Saturday, January 3, 2009

Bourbon Ball Torte, or the Most Expensive Cake I've Ever Made

For New Year's Eve we have a longstanding tradition with dear friends to do dinner at their house. They are fantastic cooks and are the kind of people who won't even be mad if you leave before midnight. My contribution is almost always dessert. This year I made a recipe I've been looking at for 10 years but never attempted, the aforementioned bourbon ball torte. Let me say that this recipe requires 9 eggs, separated and beaten into meringue and fluffy pale yellow stuff, bourbon, and a pound of chocolate. It rises like a souffle, which it did, then is supposed to drop like a torte, which it did. When it dropped it took the outer edge of the cake with it, which then resided on its' own at the upper rim of the springform pan. Lovely. Even so, with $9 worth of raspberries, and homemade bourbon whipped cream, it was pretty damn good. And weighed a ton. It was a hit but will I ever do it again? No. This is its' one and only appearance. DH helped with it which was a lot of fun because he is great at taking orders in the kitchen. But, I have a repertoire of fantastic, simple desserts including a pecan pie that takes five minutes to make and a mix in a saucepan chocolate cake that is foolproof and tastes as good as this with half the ingredients. I have included a picture for posterity and yes, I know it wasn't frugal but it was New Year's Eve and our friends treated us to standing rib which was possibly the best piece of meat I've ever had, champagne, perfect baked potatoes rubbed with salt and cooked in a cast iron skillet, and a wonderful Caesar salad so this and a bottle of wine was a small entrance fee for an unforgettable meal and company.

Old Spaghetti Factory January Bargains

I have mentioned my tenure at the Old Spaghetti Factory once before and find myself surprised to be mentioning them again so soon but they are having a cheap deal during January that bears talking about. For the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Monday and Tuesday this month, they are cutting their prices on certain items 40% for dinner. This makes my preferred dinner, the manager's favorite with mizithra and mushroom, an even bigger bargain than usual at $5.99. Still included are spumoni, salad and coffee or tea. You cannot call for advanced seating on these days so will have to wait among the herd of unwashed which will undoubtedly be huge. Who cares? The Spag has a bar full of equally cheap drinks to keep you occupied and The Closer and Leverage don't come on until 10 so you'll have plenty of time for a relaxed dinner.
During my last mention of The Spaghetti Factory I noted that they have a "thou shall not be afraid of wine" policy. Their wine list runs from mediocre to abysmal but also is inexpensive with none of the outrageous markup that is common in the industry. Their employees are trained to offer wine as if we all live in Italy and drink it everyday with lunch under an olive tree out of a farm tumbler. I circumvent the whole list by ordering a full carafe of house chianti which comes to about $13 and is pretty tasty. I look forward to sitting down sometime this month to my $5.99 plate of spaghetti with my $3 glass of wine and pretending I am somewhere else if only until The Closer comes on.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Big Lots Dog & Cat Megabargains

In our house only the dogs go to the beauty parlor. Everyone else (me) sits on a kitchen stool at what is affectionately known among our friends as Mr. Bobby's and gets a homemade trim or stands in front of the mirror (Mr. Bobby) and shaves his own head. Needless to say those that do not sit quietly (the fuzzy dog) go to the salon to get an expensive coif. Along these same lines the humans in the household are reduced to eating meat off the throwout counter and endless pots of bean soup while the four-legged family members eat pricey food guaranteed to make them glossy, lean, and the proud makers of very firm poops.
It is absolutely worth every penny. I believe good food makes a difference. In the interest of sharing hip and stingy deals, the best pet food deal is at Big Lots right now. No doubt owing to this neverending recession we seem to be involved in, many people must be going back to feeding their animal friends Ol' Roy. The upshot is that Big Lots has a load of IAMS food for both cats and dogs. 30 lb. bags of dog food are priced at $20. Their prices are roughly half the regular cost and no, it is not out of date. This can't last forever so do your wallet a favor and get a deal on food for the most grateful members of the family.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Wal-Mart Wine

So here's the thing---I would just about rather die than traipse through a Wal-Mart. I hate their policies concerning wages, female workers, dodging providing health insurance and generally overrunning the countryside with giant stores that they routinely abandon and refuse to rent or sell to all but a select few retailers. Their buildings are heinous and they are filled with the screaming cries of a million Malaysian children working for a pittance in sweatshop conditions. For several years I prided myself on saying that I had not walked into a Wal-Mart in forever. Well, the bad times have come and I find myself parading through them more than I would like. One of the reasons is Wal-Mart brand wine. Wal-Mart has exclusive rights to sell Oak Leaf wine, a part of The Wine Group. It sells for $2.97/bottle and it is drinkable. By drinkable I mean that you could actually serve it in public and all but the snobbiest would drink it. The Cabernet and the Pinot Grigio are pretty tasty. The Merlot sucks but that may just be me. At $2.97/bottle it's hard to complain much.
I've been a wine drinker since my tenure at the Spaghetti Factory where all the wines were cheap plonk but they had a "do not be afraid policy" that stuck with me and made me inquisitive. I have meandered through France stopping at every open wine cave and drinking everything offered to me from tiny family run operations to French megamarket $3 wine to sublime creations in Gigondas that tasted like earth and barns and heaven. I have also wandered through many of the midwestern wineries that have sprung up in recent years and done the California tour. I love wine in general and am thrilled to have found a livable, frugal substitute for everyday and those occasions where the guests are so inebriated they might as well be drinking the good stuff on ice with a straw. There is something that thrills my cheap soul about buying a case for $36. On the other hand, I try to balance out my blatant disregard for all my principles by purchasing all other wines through my locally owned retailers. We are blessed here in Louisville with many wine lovers turned business people who keep us well supplied with thoughtful, fairly priced choices.
A few pointers if you are going to take this route: Bring a wine box from somewhere else with you. Wal-Mart is ill-equipped, particularly here in the Bible belt, to serve those of us who descend on it to buy a cheap case and so proceed to wrap every single bottle in 2 or 3 plastic bags each. I think they do it partially because there is such a whiff of disapproval as they slooowly bag them one by one. I have never been through the line that I haven't been asked what I'm going to do with all of this. Their obvious thought is that I will roll into a ditch somewhere and drink them all before sunup. Also, they have a limit on what one can buy. At some stores it's nineteen bottles or some silly number snatched out of the air randomly. It is usually posted by the registers. This will not be a problem since there are never 19 bottles in stock. This stuff sells like water! I have been there on many occasions that there is nary a bottle to be had. There must be a lot of us out there who aren't too good to drink it.
I learned about Oak Leaf from the place that apparently everything originates--Oprah. Or specifically, her magazine. The Chardonnay was featured as one of the things Oprah likes. It took my cynical self a while to check it out but I'm glad I did. I took my $2.97 in there, bought some and the rest is history. For the review from, go here: http://http// Enjoy!

Sunday, December 28, 2008


It is Sunday morning which means poring over the ads and clipping coupons. After last week's CVS freebies, I have no energy left to meander through the store for less than stellar deals. I do have a couple of rainchecks from last week but will probably hold on to those for later. For those of you who CVS, you probably feel the same as me unless you are working the P & G Brandsaver that came today. If you don't CVS, you should. I love a deal, especially a free one, and CVS is the king. The best way to get started is to visit and read her CVS primers. Take a look also at Walgreens and Rite-Aid. I will not even attempt to give you the ins and outs since it has been done so well before, but trust me, these women that have put together the primers that got the rest of us up to speed are the queens. They can squeeze Lincoln until he screams.
That said, I will give you a couple of true facts about working these deals. First, you will be the person in line with ten people behind you as you put things on the counter, take them off, change your mind, and shuffle through fifty pieces of paper. I always feel the same way I felt when we bought a van for our antique business years ago and I would walk into a parking lot only to realize that yes, in fact, I was the person who drove that hulking uncool beast. You have to give up any pretense of being cool and together. You have become that stingy person so embrace it for the moment. There is no shame in a bargain and if CVS didn't want you to steal from them they wouldn't send you an invitation every Sunday. Just do two transactions and go back to the end of the line. It'll give you time to think and keep the unwashed masses behind you from rioting.
Second, take your time. It is easy to get in the store and fall apart. You are wandering around with this tiny little cart trying to find the 6.4 ounce toothpaste in a sea of 6.2 and 6.0 sizes. The store is not going anywhere. You will not be the only person cursing under her breath and scrounging for the last Listerine. If you can't keep it together, get a small transaction, do it and go to the car to regroup. You won't be the only one in the parking lot doing deep breathing exercises either. This is intimidating stuff but conquerable if you stick with it and absolutely worth it. I now have five packs of sleep-aids ($45 worth) that I got for free and we can all always use a sleep aid.
Third, buy some things you don't use or need. This is what makes the deals work. I buy freebies or near freebies always and fill in with things I always use and need when I have good coupons. Somewhere in your town there is a woman in a shelter that needs a glucose monitor. When they are free get one and go give it to her. If you don't use dark shiny nail polish but one of the girls next to you at work does, surprise her. Only good can come of this. Consider it building Karma and thank CVS for it.
Last but not least, don't go overboard. If you are spending too much money out of pocket and only you know your limit, reign it in and take a break. I keep all of my CVS stuff together with my allowable cash so I can keep it in control. For those of us who love to shop but find ourselves in reduced circumstances, this is a great way to get a fix. Please feel free to add your thoughts to this list.