Wednesday, March 31, 2010

WOW! A Busy Few Weeks for Cheap Bastid

Hey folks, it’s been a busy few weeks for the Cheap Bastid. All of a sudden my e-mail has been popping and my phone has been ringing. I feel like a rock star. Maybe there’s some interest out there in Cheap Bastid’s kind of cooking on a budget.

Here’s what’s been happening in my world:

First, I got a call from Bravo. They wanted to have me as a guest host and judge right there alongside Padma Lakshmi on Top Chef this next season. (Wouldn’t it be cool to get them to do an Elimination Challenge when the chefs have to go to the 99 Cent Only store and spend no more than $10 on a meal for a family of four). It’ll be the first episode and I get to inspect tattoos for family content and I’ll be translating Fabio’s English to English. “This is Top Chef not Top Puzzy!” Check out the publicity shot:

Then, I got a call from Gordon Ramsey from “Hell’s Kitchen”. He wants me to pinch hit for him whenever he goes into a meltdown. I’ll be the designated screamer and cusser so that Gordon can be “kinder and gentler” and show his “Alan Alda” side. So, I’ve been rehearsing screaming obscenities but substituting the word “bleep” for the bad words. Apparently that’s cheaper than having to pay a sound editor to insert all the bleeps electronically.

Damn, then Food Network called and wanted me on Iron Chef. Not as a challenger but as one of the Iron Chefs. It seems like Bobby Flay got the crap kicked out of him after he actually won a “Throwdown” and was going to be out of action for a few weeks. They didn’t necessarily want me to cook—just to stand around with my arms folded looking menacing.

And then I got invited to do a screentest where I would actually get to cook. It was for a pilot of a new sit-com that’s a take-off on Julie and Julia (now I thought they wanted to make it Julia and Jules but I was mistaken). I didn’t get the part because in the publicity “stills” I was considered to be too unattractive. Man, I don’t know what was wrong with those folks.

After that though, things got just a bit better. You know that Pres. Obama and Michelle have a garden at the White House, right? I got invited to do a bit of guest gardening with Michelle. That’s OK, but what they really wanted me to do was help rake and shovel the composted manure into the topsoil. They told me I was an acknowledged expert at shoveling that kind of shit. I guess they got the manure from the Republican caucus in the Senate.

And finally, I got selected to have my picture on the cover of “Food and Wine” magazine’s “Best New Chefs and Their Easiest Recipes” issue. I just wish that they had let me cook first because as soon as they saw my “Weiners Wellington” recipe they kicked me out but not before I swiped a “galley” cover of the original photo.

So, yeah it’s been a busy few weeks for Cheap Bastid. That’s why I keep repeating the mantra:

Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful!

And I’m grateful that it’s April Fools Day!

...and a huge thank you to Mrs. CB for some terrific photo editing!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cheap Bastid's Tempura Night--Kind of Ugly but Really Good

Recently we had a hankering for a “Tempura Night”—you know, tempura battered vegetables and maybe some chicken. So I picked up some rice flour at Frasier’s Farms along with some bell peppers, mushrooms and zucchini (we already had onions).

Now, this is really a simple thing to make and it’s pretty tasty. But, it’s messy with the batter and the deep frying oil. I’m usually reluctant to do much deep frying because of the demands for cooking oil and Cheap Bastid just doesn’t really like to waste a bunch of it on one use. But when you have a “hankering” you’ve just got to honor it.

The photos you’re going to see are mine and they show that the results were just a little bit ugly—but it tasted good and that’s what counts. The batter didn’t coat quite as well as I would have liked, I think for 2 reasons. One is that it might have been a little too runny and the other is that I just used water rather than “soda water” with its carbonation which really does make a difference. (Cheap Bastid didn’t think of it at the store and didn’t want to go back and get some.

Some recipes for tempura batter call for regular flour and some call for rice flour. Some say eggs and some don’t. I’m going to go with TV chef (NPR and FoodTV) Ming Tsai’s recipe which is reproduced in the directions. I figure that he’s as good an expert as you can find, I like his cooking style and I’ve cooked his recipes with great results.

So here’s Tempura Night at our place:

1 ½-2 cups Rice Flour
1 ½-2 cups cold soda water (I think both of these are important. I used just cold water and didn’t care for my results all that much. I’ve used soda water before with great results).

½ lb Chicken breast (skinless/boneless)—or shrimp or fish, whatever you’ve got & want
1 red bell pepper
1 jalapeno pepper
1 medium onion
10 1” top fresh white/button mushrooms
1 zucchini

Put the rice flour in a bowl then add cold soda water and stir together (don’t add all the water yet). Add water until you have a batter the consistency of pancake batter—not too runny & not too thick but just right.

Cut chicken breast into approximate ¼” x 2” strips. Cut bell pepper, jalapeno and onion into similarly sized strips—about ¼” x 1 ½” strips. (Or you could cut the jalapeno into “rounds” about ¼” thick and leave the seeds inside for just a bit more kick). Cut the onion into small wedges that nest together. Clean the mushrooms with a brush or paper towel to remove the dirt and gunk on the top and bottom. (The reason to do that is that the “dirt” is usually dirt and manure (see you can learn useful stuff from watching “Dirty Jobs”). Trim the stems. Then just toss all the veggies into a medium bowl.

Get out your wok, put it on the stove on medium high and put 2 cups of oil in it. When it’s heated, test it with a little piece of onion dipped in the batter. (If the test piece gets brown immediately, then the oil is too hot and you can drop it down a skosh. Otherwise, you’re good to go).

Put some paper towels down on your platter for draining. Now dip the pieces of veggie and chicken into the batter kind of at random—you know, a piece of chicken, a piece of bell, a mushroom, a piece of zucchini, etc. Don’t get your oil too full of pieces at a time—about 10 or so will do nicely. Settle in, this will take a little while. You can have a second pan/platter that you transfer the food to and pop it into a warm over to keep things warmer.
(This is kind of ugly but it sure tastes good. I forgot to take pics of the veggies until they were half gone and these were from the end when the batter was a bit runny).

When everything’s done, it’s time to eat. You can make a homemade dipping sauce or what we used was some “Lite Asian Sesame with Ginger and Soy” salad dressing by Ken’s Steak House (it’s really good and one of our few “indulgences”).

Now it’s time to enjoy. What we absolutely liked the best were the mushrooms. Man, I could have eaten a bushel of them. Crispy on the outside and then when you’d bite into them it was like they exploded in your mouth with a moist, earthy flavor. The zucchini was really good too. Almost like a “zucchini fry”—and believe me it’s hard to come up with inventive ways to cook zucchini so that it tastes like something. But everything was really, really tasty (it also doesn’t hurt that I put some cayenne into the batter) even if it wasn’t the most beautiful Tempura I’ve ever eaten. And it’s a good, healthy meal. Lots of veggies, just a little meat protein. Give it a try some night.

The Cheap Bastid Test: So does this pass? A large red bell was $.77. The onion about $.50. Zucchini about $.25. Jalapeno about $.10. Chicken was $1.00, mushrooms $.75. The Rice Flour was $1.00 and the oil for the meal was about $.75. Total cost was $5.12. Not real cheap, but it was a treat. Getting this meal in a Japanese restaurant would probably cost about $25 so, yeah, it passes the test (but I have to admit, it barely passes the test because it’s messy, takes a while to prep, cook and clean and uses up 2 cups of oil).

That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Great Algona Easter Egg Hunt--Or, How to Piss Off the Mayor

When I first got into the Chamber of Commerce business I moved to the smallest city I’ve ever lived, Algona, Iowa, population 6000. I moved there in late March just in time to help with planning one of the more enjoyable events sponsored by the Chamber each year—the annual Easter Egg Hunt the day before Easter.

This particular event was conducted by a group within the Chamber called the Salesman’s Bureau. It was composed of sales people who spent most of their time away from home. It met monthly on a Saturday in order to get caught up with what was going on in town, enjoy a bit of camaraderie and plan a couple of events—the other main event this group did was a golf outing in the summer we dubbed the Herb Tarlek Open in honor of the salesman from WKRP Cincinnati.

We spent months working on the Easter Egg Hunt including lining up groups of Scouts to dye the 2000+ eggs we got donated from a couple of area farms, getting donated toys from some of our
local stores, making sure the local state park was reserved and otherwise just tying up details.

The date of the event started with a breakfast in the shelter at the park—eggs, sausage, biscuits and Bloody Marys. After breakfast we made sure that the areas for the egg hunting age groups were roped off and that an appropriate amount of eggs were placed in each. Prizes were laid out and extra eggs were put aside for us to make sure that kids who weren’t otherwise able to find an egg “found” one with a bit of help from one of us. What we really wanted to have happen was for the kids to have fun.

Cars started to arrive rapidly filling available parking and stretching down the gravel road leading into the park. We started to usher the kids to their areas broken down by age group. It just wouldn’t do for a toddler to be run over in a stampede of older kids so age segregation was strictly enforced. We also handed out paper bags to the many kids who arrived without Easter baskets to put their goodies. Now, as the rest of this story unfolds remember those 2 key items—stampede and paper bag.

People would come from literally all over our area—some as far as 20 miles for the Annual Easter Egg Hunt. It was heavily promoted on our local radio station for a couple of weeks ahead
of time. It wasn’t unusual to have 500 kids attend along with parents, grandparents, etc.

The hunt was set to begin at the stroke of 10 a.m. The Mayor of our small city would ceremoniously fire a gun (blank cartridge) to get the organized mayhem started.

Everything was in place. Using the P.A. system from a police car, the mayor was introduced and made a few introductory remarks. I was walking to the edge of the crowd after a last check of one of the search areas and handing out paper bags. I was down to my last paper bag.

The mayor held the starter’s pistol held overhead.
I was wondering what to do with the last bag.
The mayor started a countdown.
I held the bag up to my mouth.
The mayor’s countdown reached 5.
All the kids were poised in anticipation.
I blew into the bag and proceeded to slam it down into my other hand at the same instant the mayor’s count reached 3.

Looking up I immediately realized what I had done. The mayor’s face was frozen in a grimace at hearing the loud pop just as he said 3. The kids all started to surge forward even though many were unsure because the pop of a paper bag and of a blank from a starter’s pistol don’t quite sound the same.

It was literally like on TV when something happens and the action immediately goes into slow motion—and the word Noooooooooooooo reverberates. (Or more aptly when Ralphie is helping his Dad change the tire and the Dad knocks the hubcap with the lug nuts flying and Ralphie says “Oh fuuuuuudddgggeee”).

The kids bolted. The mayor jolted. He never fired off the gun. All the eggs got found. The kids had a great time. The rest of the Salesman’s Bureau laughed until they had to hold their sides. I was totally embarrassed at having done something so idiotic. And the Mayor never forgave me.

Have a wonderful Easter.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Streetlights, Nightlights and a Congressman

Part 1: Quiet Night, Nightlight
For some reason I woke up at about 2 a.m. this morning after having dozed off again on the couch. The quietness got my attention. By quiet I mean that there was no traffic noise, no kid noise, just some night birds out on their rounds. So I went out on the balcony to absorb it. I loved the peacefulness of that quiet.

Looking around while breathing in the fresh nighttime air, I noticed something that I first spotted about a month ago. The City of Vista, California where I live is building a new $55 million City Hall (in California they’re called “Civic Centers”). OK, nothing wrong with that because the City has been using an old decrepit elementary school for a City Hall for about 25-30 years.

3:00 a.m. The lights are on at City Hall construction site--nobody's home

So what’s bugging me? Well, the new City Hall is about 300 yards in a straight line from my balcony. It’s 3 stories high so I can see it from where I live. Why do the construction people have to leave the lights on in the entire structure 24/7? Can’t someone turn the lights off at night except for necessary security lights? How much is that costing the taxpayers?

Part 2: Dark Tunnel, No Light
One stinking, lousy streetlight. That’s all I wanted and all I asked for. What I got was a painted line. A painted line is better than nothing. But it doesn’t diminish the darkness.

What the hell am I talking about? Just a little difference of opinion I had with the City of Vista, California where I live. You see there’s this intersection a couple of blocks from where I live. The intersection of South Citrus Ave. and Eucalyptus. It’s 2 blocks from the downtown. There are no streetlights. And at night it’s dark. Real dark. Spooky dark.

I’m consider myself to be a really good driver and this intersection (especially turning right from Eucalyptus to Citrus) is scary. As soon as you start to turn right, the street starts to descend to where you can’t see the right shoulder. You have to know it’s there and how far you can or can’t get over.

Just 1 stinking, lousy streetlight--Please!
So, I sent an e-mail to the City Street department which got bucked over to the Engineering Department which contacted me to tell me that there wasn’t any money in the budget for a streetlight there but that I was welcome to contact the power company and pay for it myself. Say what? My response that I was referring to public property was met by an offer to paint a white line along the shoulder at the turn to mark it better. OK, better than nothing.

Well, I hadn’t driven through there in a good 6 months until recently. And I had forgotten just how dark it is. It’s dangerous dark to the point where I’m uncomfortable driving it. It’s also dangerous for any pedestrians who might be out at night. And, there’s been at least one mugging there too.

Is it too much to ask for one stinking, lousy street light at this intersection and for the damn city to turn off the lights at the City Hall construction site at night?

Part 3: To My Congressman
Darrell Issa is the Congressman for my district. He lists his address as the city where I live, Vista, California. Rep. Issa was vehemently opposed to the new HealthCare legislation recently passed by Congress.
Now, if and when Rep. Issa is “home” in Vista, I’m sure that he lives in a pretty good neighborhood. (Let’s put it this way, if you’ve ever bought a security alarm for a car, there’s pretty good odds that it’s a “Viper” made by Issa’s company). This guy is, according to Wikipedia, the wealthiest Congressman.

So, I’m guessing that Rep. Issa has rarely, if ever, been into my neighborhood of Vista (it’s an area that my wife described as “semi-barrio” when we first started dating). He’s got his. And his constituents tend to be the affluent Republicans who tend to flock together in this area.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of them and all he has to do is keep them happy. The type of people who live in my neighborhood tend to be less likely to vote and less likely to complain. They’re too busy trying to make ends meet.

But, I’ve always had this thought that a Congressman or Legislator or City Council member needs to represent all of his or her constituents (pretty damn naïve for someone with a Master’s degree in Political Science, isn’t it).

So here’s my point—it’s an invitation. Congressman, come on over to my apartment. It’s just a half-block off Vista Way and you won’t have to go too far into the Hispanic Townsite neighborhood that the paper invariably refers to as “hardscrabble”.

Let’s hang out on the balcony for about an hour and just observe. I’ll even throw some burgers or sausage on the grill. But, let’s observe the people of this neighborhood. They’re your constituents too. Who are they? What are they?

They’re overwhelmingly brown. They’ve got families. They walk more places than you do because they don’t have much money. Many don’t have cars. The hold their children’s hands as they walk. The little girls look like gorgeous dolls and the boys like mischievous rascals. You can sense and feel the love they’re given. Love has nothing to do with economics. Except that if you don’t have much to give, you can still give love—it’s inexhaustible.

The teens are typical and normal. Even though they might not have much, they’ve got i-Pods and cell phones. Someone sacrificed to get them too. It’s not like a lot of other neighborhoods were there is no economic sacrifice and people have plenty.

So this is our neighborhood. Notice the young Moms with toddlers who are pregnant again. I wonder what kind of health insurance they’ve got? I wonder what kind of pre-natal care they’re getting.

Come on over, Rep. Issa. We won’t make a big press deal out of it or anything—that’s not the point. Just observe (no entourage or security). And maybe you can wander out and talk to a few. Find out what’s on their minds. Don’t worry, most speak English. It’s cool to listen to the kids going to school or coming home seamlessly switching back and forth from English to Spanish all the while sounding like what they are—kids.

And after you hang out for a bit, head on back to Shadowridge Country Club. Maybe some of the guys there who are trimming the bushes live in my neighborhood. And maybe, you’ll be able to understand just a little bit better.

Come on over, Rep. Issa. Just for an hour.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cheap Bastid's Classic Spaghetti Carbonara

Here’s a recipe that’s become a favorite when we want a change of pace. This combines several favorite flavors all into this “one dish” meal starting with what is arguably the “superstar” ingredient—bacon. It takes about a half-hour from start to finish and it can be dinner or even a weekend brunch.

Spaghetti Carbonara is a classic Italian dish combining the smokiness of bacon with eggs, parmesan cheese and pasta. You just can’t go wrong with ingredients like that. And it definitely meets the Cheap Bastid criteria.

I checked out a whole bunch of different recipes for this dish. The one I’m using here is, quite frankly, an adaptation of Emeril Lagasse’s version of Spaghetti Carbonara because it’s the simplest. I’ve made a couple of changes (like using 2 eggs rather than 4). So give it a try and enjoy.

Spaghetti Carbonara

½ pound bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
Up to 1 pound spaghetti, cooked al dente
2-4 large eggs beaten
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano or other parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves (or dried if that’s all you’ve got)

Get out your pasta pot and prepare your salted water (about 2 quarts). Put your pasta pot on medium high to high heat and cook the pasta until it’s al dente. Get out a large sauté pan (or I really like using my wok for this) and cook the bacon until crispy over medium heat. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. Pour off all of the oil except for 3 tablespoons. Add the garlic.
Season with black pepper. Sauté for 30 seconds.
Now put the bacon back in the wok and then add the pasta. Sauté for 1 minute. Season the beaten eggs with salt. Turn off the heat an
d add the eggs, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble. The eggs should blend into the pasta and bacon. I take a pair of tongs and turn, turn, turn the whole mixture to thoroughly incorporate everything. Add the cheese and re-season with salt and pepper and then turn, turn, turn some more. Mound into serving bowls or on plates and garnish with parsley.

This is tasty. With the bacon combined with egg and pasta, it turns into stick to your ribs comfort food. We like to have this with a garden salad so that it’s balanced with some fresh veggies and a bit of acid.

The Cheap Bastid Test: A half pound of bacon costs us $1. 2 eggs are plenty for us in this dish and cost about $.30. We use about ¾ lb of pasta or $.75 worth and quite frankly, we use a small shaker’s worth of parmesan from the Dollar Store for $1. Total cost is $3.05 and it makes enough for supper and a lunch. That means that it’s a skosh over $.75 per serving. Not bad at all. Hey, add another egg and the whole pound of pasta for another $.50 and it’s dinner for 4.

Now, there are those aficionados who will look askance at Cheap Bastid using dollar store parmesan. You are free to use whatever grade of this or any other ingredient you want but I’m not up for spending $3 or $4 on this one ingredient, which while important, would mean that I wouldn’t prepare the dish as often if at all. I can get about 75% of the flavor for about 35% of the price. I’ll take that trade-off.

That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good! Eat Cheap! Be Grateful!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cheap Bastid Confesses...and Makes Bean Dip Too

Yes, it’s true. Cheap Bastid has a confession to make. Remember recently when CB wrote a post on “runs”? You know, making “emergency” runs for forgotten items or items you run out of like milk or diapers.

Well, Mrs. CB insists that I come clean. We have a decidedly non-Cheap Bastid habit, addiction, whatever you want to call it. We buy this every week at the grocery store and then make at least one if not two emergency “runs” per week to get some more.

Nothing is worse than running out of ice cream! Yes, the truth must come out. We go through 2 or 3 cartons a week. Here’s the thing, a half gallon of ice cream is now, at most, 1.75 quarts rather than the requisite 2 quarts that we learned in 4th grade is what constitutes a half gallon. OK, that’s not so bad, although I think it’s asinine that food makers reduce the size AND increase the price.

What’s scary is that each “serving” is rated at 130 calories—not bad for ice cream. But how much is a serving? I’m not sure exactly but according to the carton there are 14 servings in that 1.75 quart carton. Huh? We’re lucky to get 3 servings each. Are we over eating? Should this 1 carton really last us a week? According to that a serving is 1 good sized scoop. No way!

OK, so this is a guilty pleasure. But, the grocery store has it on “special” at $3.00 a carton. Yeah right! It’s advertised as buy 2 for $6 and save $.48. The only issue is that it’s been this price for the last 2 years! Hey Stater Bros.! That’s you’re regular price. Quit BSing me!

OK, so I can’t divert your attention by ranting and trying to cast blame on the grocery store. But, a guilty pleasure is fine. We love ice cream. Right now our favorite is Peanut Brittle. It’s creamy and tasty. We were into Moose Tracks for a while but now our loyalty has shifted a bit.

So, if you’ve got a guilty pleasure and you budget for it, go ahead and indulge yourself. I hate being the only one feeling guilty.

Mrs. CB just got back from the store and an emergency ice cream run. They're out of Peanut Brittle ice cream!! The horror! Oh, the humanity!! So we're back to eating Moosetracks!

Now who wants some Bean Dip?

For some reason we had a minor brain storm recently. We can make our own Bean Dip. Why spend $3 for a 9 ounce can of bean dip? This is tasty and even better, it’s cheap.

1 16 oz. can refried beans
2 tablespoons mayonnaise or “salad dressing”
1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno

Dump everything into a food processor or blender. Mix thoroughly until creamy. Taste. Adjust “heat” by adding cayenne, habanero sauce, more jalapeno (to your own taste).

Add some cheese and pop in the microwave if you want for a little extra flavor.

Enjoy with your favorite like corn chips or tortilla chips. This is tasty! We made “Gringo Tacos” for dinner the other night and only had small (6 inch) corn tortillas on hand. A little smear of bean dip on the tortilla helped hold everything together and added to the taste.

And, the Cheap Bastid Test? Like I said, a can of Frito/Lay Bean Dip will set you back at least $3. The Can of refried beans was $.89 and I used about a dime’s worth of mayo and another dime’s worth of jalapenos. I made twice as much dip as the can of Frito/Lay for about 1/3 the price.

That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good! Eat Cheap! Be Grateful!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cheap Bastid's Cheap Utensils--Ode to Bakelite

I didn’t know Bakelite from an Easy Bake Oven when I first met my wife Carolyn. But, she has long had a passion for this early plastic, especially when it comes to jewelry. Over the past several years our knowledge has dramatically increased and we’ve accumulated quite a collection.

Carolyn’s passion is for the “prettys”. She loves Bakelite jewelry and has an online store ( where she sells vintage costume and Bakelite jewelry.

Bakelite was invented more than a century ago by Leo Baekeland. It was arguably the first of the modern plastics. It was used for all kinds of industrial applications and eventually for both home products and inexpensive jewelry. The jewelry and home products part of it was a way to make inexpensive consumer goods. Today, some Bakelite jewelry pieces sell in the five figure range and it’s not uncommon to find simple bangle bracelets for over $100.

Bakelite jewelry was often sold at the classic “Five and Dime” stores especially in the 20’s and 30’s. It was cheap stuff that has ended up in estate sales and flea markets until it started to become increasingly rare and fashion recognized the value and beauty of “art deco” types of jewelry. And interestingly, the use of Bakelite for jewelry and other consumer goods by and large disappeared at the outset of World War II when production was converted to wartime purposes.

(I use the salt & pepper shakers daily along with the sugar jar but the anodized grease tin with Bakelite handle is just for decoration)

But that’s Carolyn’s interest. I got involved in researching and buying jewelry with my wife and then discovered the many different kitchen utensil items that had been made from this “magic plastic”. And, like the jewelry, most of it is around 70-80 years old.

Recently, I photographed my “collection” of Bakelite utensils and kitchen gadgets. I use all of it. If I can’t use it, I won’t buy it (that’s the Cheap Bastid Way!). And I thought I’d give you a little bit of a “guided tour” today.

I guess my cooking’s as old fashioned as my utensils. Take a look.

A simple ladle and serving spoon

Here’s a bullet handled spatula and frosting knife and then a spatula and potato masher

Bakelite handled Handmixer, and yes I use it!

Serving Utensils

These are all items which were originally sold inexpensively to housewives as single pieces or sets. Most of it I bought on eBay, carefully monitoring auctions and making sure to get good, serviceable pieces inxpensively (just like the original owners did). We’ve been to antique shows and antique stores and have been amazed at the prices being charged for identical items.

But, I’m the Cheap Bastid and I’m buying them for their original purpose—to be used for everyday cooking. There’s a lot of utensils I’ve passed on buying because, while collectible, it just wouldn’t be used that much. And, when I’m mixing a cake batter or mashing potatoes, I take added pleasure in knowing that someone else 60 or 70 years ago did the same thing with this mixer or masher or bowl. I think that’s kind of cool.

Yeah, this pizza cutter gets used often and it’s about the most rare piece I have.

Notice the handles. They are Bakelite swirled and carved to resemble bone

These are cool but carving sets generally aren’t a very high quality blade. These sets were made to be affordable so the stainless blades don’t have much heft and don’t hold an edge very well.

These are my wife’s soupspoons and I wouldn’t dare use them! She uses them.

Really simple, “industrial” type design which was probably really cheap. We like it and use it.

We use these knives whenever we have steak and the corncob holders all summer long when we do corn on the cob.

And, we also enjoy old-style TexasWare. The platter is used all the time (it’s been featured many times in Cheap Bastid food photos). The bowls are Texasware and are very collectible—but I use them all the time too (if I couldn’t use them, I wouldn’t have them) and the trays are our favorite and most used “plates”.

So, that’s a quick tour through Cheap Bastid’s kitchen drawers and cupboards. If you’re interested in more information on Bakelite kitchenware check out the book “Bakelite in the Kitchen” by Barbara Mauzy which is available on Amazon. A quick “collector’s view of these items suggests that the “retail” value is somewhere around $1000-$1200. I spent maybe $300 for all of it.
And that’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good! Eat Cheap! Be Grateful!

"Oh Lord Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz"

What’s the message here? I think it’s good news. You ask Santa Claus for stuff. Not God. And most of what we ask God for is stuff. God isn’t eBay or God isn't a micromanager. In those times of my life when I’ve believed that I most need a break what I’ve asked God for is peace in my own heart and soul; I’ve asked God to not give up on me and to be a presence in me.

When things have been going well, I forget to thank God for the day, for my good fortune, for my happiness, for the loved ones in my life. When things haven’t gone so well, eventually I’ll get around to asking God for the “right things”.

I remember a time in my life about 20 years ago. My children were young. I was unemployed and devastated personally, psychologically and spiritually. I slept on the couch rather than with my wife believing myself to be unworthy of even the comfort of bed or of being beside my wife. I would pray each morning when I woke up, “Lord please take me today, please end this misery.” And things didn’t get any better.

Then I changed what I would ask God for in the gray dawn as my brain would slowly come alive, the household still and the world quiet. I would ask God to be a presence in me, to be with me and help me get through the day. And life got better. I quit asking God for stuff. And instead invited God to be a part of me.

That’s the Good News this Sunday.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Obama's Health Report--Let the Man Smoke!

Yesterday some of the results of President Obama’s physical exam came to light. His “bad” cholesterol is up and there was veiled reference to his continuing efforts to stop smoking.

There was also mention of how his smoking and apparent eating of “bad foods” are a bad example to the nation, in particular to Michelle Obama’s new crusade on childhood obesity and the health risks of smoking. Oh, and he likes his cocktails too.

Oh for crying out, damn loud!

Let the guy eat whatever he wants and smoke like a chimney if he wants. This guy’s got a tough job made much tougher by all the a-holes he has to contend with each day who try to stymie and stifle his efforts every step of the way. He’s scrawny. He works out.

Does he go outside to smoke? Is that why he’s always walking Beau? I could care less if he lit one up during a photo opportunity with the poster wheezer for the Emphysema Society. If he wants to chainsmoke or puff a hookah during a Cabinet meeting or a meeting with the military Chiefs of Staff, let him. They’re big boys. They work for him. Tough toenails.

Might his smoking harm some of the antiques that are undoubtedly in his office? Who cares. It’s old crap anyway which I’m sure has been exposed to its share of smoke over the centuries. Besides, there’s a minor army of people on the government payroll whose job it is to restore that stuff.

Get together with anyone you want Obama and go out and “burn one”. Sit in the Oval Office, chug a brewski and smoke a Camel straight. One rule. Use an ashtray. Michelle would be P.O.’d if you burned or spilled on that carpet with the seal in it (that’ll be going to a museum someday).

You’ve got a mess with health care legislation. You’ve got 2 wars still going on. You’ve got jerks criticizing every damn thing you do. And, you’ve been kind of vacillating because you hate to tick anyone off.

OK, so here’s what you do: Sit back and start telling yourself, “I’m the President. I’ve got a lot of crap to get done. I’ve got 59 votes in the Senate. So work with me Republicans or you can all go and screw yourselves. The buck stops here. FDR and Truman were smoking fiends.”

Light up a butt. Blow smoke rings. Smoke as much as you want. Just get something done. Drink a Bud and eat some chips (chip crumbs are OK on the carpet in the Oval Office because they’ll vacuum right up).

And besides, if you start using nicotine lozenges or gum, you’re going to stink up the Oval Office and Cabinet rooms even worse with the nasty gas it’ll give you. And there’s way too much nasty gas in Washington, D.C. already.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Cheap Bastid's Chicken & Dumpling Soup

Cheap Bastid’s thing is to try to cook really tasty food on a tight budget. I like sharing that and maybe getting some other folks whose budgets are pretty tight thinking about food in a different way.

This week we’re talking Chicken and Dumpling Soup. Why? Well, a couple of weeks ago I was looking for something to cook that would provide some left-overs because my work schedule had me working until 8:30 several days in a row. I got rummaging around in both my brain and in the freezer and came up with chicken but wanted to do something different and old-fashioned. I had never cooked dumplings before and wanted to try them to be able to say I have done it and for the flavor and “old fashioned” idea of Chicken and Dumplings.

And in going through the freezer, I came across a couple of freezer bags with some freezer burned chicken legs and thighs. Once upon a time they would have gotten tossed. But I figured that it wouldn’t make any difference because I was tossing them in the slow cooker and making soup. I was right. So here’s another Cheap Bastid, stick-to-your-ribs, old-fashioned recipe that you may just enjoy.

Cheap Bastid’s Chicken and Dumpling Soup
4-5 pieces of chicken (legs, thighs, breast it can still be frozen)
2 cups chopped carrots
1 ½ cups chopped onion
½ cups chopped celery
16 oz chicken broth
3-4 cups water
Salt, pepper, cumin, rosemary or thyme
Pancake mix

Get out your slow cooker or a dutch oven (whichever you prefer to use). Put it on the stove at medium or turn the cooker on high. Dump in the chicken broth and water, then add the chicken. I also like to add some heartier broth by dumping in 3 or 4 beef or pork broth “ice cubes” that I keep in the freezer. Add salt, pepper, garlic and herbs (dried herbs work just fine). Start chopping your veggies and dump them in when you’ve got them prepped. (All of this is more or less depending on how much veggies you like in your soup).

Now you can relax and let this cook for 2-3 hours. Get the pot simmering—a slow roll works good—and cover the pot. Read the newspaper, watch some TV, whatever. This is going to start smelling good within an hour. After 2-3 hours check the chicken. When it’s about ready to fall off the bone (stick a fork in it and twist—if the meat wants to fall off, then it’s ready). Take the Chicken out of the pot, put it on a cutting board and then remove first the skin and put aside, then the meat from the bone. Toss the skin and the bone and shred the meat then chop it into about ½-3/4 inch pieces. Then toss all that back into the pot and clean up your cutting board. Taste test the soup for flavor. It should be starting to taste real “chickeny” and you should be getting some flavor from both the veggies as well as the seasonings. I really like the way this soup smells while cooking with the combination of chicken, celery and herbs.

Now is the time to leave the cover “cracked open”. This will release steam and let the liquid cook down a bit intensifying the flavor and thickening it a bit. Make sure you’ve got plenty of liquid in the pot so this can happen.

After about another hour of simmering, taste test again. This time it’s to check on the “doneness” of the vegetables. A bit of texture is a good thing—you don’t want “crunchy” and “mushy” is overdone. So, if they’re just a bit “al dente” now would be a good time to prep your dumplings.

I came across a recipe online that suggested using pancake mix for dumplings. That’s good because I didn’t have any “Jiffy” biscuit mix and didn’t have any baking powder to make the dumplings from scratch. The secret is that rather than the 2 to 1 ratio of mix to water that pancakes require, use a 1 ½ to 1 ratio—so that it’s a bit thicker.

Use 2 teaspoons to “drop” the batter into the pot. One to pick up the batter and the other to slide it off into the soup. Cover the whole top of the soup with the dumplings. Turn the heat down so that it’s not bubbling, cover and let it simmer for 45 minutes to an hour until the dumplings are nicely puffed up and bobbing around like pasty, yellowish buoys.

Soups on! It’s time to eat. The dumplings will give the soup a smooth silky texture and provide that something extra that takes a good chicken soup and turns it into something special—Chicken and Dumpling Soup. A fantastic, tasty, home-cooked, comfort food, country-style meal in a bowl.

The Cheap Bastid Test: Well, I should say that old, freezer burned chicken isn’t worth anything but, it was about 1 ½ lbs. of chicken that cost about $2.50 at the grocery store. The veggies cost maybe $1, the broth added about $.50 and I used about $.50 worth of pancake mix. Total for the meal: $4.50. This fed us dinner for 2 nights and lunch for 2 days—a total of 8 meals. That’s stretching a food budget dollar and making something incredibly tasty at the same time. Give it a try. Your family will love it.

That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good! Eat Cheap! Be Grateful!