Tasty Treats Make Great Gifts

Whether you have five or 50 teachers, students, neighbors, co-workers, family friends, kids’ friends, classmates, cousins, uncles, aunts, employees or service providers on your gift list this year—don’t panic! You do not have to be crafty or know how to cook to assemble fabulous gifts in your kitchen.


You’ll never go wrong giving a consumable (read: edible) gift. It does the job without contributing to your recipients’ stuff-factor.

You will need containers for these gifts and the possibilities are endless. Our favorite: Clear cellophane bags online for about 6 cents each (you’ll pay a bit more for bags like these that are printed with holiday motifs). Or find similar at craft stores like Michaels, Jo-Ann Stores and Hobby Lobby, and at cake and candy supply stores.

Think assembly line and you can turn out dozens of gifts in a single day. So gather your supplies, set up your production line and let the fun begin!

BYOB Club Member in Good Standing

For years, I’d endured a love-hate relationship with baking bread. It’s a domestic skill I could never master, and that bothered me.


When I tried, four out of five loaves flopped. Then, in an act of mercy from the yeast gods, I’d turn out a specimen fit for judging at the Iowa State Fair. Eventually, the outrageous price of store-bought bread led me to a method and book with the same title: The NEW Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (now updated to include gluten-free recipes).

Sure. Like anyone in her right mind would believe that. Five minutes a day? If this book were touting some prepackaged mix or pricey piece of equipment, I wouldn’t be interested.

But in no time at all, the verdict was in. It’s true. Authors Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois have taken the home baking world by storm, having created a method that takes away all of the variables of baking yeast breads: the time, the hassle, the waiting and the worrying. 

Freezing for the Holidays

Take a look at the calendar. Do you see what I see? Very busy days just ahead. There will be shopping and crafting, rehearsals and pageants, parties, wrapping and shipping … need I go on?

I know from experience that you can blow a cannon-size hole in your holiday budget if you rely on take-out and drive-thru to make it through the holiday season. But you can avoid that if you start out with a freezer full of menu items the family can thaw, heat and eat.


Here are three big batch recipes for our favorite comfort foods to help you get started:

(Yield: 4 dozen meatballs)

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • 1 large onion, chopped finely
  • 4 slices day old bread, crumbled
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/8 teaspoon each salt, pepper and garlic powder, or to taste

Slow Cooker Nailed It!

There’s just something about the bountiful tastes of autumn and slow cookers that go together.


Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of testing in my kitchen and while some results have been less than palatable (let me make all the mistakes so you won’t have to), other attempts have turned out even better than I could have dreamed. I’m anxious to share these recipes with you and even more anxious to hear how they turn out for you.

One thing is for certain: You can make these meals at home for a fraction of the cost of eating out—and I am confident that your fare will taste better, too.

If you’re keeping track of the cost of meat these day, you’re probably aware that pork remains much cheaper than beef. 

Chicken Labeling: Prepare to be Surprised

Here’s a timeless post from 2014 that was very well received and often requested by EC readers.

If you’ve ever stood in the supermarket wondering if paying more for chicken that is free-range, antibiotic-free, no hormones added, farm-raised, natural, and organic, makes you a better person, you are not alone. 

Recently, as I was doubting myself on my chicken choices I decided to get to the bottom of what all of this really means. It’s not at all what I thought.  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a cabinet-level agency that oversees the regulation of food-grade chicken and is responsible for the claims on packaging and labels. And despite all of the hype and fluff, there is only one label (“organic”) that guarantees specific standards and for which you might consider paying more. 

Briefly here is what all of it means–or doesn’t mean–according to the USDA.


Free-Range. There is no specific definition for free-range. For sure it does not mean  “running free to forage for grubs and grain on acres of rolling green pastureland.”  The USDA generally allows this term if chickens have access to the outdoors for “at least part of the day,” which could mean a matter of a few minutes, whether that chicken chooses to go outdoors or not. A single open door at one end of a huge chicken warehouse meets this definition of free-range. Even so, fewer than 1 percent of chickens nationwide are raised as “free range.” 

Impossibly Easy Impossible Pies

If you shy away from making homemade pies—savory or sweet—because of the crust (it can be tricky and there’s all that rolling) you are in for a treat. Meet the impossible pie.

Impossible pies are just the best because they’re easy to make and always turn out so well.  Impossible pies are family-friendly, too. Even your pickiest eaters are gong to love them.


What makes these pies seemingly impossible? The crust starts out as a thick liquid that you pour it over the top of the pie. Then somehow in the baking process the crust finds its way to the bottom and turns into a fabulously delicious pie.

All of the recipes that follow call for Master Mix, which is our homemade (cheap) version of Bisquick (somewhat pricey). You’ll find the recipe for Master Mix below.

Microwave Popcorn May be Trouble in a Bag

This post is an Everyday Cheapskate favorite pulled from the archives. Enjoy this 2014 column that was a big hit among our readers.

When I first read about the possible dangers of microwave popcorn, I assumed I would read about issues having to do with sodium and trans fats. What I’ve learned is that the real problem may be with the bag.


The bag almost all microwave popcorn varieties come in is lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This chemical, when heated, has been linked to infertility, cancer and other diseases in lab animals. No long term studies have been conducted on humans, but the EPA now lists this substance as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”  Holy moly! Likely to be? That’s enough for me to shun the stuff, but that’s not the only reason. Microwave popcorn is relatively expensive!

I’ll show you a cost comparison, but first, let me show you how to make popcorn in the microwave with no PFOA-laden bag, and no tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), annatto extract or propyl gallate added for flavor, color or longevity (ingredients copied from a bag of the stuff). I’m talking fresh, pristine, fabulous popcorn from start to finish in about 3 minutes.

How to Bring Beloved Regional Delicacies to Your Kitchen

I can’t believe that until just recently I’d never heard of a Dutch Baby—a wonderful culinary offering that is a regional staple in the Seattle area. The irony is that I grew up on Spokane, Wash., a mere 400 miles to the east.


Another regional favorite I’ve discovered is the a popular dessert, Texas Sheet Cake that feeds a crowd.

Charleston, South Carolina is famous for its She Crab Soup. Fantastic!

Oh my, you are going to love all of these fabulous recipes—each one easy to make right in your own kitchen.

What’s the favorite in your region? If you send the recipes, I’ll do all I can to let the secrets out of the bag so we can all enjoy, no matter where we live.