Living well on a budget, without being truly cheap.

Product Review: Relief Factor

By Mike Thayer

Relief Factor
Does this drug-free option for pain relief work?

You may have heard the commercials on the radio for Relief Factor, a drug-free option for reducing or eliminating everyday aches and pains.

Here's the hype from the Relief Factor websiteRelief Factor has helped tens of thousands of people struggling with everyday aches and pains. Taken as designed, Relief Factor reduces or eliminates pain all day, every day.

I'm one of those people that suffers from everyday aches and pains.  I endure mild arthritis - joint pain and stiffness - and I fractured my hip back in 2014 which put me on bed rest for six weeks.  I will eventually need hip replacement surgery when my real one finally gives out.  Doc recommended I hang on to my real hip for as long as I can tolerate the pain.  I can still do all the things I love such as gardening, fishing, landscaping and going for walks, but the bending, twisting and grabbing is getting more painful as I age.  Even something as simple as going down a flight of stairs is challenging to the hip.

So after hearing the Relief Factor commercial for the umpteenth million time on the radio, I decided to give it a try, ordering their '3 Week QuickStart' package.  The marketing claim is I could be mostly or completely pain free like so many others using the product after three weeks. 

I'm not really into taking any drugs for pain, I don't take things like Tylenol, Ibuprofen or Advil.  I take a daily aspirin but that's more for heart health than it is for pain.  So that's another reason the Relief Factor product appeals to me, it's a drug-free option for pain relief.

I received my 3 Week QuickStart pack on January 18th, so I've been taking it as recommended for four days now.  We'll see if their claim of being mostly or completely pain free in three weeks rings true.

Costing me $19.99 plus shipping for the QuickStart package, I'll keep you posted on the pain in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned!  Will this be money well spent, or money wasted?

$pend Wisely My Friends...


Food Review: Subway's Baja Chicken & Bacon Sub

By Mike Thayer

Subway's Baja Chicken & Bacon Sub
Subway is generous with the Baja Chipotle sauce, but it doesn't make up for the dry, under seasoned chicken

After a long hiatus from eating at Subway because they flat out aren't the best sub shop out there, I recently went in to try a sandwich from their new and supposedly revamped menu which they've been marketing as "Eat Fresh, Refresh."

On that visit I sampled the Baja Steak & Jack sandwich and I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was.  Not only were the flavors there and more exciting than the old menu options, the sandwich prep itself was better than what I experienced in the past.  Those factors contributed to Subway's decline as the sandwich king in recent years, a ho-hum menu with average ingredients and food prep that was sloppy.  But they seem to have stepped up their game.

So in enjoying that Baja Steak & Jack, today I decided to give the the Baja Chicken & Bacon Sub a try.

Featuring hand-pulled rotisserie-style chicken, hickory-smoked bacon (new to the "refreshed" menu), pepper jack cheese and all drizzled with Subway’s Baja Chipotle sauce (also new to the "refreshed" menu) I was looking forward to another smoky and spicy "Baja" kick.

I ordered a foot long on the Italian Artisan bread, toasted, and I had it topped with lettuce and tomato, the suggested adds from the menu board.

Baja Chicken & Bacon
Uneven distribution of meat, some empty bread bites there at the heel

Subway hasn't completely kicked it's old bad habit of some sloppy food prep and not so great ingredients.  I'm a bit amazed at how there can be such a product quality gap and lack of attention to detail from different staff at the same shop.   The meat for my sandwich wasn't distributed evenly on the bread, it was just slapped on, the lettuce was looking a bit wilted and needed to be changed out and the tomatoes, half the slices had very green centers.  After doing some quality control on my own behalf because the staff wasn't, I paid for my to-go sandwich and chips.  Hey, if I'm going to pay $12 for a sandwich, I want fresh green lettuce and red tomatoes.  With the chips, the total price was over $14.  Subway has raised their prices in introducing their new menu and while I appreciate the new hickory smoked bacon and Baja Chipotle sauce as part of that price hike, I also expect better food prep and improved quality control with the other ingredients. 

In taking the first bite of the Baja Chicken & Bacon sub, I was not as impressed as I was with the Baja Steak & Jack.  The rotisserie chicken was dry and under seasoned. I got crispy bacon in every chicken bite, kudos there, and the pepper jack cheese was nicely melted.  The toasting of the bread was good but had I not done some quality control on the veggies, I think I would have been rather disappointed in the quality of this sandwich.  As it was, the overall flavor is underwhelming.  I'm left wondering if it would have been the same employees that prepared my Baja Steak sandwich the other day, would my Baja Chicken have been a much better sandwich?

Costing me over $14 for a foot long sub and a bag of chips, I'm giving the Subway Baja Chicken & Bacon sub just 2 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  I paid too much money for an "Eat Fresh Refresh" sandwich.  It is NOT worthy of a repeat buy, well, not prepared by the same staff anyway...  That's a reflection on management and the inconsistency in food prep and ingredients.

2 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...

Related: Food Review: Subway's Baja Steak & Cheese Sandwich


Chip Review: Kroger Cuban Style Sandwich Flavored Potato Chips

By Mike Thayer

Kroger Cuban Style Sandwich Flavored Potato Chips
I know these aren't Lay's, but you can't eat just one...

This trend into trying to make chips imitate the flavors of iconic foods intrigues me.  Chip makers have now gone way beyond flavor combinations like Mesquite BBQ, sour cream & onion, sea salt & vinegar, cheddar or jalapeno offerings...  Screw the typical one or two added flavor concept, chip makers are going for entire sandwich and entree' flavors!

I recently did a review on such an offering, you can read that review here: Chip Review: Private Selection Chicken Tikka Masala Ripple-Cut Kettle Chips.

Those chips were quite tasty and after enjoying that chip tasting experience, I tried another: Chip Review: Kroger Kettle Cooked Reuben Sandwich Potato Chips - Bachelor on the Cheap.

Those chips were also quite enjoyable.  This bigger, bolder, outside-the-box flavor profile thing is working for me!

So with those positive chip adventures on a nice trend, I'm trying another variety today:  Kroger Cuban Style Sandwich Flavored Potato Chips.

Of the 'sandwich and entree' flavors I've sampled so far, this one is my clear favorite.  A good Cuban sandwich is freshly baked bread piled high with sweet ham, slow roasted pork, Swiss cheese, topped with tart pickles and yellow mustard, then grilled on a sandwich press with plenty of butter.

You get those notes in these chips!  The crunch of the kettle prepared chips is like the crispy sandwich pressed bread and that's followed immediately by the tartness of pickle and the twang of yellow mustard.  Those flavors then fade into sweet and savory notes along with a hint of Swiss cheese goodness and yes, there's a buttery finish.  The range of flavor in these chips really does mimic those you get in a good Cuban sandwich!   

Costing me just $1.69 for an 8 ounce bag, I'm giving Kroger Cuban Style Sandwich Flavored Potato Chips 5 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  Very reasonably priced these chips do indeed mimic the flavors of a classic Cuban sandwich and will most definitely be a repeat buy!  Put a Cuban Sandwich chip dance in your mouth!

5 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...


Chip Review: Kroger Kettle Cooked Reuben Sandwich Potato Chips

By Mike Thayer

Kroger Kettle Cooked Reuben Sandwich Potato Chips
Do they really mimic a Reuben?

This trend into trying to make chips imitate the flavors of iconic foods intrigues me.  Chip makers have now gone way beyond flavor combinations like Mesquite BBQ, sour cream & onion, sea salt & vinegar, cheddar or jalapeno offerings...  Screw the one or two added flavor concept, chip makers are going for entire sandwich and entree' flavors!

I recently did a review on such an offering, you can read that review here: Chip Review: Private Selection Chicken Tikka Masala Ripple-Cut Kettle Chips

Those chips were quite tasty.

So with bigger flavor profiles in mind, today I'm reviewing Kroger's Kettle Cooked Reuben Sandwich Potato Chips.

A Reuben sandwich isn't for everybody but it is an American deli classic featuring corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, topped with Russian dressing and served on grilled rye bread.  It's a tangy sandwich dance in the mouth!

Kroger does a nice job of mimicking Reuben flavors, these are definitely tangy chips!  Up front right away in that chip bite you get the twang of sauerkraut notes.  That fades into subtle spices that make corn beef, corn beef and it's followed by the tomato and spice presence of Russian dressing.  If these chips were served on the side of an actual Reuben sandwich, you would be a very happy camper.  And these are kettle chips, so you've got the crunch factor accentuating all those great Reuben flavors.

Costing me just $1.99 for an 8 ounce bag of snack heaven, I'm giving Kroger Kettle Cooked Reuben Sandwich Potato Chips 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  My only knock on these chips is I wish they came in the wavy cut.  The regular cut is fine, you get a nice kettle crunch, but the wavy cut is just that much better in the crunch department. Very reasonably priced, they're wallet friendly and an awesome change of pace chip from the ordinary, the sour cream & onion, the sea salt & vinegar, cheddar or jalapeno flavored kettle chips.  Kick things up a notch with a Reuben!

4 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...

 


Chip Review: Private Selection Chicken Tikka Masala Ripple-Cut Kettle Chips

By Mike Thayer

Private Selection Chicken Masala Ripple-Cut Kettle Chips
These are no ordinary chips

I love kettle chips, ripple cut kettle chips are even better which seems to pack more of that kettle flavor than regular cut chips.

So when in the chip aisle yesterday and looking for something a little different than your ordinary kettle chip, sea salt flavored or cheese variety, I happened upon a Chicken Tikka Masala flavored chip.

"Really?"  I thought to myself, "A chip flavored like an iconic Indian dish?"

I had to try these.

Private Selection® if you didn't already know, is Kroger's "upscale" store brand, offering unique products and unexpected flavors, an appeal to the gourmet palate.  Well they certainly hit the unexpected flavor category with Chicken Tikka Masala flavored chips!

Not knowing what to expect with that first chip bite, I was pleasantly surprised.  First you get that strong crunch you're looking for in a kettle chip, but then you get hit with the tomato and fragrant spices of the classic curry dish, it's not subtle, in a good way.  No dip is necessary with these chips, and if you feel the need, just a straight sour cream does the trick as these chips pack SO much flavor.

Costing me $2.99 for an 8 ounce bag, I'm giving Private Selection Tikka Masala Ripple-Cut Kettle Chips 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  It truly is a unique chip, packs a boat load of Tikka Masala flavor and is worthy of a repeat buy.  Reasonably priced, if you're looking for something different in a chip, you've GOT to try these.

4 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...


Product Review: Tramontina 6 piece stackable sauce pans

By Mike Thayer

Tramontina 6 piece stackable sauce pans
High quality, value priced

Down to my last sauce pan and the Teflon coating wearing thin, I was need of some new pans, like yesterday... 

If you like to cook, you need to have some reliable cookware, something that will last and can hold up to regular day-to-day use.  Buying the el cheapo pans (Mainstays) at Walmart for $7 - $9 a pop and no lid just doesn't cut it.  That's actually what I'm replacing, Mainstays sauce pans, which lasted me maybe 4 years with regular use.  Lesson learned.

I considered stainless steel saucepans, but since I'm not going to be searing anything in these pans - they're sauce pans not skillets after all - they'll be used for soups, stews, gravies, pastas, making mashed potatoes and the like, I don't need to apply high searing heat to brown something in these pans, that's what skillets are for.  And the convenience of easy clean Teflon came into play.

Stackable Sauce Pans
Stackable Sauce Pans, a HUGE plus in a small kitchen

I did some shopping online, I looked at Target and Kohl's, but I found what I was looking for at Sam's Club.

I bought a Tramontina 6 piece stackable sauce pan set for $29.99.  BARGAIN!  I became familiar with this brand when doing some saucepan homework online.

Not only do I get to take advantage of the easy to cook with and easy to clean Teflon surface, this pan set stacks! Not all pan sets lend themselves to easy stacking by inverting the lid, this set does, which comes in handy in a galley style kitchen with limited cabinet space.  Another plus, this easy clean Teflon surface is supposedly metal utensil safe, but I'm not even going to test that.  Using rubber, silicone and/or wood/bamboo utensils extends the life of any pan.  And here's a tip:  Although this set is dishwasher safe, don't do it.  I don't care what kind of pan set you buy, routinely cleaning them in the dishwasher ruins the finish.  Hand wash your pans and do NOT use any abrasive scrubbing pads!  You'll prematurely scratch the finish and wear the Teflon coating thin.  Additional features:  The glass lids are tempered and the pans are oven safe up to 350 degrees.

Tramontina Pans
Melting some butter for a bechamel sauce

I'm giving the Tramontina 6 piece stackable sauce pan set 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  I was looking for high-quality cookware that is value-priced and I found it in Tramontina Cookware.  The set met my budget (it actually came in way under) and totally serves my cooking needs.  I would say this is a repeat buy, but I won't have to, not for quite a few years!  I won't be trashing any of these pans as I did so soon with Walmart's Mainstay pans.  The only knock I have is the set doesn't come in black, I 'had' to settle for metallic blue.  Obviously not a deal breaker.

4 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...


Mike's Balsamic Chicken & Carrots

By Mike Thayer

Here is a nice meal featuring balsamic vinegar that's easy to prepare and tastes delicious, a really nice change of pace kind of meal.   The marinade can be used no matter the method of cooking, be that pan seared, crock pot, or grilling.

Mike's Balsamic Chicken & Carrots

Ingredients:

  • Two chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • One clove garlic, minced
  • One packet of artificial sugar
  • The juice of 1/2 a lime
  • Salt and pepper

For the carrots

  • 5 - 7 baby carrots, Julienne cuts (like match sticks)
  • One Tablespoon olive oil
  • A drizzle of balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Place the chicken breasts into a large zip lock bag or Tuperware container.  In a small bowl, mix together all the remaining ingredients and pour over the chicken.  Seal the bag/container and refrigerate for at least one hour, four hours is better, 10-12 hours is fantastic.  When you're ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and heat up an oven safe pan over medium heat on the stove, coat it with a tablespoon of olive oil and put that marinated chicken in.   Brown the chicken on the presentation side, about five minutes.  Flip the chicken and put the pan in the oven to finish cooking it, about 25 - 30 minutes.     With about five minutes remaining on your timer, heat up a small saute pan over medium heat, saute the carrots in the olive oil for about 2-3 minutes.  Hit them with the salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar and saute for another two minutes.  Serve with the gorgeous chicken you just pulled out of the oven.

It's another dose of YUM!

Related:  Poultry recipes on Grilling Good Eats!


Food Review: Member's Mark Chicken Tortilla Soup

By Mike Thayer

Member's Mark Chicken Tortilla Soup
Super convenient ready to heat and eat soup

When you always seem to be on the go and especially during the winter months when the chilly weather just zaps the energy out of you, it's always good to have something in the fridge ready to heat and eat.

So on a busy Thursday work day and realizing I didn't prep anything for lunch, I reached for some Member's Mark Chicken Tortilla Soup.   

Here's the description from the packaging, Member's Mark hits all the notes for a really nice soup:  Chicken, black beans, roasted corn, colorful bell peppers and crushed tortilla chips, slow simmered in a handcrafted chicken stock and vine-ripened tomatoes, finished with a touch of lime and Chipotle sauce.

Prepared in the microwave per the package instructions, it's a thick soup with layers of flavor, loaded with strips of chicken and veggies.  Topped with crispy tortilla chips, a bit of sour cream and a squeeze of lime, the soup was very satisfying and a perfect, super convenient meal on this day.  Bonus, after serving up a bowl, all I had to do was put the lid back on the plastic container it came in and stick it back in the fridge.  Convenient to heat, convenient to eat, convenient to store!

Member's Mark Chicken Tortilla Soup
Member's Mark serving suggestion

Good on it's own but even better doctored up (wish I would have had some shredded cheddar cheese on hand), I'm giving Member's Mark Chicken Tortilla Soup 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  Reasonably priced at $7.88 for two, 32 ounce containers of soup, it's wallet friendly, super convenient, quite tasty and is a repeat buy.  I'm looking forward to sampling other Member's Mark soups, the Loaded Baked Potato is next!  Shout out to Cindy, who brought this soup to my attention and literally, brought me this soup!

4 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...


Food Review: Subway's Baja Steak & Cheese Sandwich

By Mike Thayer

Subway Baja Steak & Cheese Sandwich
A Subway Sandwich Combo to go

OK, I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired of the never-ending Subway TV commercials and their "Eat Fresh Refresh" new menu campaign.  Featuring sports stars, the commercials were mildly entertaining at first, but it's now overkill.  Watch a football game and you'll get pummeled with the same Subway commercial over and over again and you're able to recite the lines by half time.

Subway is one of my least favorite sandwich shops, their quality has gone downhill in recent years and in fact they finished second to last in my "Who has the best Sub Sandwich" challenge a few years back and to be honest, I don't think I've eaten there since.  You can read that review here.  Their TV commercials didn't entice me at first - the "Eat Fresh Refresh" campaign was unveiled last fall - but tired of hearing Charles Barkley boast up Subway's  Baja Steak & Cheese sandwich, well I finally decided to give Subway another try.

Subway Baja Steak & Cheese
Toasted

Here's the description from the Subway website:  Spicy, cheesy, smoky — this one’s got it all. NEW Steak meets NEW Pepper Jack Cheese, with green peppers, red onions, and NEW Baja Chipotle Sauce on Artisan Italian Bread. Try not to fall head over heels.

I ordered a 6 inch sandwich on white, toasted.  I didn't get anything extra on the sandwich either, I just wanted to check out the base flavors for this review.  If it's got a good foundation, it would be worth ordering again and perhaps then, build on good base flavors.

In taking that first bite, I was pleasantly surprised. This is the best sandwich I've had from Subway in a very long time and I walked into the shop with low expectations considering they were the 8th best sandwich out of 9 sub shops reviewed in my neck of the woods a few years back.  So faced with some lost market share in the sub market - growth of competitors like Jersey Mike's and Firehouse Subs - Subway seems to have upped their game.

Baja Steak & Cheese
You can't see the Baja Chipolte sauce in this lid flip pic, but it's there, underneath that tender, nicely seasoned beef

My sandwich had a nice portion of steak, it was tender, juicy and seasoned well.  Combined with a generous amount of green pepper, red onion and topped with that pepper jack cheese made for a very nice bite.  But what kicks this sandwich up a notch is that Baja Chipolte Sauce, a nice balance of creamy, smoky spice and the maker of my sandwich didn't hold anything back in applying it.

Costing me $10.73 for the sandwich, chip and drink combo, I'm giving the Subway Baja Steak & Jack 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  They've improved their menu but also raised their prices, but that's OK because I'm willing to pay a little extra for a better sandwich.  I didn't go back to Subway for such a long time because their cold cut sandwich was sub-par (pun intended) and although a wallet friendly eat, the cold cuts weren't the real deal, with the ham, salami and bologna all turkey based, as in, lacking real and authentic flavor. But I'll make a return visit now, the Baja Steak & Jack is quite tasty with quality ingredients and is worthy of a repeat buy.  And hmmm... That Subway marketing pummel eventually worked..  Charles Barkley finally wore me down...  The Baja was worth it.

4 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...

Related:  Who makes the best sub sandwich? They are listed here from worst to first