to pronounce....  That's not a good thing, but then again we're talking about processed food which is supposedly bad for you and so if you're eating it to begin with, you don't really care about the list of ingredients, let alone those you can't pronounce....  I don't know about you, but I couldn't give a rat's rear end about the food police.....

All the rolls baked up about the same, you know pizza rolls are done when they brown up and the stuffing starts to ooze out the sides.....  And the labeling aside, no pizza roll looked any different or any more delicious than any other.

As far as taste, the only notable difference was the Mama Cozzi's, which were a bit more oily tasting than the other two.  All rolls had crunch and that classic tomato sauce/pepperoni-ish and cheese flavor that people love in a pizza roll.   And is it just me, or shouldn't pizza rolls come in a bigger size, like the size of a traditional egg roll?  That's were the idea for a pizza roll came from after all.....    For my money, I'm buying the store brand, in this case, Kroger.  It's only a 20 cent savings per bag, but that starts to add up after awhile, buying/saving this and that... 

Spend Wisely My Friends.....

Pizza Roll Battle
Kroger wins this Pizza Roll Battle

Potato Chip Battle: Ruffles Potato Chips vs. other wavy chips

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

My name is Mike and I'm a chipaholic.......  I always have some sort of bag of chips on hand. Sometimes it's tortilla chips, it might be a bag of BBQ potato chips, heck, it could be pork rinds, but most often it's a bag of wavy/ruffled potato chips.....  THE best kind of potato chip for dipping!  Those ridges, a.k.a., 'waves' are second to none when it comes to grabbing and holding onto that great dip! 

So when it comes to chips, do you pay the premium price for the name brand?

If you do, you might think twice about doing so after reading this article.

20180830_100224For this potato chip battle, I purchased THE name brand, Ruffles (Frito-Lay); a store brand version, in this case Kroger; and a discount brand called Clancy's, a.k.a., Aldi.

I compared price, weight, the look, chip size, taste and the 'dip' factor.....  Does the chip break apart in the dip more often than not?

Chip #1, the name brand - Ruffles:

This chip was almost always available in my house as a kid.  Original Ruffles chips paired with a French Onion dip, what a great snack!  And I'm talking about back in the day, long before all these 'flavored' chips like 'Jalapeno & Ranch' or 'Loaded Baked Potato' came along...  These new renditions kind of take the dipping fun away, don't you think?  But I digress....

Price:  $4.29 for 9 ounces of chips

Ruffles chips
Chip color, pretty much irrelevant

Breaking that price down it comes out to 47.6 cents per ounce.  That may not sound like much but keep reading.....  Check out the chip size, Ruffles has the smallest overall chip size of all.  You would think in paying a premium for this chip, you would get the bigger chips, ideal for dipping......  Hmmmm....  For the taste and dip factor, I'll summarize all three chip brands in a bit.

Chip #2, store brand - Kroger:

Price:  $1.25 for 10 ounces of chips

Look how much cheaper the store brand is, a savings of a whopping $3.04 for a bag of chips!  Breaking that down it's just 12.5 cents per ounce, WAY below the premium price for Ruffles, the name brand.

Chip #3, discount brand - Clancy's, a.k.a., Aldi:

Chip Battle
Ruffles has the smallest chips!

Price: $1.79 for 10 ounces of chips

Again, like the nationally recognized store brand (Kroger), this bag of chips is FAR cheaper than the name brand, a savings of $2.50 for a bag of chips or breaking it down coming in at 17.9 cents per ounce. It is a bit more expensive however than the store brand (Kroger).

So how does the taste and dip factor play out?

When it came to the lo ok, you can see the slight differences in color, but that's inconsequential.  Chip size however IS a distinguishing factor.  Ruffles, the name brand, is the smallest chip overall of the lot.  The Aldi brand, Clancey's, is the biggest chip, favorable to dipping.  And what is the difference between 'Ridges' and 'Waves' you ask?  Although 'Wavy' chips do appear to have a deeper ridges than chips named for 'Ridges'.....  There really is no difference.  All chips tested held dip quite well, but all chip brands tested consisted of some chips breaking off in the dip.  But that's half the fun right?  When dipping chips, you might need another chip to rescue the broken one in the dip!  That's chip/dip fun!

As far as taste, there was no distinguishable difference in any of the chip brands.  They were all tasty, none any more salty than the other, all providing that crunch factor and texture you're looking for in a chip.

Of the three, I recommend Clancy's.  Even though it's a bit higher priced than the store brand, Kroger, it's the bigger chip - better for dipping - and that's why you buy a 'Wavy' and/or 'Ridges' chip.  Don't pay a premium price for a name brand chip that doesn't taste any better and is in fact, a smaller chip!  That's bad for dipping.  If you have been a buyer of the name brand, there's really no reason to continue doing so. Save yourself some money with the discount brand from Aldi or the store brand like Kroger.

Spend Wisely My Friends.....