Tip My Toque: Chef on a Shoestring 1997-2012 or dear CBS, Bring This Back!

Chef on a Shoestring was a series on the CBS Early Show:Saturday edition from the late 90s into the 2000s. CBS has changed up its morning hosts and format several times in the last 20 years. I fear this segment isn’t coming back anytime soon. As Americans struggle with obesity, unemployment, pinched family budgets, and food stamp funding cuts, the segment’s content is more relevant than ever.

According to its Wikipedia page, Executive Producer Hal Gressner was solely responsible for Chef on a Shoestring.

Each week, they would ask a high profile chef or TV food personality to make a 3 course dinner, for a family of 4, for under $40. 

In the 90s, they calculated the receipt onscreen, then showed that gorgeous, unbelievable-for-under-$40 prepared dinner. If that wasn’t enough, it was usually very healthy too—a little meat, and a whole lot of fresh veggies and herbs. And dessert wasn’t what I would call a diabetes bomb. To help the Share Our Strength charity, they produced a recipe book in 2001; a re-issue was published in 2004 (the link takes you to the Amazon page).

Some segments from the 2000s are available on Youtube, like Chef John Mooney’s Winter Comfort Food.

Saving money and eating well never go out of style. ‘So Chef on a Shoestring, I tip my toque to you, and hope you, or another series like yours, will return to the tv news “menu” sometime soon.

Tip My Toque: Old Bay Seasoning

Here on the coast of South Carolina, it’s the time of year when the shrimp boats are blessed by local ministers. Blessings and prayers are made for a safe season and a bountiful catch. There are also many seafood festivals along the coastline for shrimp and blue crab. [Oyster season is traditionally over until next fall.]

Since it is seafood festival season, I was curious about the story behind Old Bay seasoning.


Old Bay hails from the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. It was created by Gustav Brunn, a German immigrant, in the early 1940s. It contains allspice, bay leaf, black pepper, cardamom, celery seed, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg, paprika, red pepper, and salt. (In recent years, a lower salt variety has been introduced to the product line.)

Old Bay was named for the Old Bay Line, a steamship that made regular trips between Baltimore and Norfolk in the early 20th century.

It’s trademark packaging is a mustard yellow canister or label, with 2 perpendicular royal blue bands on the left side. In the horizontal blue bar, OLD BAY is written in bold white capital letters. Seventy years later, the packaging has a unmistakable look and a vintage quality. Old Bay had consistent branding, long before everyone was talking about the importance of “branding”. And it continues today.

In the Chesapeake area, Old Bay is offered as a condiment in movie theaters, at delis, sandwich franchises, and many restaurants. In other areas, Old Bay is available at any establishment serving fish and shellfish.

While it was designed for seafood, other uses include seasoning popcorn, cooked eggs, potato chips, tater tots, french fries, corn on the cob, and salads.

Tip My Toque: Mrs. Dash

A new study published by the CDC indicates the average American gets about 1000 more milligrams of salt than the CDC recommends. Older persons and at-risk persons are getting 1800 more milligrams than they need. Excess salt is in most of the food at restaurants, and shelf-stable foods at the grocery store, and we don’t even know it’s there.

It got me thinking about Mrs. Dash and the forward-thinking Carol Bernick. Mrs. Dash Original Blend first went to market in 1981.

Carol Bernick, its creator, was an employee of Alberto-Culver. Bernick wanted to flavor her home cooking without salt, and was dissatisfied with what was offered in the spice aisle. So she mixed several spices together at home, tried it and was pleased. I am assuming her family was as well, because she provided the recipe to her company, and Alberto Culver began production. It’s been over 30 years now, and today, Mrs. Dash has a much bigger product line–11 spice blends, 3 grilling blends, and 6 bottled marinades.

The spice blends have the following distinctions in their packaging:

Original Blend (yellow cap), Garlic & Herb (aqua cap), Table Blend ( dark green cap), Extra Spicy (red cap), Onion & Herb (purple cap), Lemon Pepper (orange cap), Italian Medley (kelly green cap), Tomato Basil Garlic (dark red cap), Southwest Chipotle (rust brown cap), Fiesta Lime (lime green cap), Caribbean Citrus (blue cap). All the grilling blends have a black cap, so you have to read the label for steak, chicken, etc.

These days, Mrs. Dash is the most popular salt-free, sulfite-free and MSG-free spice blend on the market. And it is still somewhat of an anomaly in shelved foods; about 99% of other shelved or stored food products contain too much salt–for addictive flavor and preservation. This is why Lays always bet you couldn’t eat just one.

So Mrs. Dash, I tip my toque to you.

For more information about the CDC report, click here.

Tip My Toque: Newman’s Own, a social enterprise born in the 1980s. ‘Like, really.

Late last week was the anniversary of Paul Newman’s birthday. And it got me thinking about his brand, Newman’s Own.

Before Tom’s Shoes, Warby Parker glasses, and global corporation charitable efforts were commonplace, there was Newman’s Own, a social enterprise born in the early 1980s. ‘Like, fer shurr, those “greed is good”, “Reaganomics” 1980s.

As legend has it, actor Paul Newman and author AE Hotchner had a family salad dressing recipe. They made a big batch and gave it away at the holidays. It was so good though, it was a shame to only enjoy it on special occasions. This sparked an idea for a business venture.

The brand was called Newman’s Own, and an illustration of Newman’s face would be featured on all the products, under the brand name in a ripply, rustic-looking font. Depending on the origin of food, Newman would appear in ethnic costume, a hat, jacket, or full regalia. For example, French-influenced items feature Newman in a beret. For products with vodka in them, it’s a ushanka and a mustache. For American Southwest-style foods, it’s a cowboy hat, blue shirt and neck kerchief. For Mexican-style foods, it’s a poncho and sombrero.

From humble beginnings in salad dressing, Newman’s Own expanded in all directions. The brand now includes pasta sauce, salsa, frozen dinners, frozen pizza, and wine, just to name a few. For a full list of their product line, see their website here.

In 1993, Paul’s daughter Nell started a new division of the company called Newman’s Own Organics. Labels on these foods feature Nell and Paul dressed in American Gothic style. Olive oil, fig cookies, sandwich cookies, pretzels, popcorn, peanut butter candy, peppermint candy, candy bars, dried fruits, fair trade coffee and vinegars are just some of the products in this brand. Their website can be found here.

Newman died in the fall of 2008, but Newman’s Own continues on. As of July 2011, they have donated $300 million to charity. That’s phenomenal. What’s also phenomenal is social enterprises are much more commonplace today as compared to 30 years ago. People who feel very fortunate and happy with their lives feel a yearning to give back and pass that good fortune on. The phrase “give back” is heard among individuals and corporate entities alike.

So Newman’s Own, I tip my toque to you.