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Bachelor on the Cheap: Essential must haves for stocking your pantry and fridge

Mike ThayerBy Mike Thayer

Even if you don't like to cook, there are going to be those times when you are perhaps short on cash or eating out just isn't a timely option.  Why settle for a peanut butter sandwich, when you can make a nice pasta dish?  You need to have something available to fix and eat at home and you'll save some cash to boot vs. eating out so often.   And here's a bonus to a well-stocked pantry....  If you don't like to cook but you have a friend or girlfriend that does - they can cook something up for you!

The whole key here is to stock a pantry and fridge/freezer with items you really like.  Don't buy things that are "good for you" or items that are "OK" but you really don't eat that often.  If you're not a peanut butter person, there's no sense in having a lot of that in your pantry, buy a larger amount of something you really like instead.  When it comes to dried herbs and spices, they can get pricey, so don't buy a large variety just because it might impress somebody or you think you'll try it..... but it just ends up getting old.  Buy what you know you like and if you want to experiment, great, but go small.  And when it comes to buying these items, don't shop at the high priced grocery store, you'll find every essential you need at Dollar Tree or Aldi and save a lot of cash doing so.

Basics for the Pantry ~ Items you need for just about whatever you're making, be it frying, roasting, grilling or baking

  • Kosher salt
  • Regular table salt
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Some kind of vegetable oil
  • Vinegar ~ you could go crazy here, there are a lot of vinegars out there, regular, red wine, rice wine, balsamic, champagne, sherry...  go with what you know and like.  I keep regular, rice wine (it's mild) and balsamic on hand

Baking Basics for the Pantry

  • All purpose flour
  • Pancake/waffle mix
  • Biscuit and/or cornmeal mix
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Cream of tartar
  • Cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • Baking chocolate
  • Evaporated milk
  • Vanilla extract

Sweetener Basics for the Pantry

  • Granulated sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Powdered sugar
  • Artificial sugar
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses ~ a must have to make BBQ sauce!
  • Honey

Dried Herbs, Seasoning and Spice Basics for the Pantry ~ remember, go with what you know and like

  • All purpose seasoning salt
  • Bouillon cubes and/or powders or pastes, beef & chicken
  • Bay leaves
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Chili powder
  • Crushed red pepper
  • Garlic Powder
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Ground cumin
  • Ground ginger
  • Ground nutmeg
  • Ground pumpkin spice
  • Italian seasoning mix
  • Minced onion
  • Old Bay, regular ~ excellent with fish/seafood
  • Oregano
  • Paprika ~ sweet and smoked
  • Rosemary
  • Sesame seeds
  • Thyme

Beverage Basics for the Pantry

  • Coffee
  • Tea ~ remember, go with what you like, if you're not a tea person, grab more coffee from the store shelf, a different flavor/roast for a change of pace perhaps
  • Lemonade/Gatorade drink mix

Rice, Grain, Pasta Basics for the Pantry ~ You could go crazy here, there's such a variety

  • White rice ~ long grain, medium grain, short grain, par-boiled, jasmine, basmati
  • Brown rice ~ I don't really care for brown rice, personal choice, I'd rather stock up with some wild rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Corn meal
  • Breadcrumbs ~ plain, Italian seasoned, Panko, etc., your call
  • Pasta ~ keep a variety on hand, egg noodles, elbow macaroni, spaghetti noodles, spirals, bow ties...

Snacks and Cereal Basics for the Pantry

  • Apple sauce
  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Dried fruits
  • Granola bars
  • Nuts/seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Pretzels
  • Popcorn
  • Your favorite breakfast cereals

Canned Good Basics for the Pantry ~ stick with what you know and love, if you don't like navy beans, don't buy 'em

  • Beef broth
  • Chicken broth
  • Beans ~ you can go so many ways here, cannellini, navy, black, pinto, heck, baked!  And yes, refried counts
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Green beans
  • Mixed vegetables
  • Peas
  • Potatoes ~ yes, really, sometimes you just don't feel like boiling and peeling potatoes to make something
  • Olives
  • Tomatoes ~ all varieties, diced, sauce, paste, etc.
  • Chili's and salsas
  • Tuna, salmon, sardines
  • Chicken
  • Spam ~ yes, Spam, go with the low sodium varieties, Spam and eggs for breakfast is rather tasty

Egg and Dairy basics for the Refrigerator

  • Eggs ~ I like to buy the 18 count containers and I've always got two on hand
  • Milk
  • Heavy cream
  • Coffee creamer
  • Sour cream and/or plain yogurt
  • Butter
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • American cheese
  • Parmesan cheese

Fresh Produce for the Refrigerator

  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Broccoli and/or cauliflower
  • Lettuce and/or leafy greens
  • Lemons/limes
  • Apples

Must-have Condiments for the Refrigerator

  • Jellies/jams
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard ~ keep a variety on hand, yellow, brown, Dijon, it's a change of pace and it keeps well
  • Ranch Dressing ~ Italian dressing is a good one too, an excellent impromptu marinade
  • Mayonnaise
  • Pickles, relish
  • BBQ sauce ~ I prefer to make my own, but hey, sometimes you need a "quickie"
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Louisiana Hot Sauce, or Sriracha
  • Soy or Teriyaki sauce ~ a quick stir fry is a go-to meal for me

Basics for the Freezer

  • Ground beef
  • Pork sausage
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • Bacon
  • Frozen veggies ~ peas, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, mixed, whatever you'll eat
  • Frozen fruit ~ strawberries, blueberries, peaches
  • Dough ~ pizza crust, pie crust, puff pastry
  • Vanilla ice cream  ~ topped with some of that fruit, yum!

Fresh Produce for the counter

  • Tomatoes
  • Onions ~ store in your pantry if you've got the space
  • Potatoes ~ another item for the pantry if you've got the space and have fun with this one, there's russet, Yukon Gold (a personal favorite), red potatoes, fingerlings, new potatoes, purple/blue potatoes (great for grilling)
  • Garlic
  • Bananas

Another basic item to keep at the ready and fresh on your counter, a good loaf of bread.  Get away from the mass produced sliced stuff, spend the extra buck here and get a whole loaf, it tastes better.  And no, you don't want to store it in the fridge thinking it will extend its shelf life, it won't.  Putting bread in the fridge actually dries it out which means it won't hold up in a sandwich like it's supposed to and there's the loss of flavor thing.... 

So there you have it, a nicely stocked Bachelor on the Cheap pantry, fridge and freezer.  The nice thing is, you can build this up a little at a time.  Whenever you make a grocery list, refer to this article and add a few items from it to your grocery list.  You'll stock your pantry in no time.   And remember the best benefit:  Properly stocking a pantry leads to more cooking/baking/grilling, which means eating out less, eating better and saving money!



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  • Saturday: 11:00 AM - 2:30 PM, 4:30 PM - 9:30 PM

Mike Thayer's Carb-Check Diet: Pizza Crust Battle - Cauliflower vs. Spaghetti Squash

Mike ThayerBy Mike Thayer

Pizza is one of my favorite foods, but traditional pizza is not something I can have on this diet.  Sure, I can eat all the toppings, meat, cheese, veggies....  But I can't have that bread.

Enter, the replacement pizza crust.  Friends following my diet quest suggested I make a crust using a veggie....  One friend suggested cauliflower, another friend suggested spaghetti squash.  They both sounded good, so I tried them both.

The Pizza Crust Battle

What can I say, I love pizza, so why not bake two pies up and see which one I like better moving forward?

I took my friends' recipes and made two pizza crusts.  The plan, make two pizzas with identical ingredients, except the crusts....  But even in prepping those crusts, the additions of olive oil, oregano, garlic, minced onion, salt, pepper and a couple eggs was the same.

Cauliflower crust pizzaRight off the bat, the cauliflower crust proved to be less time consuming. I was able to put that together - food processors rock! - and blind bake it, making it ready for toppings while the spaghetti squash was still baking in the oven.  That's a plus.  It even looked like a pizza crust pulling it out of the oven after the 20 minute blind bake.  Back in the oven it went for another 10 minutes, topped with sauce, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese.   Fresh out of the oven, I sampled a slice.......  

What, you didn't think I'd give you details on this already did you?   I have to sample the other pizza first.....

After sampling the cauliflower crust pizza, I turned my focus on the spaghetti squash crust, with the squash now having cooled after being in the oven for an hour getting nice and soft.  I scooped the squash out of its skin and into a large bowl, incorporating the oregano, minced onion, salt, pepper, egg using a fork and turning it into a "crust."  Like I did for the cauliflower crust, I blind baked it before putting on the toppings.   Piling on the same delicious toppings as for the cauliflower crust pizza, in ten minutes, I had another beautiful looking pie........

Spaghetti squash crust pizzaI sampled a slice.......

Let me start off the comparison by telling you there's no spin that can be put on this....  Neither crust can be mistaken for a real pizza crust....   It's not as if you're eating it and have to be told it's not bread......  You know you're eating pizza toppings on top of a vegetable. 

But back to the comparison.....

The spaghetti squash crust was the clear winner, no contest. 

The cauliflower crust was OK and as I mentioned earlier, it was quite a bit less time consuming to put together, but the two downsides:  1.  It doesn't hold together as a crust as well as the spaghetti squash crust, the cauliflower tends to crumble.  2.  Flavor.  The spaghetti squash simply has more flavor, especially when enhanced with pizza toppings.

Next time I make a pizza, I'll go with the spaghetti squash, no hesitation. But then again, I might just make a "Meatza."

You can find the recipes for these two crusts on a number of sites, just Google 'cauliflower pizza crust' or 'spaghetti squash pizza crust' and several will pop up.  But know going in, they're all very, very similar.  




Millstream Brewing Co.

Millstream Brewing CoIowa's Oldest Brewery

Three Amana men decided to revive the art that had not been practiced in the Amana Colonies for years - the art of brewing beer. Carroll F. Zuber and brothers James and Dennis Roemig dreamed of building a small brewery to produce small batches of hand brewed beer reminiscent of Europe's finest.

To brew the best they needed the best, so they called on one of America's premier brewers, Joseph Pickett Sr., who helped in the brewery design, in the development of the beers, Millstream Lager and the robust, Schild Brau. Later, Millstream brewers, developed the zesty Millstream Wheat Beer.

In 1985 Millstream Brewing Co. opened its doors - the first brewery to operate in Amana since 1884. So the Millstream Brewery was born and so it has come to be recognized as the home of quality brews of rewarding taste.

The Story Continues in 2000 with the sale of the brewery to Chris Priebe, Tom and Teresa Albert. Chris is naturally handy and keeps the brewery in tip-top shape. Chris also is a trained brewer from the Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology and has brought many years of brewing experience to Millstream. Teresa is an excellent people person and handles all the sales and marketing. Tom is our warehouse and production manager. He is the "glue" that binds the place together. It takes a good team to run a good brewery!

These owners are committed to continually making quality brews, one batch at a time. With a current count of 33 national awards and 1 international award, Millstream speaks of some of the finest beer made in the Midwest today. The brewers have introduced many different styles of beer to Millstream Brewery and with the passing of the higher alcohol law change in spring of 2010, many more styles will be coming out! The Brewery hopes to be able to reach out to local consumers in new and exciting ways.

Millstream Beers - Year Round Beers, Seasonal Beers and the Brewmasters Extreme Series

Millstream Brewing
835 48th Ave Amana IA 52203
PH: 319-622-3672 


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Bachelor on the Cheap: Embrace the Crockpot

Mike ThayerBy Mike Thayer

The crock pot, along with the microwave, are two of a bachelor's best buddies in the kitchen.  But crock pots are under-utilized and that's a Bachelor on the Cheap crime.

They're so versatile, easy to use and they can crank out some pretty tasty food.  Even if you don't like to cook, you should embrace the crock pot - give it a big Bromance hug.

I get 30 minutes for lunch at work, so time is critical.  I really don't want to spend 10 minutes of that in the drive-thru and frankly, I can make better food while spending less money to boot.

Here's a great crock pot recipe for you to try, it takes like 5 minutes to put together, doing so before leaving the apartment for work.

Meatballs & Marinara


  • Take about 8 - 10 of your favorite pre-cooked, frozen variety meatballs out of the freezer
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Get out a jar of marinara or your favorite marinara/spaghetti sauce (or better yet, something you made)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried, minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • A pinch of Kosher salt
  • A handful of shredded mozzarella cheese (for serving)


Place the meatballs and olive oil in the crock pot, pouring in just enough marinara/spaghetti sauce to cover the meatballs.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Put the lid on and set the crock pot on low.  In about 5 hours, you'll have a great, no fuss, no wait-time lunch!  Top with the shredded mozzarella.  This dish is great by itself, or with a good Italian bread for a meatball sub.  Substituting the mozzarella cheese with Parmesan is a nice alternative.


Bachelor on the Cheap: Buying in bulk

Mike ThayerBy Mike Thayer

I've heard friends and co-workers over the years throw out a number of claims on why they don't buy in bulk to save money:

  • You really don't save much money doing that, it's not worth it
  • You have to buy so much stuff to get the savings
  • I can't afford the membership to places like Sam's Club or Costco
  • I don't have the freezer/fridge/cupboard space
  • I'm too busy, I don't have the time to repackage/re-wrap stuff for storage
  • I'll never eat a 5 pound bag of cheese

That's all horse manure.

Portioning out a 5 pound bag of mozzarellaIf you have time to watch an episode of Big Bang Theory, you have time to break down some meat, cheese and vegetables for the freezer and you'll be glad you did because you'll save a surprising amount of money.  And a side benefit, your food gets portioned out they way you like it.  That saves time in dinner preparation and your freezer will be more organized, easier to pull items from. 

Tonight I spent some time stocking up my freezer with pork chops and a couple roasts by breaking down a 10 pound boneless pork loin, portioning out shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese, as well as a brick of sliced American cheese.  I'm doing this as I watched, you guessed it, Big Bang Theory.

Bachelor on the cheap.....  Buy some food in bulk, portion cheese out for example in smaller bags and stash them in the freezer until needed. It's WAY cheaper than paying $3 each or more for those 12 - 16 ounce bags at a standard grocery store or Walmart.

I portioned out a 5 pound Kirkland brand (Costco) shredded mozzarella bag into 6 smaller bags. Price per pound - $2.37. *Weigh* that (yes, pun intended) vs. the typical everyday price for a 12 - 16 ounce bag at the standard grocery store.... $3 and up.  By breaking down a bulk bag, I saved approximately $3.15 vs buying 5 separate 12 - 16 ounce bags.... In Cheech & Chong terms, that's like a free bag of cheese man!

Portioning out shredded cheddarI did the same thing with Kirkland Brand shredded mild cheddar, a twin pack of cheese, 2.5 pounds each.  I won't eat 2.5 pounds of cheddar cheese in a week, heck even two, and keeping that amount of cheese in its original bag runs the risk of spoilage before it's all eaten.  Hello freezer!  Bachelor on the cheap savings by shopping in bulk at Costco: $2.57 per pound for shredded cheddar vs. $3 and up for 12 - 16 ounce bags at your standard grocery store or Walmart.

The brick of sliced American cheese I bought contains 120 slices.  At $10, that's just over 8 cents a slice and this is deli quality sliced American cheese, not that processed, plastic wrapped singles stuff.  I portioned the brick out into 9 smaller 'bricks', wrapped them in heavy duty foil and put them in the freezer.  The same amount of deli quality cheese like in say, Kraft's Deli Deluxe American Cheese Slices will cost you about $18.

Giving you even more savings is becoming your own butcher and it's not hard to do at all!  I've written about breaking down a pork loin before, here's that link:  Bachelor on the Cheap: Being Your Own Butcher.

My savings today by cutting up my own chops and pork roasts was getting all that meat for $1.89 per pound, vs. $2.49 a pound at a place like the local grocery store.    Buying in bulk - under $19.  Buying the same amount of meat at the local grocery store - $25.  

So to sum, I saved about $3 on portioning out mozzarella cheese, another $3 or so portioning out some cheddar, about $8 with the American cheese and saved about $6 being my own butcher....  All while enjoying an episode of the Big Bang Theory!   Now I've got $20 I can use for gas, or a movie & popcorn, or maybe a bottle of wine to share with a date on date night.

Being your own butcher


Grilling Good Eats: Ch. 6 - Pork Recipes

Chapter 6 - Pork Recipes

Grilling Good Eats

by Mike Thayer

Pork is under-eaten and that’s a grill crime. Sure, ribs are popular, but there are so many other cuts of pork that a lot of folks just don’t consider but should. Ribs are fantastic, but so are pork roasts, chops, pork steaks, kabobs and more. They’re all so darn tasty!

My favorite pork cut is the boneless pork loin. You can treat it like a roast, cut it into chops, slice it thin for grilled sandwiches or chunk it up for kabobs. It’s cheap, delicious and a bonus is its flavor versatility. It absorbs marinades/sauces well and works great with just about any chicken recipe. Try using pork loin instead of that chicken breast in your favorite chicken recipe, you’ll like it!


Preplanning meals from the grill - Grilling Good Eats

Mike ThayerBy Mike Thayer

What sounds better, a bologna sandwich for lunch, or a leftover grilled cheeseburger from last night's dinner?

Cheeseburger - no brainer.  If you've got some leftover burgers in the fridge, you can heat that patty in the microwave and assemble a burger about as quickly as you could in making a bologna sandwich.  And a burger is SOOOOO much better! 

If you've never pre-grilled a whole lot of great eats to consume for breakfast, lunch or dinner later in the week, you should start doing so.  Your meals - especially those on the go - will be more satisfying.

What I'm suggesting you do isn't a whole lot different than perhaps what your mom, grandma or spouse did/does in pre-making a few meals and putting them in the freezer.  It's convenient to be able to pull out a lasagna or a beef stroganoff and throw it in the microwave and/or oven on a busy night, when family members are all on busy schedules and there's just no time to prep a good meal.  This works out great for unexpected company too.  So take that pre-made lasagna thought and turn it into grilled fare.....  And grilled is SO much better!

When you've got some time on the weekend, fire up the charcoal and get to grilling!  If you've got room in the fridge and freezer for leftovers, there's no reason not to stock up with grilled fare and enjoy it later in the week, without having to light a match or push that igniter button.

Got a package of hot dogs in the fridge?  Throw them on.  A couple grilled hot dogs reheated in the microwave for lunch is MUCH better than just a couple hotdogs taken out of the package and nuked or boiled.  Get the charcoal!

Got some of those frozen hamburger patties in the freezer?  Throw them on.  I always grill up more hamburger patties than I think will be eaten.  I like deli meat sandwiches, but a burger, even leftover, is SOOOO much better.  And burgers aren't just for making burgers either.  Patties can make a great impromptu Salisbury steak.

Here's the key to pre-grilling:  Don't cook items all the way through like when you're going to eat it/them right then, for dinner.  You want to pull meats and veggies off the grill slightly under-cooked to the way you typically like them if you're pre-grilling meals for later in the week.  The reheating you do for that future breakfast, lunch, or dinner will finish the cooking process, charcoal flavor, preserved.

Grilling fare to consider, for some quick meals and/or sides/toppings later in the week:

  • Bratwursts.  I love brats, but who has time to do these properly for lunch during the week?  Cook some up (I like to poach mine in wine or beer and then finish them off on the grill) on the weekend to enjoy later.
  • Thinly sliced Ribeye steak for Philly cheese steak sandwiches.
  • Grill up your favorite fish for some fish tacos.  YUM!
  • If you ever make kabobs for dinner, do more than you think will be eaten.  Leftover Kabobs, along with a side of rice and pita bread, makes a fantastic quick meal!
  • Pork chops - this one is a big go-to for me.  I always cook up some chops when pre-grilling meals.  Grilled chops are great leftovers for sandwiches, chopped up and put in a quick stir fry, or smothered in gravy!
  • Chop up a few potatoes, steak fry style, toss them in olive oil, season them, throw them on the grill.  All entrees need a side right?
  • Breakfast sausage.  You'll stop going to the drive-through at McDonald's on the way to work if you've got some pre-grilled and ready to assemble breakfast sausage with a biscuit or tortilla.
  • Bacon.  See sausage, above.  And grilled bacon has so many uses.  Crumble it up and put it on a salad, turn those steak fries into cheesy/bacon steak fries.
  • Chop up an onion, throw it on.  Onions seasoned with your favorite seasoning salt and olive oil, then grilled, add a lot of flavor to that deli sandwich!
  • Slice up a couple of bell peppers.  What you did with the onions, can be done with peppers.
  • Pizza dough, yes, pizza dough.  A nice pizza crust with a smoky flavor makes for a nice, quick lunch or 'everyone is eating dinner at a different time tonight' kind of thing.  Just throw on some sauce, toppings and slip it under the broiler until the cheese melts.  Grill up a half-dozen personal pan size crusts.
  • Make a fruit cobbler in a cast iron skillet.  Combined with some vanilla ice cream, a great dessert for later in the week!

Those are just a few ideas, use your imagination.  Anything you enjoy in grilled fare, can be done in pre-grilling meals for later in the week.  Just remember to pull whatever it is, off the grill, slightly under-cooked to how you like it.  

If you don't have the time to plan out and pre-grill some meals on the weekend or during some downtime, if you still have some heat left on the grill from doing dinner, or maybe you used too much charcoal for the task....  Take advantage of that heat and don't let that charcoal flavor go to waste!  Grab that package of hot dogs, pull out that breakfast sausage.  Even if it's something as simple as slicing up a lemon or lime, getting a little char, then using that great flavor in the preparation of another dish later in the week is a good thing!  Heck, pull out the cast iron skillet and simply brown some ground meat for putting in a meal next week.  I can't say it enough I guess, take advantage of that heat.

And if you don't like to grill in inclement weather or winter time....  Brisket chili is a great cold weather treat and wouldn't it be nice to have something like apple wood smoked chops in your freezer? 


Food Review: Chester's Popcorn - Cheddar

Mike ThayerBy Mike Thayer

I love popcorn, it's one of my favorite go-to snacks, but I don't always want to pop some.  Sometimes you just want the convenience of opening up a bag and digging in.  So today, I'm evaluating Chester's Popcorn, cheddar flavor.

Chester's Popcorn CheddarFor a bagged popcorn, it's not bad, but it's not the cheesiest one out there and considering we're talking Chester Cheetah (Cheetos brand snacks - Frito Lay) on the bag here, my expectation for a lot of cheese flavor was pretty high.  I was a bit disappointed.   Frito Lay's marketing works, but delivering on the hype....  Not so much....   Overall, the popcorn was nicely popped and fresh.  There were a few hulls, but you get that in any bag of popcorn.  It's just that the cheese flavor was a bit lacking. 

I've eaten my fair share of cheesy popcorn over the years, so in my book, Chester's ranks as an average bag of cheddar flavored popcorn.  You're better off buying a bag of Old Dutch or Smartfood brand popcorn.  In fact, I might even select a store brand bag over Chester's, next time I'm in the mood for some cheesy corn.

Chester's Popcorn - Cheddar gets 3 out of 5 Metro Pursuit stars.

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