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Chefs' Culinary Secrets & Cooking Philosophies







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Chefs' Culinary Secrets & Cooking Philosophies | Jeff Smith, Tom Colicchio, & Paula Deen

Compiled by Vicki McClure Davidson



Cutlery image Jeff Smith

Acclaimed 1980s TV celebrity and chef known as "The Frugal Gourmet" and the shortened nickname "The Frug"; owner of Chaplain's Pantry in Tacoma, Washington, in the 1970s, was an ordained Protestant minister. Jeff's national television career took off when he appeared on the Phil Donahue Show; his popular TV show was the most watched cooking show in the US at the time. Author of a dozen successful cookbooks, including The Frugal Gourmet, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine, and The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American. Died in 2004.


"When making green salads, wash the greens, and then roll them up in a terry-cloth bath towel. Refrigerate the towel until serving time. The lettuce will be crisp and dry."

"Hint on keeping cut apples from turning brown: Prevent this problem by cutting the apples and immediately placing them in salt water or water in which you have placed a bit of lemon juice. The problem of browning is gone. This also works for pears."

"Barley is a most interesting and frugal grain. The flavor is delicious and you can put it in soups, stews, casseroles, even salads. I have used it in every cook book that I have done and I want you to think about using it more in your whole family cooking. Rice swells and doubles when it cooks, but barley grows to three to four times its original size. Good stuff, that barley!"

"Oxtails have been given a bad name. I suppose it is because we don't want to think of eating animals' tails. Yet we will eat tons of ground-up hamburger. Where do the kids think hamburger comes from?!"

"Pasta is quick and fulfilling. No, I do not think that you have to make your own pasta from scratch, though that is great for a special party. Buy good-quality dried pasta and you will be just fine. Stay away from cheap supermarket brands and purchase pasta that is 100 percent pure semolina wheat. It will not go soggy on you while you are preparing dinner."

"I do eat lots of vegetable dishes and I really do believe that we have all eaten too much red meat in our culture. Perhaps we should think as do the Chinese. They claim that meat, especially red meat, is to be used for flavoring a vegetable dish. Our dear Thomas Jefferson made the same claim, and that is how he cooked and ate."

Extracted from: Smith, Jeff, The Frugal Gourmet Whole Family Cookbook, William Morrow & Company, NY, 1992.


"Do not overcook this dish. Most seafoods... should be simply threatened with heat and then celebrated with joy."

Extracted from: Bay Gourmet website, (


"Lamb should never be cooked well done. It should be a tiny bit pink on the inside. Then the flavor will not be gamey or strong, but will be light and tender."

"When preparing vegetables for soup or stew or even red paste sauce, be sure to sauté or brown them in a frying pan first. This will brown the natural sugar in the vegetables and give your soup, stew, or sauce additional color and flavor."

"You can make your own pepper oil by heating 1 cup peanut oil to about 350 deg F. Add 4 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes and remove from the heat. Let this cool and stand for two days and you are ready to cook."

"We're lucky our markets carry so many greens the year around. There are butter lettuce, romaine, endive, and the common iceberg. All these are good, but I prefer the beautiful red leaf. It is tender, light in flavor, and colorful. But it does not keep as well as the old iceberg, so be careful with it."

Extracted from: Smith, Jeff, The Frugal Gourmet, Ballantine Books, NY, 1984.



Chef foods divider


Cutlery image Tom Colicchio

Chef and co-owner of New York's celebrated Gramercy Tavern, ranked New Yorkers' #1 favorite restaurant in the 2003 Zagat Survey, as well as chef/owner of Craft, the 2002 James Beard Best New Restaurant in America. Received the 2000 James Beard Award for Best Chef in New York City, and a James Beard award for Best General Cookbook in 2001 for his first cookbook, Think Like a Chef; recipient of five James Beard Foundation Medals as of 2008. In 2002, opened Craftbar, a casual adjunct to Craft, CraftSteak in Las Vegas' MGM Grand Hotel, and introduced CraftKitchen, a line of olive oils and condiments imported from Calabria, Italy. In 2003, opened 'Wichcraft next door to Craftbar in New York's Flatiron district, bringing Craft's ethic of simplicity and great ingredients to the ever-popular sandwich. Nominated for an Emmy for reality show Top Chef.


"There is always the next hot young thing coming up with great ideas, limitless energy, unbridled enthusiasm. The chef who rests on his laurels and ceases to invent is yesterday's news. The diners who eat in my place are spending their money somewhere else the next night, and you better believe they'll be comparing notes. I think of it this way: my guests wait eight weeks for a table. They may be celebrating a birthday, and important anniversary, or planning to propose. If we ruin their meal, they'll take little consolation in the notion that we usually get it right, that overall we are the best at what we do, that this was just an off night. They certainly don't care whether I'm likable or telegenic."

Extracted from: Creators of Top Chef and Tom Colicchio, Top Chef, The Cookbook, Bravo Media, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA, 2008.


"Braising is a combination of two techniques: dry cooking initially (browning), then moist cooking, when the food is transferred to a pot with some liquid and cooked gently until finished. Each method teases a different quality from the finished dish. Braised food is comfort food in the truest sense of the word."
"Hundreds of years ago, there were countless varieties of tomatoes that ranged wildly in size, shape, and color—from the palest white-green to deep eggplant purple... In recent years, as consumers have learned the difference between vegetables that are mass-produced and those carefully grown on small farms, farmers have labored to bring back old strains like Brandywine, Tiger Stripe, Yellow Nugget, and John Gold onto the market. Whenever possible, try to buy your tomatoes at a farmstand or a market that specializes in good produce, and don't be afraid of variations in color, size, shape, and markings. When tomatoes are at their peak, do as I do: slice them, then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper."
"Salsify is an autumn vegetable, with a slightly sweet flavor that some liken to an oyster, and a potato-like texture that lends itself well to roasting. Like a potato, it needs to be cooked slowly to keep it from becoming mushy. I accomplish this by braising the salsify gently in a little stock, which also adds a nice rich flavor, before roasting. Salsify is especially good with roasted meat and poultry."
"Nowadays, fresh herbs can be purchased in just about any good supermarket. Although most recipes call for only one sprig or two, don't be deterred by the size of a package of supermarket herbs. Buy the whole thing and use liberally; unlike dried, you run little risk of overpowering a dish with most fresh herbs. To wash, dip herbs into a bowl of cool water or under a thin stream of tap water. Always use a very sharp knife to chop herbs and do so only at the last moment—never in advance."
"To clean thin asparagus, simply trim the dry bottoms and peel off any small leaves. For thicker stalks, hold one stalk on each end and bend, noting where it breaks naturally, then trim the rest in approximately the same place. Peel the woody stems, the way you'd peel a carrot."
"Before washing morels, taste one first, and only wash it if it tastes gritty, since washing saps them of some of their flavor. If they need it, drop the morels into a bowl of water and lift out with your hands, then blot dry on paper towels."

Extracted from: Colicchio, Tom, Think Like a Chef, Clarkson N. Potter, Crown Publishing Group, NY, NY, 2000.


Chef foods divider


Cutlery image Paula Deen

Popular Southern cook on the Food Network, emphasizes easy-to-make comfort foods. Sometimes called "Queen of Southern Cuisine." Her success on cable TV was not planned. Following personal tragedies (has agoraphobia, both her parents died by the time she was 23, was divorced and with two small sons, was robbed at gunpoint while working as a bank teller), she was virtually house-bound because of her phobia for more than a decade. After her divorce, she needed to earn an income and had to fight her phobia so that she could support herself and her two young sons, Jamie and Bobby. She turned to her Southern-style cooking skills and started up a small catering service, The Bag Lady, making sandwiches and other meals, and her sons delivering them. Her specialty chicken salad was so popular, she was later hired by a Best Western Hotel in Savannah to cook; five years later, she opened her own restaurant, The Lady and Sons, in Savannah. The restaurant was a success and later moved into a larger building in Savannah’s Historic District. She successfully published a cookbook, appeared on Doorknock Dinners, where several episodes were filmed in Savannah. Appeared on Ready, Set, Cook! and got her own show in 2003, Paula's Home Cooking. An appearance on Oprah Winfrey's show, where she shared her inspirational life story, solidified her name across the country with millions of women viewers. Paula remarried in 2004 to Michael Groover, a Savannah port tugboat pilot.


"A long time ago, I'd decided we'd only serve Southern cooking. My roots were Southern, and I had to be true to myself. I always believed the old saying, 'Do what you know.' I couldn't have pretended I was some European chef. I would have made an ass of myself. But I knew I was a Southern cook, with Southern plantation cuisine my specialty, and couldn't nobody trick me there. So, that's what I had to do. Fried chicken, for example, was always on the buffet, and we always had a second meat that would change daily. The other meat choice could be meat loaf, it could be country fried steak and gravy, it could be pot roast, it could be fried or baked pork chops. There were a few menu items written in stone: fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens. Those there things would never change. Why? We listened to our customers, and we found that they wanted to know every time they came in that those three were going to be on the buffet menu. They also wanted rice and gravy. They would have killed you for my pan-fried corn."

Extracted from: Deen, Paula, with Sherry Suib Cohen, Paula Deen, It Ain't All About the Cookin' - A Memoir, Simon & Schuster, NY, NY, 2007.


"To season a cast-iron skillet, wash a new skillet with hot, soapy water and a stiff brush. Rinse and dry completely. With a paper towel, rub a layer of vegetable shortening on the entire surface, both inside and out, including the lid. Line the lower oven rack with aluminum foil to catch any drips, and place the skillet upside down in a preheated 350 deg. F oven for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and allow the skillet to cool before removing from the oven. After each use, clean with hot water and a stiff brush; never use soap or dishwashing liquid, and never place the seasoned pan in the dishwasher. Dry completely and place in a warm oven to completely dry out before storing."

Extracted from: Deen, Paula, Paula Deen & Friends: Living It Up, Southern Style, Simon & Schuster, NY, NY, 2005.


"Red potatoes or "new" potatoes are far superior for use in any potato recipe. For great convenience in preparing a variety of potato recipes, keep cooked red potatoes in the refrigerator at all times. They can be used on the spur of the moment for potato salad, has browns, or French fries. They will keep at least a week in the refrigerator if they are well drained."

"Unless specifically instructed to put your dish in a cold oven to begin baking, you should always preheat the oven to to the temperature required."

"Remember, 1-1/2 cups corn syrup equals 1 cup sugar dissolved in 1/2 cup water."

Extracted from Deen, Paula, and Berendt, John, The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook, Random House, NY, NY, 1997.


"I think the secret to making good chicken salad is keepin' it simple. I don't like to throw nuts or fruits or all of that stuff in mine. I like just your basic ingredients—your eggs, your celery, your salt, your pepper, a little onion, and you're good to go. Not many people put eggs in chicken salad. I also like to also put in a little chicken broth in mine to make it creamy."

Extracted from: Mohajer, Holly, Mo's Dinner owner, blog video interview, "Only in Raleigh Does a Local Raleigh Restaurant Owner Get to Interview Paula Deen," Southern Secrets with Paula Deen, ( / only-in-raleigh-does-a-local-raleigh-restaurant-owner-get-to-interview-paula-deen/), June 13, 2008.


"You know, sometimes you really don't realize what an impression a homemade gift makes on somebody. Jamie told me one day, "Momma, do you remember when at Christmastime, you'd go out and buy those little glass jars and you'd fill 'em with all your homemade candy and put a ribbon on 'em and that would be my gift to my teachers? I would be so proud. I remember my chest puffing out when the teacher would say, 'Jamie, thank you so much. That was the most wonderful candy I have ever eaten.' Momma," he said, "you will never, never know how proud those homemade candies made me feel." When you don't have much money, a simple gift of food delivered in a brown paper bag that you have sponge-painted with a Christmas tree or holly leaf can send such a personal message of sharing and caring."

Extracted from: Deen, Paula, Christmas with Paula Deen: Recipes and Stories from My Favorite Holiday, Simon & Schuster, NY, NY, 2007.


"When I was little, I learned to cook mainly from my Grandmomma Paul. She was a masterful cook, but more than that, she loved me, and the wise words she gave me about how she felt about cookin' and how to ripen fruits and break bread and fix the occasional cookin' calamity were far more important than even her wonderful recipes."

Extracted from: Deen, Paul, with Sherry Suib Cohen, Paula Deen's Kitchen Wisdom and Recipe Journal, Simon & Schuster, NY, NY, 2008.


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