Living well on a budget, without being truly cheap.

Food Review: Ajinomoto Yakitori Chicken with Japanese Style Fried Rice

By Mike Thayer

Anjinomoto Chicken Fried RiceLooking for some convenience foods to prepare at home for those times when I don't feel like cooking, I picked up a box of Ajinomoto brand Yakitori Chicken with Japanese style fried rice when shopping recently at Costo.  I'm a sucker for fried rice and this looked pretty good.  

"What is Yakitori Chicken?" you ask....

It refers to the Japanese method of grilling skewered chicken over charcoal.  The chicken is typically cut into bite sized pieces, put on bamboo or metal skewers and placed over hot coals, the meat is seasoned over the fire.

Here's the description from the package:  Made with grilled white meat and tender vegetables in an authentic savory sauce.  In addition to the chicken and rice, the veggies include carrots, leeks, edamame soybeans, peas, red bell peppers and roasted sweet corn. 

Chicken fried rice in bagThe box contains six, nine ounce bags and preparation is easy peasy, just pop one of those bags in the microwave for three minutes and boom, dinner is served!

It's not bad for a grab and go meal, I was pleasantly surprised, Ajinomoto makes a decent fried rice.  The bite sized chicken is cooked nicely, you can see the char from the grilling.  The veggies are indeed tender crisp and everything is nicely portioned and balanced - there's no rice overkill.  It is a bit underseasoned though and I blame that on the sauce, there's frankly not enough of it.  In reading the ingredients on the box, it's a fairly typical sauce made with soy, mirin (rice wine) a few other ingredients and thickened with tapioca starch, but it lacks a little punch and the dish overall is a bit on the dry side for a fried rice.  I ended up adding some chili and sesame oil to my bowl to kick things up a notch.

Chicken fried riceI paid $12.59 for the box of Ajinomoto Yakitori Chicken with Japanese Style Fried Rice, that's just $2.10 per serving.  That's a cheap meal.  It's convenient, easy/fast to prepare, filling and although it needs a bit of doctoring to bump up the flavor, it's worthy of a repeat buy.  I'm giving this product 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  Need a quick lunch?  Throw a bag of fried rice in the microwave.  Looking for a convenience meal that ISN'T a burger or run-of-the-mill sandwich?  Nuke some fried rice.  Don't want to dirty up a bunch of dishes when cooking for one?  You guessed it, grab a bag of fried rice, dinner in three minutes.

4 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends.....


Food Review: Crazy Cuizine brand General Tso's Chicken

By Mike Thayer

Crazy Cuizine General Tso's ChickenUniquely Chinese-American, General Tso's Chicken is a battered and fried chicken dish served with a delicious 'sweet heat' sauce made with a combination of soy, garlic, ginger, chili peppers, sugar and other ingredients.  It's my preferred go-to dish when I'm in the mood for Chinese food. 

I'm always looking for a restaurant quality version of the dish to prepare at home, and today I'm trying General Tso's Chicken made by Crazy Cuizine.

Here's the description from the front of the box, which is pretty straight forward:  Battered Chicken Breast with Rib Meat in a Zesty Ginger Sauce.

I prepared the chicken in the oven per the box instructions and my dinner was ready in about 20 minutes.  You can also prepare them on the stove top, but with the LSU vs. Clemson National Championship game on, I opted for the convenience of the oven.

Serving the sauced up chicken over a bed of Ramen noodles, I took that first bite....

General Tso's ChickenNICE!  I didn't think I would get that same crispy texture you get from a restaurant/wok preparation, but boy this was close!  I got a light crunch from the battered exterior and the chicken was tender and juicy.  The sauce was pleasant, delivering on the General Tso's notes of some sweet heat, but it was on the mild side.  I had to doctor things up a bit with some chili flake and cayenne pepper powder to kick the sauce up a notch.

General Tso's Chicken, the combination of that battered/fried preparation along with the sweet heat sauce is what makes this dish.  It's a delicious marriage of texture and flavors that puts it at or near the top of the list of Chinese favorite eats for many folks.  I'm looking forward to trying of another Crazy Cuizine batch using the stove top directions which surely will provide that restaurant quality crispiness I'm looking for.  Crazy Cuisine puts out a good product, it's worthy of a repeat buy.

Costing me $9.99 at Costco, that's just $1.11 per serving and the serving size - 1 cup - is generous and quite filling when served over a bed of noodles or rice.  I'm giving Crazy Cuizine General Tso's Chicken 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  The price is VERY reasonable, the chicken is easy to prepare and quite tasty after just a bit of doctoring to the sauce.

4 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends.....


Food Review: Tiger Thai Shrimp Vegetable Nests

By Mike Thayer

Tiger Thai Shrimp Vegetable NestsI've been looking for something a little different to put into my meal and snacking routine.  Yes, believe it or not, chips, popcorn or Little Smokies can get old. 

During my latest shopping trip to Costco and focused on shaking up the 'house menu' I happened across some Shrimp Vegetable Nests which looked quite tasty and I'm a sucker for just about anything with an Asian Flare.

The description from the box:  Tiger Thai Tempura Shrimp and Vegetable Nests are a delightful combination of onion, carrot and kale.  We julienne the vegetables, then form them into a ring, or nest, and finish them off with shrimp on top. 

Tempura battered shrimp nestsThese 'nests' are indeed delightful!  Prepared in the oven per the box directions, I had a very tasty appetizer - which turned into a dinner - in about 15 minutes.  One nest is a pleasant mouthful and it delivers a fantastic bite of nicely seasoned shrimp and veggies wrapped in a Tempura batter crunch.  DELICIOUS!

The nests also includes a dipping sauce which was tasty on it's own but I did doctor it up a bit with a couple splashes of red chili and sesame oils.

Excellent as an appetizer, entree or snack, these things are also a great way to get a little seafood and a few veggies into your diet.  Four nests plus the dipping sauce is just 240 calories.

Purchased at Costco for $8.89, that's just 37 cents a nest!  That price is Bachelor on the Cheap friendly, they taste great, they're easy to prepare, what's NOT to like?!  I'm giving Tiger Thai Tempura Shrimp and Vegetable Nests 5 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars and they are most definitely worthy of a repeat buy.

5 stars


Food Review: Brazi Bites, Brazillian Cheese Bread

By Mike Thayer

Brazi BitesI've been tempted to try these for awhile now, they always call out to me as I pass them by in the freezer section at Costco, but I've never reached for a bag, until today.

I'm glad I did!

Prepared per the package instructions, in 20 minutes I had myself a delightfully crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside cheesy bread appetizer, packed with the flavors of Parmesan and cheddar cheese.  These things rock!  I sampled them on this occasion as an appetizer, enjoying them as I prepared my dinner, but they would also be fantastic as a change of pace snack.  They would do you proud served as an appetizer or party snack for guests as well.  It's convenient as heck, just pull some from the bag and pop them in the oven for 20 minutes.

I picked up a  2 lb, 4 oz. bag of Brazi Bites at Costco for $12.49, that's about 35¢ per ounce, or 42¢ per serving.  The price is quite reasonable and the bites deliver on flavor.  I'm giving Brazi Bites 5 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  They are most definitely a repeat buy and I'll probably always have a bag of these on hand in my freezer.

5 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends.....

Brazil Bites YUM


Food Review: El Monterey Mexican Grill Chicken & Cheese Taquitos

By Mike Thayer

El Monterey TaquitosHaving recently enjoyed some Rolled Chicken Tacos from Taco Bell (pretty much a fried taquito), I happened upon a more traditional taquito offering in the freezer section at Costco:  El Monterey Mexican Grill Chicken & Cheese Taquitos.

Here's the description from the package:  We take tender charbroiled chicken breast, real Monterey Jack cheese, our rich tomato sauce, the most robust of Mexican-style ingredients and roll it all up into a crisp flour tortilla.

How can you go wrong with that?

Taquitos
Excellent Snack!

I prepared them in my oven per the box instructions and in about 13 minutes I had a VERY tasty snack.  I got all those flavors in every bite, the juicy chicken, the gooey cheese, the nicely seasoned tomato sauce all brought together in that crispy tortilla.  These things have all the elements in a great snack, savory, cheesy, some crunch.  They taste great on their own, but I did kick things up a notch by dressing them up with a little Crema (a little sour cream, heavy cream, lime juice mixed together), a light sprinkling of Mexican oregano and a few splashes of Tapatio Salsa Picante Hot Sauce.  It was another dose of YUM!  If there's a knock to be made on these, it's that I wanted more filling, it's quite tasty, a thicker taquito would be nice.

I purchased a 3lb, 3oz (that's 30 taquitos) box of El Monterey Mexican Grill Chicken & Cheese Taquitos at Costco for just $9.99, that's 33¢ a taquito.  You can have a snack of three taquitos for under a $1, bargain!  I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars, they're quite tasty, convenient, easy to prepare and are worthy of a repeat buy.  Have a box of these at the ready in your freezer, no travel to Taco Bell required!

4 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends.....


Hazelnut Coffee Review: Barissimo Hazelnut Coffee from Aldi

Barissimo Hazelnut CoffeeBy Mike Thayer

Back in May of 2019, I completed a hazelnut flavored coffee challenge, in search of the best one.  I've since found another one to add to the list.  Barissimo Hazelnut Coffee, available at Aldi, is definitely a coffee you should consider.  Costing me $3.79, that's a VERY Bachelor on the Cheap friendly price and this coffee rivals what I determined to be the best available back in May - Seattle's Best - which costs $4.99 for the same amount of coffee.  Despite being a light roast (go with a heaping tablespoon per 6 ounces of water) Barissimo Hazelnut Coffee gets 5 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars and is most worthy of a repeat buy.

5 stars

Coffee Challenge (May 2019)

By Mike Thayer

Cup of coffeeLike so many working stiffs, I've GOT to have my coffee in the morning to get jump started. Traditionally, I'm a Folgers Classic Roast kind of guy and I doctor my coffee with some hazelnut flavored creamer.  So no, I'm NOT a coffee snob.  I don't do the whole beans and a coffee grinder thing, screw that, buying ground coffee works just fine for me.

But in trying to eliminate some sugars from my diet, I've dropped the flavored creamer from my morning routine, switching to real, heavy cream. The various flavored brands of coffee creamer range 5-10 grams of sugar per serving, heavy cream weighs in at 0.1 grams.  But in making that change, my coffee was far less enjoyable. I missed the hazelnut! So during my next visit to the grocery store, I picked up some hazelnut coffee.  On that trip, I picked up a bag of Dunkin' Donuts hazelnut and you can read that review here.  To sum, it was OK, but I enjoyed the way I used to have my coffee, better.  A classic roast + hazelnut coffee creamer is better than the Dunkin' Donuts version of a hazelnut coffee doctored with some simple, heavy cream.  It left me wondering if there wasn't something better out there in a hazelnut grind.  Would such a coffee be Bachelor on the Cheap wallet friendly, or will I have to settle for something less-than-stellar, something just not as good as how I used to enjoy my cup of Joe? 

Here's the list starting with the worst Hazelnut coffee of the lot.  Figuring into the evaluation was price, aroma, availability and most importantly, taste.

20190214_151341Dunkin': Over-priced and disappointing.  The coffee delivers on the nutty flavor and it's a smooth taste, but I will say the coffee as prepared per the package instructions brews up rather weak. The instructions recommend 1-1/2 tablespoons per 6 ounces of water, I recommend two.

20190225_063246Eight O'Clock:  This is good coffee. The medium roast is spot on, the hazelnut notes are there, good aroma, nice finish. The recommended measurement on the bag is 1 - 2 tablespoons per 6 ounces of water, leaving a little wiggle room for how weak or strong you like your coffee.  It's a good coffee, but not the best coffee.

20190221_074742Folger's:  With Folger's Classic Roast being my traditional go-to coffee, I expected the same reliability in flavor from the hazelnut version. It didn't disappoint.  The hazelnut is obvious, present in both the aroma and flavor.  The grind makes a good cup of coffee.  The directions call for one tablespoon of coffee for every six ounces of water and that's one thing I've always liked about Folger's, they're not bashful with their grind, a scoop is robust and doesn't brew up weak like Dunkin' Donuts hazelnut did. 

Green Mountain CoffeeGreen Mountain: Good coffee but a light roast, so the recommended 1 heaping tablespoon of coffee per 6 ounces of water will brew up a bit weak, you may want to adjust to taste. For a more robust cup of coffee, go with 2 tablespoons. Overall, this is a pleasant hazelnut coffee, not as aromatic as others, but each sip is good nonetheless.

20190222_185535-1Great Value:  This coffee is surprisingly good, delivering on everything in the package description.  All those notes are there and the recommended measurement of 1 heaping tablespoon per 6 ounces of water is spot on.  At just $3.99 for a 12 ounce bag, this coffee is most definitely a repeat buy.  It's better than Dunkin, smoother than Folger's and just a smidgen below......

And the top Hazelnut flavored coffee is......

20190218_064652-1Seattle's Best:  The package calls for a rounded tablespoon per six ounces of water and that is spot on, brewing to the strength I like. The grind was very aromatic in the package, everybody likes to take a deep inhale of coffee from a freshly opened package right? And while brewing you get a nice aromatic whiff permeating through the house. The taste delivers and is on par to how I used to enjoy my coffee, a classic, regular roast with hazelnut flavored creamer.

 

$pend Wisely My Friends.....

 


Food Review: Mrs. Smith's Pumpkin Pie

By Mike Thayer

Mrs. Smith's Pumpkin PieI love pie, I'll take pie over any other kind of dessert offering, but I hate making them, namely the pie crust.  Making the dough is a labor intensive project if you want a flaky, golden brown and delicious final product.  It entails using chilled water and really cold butter with the flour, resting the dough, dusting the dough, rolling the dough, folding the dough, trimming the dough, pinching/decorating the edge, then finally, pre-baking the bottom crust of dough to make sure it's cooked through in presenting the final product, the pie.  I'd rather put that kind of labor into grilling or smoking meat.

Hello grocery store!

In my book you can't have Thanksgiving or Christmas without some pumpkin pie, so here's a review on Mrs. Smith Pumpkin Pie, you'll find it in the freezer section of your neighborhood grocery store.  Why the Mrs. Smith's brand?  Because timing is everything.  When I went shopping for the holiday dinners, this was the only brand of frozen pumpkin pie available and only a few of the Mrs. Smith's remained!

Preparing the pie per the box instructions, the pie came out of the oven smelling good, I hit the outer edge crust with a little butter and set it aside to cool. 

Mrs Smith Pumpkin PieTIP:  Baking your pies the day before or first thing in the morning on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day ensures your oven is free for the main events of the day, namely the turkey and the casserole sides, which need to be served hot.  You don't want to wait and bake your pies after roasting the turkey thinking they'll be done in time for dessert because they won't.  Pies need time to cool and set up.  The last thing you want is a runny (too hot and not set up yet) pie and the flavors just won't be there like they are with a cooled and set pie.  Although to admit, hot fruit pie over vanilla ice cream, while a bit messy, IS pretty darn good....

There is a reason pumpkin pie and whipped cream is a favorite on Thanksgiving Day and carries over into Christmas.  But does Mrs. Smith deliver in the flavor department?  Over the years of Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, I've had home made pies from Moms, Grandmas, Aunts, pies from restaurants, pies from bakeries, pies from specialty stores.... Mrs. Smith's comes up a bit short.  It's good, but not great, in other words, it's adequate, satisfying the pumpkin & whipped cream craving.  When it comes to prepared pies from the frozen section at the grocery store, Marie Callendar's makes a better pie.

Pumpkin Pie and Whipped CreamCosting me $4.99, I'm giving Mrs. Smith's pumpkin pie 3 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  The price is average, for an average tasting pie.  The crust was OK, the filling was OK, as in lacking enough spice, the pie NEEDED the whipped cream.  There's a reason why the Mrs. Smith's brand was the only remaining brand of pumpkin pie available in the grocery store freezer.

3 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends.....

 


Food Review: Kirkland Signature Spiral Sliced Ham

By Mike Thayer

Kirkland Signature Spiral HamI'm a ham for Christmas dinner kind of guy and I don't like to do a lot of carving either.  I like low maintenance cuts of meat, so a spiral cut ham was on the shopping list.  I wanted something large enough to provide leftovers and stash some in the freezer for later enjoyment as well.

Already hickory smoke cured, I purchased a bone in Kirkland Signature spiral sliced ham at Costco for $19.24.  Weighing in at slightly under 8-1/2 pounds, that's just $2.29 a pound and Kirkland throws in a glaze - bonus!  That's a Bachelor on the Cheap friendly price and the ham was delicious, definitely a repeat buy! 

I put my ham on the grill over pecan wood to enhance that smoke cure and the spiral cut really embraced that glaze.  The Kirkland Signature spiral ham gets five out of five Bachelor on the Cheap stars, it was the perfect main dish for Christmas!

5 stars

Kirkland Signature Spiral Ham off the smokerPutting a spiral ham on the grill or smoker is easy peasy.  This is a pre-cooked ham, so basically you're just bringing it up to temperature and enhancing the flavors.  Just put the ham, flat side down on a disposable aluminum pan (you may want to double up on the pans depending on the weight of the ham), pour some kind of juice over the ham.  Orange, pineapple, apple, whatever, I like to use a sweet & sour mix myself.  Grill (or smoke) over indirect heat (on a smoker that's a given), for about 15-20 minutes per pound of ham at around 275 - 300 degrees.  Wait to glaze the ham until that last 20 minutes of cooking time, brushing the glaze in between each slice.  Pull the ham from the grill (or smoker) and let it rest for about 10 minutes, tenting with aluminum foil.  A spiral cut ham from the grill is another dose of YUM!

I've got a bachelor's passion for freedom.

$pend Wisely My Friends.....


Food Review: Chef's Cupboard Stuffing Mix

By Mike Thayer

Stove Top Stuffing
Don't buy the name brand stuffing!

Boxed stuffing, I love the stuff - see what I did there? - but like most folks, I only eat it a couple times a year, typically on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  There are all kinds of flavors too, traditional turkey, chicken, pork, veggie varieties and even corn bread stuffings - Yuck, I prefer traditional bread crumbs over corn bread crumbs in my stuffing, 'jus say'n. 

I like the boxed varieties primarily for the simplicity and convenience of it, to me making stuffing from scratch isn't worth the trouble.  I doctor the off-the-shelf stuff anyway with a few added ingredients so there's no real benefit in the flavor department by making stuffing the hard way.  Then there's the price.  A boxed variety is cheaper than buying the bread crumbs, chicken stock and various seasonings all separately.

Chef's Cupboard Stuffing Mix
Buy Chef's Cupboard instead!

But even if you're a boxed stuffing mix person like me, you could still be spending too much for it.  Don't buy the name brand like Stove Top, buy Chef's Cupboard instead, it's every bit as tasty, just as easy to prepare and costs about half as much.

A six ounce box of Stove Top brand stuffing mix will cost you roughly $1.50 - $1.99 at the mainstream grocery store.  In comparison, a six ounce box of  Chef's Cupboard brand stuffing mix costs just 69¢ at Aldi.  That's a savings of at least 81¢.  And while that savings doesn't sound like much by itself, when you take that approach to buying all the other items for your holiday feast, those savings rack up.  I don't know about you, but I like buying that holiday meal for about $47 in discount brands rather than about $72 with name brands.  Not only is that some significant savings, the best part is there is NO sacrifice in flavor or quality!

When putting my stuffing together, I prepare the mix per the box instructions, adding some diced and sauteed onion, carrot and celery along with some crumbled sausage, minced garlic, sliced mushrooms and a dusting of Parmesan cheese.  This year I kicked things up another notch with an additional touch, preparing it in a cast iron skillet and putting it on the smoker over pecan wood to absorb a hint of smoke, complimenting the smoked turkey and spiral sliced smoked ham at my feast.

Smoked StuffingI'm giving Chef's Cupboard chicken flavor stuffing 5 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  The price is wallet friendly, it's easy to prepare, easy to doctor and easy to eat!  This is a stuffing mix worthy of a repeat buy, don't buy the name brand stuffing, buy Chef's Cupboard instead!

5 stars

 

 


Food Review: Raybern's Meatball Marinara Sandwiches

By Mike Thayer

Raybern's Meatball Marinara SandwichWho doesn't like a good meatball sandwich right?

So when I saw these in the freezer section at Costco and always looking for something in a convenience food to have at the ready at home, I picked up a box of Raybern's Meatball Marinara Sandwiches and threw it in the cart.

The description of the sandwiches on the box is pretty straight forward:  Italian style seasoned meatballs with Marinara sauce & melted mozzarella cheese.

The picture sells it, but will the actual product live up to the picture hype?

No.

Raybern's Microwave prep
Prepared in the Microwave

I sampled these sandwiches for lunch and dinner on a work day, meal one  - lunch - was done in the microwave per the box instructions and for meal two - dinner - the sandwich was done in the oven.  Raybern's recommends thawing the sandwiches in the refrigerator for eight hours prior to nuking or baking, which I did.

Prepared in the Microwave:  The bread remains soft, fulfilling the Raybern's promise, but the rest of the sandwich is a bit of a disappointment.  The meatballs are under-seasoned and the sandwich is under-sauced.  The portion of cheese is OK, but the sandwich does not deliver on the box photo hype and overall, the flavor is, "eh"....

Prepared in the Oven:  This was the better sandwich - no surprise here, the oven beats the microwave in helping to deliver better flavor and texture every time.  The bread had some crispy edges that you like in a 'toasted' preparation and considering the underwhelming flavors I got in the lunch sandwich, I doctored this sandwich up a bit, adding some shredded pizza blend cheese along with a bit of black pepper.  It still suffered from being under-sauced.

Raybern's oven prep and tater cake
Prepared in the oven

I purchased a box of 6 sandwiches for $11.99 at Costco, that's $2 per sandwich.  And while that $2 is cheaper than what you might pay for such a sandwich at a fast food restaurant and about on par flavor-wise, I was hoping for more from Raybern's for a convenience food made at home.  I'm giving Raybern's Meatball Marinara Sandwiches 3 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars and they are a borderline repeat buy, a Plan B kind of thing.  They need some doctoring to kick up the "eh" factor up another notch.

3 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends.....

Raybern's in the package
Convenient, but needs doctoring to bump up the flavor