The second in a continuing series of reviews of frozen food from Dollar Tree. If you like, you may read this review of Dollar Tree dim sum.
I can’t remember the date, but I’ll never forget the day. I was a junior or senior in high school, and one day I accompanied my mother to our local Kroger. Oh, I wasn’t doing that to be a “nice son” and help mom with the chores. I was doing it because my mom isn’t a “snacker”. To her a “snack” was lima beans and mayonnaise or cornbread drenched in buttermilk. She almost never bought Twinkies or Fritos on her own, so my going to the store with mom was the only way my sister and I’d get Little Debbies, Hot Pockets, microwave popcorn, and all of the other delicious junk food crap we craved as teenagers.
It was while mom was looking at the meat counter that I spied them. In one of those “casket freezers”, I spotted “Tower Isles Spicy Jamaican Beef Patties”. They looked good, so I got a box. And, a few days later, I fell in love. The spicy, curry-infused meat filling, the tumeric-laden crust… it was all good!
One of the downsides to moving to Charlotte was that I couldn’t find Jamaican beef patties anywhere, aside from Caribbean specialty stores on the other side of town. But then, one glorious day, I found that my local Walmart carrying them! $2.58 for a box of two patties! And, a year or two later, my local Dollar Tree finally put in a freezer section, and had them for only $1 each!
Heating them up is easy. You can either tear the package down the side and heat it up in the microwave for 2 minutes (there’s a “crisper sleeve” on the inside of the package), or you can put them in a 375F oven for 16-20 minutes. I prefer using a conventional oven because I like my patties crispy. It’s worth the wait, I think.
Here are the patties, ready to eat:
I normally get beef patties, but this time I decided to get two beef and two chicken. And they’re delicious! One thing, though: I’m not sure if Golden Krust makes their “spicy” beef patty milder than Tower Isles, or if I’ve just become so accustomed to spicy foods that my tolerance level is that high, but they’re just not spicy enough for me. I often drown them in my homemade West Indies Hot Sauce. Oh, and I actually like the chicken ones, too! They’re not nearly as spicy as the beef ones, but they have a great curry flavor that I just love! Mmmmm.. curry!
THE VERDICT: Would I eat them again? Hell, I’d eat them every day!
For the nitpickers out there: I normally buy four patties (as shown in the pictures), but I almost always only eat three for dinner. The fourth one is a leftover for snacks. So it’s still a “$3 dinner”.
A few weeks ago, a friend posted a picture of some Korean-style barbeque she’d made. She’d made it with a new product called Campbell’s Slow Cooked Sauces. Oddly, Campbell’s doesn’t seem to mention them on any of their websites, so I had to get more info about them from Amazon. In doing so I found this:
I’m a sucker for anything “Hawaiian” or “luau” related. I just had to track some of this stuff down and try it out. For some reason, though, I kept forgetting to look for them at the store. It took several trips for me to remember, but I finally found them last week at Walmart. Just so ya know, they come in several other flavors: my friend’s Sweet Korean BBQ (for beef), Moroccan Spice (for chicken), Tavern Style Pot Roast (for beef), Mexican Red Chile (for beef, for tacos) and Apple Bourbon BBQ (for pork).
I can’t speak for the other sauces, but preparing the Hawaiian Luau couldn’t be simpler: just put a pork roast in a slow cooker (pro tip: use liners to make clean-up easier), then pour the sauce over the meat, set your Crock Pot to 8 hours… and that’s just about it! The instructions tell you to shred the pork just before serving, which I was kind of nervous about: I didn’t want to pull the meat from the Crock Pot (and make a giant mess), but if I left the meat in the Pot I was afraid the forks would shred the liner and make a huge mess… which is why I used a liner in the first place… ya know? Thankfully, the meat was so tender that brute force wasn’t needed – the pork shredded very easily when it was done.
So… how is it? Pretty good! I liked the “Hawaiian” flavors of pineapple and mango. It was well balanced with the pork and was very… harmonious. One thing, though: either 8 hours was too long to cook the meat, or my Crock Pot runs hot… because some of the sauce burned. I don’t mind the taste (burnt ends are the best part of the brisket, in my opinion), but it you have any family members who are “sensitive” to burnt tastes, you might want to keep an eye on the Crock Pot and add some water or pineapple juice halfway through cooking to keep any burning to a minimum.
Other than that little quibble, I really liked the dish. What I didn’t like, however, was the price. The actual sauce mix is only $1.98 at my local Wally World, but it seems that most of the sauces are intended for 2-3 pounds of meat. I got a 3 pound pork roast from Walmart for around $9.77, making the total cost of the meal $12.24 (this includes 49¢ for the liner, but not sales tax or the electricity needed to power the Crock Pot for 8 hours, or the side of white rice I made to accompany the meal). $12.24 is a bit spendy for me, since I’m the only one in the house that’d eat it. Of course, for a family of four, it would be a much more reasonable $3.06 per person. And I did make two meals and a couple of snacks out it, so perhaps I should think of it as $3.06/meal, too. Still, as the only one in the house who eats meat, it seems expensive to throw down almost $15 for a meal. I wish they made the sauces in smaller portions, so you could cook, say, a pound of pork chops instead of a three pound roast. I’d be much more likely to buy them that way.
Back in July, I posted this piece about a ribeye “steak” for sale at my local Dollar Tree. A week later, my sister Facebooked a cell phone pic of a poster advertising the same “steaks” at her local Dollar Tree. I commented on her pic, and suggested that I review all the frozen food Dollar Tree sells. My sis thought it was funny… and so… here we are.
The missus and I go to Dollar Tree every few weeks to pick up various odds and ends, like shower curtain liners, tealight candles, C batteries, circus peanuts (don’t judge!) and Utz Crab Chips (every store in Charlotte sells Utz chips, but only Dollar Tree sells the Crab Chip flavor for some reason). Also, my local Dollar Tree recently installed a freezer, allowing this particular location to sell frozen food items for the first time. I almost always check out the frozen foods, and often pick up a few Golden Krust Jamaican beef patties, ‘cos they’re $2.58 for 2 at Walmart, but only $1 each at Dollar Tree.
On our most recent trip, the missus pointed out a bag of frozen pot stickers. I gave ’em a look, and was surprised that they were a 7 oz pack (compared to some of the other laughably small frozen items they sell). But then I spied another Chinese food item: cha siu bao, a bun stuffed with barbequed pork! Considering that this was a Dollar Tree in Belmont, North Carolina I was well and truly shocked! I know of only a couple of places to buy them in Charlotte, and those are restaurants. The notion of buying frozen ones – and for only a dollar no less! – was just… amazing!
I gleefully grabbed a pack of pot stickers (pork, naturally) and 2 bao. And last night was the night they became my $3 dinner:
Although microwave instructions were provided for both items, I decided to go the traditional route and steam them. That meant getting out the double boiler and filling it halfway up with water. I then sprayed the top “rack” of the boiler with Pam, added the pot stickers and, when the water began to boil, put the rack on the boiler and covered. I let those cook for 9 minutes before adding the bao, as they (allegedly) only required 5 minutes of steaming. Come to find out, the bao were still slightly frozen inside after 6 minutes of steaming, so I plated the pot stickers and nuked the bao for a minute in the microwave. When the bao were done, it was time to eat:
So… how were they?
Well, as soon as I opened the bag of pot stickers I noticed how pungent they were… and I mean that in a good way. They smelled almost exactly like the ones I get from my local Chinese restaurant. So that was a good sign. But it wasn’t until they’d steamed that I realized just how thin the wrappers are on these things. The wrappers my local Chinese place uses for pot stickers are thick, almost as thick as a Kraft cheese slice. These, on the other hand, were paper thin. I almost tore the first couple in half as I pulled them out of the steam basket. What’s more, these diminutive dumplings only had a teaspoon of filling each, compared to the tablespoon (and a half?) stuffed in the ones from my local Chinese place. Having said all that, all the right tastes were there. They might be small, but they sure tasted almost exactly like the ones from my favorite Chinese restaurant. And actually, when it comes to copying the taste of Chinese restaurant pot stickers, these actually put Trader Joe’s pot stickers to shame! If I had to choose between these and restaurant ones, I’d certainly choose the restaurant ones any day. But these are a perfectly serviceable substitute. I’d be happy to keep a couple packs in the freezer for football games and snacks. And they certainly have my local Chinese place beat on price: I could almost buy 5 bags of the things for what New China charges for a single order of pot stickers!
And then there were the bao. One thing I don’t like about bao generally is the inconsistent sweetness of the bun. At some places, the bun is nearly tasteless. At others there’s a faint sweet taste, as if they misted it with sugar water after steaming. But then some places seem to dunk the buns in high fructose corn syrup after steaming. Gross. So yeah – I’m not a fan of the sweeter buns, and thankfully these only had a slight sweetness to them.
I was also impressed by the ratio of filling to bun: many bao have a tiny amount of filling in a giant bun. If you’ve ever had chicken and dumplings with drop dumplings, imagine a baseball-sized dumpling with a tiny teaspoon of filling inside. These were perfectly balanced – not too much bun, not too much filling. And guess what? The filling had plenty of pork in it! If you’ve ever looked at the picture of a Hot Pocket on the front of the box – where they’re almost bursting with pepperoni or ham or whatever – then bit in to one to find mostly air… you have nothing to worry about here!
My only problem was that there was an odd sweetness to the barbeque pork that seemed to build as I ate the buns. Sugar (or corn syrup) is not listed as ingredient in the buns, but the oyster sauce and hoisin sauce both have sugar as a main ingredient. Still, it’s a minor quibble. These aren’t quite as good as the ones you’d get in a dim sum house… but they’re really, really good for a frozen product. Just steam them for at least 10 minutes, not the 5 listed on the instructions.
THE VERDICT: Two thumbs up – would eat both again!
Dollar Tree is a chain of variety stores in the US where most everything sells for $1, much like Poundland in the UK.
Most of the products sold at Dollar Tree are private label items; walk down the hardware, kitchen gadget or toy aisles and you’ll find that almost everything is “imported by Greenbrier International”, the Dollar Tree subsidiary that purchases and distributes those items. Dollar Tree also sells a lot of “faded brands” like Fabuloso and Bon Ami cleaners, Aim and Ultrabrite toothpaste, Lavoris mouthwash, Sunbeam batteries, and so on. They also sell a variety of off-brand grocery items, mostly stuff like canned chili or dried pasta that wouldn’t sell for much more than a dollar at a regular grocery store. And when dollar stores started really taking off in the mid 1990s, high profile manufacturers like Procter & Gamble and Johnson Wax started making goods especially for them. So where a local grocery store might sell a box of 30 Ziploc brand bags for $2.79, Dollar Tree might sell a box of 10 for $1.
But there are some goods which just don’t belong in a dollar store. I was at my local Dollar Tree today, checking out the new freezer case, when I spotted a “Ribeye Steak” for only a buck. I knew there HAD to be a catch, so I opened up the freezer to check it out:
Yeah… let’s turn this thing over:
Wow. That’s… one teeny tiny steak ya got there. Look how thin it is compared to my finger:
Good Lord, it’s barely enough for a single cheesesteak sandwich, and that’s not even counting the “up to thirty percent solution” of salt water added to the meat to bulk it out.
Jesus… I almost feel sorry for the cow, ya know? The poor thing ended up as a Dollar Tree steak… and you know no cow ever dreams of that. I bet when most cows are young they hope to one day become steaks at Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s or Peter Luger. But maybe some cows hit middle age and become resigned to the fact that they’re going to end up at Outback or LongHorn, and they’re OK with that. Cows that don’t give a damn and smoke and drink too much (Bukowski cows, they’re called) end up at Denny’s and Waffle House. Sickly cows end up in dog food. But what kind of sad cow ends up as a Dollar Tree steak?
I love me some chicken tacos, but I hate the chore of shredding chicken. I’ve long been a “two-forks” kind of guy, shredding chicken by hand like some kind of 13th century peasant. Shredding by hand not only takes forever, gripping the forks for so long hurts my hands, and the whole thing makes a big ol’ mess.
I read somewhere online that you could shred chicken with a mixer. “No way!”, I thought. But yes, it really does work!
In a perfect world, you’d use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. We don’t have one of those, but we do have a hand mixer, which works almost as well. You just cook the chicken breasts until done, cut them into smaller chunks (I cut large breasts into three pieces), then toss them into a large bowl and hit them with the mixer. Start off at the slowest speed, gradually increasing speed as the chicken breaks down. In 2-3 minutes, you’ll have a bowl of perfectly shredded chicken with almost no effort!
There are a couple of things to keep in mind, though. One, hot (or warm) chicken shreds much better than cold chicken, so shred it just after cooking, even if you’re not planning on using it until later. Secondly, if you have the mixer set too fast, little chicken shreds will fly out of the bowl. Until you’re used to how much speed you need, you might want to keep a paper plate or towel handy to act as a “shield” whilst shredding.
On the last Thursday of every November, millions of American families get together and eat a huge meal. It’s called Thanksgiving, and was originally celebrated by the Pilgrims in honor of their first harvest in 1621. It didn’t become a regular holiday in the United States until the Civil War, when President Abraham Lincoln called for a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” on the last Thursday of November in 1863.
One of the hallmarks of the Thanksgiving meal is a roasted turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), a large bird native to the New World. But why is it called a “turkey”? Does it have anything to do with the country of the same name?
Sort of, yes. Europeans have eaten guineafowl for centuries. These are large birds native to West Africa (which is where Guinea is, and where the gold came from that the British later minted into gold coins also called Guineas). But the English never hunted the birds themselves. The birds were captured in Africa and shipped to Turkey, where merchants sold them on to customers in central Europe. Because they “came from Turkey”, the English called the birds “Turkey fowl” (or “Turkey hen” or “Turkey cock”, if you wanted to be specific).
So when explorers arrived in North America, they saw these huge birds and called them “Turkey fowl”, and later on, just “turkeys”. Although they were wrong – guineafowl and American turkeys are totally different birds – the name stuck.
But it wasn’t just the English who got it wrong. The bird is called turcaí in Irish and twrci in Welsh, both borrowing from the English “turkey”. And in Armenia, Catalonia, France and Israel they’re called “Indian chickens” (as in “India”, not “Native American”). This is also hinted at in Malta, Poland and Turkey, where the bird’s names have allusions to India (in fact, Turks call them hindi).
In Dutch, the word for turkey is kalkoen, meaning “from Calicut” (Calcutta). Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Finnish and Estonian use some variant of the Dutch, like kalkun, kalkúnn, or kalkon. And, thanks to colonialism, it’s also the word used in Papiamento, the native language of the Lesser Antilles, especially Aruba and Curaçao.
As you’ve probably heard by now, potato chip giant Lay’s is having a contest to introduce a new flavor of potato chips. They’ve narrowed the field to three flavors and released limited quantities of the chips. We consumers are being asked to vote on which flavor we like best: Sriracha, Chicken & Waffles or Cheesy Garlic Bread. I went to several stores over the past couple of weeks and finally tracked them down this past Thursday at my local CVS:
Which chip will reign supreme… at least in my book? Read on, folks, for the Great Chip Battle of 2013!
SMELL: Like potato chips, with a faint whiff of Sriracha-like vinegar.
APPEARANCE: Mostly golden brown, with a few chips coated in a faint pink dust. They’re not nearly as red as Lay’s “Flamin’ Hot” chips, but that’s not a bad thing if you don’t want to stain your fingers!
TASTE: The chips do taste faintly of Sriracha, although it’s kind of subtle. Like the buzz from cheap macrobrew, the heat doesn’t come on until you’ve had a few. In my book, the Sriracha flavor isn’t nearly strong enough, and is crippled by an annoyingly sweet flavor. The ingredients list says that sugar is part of the “Sriracha seasoning”, and I’ll be damned if I can taste that much sugar in genuine Huy Fong Sriracha!. Of course, I may be biased here. I put Sriracha on damn near anything humans can consume: pizza, soup, hot dogs, eggs, tacos, chili, burgers, pork rinds, fried okra, blackeyed peas, mac and cheese… almost everything. If it’s not cake, cookies or ice cream, I’m probably putting Sriracha on it. And these chips, while good, were a bit of a let down. I need to dip them in actual Sriracha sauce to get the flavor I need want, and that just defeats the purpose of having a Sriracha chip.
CHICKEN & WAFFLES
SMELL: After an initial explosion of some kind of “maple syrup-like” aroma, the chips began smelling like old potatoes. There was a strange musty, dirt-like smell that was just kind of… odd.
APPEARANCE: Mostly golden brown, with a few specks of spice here and there.
TASTE: Totally bizarre. At first I mostly tasted some kind of artificial syrup flavor. I hate to sound like a food snob here, but I only eat real maple syrup, and preferably Grade B syrup at that. But as I continued through the bag, I noticed another taste… was that.. sage? I never really tasted anything that reminded me of chicken, which is odd, given that Nabisco conquered that problem with Chicken in a Biskit crackers all the way back in 1964. So it seems as if the chips have the taste of the seasoning that comes on fried chicken, but not the chicken itself. And as I went through the bag I’d get the occasional burst of flavor the reminded me exactly of a breakfast cereal my sister and I ate as kids. But for the life of me, I can’t place it. Golden Grahams? Cinnamon Toast Crunch? Did they make French Toast Crunch back in 1983? All in all, the chips aren’t unpleasant, and I can see where they were really aiming for the “chicken and waffles” flavor. I’m just not sure they hit the mark.
CHEESY GARLIC BREAD
SMELL: A vague, artificial “cheese and garlic” aroma. It’s not unpleasant, but it smells like “letdown”.
APPEARANCE: Golden brown, with a golden powder on them and a few specks of spice.
TASTE: Wow! I can’t taste any “bread” flavor, but the cheesy garlic taste is really there! Flavors of Parmesan cheese dominate, but the amazing thing is that it somehow has that slightly nutty taste that Parmesan gets after it’s toasted. And then the cheese mellows out to a kind of bulky, mellow, mozzarella kind of taste. It lingers in your mouth like an “Italian style” macaroni and cheese dish with lots of garlic and mozzarella.
Hi Everyone! It’s that time again… time for me to sit in my office chair and assume my Andy Rooney persona. I’m only 41 years old, but I’m gonna be all like “why do kids today like Taylor Swift so much?” and “remember when Cops was the only reality show on TV?”. But in today’s episode I’m going to talk about… food. Read the following, but try to use Andy Rooney’s voice in your head when you do so:
BIG JOHN’S BEANS
I don’t much care for baked beans. It’s not that I don’t like the taste – they taste just fine. It’s just that I’ve had them a million times. Every cook-out you go to, every family get-together you’re forced to suffer through, every barbecue place – from Valdosta, Georgia, north to Richmond, Virginia and west to San Antonio – has baked beans. And yes, Big John’s beans were still baked beans… but with a delicious twist. You see the picture? Big John’s Beans actually came in two cans: one large can with the beans, and another, smaller can taped to the other which had the “fixin’s”. You opened both cans, dumped the beans into a pot, then added the fixin’s. You’d stir well and heat ’em through. They were so tasty, those beans. Gosh, I wish ConAgra hadn’t discontinued these a few years ago. Bush’s Grillin’ Beans aren’t nearly the same thing. Not at all. THERE, INTERNET.. I SAID IT! Thankfully, Big John’s has something of a cult following on the Internet, and there are tons of “copy cat” recipes out there (here’s one that looks pretty good).
CHOCOLATE VANILLA CREME POP TARTS
Oh, I know what you’re thinking… “but they still make Cookies and Cream Pop Tarts! Isn’t that the same thing?” No, they’re not the same. Not at all. In fact, hell no. The Cookies and Cream Pop Tarts are a fine product, no doubt. But they taste like… well, whatever the hell “cookies and cream” flavor actually is. Chocolate Vanilla Pop Tarts were exactly what they said on the tin: chocolate pastry with vanilla filling inside. The pastry part, despite being chocolate, wasn’t all that sweet. It was more of a “cocoa flavor”, which was good, because the preternaturally sweet vanilla was all the sugar you needed. I used to keep a box of these bad boys on hand at all times – one two-pack of these and an ice cold Diet Coke were my go-to breakfast for years. So thanks a hell of a lot for ruining that, Kellogg’s!
IHOP’S POTATO PANCAKES
I think a lot about the duality of man. Light and Dark. Good and Evil. Pleasure and Pain. And I think it all started with IHOP. When I was a young man, I’d go to IHOP and every single time I’d struggle over whether to get chocolate chip pancakes or potato pancakes. Chocolate chip or potato? Chocolate chip or potato? Chocolate chip or potato? I’d deliberate over it as if the fate of the whole world depended on it. Remember the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy has to pick the right chalice? This was worse. Hell, I put more deliberation into one instance of chocolate chip vs. potato pancakes than I did in deciding what university I went to or the last car I bought. Chocolate chip had the sweet, but potato brought the savory. And potato pancakes came with an additional decision: apple sauce or sour cream on the side? Me, I was a traditionalist, going with sour cream. I had some vague notion of European sophistication in doing so, as if people in Austria were making the exact same choice at that exact same moment: “mit Sauerrahm, bitte“. There were a few times when I went down the apple sauce path, but always felt like an old geezer in doing so, like I should ask the waitress to turn the TV to Matlock and tell those damn teenagers at the other table to pipe down, ‘cos I didn’t storm the beach at Normandy so some punk-ass kids could shout over Andy Griffith. So I guess in a way I should be thankful that some damn bean counter at IHOP decided to get rid of the potato pancakes. It’s taken one of life’s most difficult decisions away from me. But dammit, I liked having to make that decision. And I liked having an old school dish like potato pancakes around, instead of the “Tuscan Chicken Griller” or “Spinach, Roasted Red Pepper & Cheese Griddle Melt” or whatever new slightly trendy crap IHOP serves these days. YOU BASTARDS!
Believe it or not, I’d never been to a Red Robin before. But for the past week they’ve been running TV spots for their limited time “Oktoberfest Burger”: a yummy looking burger with “Swiss cheese, beer mustard onions and black forest ham on a toasted pretzel bun”. It sounded so delicious that I made the executive decision last Friday to drive to Northlake Mall and get one. Of course, Lisa came along, and as I was telling her about wanting to get one of those burgers, she said that we’d recently gotten a Steak ‘n Shake flyer in the mail which advertised an almost identical Oktoberfest burger. So I went out and had one those yesterday, too.
Red Robin’s Oktoberfest Burger:
Steak ‘n Shake’s Oktoberfest Burger:
So… which one will reign supreme? Read on to find out!
It seems like every Italian dish has a story behind it. Alfredo sauce, for example, was supposedly invented by a man (named Alfred, naturally) whose wife was having trouble producing milk after childbirth. And panettone (“Toni’s bread”) was allegedly invented in Milan in the 15th-century when a nobleman named Ughetto Atellani fell in love with a woman named Adalgisa, the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. So the story goes, Atellani sold all his prized possessions to buy exotic ingredients like raisins, lemons and oranges. He gave the ingredients to Toni, who made a cake-like bread that was so popular that it made him rich, thus allowing Ughetto and Adalgisa to marry.
Spaghetti alla Puttanesca has a decidedly less wholesome story. Depending on who you ask, the dish was invented by prostitutes who either needed something quick to cook between clients, or who needed a dish they could quickly cook for clients. One way or the other, this simple, easy to prepare, dish it’s one of my all-time favorite pastas!
1 large pot
1 large sauce pan
1 cutting board
1 pound dried pasta, preferably spaghetti
¼ cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 28oz can plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon capers
15 black olives
1 small can of anchovy fillets
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1) Prep the ingredients by draining, seeding and chopping the tomatoes, draining, rinsing and measuring the capers, slicing the olives, and chopping the anchovies.
2) Put the oil in the sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and anchovies and saute until the garlic is golden but not brown and the anchovies have liquified.
3) Add remaining ingredients except for parsley and cook for 12-15 minutes.
4) Meanwhile, cook the paste until it’s al dente.
5) Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the sauce. Toss or stir to combine.
6) Put pasta in individual bowls to serve, topped with chopped parsley.