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.

Know the Shelf Life of Holiday Baking Staples

Look up the word impulsive in the dictionary and prepare to see my face. As I cleaned out the freezer in anticipation of relocating to Colorado last spring, I found five big bags of chocolate chips to prove it. They are the ghosts of a Christmas past—the remains from my now famous Gifts in a Jar marathon project.


And have I mentioned the two containers of candied fruit that I picked up the year I knew I’d have all kinds of time to make fruitcake? They had to have been at least seven years old and curiously showed absolutely no sign of becoming stale, moldy or anything close to inedible.

Many supermarkets put baking supplies on rock-bottom sale starting about Thanksgiving and continuing through Christmas. I still have four five-pound bags of flour from last holiday season, which I bought for $.99 each. Sugar is cheap during the holidays, too. Ditto for other holiday baking ingredients from marshmallows to sweetened condensed milk, dates to nuts.

Chips Gone Bad

Does your pantry, like mine, mysteriously accumulate nearly-empty bags of stale chips? I hate when that happens, and it nearly kills me to throw them out. But what on earth can we do with chips gone stale or bags where all that remains are broken pieces and crumbs?


Well, my frugal friends, I have a solution—two in fact: Recipes that call for crushed chips (stale chips work just great). I have a feeling you’re going to love these chicken strips and cookies so much you’ll be begging your friends and neighbors to send their stale chips your way. (How cheap is that?)

Taco Chicken Strips

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/4 cup crushed tortilla chips
  • 1 tablespoon taco seasoning*

Preheat oven to 425 F. To crush the tortilla chips, place them in a resealable plastic bag. Whack them with a rolling pin and continue rolling until the chips are fine crumbs. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Cut each chicken breast unto half-inch strips.

Quick and Easy Stir-Fry

I can’t think of a more perfect food than stir-fry. It makes good use of leftovers; it’s healthy and when prepared well, tastes fantastic!


Pam Anderson, author of How to Cook Without a Book, says the reason most home stir-fry comes out a soggy mess: our home stovetops don’t get as hot as restaurant woks. Cooking everything in small batches and then removing the batches from the skillet or wok until the end is Anderson’s secret for making great stir-fry at home.

You can make stir-fry, start to finish in less than 30 minutes. The secret is to get all of your ingredients ready and within easy reach before you start and your skillet as hot as possible.

Set your wok or a heavy skillet (cast iron is ideal) on low heat. While it’s heating, get about one pound of protein ready and place within easy reach of the skillet. You can use shrimp (raw and peeled or canned, drained), fresh scallops, boneless chicken cut into strips; any type of red meat sliced thin or cubed tofu. Pour 2 tablespoons of soy sauce (or 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 tablespoon sweet sherry) over the protein. Toss so all of the pieces are coated.

Eat Together on Family Day

Good food, great conversations and loads of laughs—that’s what family dinners are made of.


If busy schedules are making it hard for your family to all land at the same place at the same time, take a “time out” to consider all the benefits of gathering around the dinner table. Family dinners are about more than just sharing a meal.

The fourth Monday in September (this year September 28) has been declared “Family Day — a day to eat dinner with your children,” by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. Join more than 1 million families who have made a pledge to eat dinner together that day.

Trying to get everyone together for a meal, especially every day, can be difficult. But the benefits of eating together make family mealtime a tradition worth pursuing. Simply eat with your children whenever possible, even if it isn’t every day.

Just Maybe the Best Homemade Holiday Gift Ever

It happens every year about this time. I begin scrambling for the perfect Christmas gift idea for my long list of friends, neighbors and colleagues. My criteria is that the gift has to be homemade and easily mass produced. It needs to be consumable, attractive and appeal to a wide range of tastes. It must be something that will survive the mail, and above all it needs to be affordable.

As of a week ago, I’d pretty much narrowed this year’s gift to one of the most decadent condiments on earth—Bacon Jam. I needed to make a test run to determine if the stuff is as outrageously delicious as is being reported and if it’s reasonable in terms of time and money to make it in mass quantities.

It’s been three days since I finished up the test run and the results are unquestionable: This stuff is crazy delicious. Like candy but more savory. The amount of Bacon Jam that fits into a half-pint (8 oz.) glass jar is quite generous because a little Bacon Jam goes a long way!

I have run into a challenge that could make the gift of Bacon Jam impossible for all but my local friends. I’ll let you know about that together with a possible solution for the problem. But first let me show exactly how to make Bacon Jam together with what I’ve decided is the perfect recipe.

How to Get More of Your Favorite Fast Food for Less (Even Free)

In these days of rising food prices it’s fun to keep a bevy of money-saving tips and tricks up your sleeve. You won’t need a coupon a code or even a private word with the manager on duty to take advantage of these little-known hacks—all perfectly legal, morally ethical, too. As for the quality, nutritional value and taste for what follows? That’s where you’re on your own.



As fast food goes, it’s hard to beat Chipotle Mexican Grill. The food is fresh and quite tasty. Now boasting 1,142 locations throughout the U.S. and one (so far) in Canada, Chipotle is, in the opinion of your humble columnist, as good as it gets. Here are a couple of ways to make it even better.

Nachos. It’s not on the menu, but it’s easy to get nachos at Chipotle. Just order a burrito bowl and then ask if you can get chips instead of rice at the bottom. No extra charge.

Double-wrap. If you want a sturdier burrito, ask for two tortilla shells when you give your burrito order. Fans of this method say it keeps the burrito from bursting, which can be a problem with a well-packed Chipotle burrito. No additional charge.