Category: Kitchen Tips
Friday, July 4
Right now I’m visiting my parents in New Jersey. My brother and his wife had TONS of fresh basil from their garden, so they decided to try drying it in my mom’s old food dehydrator.
Drying the basil was easy and very hands off, BUT here are a few things we learned:
- A LOT of fresh basil makes just a LITTLE dried basil. The basil you see in the photos is all the dried basil we got from 8 large trays of fresh basil.
- It takes a looooooong time for the basil to get completely dry. We followed the instructions and cooked the basil at 105ºF. The dehydrator was running for about TWO days. It’s an old deyhdrator, so maybe a new one would be different, but holy smokes it took forever!
- If you already have a food dehydrator or know someone who has one, it’s definitely worth drying basil if you have a whole bunch because it’s so easy. However, if you’re only planning to make dried basil with your dehydrator, it’s definitely not worth buying one. At least that’s what we think!
Here are my posts on Cosmo this week!
Show and tell! Feel free to share whatever you like!
Thursday, June 26
We’ve all been there. You have beautiful, perfectly-ripe avocados ready to be used…but you’re not ready to use them! Oftentimes it is simply because all of the avocados get ripe at the same time, but you don’t need all of the avocados at the same time. I do this frequently – I stock up on avocados when they’re on sale and then, suddenly one day, they are all ready to go but I just don’t need them all at once. Never fear, just because the avocados are ripe and ready to go doesn’t mean you have to use them right away. You have two options. I use both of these techniques all the time and they both work great! 1. Refrigerate the Avocados: I learned this trick on Good Eats over ten years ago and do it all the time. If you’re planning to use the ripe avocados within a week or so, just put them in the fridge, whole and uncut. The cold will essentially freeze the avocados in time, preventing them ripening further but keeping them nice and yummy for eating. This is perfect if you know you’ll want to use the avocados within a week or so and the avocados will work whether you plan to use them as chunks/slices or in guacamole. 2. Freeze the Avocados: That’s right you can freeze avocados! I learned this trick from my friends at California Avocados. This works great if you are not going to be using the avocados relatively soon and if you plan to use them in mashed up form (i.e. for guacamole). I recorded a little video for you to show you how to prep ripe avocados for the freezer! Also, in case you missed it the first time, this is hands down the best way ever to cut and pit an avocado. Life changing. Happy avocado eating and storing!
Tuesday, June 24
The 4th of July is the biggest sales time of year for avocados. Avocados are in season and, well, apparently we like guacamole on the Fourth! In anticipation of us all using a lot of avocados over the next week, I thought I’d do a couple avocado posts. Today I am going to share with you my new favorite kitchen gadget: the avocado masher!
When I visited the California Avocado groves last month, they kindly gave us all a goody bag, which included this masher. It’s essentially a mini potato masher, about 6 1/2 inches long. I’ve always used my beloved pastry blender to mash up avocados and thought that it would be my favorite tool for the job from now until the end of time. I was wrong. My new pint-sized potato masher is PERFECT for mashing up avocados. It’s just the right size and works beautifully. Plus, it’s easy to rinse off and clean, with no tiny holes, seams or hinges to deal with.
The tag on my mini masher actually said “avocado masher” on it. I looked around online and couldn’t find the exact one that I own, but there seem to be lots of good options if you do a little googling. This avocado/mini masher on Amazon is 8-inches long, so just a smidge bigger than mine, but I’m sure it would work great, too. When you’re out and about shopping, just keep an eye out for your perfect avocado masher. I’m sure you’ll love this little gadget as much as I do!
Wednesday, June 4
Until a few years ago I had zero serving trays or platters to my name. For some reason, I didn’t get any as wedding gifts and then never thought to buy any. I finally acquired a few white ceramic serving platters. They’re nice and all but, honestly, I hardly ever use them. They just aren’t very versatile and are too heavey for easy, everyday use. And, even with those few platters, I still didn’t own any actual trays.
The trays pictured above are from Q Squared NYC’s Montecito line. These are the trays we probably use the most. Nate was especially happy on Mother’s Day when they had a tray to bring me breakfast in bed!
A few months ago when I started working with Q Squared NYC, they sent me several serving trays and platters. Suddenly I was flush with melamine serving trays in different sizes and shapes, and every last one of them was completely adorable.
These fun kids serving trays have come in especially handy for snack time during playdates! My kids think they’re super cute and I don’t have to worry about anyone breaking anything!
When I first discovered Q Squared, I was mostly excited about their dishes and flatware. Little did I know my most favorite items would be the serving trays! The longer I have them, the more I realize how much I was missing out all these years. They come in handy all the time, both for everyday use and when entertaining. I really love that they are made of melamine. The trays and platters are so much lighter than something made from ceramic, so I actually pull them out all the time. They’re easy to carry and perfect for taking outside. Basically, I can’t live without them now!
This serving platter is from the beautiful Heritage line.
If you don’t have any melamine serving trays or platters, I highly recommend getting one (or two or three!).
More from the Montecito line, this time the serving platters.
Three cheers for serving trays! Hip, hip, hooray! (Yeah, I’m a little crazy, but I really am in love!)
This post was sponsored by Q Squared NYC. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.
Wednesday, May 7
I’m kind of in an avocado groove. I mean, I still have 15 avocados sitting on my counter from last Saturday, so how can I not be?!
Remember how my cousin Jamie visited a few weeks ago? When she was here she not only made a list of kitchen equipment she had to buy, but she also walked away with pizza baking tips (separate post to come!) and a tip for making guacamole that got her about as excited as the the scizza did!
We decided to have burritos and tacos one night. Jamie and I went to the store together and she mentioned she needed to grab some tomatoes and onions for the guacamole. I kept saying, “Using salsa is a nice shortcut,” and then she would say, “I love putting fresh tomatoes in guacamole,” and I would mention salsa and she’d mention tomatoes. Basically we were both nicely telling each other we do it differently, thank you very much.
But then we got home and started to actually make the guacamole. I pulled out some chunky salsa and Jamie gave it a try. And she almost immediately saw the light!
So, here’s the deal. You can chop tomatoes and onions for guacamole, but if you have chunky salsa (or even un-chunky salsa, in a pinch), you totally do not need to! The chunky salsa adds in the tomatoes and onions (and a few bell peppers, too!) without any of the chopping. Plus, the salsa adds a bit of extra flavor that is perfect for guacamole. Later that night Jamie brought it up again, telling me how awesome the using salsa in guacamole trick was!
Please note: Don’t get too heavy-handed with the salsa! You want to add a few yummy chunks in there, as well as some flavor, but if you put too much in, it can make the guacamole “mooshier,” if you know what I mean. For a fresher, chunkier guacamole, go lighter on the salsa, but of course, play with it and find your favorite mix of ingredients!
I wrote a post all about guacamole several years ago, including a “cheater’s” recipe for guacamole. Click here for the recipe and even more guac tips!
Tuesday, May 6
I just learned a tip for pitting and cutting avocados that will change your life. Seriously. It’s amazing and yet so simple, I really can’t believe I never figured it out before now!
Last Saturday I had the chance to learn all about avocados and see the entire growing and packing process. The California Avocado Commission invited me for a day of touring a nursery, a grove and a packing facility as well as a delicious, avocado-packed lunch. It was such a fun day and I met all kinds of interesting people, from other bloggers to food service and restaurant professionals to registered dietitians for grocery stores. During the lunch, Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD from Fiber is the Future did a recipe demo for the group and shared this marvelous tip for cutting avocados.
Here’s how I’ve always cut and pitted avocados: I would cut the avocado in half, whack the pit with a sharp knife, twist and pull the pit out, then scoop the fruit out with a spoon. I think, quite honestly, the most dangerous part of this process was getting the pit off the the knife once it was out of the avocado. Scary stuff. Despite the high level of danger, I was pretty good at it and thought it was the best way…until now!
Katie shared the following technique. I used it last night when making guacamole and I can’t even tell you how awesome it is. The avocado pieces come out beautifully and no dangerous knife throwing is involved. Also, the pits are a cinch to remove. Are you ready? Here we go! I even made a VIDEO for you. Yes, video. I’ve been resisting forever, but decided to finally bite the bullet. Here goes nothin’!
Here’s a quick recap, with photos and the steps written out:
- Cut the avocado into QUARTERS. Slice the knife through to the pit lengthwise, then rotate 90º and slice through again, so that the avocado is cut into four pieces but still remains attached to the pit.
- Hold the avocado in your hand and twist. The pieces should start falling away from the pit quite easily. The last piece will hang onto the pit for dear life, but just twist the pit a little with your hands and it should pop off pretty easily.
- Peel away the skin – no spoon or scooping required!
Voilà! Perfectly pitted avocados, ready for you to slice and cut to your heart’s content!
I thought I would also share some photos from the big avocado day because it was really cool.
Our first stop was at the Persea Tree Nursery in Fallbrook, CA, where we saw the growing process from pit to tree! First, the pits are planted in a greenhouse where they sprout and grow and grow and GROW.
Then those sprouts are cut down and the type of avocado you want is grafted on, up to four grafts per sprout. This is the point in the process where the variety of tree is determined. We had the chance to watch two women actually graft the trees, which was fascinating.
As the root systems grow and mature, the grafted “trees” are then cut off from the original sprout and planted, giving you a little avocado tree! It’s amazing how fast the trees grow (the tree in the second photo below is only a few months old). The trees will start to fruit in a year and you’ll have your first harvest in two years.
At this point the growers buy and plant the trees in their groves. The visit to Sierra Pacific Farms target=”blank” was equally as interesting and the groves were beautiful. A few things we learned: avocados must be harvested by hand, the trees are pruned to about 12-14 feet tall but will grow forever if you let them, a good grove has a thick ground cover of leaves, avocados do not ripen on the tree and can be stored there for quite some time until the farmers are ready to harvest, and the irrigation at a farm like this one is incredibly high tech and sophisticated. We also ate lunch in a beautiful spot among the groves, with food created by the chef from Sorrel Restaurant/Bistro in Temecula.
As avocados are harvested they are placed in these bins which then travel to to a facility to be packed and shipped.
We visited West Pak Avocado in Murrieta, CA. A few key takeaways: the process is very efficient, fast and high tech, the people who work at West Pak are equally as efficient and fast, and I can’t believe how many avocados they can pack in one day! The woman pictured below was adorable. She was all smiles until she got back to work, and then it was all business. The way she tossed the avocados from one hand to the other for packing in the box was lightning fast.
It was a great day and I learned soooooo much. I am also now bound and determined to grow an avocado tree in our own yard!
Posted by Jane Maynard at 1:02 pm 16 Comments
Categories: fab faves, Kitchen Tips, the goods Tags: california avocado commission, california avocados, cutting avocados, kitchen tips, pitting avocados |
Thursday, April 3
Two weeks ago my cousin Jamie was in town with her family. While they were here we cooked a few meals and, the entire time, Jamie was keeping a running list of must-have kitchen gadgets in my kitchen that she didn’t realize were must-have kitchen gadgets until she used them. She calls it the “divine list.” I know for a fact she’s already bought a few of the items and I don’t doubt she’ll have them all before the month is out!
This is not an exhaustive list of all the things I love and couldn’t live without in my kitchen, but all the items that Jamie added to her divine list are some of my favorites that we use all the time, so I figured it would be fun and helpful to share her list! You know, in case you feel like shopping today, which I’m sure you do because when doesn’t one feel like shopping?
I wrote about the scizza last December and proclaimed my love then. Jamie simply caught a glimpse of the scizza and was excited about it. Once she actually used it, she was officially in love. You can get it from Dreamfarm. Jamie was also impressed with Dreamfarm’s garlic press, the garject, but the scizza is what really stole her heart.
Wood Pizza Peel
While Jamie was here, what started as me throwing some pizzas together turned into a mini class for Jamie. I didn’t realize I have so many little tricks when making homemade pizza. Jamie is trying to convince me to do a video showing how to make pizza. Maybe one day if I actually get some makeup on I’ll think about it. Until then, one of the secrets to cooking great pizza is having a wood pizza peel to transfer the pizza to the stone in your oven. (That sentence alone opens up a Pandora’s box of pizza baking tips, but I’m resisting the urge to go into more detail. I promise to share more another day!) Anyway, I love my wood pizza peel. One of the reasons it’s so great is because it has a rough, unfinished surface. The cornmeal spreads so evenly over this surface and it’s a cinch getting your pizza into the oven. It also has a nice-shaped tapered edge (see photo). I’m not sharing any links for where to buy a wood peel because I can’t really tell what the surfaces are like from looking at photos online, so get out and do a little shopping to find your own perfect peel.
I love my tortilla warmer. Jamie loves my tortilla warmer. It’s the best. Read more about it here.
Manual Glass Juicer
This is a timeless kitchen gadget. I love my manual glass juicer, perfect for when I need to juice something for a recipe quickly. The little ring of knobs in the center catches all the seeds and the juicer itself catches all the juice, which you can easily pour. I received my particular juicer as a wedding gift. There are tons of these out there, just make sure you get one with the little knobs.
Le Creuset Butter Crock
I will not rest until all the world owns a butter crock. Butter Bell makes a nice version, but I love Le Creuset’s even more. Read more about it here.
That’s it! Jamie’s divine list! Happy shopping!
Thursday, March 13
I have never used flour and sugar storage bins. I know, crazy confession from a food blogger! I have always kept my brown sugar in a tupperware so that I can store it with a piece of bread to keep the sugar soft, but I haven’t ever put regular sugar and flour into storage containers. I’m basically too lazy and just keep the flour and sugar in whatever paper bags they happen to come in!
Well, now that I’m cooking with the kids more regularly, I find it’s really hard for them to measure out flour and sugar when it’s in the bags. We were at the Crate and Barrel outlet last weekend (we found a $1600 dresser in perfect condition for $500 – score of the century!). I happened to spot these adorable bins and decided to take the plunge into organized flour and sugar storage.
I’m glad I did! My baking drawer looks a lot tidier now and I like that the container closes all the way, you know, to keep out the bugs. (I found weevil in the flour when I was a kid and may never get over that experience. TRAUMA.) So far so good and it’s definitely easier to measure from these containers. Also, the containers I bought are so cute, I’m tempted to keep them on the countertop. I probably won’t, but I’m thinking about it.
So, do you store your flour and sugar in special containers? Or do you just keep them in the original packaging? I’m curious about what you all do and if more of you are like the Old Jane or the New Jane. If you do use storage containers, please share your favorites!
Tuesday, February 18
Ever since I wrote about homemade granola bars last fall I have been consistently making them every week. I haven’t bought a box of granola bars since – the homemade version is just too delicious!
With all this granola bar making that I’ve been doing, I finally have the recipe memorized and making them is a snap. However, there is one part of the process that is always a little tricky – pushing the granola bar mixture out into a rectangle before baking. The granola mixture sticks to your hands so you have to work very carefully, especially around the edges. Well, I accidentally stumbled upon a trick that solves the problem: push the granola into shape with wet hands!
One day I washed my hands and went to make the granola bar rectangle without drying my hands off first – it was the most magical mistake! With just slightly damp hands, the granola mixture does not stick at all to your hands, making it sooooo much easier to form the granola into a nice, squared-off rectangle.
That’s all for today. Just a simple little trick to make your granola-making endeavors easier. Also, if you haven’t started making homemade granola bars, hop to it already. Super, duper, crazy delicious.
Wednesday, January 29
Today’s Kitchen Tip ROCKS. Brace. Yourselves. After today you will know how to keep leftover guacamole green.
So, it’s a running joke with a lot of our friends that everything they do around me is so they can get on the blog. One of my new friends here in our new town is just such a friend and she’s getting on the blog after a very short friendship. She wins.
Katie (the friend) had Cate over for dinner the other night and when I picked Cate up they were eating leftover guacamole that was as green as the day it was born. Katie said, “I have a great tip for keeping guacamole green.” And I was like, “It doesn’t involve lemon juice or avocado pits, does it?” And Katie was like, “No way.” And I was like, “Good, because OXYGEN is the reason guacamole turns green.” And Katie was like, “Exactly. The trick is water.”
THIS TRICK IS GENIUS. I don’t know how I haven’t heard of this tip before. Okay, so here’s what you do: put your leftover guacamole in a storage dish and then put about half an inch of water on top of the guacamole. That’s right, just carefully pour it right on top of the guac. This completely blocks any contact with oxygen and the guacamole stays completely and totally green. Also put a lid or plastic wrap over the dish to prevent spilling in the fridge. When you’re ready to eat the leftovers, just pour off the water! It’s like magic except that it totally makes sense.
I’ve always stored my guacamole with plastic wrap directly on the guacamole and then a lid on the container, and it sort of helped, but not completely. I still got a light brown layer. Then I used water instead of plastic wrap – green as far as the eye can see.
The guacamole you see pictured in this post is two days old. TWO DAYS.
And, I know, brown guacamole and avocados aren’t bad and taste (supposedly) just as good. But who likes brown guacamole? Nobody, that’s who.
Please note, the overuse of capitalized words and the word “like” in this post should be a clear indicator as to how excited I am about this tip.
(If you’re looking for a guacamole recipe, click here.)
I saw Katie today and she said she found the idea originally on The Kitchn, of course, because they’re full of great ideas over there! If you’d like to check out their post, click here. It will also prove we’re not crazy.