CHEAP EATS: The American Fast Food Lunch Box Challenge

Now that I'm unemployed (retired) and living on a fixed income, I have to watch how much I spend on food. It's always affordable to eat at home but sometimes you just want to break out and let someone else to it for you.

Enter the challenge of eating out cheaply. Not an easy thing to do here in high-cost-of-living Southern California but we're going to give it a go.

This week, we're going to do the fast food lunch box challenge.  Many quick eating establishments now have lunch box meals with a complete lunch going in the range of $4-6.  Tim is going to be my taster.

We'll rate on these three much food to you get for the money? How good does it taste? and does it fill you up or leave you wanting more?

First, we'll try Taco Bell. Tim's having the nacho fries combo box with comes with a beefy burrito, taco, nacho fries with queso dipping sauce, and a drink. We're mixing it up with Taco Bell's Fire and Diablo salsa.

The taco is a Doritos loco taco, with the shell made out of Doritos, and has beef, lettuce, and cheese.

Tim liked the meal a lot. Everything tasted good and he liked the spicy taste of Taco Bell's beef. The nacho fries were the star of the show, next the taco...but he didn't care for how it fell apart so quickly...then the burrito.

It's a messy lunch so an apron was in order to keep everything neat and clean. Tim could only eat about two thirds of the meal, leaving half of the burrito and some fries, so it's very filling.

We got in on special for $5 but the regular price is $5.99. They have several combos but usually only one at a time is on sale for $5.

Tim liked the taste very much and he got more food than he could eat, so the price is pretty can actually feed two people on this if you wanted to.

Next up is Carl's Jr. For $5, we got a fiery chicken sandwich (chicken tenders is the other option), fries, drink, and a chocolate chip cookie for dessert.

Tim didn't think the fries were as good as Taco Bell. Let's see what he thinks of the chicken...

He likes it! He really likes it! 

Tim loved the taste of the sandwich. "I thought those were pickles in the sandwich but they were jalapenos," he says. "They were very fresh and spicy."

The cookie for dessert was also very good. Tim rates the taste very high on this meal. He thought it was filling and didn't want any more but he did finish it and not leave any leftovers. Great deal for the money.

Wendy's has a meal for a buck less. They're 4 for 4 meal features a 4 piece order of chicken nuggets, medium fries, drink, and your choice from about half a dozen sandwiches such as chicken sandwich, cheeseburger, and more. Tim's choosing the Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger.

Tim says the burger is better than the Taco Bell offerings but not quite as good as Carl's Jr.

The nuggets come with two dipping sauces, we have ranch and barbecue sauce.

Tim says the nuggets are very good. The fries are good, too, maybe a bit better than Carl's but not as good as Taco Bell's nacho fries.

Finally we're going to finish with Popeye's Louisiana Chicken's entry into the $5 arena.

At Popeyes, five dollars will get you six boneless wings (basically chicken tenders), spiced fries, and a biscuit. Drink is extra here so Tim just grabs a can of diet Sunkist from the fridge.

You get a choice of dipping sauces, Tim's going with the Cajun Buffalo sauce.

Popeye's gets poinst for serving food Tim can feed himself (something to think about when you're disabled). The fries were the best of the bunch, even besting Taco Bell's nacho fries which Tim didn't think was possible.

The chicken was better than Taco Bell's entrees but he still likes the offerings from Carls Jr. and Wendy's better. Tim liked the spiciness of the chicken but felt it could have been even stronger.

He got plenty of food for his five dollars but, other than water, a drink would have blown the budget.

Here's how they stacked up for Tim...

1. Carl's Jr. Tastiest overall.

2. Wendy's. Good food, best value for the money.

3. Popeye's. Best fries of the bunch.

4. Taco Bell. Food was good but not as good as the others. Fries were better than Carls Jr. or Wendy's.

Next time you're looking for a cheap lunch away from home, keep Tim's tips in mind for a good, filling lunch.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

DINNER TIME! Pasta, Peas, and Pancetta

Here's another dish I'll make when I'm maybe a bit pressed for time and want to get a quality, tasty, and nutritious dinner on the table for my family.

It's very easy to throw together using two pots, doesn't take a lot of time, and I don't get any complaints.


20 oz. pasta (I'm using a half and half mix of farfalle and rainbow - arcobaleno - pasta)
4 oz. frozen peas
4 oz. cubed pancetta
3 tsp. shredded Parmesan
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. minced garlic
4 oz. heavy whipping cream

Boil peas and pasta in pot of salted water.

The pasta I'm using is thick, so it takes up to 12 minutes to be al dente. Depending on your choice, it could be a shorter boil time.

Strain out the water when done and put the pasta and peas back in the pot.

Heat up olive oil in a medium sauce pan on high for 3-4 minutes. When hot, add the pancetta. Add 1 tsp. of Parmesan. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Lower heat in sauce pan to medium/low. Cook another 5 minutes.

Turn off heat, add another teaspoon of Parmesan and stir thoroughly.  After 2-3 minutes off the heat, add the cream and garlic. Stir into the pancetta mix.  Add the sauce to the pasta in the pasta pot and stir.


I'm also serving this with Clearman's toast.  Clearman's is a restaurant chain here in Southern California that runs the Northwood's Inn steakhouses, among others. They're famous for their garlic cheese toast.

They sell their spread in local supermarkets. Occasionally, I'll pick up a tub.

Clearman's toast is traditionally made with sourdough sandwich bread. Simply apply the spread liberally to the bread and stick under the broiler in your oven for 1 - 2 minutes...until it looks as done as the picture above.

This recipe serves three to four people with no leftovers. It's a quick, delicious, and easy-to-make dinner that's especially good for a midweek dinner when you don't have time, don't want to spend a lot on take out food, and not feel guilty about what you put on your family's dinner table.

Now that you've read this post, please take a minute to stop by the Musick Channel Garage Sale at Ebay and pick up some bargains from our over 30 years of collecting.

Thank you for your support.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

DINNER TIME! Herb Crusted Pan Fried Chicken

I've got some time on my hands today, let me cook some dinner for the family. This week, we've had burgers, pasta, and sushi. Haven't had any chicken in a bit, let me see what I can throw together.

We buy big packs of chicken thighs from Costco and keep them in the freezer. They come in perforated pouches, you can just tear one off, thaw it out, and leave the rest frozen for next time.

I've thawed out my pouch, and now I'm ready to go...


3 - Chicken thighs (we like to leave the skin on )
1 tsp - salt
1 tsp - pepper
1 tsp - herb pepper
1/2 tsp - marjoram
1/2 tsp - mustard powder

Heat up some oil in a skillet. I'm using some lard plus some leftover bacon fat from breakfast. Heat it on high for about 4 minutes until very hot. 

Sprinkle salt, pepper, herb pepper, marjoran, and mustard powder on each side of chicken.  Sprinkle just a light dusting of flour on each side, too.

Turn heat down just a tiny bit.  If you have a spatter guard, have it handy.

Cook chicken on almost high heat, 3 minute per side. 

Turn heat down to medium-low and cook for another 8 minutes per side.

We're serving ours with some hand-mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus.

It's very delicious but my wife is saying "next time, roast it, moron," because even with the spatter guard, there is a bit of cleanup to do.

Stop by the Musick Channel Garage Sale to pick up some treasures from our stash of over thirty years of collecting, like these great Liberty Falls collectibles which would look great under your Christmas tree.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

WEEKEND ON THE GRILL: Asian Inspired Marinated Beef

Sometimes, I get in a rut on the barbecue...steaks, chops, hot dogs, burgers, chicken...and just want to break out and do something different. Lately, we've been watching some travel shows and drooling over the food shown from Thailand, Vietnam, China, and Japan. I want to make something more like that.

A few weeks ago, we had a cheap, easy version of a teriyaki bowl featuring Trader Joe's Korean inspired Bool Kogi. Today, we're doing it from scratch.

I've put together a very tasty marinade and am letting my skirt steak soak in it overnight, then will grill it up and see how good we can get it.

First, the ingredients:

1/4 cup - Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup - low sodium soy sauce
3 teaspoons - honey
1 tablespoon - olive oil
1 teaspoon - Chinese five-spice powder
1 teaspoon - mince garlic

2 lbs - skirt steak
3 - sliced green onions

Mix the ingredients for the marinade, put steak in sealable bowl or plastic bag. Pour marinade in to soak and refrigerate overnight.  Cook on grill, 3 minutes per side over direct head and 5 minutes per side over indirect heat, covered.

On the side, I'm making grilled corn on the cob, elote style. I've steamed some corn, cut each cob in half, and then cook over direct coals, 5 minutes per side. Apply some mayonnaise and parmesan cheese before serving.

In addition, I'm cooking some zucchini in foil and grilling pineapple slices...5 minutes per side direct heat...putting a few mandarin orange slices and serving all up on a bowl over rice.

Add the green onion over the top after you've put it all in a bowl.

The leftovers also make a superior steak 'n eggs omelet for the next day's breakfast.

This week's gardening:
Picking weeds out of the lawn, deadheading the roses for the last time in the season, spraying deer repellent on the front yard bushes.

Stop by the Musick Channel Garage Sale to pick up some treasures from our stash of over thirty years of collecting, like these great Liberty Falls collectibles which would look great under your Christmas tree.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Retirement - Is It All It's Cracked Up to Be?

Six months ago, I said goodbye to my job of 30 years as an Information Technology Specialist at the U.S Attorney's Office for the Central District of California headquartered in Los Angeles. Hopefully, I saved enough money to help live off my small pension from the Department of Justice.

So how has it been?

It's been a transition, that's for sure.

The first week or so, planning on sleeping in as long as I wanted, I couldn't sleep. Maybe my rhythms were messed up? I don't know but I was getting frustrated but, finally, after a week or so fatigue caught up to me and I slept. For the most part, since then, my sleeping routine has improved and I'm getting a good night's sleep more often than not.

Sleep schedule properly adjusted, the next thing I had to deal with, psychologically, was the feeling that I was only on vacation and would have to return to work. After awhile, it almost felt like I was going to be in trouble if I didn't report back on the job at some point.

Over time, that feeling faded but it still feels a bit like I'm getting away with something I shouldn't.

Next is the expectation that you'll have all the time in the world. It's true that I have more time for the things that are important to me but I'm just as busy, if not busier, than I was at work. I am a full-time caregiver for my adult, disabled son which requires cooking for him, feeding him, dressing him, bathing, bathrooming, and much more. My day is filled with looking after his needs, although I do usually have a couple of hours between each bout of taking care of him.

We are also getting our house and affairs together so we can achieve that other retirement dream, moving away from the city. After living in very crowded Los Angeles County, it's time to cash in our chips and go.

Another problem is, even though I have the time, most of the friends I'd like to hang out with still have to work. I'm happy to spend my free time with my wife and son, though.

Since retirement, I've cleaned out the garage, relandscaped the front yard, we've painted our bedrooms and took care of the last couple of major home improvement projects. In addition, now I can relieve my wife of some of the chores she used to take care of like doing the laundry, pitching in to cook, washing dishes, and cleaning the house.

There hasn't been many dull moments since I quit.

Traveling has been fun as we can now go whenever we want, stay as long as we want, and not have to worry about our vacation time ending. It is still an adjustment when we do the end of the vacation, I feel depressed like I used to when I'd have to go back to work. But then, I realize, I don't have to go back!

Dealing with money is taking some getting used to. Instead of getting paid every two weeks, I have to plan everything monthly as I only get paid once a month now. Our income is less than a third of what is was before retirement so we have to be more careful with our spending.

We don't have to live like monks but we have gotten rid of our second car, we're eating at home about twice as much as we used to, and look for deals when we go out.

Fate sometimes has a way of stepping in, though, as we've had to deal with unexpected expenses like emergency dental work and a major car breakdown while we were hundreds of miles from home.

All in all, though, we dealing with the challenges of retirement pretty well. Going back to the original question, is it all it's cracked up to be? Well...yes! And more than I thought it was going to be.

We're blowing out our classic vinyl LP albums at The Musick Channel Garage Sale on Ebay.Find some bargains on great music today

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

It's Still Summer, It's Still Hot, It's Still Not Time to Sit By the Stove All Afternoon - A Super Quick and Easy Chicken Salad

While the kids are filtering back into school and summer vacations are coming to a close, the calendar shows we still have over a month of summer to go. Beyond the calendar, I can feel it. It's still hitting a hundred or above daily and the monsoons from Mexico are keeping the air sticky.

I hate summer and I hate cooking in this weather but, still, want to eat good without going out too much.

Enter the chicken salad. It's just a basic dish but, except for warming the chicken for six or seven minutes, it just takes a minute or two to put together.

Let's see what's in the fridge, hmm...

A bag of pre-cooked chicken pieces from Trader Joe's. 

I'll pop that into a skillet with some olive oil for a few minutes to heat up.

Salad mix from the supermarket.

Cherry tomatoes, also from Trader Joe's. Plus a few dried cranberries from the same place.

Throw the salad mix in a bowl, add tomatoes, chicken, and top off with the craisins. Pour on a little leftover ranch dressing that we brought home from a restaurant a few night ago, and dinner is done.

Perfect for a quick, midweek dinner when you're tired and have no time left on a hot day.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

CHEAP EATS: The American Fast Food Lunch Box Challenge

Now that I'm unemployed (retired) and living on a fixed income, I have to watch how much I spend on food. It's always affordable ...