"what I'm not sure about is how to compile a program with the cross compler instead of the machine just using the the gcc that's installed on the system? How do I know the programs been complied for MIPS as opposed to the native environment of the development machine (the PC)?"
When you issue the gcc command you include the -b parameter to tell it to cross compile. Without the -b parameter it will compile for the native machine. See:
for a detailed explanation.
"Also, if anyone could point me to some how-to on this subject, I'd really appreciate it. I've searched for a week now, and have found info on building the cross compiler, but very little on how to actually use it."
The first place to look is:
Here is a gcc HOWTO:
Here is a HOWTO on cross compiling although the object computer is different than yours:
Be prepared. Create a LifeBoat CD.