Sunday, July 31, 2011

Beans, Beans- the musical fruit!!

We love beans. When I have a crock pot full of black beans, my kids keep pestering me to know when dinner is. My youngest daughter will often eat 4 bowls of black beans and rice. My Cuban relatives have been very impressed with them as well, so I guess I must be doing something right. If you're looking to save some money in the grocery store, buy beans. A bag of beans is usually less than a buck a one pound bag. Add some water and a ham hock, cook for 8 hours, add some rice and you have a meal. We top them with cheese, sour cream and hot sauce.

Just a few tips on beans. Wash them well before you add them to the pot. They are often dried on sheets on the ground in the field before being collected for sale, so there is often small pebbles and a bit of dust on the them. DO NOT add salt to the beans before you cook them. EVER!! Salt toughens the proteins in the bean and you could cook them from now until doomsday and they won't get tender. I find a crock pot and slow cooking them works best, but a few of my Cuban relatives swear by a pressure cooker. My wife's aunt cooked up a batch of dried black beans in 45 minutes in her pressure cooker. I was impressed. The high pressure forces the water into the bean and fast. She did the same cooking yucca, but that is for another blog.

I will add a ham hock or ham bone to the beans and plenty of water to cover. You may need to add more water as they cook and absorb all of the water. If you soak the beans overnight you will be less likely to need to add extra water to them since they have rehydrated earlier. After several hours in a crock pot and they have become tender, then add your seasoning. I like cumin, coriander, garlic powder, salt and pepper with some onion and bell pepper in our black beans. Don't forget to cut any of the meat off the bones you added for flavor. Dice it up and add to the beans.

Most people tend to like black beans as they are the most flavorful. Red beans are another fav, especially in the Deep South and Louisiana. Lima beans, or butter beans, are popular in the Carolinas. Pinto beans are a staple in the Southwest. Fava beans and garbonzo, or chick peas, are a middle eastern staple. Of course garbonzo beans are the key ingredient in hummus and after you make your own (read my previous blog at for how to make hummus)and see how inexpensive it is, you won't pay $3 for an 8 ounce tub of it again. After you cook a batch yourself and see how easy it is (and cheap), you won't buy a can of beans again.

Whatever your favorite is or becomes, give them a try. Don't be afraid of them either. You never know- you may be “singing” a new tune !!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day old produce

As a chef in training, my chefs would often say that you cannot create good food from bad ingredients. in most cases I will agree with that. In this one area, I will slightly disagree. Many supermarkets often have a sale rack in the back of the produce department with items that are slightly blemished, a little past prime or truly on their way out to the compost pile.

Let me divert on this topic slightly and say that the produce department is an area that the grocer makes some money in. If you buy a 50 pound bag of cabbage wholesale, in season, it sells for about $9 - $11. The grocer sells it for 49 cents a pound. He has made $15 on that bag of cabbage, a more than 50% profit. He has to make a good margin on these items to offset the loss he takes on other produce that has a poor shelf life and goes bad more quickly. In comes the discount rack.

Often times, I will come across this rack in my local grocer and find hidden gems at a great price that I can use. Bell peppers are a great find. Put them over an open flame or in the oven and roast them. Any blemish is easily removed once it is roasted, deseeded and deskinned. Grapes are another great find. As long as they are not molded and only a little shriveled, make raisins from them. I often toss a container of older grapes into the dehydrator and make a batch of fresh raisins. They are surprisingly better than anything Sunmaid can put out. Onions, carrots, celery or other vegetables can always make a great veggie stock, at the least. Older apples can be used for what they are used commercially- apple sauce or cider. Berries can be cleaned up and frozen on a sheet pan in the freezer to make smoothies, compote or cobbler. Tomatoes can be used for sauce or added to any cooked dish. Citrus fruit can be juiced and make a great drink (I often can get a bag full of limes at the Spanish market for a buck that we use to make lemon/lime ade). Again the Spanish market (see previous post about ethnic markets) usually has a bag of plantains that have over ripened for less than a buck. Bananas are usually marked down to 19 cents a pound for over ripened ones. These are actually how you want them if you are baking with bananas. Peel them, put them in a zipper bag and freeze them. Use them for banana bread or smoothies anytime.

These are just some ideas that I use for marked down produce. Please exploit the opportunity when they present themselves to you and save some money on day old produce. My only guidelines are these- 1/ If it's moldy, forget it at any price. The mold will ruin the flavor of even a stock. 2/ Even if it's not moldy but has degraded to the point that it has lost ability to hold it own structure, it's too far gone. 3/ Assess how much of the produce is truly bad and how much can be salvaged and used. 4/ Cut away any part that is moldy or slimy and add to the compost pile. Use only what is usable. Don't be TOO cheap.

I have talked to the produce manager at own local Walmart and he has told me how they probably throw away thousands of dollars of produce in a week. They are one place that does not mark down produce (at least in my area). Bakery and meat they do, but produce they don't. Explore your options and take advantage of them.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Not so basic" pasta sauce, or for you Italians that want to argue about it- GRAVY

Having grown up in NJ, I was forced at an early age to be influenced by Italian food. One of the basics of the (southern) Italian cuisine is tomato sauce. Most people slather their spaghetti with it and are pleased with what they can buy from a jar. I think I can count on one hand the amount of jarred pasta sauce I have ever purchased and only then because of time constraints or absolute necessity. Mind you, there are some decent brands out there that make a fair sauce, but once you make this for yourself, you will never be satisfied by jarred sauce ever again. Not only will you save money, but the quality will be light years ahead of the store bought stuff.

This recipe has been in development by me for the past 18 years and continues to be tweeked here and there. It was based on a sauce I made in a restaurant in south Florida, working for a chef that was a Lebonese Jew, who wasn’t very kosher. I have not met anyone that has not at least really liked this sauce and asked for me to write down how to make it. Once you put it all together, it is very easy and the aroma will fill the house by day's end. All it needs is a big bowl of pasta, some parmesian cheese and a big loaf of crusty Italian bread.

I cook my sauce in a crock pot over the length of an entire day (usually about 8 hours). I prefer the crock pot because I do not have to attend it as closely as a pot on the stove which requires stirring more often to prevent burning. I have an 8 quart crock pot, so I make a very large batch at one time, using as much as we need that night and freezing in batches the remaining for use on other nights. With this large crock, I use a #10 can (the very large commercial size cans) of CRUSHED tomatoes. You can start with whatever kind YOU may prefer, but I find that the crushed gives me the best consistency when it is done cooking. Tomato PUREE will yield a very thick sauce and whole tomatoes will be too thin. When I use canned tomatoes, I have a couple brands I prefer. Cost being one of the best determining factors, I like the Walmart brand best. They are the least expensive and I find the taste to be superior to much more expensive brands. I also like Tuttarosa.

Place the tomatoes in the pot, scraping the inside of the cans to get all tomato out. Add herbs- oregano, basil, marjoram, bay leaf, thyme. I will give proportions of the herbs to my taste . You will have to adjust according to your taste. I like a heavily herbed, very flavorful sauce, so I season heavily.

2 parts basil

1 part oregano

½ part marjoram

¼ part thyme

3-4 bay leaves

Salt & pepper


Did you hear that ? NO SUGAR!! If you cook it long enough, you will not need the added sugar. That is a shortcut used to keep from cooking the sauce as long as it should be.

Now the fun part and what I consider the part that make this sauce much better than many others. Take a small to medium onion and cut into thin slices. Then take a head of garlic, peel and cut off the root end to make a clean bulb. I will use an entire head of garlic when I make sauce, you can use as much or as little as you like, but in the end the sauce is NOT garlicy. Put a small amount of olive oil into another small, sauce pan. Heat the oil until it is very hot. Carefully add the onion slices to the hot oil. Leave over medium low heat and stir occasionally. You will want the onions to get very brown, but not burnt. Remove the onions and then add the garlic bulbs to the same oil. Repeat process. The garlic will brown faster than the onions did, so keep close watch. When the garlic is done, slowly add the oil, garlic and onions to the tomato pot and stir in (add slowly and carefully, the hot oil WILL splatter a bit). Stir the whole mixture up very well, cover and put on high (for a crock pot) or VERY low on a stovetop after getting it up to a boil.

After the allotted time, 8-10 hours in a crock, 6-8 on stove top, taste and adjust salt if needed. You will notice that you cannot see the onions anymore and the garlic has become a mushy mass. The sugars that you brought out in the oil have transferred to the sauce, giving it some sweetness. The herbs (all but the bay leaves) have also cooked into the sauce to be unrecognizable. The sauce should be thicker than when it started and darker in color. The olive oil should be stirred well into the sauce so that it is not laying on the surface of the sauce.

I will further add to this by adding sausage or meatballs, mushrooms or red wine. I use this as base for Putenesca sauce, arrabiata, or baked ziti. That’s it! You’re done! Enjoy! Mangia, mangia!!

saving wine...

Have you ever had a party, served good beer and wine and when cleaning up after the party, found multiple glasses of wine left about? If you want to be REALLY cheap, you can take these glasses of wine, pour the undrunk wine into ice cube trays and freeze the wine. After it has frozen, remove from the trays and put into a Large Ziploc bag in the freezer. This will save some space in the freezer. Whenever you are cooking and need some wine for a recipe, pull out a couple cubes, allow to melt so you can measure if needed and add to the recipe. There is no reason to waste good wine!! The same can be done with leftover unpoured wine. I know some of you may be scrunching your nose right now and saying “EEEEWWWWW” . Remember wine is 10%- 15% alcohol. Any germs will be killed by the alcohol or the heating so the “eewww” factor is all in your head, but do what feels comfortable for you…

Trying to help people make better food, a little cheaper….

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Greatest Ingredient

When I was in culinary school, there was a chef there that I never had the priveledge of having as an instructor. Everyone in the school knew him or at least who he was. Chef Papini was an Italian man, about five foot nothing and at least 60 years old when I was there in school. His toque (tall, white, stove pipe hat that chef's wear) was taller than he was. He was a romantic. All of the female students loved him, almost crushing on him. The guys all wished they had his charisma.
Again, I didn't have him as an instructor. I was in the kitchen next door to his and he would often walk through our kitchen to see how we were doing and offer tips as we were cooking. One of the best bits of cooking advice I ever received was from him. It was a simple ingredient and one he would walk the halls repeating it to everyone that could hear him. He would come up to your pot of whatever you were cooking, look into it and say, “ LOVE! You must love your food! You must put a little bit of love into everything you cook!” Great advice. The perfect ingredient. Add it to everything you cook and everything you do.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Broccoli Woccoli

How often do you buy fresh broccoli? I often do. My kids actually like it better than most veggies. I usually just blanch it to make it just tender, then drain it well. I then saute it in garlic and butter or bacon fat with a little salt and pepper. Now how many of you only eat the florette part and toss the stem? I can hear it now, “ Those tough, woody stems?” Yes those things. I never toss them out. Here is why. The inner part of the stem is actually quite tender and flavorful. If you ever had Chinese takeout, you likely have had it and didn't even know it. After you remove all of the flower, you will have a stump left. Look at the root end of the stem. You will see what looks like a tree stump. It has a large inner ring, a darker outer ring (the skin) and usually another ring near the outer edge of the stem. Take your paring knife and starting at the root end of the stump, make a cut into the stem near the outer edge of the skin. Grasp this outer skin with your thumb and paring knife and pull down the length of the stem. This is the tough outer stem that makes eating broccoli such a chore. Repeat all of the way around the stem. As you get near the flower end of the stem, the skin gets more tender and will likely not peel off as easy. You can continue to remove it or just leave it and eat it. Slice the stem into coins and cook with the flowers. You just stretched your food dollar and added more nutrition to your diet.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Saving on storage

If you have read a few of my past blogs, you will see that I store things in old pickle jars. My kids love pickles and will kill a jar in a matter of days. At that point, I can recycle the jar or reuse it. My mudroom doubles as our food pantry and the wire racks are filled with jars that used to contain other food. There are dozens of pickle jars filled with nuts, rice, beans, pasta, flours and other dry good essentials. I have found that these 1 gallon pickle jars are perfect for a 5 pound bag of flour, 1 1/2 pounds of pasta and 5 or more pounds of beans. These pickle jars are too thin to reuse if you are a canner, but for dry stores, they are great. I have also found that a certain brand of pasta sauce uses a mason jar to sell their sauce in and these jars are thick enough to reuse if you can. They are 24 ounces, but I have been canning stock in them for years and never had one crack or bust. Just be careful in checking the lid size. Some brands are using a deep lid that are not interchangable with other lids of the same diameter.

I have also found that some of the lids are interchangable in size for these mason jars. Mayonaisse jars (notably Hellmans and Dukes) use the same size lids as a small mouth mason jar and they are now made from plastic, not metal. Instead of using the mason jar lids and bands for my dry stores, I use a mayo lid, which is easy to wash in the top shelf of your dishwasher. I have several old Ovaltine jars (from when they were made from brown glass) that I use in my yogurt maker to make a quart at a time. I use a lot of those sauce jars and quart mason jars for storing opened cans of things in the fridge. For example- we don't use a whole can of olives at a time, so the unused portions go into a mason jar (with a plastic mayo lid) and onto the top shelf of the fridge for the next use. If you buy in bulk at a store, these jars are great storage containers and the best of all, they are washable and reusable.

My advice here is just to be aware of the containers you have and take advantage of the ones you may be recycling or trashing now. You could be saving a bunch of money on storage containers. Please check out my other blogs at .

Friday, July 22, 2011

Crumby croutons

Be honest. How many of you BUY croutons or bread crumbs? I have only ever bought bread crumbs in a pinch when I had to make a recipe that day and I was short on crumbs to finish it. I usually have a pickle jar filled to some degree with bread crumbs. Here's the money saving tip- when ever you get to the end of a loaf of bread, instead of tossing, composting or feeding it to the dog, dice it up and make croutons from it. It will surely save money and you can season them how you like. I will use whatever bread we have lying around, be it wheat or the occasional white or Italian bread. If making croutons, toss the cubes in olive oil, garlic (fresh or powder), onion powder, rosemary, salt and pepper, perhaps parsley flakes, chives or cajun spice. The cubes should be well mixed and evenly coated but not oily, just moistened with the oil. Put in a low oven (250-300 degrees) for about 30-45 minutes or until they are crunchy and not soft in the middle. That's it!! Certainly a whole lot cheaper than store bought and likely a lot fresher. If you need bread crumbs, just do not season the cubes and put into the low oven until they are completely dried. After they have cooled, run them throught a food processor until all the cubes have been crumbed. Put these in an air tight container (I use 1 gallon pickle jars) and use as needed.

It sure is crumby, but Chef Cheapo saves you money.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Roux, roux, roux you (gravy) boat....

What? Roux (pronounced rew, rhymes with dew)is the simplest of food mixtures, just flour and oil, but performs the most intricate of functions. Roux is the traditional thickener of classic sauces. So what makes this old reliable? It is it’s reliability. It rarely ever fails and can be made ahead of time. The oil is heated in a shallow saute pan and flour is added to achieve the consistency of “wet sand”, approximately even amounts of each. Mix the flour into the oil and stir to remove all of the lumps and continue to cook. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes to cook the flour flavor out of the mixture. Remove from the heat and the saute pan into a bowl or crock and you can set on a shelf. It will not go bad without refrigeration, it is only flour and oil. I have left it in my cupboard for months at a time and it never goes bad.

So what do you do with it? You use this to thicken anything from gravy to sauces to stew. It won’t “break” or fail to thicken like corn starch. Making that Thanksgiving gravy? Substitute the turkey fat from the drippings for the oil and add just water (or stock would be better) and have a great turkey gravy. Making stew and want it a bit thicker? Add a little roux until you get the thickness you want. This is a vital ingredient to make all kinds of sauces. Most of the major sauces are made by adding roux to a stock or liquid.

This is traditionally used in cajun cooking, only the roux is cooked until it has almost reached the point of burning, called black roux.

So stop buying that junk in the jar and make your own gravy. It’s so simple you will kick yourself for not doing it sooner.

Chef Cheapo, making your gravy what they’ll talk about until next Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pickle madness!!!

I must say one of the benefits to being unemployed (I am working again, thanks)was that this year's garden has been the best one I have probably ever had. The green beans and cucumbers have literally taken over all vertical growing areas and the tomatoes, okra and yellow squash are spreading out in all the other areas. I have two types of cukes growing this year- a pickle type and a long "hothouse" type. I probably have a dozen of the hothouse cukes in the fridge after making cuke salad and using more than usual on our green, tossed salad. The pickle cukes are just nuts here. I have pickled 11 gallons of pickles. There is literally a 5 gallon bucket in my spare fridge with pickles along with 4 more gallon pickle jars full. Let's not even go into all the ones that we forgot to pick and grew to enormous proportions. I brought some to work and only half have disappeared so far.

So I decided to offer my pickle recipe here and see if anyone else likes it.

1 qt white vinegar
1 qt. water
1/2 cup salt (I prefer to use kosher or sea)
2-3 bay leaves
5-6 garlic cloves
2t black peppercorns
2t coriander seeds
1/2 t whole cloves
1t mustard seeds
1T dill seeds

Put the vinegar, water and salt in stock pot and bring to boil. Arrange cukes in jars, packing tightly and making sure all of the cukes are fully in jar. Add leaves and cloves into jar. Put spices in a spice bag or tie into a cheescloth pouch and add to jar. When vinegar comes to boil, add to jar, covering cukes completely. Cover, allow to cool down and after a few hours, put into fridge. Allow to rest in fridge for at least 3 days, 5-7 days would be better. Enjoy!!

Please experiment with your own favorite spices or discover new ones. I have tried adding red pepper flakes for some heat. I am pondering using star anise for a bit of a licorice flavor.

QUICK TIP: Save time and money on breakfast

I must admit that I was reminded of this by someone from my last blog, but it is something I have been doing for as long as I have had kids. Whenever I make a breakfast food, like pancakes, waffles or french toast, I will make as much as I have raw ingredients to make and freeze whatever my kids don't eat. I have found it best to separate each piece with a small piece of wax paper, so when the frozen piece needs to be taken out of the freezer, it is doesn't stick to it's neighbor piece. Pretty simple, but it could be a "duh huh!" moment for some. I imagine one could keep that money out of Aunt Jemima's pocket by doing this.

Check out one of my past blogs about my homemade "biscuit quick" mix

QUICK TIP: Cheap spices?

I have been proudly living in North Carolina for most of my adult life and I have seen a pretty big change that has gone on here in those years. In addition to the yankees that brought themselves and all of their bad northeastern habitswith them, there has been a rapid increase of the spanish population as well. Without touching on any of the social or political aspects of that, let me point out one of the benefits these spanish speaking immigrants have brought to us (at least to us here in NC). The wealth of culinary influence that these folks have brought with them is amazing. I often say that outside of BBQ, North Carolina is a culinary wasteland beset with a plethura of fast food "near food", massacred vegetables and fried everything.

One of these spanish influenced culinary nuggets is cheap groceries. The town I live in has a grocery store that caters to the spanish market. After paying $4.00 for a 1/2 ounce bottle of bay leaves in most grocery stores, I was pleasantly shocked to discover that they sold a 4 ounce bag of bay leaves for under $2.00. Chili powder (made from mostly chilis and not half salt) had a rich deep red color from the chilis and was again rather inexpensive. This grocer has probably a dozen different chilis, fresh and dried, that make for great chili con carne, et al. After checking out "wallyworld", "food kitty" and "the pig" for fennel seeds to no avail, my spanish market had them and cheap. I have found several other herbs and spices that are not offered by these other markets.

So my advice, in short, is to be a bit adventurous. Step out of your comfort zone and check out the ethnic markets in your area. You may be rewarded not only in finding that culinary gem you can find no where else, but it may be pretty inexpensive too. Who knows, you may even learn or brush up on a foreign language.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

QUICK TIP: Save money on cereal

If you're like me, you find all of the garbage in most breakfast cereals to be inundating. I do not feed my family anything with HFCS(high fructose corn syrup) and if you're a label reader you will see that most cold breakfast cereals contain it. This takes a lot of them off the table for us. Many of the rest have too much sugar. It it has more than 10 grams per serving, I don't buy it (except for raisin bran which has high sugar because of the raisins). So here is a trick you can do to save money and serve (at least a little) a healthier breakfast cereal. When I buy frosted corn flakes, I also buy plain corn flakes. When I get them home, I mix the 2 boxes together in a large container, at 50/50 proportions. The kids seem satisfied with the compromise and I feel better about cutting back on having too much of the sugar in their diet.

There are other combos to try and you are absolutely free to make up your own. I do honey puffs of wheat and plain puffed wheat (walmart has it for $1 a bag. w/ no added ingredients). Frosted mini wheats and plain wheat chex. Captain crunch and kix. Again, make your own combos. i would be interested to hear them.

One footnote that I would like to make everyone aware of and you can use your own discression. You may not be aware that an ingredient growing more popular in use is sorbitol. It is a artificial sweetener and it is used in cereal (esp. frosted mini wheats) and hotdogs. [I do not like ANY artificial sweeteners because one, they make me physically ill and two, they do not help you loose weight as claimed but actually make you gain weight because they make your body crave sweets more since they give the taste of sweet and your body is looking for the sugar rush, which it never gets.] Sorbitol effects most people in a negative way by making you have diarreaha. Ever eat a hot dog, have an upset stomach and then have to run to the bathroom? Now you know why.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's not day old, it's well seasoned...

Are there any good bakeries around here?

That is a frequent question we ask, living here in the South. That is one thing I do miss about NJ. Ah, if I could only blink my eyes and be at Gencarrelli’s for some good Italian bread and 7 layer cake. Sorry, I digress. Frequently, when going to your favorite grocer, you may come across a “special rack” with bread that has been marked down by 50%, simple because it is day old bread. This $1.59 loaf of Italian bread at the grocer costs them about 50 cents, raw dough and labor to make. If the grocer sells it for 90 cents, he is still covering his costs on it. Many people look at this as inferior, because it is not “fresh”. Whenever I see these hidden gems, I buy all that there is. I will freeze them and pull them out of the freezer as needed.

So how do get that fresh bread back again? Simply put the loaf in a low oven- 250 F until the crust has toughened up and become hard and crunchy. You will be surprised how soft and chewy the inside of the bread will be. It will be like getting fresh from the oven bread. The slight water crystals that have formed on the bread from the freezer, will actually help the crust to get nice and crispy. I have found that the artisan breads and Euro style breads will give a better crust than the run of the mill Italian and French bread.

Still not convinced? Okay then try this. Take these day old breads, slice in half lengthwise on the horizon. Take each half, open it up and spread with a prepared garlic bread spread or make your own- olive oil or butter liberally covering the bread, crushed or minced garlic (or in a pinch garlic powder), S & P, oregano sprinkled over the top and bake until golden brown. Put some shredded mozzarella cheese over this and put back in the oven until it is melted and slightly browned. UUUMMMM, YUMMY! If all else fails, make bread crumbs or seasoned croutons

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


So what do you do with that last sliver of bar soap that keeps falling through the slats in the shower soap holder? Do you toss it and just open up a new bar? Do you just let it lie on the shower floor and slowly dissolve and run down the drain? I never do. Here's why.
Whenever you have those little soap slivers put them in a jar with a little bit of water. Cover and let sit in the cabinet for a few days. Give it a good shake every day and you will see that the soap is slowly dissolving, kinda like it will in the shower when it sits in a pool of water. You may need to add a little bit of water if it gets too thick. The water is the dissolving agent here so add just enough to do the job, but not too much that it becomes runny. You are trying to get the consistency of liquid soap. When the soap has dissolved enough pour it off into your soap dispenser and use as you usually do. No waste and you get your every penny's worth from the soap.

Okay, so this isn't about cooking. I know, so don't write rude comments about how dumb I may be. Although it is not food related, it is related to the kitchen, since you are hopefully washing your hands every so often. Chef Cheapo- washing behind every ear and still saving you money.

Monday, July 11, 2011

QUICK TIP: Stop cooking with water

       Yes it may be hard to believe that you could stop cooking with water, but allow me to show you how to do it. When you cook items with water, what are you adding to the final dish? Nothing. Water helps to cook the food and to hydrate it but it lacks any flavor. This idea will save you you lots of money and it may make people tell you how great a cook you are.
       Whenever I do anything with vegetables, I will save any of the trimmings and scraps from most of what I cooking with. Usually I will only get a small amount at any time so I will put all of my scraps into a gallon zipper bag. When the bag gets filled to capacity, the contents go into a stockpot. Fill the pot with water, add salt and peppercorns and simmer for 1-2 hours. When done, strain and use this vegetable stock for all of your cooking in place of plain water. The depth of the flavor depends on what veggies you use in the stock. Your rice will become amazing. Sauces will have a more complex flavor. Otherwise simple dishes will become much better.
         So what veggies can go into your stock? It would actually be easier to tell you what not to use. Do not use any cruciferous veggie (cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, etc.), potatoes or radishes. That's pretty much it. No other kind comes to mind, but remember, whatever you add will become the flavor. Onions, celery, carrots (these three veggies are called mire poix when used together), mushrooms, tomatoes, herbs, bell peppers, scallions, parsnips, celery root (celeriac), etc. are all good to use. Remember, these trimmings and scraps would otherwise be thrown away to tossed into the compost pile. I usually toss what's left after squeezing out the broth from the stock into the compost pile and my chickens are quick to eat it up. So I guess I'm getting my investment multiple times over. Now THAT'S how you save money.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ranch dressing or how to make your salad say "Howdy Partner!"

I never really thought about how easy and simple this salad dressing is to make and now that I figured it out, I whip it up in a few minutes whenever needed and without the added “stuff” in it. It keeps for a few weeks in the fridge (if it doesn't get used before then) and the added benefit of the beneficial bacterial cultures from the buttermilk are good for your body. You will find the flavor to be fresher than anything you can get from a jar, with a texture that more resembles what it is supposed to be. I usually make a quart jar of this and you can adjust the seasoning to your taste.

2-3 cups mayonnaise

4 ounces +/- cultured buttermilk

to taste salt and pepper

1 t granulated garlic or garlic powder (NOT garlic SALT)

1T dried chives OR dill

Combine all ingredients in jar. Shake very well until all ingredients have mixed. Taste and adjust seasonings and consistency (depending on how thin you want it to be- remember too thin and it won't stick to the lettuce)

Added tips:

I recommend using dried herbs in this and not fresh herbs, unless you will use all of the dressing ASAP. The fresh herbs will make the dressing go bad after a few days of sitting because of the bacteria that are naturally on them.

Be careful about what buttermilk you buy. If you read the ingredient label on the various buttermilks, you will see that many of them have such ingredients as gums and stabilizers added to it to give it a thicker consistency. Locally here in NC, I buy either Maola or Aldi brand buttermilk. Both of them use only cultured milk, as buttermilk is supposed to be. I believe that not only are you getting the added benefit of the cultures, but by not ingesting the gums and stabilizers, you are freeing your body of added junk.

Add different flavors to it to make your own dressing- bacon bits, horseradish, fresh cracked pepper, ketchup (to make a kinda creamy french?-not sure on that one),.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Homemade "ICE CREAM"

Yes, I have found a way to make everyone’s favorite, somewhat cheaper, but definitely more healthy and better tasting. will admit that the recipe that will follow is borrowed from somewhere else, namely Alston Brown from Food Network. The recipe that follows does not have to be cooked like traditional ice cream custard does and it uses healthy bananas as a base. This is one way to use up all of those over ripened bananas that seem to wind up on the kitchen counter.

1 ½ - 2 pounds of over ripened bananas

1 T lemon juice

¾ cup simple syrup (sugar water that has been reduced to the consistency of corn syrup)

1 t vanilla extract

1 ½ c heavy cream

Freeze the peeled bananas overnight. Remove and allow to thaw for 45 minutes or use microwave oven for 30 seconds. Put bananas and lemon juice in food processor. Process for 10-15 seconds. Add syrup and vanilla. Process until smooth. Slowly add cream. Process until it is completely smooth. Chill mixture until it reaches at least 40 degrees. Add to ice cream maker according to maker’s directions. Put in freezer for 3-5 hours before serving.

I have also successfully add other ingredients to further flavor. I have added fresh strawberries, cocoa for chocolate ice cream. I imagine you can add any fresh fruit when you add the bananas and just about any other flavor agent you like. Be warned- it will have a banana flavor no matter what you add to the base, but chocolate banana is rather good and strawberry banana is a natural.

Wanna make it low fat? You can, but it will have some consequences. The banana acts as a mouth feel agent. It is what will give you a fuller mouth feel and fuller flavor, but the milk also adds to this. Heavy cream makes this taste like REAL ice cream, but you can use whole milk or evaporated milk as a substitute, but the richness will be less. Whole milk will make the ice cream taste like ice milk due to the lower fat content. Still very good and tastey but a little thinner than you will be used to, but for you dieters an excellent substitute. We love it…You will too. Give it a try and you may never buy ice cream again.

QUICK TIP: Food storage bags

How many times do you use a zipper bag and then throw it away after you have used it once? I rarely ever use a bag once. Most times, unless it has had raw meat or something REALLY messy, I will simply wash the bag out and allow it to air dry. [If it has had raw meat in it please do toss it, the contamination risk is not worth it] When washing the dishes simply wash the inside out and hang it upside down in the drain board, perhaps braced on a wooden spoon standing upright in the drainboard or use a clea dishrag and wipe dry the bag. After it has dried, fold it up, putting all of the bags inside a larger bag and then in your storage cabinet. When the bags get too worn or get holes in them, then throw them out. I suggest always buying freezer storage bags because they are a bit thicker and able to withstand repeated uses better than regular storage bags. It is a little more money upfront for the freezer bags, but if you reuse them multiple times, the cost will be recouped. The savings for the bags will surprise you if you do reuse them.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

QUICK TIP: Food washing

Do you remember a few years ago there was a big push by Proctor & Gamble for their new product, FIT? It was an all natural fruit and veggie wash that would clean all of the dirt and pesticides away. Problem with it was that the price got to be a bit high if you used it as advised. I have been using a version of it using my own ingredients that is by far cheaper. When I wash a piece of fruit or veggie (apple, pear, tomatoes, etc.) I pour a small handfull of baking soda in my palm, add a few drops of water to make a paste and rub this into the skin of the food to be washed. Rub thoroughly for a minute and rince off with clean water. Done! A one pound box of baking soda costs about 50 cents (2# box for $1 at Walmart).

When washing grapes, I add an extra step. I fill a large bowl with clean water. Add about 1/2 cup to a full cup of white vinegar. Add grapes to bowl, THEN add about 1/2 cup of baking soda. Of course this reaction creates a fizzy mess (so do it in the sink) and you should agitate the grapes in this mixture to get a really good cleansing of the grapes. The reaction seems to wash away all of the residues and dirt.

So how clean does this really get the food? I have no scientific basis to go on. I can tell you I stopped eating pears and apples because when I did, my lips and mouth would start to burn and I would get an itchy, burning sensation in the back of my throat. I believe this was from the chemicals sprayed on the food because I ever had this problem when I was a kid. When I did this recently on a pear, I was surprised that I was able to eat the whole pear, skin and all. When you wash the grapes and taste the for the first time, you may be surprised how smooth the skin of a grape is. Those are my observations. Try for yourself and let me know if you think they work or not.

RECIPE: Onion dip, or "come on in for a dip, the water's fine"

This is one that I just recently discovered and I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. In my efforts to eat better and still enjoy great tasting food, I am having to discover new ways to make things I love to eat. One of my guilty pleasures is sitting down with a bag of plain potato chips and a bowl of onion dip. I usually have made it from “scratch”- a container of sour cream and a bag of instant onion soup mix. My only problem with this now is that the instant soup mix has several thinks I am trying to avoid- MSG, salt and preservatives. So I sought out ways to make it from many of my cookbooks. I have a good collection of cookbooks from WAY back to the 60's and 70's as well as new ones. What was funny was that many of the old ones said to use instant onion soup mix. I decided I had to develop it myself and I think you will find the ease and simplicity of it is good too.


16 ounce container of REAL sour cream (one with only milk, cream and cultures- no gums, thickeners,etc.)

Dried chopped onions (I bought a container at the dollar store)


soy sauce

Empty sour cream into a bowl. Add 2T of the onion. A pinch of pepper. Add about 3-4T of the soy sauce. Mix thoroughly together. You may recognize the familiar off white/tan color at this point. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding a bit more soy sauce if a fuller flavor is wanted. Refrigerate for about an hour so onions can rehydrate. Mix before serving.


I have not tried it yet, but I don't see why scallions or chives can't be added for a different take on it. Crisp cooked bacon. A dash of garlic powder.

Monday, July 4, 2011

TIP FROM THE TRADE: Keeping them covered.

For some, this may be elementary and for others it may be an "AHHHHHH!!!!!" moment. In today's world with our hypersensitivity over germs, it has become common place for restaurant workers to wear gloves when handling food. I usually do not. I never did when I was working my way through the ranks and today I use them only when forced or when doing an especially messy task. For an older chef (I guess like me...), I learned to touch and feel the food I was working with. This developed dexterity and gave me a feel for the food. Most times I can pick something up and know without looking at it, if there is a quality issue with it. Having said that, I do keep a box of vinyl ambidexterous gloves in the drawer for use when I am working on such things as butchering or other messy work. When doing a lot of knife work, I do not like to wear one because I find that the knife will catch it and either cut a small piece off or throw my rhythm off. It is a small expense ($4 at most pharmacies) but the clean up savings is worth it. I recommend vinyl gloves because the latex will definitely stick to your knife.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Quick tip: Say "CHEESE!!"

Another quick money saver for you. Have you noticed how expensive cheese is? We are definitely cheese eaters, so much so that if it weren't so cold, we would be at home in Minnesota. I absolutely love grilled cheese sandwiches. By far the best sliced american cheese is Land O' Lakes at the deli counter (my wife will fight you on that one if you disagree). Unfortunately, it can also run as high as $7 a pound. My alternative, if I cannot get it for a better price, is to use regular cheddar or jack. Buy the cheddar, jack, or whatever kind you like by the block. Generally, it runs around $3 a pound when you buy the block and I actually get a 5 pound block at Walmart for around $2.50 a pound. Using a vegetable peeler, "peel" a slice of cheese from along the edge of the block (you may need to cut a thin wedge if you have a 5 pound block). The edge you "peel" the slice from must be no wider than the cutting blade of the peeler so adjust appropriately.
     This may be cheesey, but it's still saving money. Count on Chef Cheapo to deliver the cheese.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


       This quick tip has a two fold savings in it. Do you ever cook something that requires tomato paste and you wind up only using half of the 3  ounce can? What do you do with the rest of the paste? It is only and ounce or two, so should you fight the cheapo in you and just chuck it? Nope!! Here's what to do with the rest of it. Using a butter knife or thin rubber spatula, scrape out the remaining contants of the can and fill each hole in an ice cube tray until all of the paste has bee cleaned out of the can. Put the ice cube tray in the freezer. When the paste has frozen solid, squish it out into a zipper bag or freezer container. As you use other recipes in the future, instead of opening another can of paste, just pull out a cube from the freezer.
        Here's the second fold. Instead of buying the small 3 ounce cans, buy the large economical can and enjoy the savings of buying in bulk.
         You say toe-ma-toe. I say toe-may-toe. Either way, Chef Cheapo saves you money.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Popcorn- or what is that makes you pop?

Be honest, when you go to the movies, how big is the bag of corn you buy? Do you go with the super large, economy size bag or the small, least expensive bag? Either way, not many of us don't like FRESH POPPED popcorn. So you maybe asking how is Chef Cheapo gonna save me money on popcorn, something that is already pretty cheap? Read on.

With the popularity of the microwave oven back in the 80s, microwave popcorn became the best selling snack item in the grocery store. Yes it is not too expensive, but if you're old enough to remember the “old days” when you had to cook it over the stove top. No not the Jiffy Pop, but the same theory. Someone gave us a Whirley Pop popcorn maker a couple years ago and we have since stopped buying microwave corn. This particular popper works on the same concept as the commercial, theater corn poppers, but for the home, stove top. You twirl the handle and it turns a couple of wires inside the bottom of the pan to keep the corn from burning. I get no royalties from you buying this maker, but I prefer it and the kids love to help out with it.

If you don't have one of these, you can still make it on the stove top with a big stock pot. Put your oil (and here I suggest you get coconut oil- the health benefits are just now being revealed and the oil actually helps to preserve the popped corn. Additionally, the oil has a high heatability, so it won't burn at high temps) in the pan along with salt and the corn. I use enough oil to just cover the bottom of the pan and about 1/3 cup of corn. This is important- COVER THE POT!! Put the pot over medium heat and holding the lid and handle of the pot, continue to shake the pot the entire time it is cooking. You will hear the corn start to sizzle and then one or two will start to pop. Then in rapid fire, the rest will start to pop. Continue to shake the corn until the popping slows down and remove from the heat immediately. Pour the popped corn into a large bowl and add more salt, melted butter, soy sauce, cajun spice, chili powder, powdered ranch dressing mix, powdered cheddar cheese, caramel sauce or whatever seasoning you can come up with.

Again you are asking, “How is this cheaper?” Simple, a one pound bag of corn costs about $1.50. A 3 or 5 count package of microwave corn cost about twice that and you are getting half the corn. Simple math....The retro effect for the kids is wonderful too. They get a hands on approach to making their own snack. It is also healthier for you, since you control the additives to it.

Popping another one off for you at Chef Cheapo's...

"Leftovers AGAIN?"

       My mom used to say that always wanted to know when they ate their dinners the first time, because they always were eating leftovers. Personally, I love leftovers. The opportunity to have a hot lunch sometimes overcomes whatever is on the sandwich menu. I love the day or two after St. Patty's day and enjoying corned beef and cabbage again and again. Sometimes simply reheating last night's leftovers just isn't going to win anyone over. So what do you do with it?
       Here are a few suggestions that I have found to work with my family. In a lot of these instances, I am hiding the "re d'ouvres" (redo-overs, get it?) in another dish that allows you to be economical and give you a better chance of it getting consumed.
       Veggies: I often use LO veggies to make soup, make a quiche, breakfast (or dinner) burritos.
       Hamburgers: crumble them up and make sloppy joes or season and use in burritos or tacos,
       Ham: dice up and make omelets, ham salad, stuffed eggs, stuffed zuchini, salad topping.
       Chicken: chicken salad, shredded bbq chicken sandwiches, diced salad toppings, taco/burritos,
        Rice: great for soup, fried rice, burritos,
        Noodles: soup, toss into cream sauce for a dinner side dish, cassarole.
      As you can see, these are just a few suggestions to reuse those leftover gems. The possibilities are limitless, so put on your thinking cap and go ahead and redo those re d'ouvres.