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December 2019

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

 


Food Review: Pierre Raw Stuffed Chicken Breasts, Cordon Bleu

Pierre Raw Stuffed Chicken Breasts Cordon BleuBy Mike Thayer

There are going to be those times when you don't feel like cooking, but you don't feel like going out to eat either.  Sometimes when you get home from work, all you want to do is conveniently heat something up for dinner and just chill out.....

That's exactly what I did on a Saturday night after work and rather than pull out a bunch of ingredients, the pots, the pans and make something from scratch, I went with something easy and convenient. 

Enter, Pierre brand Raw Stuffed Chicken Breasts, Cordon Bleu.  All I had to do was turn on the oven, plop a couple chicken breasts on a cookie sheet, set the timer and wait.  With college football and basketball on TV and an adult beverage in hand, waiting wasn't a problem.

Pierre Cordon Bleu packaged
Packaged well, no freezer burn worries

"So how did they taste?"  You ask....

Sometimes when it comes to prepared foods, you get something convenient, but it lacks flavor.  Stouffer's Lasagna comes to mind.

Not so with Pierre's Cordon Bleu.

Here's the description from the box:  We start with a creamy delicious combination of cheeses and ham, then delicately wrap it in chicken breast meat and bread it for an exquisite flavor experience.

It was indeed an exquisite flavor experience!  I prepared two of the breasts in the oven per the box instructions, this is a raw chicken product after all, and they came out beautifully.  The breading provided a very nice, perfectly seasoned crunch, the chicken was tender and juicy, the cheese was nicely portioned and paired with that ham delivered on the Cordon Bleu flavor profile with every bite.

Pierre Cordon Blue plated
Sprinkled with a bit of Parmesan Cheese

I picked up a box of six of the Cordon Bleu delights at Costco for $12.49, that's just $2.08 a serving - a VERY reasonable price for all that flavor!  Pierre Raw Stuffed Chicken Breasts, Cordon Bleu gets 5 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars!  Pierre makes a great product, these things rock and are most definitely worthy of a repeat buy!

5 stars

Pierre Cordon Bleu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

$pend Wisely My Friends.....

 

 


Food Review: Taco Bell's Rolled Chicken Tacos

Taco Bell Rolled Chicken TacosBy Mike Thayer

Taco Bell has brought back their Rolled Chicken Tacos, available in 2-packs for $1.99 and 4-packs for $3.99 and a choice of dipping sauces:  Spicy Ranch, Nacho Cheese and Guacamole.  These things are basically all white meat shredded chicken taquitos and I'm not a fan of corn tortilla shells, but they work well in this deep fried preparation. 

Crunchy on the outside - a VERY good crunch in fact - and tender on the inside, the chicken is seasoned nicely and the dipping sauces are the perfect compliment.  Taquitos are MADE for dipping.  I went with the guacamole in both the little dipping cups Taco Bell gives you in the 4-pack, it was quite tasty and the portion was perfect.

These things are a great snack, the price is right and I'm giving Taco Bell's Rolled Chicken Tacos 5 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  They are definitely worth a repeat buy!  I look forward to trying the Spicy Ranch.

5 stars

Taco Bell Rolled Chicken Taco Bite




Tortilla chip battle: Discount brand vs. store brand vs. Name brand

Tortilla restaurant styleBy Mike Thayer

Tortilla chips, the foundation of so many fantastic snack and appetizer creations, 'chips & salsa', nachos, 'chips & guacamole', 'chips & bean dip'....  they're also good used as a crunchy topping for just about any Tex/Mex casserole dish.  Having a good chip puts all those great foods in tasty motion. 

Then there's all the styles of tortilla chips, the traditional triangle shape, round, 'restaurant' style, 'Cantina' style, 'Cafe' style, scoops and strips.  For the most part that's all just marketing, they're all still just plain 'ol corn tortilla chips, the only real differences being shapes and varying degrees of thickness. 

What matters is having a chip that holds up to dipping/topping, has the right balance of salt and provides a good crunch.

But do you need a name brand chip to do that?  And does a name brand even guarantee the highest chip quality?  I say no, never mind the extra expense.

In a bit of an impromptu tortilla chip battle, I purchased one bag each of a discount brand, a grocery store brand and a name brand chip.  Here are the results:

Discount brand: Clancy's "Restaurant Style" Tortilla Chips

Tortilla Clancy'sOK, these are standard, triangle shaped tortilla chips, the only thing that makes these "Restaurant Style" is that the triangle shape is the most popular, a.k.a., standard shape of tortilla chips out there, be it at a restaurant or in a bag.  I got this 13 ounce bag at Aldi for $0.89.  It doesn't get much cheaper than that, translating to just 6.8 cents per ounce.  And these chips are just as good as any other.  They're good out of the bag, fine for dipping or topping and chip breakage is no more or less than any other bagged chip. 

Store brand: Kroger Tortilla Rounds

Kroger Tortilla RoundsI wonder if anybody really cares what shape a tortilla chip comes in, they all dip, top and eat pretty much the same....  jus say'n.  I purchased this bag of 10 ounce chips for $1.99, or 19 cents per ounce.  That's still a reasonable price, but a significant jump up from the discount brand.  Like the Clancy's, the Kroger brand eats fine out of the bag and dips/tops just as well.  The only nuance here besides the shape is these are 100% yellow corn, so if you're into that - white corn vs. yellow corn vs. blue corn - by all means help yourself.  To me, the type of corn and shape of the chip is insignificant unless you're overly concerned with presentation.

Tostitos
Don't pay too much...

Name brand:  Tostitos Original

I picked up a 13 ounce bag of the name brand classic for $2.98.  That breaks down to 23 cents per ounce, making this the most expensive chips of the battle - no surprise there.  Did it taste better?  No.  Was it better with dip?  Nope.  Was it better topped with other goodies?  Uh-uh.  Did these chips break off any more or less when dipping than the other chips tested?  No difference.  How about the chip breakage at the bottom of the bag?  The same as any other.

Don't pay too much for tortilla chips!  In this tortilla chip battle, all chips performed pretty much the same in every way consumed, out of the bag, dipped and topped.  Clancy's comes out on top, the least expensive, an equal chip to any other.

Smoked chicken & salsa nachos
Smoked chicken & salsa nachos

Side note:  While regular tortilla chips are all pretty much the same, flavored tortilla chips on the other hand are a different story.  There is no better chip than Nacho Cheese Doritos in my humble opinion and any knock off version of that great chip just comes up short.  Nobody else can get that Nacho Cheese flavor right.  What about all those other flavored tortilla chips, how do they stack up?  Stay tuned....

$pend Wisely My Friends.....