Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Man and Mother Nature Collborate - Fabulous Hand Carved Wooden Bowls

HOLLAND, MICHIGAN, USA – The small Michigan town of Holland houses a large, rather nondescript, industrial building that locals and tourists alike ignore every day without realizing that inside, incredible works of functional art – actual collaborative efforts between man and Mother Nature -- are created on a regular basis.

The Holland Bowl Mill
is one of only two wooden bowl manufacturers in the USA (the other is in Alaska and has a very small production). Walking through the warehouse, its cavernous space lined with shelved filled with wooden bowls in various stages of metamorphasizing from logs into exquisite carved bowls that can actually be used to serve food, it’s hard to believe that each one of these pieces was lovingly carved, sanded and finished one at a time, by hand.

“We’re making tomorrow’s antiques,” says mill owner Dave Gier who first got a job at the mill in 1985 and went on to buy the unique company. Gier maintains an old fashioned work ethic and values, creating a quality product by hand much in the same way it was done in the late 1800s when the company was founded.

Holland Bowl Mill, Holland, Michigan, hand carved wooden bowlsHis employees are skilled artisans that have been with him for years. The bowls themselves even come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee – if for any reason there’s breakage or a defect, the Holland Bowl Mill will replace it, no questions asked. Dave laughs about one customer who dropped and cracked a bowl he had owned for fifteen years. “He wanted to buy another and couldn’t believe that instead we replaced his cracked bowl for free – after fifteen years! It really is a forever bowl.”

The bowls enter the mill in the form of huge hardwood logs, most commonly beech, but also maple, cherry and walnut, all from sustainable forests. Specialized lathes transform sections of the logs into sets of bowls, gouging out enough to leave a thin yet durable shell. Each section of log will make four bowls in a carving process called nesting, meaning the finished graduating sized carved bowls will nest in each other.

Holland Bowl Mill, Holland, Michigan, hand carved wooden bowlsWhile the lathes do the actual carving, a real live human being controls the machinery and the knives, making each bowl one at a time. The carver makes it look easy but that’s because he’s had years of practice in order to perfect exactly how much to carve, what angle to hold the knives and how much pressure to use, not to mention how to regularly sharpen and replace the lathe’s blades. ”You need to make knives to make bowls,” says Dave, and looking at the volume of wood these blades regularly plow through, it’s easy to see why.

Most of the wood is actually used in forming the bowls’ shells, with minimal scrap, but in a further example of good old fashioned values, absolutely nothing is wasted right down to the bark and sawdust. What isn’t used to make bowls is sent to recycling centers that put it to practical use as animal bedding or composite wood.

Holland Bowl Mill, Holland, MIAfter the logs have been carved into bowls, they are dried for 20 to 30 days. After that they’re carefully sanded, a process that helps to smooth out imperfections, give the rounded bowl a nice flat bottom that helps it sit on tables or countertops, and accentuate the beautiful art of the wood’s natural grain.

Each bowl now goes through a thorough inspection to make sure there are no cracks, weak spots, or imperfections. If it passes inspection, the bowl is treated to a coating of the company’s special proprietary blend of beeswax and food grade mineral oil.

After drying again, the bowl is ready for shipping and can now be used to serve food and washed in soapy water (although you shouldn’t let it soak).

Holland Bowl Mill, Holland, Michigan, hand carved wooden bowlsDuring peak periods the Holland Bowl Mill can turn out as many as 1800 bowls a week. Many of these are destined for boutiques and upscale specialty stores, along with some smaller chain stores such at Sur La Table. But discriminating consumers (that means you who are reading this article) should know that you can find a much larger variety of the bowls by shopping the Holland Bowl Mill website (or by stopping into their showroom if you happen to be visiting the Holland, Michigan area). The mill even welcomes custom orders, so you can get exactly the bowls you want – choosing the type of wood and finishes.

Whether for a wedding gift, holiday gift, or to treat yourself to an affordable functional work of art that will be a family heirloom to be passed down for generations, you’d be hard pressed to find anything more unique and special than a hand made hardwood bowl from the Holland Bowl Mill.

Check out the Related Travel article links below for details of our favorite things to do see and eat in and around Holland, Grand Haven, and Grand Rapids, Michigan.


The Holland Bowl Mill is located t 120 James St. in Holland, Michigan, 49417. Phone 616-842-4040 or visit their website at www.HollandBowlMill.com.

For more information about visiting Holland, Michigan, visit the Holland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau website at www.Holland.org or phone 616-394-0000.

For information about visiting Michigan in general, check out the official Travel Michigan website at www.Michigan.org or phone 800-373-2489.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fresh Tomato Tips and Recipes -- Thrifty Thursdays

Fresh tomatoes are in season and whether you've grown them yourselves in the garden or are picking them up at the farmer's market, fresh tomatoes are likely to be a bargain at this time of year. They also taste fabulous! There is simply no comparison between a garden fresh tomato and a commercially grown one.
Preparing Fresh Tomatoes

Storage: Tomatoes will ripen to a juicy red on their own when stored at room temperature. Refrigeration kills flavor in fresh tomatoes.

Coring: Using a sharp paring knife make several angled cuts through the stem and under the core.

Seeding: Lay the tomato on its side and halve with a sharp serrated knife. Squeeze each half firmly enough to push out the seeds. Discard seeds.

Slicing: First core the tomato and lay it on its side. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut a very thin slice off both ends and discard. Slice the tomato to desired thickness.

Peeling: To eliminate the skin in cooked dishes, gently lower 2 or 3 tomatoes at a time into enough boiling water to cover. Boil for 15 to 30 seconds, lift into a colander with a slotted spoon. Rinse briefly under cold running water. Peel off and discard skins.

Stuffing Shells: Lay the tomato on its side and cut a very thin slice off the bottom using a sharp serrated knife. Slice off the top 1/4 of the tomato and discard. (The top minus the core may be chopped and added to the filling.) Using a sharp paring knife and spoon, cut and scoop out the flesh, leaving thickish walls. Salt the cavities lightly and invert on a cooling rack for 15 minutes to drain.

More on Fresh Tomatoes

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fabulous Recipe Fire & Ice Tomatoes

Sorry I have been so quiet lately. I have been dealing with the rapid decline and subsequent death of my dear dog Zoey (that's her picture at left, 13 years ago when she was just 6 weeks old, which is when we rescued her). If you've ever been through the heartbreak of having to put a pet to sleep, you know what I'm talking about. I am, however, slowly coming back to life and will try to post more regularly.

Fire & Ice Tomatoes

The other day I got some garden fresh tomatoes grown by nephew Richard, his beautiful wife Tracy, and my great-niece Madison. These tomatoes are to die for! Of course, I started searching for recipes to make with them (not that I didn't eat some, as is, with just a little salt), and came upon an old favorite I picked up on a long ago travel writer's press trip through Tennessee. Below is the recipe and story behind it.

This recipe comes to us from Vicki and Lee Morgan of the Bailey House Bed and Breakfast and Tearoom in Dayton, Tennessee. Unfortunately, the Bailey House is no longer operating, but we keep this recipe for history's sake -- and because Vicki Morgan is a darn good cook and her recipes are delicious. The building that was, for a short time, a historic inn named The Bailey House, had an important role in history. It was a boarding house and home of John Thomas Scopes, of the Scopes Evolution (Monkey) trial fame. The courthouse where that historic case took place is in close walking distance of what used to be the Bailey House.

The better your tomatoes, the better this dish will be. Its tantalizing sweet and spicy flavor combo is a real winner. This salad packs well for picnics or brown bag lunches.

While the Morgans usually serve this dish as a salad, I also find the lightly pickled tomatoes, onions and bell peppers make great sandwich and burger toppings.

Serves 10

6 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
1 large bell pepper, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
3/4 cup vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
6 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne

Combine veggies in a large bowl. Bring vinegar, sugar, salt, water and cayenne to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Pour boiled mixture over veggies. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Serve chilled.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Favorite Summer Cocktails -- Thrifty Thursdays

Going out for cocktails has to be one of the first luxuries left out in difficult financial times, and no wonder, the markup on cocktails at bars and restaurants is astronomical. But don't forgo cocktails, just invite some friends over and make your own instead. You'll save a ton and still have a fabulous summer time. Below are some of my favorite fruity, frozen and refreshing summer cocktails. You'll pay upward for $7.00 to $10.00 a drink for these (at least where I live in Los Angeles). they cost a fraction of that to make at home.

Favorite Summer Cocktail Recipes

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Fabulous 4th of July Desserts

Can you believe that the 4th of July is already almost here? I have been so busy, I haven't had time to plan. But luckily most of these desserts are so quick and easy to make, that I'll be able to bring a spectacular dish to the party (I won't tell anyone I didn't work hard at it). I hope you find some Independence Day desserts in the links below that your your friends and family will enjoy too!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Frugal Beef Tips -- Thrifty Thursdays

Beef. It's one of the most expensive grocery items you can buy, both in terms of dollars and environmental impact. So my tips is to buy the best beef you can buy (organic or grassfed), but what you need and use every bit of what you buy.

To buy the right amount, check out our chert that will let you know how many servings you can expect to get from various cuts of beef.

For the 2nd half of the equation, check out tips for how long you can keep beef.

Maximum Recommended Storage Times for Quality, According to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association

(35°F to 40°F)
(0°F or colder)
FRESH BEEF Steaks, Roasts 3-4 days 6 - 12 months

Beef for Stew 2-3 days 6 - 12 months

Ground Beef 1-2 days 3-4 months
LEFTOVER COOKED BEEF All types 3-4 days 2-3 months


Make Your Own Aged Beef!
For those who want to go through the trouble (and the flavor is worth it), Judy over at Judy's Kitchen has a wonderful tutorial on how to age your own beef. Click here.

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Choosing a Charcoal and/or Propane Grill

With so many grilling options, choosing the right grill for your needs can be confusing. Is more expensive really better? Which features are most important, and where can you skimp? The following tips will help you decide.

Charcoal VS. Gas or Propane Grills

Charcoal grills use charcoal briquettes, wood or a combination of both. Charcoal cooking imparts a more intense smoked flavor than its gas grilled counterpart. Charcoal grills burn hotter, which is handy when searing steaks and other cuts of quickly grilled foods.

One of the biggest advantages of charcoal over gas, in my opinion, is that they are better for smoking. If you have a large kettle grill, there is no need for special smoking apparatus (unless you plan on smoking really large quantities of meat).

On the downside, cooking over charcoal requires more time than a gas grill which is ready to cook on about 10 minutes after lighting. A charcoal grill should be ready to cook in 15-30 minutes after lighting, depending on the size of the grill and the type of wood or number and type of briquettes. Charcoal grills also need more tending and attention during the cooking process, which if you are a true grilling fan, is part of the fun.

Gas grills come with built in igniters -- push-button, rotary or an electronic lighter -- so starting the fire is fast and easy. After about 10 minutes of preheating, you're ready to cook. A standard 20 pounds tank of liquid propane with the burners on high, should last about 9 hours. Cooking at average temperatures, you should get 25 to 30 meals per tank.

The flavor produced by charcoal grilling comes from the food juices dripping onto the hot charcoal. Gas grills use several materials accomplish this:

  • Lava rock heats quickly and disperses the heat to the interior of the grill. On the downside, lava is porous and allows grease to accumulate, lessening its efficiency and increasing fire flare-ups. In order to keep your lava rock gas grill working at its peak, turn the rocks over to expose a fresh surface frequently and replace them annually.
  • Pumice stone works just like lava rocks, but it collects less residue and therefore needs less maintenance and doesn't need to be replaced as often.
  • Ceramic briquettes are more pricey than lava rocks or pumice stone and but they last much longer. The briquettes are easy to maintain as food residue bakes off during the cooking process and no other cleaning is necessary.
  • Metal heat plates or bars built into the grill work much the same as ceramic briquettes -- dripping juices dissipate when they fall on the hot metal.

Help with Choosing a Grill
Once you have decided on a charcoal or gas grill, narrow your search further by asking yourself these questions:

What will you be cooking?
What you plan to cook effects the type of grill you need. A lot of people only use their grill for grilling a quick entree like steaks, burgers, chicken or fish. If that's you, then you probably don't need a very big grill. But if you want to cook ribs, brisket, roasts, turkeys or other large cut of meat, you will need a larger grill. While we're at it, why limit yourself to just entrees? We have grill recipes for an entire menu. Get a bigger grill and expand your grilling repertoire and your menu will never be limited by your grilling equipment.

How many people will you be serving?
If you regularly cook for large crowds, you need more cooking space. Better get a bigger grill. Always do a visual inspection to see if the cooking surface is big enough for your needs, as often the manufacturer's specifications on the box include side burners or warming racks in their measurements.

How often and when will you be grilling?
Charcoal grills can take 15 minutes or longer to get ready and they take more time and effort to light. If you use your grill often, you may want the convenience of a gas grill. If you only grill occasionally or when you have lots of time (like weekends and holidays), then the time and effort of a charcoal grill is well worth the effort.

What is your budget?
The prices of grills vary from under $50.00 (and under $10.00 in the case of simple, disposable type grills) to thousands of dollars. Buy the best grill you can afford for your budget. In general, charcoal grills cost less to buy, but gas grill cost less to operate (unless you have a large supply of free cooking wood).

Grill Grids
The cooking grid gives your food the telltale stripes associated with grilled foods. Grids can be made of different materials, each with its own merits and detriments:

  • Cast iron grids require curing in the same way that cast iron cookware does in order to prevent rust. This is really not difficult (see link below for instructions in our cast iron cookware tutorial). Once cured, the heavy cast iron grill grids wear well, cook well, and distribute heat more evenly than the other types of grids.
  • Stainless steel grids are rust-resistant, but food can stick to hem if they are not well greased.
  • Porcelain-coated cast iron grids are rust-resistant and are most desirable for heat retention and ease of cleaning.
More Essential Grilling Information

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Potato Skins -- Thrifty Thursdays

Today's Thrifty Thursdays post is reprinted with permission from the terrific book Teens Cook -- How to Cook the Food You Want to Eat by Megan and Jill Carle with Judi Carle. It makes a wonderful ways to use extra baked potatoes (you may even want to make extras while you're making tonight's dinner), as well as a thrifty snack or main course when paired with a salad.
Makes 12 Potato Skins

6 medium potatoes
6 slices thick-sliced bacon
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Wash the potatoes and poke each one several times with a fork. Bake the potatoes for 45 minutes, or until they are fairly soft when squeezed. Remove the Potatoes from the oven and cool slightly.

Meanwhile, cut the bacon slices into 1/8 to 1/4 inch strips. Cook the bacon in a small sauté pan over medium heat for 15 minutes or until crisp. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain.

Preheat the broiler and adjust the oven rack to 4 to 5 inches away from the broiler. (if the rack is any closer, the Potato skins will get too dark before they get crispy.)

Cut each potato in half lengthwise and scoop out most of the potato with a large spoon. (The insides can be used to make Baked potato soup, see page 51 of the book). Brush the potato skins inside and out with the oil and place them upside down on a baking sheet. Place under the broiler for 5 minutes. Turn the potato skins over and broil for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the potato skins are crispy. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle some of the cheese and bacon bits into each Potato skin. Return the pan to the broiler for 2 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

Combine the sour cream, milk, and chives in a small bowl. Place the bowl of sour cream in the center of a large plate and arrange the Potato skins around the bowl.

More about the Book
Teens Cook -- How to Cook the Food You Want to Eat by Megan and Jill Carle with Judi Carle

Even though this book was written by teens, for teens, it really deserves a wider audience. No doubt teens will love the cooking tips, full color photos, and recipes for favorite foods. But this book has recipes that everyone loves to eat, and especially if you are a beginner cook, the recipes contain detailed instructions that make it simple for anyone to get great results. In between the recipes you'll find lots of cooking tips, shortcut tricks, and information that will help cooks of all ages improve their techniques and speed in the kitchen.

The book was penned by sisters Megan and Jill Carle, who have both been cooking since they were three. What probably makes these teens even more knowledgeable than other cooks of their tender years is the fact that their mother Judi Carle (who helped with the book) is a chef and cookbook writer and editor who has worked on over 20 cookbooks, including the best selling Charlie Trotter series.

The result of this family collaboration is a useful book for anyone learning to cook and/or looking for tasty recipes that will please the entire family. It's also handy for anyone who lives alone as there is an entire chapter devoted to meals for one.

Chapters include: Breakfast; Snacks; Soups/Salad; Dinner for One; Family Meals; Desserts.

Click here for more information about Teens Cook or to order at a discount through Amazon.com.

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Watermelon Season is Upon Us -- Celebrate!

Depending on where you live, it may already be watermelon season! I know that here in California, they're showing up in markets a lot, and the one I bought last week was actually good!

Think of your best and worst watermelon experiences. My watermelon memories go something like this:

The Good: Dark red, sweet juicy fruit served ice cold. Even as a kid, this treat was as delicious and desirable as candy.

The Bad: Pale pink, flavorless fruit, veined with stringy white pith and pebbled with dark seeds, sitting for too long on an anonymous "all you can hold down" buffet line in a casino town.

At its best, watermelon is worth going out of your way for. Especially since as "mature and responsible" adults, we should attempt to keep candy eating to a minimum. At its worst... well, what can you expect from an "all you can hold down buffet" anyway?

Tips for Choosing the Best Watermelon
There's an art to choosing the best watermelon that makes all the difference in the world. The National Watermelon Promotion Board offers these three easy tips for choosing a great watermelon.

  • Choose a firm, symmetrical fruit that is free of bruises, cuts and dents.
  • Before you buy, pick up your melon. The heavier it feels, the better -- a good watermelon is 92% water, which makes up most of its weight.
  • On the underside of the watermelon there should be a creamy yellow spot from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun.

Watermelon Seeds
Contrary to popular belief eating watermelon seeds does not cause a watermelon to grow in your stomach. Actually, in some cultures it is popular to bake the seeds and then eat them.

Over 1,200 varieties of watermelon are grown worldwide. Every part of a watermelon is edible, even the seeds and rinds.

To De-Seed a Watermelon:

  1. Cut watermelon in half, then in quarters.
  2. Cut through the flesh of the melon along the seed line with a pairing knife. Now, lift off the piece of the melon you just cut.
  3. Using a fork, scrape the seeds from the piece you just removed and the remaining flesh on the rind.
Watermelon Storage Tips

Store watermelon on the warm side Compared to most fruits, watermelons need a more "tropical" climate - a thermometer reading of 55° F is ideal. However, whole melons will keep for 7 to 10 days at room temperature.

Store melons too long, and they'll lose flavor and texture.

Lower temperatures cause chill injury After two days at 32° F, watermelons develop an off-flavor, become pitted and lose color.

Freezing causes rind to break down and produces a mealy, mushy texture.

Once a melon is cut, it should be wrapped and stored at 37° - 39° F.

Safety Tips
According to the FDA, you should wash all fruits and vegetables including all melons in clean, running water before eating them. This is true of all fruits and vegetables, rinds or not. You should also use clean knives and cutting surfaces. Additionally, persons preparing melons, fruits, vegetables or other foodstuffs should thoroughly was their hands with soap and water prior to preparing the food for eating.

Watermelon Carving 101
Learn how to turn an ordinary watermelon into an edible work of art. Yes, Virginia, you too can carve a watermelon! Click the link above for a variety of fun watermelon carving designs including the whale at the top of this post, a variety of pretty baskets and a watermelon baby carriage perfect for a shower centerpiece.

How to Cut a Watermelon for Serving
Easy photo instructions show you how to cut and serve watermelon in wedges or chunks.

Watermelon and Health - Why Your Body Needs Watermelon
Watermelon is one the world's best sources of lycopene (even better than tomatoes!). Find out what this important antioxidant can do for your body.

Fun With Watermelon
Click for lots of fun facts and watermelon trivia -- you'll never know when you'll be on a TV quiz show!

Need Garnishing Tools?
Click for Amazon.com's selection.

Favorite Watermelon Recipes

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Frugal Cooking with The Poor Chef -- Thrifty Thursdays

I recently posed some questions to Charles Mattocks, AKA The Poor Chef. Charles's new book Eat Cheap but Eat Well couldn't have better timing. With everyone tightening their belts and eating out less often, his creative, satisfying, yet inexpensive recipes provide much needed variety to those trying to eat healthy wholesome foods while staying on a strict budget.

Cheri Sicard: It’s said that necessity if the mother of invention, and I know necessity prompted you to write this book. Can you tell our readers how you came to be “The Poor Chef?”

Charles Mattocks: I think we all have a poor chef in us, but I moved from Los Angles to Florida a few years back and had the chance to raise my son as a single father. Now my son is a very picky eater and I found it a task to be able to feed him not only healthy but affordable meals. We were walking into a restaurant one day and he said "dad wouldn't it be cool to see real people cooking on TV."

I thought to myself that it would. I can recall my mom and my grandma how great cooks they were and I thought about making a TV show or segment that featured real people making meals, and so the poor chef was born, cause we all have a poor chef in us.

Cheri Sicard: What are your favorite frugal ingredients to cook with?

Charles Mattocks: Veggies, you can be so creative with veggies! I have been known to take veggies and use curry or other spices to make some great meals. I also love Spanish seasonings and Asian spices, Of course olive oil and at times feta cheese I love feta. I also use olives and onions a lot.

Cheri Sicard: What’s a common myth about frugal cooking that you want to dispel?

Charles Mattocks:
That people who cook frugally are poor. I think an educated shopper can be very frugal in a good way, they may use coupons and take more time in the grocery store but they save money. The way the world is now, I think all of us are trying to save a few dollars.

I have had single mothers that are successful business women that raise families share with me their secrets of cooking or shopping. With planning they bought fresher food because they used a budget, and that they got more for their dollar when taking time to really shop. So being frugal can be a great thing when it comes to eating healthy and saving money.

Cheri Sicard: What kitchen tools or appliances are most valuable for the budget conscious cook?

Charles Mattocks:
An oven! Baking, be it chicken or bread or any meat or side dish, is a great way to cook food for the week. You can bake a chicken and use that same chicken for about 3 to 4 meals. I love to bake or roast and would be at a big loss if I didn't have the oven.

Cheri Sicard: What are your most important tips for frugal cooks?

Charles Mattocks:
Don't be scared to try new foods. Many people stick to what they know, they don't go outside the box. Feel free to try some different seasonings or spices, or even different meats. I know people who have never tried lamb or Indian food, or who have never ate Thai food. Those meals come from simple origins and can be made using very simple ingredients, so try new things.

Cheri Sicard: How much money can cooks actually save using your recipes?

Charles Mattocks:
Not only can they save money they can save some pounds (LOL)! But seriously the book was created as me being a single father, so I had to find ways to make great meals that are cost effective. So I would say you can save a few hundred dollars a year easily.

Cheri Sicard: How can home cooks adopt your frugal cooking philosophy to their own favorite recipes?

Charles Mattocks:
Do it with love and you cant go wrong, have fun be creative and involve the children or the family, that's what its all about. Food is a great form of expression, it can be used to show love or to regress from emotion. I also encourage portion control, let the meat be the secondary item on the plate. Eat more fruits and veggies and let the meat, if that's what you like, be the side dish not the center of the meal.

Frugal Recipes from The Poor Chef Charles Mattocks
More on Eat Cheap but Eat Well
Click here for more information about Charles's book Eat Cheap but Eat Well.

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Easy Yet Spectacular Dessert - Strawberry Kiwi Pavlova

This classic dessert, which originated in Australia, was created and named for legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova. While it makes a spectacularly impressive dessert, it's really very easy to accomplish, especially if you have an electric hand mixer. The directions below are for one large Pavlova that can then be cut into 8-10 servings, but you could easily make 8 individual cream and fruit filled meringues instead.

While strawberries and kiwi are traditional fruit fillings for a Pavlova, don't limit yourself. Try peaches, blueberries, raspberries or any other fresh fruits that appeal to you.

6 egg whites at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 1/2 cups heavy cream, whipped
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar

about 2 cups sliced strawberries and kiwi
2 cups whatever fresh fruit strikes your fancy

Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix together cornstarch, pinch of salt and pinch of cream of tartar, set aside.

Take enough waxed paper to make a double layer and wet it under the faucet, crinkling it a bit. Smooth the wet waxed paper onto a baking sheet. Set aside.

Beat the egg whites -- gradually adding sugar, vinegar and vanilla --until very stiff. Fold in cornstarch mixture. Pile the meringue onto the prepared baking sheet. Use a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon to smooth the pile into a rough circle, then hollow out the center slightly so the indentation makes a shallow "bowl" in the meringue -- see photos.

Place meringue bowl in oven, close the door quickly, turn off the heat and don't open the door for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove from oven and carefully peel off the waxed paper. If the meringue cracks a little, don't worry, you can make minor repairs with whipped cream later. You can prepare the meringue (or individual meringues) up to this point and store for a day or two in an airtight container before continuing.

Whip cream and confectioner's sugar together.

Immediately before serving fill the indentation with the sweetened whipped cream and pile the sliced fruit in the center of the cream. Bring out to the table and get ready for ooh's and ahh's!

More on Strawberries
Click here for the FabulousFoods.com Strawberry feature, including tips for buying and storing strawberries and tons of terrific strawberry recipes!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wild About Wings -- Thrifty Thursdays

Chicken wings are a great party food or snack for the family. You can make batches and batches in advance, then keep them warm in a chafing dish, or re-heat in the oven. They are also inexpensive (downright cheap) and versatile in that there is an endless array of marinades, sauces and dips to keep the munching interesting. You can fry chicken wings, bake them, or my favorite, charcoal grill them.

But before you can get creative with chicken wing recipes, you need to prepare the wings. If you've ever ordered Buffalo Chicken Wings at a restaurant you know you are never served a whole wing. Here's the technique for preparing wings at home.

1. Take a sharp knife or meat cleaver and cup off the wing tip.

chicken wing recipes

2. Cut wing at the elbow joint.

chicken wings

3. Discard wing tips or save to make chicken stock. The remaining two parts are ready for your favorite Chicken Wing recipe.

chicken wings

A Book for Wing Lovers!
Wings -- More Than 50 High-Flying Recipes for America's Favorite Snack by Debbie Moose.
It's hard to beat chicken wings when you need satisfying snacks to frugally feed a crowd, and it's hard to beat this book for coming with inspiring new ways to prepare them. You'll find 65 tempting recipes, most illustrated by gorgeous color photographs that highlight the ingredient's infinite versatility. Author Debbie Moose starts by showing how easy it is prepare perfect fried, baked, or grilled wings before delving into the recipes. You'll find classics like the legendary Buffalo Wings, but then she takes off on a world wide gustatory tour tour that includes influences from Italy to India and nearly everywhere in between. There are also plenty of recipes for sauces, dips, and salsas that can transform the humble chicken wing into extraordinary bites that will keep party guests coming back for more. Click here for more information about this book or to find out how to get a copy.

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cooking Dried Beans and Legumes - Thrifty Thursdays

Many people are baffled with how to cook dried beans. Relax, it's easy and beans and legumes are some of the healthiest foods you can eat. And if you cook your own dried beans, they are also one of the least expensive foods you can eat. Buying dried beans, as opposed to canned, has far less environmental impact too -- no wasteful packaging and manufacturing and less fuel to transport to market.

Don't worry if your recipe calls for canned beans. Know that dried or canned beans will work interchangeably in recipes.

Here are some more tips to help you cook better with beans:
  • Fresher dried beans will cook faster than older dried beans, so use the cooking times as a very general guideline. Taste the beans for tenderness early and often during the cooking process.

  • Because bean cooking times can vary so widely from batch to batch, it's best to pre-cook dried beans before using in recipes.

  • Cooking Method I -- Place beans in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until beans are tender.

  • Cooking Method II -- Cover beans with cold water and soak overnight or for at least 6 hours. Drain and place in clean water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender.

  • beansQuick Soak Method: Cover in cold water, bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let soak for 2 hours, then simmer until tender.

  • Before cooking, rinse the beans and pick through them, removing any small stones that sometimes get mixed in and throwing out any shriveled or discolored beans.

  • Even though they may be dried, the fresher the bean the better -- for flavor and for the amount of nutrients.

  • Store dried beans in covered plastic food containers.

  • After cooking beans, divide into portions and refrigerate leftovers in their own liquid for up to 4 days or in the freezer for 3 months.

  • Reheat cooked beans in the microwave, on the stovetop or even in the oven.

  • To cook beans in a slow cooker, soak as usual, then place beans in slow cooker, over with water or other liquid by about an inch or so. Turn it on low and check in about 6-8 hours (or about 4-5 for high).

  • To cook beans in a pressure cooker, click here for complete directions and suggested cooking times for various types of beans.
Favorite Recipes Using Dried Beans
Now that you know how to cook dried beans, let's put them to tasty use!
Did You Know?
Garbanzo Beans and Chickpeas are the same thing!

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Use Up Those Ripe Bananas - Thrifty Thursdays

Bananas can be a great bargain, especially if they're on the verge of getting too ripe. Grocery stores regularly mark such fruit down to ridiculously low levels. If you see some almost too ripe bananas that aren't marked down, ask the produce manager -- he or she will usually do so on the spot.

So what can you do with too ripe bananas? Peel and freeze them to use in smoothies. The frozen banana helps make the smoothie thick without having to add ice which can water down the flavor. Be sure to peel the bananas before freezing, as it's almost impossible to do so later. Plastic zipper bags are wonderful for storing individual portions of frozen bananas, making Smoothie making a snap!

So what else to do with those healthy, delicious bananas before they turn completely brown? Try one of these recipes at the links below:
Banana Bread and Variations
Without a doubt banana bread is one of the world's favorite ways to use ripe bananas. We have a recipe to fit nearly everyone's tastes and dietary requirements.
  • Banana Poppyseed Muffins - These tempting muffins are like banana bread in a smaller more portable package, perfect for lunch boxes or a quick morning snack on the go. They freeze well too.
  • Strawberry Macadamia Nut Banana Bread -- This great recipe by John Winkler of San Pedro, California, was a finalist in the 1997 Oxnard, California Strawberry Festival's Berry Off Cooking Contest.
  • Guatemalan Banana Bread -- Here's a unique twist on banana bread from Guatemala featuring coconut milk, raisins, and cashews.
  • Alabama Banana Bread -- This dense rich banana bread is great cold or warmed. It freezes exceptionally well.
  • Healthy Banana Bread -- Leanne Ely created this healthy recipe the whole family will love. Perfect for a healthy lunch box or brown bag addition, it keeps in the fridge for up to 10 days.
  • Gluten Free Banana Bread -- Not only is this tasty banana bread perfect for folks with gluten sensitivities, it's also vegan.
  • Whole Grain Banana Walnut Muffins -- Perfect for the kids' lunch box or as an after-school treat, these moist mini muffins make good snacking anytime.

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Iced Tea or Seafood Lemons

This simple yet elegant presentation for lemons served with iced tea or seafood dishes not only keeps the seeds out of the tea or off the dish, they smell terrific and add a decorative touch to the table.

I've garnished the lemons in the photo with fresh mint sprigs, to be served with iced tea. If the lemons were accompanying fish or other seafood, you should use an herb that complements the seafood recipe instead. Fresh Basil, rosemary or thyme often work well.

For Each Bundle You Will Need:
1/2 fresh lemon, cut horizontally
4 1/2 " square of cheesecloth
small piece of ribbon or twine
fresh herbs springs (optional)

If you are using fresh mint sprigs for a garnish, tie a mint sprig onto the middle of the small length of ribbon with a slip knot.

Center a horizontally cut lemon slice onto the square of cheesecloth. Gather the end up so the cloth is tightly against the cut surface of the lemon and tie with a piece of ribbon or twine.