Sunday, December 30, 2012

So what does a bargain hunter want for Christmas? Violet Mints and some other presents!

Holidays are past us and as we get ready for 2013, I decided to write a short post on the things I got for Christmas. Besides doing improvements around the house, a good investment for anyone that owns a house and can find improvements that also serve as tax deductions, I managed to complete a graduate certificate program and my diploma should be in the mail as I write this post. Education is always a good investment and in my case, the employer is paying the tuition costs, which makes this an excellent deal and an investment in the future.

But of course like everyone else, a new floor and a degree do not make up for little material things that we want under the Christmas tree. I had a couple of these as well. My first treat was a wireless connection for my TV to now stream Amazon Instant Video, Netflix and Pandora. While I use Amazon and Pandora a lot, I am not a subscriber to Netflix because Amazon right now offers enough movies and TV shows that I really do not need Netflix. Eventually, I may subscribe to Netflix, but for now Midsomer Murders on Amazon are sufficiently entertaining to me.

The second treat were a package of Violet Mints. For those of you that have never tasted Violet Mints, let me tell you that in my opinion you are missing out on a delicacy. Violet is definitely an acquired flavor, but for me it is a special treat because good violet flavor in candy is hard to find. I grew up on violet flavored candy in Germany and I love the scent and the flavor of violets. While watching Upstairs Downstairs on PBS violet macaroons were mentioned and I developed a longing for violet flavored candy. Violet macaroons use essence of violet, which by all accounts is very difficult to obtain in the USA, but I will definitely keep an eye out of for that flavor because violet macaroons sound for me just about as good as anything cookie or food that I can imagine. I have had hazelnut and almond macaroons homemade and I can only imaging the airy lightness of macaroons, but with violet flavor and now I really, really badly want these macaroons.

To cover my violet hunger in the meantime, I came across these mints in the meantime. They are Chowards Violet Mints, available on here and cost less than $20 for 24 packages. The company, C. Howard, also makes gum in violet flavor as well as some other flavors, such as spearmint. But I definitely only cared about the violet flavor. They mints arrived shortly before the holidays and after opening the package and experiencing the violet scent, I knew I had made a good choice. The website for the company is here. They do offer guava flavored mints, which sound good, but for now, I am in violet heaven and I will stay here for a while!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - violet goodness in a 24 pack of mints - love them!
Below is an image of how the actual mints look like. While they seem pale and innocent, they are definitely bursting with true violet flavor that lasts a long time. The flavor is immediate, once you pop one in your mouth and continues, even if you are already done with the mint - which in my case is always a sad occasion (hence my interest in the gum). I am sitting right now typing away on this post and have a package of the mints in the room, which leaves me surrounded by the exquisite scent of violets - love it! If you are thinking now about getting some of these mints, I can only encourage you to give them a try.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - violet and minty goodness in each 15 mint package of Chowards!
So these are my Christmas presents - a lot of useful items, but also a little treat!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sunday eVic special - Harris Teeter 1Gal Milk only $2.77

Do NOT forget to stop by Harris Teeter tomorrow to get your eVIC specially prized milk. One Gallon of any HT storebrand milk is only $2.77. If the farm bill is not passed, milk could see a sharp increase in price. But even without the Farm Bill issue, $2.77 is a very good price for 1 Gallon of milk.

In case you are wondering, milk can be frozen. For freezing, skim milk or any milk with relatively low fat content works best. After freezing the milk, you can thaw it in the fridge and then use it like any fresh milk from the grocery store. So you can make use of the LIMIT 2 for this eVIC special. One tip, if you want to freeze milk, pour enough out of the gallon container to free up about 1 inch from the top to allow for expansion in volume during freezing. After the milk is thawed, shake it up to mix properly and use within a week or so.

Happy HT eVic shopping!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Bath & Body Works clearance - love this time of year!

This time of year is a good time for bargains. Stores are trying to sell a lot of seasonal items, food specials especially stocked for Christmas, decorations for inside and outside the house etc. But also items such as candles and soaps are being reduced for more than 50% because Pumpkin is considered too seasonal to be sold year round.

Bath & Body Works is one such store and earlier this week, they started their seasonal clearance. This semi-annual clearance means that you can get items for up to 75% off. The sale is still ongoing and you can find bargains for body lotion, candles, shampoo and many other items. The direct link to the sale listing is here.

With such prices, I cannot stay away and bought my supply of body lotion and three of my favorite candles at reduced prices.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the items arrive well packaged and everything already looks so pretty!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - what to sample first? One of the candles will be lit this evening for sure!
So I got three huge three-wick candles in my favorite scent coconut lime verbena - I love that scent and have almost everything in that scent, including now finally candles. These were $10 each, reduced from $20.

The body lotions were all 75% reduced, including coconut vanilla body lotion and brown sugar fig. I also got a nice little gift set in Japanese Cherry Blossom, which I use to decorate the guest bathroom. This was was 25% off and with a coupon I spent $9 on it. The website indicates a total value of $33 for the items included in the set and the regular price was $19.50.

Overall, I am very happy with my order for around $44. I had a coupon for 20% and free shipping, which made the deals even better. But better than the prices is the fact that I can enjoy the scent of a Coconut Lime Verbena candle!

Bargain shopping: Manager's Special - That's why I love my Kroger store!

Today I decided on a whim to stop in at my Kroger store and see whether they had anything on sale. I am not talking about regular sales advertised in the circular, but unannounced deals called Manager's Specials. Manager's Specials are items that either need to be sold due to the expiration data approaching or items that Kroger does not longer want to carry and they need to clear shelves. If the latter is the case, you can find items that have expiration dates months in the future, making such items a wonderful bargain.

Today, I was really lucky and found a lot of items reduced and most of these items have expiration dates in May or June of next year - WONDERFUL!

Below is the picture of my haul - I spend around $25 for all items - not bad considering that the smaller yoghurt alone was supposed to be $1 each on sale and the crackers were around $5 each. Most of the items were about 25% of the original price, the carrot cake roll being the exception since it was only reduced by 50% (half-price is not bad either).

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Manager's special makes for great bargains at Kroger!
Some of the items I was particularly excited about are the capers. I bought three glasses of these after I have been circling them most of the winter. They were supposed to be more than $3 and I love making a sauce with real capers for my meatballs, but these tiny things are so darn expensive. Not today - three glasses will last me until summer.

Then the carrot cake roll - one of our favorite desserts and something that is fairly labor intensive to make at home. For $3.50  I could afford it and now dessert for the next days is set! What are start into 2013.

Then the Greek Yoghurt and especially in Mango Passionfruit flavor - my favorite kind. I am so happy and now the daily limit of ONE Greeek Yoghurt may actually get lifted.

Overall, everything I bought will get used in the household and seen as rare treats that are only bought on sale, not at regular prices. Making this shopping trip at Kroger at wonderful end to 2012 and (if some of it lasts until next year) an even better start of 2013.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Product review: Cafe Escapes Vanilla and Caramel coffee

I had received a sample pack from Cafe Escapes through their Facebook promotion and was quite excited to give their Vanilla Coffee and their Caramel Coffee a try since many people seemed to really like their coffee. I expected their coffee to be in line with the International Foods-type coffee since it had milk and sugar added already. But I was in a for a surprise.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - so far, so good - cup, Keurig and Cafe Escapes sample are ready!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - trying the Cafe Escapes Cafe Caramel first!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - looking good, a nice creamy liquid is coming out of the machine!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - my first ever Cafe Escapes cup!
So the coffee looked good and definitely emitted a caramel smell, but I was struck immediately by an overly sweet sensation. And one sip confirmed that while the intention for making this coffee may have been good, the product in my opinion was subpar. International Foods also has sugar and milk added to a powder and generated a sweetened milk-coffee when prepared. But Cafe Escapes was just too sweet and seemed to have in my opinion a very fattening and too rich consistency. I drank the cup, barely, but I figured I may as wall give the cup the benefit of the doubt and finish it to make sure that my impression was true. I then sampled the Vanilla Cafe later on and the impression was similar; the mix was too sweet and extremely rich - while not really tasting like coffee.

I rarely write bad reviews, but I am very disappointed with Cafe Escapes for their Caramel Coffee and Vanilla Coffee. I had hoped for a nice coffee flavor sweetened with caramel and some milk thrown in to soften the coffee taste. Similar for the Vanilla coffee; what I ended up with something that really did not resemble coffee anymore because I could not taste any coffee. This was almost like really sweet caramel or vanilla milk.

Cafe Escapes has other products and I am certainly willing to try additional flavors. But personally, I will not purchase these two flavors in the stores. I would be curious to hear what others think about these two specific Cafe Escapes flavors and, if possible, let me know how they compare to other Cafe Escapes products. Cafe Escapes has also hot chocolate as well as mochas - so it is possible that the remaining flavors have a more pronounced coffee influence and may be more to my liking.

For this product my ranking about 0 out of 5 starts - being that bad that I am not sure I will use the remaining two samples I have left over.

Bargain shopping - even at Harris Teeter it is possible!

So today after work I decided to go shopping at Harris Teeter because I had a couple of good coupons and I have found that going through the grocery store and planning a coupon hunting trip oddly enough relaxes me after work. I think the relaxation comes because I need to focus on something different than work, namely how to maximize the coupons that I have and combine them with specials at the grocery store.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - one shopping trip at Harris Teeter, total spent = less than $10.
The picture above shows the total haul for this trip. I got two packages of chicken hotdogs that were on clearance as BOGO for about $5.79. I liked chicken sausage; with my favorite chicken sausage of all time being a breakfast sausage that had blueberries in it. If I ever splurge on a meat grinder and sausage-making attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer, a blueberry breakfast chicken sausage will be on top of my list of recipes I need to figure out.

I also got a box of Cheez It. Here is picked the hot and spicy flavor because it goes well with the creamy cheeses that I like. I then ended up getting two bottles of water; one a sparkling water that I will use for making Italian lemonade with my Torani syrups. The second bottle is a fruit-flavored regular water from Deer Park. Lastly, I picked up two products by Charmin, a 4-pack of toilet paper and then a box of Charmin Freshmates, which I believe are fairly new addition to the Charmin line of products.

So how did the deals stack up?
The chicken sausage was BOGO (expiration date is late January 2013) for a savings of $5.79
Charmin toilet paper was on sale from $4.19 to 2.99
Charmin Freshmates - free with coupon and Charmin purchase - savings of $3.15
Cheez It - on sale and eVic special $3.75 down to $1.77 and I used a $1.50off coupon
sparkling water - free with register reward coupon - saved $1.19 (price rang up as $1.50) cost 31cents
Deer Park fruit water - free with register reward coupon - saved $1.19 (price rang $1.00) 19cents MM

copyright Durhamonthecheap - less than $10 with plenty of coupon savings and eVic specials
 I noticed as I was checking my receipt at the customer service counter that the cashier rang up the same coupon twice for the two different waters and that cost me 12 cents, which I would have saved otherwise. But since they are register reward coupons and I had gotten so much for free or reduced prices, I figured my donation to HT this time was the 12 cents. I really did not want to hold the line up any longer since I ended up with a very inexperienced cashier, who already made me and several people behind me wait for 10 minutes since no manage was to be found that could accept the coupons. While I like high value coupons, they usually require a manager overwrite and if a manager is busy doing other stuff, be ready for a long wait. I do not mind waiting, but today HT was extremely busy and the cashier was clearly just beyond the training stage and so I decided to forgo the 12 cents. (In addition, a friendly lady had donated her shopping kart with the quarter still in it last week at Aldi and made me an early Christmas present)

I could have waited around for double coupons, which I think will happen again in January sometime, but the items that I bought were on sale anyway and the eVic special for the Cheez It was too good to not combine with the Red Plum coupon. In addition, I did not know whether the chicken hotdogs would still be available in January, so I decided to use my coupons and make use of on sale merchandise.

Reviews of the chicken sausage to follow soon!

Book review: Fire Prophet by Jerel Law (Young Adult fiction)

Let me state first off, I rarely read young adult books, but this book had an interesting premise because it was classified as a young adult book with an action-filled story that still relayed some of the basic tenets of Christianity. So I figured that reading this book could be interesting. It ended up being interesting, but it was not my favorite read.

The story is quickly summarized as an adventure that picks teenage quarter angels against the forces of darkness or half-angels in this story. Half angels target quarterlings and in an earlier story, Jonah, his sister Eliza and his younger brother Jeremiah were explained as the offspring of a nephilim (half angel, which was their mother) and a human. In this story, after saving their mother in the earlier book, Jonah and Eliza are now being targeted by half angels and must use their newly found angelic and trained skills to fight of evil half angels.

While the book was an interesting read and definitely fast paced, while still providing insights into Christian tenets, the book is strongly relying on the earlier book in which the characters were introduced. In addition, this book references the earlier book both in facts as well as in events quite frequently and so to really appreciate this book and not having to deduce a lot, I would highly recommend that the first book be read prior to reading this follow up young adult novel.

Disclaimer: I was provided this book through booksneeze in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this book are solely my own and have not been influenced by the publisher or any third party.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Product Review: Nancy's Strawberry Dessert Spirals

Through the Cravebox Winter Favorites box I received a coupon for a free product by Nancy's, a company that specializes in frozen appetizers and desserts. I had previously seen the products, but was unsure about how I would like them.

But when the Kroger grocery store in my neighborhood had the Nancy Strawberry Dessert Spirals on sale, I decided to give them a try. I did not even use the coupon because the coupon from the Cravebox had made me research Nancy's online and I found generally good reviews about their products.

Surprisingly, I did not find a Facebook page for the company, which is unusual in these days. But I found out that Nancy's is a subsidiary of Heinz. That's right, the same company that makes the famous Heinz ketchup, now offers savory appetizers and wonderful frozen desserts.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - looks good on the front of the box, but will the product itself be really tasty?

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the prep - leave outside for 15 minutes to achieve cake-like consistency

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the finished product, an elegant dessert of dessert spirals and European-style cookies
I ended up buying the 32 count Strawberry Dessert Spirals since the price was fantastic. I decided to serve them as a dessert with some vanilla ice-cream and a couple of chocolate cookies. A benefit of the 32 count box, besides the really good sale price at Kroger, was the fact that some spirals were left over for snacking on the following days.

This afternoon I paired the Strawberry dessert spirals with some European cookies and a nice cup of tea. An elegant afternoon dessert, reminiscent of the European kaffeeklatsch tradition, but without me having to bake home-made cakes and spending time in the kitchen preparing. The prep is what I really like about Nancy's. For the dessert spirals, all you do is put the cakes frozen on a plate and wait about 15 minutes for them to thaw out to a cake like consistency. A shorter thaw time will result in an almost ice cream-like consistency. But I definitely prefer the longer thaw time because the flavor of strawberry is more pronounced when you leave the dessert spirals longer at room temperature.

Disclaimer: I received a coupon for a free product by Nancy's in my Winter Favorites Cravebox. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Nancy's, Cravebox or any third party.

simple, three ingredient meatball appetizer dish

Through Cravebox's Winter Favorites box I received a bottle of Heinz Chili Sauce as well as a recipe card for Ultimate Party Meatballs. I had previously seen this recipe as part of the Oceanspray newsletter and thought it sounded yummy.

So with the holidays here and people in the house that are always hungry, I figured this would be the perfect time to make the recipe. It is very simple because you just mix the Heinz Chili sauce with a can of Oceanspray Jellied Cranberry Sauce and 2 pounds of frozen, pre-cooked meatballs and heat the mix for 4 hours in your slowcooker. Below is the photo-essay about the dish. By the way, the meatballs taste excellent. They have just the right mix of sweet and spicy to make the meatball flavor unique and very, very tasty.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - all the ingredients you need for the recipe- could not be easier!

copyright Durhamonthecheal - and the prep is done - everything in the slow cooker and now heat!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - my trusted slowcooker will be busy for 4 hours on high!

copyright Durhamonthecheal - halfway through, things smell delicious and start to look tasty!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - after 4 hours, the sauce has nicely thickened and the meatballs have absorbed flavor!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the meatballs, some sauce and leftover stuffing and you get a great lunch!
As you can see, while it takes 4 hours to cook the meatballs, the hand-on time is limited to minutes. Literally, after adding all ingredients to the slow cooker, I just stirred the mix a couple of times and that was all the cooking that was required of me. We had meatballs as appetizers and used some of the left over meatballs in dishes ranging from the stuffing and meatballs you see above to pasta with meatballs. Add a salad or some veggies and you got dinner in a few minutes.

This was the first time that I had tasted Heinz Chili sauce, but I will likely stock it in my pantry regularly now because I like the tangy spiciness of the sauce. Adding on the Cranberry sauce makes this a uniquely flavorful sauce that I can see myself trying on other items like sausages or chicken breast. It makes for an incredibly flavorful meal.

Disclaimer: I received the Heinz Chili sauce and the recipe card for the Ultimate Party meatballs through Winter Favorites. The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Cravebox, Oceanspray, Heinz or any third party.

Product review: Perdue Oven Ready - Cornish Hens

If you have read my earlier post on Perdue Oven Ready products, you will know that I love the ease with which you can now prepare homemade chicken for your family. Oven Ready is a new line by Perdue that provides the busy housewife with chicken all ready for the oven. I previously sampled their whole fryer, but for the holidays decided that Cornish hens would be a nice treat.

My local Kroger had the Cornish hens on sale for $7.99 for two in the Oven Ready pack. I stored them in the fridge because I planned to use them the next day. I decided to prep both hens and save one to eat cold. That way, we only needed to heat the oven up once, saved some energy and eating cold chicken is something no one in my family ever grows tired of.

Below are the step by step instructions for how easy and quick (in actual work time) preparing two Cornish hens can be if you use Perdue Oven Ready products.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - oven set to 400oF per instructions. It should take about 1 hour to cook the hens!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - two Cornish heans, in separate bags, so you can prep only one if you choose!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the hens are were raised cage free, ensuring the meat is flavorful and healthy!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the nutritional information per serving. Two hens constitute 11 servings!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - The clear instructions, indicating which side goes up on the package

copyright Durhamonthecheap - You can see the spices and herbs used through the package!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the small opening that you need to cut into the bag for venting during cooking

copyright Durhamonthecheap - time per on bag instructions 60-70 minutes, I used the latter to ensure thorough cooking!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - ready for cooking! Two Oven Ready Cornish hens, ready in no time for the oven!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - yummy goodness in the making - hens in the oven

copyright Durhamonthecheap - after 70 minutes, you can tell the chicken are browned through the bags

copyright Durhamonthecheap - two Cornish hens, the smell is out of this world!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the hens smell awesome and look so good, ready to dig in!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - for a festive treat, I retained the juices from the bag to use in gravy!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - a meal fit for a king, Cornish hens, Brussel sprouts, stuffing and homemade gravy!
Overall, I am again very impressed with the ease with which I can prepare a homecooked chicken dinner for my family. The Cornish hens were flavorful, the meat was incredibly moist and the seasoning was just right for our taste.

This time I reserved the juices for homemade chicken gravy and that added a nice touch to the stuffing and added to the hens themselves. The dinner was delicious and did not disappoint despite taking very little effort from me to prepare. I did use stuffing out of the box, but added frozen herbs from the garden and with the gravy, to which I added some pepper and a little bit of nutmeg to give it additional flavor, the stuffing was moist and flavorful. The Brussel sprouts were frozen and I made a simple white sauce, again containing some nutmeg and pepper, to go with them. The nutmeg in both gravy and sauce tied the whole meal together and to us provides a truly home-cooked flavor!

I find the Oven Ready product line by Perdue to be a real time saver for the busy housewife. You can provide your family with truly home-cooked meals without compromising quality, while saving a lot of time. The instructions seem extremely easy, set the oven to a specific temperature, set your kitchen timer, add chicken to the oven and pull it out when your timer goes off. The result in my two attempts so far is a consistently high quality dinner and the flavor is certainly good enough that I decided to serve Cornish hens for Christmas dinner. Everyone loved the hens and the meat turned out so moist that we had a hard time saving some of the chicken to eat cold the next day.

We used one of the Cornish hens for lunch the next day with some roasted potatoes and carrots. The meat, cold and right out of the fridge, tasted excellent. The skin was not crispy, but most importantly, there was no excess grease and so eating the skin was a rare treat for us since we usually do not include skin from chicken due to its excessive greasiness.

The Cornish hens do not provide sufficient bones and leftovers for a nice soup stock, but overall, I find the Perdue Oven Ready Cornish hens a good value for the money, especially if you find them on sale at your grocery store.  I like to prepare Cornish hens for special meals since the meat is more flavorful than regular chicken and the breast meat takes up a higher percentage of the total meat compared to adult chicken.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - cold Cornish hens for lunch the next day!
Disclaimer: This blog entry was done as part of bzzagent campaign and a received a $2 off coupon for a Perdue Oven Ready product from The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by bzzagent or any third party.

Kiss Nail Dress - so many choices, so many uses

I recently won a brand challenge through Voxbox and Kiss Nails. So for the holiday season, I decided to dress up my nails. But rather than apply a whole nail dress to the nail, I used one of the examples given in the Nail Dress kit and cut up an individual Nail Dress into strips that I applied to previously painted fingernails.

Since the Nail Dress was in pink with tiny silver crystal-like objects applied, I decided to use a pink Orly nail polish and call attention to the silver attachments that sparkled under lights.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - combination of Kiss Nails Nail Dress and pink Orly nail polish

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Orly nail polish Beach Cruiser and Kiss Nail Dress Cocktail
The pink in the Kiss Nail Dress almost perfectly matches the pink nail polish by Orly and so you are left with pink nail that have silver sparkle attached to them. I like the silver sparkle in a single or two strips attached to the nail because it creates a little bit more of a variety since you can apply the strip to various locations on the nail.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the Kiss Nails Nail Dress in Cocktail, a wonderful mix of pink and silver!

While I often apply nail polish, having the nail dress available from Kiss enables me to create a more festive look and that was certainly appropriate for the holiday parties. I may in the future apply nail dress to the whole nail, but I really like this look of applying nail dress to part of the nail because it creates a more interesting look. I provides me with an opportunity to liven up the regular nail polish that I am using and since you can mix and match nail dress and polish, I will probably try the Kiss Nails Nail Dress with a nail polish of a darker color, so in addition to the silver sparkles, you can also clearly see the pink lines of the Nail Dress.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - you can see how the Nail Dress by Kiss livens up the pink nail laquer by Orly!

Disclaimer: The Kiss Nails Nail Dress was provided to me free of charge in return for an honest review. The Orly Nail Laquer was provided to me as reduced pricing through the Allure Beauty Box in return for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Allure, Kiss, Orly or any other third party.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Product review: Kroger Private Selection Classic Water Crisps

As part of and its campaign for Kroger Private Selection products I had received a package of original water crisps. For those not familiar with the Private Selection line of products, these products are a Kroger store brand. But in contrast to the impression that many people have of store brands, correct or incorrect, the Private Selection line of products are high quality, gourmet-type products and these original water crisps are no exception.

Water Crisps are low salt, low fat crackers that work well with any topping. Because they do not have any flavor of their own other than a baked through crispiness, they are perfect to use for appetizers. I have paired water crisps depending on the occasion with sweet and savory toppings. They work well with peanut butter or a nice homemade lemon curd as well as with savory toppings such as tomatoes and mozzarella marinated in balsamico or cheese and kalamata olives. For a simply appetizer this holiday season, I paired the water crisps with a peppery cheese and cucumber combo as well as a cheese and salami mix.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - appetizer using Private Selection Original Water Crisps and savory toppings!
Since water crisps are very light, low in fat and salt and have no cholesterol, they are inherently healthy and it is perfectly allowable to splurge on the toppings. I used creamy sliced cheeses and then added bits of salami or freshly cut cucumber to the cheese to generate some variety. The water crisps, because of their even size and thin crispy texture, allow the focus on the toppings. The salami was a wine salami  that I wanted to be the focus on rather than the cracker. I hate using flavorful crackers with certain toppings because toppings and cracker compete and the flavors overlay. The wine salami was a treat that I specifically purchased for the holidays and I paired it with a mild cheese for additional texture without distracting from the salami flavor. The water crisps were perfect for this pairing.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - a light, yet filling appetizer that is sure to please everyone!
The water crisps appetizers were a hit with the guests. The toppings were clearly the center, whereas the water crisps were the unsung hero workhorse to the appetizer. But people commented on how well the crisps were chosen for this appetizer.

If you are looking for reasonably prized gourmet food items at your local grocery store, I highly recommend you consider purchasing the Private Selection items at Kroger. The line consists of water crisps, capers, jams, cheeses, coffee, ice cream and many more items. I have sampled many private selection items and have NEVER been disappointed. The Private Selection line of food is consistently high quality and the flavors are outstanding.

I personally purchase most of my Private Selection at the S. Roxboro St. Kroger in Durham, which carries a wide selection of Private Selection items, including these original water crisps.

Disclaimer: I received a bzzkit from consistent of several free coupon, items as well as money off coupons for Kroger Private Selection items. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by bzzagent, Kroger or any other third party.

Product review: Kiss products - from the brand challenge by Influenster

As part of each Voxbox, recipients can participate in what is called brand-challenges. These little treasure hunt-type exercises are intended for the Voxobox recipient to become more familiar with the brands represented in each VoxBox. As part of the brand-challenge, you can subscribe to Twitter and Facebook pages, write a review etc.

Once all assigned tasks are completed, the Voxbox recipient then becomes eligible for winning a challenge prize. I have won several prizes in the past and yesterday received one more win from a Voxbox brand-challenge. This time, the prize was from Kiss and it contained a set of false eyelashes as well as a complete set of Nail Dress.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - brand challenge win from Influenster campaign, courtesy of Kiss cosmetics!
As you can see from the image above, the lashes are wonderful. They truly look natural and for a beginner like me are really easy to apply. They have a little string and then a glue-type substance that ensures a solid fit for the whole day. I initially got a starter kit in my Influenster Voxbox and could practice with the kit to use false lashes. These lashes can also be used multiple times and you can store them right in the box in between uses.

The Nail Dress is absolutely adorable.The little sparkle, crystal-like decorations actually can be felt on the Nail Dress and I love the pink color of the stripes. I may save these for Easter because the pink is such a nice pink pastel, which is perfect for Easter. I have previously tried the nail products by Kiss and was surprised by how easy they can be applied and especially how long they last. The nail covers actually last a whole week without falling off or tearing. Granted I work in an office, so the chance of nails getting damaged is relatively small, but still. I like the fact that you can apply the nails on the weekend, get the manicure completed with filing etc, and then be set for the rest of the week.

I am very happy to have won the brand challenge from Influenster and Kiss and I certainly can use both products. If you are hesitant to use either product, especially the false eyelashes, I would encourage you to get the starter kit for eyelashes by Kiss and see how it works for you. I always thought eyelashes would be difficult to apply and to wear, especially for contact lens users. But non of these concerns apply here, Kiss really took the guesswork out of using false eyelashes for me. While I do not use false eyelashes regularly, I have used them for parties and special outings. The Nail Dress I obviously used more regularly and with so many designs available, Kiss really offers a design for every taste and situation.

Below is a link to the Kiss website for their eyelashes here. And  the website for the many, many kinds of designs available from Kiss for your nails is available here. I plan on using a Kiss Nail Dress for a New Year's Eve party and will post an update then with images.

Product review: Aldi - Vanilla Cream Brioche (weekly special December 12, 2012)

Aldi had a weekly special earlier this month featuring Brioche. They offered two varieties, Chocolate Chip and Vanilla Cream. I opted for the more traditional Vanilla Cream since from my years in Europe I am not used to Brioche having any additional flavor added such as Chocolate.
The Brioche from Aldi were a little bit more moist than I was used to and you could clearly taste the Vanilla Cream. I would have preferred the traditional and drier Brioche, which is similar to Challa, but due to the higher egg content of the dough heavier than Challa.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - holiday breakfast brioche, cookies and Assam tea
For those who have never tasted brioche, the bread is extremely soft. The dough has a high content of butter and egg, making it extremely rich. That is why I would have preferred the more traditional brioche without the addition of extra richness such as vanilla cream or chocolate chips. In Europe, the most common form is the plain brioche bread or pastry that goes well with simple coffee or black tea, as I have pictured it above. The unsweetened beverage is a nice contrast to the inherent richness of the brioche and makes for a filling breakfast. Since the above was a holiday breakfast, I added some European style cookies to enjoy while finishing up the tea.

As beverage, I used Assam tea from Wedgwood. Assam tea comes, as the name suggests, from India and has a full bodied, malty flavor. Commonly, English breakfast tea sold in the USA will actually contain Assam tea blended with other tea varieties. The strong flavor of Assam tea is a nice contrast to common breakfast items such as toast with jam or, as in my example, brioche with vanilla cream.

As you can see, I am using a French Press to prepare and drink my tea. I have owned a tea press from Bodum for years now since I, if time permits, prefer loose leafed tea to enjoy the true flavor of the variety of tea blends. The French Press pictured above can be used for coffee or tea and generates a nice individual serving. I enjoy the loose tea since it comes in a larger variety of flavors and blends than tea in bags. In addition, you can measure the quantity of tea to your individual liking, providing a more enjoyable experience for drinking tea for me. Unfortunately, Wedgwood tea is very hard to find in the USA, but if you want to get to know the different tea varieties better, visit your local specialty tea and coffee store and sample some of the blends on sale there. You will find that buying loose tea can be cheaper in the end because you only buy the tea you like, adjust the amount of tea you use to brew yourself a cup and often end up with a higher quality and better flavored cup of tea than if you simply buy the bagged tea available in grocery stores.

Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of teabags with a variety of flavors and blends in my house. But ever so often I want to enjoy tea the old fashioned way and then I resort to loose tea, enjoying a special blend of tea accompanied by a sweet treat. You should give loose tea a try sometime. The variety of teas available will astonish you and you may find that loose tea prepared fresh can be a low calorie, special treat that you can enjoy without feeling guilty.

Product review: EatSmart Naturals - Veggie Chips from the Goodies December box

As part of the December box from I received a bag of EatSmart Naturals - Veggie Chips, which contained the flavors of potato, tomato and spinach. The bag is one serving with 160 delicious calories. The chips are more crisps than chips since they are low in fat (12% total fat) and not greasy at all. They have no cholesterol and are also gluten free - one of several gluten free products included in the December Goodies box. The company website is and they have additional products that are gluten free, including tortilla chips and cheese curls.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - a healthy lunch with pumpernickel and veggie crisps
I served the crisps for lunch to accompany sandwiches and with a side of cheese. As you can see from the picture above, the crisps come in three flavors and while the tomato flavor is obvious, the spinach flavor is somewhat weak and not easily discernible. The potato flavor is fine and what I really like about all three kinds of chips is the fact that they are totally non greasy. They are very crunchy and crisp. They are perfect to accompany a smooth textured cheese like a brie or the sliced pepper jack that we used. I rarely rave about veggie crisps or so called healthy chips because they often taste too healthy or even somewhat stale. These eatsmart chips taste fresh and very good. They actually do taste like chips that have been air dried and all the flavor, especially in the tomato flavor, has been preserved.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - you can see the different flavors included in the eatsmart veggie crisps

To all my readers that suffer from gluten allergies, I can recommend these chips as a healthy component of their diet. I would not miss regular chips as well since I find regular potato chips often too greasy to eat and have switched over to pretzel sticks instead. These eatsmart veggie chips are a wonderful and healthy alternative for those that look for healthy chips to eat with their sandwich at lunch.

Disclaimer: I received the December box in exchange for a low subscription fee and an honest review. The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Goodies, eatsmart or any other third party.