Category: Kitchen Tips
Thursday, October 16
One of the first things I learned in the kitchen in my early 20s was that it is really easy to cook tough, hard-to-chew chicken. The first time I baked a chicken recipe I was so disappointed with the outcome. The chicken was not tender and delicious at all and I hated that. I quickly mastered the art of pounding chicken, which always yielded tender, evenly-cooked chicken. I’ve used that technique for years and still love it.
BUT…my mother-in-law Pat shared another trick with me that is equally as magical and beyond easy. She got the tip from a kid in town who worked in a restaurant and it’s great! Just stab the you-know-what out of your uncooked chicken breasts with a fork on both sides. Like, lots and lots of stabbing. Like, you-really-need-to-vent-some-frustration-so-you-take-it-out-on-the-innocent-chicken lots of stabbing. You end up with tender chicken and a little mental therapy to boot!
I like this method because it’s less messy. When you use a mallet, you need to get a cutting board dirty, there’s the yucky plastic wrap to contend with and, of course, the mallet also needs to be cleaned. With this method you just need a fork and you can stab the chicken right in the dish it will cook in. Easy peasy! This technique is also good for marinade…lots of little holes to soak it all up!
Happy stabbing! (Chicken stabbing, people.)
Tuesday, October 14
I made an impulse buy at the grocery store this week: a Hutzler Onion Saver.
Here’s the thing. I never know how to store leftover, raw, unchopped onions, which I often have because I tend to only use half an onion at a time. I don’t like to use plastic baggies because of my goal to use less one-time use plastic. But the onion is usually kind of bulky, so I have to use a larger storage container than I really need that takes up space in the fridge. Basically, this is a very difficult problem to have and my life is hard. (Insert sarcastic emoji that doesn’t exist but should.)
Hence, my impulse buy of the onion saver. And, I LOVE it. Granted, I’ve only used it for 2 days and have no idea if it will last forever or whatever, but, so far, so good. It stores my onion well, doesn’t take up tons of space in the fridge, and traps in the onion odor so the fridge doesn’t get stinky.
Happy onion storing!
Thursday, October 9
I love me an empty refrigerator. This is a weird example of how my neurotic tendencies (a desire for cleanliness) overcome my survival instincts (having food to eat). It’s weird, but seriously, when the fridge is half-full (or would that be that half-empty?) it makes me happy! But, I’ll admit, my fridge is not always in such a clean, empty state. At any given moment we most certainly have food in there that needs to be tossed and I definitely don’t wipe down the shelves as often as I should. Let’s not even get started on the fingerprints on the outside of the fridge!
But here’s the thing – when I do properly maintain the fridge, keep the food fresh, and the drawers and shelves clean, I feel sooooo much better! And we have far less food waste. So, today, in order to inspire us all to maintain beautiful refrigerators and to eat all of our food, I think we need to share some fridge tips and tricks with each other!
As you know, about a year ago KitchenAid supplied us with a brand new, beautiful 20 Cu. Ft. French Door Counter Depth Architect Series II fridge. One year later and I am still loving this fridge. And, yes, I’m still happy that we have a counter-depth fridge, although I will admit that it’s been nice having our old fridge in the garage for overflow at the holidays and to house the occasional larger item like a birthday-cake-in-the-making. Anyway, the fridge is fabulous and, now that I have a fridge I actually care about, I’ve gotten into a better groove about maintaing the fridge and keeping our food fresh. Here are a few of the things I have learned!
- Replacing the Water Filter is Easy, So, You Know, Do It! I don’t know how many people I know who don’t use the water dispenser in their fridge because they stopped replacing the filter. Luckily our fridge tells us when to order a water filter. We listened to our fridge and went online to order the filter, which arrived right around the time that the fridge said it was time to replace the filter. It was kind of magical. Anyway, it was really easy to replace and I even did it ALL BY MYSELF, no help from Nate. (This is saying something, I normally don’t put anything together in our house, not even LEGOs.)
- Don’t Use Cleaners on Stainless Steel – A Damp Cloth is All You Need! Okay, I’m sure a lot of you already know this, but when my fridge was brand new I used a mild general-purpose spray cleaner and the entire front of the fridge ended up with tiny rust marks ALL OVER IT, which I then had to carefully scrub off with baking soda and a soft towel. I opened the manual afterward and, sure enough, it says to only use cleaners made for stainless steel and nothing else. DUH. Now I just use a damp towel to wipe down the stainless steel, followed by a dry towel. I don’t even bother with the stainless steel cleaner, water does the trick!
- Use the Humidity Controls on the Crisper Drawers. For some reason I could never wrap my brain around the humidity controls on produce drawers, but I finally have it figured out. The higher the humidity control (so on my fridge #5), the more sensitive the veggies and fruit should be in that drawer. So, you know, high maintenance produce gets a high setting. Like lettuce. The lower the humidity control (on my fridge #1), the heartier, more low-key the produce, like fruits and veggies with peels. I guess if you really don’t want to think about it just throw the setting in the middle and call it a day, but if you decide to utilize the settings, your produce will last longer!
- Clean Out the Fridge Once a Week (for example, when you plan your weekly menu!). Fridges packed with food seriously stress me out. I know, I’m weird. But they do. I try really hard to stay on top of it and keep food cleaned out that has gone bad. When I can actually see what’s in the fridge, we are much more likely to eat the food inside and end up with far less food going bad.
- Wipe Out the Fridge Regularly, and Don’t Be Afraid to Take the Shelves and Drawers Out. Sometimes I wipe the shelves and drawers out frequently. Sometimes I neglect them and then we discover a giant blob of sticky goo underneath the produce drawers. I find that if I just wipe out the shelves each week when I clean out the old food, then it’s pretty easy. And the mystery goo blobs don’t appear nearly as often.
- Get a Fridge with a Temperature Management System. When we got our fridge I’ll admit I didn’t think much about what KitchenAid’s “ExtendFresh Temperature Management System” meant. Now that I have had the fridge for a year I really appreciate it! The system controls the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer compartments separately, it responds to temperature changes as small as 1º and adjusts accordingly, and the fan transfers cold air immediately from the freezer to the fridge for a faster response to temperature changes without needing to turn on the compressor. The system also maintains consistent temperatures, regardless of external temperatures or even the temperature in other compartments inside the fridge. Basically, it’s a super fancy system and it works GREAT. There’s even an alarm that alerts you if the temperature goes too high, which happened to me just the other night in fact! The door was barely open when we went to bed, but it didn’t trigger the door alarm for some reason. Once the temperature raised enough, the fridge started beeping and woke me up, but not before I dreamed about the fridge and it’s alarm first.
So, what gems of refrigerator wisdom do you have for us? Spill your fridge maintenance guts! (Feel free to confess your less-than-perfect maintenance skills, too!)
This post was sponsored by KitchenAid. All opinions are 100% my own.
Tuesday, September 30
I am SOOOOO excited about today’s post for two reasons. Reason #1: how gorgeous is my birthday cake? (In case you’re wondering, the cake is from Extraordinary Desserts and is called The Viking. Nate buys this cake for me as a gift every year and it is the reason I live for my birthday.)
Reason #2 I am excited about today’s post: I have a spectacular new kitchen tip for you.
When Nate picked my cake up last week at Extraordinary Desserts, they told him to use a hot knife to cut the cake, a tip we already know and love (simply hold the knife under hot water for 45 seconds, dry it off and then cut – smooth as silk!). But they also taught him how to perfectly cut the first slice of cake, and it’s so simple! Here’s what they had to say on the subject:
“Use two knives to cut the first piece.”
Why we were never given that tip before I’ll never know, but I’ll tell you what. BEST. TIP. EVER. Nate mentioned their comment as we were about to cut the cake and were both like, “Two knives? Huh?” And then we tried it and WOW. It’s just so easy to slide that first slice right out of the cake when you have two hot knives simultaneously pulling it out. Amazing.
Just one more reason to love Extraordinary Desserts, as if I needed another! I will never be scared to cut into a cake again!
Side note: You can make this cake, the recipe is included in the book Extraordinary Cakes by Karen Krasne, the pastry chef behind Extraordinary Desserts. The cake involves six recipes…you’ve been warned!
Friday, September 26
Okay, so there’s a lot of “mom stuff” I don’t do. I’m not crafty. I don’t make baby food from scratch. I am a terrible gardener. The list goes on and ON. But I do absolutely love making my kids’ birthday cakes. Every year they tell me what they want and I figure out a way to make it happen! For Owen’s 3rd birthday he requested Ripslinger from the movie Planes, or as Owen put it, “the green bad guy plane.” I was a little nervous but I pulled it off! The best part was Owen loved it and today he’s asked multiple times to see pictures of the cake. (That splash sound you hear is me turning into a puddle on the floor.)
This cake was one of the easier ones I’ve done, so I have to share the step-by-step with you. Here’s how to make an airplane birthday cake!
- Bake a 9″x13″ standard cake. I used my favorite chocolate cake recipe (which you can find in this linked post) and it made for a nice tall cake, which gave the plane more height. I doubled the frosting recipe in that same post, which gave me enough frosting for the crumb coat and final coat with a bit left over.
- After you bake the cake, freeze it. Once it’s frozen, make one cut as shown in the diagram below, then flip one of the pieces so it lines up with the other piece perfectly when you stack them.
- The fat end of the triangle you created is the front of the plane – the smaller end is the back of the plane. Shape the front to round it off. Once the cake was done, I wished I had also angled the back end of the plane down a bit so that the entire plan had an upward slant towards the front of the plane, instead of just parallel to the ground (know what I mean?). Feel free to play with the shape or just keep it super simple like I did.
- I used one of the pieces of cake I cut off the front when shaping the nose of the plane to create the cockpit on top.
- Frost between the layers, and then follow the directions in my cake-making guide post for frosting (freezing cake, crumb coat, etc.) The beauty of this cake is you only need ONE COLOR OF FROSTING! Save a bit of white for the window, but other than that you can just make all the frosting one color.
- For the wings and things, I used cardstock! Just cut them into the shape you like and then stick the shaped wings and things right into the cake. You can get colored cardstock or just color white cardstock with a permament marker the color you want he wings to be. (Since I was making Ripslinger, I also made the flames out of cardstock colored with permanent markers and stuck them to the side using frosting as glue.) Don’t worry, no marker transferred to the frosting anywhere!
- The propellors were 2 popsicle sticks colored with black Sharpee marker, broken in half and then stuck in the front. I should have put a black circle of frosting or a Junior Mint on the front in the middle of the propellors. I didn’t, but you can!
- White frosting and black piped frosting made the window in the cockpit, and chocolate chips, stuck pointy side in, served as the eyes.
Show and tell time! I just have one quick share today. I put together a really fun post for Babble of CRAZY stuff my friends’ kids have eaten. It’s pretty awesome. Be sure to click through and check it out!
As usual, feel free to share anything you like in the comments, it’s show and tell after all!
Posted by Jane Maynard at 1:01 pm 8 Comments
Categories: birthday cakes, kids, Kitchen Tips, sweet things Tags: airplane birthday cake, birthday cake decorating, birthday cakes, cake decorating, friday show and tell, kids birthday cakes |
Wednesday, August 27
Today I have a quick kitchen tip, which involves sharing yet another awesome find from my recent unexpected shopping spree on the King Arthur Flour website. In fact, today’s item is what started the whole shopping spree to begin with!
I love my silicon baking mats and use them multiple times every week. (Side note: if you don’t have one already, hop to it!) As much I use my SILPAT, I do still use parchment paper for various projects, including when I make granola bars each week. (Side note #2: I cook granola bars on parchment paper, then tear the paper into small pieces to place between the layers of granola bars in my storage container. Works great!)
I don’t remember the details, but for some reason one day on Facebook two of my food blogging friends Barbara and Diane told me about flat parchment baking sheets. I had always just bought parchment paper in a roll at the grocery store and didn’t even know flat sheets existed. Diane and Barbara told me how awesome the sheets were so I decided to order some on the King Arthur website (along with many, many, many other wonderful items I didn’t know I needed but totally did).
Anyway, the bottom line is that I love the parchment paper sheets just as much as Diane and Barbara do. Those ladies were so right. The flat sheets are much easier to work with than the rolled up paper, which tends to curl easily when you’re trying to lay it out, and they fit perfectly in a cookie sheet. The flat parchment sheets are also easier to cut down to different sizes when making cakes. (Side note #3: You can also buy 9-inch and 8-inch round parchment paper sheets if you really don’t want to ever have to cut parchment paper yourself again.) One last benefit is the sheets that I got at King Arthur are also reusable. They’re pretty much magic.
Barbara lives in Utah and gets her parchment paper sheets at Orson Gygi. I am not fortunate enough to have a wonderful restaurant supply store near where I live, which is why I ordered mine online from King Arthur.
Happy parchment papering!
Tuesday, August 12
About six months ago I needed to order some parchment paper sheets from King Arthur and then proceeded to get totally sucked in and bought way more stuff than I was planning on (like the tulip baking cups). I had been wanting a bread box, mostly for when I make homemade bread. I had done some research but hadn’t found anything that I thought would work well.
Then I noticed this expandable bread keeper on the King Arthur site. It caught my eye for two reasons. First, it’s expandable. Second, it had an air vent. The biggest complaint I found with other bread boxes was that bread would go moldy. The vent seemed like the answer.
So, I bought the expandable bread keeper, got it in the mail, and then stuck it in a cupboard and forgot about it. Like, my-friend-Debbie-texted-me-one-day-and-asked-if-I-had-a-bread-box-and-I-told-her-no forgot about it. When we got home from vacation this summer, I stumbled on the bread box, broke it out and started using it. AND I LOVE IT.
The vent works great and has two settings, depending on how humid your climate is or if your bread is warm. I love that it can expand to different sized loaves, and it’s really tall so you can fit a lot in there. And there is also a little mini bread board inside, making it really easy to slice off the bread you need and then put it away.
This bread keeper is great for homemade bread but I do also use it for breads we buy at the store that come in paper bags (like fresh French and Italian breads). I’m using less plastic bags AND the bread keeps better. We even stored leftover muffins in there and it worked great – since the bread keeper is so tall, I just stacked two layers of muffins inside.
I had a loaf of crusty bread go moldy the other day, but it had been in there for a whole week, so, you know, obviously it went moldy. And it actually stayed UN-moldy much longer than when it’s in a plastic bag.
So, there you have it. I love my expandable bread keeper and I’ll never forget its existence ever again! If you’re in the market for a bread box, I know it’s not as cute as some of the metal retro ones out there, but I think the function on this far exceeds the need for a glamorous bread box. Just sayin’.
Anyone have any bread box advice? Do you have on you love? Tell us about it!
Posted by Jane Maynard at 9:48 am 5 Comments
Categories: fab faves, Kitchen Tips, the goods Tags: bread box, bread keeper, expandable bread keeper, king arthur flour, kitchen equipment, kitchen gadgets, kitchen tips |
Tuesday, August 5
The last night we were in New Hampshire this summer we were planning to build a fire and make s’mores. But then we got lazy and didn’t feel like doing the whole fire thing. But we did still feel like doing the whole s’more thing, especially since we had amazing chocolate bark and homemade coconut marshmallows from the Granite State Candy Shoppe that needed to be s’morified stat.
I was suggesting that maybe we just microwave a few s’mores. This does not make for the very best s’mores in the world but the technique works when you find yourself in a s’more emergency, which I’m sure happens all the time. My sister-in-law Hannah, however, suddenly had a stroke of genius, and that genius was quickly named the S’Morrito (she’s good with words like that). The grill was still fired up from dinner and she figured wrapping s’mores up in foil (s’mores that look like burritos…s’morritos…get it?) and throwing them on the grill should work pretty well. It actually worked great.
Not only is this a great way to make s’mores, but it’s an especially great way to serve s’mores at a party. Here’s what I recommend:
- Set up a s’mores bar, complete with graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows, as well as a bunch of pieces of aluminum foil and a Sharpee marker.
- Everyone then makes their own s’mores, wraps the uncooked s’mores in foil and puts their initials on the foil with the marker.
- Put all of the completed s’morritos on the grill and, voila, s’mores everyone can enjoy at the same time!
As for the taste, I’m sure some of you have questions. Yes, s’morritos taste good. Yes, the warmed graham cracker is actually totally and completely wonderful. Yes, the marshmallow gets a little browned on the edges even in the foil. Yes, your s’mores will be totally gooey but who cares because they’re supposed to be. Yes, the marshmallow and chocolate heat very evenly. Yes, I may never make s’mores the old way again. (Fair warning: the s’mores are hot and super gooey when you first take them off the grill. If you let them cool for 5-10 minutes, they become less so.)S'Morritos!Prep timeCook timeTotal timeS'Mores on the Grill - a great way to serve s'mores to a crowd!Author: Jane MaynardRecipe type: DessertIngredients
- Graham crackers
- Chocolate of your choice (I've stopped buying Hershey's bars and we use Dove chocolates now - it's just that much better. And, if you really want to go gourmet, buy some super fancy chocolate like we did in NH. It's kind of amazing.)
- Heat grill on low. (If you want to try this in your oven, go for around 400º F)
- Place graham cracker on the center of a piece of aluminum foil. Layer with chocolate then marshmallow then another graham cracker. Wrap carefully so you don't break the crackers inside.
- Place on grill chocolate side UP, close grill lid and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Open grill, flip s'morritos then cook for another 2-3 more minutes. (Experiment with the time based on how hot your individual grill gets.)
- Remove from grill, unwrap and dig in.
- The s'morritos are especially gooey when it comes to s'mores since everything is warm and melted. You can dig in right away, but you've been warned. If you let them cool for 5-10 minutes, they may be a bit more manageable. If you decide to eat them hot off the grill, be sure to lift them out of the foil by lifting from the bottom so as to avoid squishing all the good stuff out before you even take a bite!
Thursday, July 31
A couple years ago I started noticing really cute muffin liners at coffee shops that sort of stuck up on top. I had been keeping my eye out for them at the store but never found them anywhere. Then, one day when I sent on a mini shopping spree on the King Arthur website, there they were. Tulip muffin papers. I of course put them in my cart immediately! Imagine my delight when I found them a few months later at Target. Yay!
Tulip baking cups are my new favorite baking cups, a.k.a. muffin papers, a.k.a. muffin liners, a.k.a. cupcake liners, a.k.a. they have a lot of names, apparently. Whatever you call them, they are wicked cute and I’m loving them!
Here’s why I like tulip liners:
- Tulip liners are really easy to separate when you’re putting them in the pan. Makes them a bit quicker to set up than traditional baking cups, which I almost always accidentally double up a few times per batch.
- No batter spillover on your pans! I think this is my most favorite aspect of these liners.
- They’re purrrrty.
- If you’re in a pinch and find yourself without cupcake liners, you can make your own tulip liners using small squares of parchment paper. Just Google “diy tulip cupcake liners” and you’ll find a plethora of tutorials.
A few more notes for when you use them as well as where to buy them:
- You can cook cupcakes as well as muffins in these liners, although I have yet to make cupcakes myself. If you make cupcakes, you’ll need to pipe on the frosting.
- If you make muffins with these liners, you’re not really going to get a “muffin top.” The tops still get the same texture as a normal muffin, but they don’t have that classic muffin top shape. In fact, it’s pretty much stump central. (When Nate and I realized I was making muffin stumps, it made us laugh so hard. It’s safe to say Elaine would not like these muffin liners.)
- When filling the liners with batter, do so carefully. If you drip or accidentally get batter on the upper part of the liner, it will bake to a dark color so you’re liner will have ugly spots. Not the end of the world but something to keep in mind.
- Like I mentioned, I recently found PaperChef tulip baking cups at Target. You can also buy tulip liners online at various sites like the King Arthur website and Amazon. Please note if you order them from somewhere online, depending on how they are packaged when shipped they may arrived “squished.” I was able to straighten mine out after some careful bending. Customer reviews on Amazon mentioned the same problem with some of the liners you can order there.
Wow. I had no idea I had so much to say on the subject of tulip baking cups.
Thursday, July 24
Friends, I need to do a follow-up post about scoops because I didn’t realize a little something about my scoops until now. My sister-in-law Cora said that I needed to do a follow-up!
Three years ago I wrote a post about how you absolutely need a scoop (or two) in your kitchen. I still firmly stand by that advice. HOWEVER…I learned this summer that there is a second bit of advice that I should have also included that I didn’t know was important. Not only do you need a scoop (or two), you need a Pampered Chef scoop.
Here’s the deal. When I went to New Jersey this summer I made cookies at my mom’s house. When I went to make the cookie dough balls, I got out the scoop that I had given her last year, a scoop that I had purchased at Michael’s and was not cheap, by the way. As I pulled it out of the drawer, my sister-in-law said, “Ugh, I’ve gone through three scoops since you wrote that post about scoops. They always break on me!” I was stunned to hear this.
And then I started scooping dough and the scoop kept getting jammed and the little swivel thingy kept getting pulled into the wrong place. It was basically the biggest pain ever. Cora was aboslutely right. The scoop could not handle a batch of cookie dough. It kinda blew my mind.
I have NEVER had any issues whatsoever with my Pampered Chef scoops. They are in the exact same condition as the day I got them, they never get jammed, they have never broken and I can make a billion cookie dough balls with no issues. Cora and I realized that my advice to “Get a scoop” really should have been “Get a Pampered Chef scoop.” I had no idea that it made such a difference!
Pampered Chef sells three sizes of scoops:
- Large Scoop (~3 tablespoons): perfect for making pancakes and filling muffin tins.
- Medium Scoop (~2 tablespoons): perfect for standard-sized cookies
- Small Scoop (~1 tablespoon): also good for cookies, just smaller ones
If you’re only going to get one scoop, go with the medium, especially if you’re getting it specifically for making cookies. It’s a great size.
This post is in no way sponsored by Pampered Chef. I just needed to tell you how much better their scoops are! And also apologize if you, like Cora, have been feeling frustrated the the scoop you may have gotten based on my advice.
Also, as usual, I love your feedback! If you have another brand of scoop that is equally as awesome as my Pampered Chef scoops, please share it with us!