Category: Kitchen Tips
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.
Tuesday, January 21
Today’s post has absolutely nothing to do with food. Wait, I can bring it back to food. I know I can. Give me a second…okay, I’ve got it! Today’s “Kitchen” Tip is just what you need to get your kitchen window shiny clean so you can be a happy cook and make amazing FOOD.
When Nate and I were first married we were washing our trusty old pick-up truck at his grandparents’ house. It was time to clean the windows when Grammy (of Grammy’s Orange Chicken fame) handed me a stack of newspaper when I asked for paper towels. I was like “Wha? Wha?” and she was like “Yup! Yup!” Okay, those may not be direct quotes, but you get the drift.
So, yeah, it’s true! For streak-free window cleaning use newspaper (a.k.a. newsprint) instead of paper towels or cloth towels. It works soooo much better. It sounds crazy until you give it a try. I have a ton of plain newsprint from when we moved so I’ve been using that, but you can use regular old newspaper with the print on it. It doesn’t matter. Your hands might be dirty by the end, but your windows will be sparkly clean!
Let’s do a comparison, shall we? Here is my front room window after cleaning it with paper towels but before the newspaper treatment.
Seriously, that’s a “clean” window. Well, I thought it was clean until the morning light came shining through the next day. I immediately grabbed some newsprint and glass cleaner and got to work. Here is the “after” shot:
There is no way I could have gotten it that clear with paper towels. I tried!
Here’s the view through my super clean window – crisp and clear!
I’ve used newsprint to clean mirrors and windows – I especially like using it for the inside of the windshield in my car. (I’m sort of a clean windshield nut.)
So, next time you need to clean some windows, grab the glass cleaner and a bunch of newspaper. And send happy thank you vibes to Grammy McCarthy!
Thursday, January 16
This is one of those posts where half of you will say, “Uh, duh, Jane!” and the other half of you will say, “Duh! Why haven’t I thought of this before?” For those of you in category 1, just move on and have a lovely, iceberg lettuce-free day. For those of you in category 2, I’m glad I’m not alone. Okay, so, let’s move on with the issue at hand, shall we?
Iceberg lettuce. I pretty much hate it. I loved it as a kid and, with every year I walk on this earth, I like the stuff less and less. I think it tastes like water and it isn’t as nutrient rich as other lettuces and greens, so what’s the point? It’s only positive attribute is the texture. Sometimes you just need the extra crunch that iceberg lettuce can provide.
Well, yesterday, I was making myself a turkey sandwich on a roll leftover from our dinner of sausage subs. The roll reminded me of this place (Nielsen’s Frozen Custard in Utah) that makes a simple turkey sandwich that sometimes just hits the spot. I wanted to replicate the sandwich but needed iceberg lettuce, which I did not have because, well, I never buy it unless I have to. I did, however, have a head of romaine lettuce.
So, I grabbed my knife and sliced the romaine nice and skinny, just like I would have with iceberg. Sure, it’s not quite as crunchy as iceberg, but it has a good balance of leafy and crunchy to fit the bill. It worked like a charm on my sandwich. It would also be perfect on tacos and other foods where you often find iceberg lettuce lurking.
There you have it. Romaine is now my iceberg lettuce substitute. It’s healthier and tastes better. And it’s got a good bite. Life is good. Adios, iceberg. It’s been nice known’ ya.
Tuesday, January 7
I know I claim not to be that into new year’s resolutions, but the fact I’m writing a second post about resolutions may indicate otherwise! Kinda funny. Anyway…let’s get down to business! When I wrote about my Use Less Plastic goal last week, I mentioned quickly that I was also planning to make up a cleaning schedule, and several people commented about that. I decided to make the schedule purrrty and share it with all of you, in case anyone would like to use it, too!
I created a 4-week cleaning schedule that I can print out about once a month. Each weekday has a task associated with it, with a few extra items thrown in here and there that only need to happen on a monthly basis. I am really hoping this helps me to stay on track with cleaning as well as make it all feel a little less overwhelming. Despite all this planning I do publicly on the blog, I am not a super organized person, but having lists to check off is very motivating for me. We’ll see how it goes!
Here’s a quick outline of the cleaning plan I created:
- I decided that dusting, cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms, and changing the bed sheets and towels needed to happen on a weekly basis, so I assigned each of those items to the same day each week.
- We have white carpet throughout the house, so I have one day dedicated to vacuuming but also included “maintenance” vacuuming in my daily to-dos at the bottom of the schedule.
- There are a few monthly items that I spread out through the 4 weeks.
I created a PDF of the cleaning schedule that you can download and print out for yourself. There are three pages in the PDF – page 1 is my complete plan, page 2 is my plan but generalized, and page 3 is totally blank if you want to change it all up but still want to use the pretty calendar. The grey box at the top is where you write in the month and the grey squares on the calendar are for the dates for that month. You can click the image of the plan above to access the pdf or click any of the links in this paragraph. If I realize I forgot anything and add it in, I will update the PDF file!
As always, this blog is what is because of YOUR input and comments! Please share your own house cleaning and organization tips that you may have or ways you successfully conquer the task. I’m sure we can all benefit from the ideas!
Friday, January 3
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope the start of your year has been a good one! We kicked off 2014 with a visit to Pasadena, where he had amazing grandstand seats for the Tournament of Roses Parade (big thanks to our friend Sherri!) and attended a far-too-stressful football game at the Rose Bowl (go Stanford no matter the result!).
Now that we’re a few days into the new year, I thought we could chat quickly about resolutions. I’m not a huge new year’s resolution person, but I must admit that since I started creating resolutions that link food to the environment, I actually really like setting a goal each year. It has helped a lot! It’s time to set my goal for 2014 and it’s the going to be the same one I’ve had for the last two years: Use Less Plastic.
The first year I made this goal it was very general and I didn’t make much progress. Last year I decided to get more specific and to also revisit the goal throughout the year. That definitely helped and we had a few successes. We’ve started making our own yogurt, eliminating all those little yogurt cups, and I make all of our granola bars, reducing all that one-time packaging trash we were producing every day. I stopped using plastic baggies completely in the kids’ lunches and we only use cloth napkins at home now. (Quick tip: Cocktail-sized cloth napkins are PERFECT for everyday use! I got mine at the Crate & Barrel outlet and love them.)
Since using less plastic is really important but also incredibly challenging, I’m sticking with the goal for another year. Step 1 for 2014 is to finally use the reusable grocery bags I have stuffed in a closet. It is ridiculous that I don’t bring my bags with me when I go shopping! Once I have that tackled, I’ll get another goal going and will keep you posted on my progress!
Just a few quick thoughts on plastic. First, this infographic is great food for thought in regards to plastic and the ocean, which is just one part of the plastic story. Second, if you haven’t watched the documentary Bag It yet, please do. It’s GREAT and you can now stream it on both Amazon and iTunes.
Source: One World, One Ocean
On a completely unrelated note, I am also making a resolution to get more organized with my housekeeping, you know, now that I have a house to actually keep! I think I’ll just make a monthly schedule and try to stick to that. I’ll keep you posted and share the schedule when it’s all put together, in case anyone else wants to join in on the “fun.”
What are your new year’s resolutions for 2014? Would love to hear them! Also, did you join in on the “Use Less Plastic” fun in 2013 or are you planning to for 2014? Please share your tips and tricks for reducing waste, especially plastic!
Thursday, December 19
One of the only over-the-top-Mom things I do is make fun cakes for my kids’ birthdays. Cate and Anna had both of their birthdays this week so I’ve been a busy baker! Anna opted for a vanilla cake shaped like a fish. Cate decided to go with chocolate cupcakes topped with M&M frosting. I wanted to share the cakes with you, since I always do, as well as the recipe for the frosting because it was YUMMMMMMMMM.
Anna’s cake was inspired by a goldfish in the Cakes for Kids book by Matthew Mead that we love so much! The cake is essentially a 2-layer cake (8 inches or 9 inches works) with a thin crescent cut off the top or each layer before frosting. Those crescent pieces become the fins. The frosted layer cake gets tipped up on its side and and then the fins are added, with toothpicks securing the top and back fins. I think this might have been the hardest cake I’ve made so far, surprisingly. It didn’t come out as cute as I’d hoped but it did come out better than I expected! Anna was completely happy with the cake and that is all that matters!
I think what made this cake so tricky was that I made the fins a different color than the body (to look more like Flounder from The Little Mermaid), but it’s hard enough attaching those fins without having to worry about the frosting colors mixing. Bottom line: this cake was hard but we made it work!
Cate took it easy on me and just wanted chocolate cupcakes with M&Ms. I decided an M&M frosting would be good and took inspiration from a recipe on the blog Cookies & Cups. I changed the recipe to a chocolate buttercream frosting and made it a little thinner. The frosting was fudgy and crunchy and oh-so-delicious. Quick note: when the frosting is just made, the M&Ms are still crunchy, but as it sits, the M&Ms get softer. This is not a bad thing, but it goes from crispy M&M fudge frosting to chunky-chocolate fudge frosting. Just wanted to set expectations properly! If you can whip up the frosting last minute, that’s what I would do! This is not to say that we haven’t happily enjoyed the leftovers!
If you’d like to see the misadventure I had when I started to frost the cupcakes, click here. Fair warning, it’s scary! Moral of the story? Always use a star tip when piping chocolate frosting. And that’s all we’ll say about that!
Chocolate M&M Frosting
- 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened to room temperature
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted into the bowl
- 1 cup M&Ms, processed to a coarse dust in the blender
In a stand mixer or with beaters, beat together all of the ingredients on medium-high speed until well-mixed. Spread on cake or cupcakes and eat immediately! M&Ms will be crunchy at the outset but will soften as the frosting sits.
Posted by Jane Maynard at 1:27 pm 7 Comments
Categories: birthday cakes, featured recipes, kids, Kitchen Tips, Recipes, sweet things Tags: birthday cake, birthday cake decorating, buttercream, frosting, kids birthday cakes, m&ms |
Friday, December 6
This giveaway is now closed, but keep reading to learn more about Dreamfarm’s great products and to find out the winner!
Happy Friday! To celebrate the weekend I have TWO awesome Gifts & Giveaways posts for you today. Let’s start with a couple of wild and crazy…kitchen gadgets!
I was recently introduced to the company Dreamfarm. Dreamfarm is all about solving problems and creating products that do just that! They have lots of fun items and I have been trying out a few of their kitchen products for the last month or so.
I’ve been using the Chopula (it’s great!), the Clongs (work great, sits off your bench), the Garjet (you seriously have to go watch the video, this garlic press is cool!), the Supoon (love it, it’s great! also sits off your bench), and the Scizza. Let’s talk about the Scizza for a moment, shall we?
Years ago I wrote a post about how scissors are the best pizza cutter because, well, they are! So as soon as I saw the Scizza I knew I had to give it a try. Scissors made just for cutting pizza? It’s like a dream come true! You should definitely click through to watch the Scizza video and see how cool it is! It is hands down my favorite thing from Dreamfarm.
If you’re looking for a cool holiday gift for any cooks in your life (or even for yourself!), Dreamfarm is a great option. Very fun and original products that are definitely gift-worthy.
Time for the giveaway! One of you lucky people will win a set of Dreamfarm products, including the chopula, clongs, garjet, supoon and the beloved scizza (total retail value of $111.75). Here is how to enter the giveaway! (Comments must be posted by Midnight PT on Thursday 12/12/13. Prize must be shipped to a U.S. address.) Simply leave a comment, any comment, on this post! That’s it! Although, if you want to tell us which Dreamfarm product is most appealing to you, we’d love to hear about it! Bonus entry: Like This Week for Dinner on Facebook and leave a separate comment telling me you did! (If you already follow, that counts!) Bonus entry: Follow me on Pinterest and leave a separate comment telling me you did! (If you already follow, that counts!) Bonus entry: Follow me on Twitter and leave a separate comment telling me you did! (If you already follow, that counts!) Bonus entry: Like Dreamfarm on Facebook and leave a separate comment telling me you did! Bonus entry: Follow Dreamfarm on Twitter and leave a separate comment telling me you did! Good luck!
I am happy to announce that comment #47 Jen M was the winner! She said, “What cool and inventive products they have!” and she is right! Congrats, Jen!
I was given a sampling of Dreamfarm products to review for this giveaway. All opinions are 100% my own.
Tuesday, October 29
You know what I’ve always wanted? A tortilla warmer. I’ve frequently looked for them in stores but have had a hard time finding them. (Side note: I don’t know why I never looked on Amazon, but whatever.)
My wonderful neighbor Ari (who is from Mexico City and shops at a Mexican market nearby) knew I was on the lookout for one. She knocked on my door the other day, tortillas and tortilla warmer in hand! She’s a very good neighbor and she knows how to make me very happy!
So, yeah, tortilla warmers are great. You should get one. You can heat up your tortillas, put them in the warmer as you go, then serve all the heated tortillas at once. It’s awesome. (Now that I think about it, my warmer will come in handy for Swedish pancakes, too!)
Thursday, October 24
About a billion years ago, I mentioned on the blog how I love using a garlic press. My friend Lindsay commented saying she doesn’t like using a garlic press because she feels like she loses so much of the garlic in the process. I responded that I just “re-moosh” it a lot and don’t care that much about the waste. (I know. I’m a total garlic waster. Quelle horreur.) Then someone else named Misty commented saying that she loves her garlic press, too, and that she puts the whole clove in, paper and all. And then Lindsay was like, “That is genius!” and I didn’t say anything because I didn’t really get what Misty was talking about, which was dumb because when I went back to find the comments this week I realized Misty totally linked to a post about her trick and I could have learned this a billion years ago. (Did you follow all that? I think multiple episodes of The Vampire Diaries last night may be having an impact on my ability to communicate like an adult.)
I finally figured out Misty’s trick this week and I LOVE IT. It also inspired another trick that I want to share, which isn’t quite as cool but still handy.
Misty’s Garlic Press Trick: When you use a garlic press put the WHOLE CLOVE, paper and all, into the press and then push it through like normal. Remember all that waste that Lindsay was so worried about? The paper becomes the waste that gets stuck in the press and almost every last bit of garlic gets pushed through. It’s like magic. Vampire Diaries-worthy magic. The other really cool part of this trick is that the garlic press is easier to clean when you use it this way. The paper doesn’t get all stuck in the bumps and grooves like straight-up garlic does. It’s so much easier to clean up!
Put the whole clove in, with paper.
Push it all the way through.
Voila! Only the paper is left behind.
My Related Garlic Press Trick That’s Not Quite as Magical: Okay, so, you can also use your garlic press to get the paper off of your clove easily. Once again place the whole clove, paper and all, into the press. Then push, but not too far. Just enough to crack things up a bit. Remove the clove from the press and you should be able to easily peel the paper off the clove. Alternatively you can just smash the clove under the flat-side of a knife to get the same effect, which is what I normally do, but the press works great, too!
Put the whole clove in, with paper.
Press about half way, remove the garlic clove, then pop off the paper!
Happy mincing and de-papering of garlic!
Please note: Garlic was harmed in the making of this blog post. In fact, I wasted one entire clove just for a picture. I didn’t use it for anything. I am a true garlic waster. I’m surprised I even care about this cool garlic trick at all.