Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Saltillo Enchilada Dinner - Deal of the Day

Bigger is not always better, and my latest Deal of the Day is proof is in the pudding. Weighing in at one pound and 3 ounces, Saltillo Enchilada Dinner is one hot mess of a gut busting Mexican entree.

Click on any photo to see larger.

I guess I got my money's worth for 99.99 cents (okay one dollar) from my local 99c only Store, but I ended up paying the price of a sour taste and a bit of queasiness upon finishing the defrosted meal -- and an hour later I had a belching attack.

Now, first off this meal ticked me off visually. Since I've worked in the advertising field a bit, a pet peeve of mine is when the cover art or photo is way different than the unwrapped real meal. Just compare the box above to the plate below.

The cover shows 4 individual enchiladas side-by-side, but what I got were two stacks of sauce-covered tortillas - one side had Cheese Enchiladas and the other was Beef Enchiladas. It was like eating an enchilada lasagna, which would be fine if that was what I thought I was purchasing.

The good news is the Cheese Enchiladas in Chile Con Quesos were okay, kinda like eating enchiladas covered in queso (Tex-Mex cheese) from a can - a guilty pleasure at best. The cooked corn tortillas had a little texture but the taste is typical Mexican fast food bland.

The biggest ripoff were the Beef Enchiladas. For 2 enchiladas, there might have been a tablespoon of meat, total. And who knows what kind of meat it was? They put the meat under the first layer of tortilla, then it was mostly tortilla from then on - probably 4 layers worth, with a tiny bit of enchilada sauce smeared in.

The red enchilada sauce was fiery and chile intense. That's okay with me, but may be too much for sensitive palates.

As for the sides of beans and rice, they were okay. The rice was sauced with tomato like Mexican Rice should be, and still a little firm after microwaving. The pinto beans had some texture too - not refried and mush like most cheap Mexican frozen meals.

There was an extra slot for salsa too. It was a spicy mix of chile sauce. It went well with the beans and rice. I added most of the salsa to the beef enchiladas, as they were the most dry.

The ingredients list is extra-long, even for regular frozen fare. Man, I needed a cleanse after this meal.

It's a big meal, but in this case not a good deal. So on the 99 Cent Chef's Cheap$kate Dining Scale of 1 to 9, 9 being best, I give  Saltillo Enchilada Dinner by El Charrito a 3.

I reviewed Cheese Enchiladas in Chile Con Queso for a buck a few years ago. Check it out by clicking here to see my Cheap$kate Dining review.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Mexican-style Saag Paneer: Spinach Curry - Video Recipe

One of my favorite veggie side dishes to order in an India restaurant is Saag Paneer, a pungent, creamy spinach and cheese dish. A Middle Eastern style cheese from India, called paneer, is presented in deep fried cubes floating in slow cooked curry spiced spinach. My latest video recipe is an easy version to make, so read on to see for yourself.

Unfortunately, it's not a light dish when served in your local India lunch buffet line. Clarified butter and deep fried cheese adds too many calories for this weight-watching kitchen commando.

Plus, it is not easy to find the India cheese called paneer. Paneer is a hard white cheese, that is similar in texture to feta cheese, but milder in taste. Because of a high melting point, it softens but still holds it's shape, even in a stew.

But, upon doing a little experimenting, I found Mexican Queso Fresco cheese has a similar flavor, and holds up well to slow cooking, too. And for a lighter creamy taste I have added a small amount of cottage cheese. So I put two and two together and came up with a budget-busting, calorie-skimping entree anyone can make.

My latest video recipe, Mexican-style Saag Paneer combines the best of two culinary worlds, Mexican and Indian.

The main spice is curry powder. I just use cumin - open a jar and smell -- it makes up 75% of your typical curry powder. And cumin is much easier to find on any grocery store spice shelf; plus it's much cheaper than curry powder.  Pick up an onion to saute, as this will add a bit of caramelized sweetness.

Click on any image to see larger.

For an extra boost of cheesiness crumble-in half a disc of Mexican cheese called Queso Fresco, that comes cheaply from 99c only Stores and Latin markets (It's showing up in regular groceries, too.) I also use Queso Fresco for the Mexican breakfast classic, Huevos Rancheros - just click here to see that recipe video.

Of course my Saag Paneer recipe is adjustable to suit your convenience. It is just as tasty without Queso Fresco cheese. Think of this recipe as an India version of typical American Cream Spinach, with a little added curry spice.

Spinach is still a reasonable price and I can get fresh bundles of spinach and cleaned 5 or 6 ounce bags for a buck, or less. Fresh spinach may have dirt, so give it a rinse first. It may also have part of the root and long stems that need removing.. You can leave shorter stems, they will soften enough.

Slow cooking the spinach and cottage cheese with cumin creates a lush dish that is low in calories, especially if you use low fat cottage cheese. So give my delish, India-inspired, Mexican-style Saag Paneer a try -- all it takes is a little spinach and onion chopping with some slow cooking.

Mexican-style Saag Paneer - VIDEO

   Play it here, video runs 2 minutes, 22 seconds.

My YouTube video link for viewing or embedding, just click here.
Ingredients (2 -3 servings)   
  • 2 bunches of spinach - or about two 6 ounce packages.
  • 1 whole onion - chopped
  • Cottage Cheese - about 8 ounces. Okay to add more to suit taste. I used low fat.
  • Mexican Queso Fresco cheese - optional. I used about half a 5 ounce package, roughly crumbled.
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin - if you have curry powder, use that.
  • 1 tablespoon oil - for sauteing onions.
  • 2 tablespoons of milk - if needed during final cooking stage.
  • Pepper to taste - I find there is plenty of salt in cottage cheese and Queso Fresco cheese.
  • Queso Fresco cheese -  optional. I used half a 4 ounce package, that is broken into bite sized pieces. You can use more if you like.

Start cleaning spinach if needed. Cleaned spinach in bags may only need a quick rinse. Fresh spinach from produce sections may have dirt and long root/stems. So those bundles will need washing and longer stems trimmed. (No need to prepare all spinach at once. You will add it in batches if your pot can't hold it all.)

Heat oil in medium sized pan or pot. Add chopped onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes over a medium heat.

Mix in cumin and saute for a couple of minutes. Add cottage cheese and mix well.

Start adding chopped spinach. It will cook down in a minute or so. Continue cleaning spinach (if needed) and adding it to pot or pan until it is well blended into cottage cheese/onion mixture.

Once all the spinach is added, you can pile on some Mexican Queso Fresco cheese. 

Season with pepper, reduce heat to low and cover to cook for 20 - 30 minutes until it is like Creamed Spinach.

Check spinach mixture from time to time to make sure liquid does not completely cook out. Stir periodically. The Queso Fresco will soften but still retain it's shape.

As spinach cooks down it adds a lot of liquid. The object is to cook spinach until very soft and cream-like. The cottage cheese will partially dissolve into the sauce. Add a couple of spoonfuls of milk if it starts to dry out.

If you like Saag Paneer more creamy then just add a 1/4 cup of milk or cream during last 20 minutes of simmering.

This would make a delicious pairing with my African Spiced Water Buffalo Wings, Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce, and Coconut Rice.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Peach Salsa

Peach are not only for pies, it makes a great salsa, too. This refreshing recipe combines the best of two worlds, sweet peaches from the South and spicy jalapeño from Mexico.

I've made all kinds of salsas from scratch, just click on any name to view: tangy Roasted Salsa Verde (tomatillo,) Red Chili (2 dried types - but same recipe,) Pico de Gallo, and Mango Salsa.

I leave the skin on my fruit, but you can remove it if you like. But do make sure the peach is a ripe one. My local Latin market carries them for less than a dollar per pound, and if you live in the Georgia, then you know where (and when) to get them for sure.

I used fresh jalapeño, but you can use it from a jar as well. The jalapenos will have a vinegar taste, but that's okay, just drain them first.

 I also remove the jalapeño seeds, but you can leave them in for a fiery Peach Salsa.

The other ingredients come cheaply and are easy to get. Cilantro is now carried by most groceries these days. I used red onion, but you can use cheaper white or yellow onion.

For my last taco party I set out a bowl of Peach Salsa and regular Red Chili Salsa. Guess which one vanished first - yep, it was the Peach Salsa.

For a fresh take on traditional tomato-based or red chili salsas, give my Peach Salsa a taste. All it takes is a little chopping.

Ingredients (2 servings)
  • 2 ripe peaches - about 2 cup chopped. My peaches were medium size (in peach country they can get quite large, so maybe one will do.) Okay to peel peaches, I left the skin on.
  • 3/4 cup onion - chopped. I used a red onion, but okay to use white or yellow onion.
  • Lemon or lime juice - I used the juice of one whole lemon. May need more juice depending on ripeness of fruit. Okay to use juice from a jar, about a tablespoon.
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro - chopped. Okay to add more or less to taste.
  • 1 tablespoon chopped jalapeño - optional. Okay to use jalapeño from the jar. I removed seeds, but leave them in for extra spicy. Okay to use more or less to you spice level.


Use ripe peaches. Prepare peach by cutting around peach and pulling it apart to remove the seed. Slice and chop peach into small pieces, like you would for a tomato based salsa.

I left the skin on the peach, but you can remove some or all the skin. If your cutting board has any peach juice left, just pour it into the salsa bowl.

Add chopped peaches to a bowl.

Chop the onion into small pieces. I used about a quarter of a large red onion. You can add more or less onion to taste.

Chop enough cilantro leaves to fill 2 tablespoons. Okay to add more or less to taste.

Add cilantro and onion to the bowl with peaches.

Squeeze in the juice of one lemon or lime. Normally lime is used for a salsa, but I used what I had on hand. Okay to use juice from the jar or plastic.

A good trick to get you lemon or lime extra juicy is to slice it in half, then microwave it for about 10-20 seconds until warm. This will release more juice.

Mix fruit, cilantro and onion with the lemon or lime juice. Finally add the chopped jalapeño.

When handling jalapeño make sure not to touch your eyes or lips or you will get burned. Be sure to wash your hands with soap after working with a jalapeño. The oil from a jalapeño is very hot to delicate body parts!

I like to slice the jalapeño lengthwise to cut out the white pith and remove the seeds. Discard the stem. You will have a little spiciness from jalapeno flesh, but not as much as when adding the seeds.

I used about a quarter of a large jalapeño, or about a tablespoon when chopped. If you like your salsa hotter then add more chopped jalapeno, or add jalapeño with the seeds.

If you are unsure about how much you spiciness you can take, just add a little chopped jalapeño at a time and mix, then try salsa.

Finally give your Peach Salsa a final mix to incorporate all the jalapeño.

Serve on tacos, with chips, or in a burrito.


This recipe is easy to double or quadruple for more guests.

You can adjust the ingredients to suit your taste - add more peach or less jalapeño; more cilantro or even leave out the onion.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Homemade Italian Sausage & Black Olive Pizza

All ingredients come from my local Dollar Tree store for my Sausage & Black Olive Pizza recipe.

It came together quickly as I found what I needed cruising the frozen deli case and store aisles. So read on to see my easy-to-make pizza recipe with tasty cheap$kate ingredients.

Click on any photo to see larger.

The first Dollar Tree item that caught my attention was pre-baked Camillo's Pizza Crusts. You get two 7 inch rounds for a buck! But sometimes you get what you pay for. While they are tasty,  (because they are already baked) when you build the pizza and bake it, the crust dries out until it has the texture of a large cracker.

Now that is fine if you like a crunchy crust. I like the outer crust hard, but prefer the rest of the crust to droop under the weight of the toppings. So, while the pizza crust is fine tasting, the texture is too hard. I even reduced the temperature, that the package recommended. I baked the assembled pizzas for 10 minutes as 400 degrees.

But the crust held up well with the added ingredients of pizza sauce, cooked sausage, cheese and sliced olives.

Further down the aisle with pizza crusts, I found plenty of canned tomato sauce, but lucked out and picked up a 14 ounce jar of Pizza Sauce by Francesco Rinaldi. It is quite tasty.

Mainly a tomato sauce, the extra spice and herbs are a subtle addition. It is very much like a typical canned pasta sauce.

The jar holds enough to sauce half a dozen of the 7 inch pizza rounds, so this is a deal I can get behind. I also found jars of Alfredo sauce as well, so I'll make a White Sauce Pizza next time.

I made my way to the Dollar Tree cold deli case against the back wall. It held all the toppings I needed for a sausage pizza.

They carried small packages of sliced pepperoni and a couple types of breakfast sausage, both made by Farmer John's. On type was just plain, while the other were links with maple syrup flavorings. I went for the plain Farmer John's Sausage, in a 12 ounce package. A darn good deal.

I figured I would fry up the sausage with a sprinkle of dried Italian herbs like oregano and basil. Also I added a little salt and pepper to the frying sausage.

I broke up the larger pieces of sausage into bite sizes to fit as a pizza topping. Farmer John's sausage is much fattier than regular link sausages, so be sure to drain off the grease after sauteing.

 And once you add some herbs, it gets close enough in flavor to a link of Italian sausage. I cooked the sausage all the way through.

When building the pizza with pre-cooked pizza dough, all you need to do is heat it up until the cheese melts and the sausage is hot again.

There was a nice selection of dried herbs across from the canned items. The main missing ingredient are fennel seeds. (But if you have some fennel seed in the cupboard then add it, too.)

I guess I could have fried up the Maple Syrup flavored sausage, adding Italian herbs, and called it Sweet Italian Sausage. Dollar Tree also carried an individual uncooked Jennie-O Turkey Burger patty. So it would have been easy to make low-fat Italian-style turkey sausage, too.

There were also small 3 ounce packages of shredded mozzerella. That's enough to take care of two small individual pizzas.

The deli case also held packages of fresh frozen vegges like asparagus and different veggie combos. I could have added a couple of asparagus spears, or just made a veggie pizza.

And one aisle over they had cans of black olives and jars of roasted red peppers. I got the olives, but next time I would try the marinated peppers. I like to thinly slice black olives as a pizza topping.

So for about 6 bucks I got enough Dollar Tree ingredients to make 4 individual pizzas (adding dried herbs I have at home,) with leftover pizza sauce, sausage, and plenty of olives.

What's nice is being able to add as much sauce, olives and sausage as I wanted on each pizza. I had just enough mozzarella though, so could not go overboard with that.

I find that may budget premade individual pizzas lacking, mainly they are skimpy with the meat and cheese. Using fresh pork sausage is so much tastier and I can crumble it into any size I like.

So on my Cheap$kate Dining Scale of 1 to 9, 9 being best, I give my Homemade Italian Sausage and Olive Pizza made with Dollar Tree ingredients a strong 7!

This pizza would could have been a perfect 9 if the pizza crust was better. So while the ingredients were satisfactory, I'm still searching for a better pizza crust...for around a dollar.

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