Living well on a budget, without being truly cheap.

Food Review: Taco Bell Grilled Cheese Burrito

By Mike Thayer

Taco Bell Grilled Cheese Burrito
Cheese on cheese flavor

Taking a page out of the Wendy's playbook by incorporating cheese into the bread, Taco Bell has introduced a "Grilled Cheese" Burrito.

Wendy's kicked things up a notch in August and took a step ahead of the competition by introducing their Cheddar Bun, featured in a Bacon Cheddar Cheeseburger.  You can check out that review here.  The toasted cheese on the bun has been so popular, Wendy's now features the bun in select chicken sandwiches in addition to the burger option.

Grilled Cheese Burrito
It looks like an ordinary burrito on the underside, but see those hints of cheesy deliciousness?

They say imitation is the best form of flattery, so Taco Bell has flattered Wendy's by imitating that toasted cheese concept and applying it to a tortilla with their Grilled Cheese Burrito.

Here's the description from restaurant's website:  Seasoned beef, nacho cheese sauce, seasoned rice, red strips, creamy chipotle sauce, reduced-fat sour cream, and three-cheese blend wrapped inside a warm flour tortilla, with even more three-cheese blend grilled on the top. 

I liked the flavor the toasted cheese did for the Wendy's Bun, it wasn't picture perfect, but it was good.  Will Taco Bell's imitation also be good?

The answer is yes.

Grilled Cheese Burrito
This thing is stuffed with cheesy goodness

The Grilled Cheese Burrito is cheese flavor on top of cheese flavor.  The burrito is thick, stuffed full of tasty ingredients, not skimpy on portion at all.  Every flavor in this thing combines into a wonderful bite, the cheeses, the seasoned rice, the sour cream, the red strips which despite all that cheese and warmth going on, still had some texture and crunch to them but I suspect they wouldn't have, had I had a longer drive home.  The only knock I've got on the burrito is that the seasoned beef got a bit lost in all that cheese.  I should have ordered extra.  I could say the beef to burrito ratio was a bit unbalanced, but then again, there's no such thing as too much cheese.

Costing me about $3, the Taco Bell Grilled Cheese Burrito is cheesy good, quite satisfying and very wallet friendly.  Enjoying the burrito for lunch, it will carry me to dinner.  I'm giving it 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars and it's definitely worthy of a repeat buy!  Cheese grilled into a tortilla is a very good thing.  Ordering options are available, such as steak, chicken and black bean.  I look forward to trying them all.

4 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...


Food Review: Applebee's Original Cheetos Boneless Wings

By Mike Thayer

Applebee's Cheetos Boneless Wings Marketing Pic
Marketing Image

I saw the Applebee's commercial for the Cheetos Boneless Wings and said to myself, "Self, I have to try those!"   What's not to like?  Fried chicken and Cheetos in the breading?  It sounds like another dose of YUM!

Here's the marketing write-up on the Applebee's website: The Ultimate Collision of Flavor.  SAUCY BONELESS WINGS. CHEESY CHEETOS® GOODNESS.  Taking our Boneless Wings to the next level!  Introducing Cheetos® Boneless Wings, only at Applebee's! A tasty combination of our famous Boneless Wings and cheesy Cheetos®, they're available in both Cheetos® Original and Flamin' Hot®. Get ten saucy wings for only $9.99, and don't forget to try the Cheetos® Cheese Bites — they're available now for a limited time only.

I ordered the regular Cheetos Boneless Wings, I like heat, but opted for the regular version for this review.  My thought is, if I don't like the regular Cheetos Boneless Wings, then I most likely really wouldn't like the Flamin' Hot version.

Applebee's Original Cheetos Boneless Wings
Does NOT look like the marketing pic!

My plate was delivered within about 10 minutes, fast, fresh and hot!  But in looking at the plate and remembering the visual from the commercial on TV, I was more than a bit disappointed in the presentation.  This wasn't chicken completely covered in a generous dusting of Cheetos like in the marketing images, this was some rather roughly crushed up Cheetos randomly mixed in the regular Applebee's breading, almost like an afterthought...  as in...

Cook:  "Oh Shit, I almost forgot to toss in some Cheetos!"

The real product does NOT resemble the marketing picture....  It's not even close.  That's not a dusting of Cheetos blended in with and complimenting the Applebee's breading, that's a corn in your stool presentation.  I don't think the folks at Cheetos, or the upper management at Applebee's are going to be pleased with this pic.

So now that you have a corn in your stool visual in your head, "How does it taste?" you ask?...

Yes, in the name of food science, I proceeded to taste.

Cheetos Wings
Occasional chunks of Cheetos, rather than a blended breading

Served with some Ranch dressing to dip in, these are good, but not great.  The chicken nuggets - let's be honest, that's really what they are - the chicken was juicy and tender, the breading itself was seasoned well, had an overall decent crunch and I got the Cheetos flavor in the nuggets where the Cheetos CHUNKS obviously stand out, but make no mistake, this is not at all the kind of bite the marketing hype lures in you in for.  What Applebee's served me amounts to some decent chicken nuggets with some occasional cheesy Cheetos flavor, but it comes up well short in delivering Cheetos flavor in every bite.  Another downer, look at the grease with the presentation, note the color.  That's Cheetos chunks yellow, the chunks - rather than an even breaded coating like in the marketing pic - absorbed the oil which made the Cheetos a bit heavy and soggy, rather then adding crispness to the chicken.

Cheetos Boneless Wings
'Cheetos Grease' making the Cheetos soggy

Costing me $10 for 10 'wings', er NUGGETS, I'm giving Applebee's Original Cheetos Boneless Wings just 2 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  What I was served does NOT live up to the marketing hype and for $10 I expected to be wowed a bit with what is supposed to be an elevated dish.  This is NOT a repeat buy.

2 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...

 


Food Review: Burger King Italian Chicken Sandwich

By Mike Thayer

Burger King Italian Original Chicken Sandwich
Burger King bringing back a classic in fighting the Chicken Sandwich War

When reviewing Burger King's New Ch'King Sandwich the other day - you can read that review here - I saw that Burger King has also brought back a classic from yesteryear, The Italian Original Chicken Sandwich.  Seeing it on the drive through menu, I knew I was going to make a return trip in the name of 'food nostalgia.'

The Italian Original Chicken Sandwich first appeared on the BK menu way back in 1979.  The sandwich consists of an elongated, breaded white meat chicken patty, dressed with marinara sauce, topped with melted mozzarella cheese and served on a sesame seed bun.   Burger King has rolled out this sandwich in addition to introducing their new Ch'King Sandwich in fighting the Chicken Sandwich War.

Italian Chicken Sandwich
Chicken Parmesan in a sandwich

I had a few Italian Chicken Sandwiches back in the day, it was a classic favorite from the pre-chicken-sandwich-war period, but Burger King took it off the menu in 2014.

I liked the sandwich back in the day and I still like it today.  Despite being a processed chicken patty, it is white meat, it was fried to perfection and the light breading provided a nice crunch in each bite before hitting the tender, juicy, chicken.  The marinara sauce is a good one and the mozzarella was melted nicely.  Topped with that sesame seed bun, this is Chicken Parmesan in sandwich form.

Italian Original Chicken Sandwich
The under the lid look

Part of BK's "2 for $6" lineup, which also includes the Whopper, Chicken Fries, and the Big Fish sandwich, I'm giving Burger King's Italian Original Chicken Sandwich 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  It is a chicken sandwich original, it's got the Chicken Parmesan flavor working, it very reasonably priced in the 2 for $6 deal and it's a repeat buy.  It's available now nationwide but only for a limited time.  It was fun to take a trip down Chicken Sandwich Nostalgia Lane, this sandwich is still a good bite!

4 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...

 

 


Food Review: Burger King Ch'King Sandwich

By Mike Thayer

20211127_122621Back in June, I wrote about the Chicken Sandwich War going on in fast food and who makes the best chicken sandwich.

That sandwich war is still happening and Burger King has re-grouped on the battlefront with a new weapon.

Introducing the Burger King Ch'King

Burger King kicks things up a notch with a bigger chicken breast filet, better breading, bread and butter pickles, a nice mayo - a blend of mayo and honey mustard - and all served up on a potato bun.    

20211127_122636I reviewed what Burger King was serving up at the time back in June as part of the Chicken Sandwich War Challenge and I was NOT impressed.  The Burger King chicken sandwich was the second worst sandwich sampled.  But this sandwich?  MUCH IMPROVED!

Thank you for stepping up your game Burger King! 

20211127_122649The chicken was fried to perfection, it was crispy, tender, juicy and the meat to bun ratio was SO MUCH BETTER than what BK used to serve up.  It still wasn't chicken extending beyond the borders of the bun like Popeye's, but still, MUCH improved over what BK has served in the past. All the flavors on this sandwich were on point, with the breading delivering a nice crunch, the pickles providing some twang, the mayo has been elevated as well and bringing it all together is that potato bun, light and fluffy with a complimentary chew.  The only real knock I have on this sandwich was that it was a bit under seasoned.  Overall, a pleasantly robust chicken sandwich.

20211127_122653Costing me $5, I'm giving the Burger King Ch'King Sandwich 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  BK has 'upped' their game in this chicken sandwich war.  Their sandwich isn't as good as Popeye's, but it's a very respectable plan B and worthy of a repeat buy.

4 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...


Samuel Adams Jack-O Pumpkin Ale for Thanksgiving

By Mike Thayer

Samuel Adams Jack-O Pumpkin Ale
A great beer to have on hand for Thanksgiving

So I had a housewarming party just before Halloween and in stocking the bar for the party, I picked up some beer to compliment the other adult beverages and I selected the "Sweater Weather" variety pack from Sam Adams.  I'm a Sam Adams fan, and included in this variety pack is their Jack-O. It's a pumpkin beer, perfect for the season.

Here's the Sam Adams description:  Perfect fall beer.  Cinnamon and nutmeg aromas and the ideal balance of seasonal spices with a crisp, refreshing finish.  Jack-O Pumpkin Ale pairs perfectly with the move to cooler days and autumn nights.

This is indeed a refreshing beer and for the beer drinkers at my party, it was the beer of choice.  I've even tried this beer in a bratwurst preparation in par-boiling brats before grilling.  The beer is a bit on the sweet side and delivered those pumpkin spice notes for a very nice change of pace grilled brat.  Topped with melted brie cheese and a pumpkin spice aioli, it was another dose of YUM!

Costing me about $17 for the Samuel Adams Sweater Weather Variety 12 Pack, I'm giving Samuel Adams Jack-O Pumpkin Ale 4 out of 5 stars.  It's a really nice seasonal beer that satisfies and pairs well with meat & cheese trays, bacon wrapped appetizers, or even dessert with a sweet potato pie.  Make this beer a part of your Thanksgiving holiday celebration.

4 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...

 


Food Review: Member's Mark California Pistachios

By Mike Thayer

Member's Mark California Pistachios Dry Roasted with Sea Salt
Just 65 cents per serving!

In another effort to get away from eating too many chip snacks, I recently picked up a three pound bag of pistachios at Sam's Club. Nuts are a nice alternative to chips because not only do they deliver some nice texture and a bit of crunch, they provide some protein and don't have near the volume of carbs that chips do.  And out of all the nut varieties there are out there, pistachios are my favorite and not just because of the flavor they deliver.  You get 6 grams of protein and only 8 grams of carbs per serving, a GREAT alternative to those dreaded chips.

Member's Mark (the Sam's Club brand) California Pistachios, dry roasted and with sea salt are quite tasty and while it does take a bit of effort to crack a lot of pistachios to make a snack, they are well worth the effort in cracking a whopping 49 nuts per serving.  What a satisfying snack!  When buying big bags of pistachios like this, I prefer getting pistachios in the shell rather than already shelled, because they stay fresher longer.  Member's Mark pistachios are of high quality as well.  Some brands include a lot of shells that you can't open or are empty, with Member's Mark dud shells are at an absolute minimum, more pistachio nut bang for your buck.

20211121_191601Costing me $14.98 for that three pound bag, I'm giving Member's Mark California Pistachios Dry Roasted with Sea Salt 5 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  With 23 servings per bag, that breaks down to just 65 cents per snack!  Pistachios are cheaper than chips and more delicious.  Becoming a go-to in my snack routine, Member's Mark Pistachios are wallet friendly and a repeat buy!

5 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...

Tip:  Having a Christmas or New Year's Party? An inexpensive treat you can make available to your guests are small bowls of pistachios placed strategically about.  It's a no fuss appetizer!  And if you don't want to deal with shell clean up, already shelled pistachios are the way to go. 


Shopping for fireplace tools

By Mike Thayer

Fireplace tool setI recently made the transition from apartment dweller, to house dweller.  My new digs has a working, wood fireplace which is awesome, but fireplace tools and a log holder aren't items I already owned.

I didn't need anything fancy, just the basics, a shovel for ashes, a broom to sweep them up, a poker to stoke the fire and a log turning tool.  And no fireplace set up is complete, without a log holder of some kind to neatly stack fuel for the fire.

And side note:  So we 'shovel' with a shovel, we 'rake' with a rake, but we 'sweep' with a broom?  What's up with that?  Why don't we 'broom' with a broom?  But I digress...

Buying pieces separately turned out to be cost prohibitive, $8 for a shovel, $10 for a broom, $12 for a poker and $15 for a log turning tool and then I'd still be left with buying a log bin which ranged in price from $35 to $129!  I looked at tool kits with stands and those ranged in price from $26 clear up to $189.  Wow, $189, not exactly a wallet friendly price and the lower end priced tool sets were all missing one or two of the tools I desired.  Everything I was looking at was already assembled which was appealing, but then I found a kit at Lowe's that required some assembly, had everything I needed and was reasonably priced.

Score!

KD Fireplace SetCosting me $69, the KD Log Bin with Tool Set took only 10 minutes to assemble.  The tools and bin are made of steel and done in a powder coated black finish.  It's a good looking piece and does everything I need in a fireplace set.  I'm giving the KD Log Bin with Tool Set 5 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars, it's a quality fireplace set and easy to assemble with clear instruction on how to do so. 

5 stars


Whiskey Review: Ballotin Peanut Butter Chocolate

By Mike Thayer

Ballotin Peanut Butter Chocolate
It's a Reece's Peanut Butter Cup in a bottle!

Here's a fun shot to enjoy over the holidays!

Blended and flavored whiskeys continue to be red hot in popularity, consumer demand for brown spirits remains on the 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 Ole Smoky Peanut Butter flavored whiskey.  It's BETTER than Skrewball!

And BONUS:  Peanut butter flavored whiskeys lend themselves to some great chilled shot mixology:  A half shot of peanut butter and a half shot of Chambord raspberry liquer makes a wonderful PB&J shot.  Mix peanut butter and a banana liquer for an "Elvis" (his favorite sandwich was a fried peanut butter and banana).  And also quite good, mix the peanut butter and a chocolate liquer for a "Reece's Peanut Butter Cup."

But wait a minute!...  Ballotin got smart and put those "Reece's" flavors in ONE bottle!  No mixology required!  And it's DAMN good!  This is smoother than what you can create on your own in a mixed shot, as the chocolate and peanut butter flavors are all natural flavors blended in before bottling this whiskey at 60 proof.  These aren't harsh liquers added after the fact like some bottlers do.  What you get with Ballotin is a flavored blend that's perfectly balanced.  There's nothing harsh, nothing overpowering and more importantly it's not overly sweet.  You get the aroma of peanut butter with a hint of chocolate in the nose.  In the taste, It's Reece's, but with a hint of Butterfinger which is a good thing!  And the most important characteristic in a good flavored whiskey is a warm whiskey finish and this delivers just that.

Costing me about $29 for a 750ml bottle, I'm giving Ballotin Peanut Butter Chocolate Whiskey 5 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  It's a delicious flavored whiskey, enjoyable no matter the pour be it a straight shot, a chilled shot, served neat or on the rocks.  A bit pricey, it's still a repeat buy, this is something you'll want to have on hand, especially during the holidays.

5 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...


Food Review: Member's Mark Deluxe Mixed Nuts with Sea Salt

By Mike Thayer

Member's Mark Deluxe Mixed Nuts with Sea Salt
A handy item to have around during the holidays

In another effort to get away from eating too many chip snacks, I recently picked up a 34 ounce (that's 2 pounds, 2 ounces for those of you who live in Haysville) canister of mixed nuts while shopping at Sam's Club.  Nuts are a nice alternative to chips because not only do they deliver some nice texture and a bit of crunch, they provide some protein and don't have near the volume of carbs that chips do.

The Member's Mark (Sam's Club brand) Deluxe Mixed Nuts with Sea Salt consists of cashews, almonds, pecans, pistachios and hazelnuts.  That's a nice blend and they're lightly salted with sea salt.  Some mixes available out there can go a bit overboard with the salt, not so with these, they're pleasantly salted, allowing the flavors of the nuts to shine.  This is a great snack, all the nuts are fresh and overall the mix is balanced with exception to the pistachios.  You get plenty of cashews, almonds, pecans and hazelnuts, but not so much on the pistachios.  I'll take that though, another downside to other brands of mixed nuts is they use peanuts as a 'filler' if you will, they go heavy on the peanuts and go light on the other varieties in their 'blend'. 

Member's Mark Mixed Nuts
5 grams of protein and just 7 carbs per serving

Handy to have around during the holidays, I paid $11.98 for that jug of nuts, which is under 36 cents per serving!  I'm giving Member's Mark Deluxe Mixed Nuts with Sea Salt 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  They're tasty, wallet friendly with the only knock on the mix being a little light on the pistachios, but they're a repeat buy nonetheless!

4 stars

 


Mike's Brined Turkey Breast Wrapped in Bacon

By Mike Thayer

20211119_180118Everything is better with bacon, ESPECIALLY turkey breast!

Here's a great, simple, DELICIOUS recipe serving 1 - 3 people for Thanksgiving, or any other time you want to enjoy a turkey dinner.  Both the brine and the bacon make for a VERY juicy and flavorful bird.

Ingredients

  • 1 - 1.5 pound Turkey Breast, brined
  • 1 pound bacon
  • Ground black pepper (optional)

Directions

The day before cooking the turkey breast, brine it. 

Mike’s Poultry Brine

  • One gallon of warm water
  • ¾ cup of Kosher salt
  • One heaping tablespoon of Cookies Flavor Enhancer or your favorite poultry rub
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup olive oil

20211119_192504Put the salt, sugar, rub and olive oil into a big pan, add the warm water. Stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved, which the warm water helps to do. After the water comes back down to room temperature (VERY important, we’re brining the poultry, not cooking it), give the brine another quick stir and add your chicken or turkey, letting them brine for at least four hours in the fridge. Overnight is even better. This amount of brine is good for a whole chicken, or up to about 8 pounds of breasts, thighs or drumsticks.

The day of the cook, pull the turkey out of the brine, pat dry.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  On a foil lined cookie sheet, lay out the bacon and form a weave.  Place the turkey onto the bacon weave and carefully wrap the bird, ensuring the top and sides are covered in bacon deliciousness.  Hit the bacon with the fresh ground black pepper (optional). Bake until the internal temperature of the turkey hits 165 degrees and the bacon is crisp.  Pull from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

It's another dose of YUM!  You won't want to do a traditional oven roasted turkey again...

BONUS:  The pan drippings from the turkey breast combined with that bacon fat makes for some AWESOME gravy!  Best turkey gravy you'll ever have!

$pend Wisely My Friends...