Sunday, March 31, 2013

Discovering traditional recipes: Granny Cake (Hummingbird Cake)

Coming from Germany, a lot of the traditional recipes in the USA are new to me. I have already made chess pie and shoofly pie, but there is so much more to discover. So the latest recipe I tried was called Granny Cake or Hummingbird Cake. The recipe was in a magazine called "Living the Country Life" in a series that covered traditional cake recipes. The Facebook page for the magazine is here. I liked the recipe because it was described as traditional, a la church socials, and also included basic ingredients that most people have in their pantry. I do not like to use recipes that call for special ingredients because those recipes mean you go and buy items just for that specific recipe and in this economy, who wants to spend money on an item of limited use.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - shout out to my Kitchenaid Mixer, never fails, no matter how much butter in the dough!
In addition to those two criteria, the recipe also gave me a chance to use my Kitchenaid mixer, which I love because it works like clockwork and makes mixing dough a snap no matter how much butter or how many eggs get added.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Wilton bakeform with finished cake
I also could use my Wilton bakeform that I purchased some time ago with a gift certificate that I had won in an online giveaway. The Wilton bakeform, purchased as Michaels, is called Dimensions Belle Pan and described in more detail here. I loved the bakeform the moment I saw it and have been wanting to try it out for a long time because it just screams Sunday afternoon cake to me. The form work wonderfully. It was a little bit smaller than required by the recipe, but I left the cake longer in the oven to account for the increase in height. Next time, I will save some of the dough and make two smaller cakes on the side. I have two small fluted pans that can handle smaller cakes for 2 people. I bought these pans initially to create small hostess cakes, but have found they work really well if you want to make a regular cake and have leftover dough. The smaller cakes freeze really well and can be used for gifts during the holidays.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - my cake and the example from the magazine.
 I changed the recipe around a little bit because I do not usually have pecans in the house. So I left out the required pecans and added whatever mushy bananas I had and a can of crushed pineapple. I figured as long as the dough is properly mixed, I can adjust the caking time to make sure that cake is baked through. It worked out really well! The recipe is a simple mix of flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, basking soda mixed with bananas, nutmeg and pineapple. I left out the required cloves and pecans because neither of which I had in the pantry. I also do something that I swear by for my pumpkin pie, I freshly ground the nutmeg. I will never use pre-ground nutmeg since it lacks in flavor. I love the flavor of nutmeg and storing the whole seed makes the flavor last longer, plus it is cheaper! The original recipe for the Granny Cake published in Living the Country Life is available online here.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - ready for the Sunday afternoon coffee!
copyright Durhamonthecheap - the first slice, smells good with bananas, spices and pineapple!
 So after the relatively quick prep and the baking time, what is the verdict? Even with the modifications, this cake is a winner. I can understand why it is described in Living the Country Life Magazine as an "old-fashioned, church-social-style recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation." The cake is nice and moist and smells of spring or summer with the fruit included in the dough. In addition, the combination of nutmeg and fruit makes for a light version of a spice cookie that can feed a crowd. The ingredients are pantry stables and the total price for the ingredients is relatively cheap. The most expensive items being the fruit. So next time you are looking for a Sunday cake, consider making a Hummingbird Cake. It may be old-fashioned, but the flavor is well worth going back to Granny's recipe book for.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

It's raining Freebies: Mail haul for a good day!

I do not sign up as much for free stuff anymore as I used, but I still try to capture the occasional freebie that I come across and because of that, I do sometimes have days like today. I consider any day a good that brings no bill. But if in addition to no bill, I get several free things in the mail, the mail day is really good!

So for today, I have three free offers to share with you that actually ended up in small packages arriving at the house. One item is a full size Olay Regenerist product for eye rejuvenation. I am very happy about the Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Eye Cream And Lash Serum Duo since I rarely splurge on full size items these days with the economy being as bad as it still is. So this Olay product is a real treat. This product retails on for $19.00 (check out the full description and initial reviews here)
copyright Durhamonthecheap - Olay Regenerist luxury treat thanks to Vocalpoint!
Keep an eye out for my review. I am really looking forward to this treat and I love Olay products, but they are quite expensive.

The second free item fits in nicely with prior products that I received through bzzagent. It is from Nexxus and is a sample of their Youth Renewal line for which I already sampled their shampoo and conditioners as well as the blow dry spray. Now I get to sample the Nexxus Youth Renewal Elixir, which I have not tested so far. This was a sign up through Facebook, which lately had quite a few companies offering samples or even full size products. I was very happy with the Youth Renewal products and use the shampoo and conditioner now regularly. So I am certain that the Elixir will also be a product that improves my hair health. The full size bottle of the Nexxus Youth Renewal Elixir retails for about $15.00 on Amazon; see the full description and initial reviews here.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - Nexxus Youth Renewal Hair Elixir from Facebook.
Keep in mind that Facebook is not all about games and viruses or unwanted ads. If you are careful about signing up for brand name companies, you can receive samples like this Elixir as well. I would encourage caution to only sign up for brand name companies, even though a lot of small retailers are starting their Facebook pages as well. If you are personally familiar with a small retailer and they advertise their Facebook, you can sign up for these sites as well. But never sign up or allow an application access to your personal information on Facebook, unless you are sure the site is associated with a legitimate business. In addition, unless you are really interested in connecting with people from your first grade class, consider limiting any personal information you share with Facebook to begin with. My public profile has nothing besides my name, I do not disclose my location or any other information because the less you share, the less can be disclosed if Facebook changes their privacy settings yet again without disclosing upfront what information will subsequently be set to public. Also keep in mind that Facebook had recently a breach, in which computers of Facebook employees were hacked due to a web-based vulnerability.

The last freebie I received were some interesting looking coasters. These coasters are not really my taste, but they do the job and protect the furniture. The benefit of signing up for items such as these for free, if you use them up and start looking old, you toss them without feeling bad. And in the meantime, you protected your furniture and the coasters did not cost you anything. I have some nice silver-plated coasters that I rarely use because I want to keep them in good condition and they were not cheap (for coasters). So finding some cheaper or, better yet, free coasters is wonderful for someone like me who hates to throw away anything.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - free coasters - something you can always use!
So you see, this was one good day of free stuff in the mail. I am happy to receive these nice little packages from day to day and after working in the yard on the first nice and warm day of the calendar spring, I love finding little surprised like this in the mailbox.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Moms Meet Webinar win: Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Muesli

Attending a Moms meet Webinar on Bob's Red Mill products, many of which are gluten-free, I ended up winning one of the prizes awarded at each webinar. Today I received my win, 4x 1 pound bags of Gluten-free Muesli. The description of the Muesli sounds excellent. It contains oats and plenty of dried fruit, including cranberries and apples. In addition to that, there is coconut and raisins. I look forward to trying this muesli as cold cereal with milk, but also as oatmeal, heated with some water.

Moms Meet, for those of you that do not know this great organization, is a company that sends out samples to parents or anyone interested in  healthy and organic, green living and eating. I joined because I always want to learn how to improve on my current, already fairly green, lifestyle. And finding good organic food is one additional benefit of interacting with Moms Meet. If you are curious about the organization, check out their website and consider becoming a blogger or ambassador for the group. The website is here.

So what should you do if you feel like eating really healthy muesli? Head over to Bob's Red Mill website here and look at the wonderful products offered by Bob. The company offers plenty of variety including:
If you are wondering what entrees could be offered, you have a choice among other things of grits or polenta as well as couscous. Bob really believes in the fact that health food can taste good and that you can eat without compromising flavor or quality. So he is constantly expanding his product line. I was able to listen to Bob during the Moms Meet Webinar and you can just feel how important good healthy food is to this man.

So this weekend, we will have oatmeal as well as cold cereal, open the first bag of this win and see how Muesli a la Bob tastes. Based on the description alone, I am certain it will be a treat!

copyright Durhamontheonthecheap - Bob's Red Mill Muesli, gluten-free and full of flavor!
Disclaimer: I received the Muesli for free as a win from a random drawing during the webinar by Moms Meet.  The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Moms Meet or any other third party.

Product review: Goodies March 2013 box

Love Goodies - I just got my March 2013 box and with the exception of one or two items, everything is new (and exciting).
So let's start with the video. Plenty of products to share with you this month and all seem more like dessert, even though plenty of the crackers and snacks are actually healthy!
Do I have a favorite yet? Not really, even though the Watermelon Peach with Aloe Vera is intriguing and I will likely try that first. I cannot even imagine how Aloe Vera tastes and so curiosity killed the cat, this bottle will not be left unopened for long in this house.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the healthy, but oh so tasty looking contents of the March 2013 Goodies box.
I have received Belvita biscuits through another subscription service, but not in the flavor contained in the March Goodies box. I love Belvita, great product, wonderful taste and more a cookie than a biscuit. The same can be said about the Triple Berry Newtons and the Oatmeal Raisin Cookie by Erin Bakers. Overall, this is a great box and with the exception of the jam, I have not tried any of the products before.

In addition, with the exception of the jam, Newtons and the Belvita biscuits, the remaining items I have not even seen or heard of, nor even know the company. So this is a great product discovery box.

The total price for Goodies Co. boxes is $7 and considering that I received 8 items in this box, same samples, I find the price and value phenomenal. The best thing about this subscription service is that Goodies Co. does the research and compiles the boxes, saving me the time to scour local groceries and speciality stores looking for new and unusual items.

The website for Goodies Co is here and if I really like one of the items included, I can order it directly from Goodies Co. So watch out for some more reviews about the individual items on future blog posts.

Disclaimer: I received the Goodies Co. box in exchange for nominal fee. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Goodies Co or any third party.

Book review: The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep by Harvey Karp, M.D

This time I am reviewing a different kind of book than the ones I usually cover. The book "The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep" by Dr. Harvey Karp was of interest to me since one of the downsides of doing babysitting was to get several children assigned to the group who were less than one year old and could not participate in the playtime with the older kids. So one thing I always asked the moms to do was feed the kids before dropping them off at daycare and made sure that the diaper had been changed. Some moms looked at me funny because other babysitters did not request that, but I told them that at the young age, being hungry was one of the main reasons that the kids would wake and start crying. 

When I came across this opportunity to review a book about how getting babies and toddlers to sleep more and regularly, I was interested. I had based my babysitting advice on what I had picked up from my parents and how they managed to get me to fall asleep and sleep through the night. So I was glad to see that several of the hints in the book involve proper feeding and setting some kind of routine that involves getting the babies to be more and more independent during the night, such as a practice of waking the babies just as they are falling asleep to get the little ones used to falling asleep on their own (self-soothe), without demanding that mom or dad show up in the middle of the night and rock them to sleep again.

On other tip I found interesting involved the use of specific white noise (low pitched and rumbling) that is particular good at encouraging sleep for the little ones. Dr. Karp also lists the types of white noise that can actually hurt your attempt at getting the little one to fall asleep. Once asleep, teething is a lot easier to bear for the parents and without the sleep deprivation often encountered, the parents can be productive.

What really scared me was the mentioning of parents driving kids around town in the middle of the night to get them to sleep.I can only imagine what it means to be woken up in the middle of the night and resorting to driving around town with a baby in the back of the car. If for no other reason that to avoid that road hazard, people with little ones who have problems sleeping through the night should get this book.

With the book "The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep", parents will minimize sleep deprivation or resort to let babies cry themselves to sleep. Backed by advice from a nationally celebrated pediatrician, child development specialist and children environmental health advocate, parents can follow the surprisingly simply tips in the book to get their kids to fall asleep and sleep through the night. Even in the first weeks of life, infants can be taught to sleep at least one extra hour and with the easy guide instructions from Dr. Karp, the sleep of babies can be boosted in just days. 

So if you seek help in getting your little one to sleep better or know of someone that is suffering from sleep deprivation due to their little family addition, consider buying the book THE HAPPIEST BABY GUIDE TO GREAT SLEEP: Simple Solutions for Kids from Birth to 5 Years (William Morrow Paperback; On-Sale: March 19, 2013; $15.99; ISBN: 9780062113320). 

One tip that I found helpful, even for adults who often suffer from problems falling asleep as well due to stress at work, power down before bedtime. Do not state at bright screens at night, such as TVs, computers etc., but try reading a book or just sit and talk. This applies to kids and parents!

Dr. Karp certainly has the expertise and experience to be writing such a book. His biography, available here, indicates that many celebrities have sought his advice regarding child rearing and now everyone can enjoy his advice through the book that is written in simple, easy to follow steps that makes it appear as if children now 
come with instructions. I really like the breakdown of the book, with chapter summaries being included for quick reference and tricks highlighted throughout the chapter, including the use of massage to calm the little one down before bedtime.

image of the author, pediatrician Harvey Karp, M.D

If you want to find out more information on the topic and seek input from others and the author on how to help your little one find a good night's sleep, you can visit the website "The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep" here

Who does not want their little one to sleep through the night? This book is filled with guidance on how to do that!

Disclaimer: I am participating in a book review campaign with One2One Network. I received this book from Harper Collins for the purposes of reviewing it. I have not received compensation. My participation in the campaign enters me into a drawing for a gift card. All opinions stated are my own.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Coffeehouse coffee at home on the cheap - milk frother

I love coffee and coffee for me is always a treat. But I also like to be frugal and do not spend money on fancy coffeehouse treats, with the exception of buying up high quality coffee when it is on sale because I can taste the difference between  bargain coffee and good quality brew.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - cheap frother generates a nice cup of coffee with milk overlay!
 A few years ago I picked up a frother at Ross. Ross is already a bargain store and the frother was maybe $3, so I bought it. I hoped it would last me a while, but it is still functioning perfectly on two regular batteries. I have learned by now that lower fat milk works best, but in the pictures here I used reduced fat milk and that forms a nice milk overlay as well. I love drinking the froth of the cup and enjoying the remaining milk slowly seeping into the coffee layer.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - froth some low fat milk (skim works best) and who needs to spend $5 on a cup?
 Here you can see the frother outside of the stand that was included. It basically just aerates the milk, expanding it on volume and making it stiffer. This will ensure that you have a nice second layer in your cup or glass. The milk, because of the air, will stay on top and slowly seep into the coffee layer. The process takes about 10 seconds to form reasonable stiff milk peaks and you are done, ready to add a milk layer to your coffee. This process is much faster and less messy than trying the frothing attachments on commercial espresso machines, especially if you are talking about budget models.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - milk frothing turns basic coffee into a treat!
 So if you want to enjoy some coffeehouse style coffee at home, get into the nearest discount store and pick up a basic frother. Make sure your milk is cold and if you want a fairly stiff milk layer, select skim milk. If you are like me and enjoy regular Vitamin D milk, try to find reduced Managers Specials at Kroger for skim milk and you can enjoy your coffeehouse coffee at a bargain price and at home - saving gas at the same time!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book review: The Heiress of Winterwood (Whispers On The Moors) by Sarah E. Ladd

I got this book through booksneeze, which features books with a Christian message. I selected this book for two reasons. It is a book by first time author Sarah Ladd and the summary suggested a book that would incorporate the Christian message in a plot that would be appealing to all readers that like historical novels. Coming from a household in which religion is handled as a private matter, I am not used to books that overtly mention a Christian theme and seem to preach a sermon in every chapter. This book definitely can keep readers entertained, who do not seek a Christian book, but are simply looking for a good historical novel.

For bookclubs, there are some suggested discussion points in the end and again, with the possible exception of 2 or 3 questions, the majority of the discussion points do not touch on overtly religious themes. I can therefore recommend this book to readers of all backgrounds and beliefs.

available at here
The plot is interesting, detailing the adventures of two people, who do not start out as lovers in the beginning, but over the course of the book find love for each other. Amelia Barnett is a young heiress, who has taken on the young daughter, Lucy, of a friend who died shortly after giving birth. As an heiress, Amelia's life should be quiet and comfortable, but Amelia knows the value of friendship and when her fiancee insists that Lucy will not be part of their life as a married couple, Amelia desperately is looking for a solution to stay mother to Lucy. Because, if Amelia does not get married by her 24th birthday, she will lose her inheritance. So Amelia comes up with a plan that is both ingenious and risky. She decides to offer the father of Lucy a marriage to her as a quasi business transaction. She would be married in time to inherit and keep Lucy in her life, while her "husband" would be married to a rich wife and enjoy a comfortable life.

The two protagonists Amelia and Graham, the biological father of Lucy, start out as not even friends, but over the course of the book find love for each other. I think that is the fact that makes this book interesting to me. It is not the usual, people fall in love with each in the beginning, than fate intervenes and they are separated, only to find each other and marry to live happily ever after in the end. This book starts off with two strangers and we get to experience as readers how their love for each other develops through the shared bond of loving Lucy. So when Lucy is in danger, the situation forces Graham and Amelia to work together to save the child they both love and through that ordeal their relationship changes as well.

Overall, this is a very good first novel by Sarah Ladd. Enjoyable and quick to read, with characters that are well developed and a storyline that keeps the reader engaged.

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

Product review: CalNaturale Svelte protein shakes available at Harris Teeter

The other day at my local Harris Teeter in South Durham, the pharmacy had some coupons that allowed for a free sampling of Svelte shakes. I had never heard of the brand before, but I was informed by the pharmacist on duty that the shakes were in the health food aisle and so I was certainly willing to give them a try.

The local Harris Teeter carries three flavors, chocolate, french vanilla and cappuccino. The only flavor I did not see was spiced chai, which I would have loved to try as well. But the pharmacist was nice enough to give me three coupons, so I could try each flavor available at the store.

copyright Durhamonthecheal - three flavors of a new (to me) protein shake that is gluten-free & organic

Of course before trying any new product, I had to do some research online. It turns out that Svelte is a protein shake, but more than that is it also suitable for people who need gluten-free foods or are vegan.
Here is what the website for Svelte lists as the features of their shakes.
  • 11g protein
  • Only 180 calories
  • Certified Gluten-free
  • Dairy-free
  • 5g fiber, 20% daily value
  • Only 6g sugar, sweetened naturally with stevia
  • Made with organic complex carbohydrates for sustained energy
  • Vegan
  • Convenient, reclosable cap
I have so far tried the cappuccino flavor and I am quite impressed. I had cooled the shake, which sells for about $2.19 at the local Harris Teeter, and drank about half of it as a snack between meals. The flavor is quite nice and does not taste too healthy and organic. What I want to say is that you can convince your kids to try the chocolate or vanilla shake because to them it will be like chocolate or vanilla milk and not like they eat the healthy stuff mom wants them to eat.

the nutrition content of the Cappuccino Svelte shake!
This shake is so healthy, I am still amazed at how good it tastes. It contains filtered soymilk, cane syrup - both organic. And the vitamin content is fantastic. Each portion contains 35% calcium, 50% vitamin B12 and high amounts of vitamin E, D, and Riboflavin. Also on the good side, each shake lacks cholesterol and has only 6% sodium, while hiding behind the wonderful taste 22% protein and 20% dietary fiber. I really wish all health food tasted this good.

I cannot thank the pharmacist at my local Harris Teeter enough for offering me the coupons and allowing me to try the Svelte shakes! That is true customer service.

Aldi quick and healthy eats: sandwich with side tomato-mozzarella salad

I usually shop for just about anything at Aldi and was glad to see that Aldi recently had mozzarella in their stores. That same week, they also had tomatoes in the store that were big enough to slice and make mozzarella / tomato salad.

The other night, I wanted to use up the last bit of mozzarella, but did not have enough to really make a salad. So I came up with a quick fix to stretch the mozzarella.I prepped the salad in a small glass. This allowed the balsamic vinegar to cover all ingredients, without wasting too much of the liquid, and more importantly, allowed me to alternate layers of mozzarella and tomatoes like a trifle.

I paired the salad with a simple sandwich using the hard salami from the regular Aldi lineup and added a hard-boiled egg to boost the protein content of this complete dinner. The total price of the dinner was around $2, very affordable. Yet the dinner, despite the low price, was still filling and very healthy. As I have pointed out before, thanks to Aldi we now eat more vegetables and fruit because items such as tomatoes are now priced right year-round thanks to the new Aldi in Durham.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Aldi provided a quick and healthy dinner!

Michael Angelo's food review: Stuffed Tilapia

As you probably know, if you are following my blog, I love Michael Angelo's frozen food. It is actually the only brand of frozen food I regularly keep in my refrigerator. Some time ago, Harris Teeter had a sale on Michael Angelo's food and so I stocked up on some of the dishes I like. I want to introduce my readers to one dish that not many may associate with Italian food - Stuffed Tilapia.

The product description of Stuffed Tilapia by Micheal Angelo's can be found here. The description indicates that the Michael Angelo's version of stuffed tilapia is a little bit different than some other versions you may find on the market. The dish is a whole meal because the fish is actually placed on a bed of prepared vegetables consisting of spinach, onions, tomatoes and some crackers. The consistency of the underlying vegetables is almost like wonderful homemade stuffing prepared in a way that is so not Thanksgiving, but still traditional comfort food.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - fish and stuffing done Michael Angelo's style!

The fish itself is covered with a lemon-garlic butter sauce that also contains roasted bell peppers and traditional Italian spices. Now garlic is not something I enjoy eating. To the contrary, in many restaurants or even frozen foods, I stay away from anything that mentions garlic. So I have to admit that initially I had my doubts about eating Michael Angelo's dishes because they always list garlic as an ingredient and I was worried that I could not eat them. But Michael Angelo's does use garlic right, the same way that my Italian friends use it. Garlic is used to add complexity to the dish, but not be the first and last thing to taste.

So if you are like me and you do not like garlic, be warned that you will smell garlic when you heat the tilapia in the microwave, but - you will not really taste the garlic in the finished meal. I really like this dish, the fish is wonderfully flaky and the veggies are a nice complement to the fish and the portion size is definitely sufficient to create a filling meal either for lunch or dinner. You can see from the image that the fish is a good-sized portion and excellent quality. So even though you may not think of stuffed tilapia when you think of Italian food, the Stuffed Tilapia by Michael Angelo's is definitely a dish I can recommend if you feel like home-cooked meals but simply do not have the time.

Please note that the dish is fairly high in saturated fat (89%) and salt (52%), so enjoy in moderation. I usually make it a dinner, especially if I had a light lunch because I was too busy at work to sit down and eat a regular lunch. Just balance the remaining ingredients for your meals around the Tilapia and you can enjoy a nice Italian dinner.

Cheap and quick, but healthy eats - minute steaks with mushrooms in tomato sauce

copyright Durhamonthecheap - stewed tomatoes with steak, mushrooms and sauce! 

Beef is rarely on the table in the house because it is so expensive. Even if you go to Aldi for most of your groceries or select the Manager's Special at Kroger, beef is just so expensive these days. So whenever I buy beef, especially for steaks, I stretch out the meat into several dinners by adding plenty of vegetables in the preparation or grilling it in a way that a little goes a long way, such as using London Broil grilled and later on sliced to make steak sandwiches.

Some time ago, I had picked up minute steaks on sale. They had a price I was willing to pay and I figured I could always use them grilled in a dish that would combine the steak flavor with some other flavors to make family-size meals from tiny amounts of beef. Last week I thawed out the steaks, added salt and pepper for flavor, chopped a little bit of yellow onion and added the onions and steaks finely sliced to a pan with some oil. After searing the meat on both sides to retain flavor and juices, it was time to add the vegetables.  I had bought some baby Portobello mushrooms from Aldi as well as found one leftover Roma tomato from Aldi in the fridge that was not fresh enough anymore to use in salads. I decided to add the beef to some homemade mushroom-tomato sauce.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the finished product. Stretching a little beef into a couple of family-sized meals!
I sliced the mushrooms and tomato, then opened a can of stewed whole Roma tomatoes and let the mix cook down until all the liquid was gone. This increased the flavor tremendously and then I added a little of water back to the mix to lift the baked-on bits off the pan and make a nice dark sauce for the dish.

As you can see from the photo above, the eventual meal is a lot of veggies and some flavor from the minute steaks. Because of all the tomatoes and mushrooms, the dish is loaded with vitamins and still high in carbohydrates and protein because of the Portobello mushrooms. I like to use these mushrooms to boost the protein content of meals in a healthy way and substitute them in lieu of adding real meat. Since I did not add any spices, other than the little salt and pepper initially used to fry the steaks, the you can still taste the steaks and that is enough to please the meat-eaters in my household.

So next time, Aldi has some Portobello mushrooms on sale, pick up an extra package or two and start using these mushrooms instead of or in combination with the more expensive meat to add protein to your dishes in a budget friendly way.

Product review: Sheila G's Brownie Brittle from Goodies Chocolate Lovers Box

I had won the Chocolate Lovers box from Goodies Co. (see earlier entries) and included was a totally new item, Sheila G's Brownie Brittle.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - Chocolate Lovers box from Goodies Co.
I was interested to see how this brittle tasted. I love brownies, I love peanut brittle, and I am always open to new and interesting product that spark my interest in creating new flavors. Several years ago I tasted peppermint bark for the first time and was inspired to create my own black licorice bar after seeing a similar product in a catalog that was too expensive for my taste. So I took some white chocolate, black licorice from Haribo and added some aniseed flavor to create a new holiday tradition in my family. But I digress - again!

Anyway, the thought of turning a dessert bar like a brownie into brittle sparked all kinds of ideas in my mind, such as maybe lemon bar brittle, and I may try to create my family's own brittle version for Christmas this year.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Sheila G's Brownie Brittle with (plenty of) Chocolate Chips baked in!
Because I think that this brownie brittle is awesome. You can find more about the company and the product here. The product is fairly young, only on the market since 1992. But if you like brownies and, like me, like them more crispy because then the flavor is so much more intense, brittle from brownies is like the best of both worlds.

The brittle contains plenty of chocolate chips and is really wafer-thin. The composition is so crispy that it actually melts in your mouth and the flavor is intense. But the brittle does not taste not burned in case you were wondering how brittle is generated from brownies and whether burning of brownies is involved. The flavor is similar to just eating the outer edges of a brownie and leaving out the soft interior.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - some sample pieces of  brownie brittle on the brownie part of the bag
As you can see from the image above, the brittle is really very thin and has lots of chocolate chips added. Not that the brownie brittle needs additional flavor because the brownies used are very good, but more chocolate never hurts!. I really enjoyed the brittle, especially when eaten with a nice glass of cold milk - YUM!

So if you are looking for a new treat, consider buying some brownie brittle from Sheila G. It is available on the Goodies Co. website at or at Harris Teeter stores as well select in CVS stores as well as at Bed Bath & Beyond.

The nutritional information on Brownie Brittle is not bad either, as you can see from the table below:
Serving Size 6 pieces (28g)
Serving Per Container = 4
Calories 120 (from fat 35)
Total Fat = 4g (6% of DV)
Saturated Fat = 1g (5% of DV)
Trans Fat = 0g
Cholesterol = 0g (0% of DV)
Sodium = 95mg (4% of DV)
Total Carbohydrate = 21g (7% of DV)

I am really glad to see that the sodium is low and there is no cholesterol in the cookies. So eating chocolate without any of the guilt makes the Brownie Brittle an ideal dessert.

Disclaimer: I received a free bag of Sheila G's Brownie Brittle through Goodies Co. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Goodies Co or any third party.

product review and tasting: Moms Meet Uncle Matt's Organic Orange Juice

copyright Durhamonthecheap - home-made sign with tasting information, Uncle Matt's juice and cake
Through Moms Meet, I was able to get a coupon for a free sampling event. I was included in the Uncle Matt's Organic Juice campaign and was happy to try a new brand of juice. I never even realized that this brand was available locally at Harris Teeter. It may be available at other local stores, but I usually stop by Harris Teeter regularly and found it there in the refrigerated section. Harris Teeter sells apple juice and a couple of varieties of orange juice from Uncle Matt's.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - not a lot left over from my Crumb Cake. With one pound of butter, it was tasty!
I decided to treat some of my colleagues at work to the sampling event. To add a food item, I made homemade crumb cake. The recipe came from Rachel Ray's magazine (Every Day with Rachael Ray, April 2013). Her sour cream crumb cake look good, easy to make and provided a cake big enough to feed a crowd. The recipe is available here. The cake turned out great and was very tasty. It freezes well, if you actually have enough left over for the freezer.

So now some more about the actual topic of this blog entry - Uncle Matt's Juices. The website for the company is here. They make juices in both 12oz bottles for individual servings as well as the large family-size 59oz bottles. All juices need to be refrigerated, something to keep in mind when selecting Uncle Matt's juices for an outing.

59 oz. organic juices

 Calcium +
Vitamin D
 With Pulp  Pulp Free Grapefruit  Apple  Lemonade

I had to select an orange juice for the tasting event and since I was targeting women, I selected the Calcium + Vitamin D. As adults many women do not drink enough milk, which we all need for strong bones. Osteoporosis better never be in my future since I still drink two glasses of milk a day. So getting this health benefit in an organic orange juice is great!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the tasting event in the office. Organic orange juice and home-made cake.
I brought in some small tasting cups and paper plates and put the cake and juice in the shared office for a sampling during the morning hours. This location is open to a lot of people and I could leave the food out for several hours, so everyone could come and go as they pleased. Since it was at work, I did not want to force people to show up at a specific time. I added plenty of ice to keep the juice cold. Since it is organic and no preservatives of any kind are added, this juice needs to be stored in the refrigerator or on ice.

So now for some more about the company Uncle Matt's. The company is a fairly young company, founded in 1999, with the founder receiving his degree in Business Administration from the University of Florida (which other state did you expect the company to come from). Interestingly, what led down the path of organic orange juice was an inquiry by a German customer in 1995. Being German myself, I know that organic is maybe even bigger in Germany than in the USA, so not surprising that a German customer would also expect Florida to produce a good organic orange juice. Uncle Matt's juices are 100% not-from-concentrate organic and you can taste it.

The verdict at work was that the juice tasted very good and several people commented that it tasted fresh and not too sweet. The regular orange juices tend to be very sweet and lack therefore to true fresh orange flavor that is flavorful, refreshing, but also a little bit tart. So Uncle Matt's juices come closer than other juices to real fruit flavor. Overall, everyone at work liked the juice and several colleagues indicated that they will go back and use the coupon to get some more Uncle Matt's juice. Yes, you read that correctly, there is a coupon and I will share it with my readers. So if you are interested in trying out some Uncle Matt's Organic Juice, here is a $1off coupon that you can redeem at your local grocery store for your bottle of Uncle Matt's Juice.

link for $1off coupon: 

I want to thank Moms Meet for giving me the opportunity to try out this juice. I really liked the juice. It tasted like fresh squeezed orange juice and the addition of Calcium and Vitamin D made it even better than the real thing. I would have never thought of buying this juice without this sampling event and I am glad Moms Meet made me aware of this brand. Last time I checked, I did not see Grapefruit juice in the store, but I will check again because Uncle Matt's Grapefruit Juice is definitely something I would want to try out to see how real Grapefruit juice is supposed to taste when it is as close to nature as Uncle Matt's products are.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the insulated grocery bag that I got for holding the sampling event.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free coupon for the sampling event and also a free insulated grocery bag through Moms Meet Sampling Events. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Moms Meet or any other third party.

Cheap eats review: McDonalds Hot 'n Spicy McChicken

Ever so often even I have to eat out. Rare those instances are, I try to get some taste of the new or limited edition items. So after I finally managed to try the McRib once (still do not understand what the craze is about), I decided to give the Hot 'n Spicy McChicken a try. Since it is only $1 at McDonalds, I figured there is no big loss and I do love McDonalds french fries.

So off I went to McDs. I got the value fries and the Hot 'n Spicy McChicken for about $2 for a quick dinner. I did check out the nutritional info and like a lot of McDonalds food, the salt content is very high. For the whole sandwich, the salt content is close to 50% of the daily recommendation. I did add french fries, but also stuck to the small portion to limit salt as much as possible (and not make the meal a total loss taste-wise in case the sandwich was disappointing).
Nutrition info for Hot'n Spicy McChicken:
380  Calories  
15g Protein  
17g Fat (27%)
41g Carbs (14%)
1030mg Sodium (43%) 
Nutrition info for Small French Fries:
230  Calories  
3g Protein  
11g Fat (18%)
29g Carbs (10%)
160mg Sodium (7%)
Together the meal came to 50% of salt, 24% Carbs and 45% fat. Not too unhealthy, especially since I usually do eat an extremely low salt diet the rest of the day and do not eat out at fast food places more than once a week. 
copyright Durhamonthecheap - packaged dinner, what I do in the name of investigative blogging!
The sandwich looked to be decent size and in combination with the fries made for a decent dinner. Not too big, but still filling. I did note though that I drank more than usual after dinner. If I did not know about the salt in the sandwich before, I certainly realized it afterwards because I kept being thirsty for about 3 hours after dinner.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - unpackaged, the chicken has an interesting color, somewhat too orange/red
So what about the flavor? The chicken is definitely spicy, but has not really any chicken flavor. You can taste meat, but with all the spices added, the chicken basis of the sandwich is disappearing under a coat of hard spices. I say hard spices because in my case, the breading almost served as an outer shell and for the first bite I was worried that biting into the sandwich would cause the interior filling to spill out. Thank god that was not the case, but the best part of the sandwich was the lettuce covered in mayo. I would have preferred a grilled hot'n spicy sandwich to make sure that I actually tasted chicken.
Now some people will say, it is McDonalds what do you expect. I hate to say, but some entries at McDs are not that bad. I really like the fries. I also like their simple breakfast burrito. But this is not one of the better entries on their menu and I would encourage McDs to go back to the test kitchen and work on this version of a spicy chicken sandwich.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - open sandwich with bun, chicken, lettuce and mayo
Overall verdict: Average at best, largely in part because everything but the chicken mass was reasonably fresh. I like the bun, lettuce and mayo and the fries are always a win in my book. But for me the Hot'n Spicy McChicken will go the way of the McRib. I try it once and unless they change the makeup of this item, will never go back for a second helping.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Aldi special this week: Bulbs for the garden

I want to call attention to Aldi as a place to find great garden supplies. Last year I bought tulip bulbs and Asiatic lilies. All bags were very reasonably priced and the flowers actually showed up in my yard. Big difference to bulbs I had bought in the prior year at Walmart; the iris that I purchased were a definite no show and I had my doubts when I put them in the soil because the bulbs seemed old and very, very dry.

I will post pictures of my tulips and lilies later on this year when they bloom. Right now the biggest enemies to the tulips are the deer, but a little bit of aluminum foil will do the trick. Deer do not like to bite on foil when going for a nice green tulip leaf. ;)

So this week, I purchased some gladiola bulbs and planted them this morning. I should have pictures to show later this year and this will be my first gladiolas!

Here the relevant weekly specials from Aldi for your garden:

Food review: Alter Eco Gourmet chocolate from the Chocolate Goodies box

As part of the Box of Chocolates win from Goodies Company, I received three bars of Alter Eco chocolate. Included in the box were Dark Coconut Toffee, Dark Mint, and Dark Twist. Dark Mint as the name states included peppermint crystals, whereas Dark Coconut Toffee had extra butter and sea salt in the form of coconut crunch bits. My favorite kind by far was Dark Twist, which contained crystallized orange peel.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - box with three chocolate bars from Alter Eco.

For those of you not familiar with Alter Eco products, here is a video that talks about the philosophy behind Alter Eco as well as introduces their line of products. The original source of the video is the ActerraBEA channel on youtube (

Each chocolate bar has all natural ingredients. So the Dark Twist can be summed up as just eight ingredients, namely Cacao beans, raw cane sugar, candied orange peel, cocoa butter, orange oil, and vanilla beans.With a cocoa content of 60% minimum, all 100% organic ingredients and close of 90% of the ingredients Fair Trade certified (87% to be precise), the bar is not the lowest prized chocolate you can find. But to me the perfect combination of dark chocolate and strongly flavored orange peel would  be well worth the price charged on the Goodies Co. website $7.98 for 2 bars (each pack is 2.82 oz). The direct link to the Dark Twist ordering page is here.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - pieces of Dark Twist with the candied orange peel and the dark chocolate clearly visible

I encourage you to visit the Alter Eco website as well as the Goodies Company website and have a look at the products available at both sides. To me the Alter Eco chocolate, carefully rationed to make the bliss last longer, was a wonderful treat that made the winter go away for a few moments.

Aldi Chinese Food - aka meal starter: Fusia Asian Inspirations Crispy Sweet and Spicy CHicken

I rarely eat microwave meals and always want to add items, especially fresh vegetables to ready to eat meals that I pick up in the grocery store. This week, I picked up the Crispy Sweet and Spicy Chicken from Aldi's line of Fusia Asian Inspirations. I was intrigued by the name, Sweet and Spicy. Before preparing the meal, I tasted the sauce that came in a separate package and the name is well chosen, the sauce is very spicy. That gave me the idea to turn this into a meal starter rather than a meal per package instructions.

The package contains a sauce package that needs to be thawed under hot water. At the same time, you add the remaining contents, frozen, to a wok or skillet coated with a little bit of oil. Truly, you do not need to add much oil. A simple coating of a nonstick pan will do and nothing will burn since you are supposed to stir the contents as you heat them. The contents themselves are crispy chicken, coated in a crispy tempura batter. Also included are a vegetable mix of broccoli, onions, red bell peppers, and carrots. Lastly, there is white rice.

As I was heating the mix, I could definitely smell the onions and saw the broccoli and carrots. The bell peppers were red and so they are only visible until you add the sauce. I could not really taste them in the end when plating the dish. The same was true for the remaining vegetables, the sauce is that spicy. Looking at the ingredients, the sauce is spicy because of chili paste added as well as cayenne pepper. If you like spicy Chinese food, this sauce will not disappoint. But it was so spicy, it actually overpowered the vegetables and reduced the flavor complexity that I am accustomed to when eating freshly prepared Chinese food.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Sweet and Spicy Chicken from Aldi, added extra white rice to stretch serving to 2 cups
Because I had sampled the sauce beforehand, I felt it needed diluting to allow the flavor of the remaining ingredients to come through. I added a layer of white rice to the dish and then added the actual dish on top. This allowed the sauce to cover the remaining rice and brought down the spiciness, allowing me to taste the remaining ingredients a little bit more. Plus, it stretched the portions out a little bit.

Price for the bag was $2.99 and contains three servings of one cup with 300 calories each. That seems like a reasonable meal, but I know that one cup servings will not make a lunch in my household and I doubt that most husbands and teenage boys will settle for one cup either. In my opinion, the package can be used better used as a meal starter. Add some freshly cooked rice, either white or brown, to stretch the contents. Aldi has a very good white rice that can be cooked in parallel to this dish. I would also encourage readers to add additional vegetables or even pineapple pieces. Even though the name of sweet and spicy, the sauce contains pineapple juice and so the flavor is reminiscent of the standard sweet and sour, making additional pineapple a good choice. Believe me, you still will taste the spices from the sauce and there is plenty of flavor left in the dish.

Overall, the dish was good. The chicken was crispy indeed and had good chunks included. The vegetables were good size, but the rice seemed a little bit scarce.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Fusia Asian Inspiration line of Chinese food from Aldi

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Book Review: The Survivor by DiAnn Mills

I came across this book of all places on, which usually caters to books with a Christian theme. The summary for this book made it appear an odd choice for such a website.

The author DiAnn Mills is one of the founding board members of the American Christian Fiction Writers and I think her works show that Christian books can be just as entertaining and gripping as books by any other author. Because this book is both action-filled and a real gripping mystery story that keeps you turning the page, wanting to find out whether the heroine can be saved.

available on here

The summary can be briefly stated as Kariss, our heroine, meets the survivor of a brutal childhood attack, who is finally ready to tell her story to Kariss. As Kariss begins to jot down the traumatic events of long ago, she becomes deeper and deeper entangled into a mystery of her own that ends up posing mortal danger to her. Too bad that Kariss had previously broken up with FBI agent Santiago Harris. But as Kariss gets closer to the danger, Santiaga, called Tigo for short, comes into the story again and the author does a very good job of interweaving the story line with the personal struggles of the protagonists. Even the biggest heroes are not without fault and so we learn about parenting, lies, infidelity as Tigo tries to save Kariss from the evil that seems to haunt her now.

I like the way that DiAnn Mills add Christian themes to the storyline without ever becoming a preacher. While she clearly tries to paint examples of Christians that overcome struggles and turn out to be better people in the end, she also tells a very good thriller that just happens to involve people, whose religion is an important part of their character.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary book through in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by booksneeze or any third party.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

New Orleans in the Triangle - semi-homemade Beignets

One of my favorite spots in New Orleans is Cafe du Monde. While anyone that loves coffee will enjoy New Orleans, what sets Cafe du Monde apart from the rest of the outdoor cafes in New Orleans are their phenomenal beignets.

Thanks to the name recognition of the Cafe du Monde brand, the beignet mix is available in local grocery stores, such as Kroger, and allows everyone to experience the beignets right at home. This weekend, I felt like enjoying some beignets and coffee rather than cake or other pastries. Beignets are light, not as greasy as donuts. With their light sprinkle of powdered sugar, a couple of beignets together with a nice cup of coffee and cream is the perfect way to relax while reading the newspaper or doing the crossword puzzle.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - a couple of beignets, just screaming for some cafe au lait!
Here is the website of the Original Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter of new Orleans. Here you can order your beignet mix, if you do not find it in the local grocery stores. While even the best homemade beignets can not bring New Orleans to your home, they still go very well with a nice cup of coffee and a light, tasty snack! By the way, for those readers familiar with the Cafe Du Monde Beignets, yes mine are round not square, but I did not have a square form to cut the dough with.

So if you are looking for a quick snack, grab some of the Beignet mix from your grocery store. The preparation is very easy. Add some water to the mix, roll the dough out thinly on a flowered surface and cut out beignet size pieces (either square or round). Then drop the dough into an inch of hot oil and the beignets should become puffy and pop up from the oil in about 8 to 10 seconds. Turn them around to ensure that the beignets are golden brown on both sides. Take them out of oil onto a wire rack for cooling and sprinkle the beignets with some powdered sugar right before serving with a good cup of coffee. Enjoy!

My new favorite bag: Francesco Biasia

One of my weaknesses are handbags. I do not buy a lot of them and usually buy one every three or five years, but I do like nice quality handbags that can last me many years.

This is a bag from a new Italian designer, at least new to me, Francesco Biasia. His main website is still in Italian, so I hate to link to it because I cannot make real sense of it the content, but it does have nice images of handbags. 

copyright Durhamonthecheap - nice, soft Italian leather and a spacious bag!
 So enjoy some images from his current collections here. I got this handbag online and of course used a coupon to make it affordable. I had done plenty of surveys to earn a $100 off coupon to an online discount site that made this nice leather handbag actually quite affordable. I love the color and the leather is so soft; it feels wonderful when carrying the handbag. The handbag is very spacious; it can fit a 15inch laptop and still does not look like one of the boring laptop bags.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - big enough for a laptop, yet very light in material
Here you can get a better view of the size of the bag. The handles are quite comfortable, but I usually wear it on my shoulder and the nice, broad strap makes the bag, even fully loaded with laptop and files, comfortable and the strap never cuts into the shoulder.

What is not seen on the images is the inside of the bag. The material inside is made in contrasting color with a very light, pale pink, almost blush colored. There is large zipped pocket and two smaller pockets for keys and smartphone. In addition, the bag can be closed with a zipper to secure all the contents.

Overall, I am very happy with this bag and the price was in the end very nice. It may not be designer name like Coach or Dooney and Bourke, but in terms of quality, Italian elather handbags are hard to beat. In addition, this design is very unique and the bag is extremely comfortable and useful for taking to work everyday.