Category: Kitchen Tips
Friday, April 24
Happy Friday! Today for Show and Tell I am super excited to tell you about my new kitchen thermometer! I know, EXCITING stuff! 😉 I am a firm believer that all home cooks need an instant-read thermometer. I’ve been using a cheapo Pyrex thermometer for years, but I could tell for the last little while that it was definitely reading incorrectly.
I called my friend Lindsay to find out which thermometer she uses – I remembered that there was one she was completely in love with and had splurged on a few years ago. Today I’m sharing the details with you and demanding that any of you who do NOT have a thermometer must go buy one of these right NOW. It’s your homework. I’ll be checking next week. All of these instant-read kitchen thermometers are made by ThermoWorks and I’m providing you with three different options at three different price points, so no excuses!
- Thermapen ($96): This was Lindsay’s dream thermometer that she saved up for. She did in fact buy it a few years ago and used it for a long time. And she did in fact love it. And she did in fact recently break it and had to get a new thermometer (more on that in a second). If you want to invest in a really nice thermometer and you think you can keep yourself from breaking it, this is the one. Click here to buy the Thermapen.
- Thermapop ($29): This is basically the poor man’s version of the Thermapen but still super awesome. This is what Lindsay replaced her Thermapen with and she said she totally loves it, too. Click here to buy the Thermapop.
- DOT Professional Probe Style ($39): This is the one I bought. I was going to get the Thermapop, but when I found this probe style thermometer by ThermoWorks, I was sold. I LOVE having a probe style, I use it in the oven and grill all the time when cooking meat. I received it in the mail this week and it’s GREAT. Click here to buy the DOT Probe.
I cannot believe it’s Friday already and I REALLY cannot believe that in 2 weeks I’ll be heading for Africa! We had a logistics call with ONE and Heifer International this week and it just got me even more excited for the trip. I’m in the middle of getting all my stuff together for the trip, including breaking in my new waterproof shoes (I live in San Diego, nothing I own is waterproof!). Today I started my typhoid immunization pills, so there is currently live typhoid in my system. The team also mentioned on the call that we need to make sure we bring a headlamp because of frequent power outages in Malawi. Basically, it’s all starting to get very real that I am going to Africa and, honestly, I can’t wait! My headlamp and I are ready!
That’s it from me this week! It’s Show and Tell, so please share whatever you like! And if you have a kitchen thermometer that you love and recommend that is different than what I listed above, please tell us about it!
Tuesday, April 14
My relationship with fresh basil is one of the love-hate variety.
I love using fresh basil when cooking, but I can’t for the life of me keep a basil plant alive. I have the blackest of black thumbs. Buying fresh cut basil at the store just doesn’t really work, though. It only lasts 1 or 2 days and then it’s Bye Bye, Basil. I recently read a tip about snipping the stems of fresh basil and putting it in a glass of water like flowers in vase, but that only works about half of the time for me.
Luckily I discovered a basil plant that is AWESOME for people like me. I’ve seen it in a few different stores and it is the best! North Shore Living Herbs sells mini fresh basil plants potted in peat moss that I am completely in love with.
Here’s how it works: The basil plant comes in a mini pot with holes in the bottom. You place the pot on a plate or in a cup and make sure that it’s sitting in 1/4″ – 1/2″ of water (check it regularly to keep it watered!). The basil stays perfectly lovely for 1-2 weeks, which works really well for the home cook.
Be sure to keep an eye out for these great little basil plants. I guarantee you’ll fall in love!
Tuesday, March 10
Remember my 2015 New Year’s Resolution to give up paper towels? The process is underway and so far so good! We are down to just 2 more rolls, which I will keep in the garage for “emergencies.” Besides that we are done with paper towels! Today I wanted to share some tips for how to stop using paper towels in the kitchen that have helped to make our family successful at this goal. It was surprisingly simple and easy!(Side note: I will share tips for giving up paper towels in regards to housecleaning in a later post.)
I’m just going to share what we did with some good old fashioned bullet points. Here we go!
- Buy a WHOLE BUNCH of cloth towels that are good at drying. I like lightweight cloth towels better than terry cloth. Flour sack towels are my favorite to use in the kitchen. In addition to the flour sack towels I already own (you can buy those pretty much anywhere these days, by the way), I also purchased the Tekla and Elly dish towels from Ikea, which were $0.79 – $1.00 per towel. (FYI: I like the fabric used for the Tekla towels a little better, they have a little hook for hanging and they’re cheaper.) I am also planning to buy a few of these Bird-E Towels on Etsy (thanks to reader Sara B. for that suggestion!).
- Store the towels all together in a VERY accessible spot in your kitchen. I bought a bin to keep all the towels in and we keep the bin in a drawer in the middle of our kitchen, one that all of the kids can easily reach.
- Get a small basket to set in the laundry area for soiled towels and cloth napkins. I bought a cute basket to set on our dryer and that’s where all the dirty (dry) towels and cloth napkins go.
- Hang hooks in the laundry or kitchen area. I found wall hooks that say “LAUNDRY” at World Market, but any hooks will do! After we’ve used one of the towels, if it’s too wet to throw into the laundry basket we hang it on a hook. Luckily for me my laundry area is right next to the kitchen, so the hooks hang above the washing machine. If your laundry room isn’t close to the kitchen, find a good spot in your kitchen to place the hooks. The key is that they need to be accessible!
- While we’re at it, get a basket for cloth napkins is stored in an accessible spot in the kitchen. We’ve had cloth napkins for a long time but we would were terrible and almost always just grabbed a paper towel because it was easier than walking across the room to the linen drawers. I took the cloth napkins OUT of the linen drawer and put them into a basket that hangs on the wall above the kitchen counter . As soon as I made that change we have only been using cloth napkins. It’s awesome! (Note: As you can see in the photo above, I haven’t actually hung the basket on the wall yet, but that’s the plan!)
The key to successfully getting rid of paper towels and paper napkins is making the cloth versions accessible and easy to grab. It’s so simple but it took me a while to figure it out! Now that we have our system in place, everyone is using cloth with no issues whatsoever. My kids know where everything is and what to do with dirty towels and napkins. Every time I see one of the towels hanging to dry above the washing machine it makes me so happy!
If you have any addition tips, thoughts or questions, please share! (Also, be sure to check out the comments on my original paper towel post. There are some great tips there, too!)
Thursday, February 12
Years ago I wrote about cheese paper here on the blog. Back then I didn’t know much about the stuff and it wasn’t very easy to buy. Luckily for all of us cheese paper is more accessible these days (thank you, Internet) and I actually use it myself now, so I feel like an updated post is in order!
I was first introduced to cheese paper at the Cowgirl Creamery in San Francisco. Their cheese paper has the adorable cowgirl logo printed on it (see picture here) and, I’ll be honest, that was the biggest appeal of the paper to me at the time – what a pretty way to store your cheese! As pretty as the paper is, it is actually very functional, too!
Cheese paper allows cheese to breathe while also keeping it wrapped properly, so it will last much longer and taste better. Click here to see the details about how cheese paper is constructed and how it works. Formaticum is the primary brand that makes cheese paper and it’s the kind I use. You can buy Formaticum cheese bags or a set with cheese bags and cheese paper on Amazon, but you can also buy all of their products directly on their website. I love both the bags and the paper. I have no affiliation with Formaticum – I just love their fancy, French cheese paper!
So, hop to it! Give your cheese a happy, super cute home!
Thursday, January 22
You know how last week I told you to buy a baker’s blade? Well, I have something else you need to go buy. Luckily it’s another inexpensive item so it shouldn’t be too painful!
When I was making Anna’s birthday cake last month, I bought a set of nesting round cookie cutters so I could make the marzipan pepperoni and onions. I can’t tell you how much I love this little set of cutters! Since I made Anna’s cake just a month ago I’ve used these cutters several times, for a few cookie recipes as well as a Christmas tree ornament craft we made for Cate’s birthday party. I’m thinking they’ll come in handy for biscuits as well.
I love this cooke cutter set because there are 6 different sized circles and the cutters are double sided, with a smooth and a scalloped edge.
I bought mine at Michaels, but you can buy the set on Amazon as well. And you should, Right now! (That’s Bossy Jane talking. Sorry.)
Thursday, January 15
If you bake at all (cookies, bread, whatever), then today’s post is for you.
Last month I bought my very first baker’s blade. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t owen one until now. I think I just never thought about it until I was smack dab in the middle of making a recipe and couldn’t just pop off to the store to go shopping. Anyway, I went to Michaels (my least favorite store in the history of the world) about 3,148 times this past December. About the only good that came out of that torture was that I happened to grab a Wilton baker’s blade on one of those trips.
I love my new baker’s blade! Seriously, it’s awesome. It comes in super handy when making bread and cookies and other stuff, too. For example, it even came in handy when I was forming marzipan veggies for Anna’s birthday cake. The baker’s blade is perfect for scraping your floured surface clean, cutting dough up, moving stuff around, whatever. The baking world is your oyster if you’ve got a baker’s blade at the ready.
So, if you’re like me and haven’t ever happened to buy one, hop to it! Amazon sells the one I bought and love, which means you can buy it NOW and don’t have to torture yourself with a visit to Michaels. You’re welcome.
Thursday, January 8
If you don’t have an iPhone, then let me apologize in advance for today’s post. It’s pretty much useless to you, unless you get an iPhone one day and then you need to be sure to come back and read this! For those of you sporting iPhones, I am so excited about today’s post and I hope you’ll find it as useful as I do!
My neighbor Joan was telling me a few weeks ago how she uses Reminders on her iPhone to manage her grocery shopping list. She was describing how she uses it and it sounded pretty cool, so I gave it a try. Joan was right! Reminders is perfect for building a shopping list you can use week after week. The list is saved each week and it’s easy to make visible only the items you need for a particular shopping trip and then checking them off. I thought I’d run through the steps for how to use it and highlight why it’s so cool in the steps.
1. Open Reminders on your iPhone.
2. Click on “New List” at the top.
3. Name your list. I went super fancy and called my shopping list “Grocery Store”. You can also select the color you want the header to be, if you’re into coordinating your Reminder lists by color (which I am).
4. Start typing in your items. Easy peasy!
5. After you’ve entered in all the items for your shopping list, click “Done” on the top right.
6. Click “Edit” on the top right to reorder the items on your list (using the little parallel lines on the right-hand side to move things around). Order your list however you want. I chose to order the items by what section of the store they are in. I also add in parentheses what store I prefer to buy certain items at, just for my own reference.
7. Now you have your list and it’s time to go shopping! Go through and check off any items on your list that you do NOT need that week, then select “Hide completed” at the bottom. Sometimes you need to click the title of the list at the top to go to the Reminders home screen and then click back into the list to reset the list and make the “Hide Completed” and “Show Completed” button show at the bottom.
8. Go to the store and check off items as you shop. If you have “Hide Completed” selected they will disappear like magic!
9. When it’s time for the next shopping trip, choose “Show Completed” and uncheck the items you need that week. It should automatically reorder to how you originally organized the list – if it doesn’t, just click the list title to get to Reminders home screen then click back into the grocery list and it should be all good!
My goal is to put EVERYTHING I ever shop for at the grocery store on this one list. That means the first few times you go to the store, you’ll be constantly adding items you remember and re-ordering the list, but once it’s all put together it will be SO awesome and worth the work (and, honestly, it’s not very hard work). Note: when you are adding items and reordering them, you will need to have ALL the items on the list unchecked (so, NOT completed) to make sure you are putting them in the spot where you think they are going.
Hopefully this all makes sense! As soon as you start playing with it I promise it will. Here’s to happy grocery lists for 2015!
- My friend Jamie excitedly texted me this morning saying she had just set up lists in her reminders and it was perfect! She actually set up separate lists for the different grocery stores (a Trader Joe’s list, a Von’s list, etc). I thought that was a great idea and wanted to share!
- Android users: Be sure to check out Comment #6 below, where Kay describes and app called Google Keep and how she uses it for grocery shopping.
- Comment #7 below also shares another great iPhone app with sharing capability. If two people in your household equally do the shopping, I would definitely check it out. I know Reminders has a sharing aspect to it, but I’ve yet to try it out and see how well it works.
Wednesday, December 17
It’s birthday season in our home, which means I’m busy whipping up cakes for the girls! This year Anna requested a deep dish pizza cake from Cakes for Kids by Matthew Mead. I am absolutely delighted with the results and wanted to share it with you!
This cake was actually quite easy to put together. Here’s how to get it done!
- Use a 9-inch cake. After you remove the cake from the pan to cool, wash the pan. When you level the cake, take off about 1/8-1/4″ so that when you put the cake back in the pan for display, there is space between the top of the cake and the top of the pan.
- Once the cake is back in the clean pan, frost the top with red-tinted butter cream for the sauce. I used red, a bit of orange, and a smidge of green to make the red color. Pipe the “crust” around the edge with buttercream that has extra vanilla extract mixed in (to make it a little more brown). I just used a ziploc bag with the corner cut to make the fat pipe with the frosting. Use cinnamon to add brown spots to the crust, rubbing in lightly with fingers.
- Marzipan is the key to the beautiful veggies on top! For one 9-inch cake you need a 7-ounce package of marzipan, found in the baking aisle at the grocery store. Divide the marzipan into 4 equal parts. When you roll out the marzipan, place parchment paper both underneath and on top when rolling. For the mushrooms, roll out the marzipan thin and cut mushrooms freehand, using a bit of cinnamon to add color. For the bell peppers, knead in green food coloring with a bit of brown, then roll pieces of marzipan out into a skinny snake shape, make circles and then crimp the circle like a pepper. For the pepperoni, knead in red and a bit of brown food coloring into the marzipan and then roll out thin. Using a small circle cutter, cut circles and then texture with a pastry brush (genius!). I used the rippled edge side of my round cutter for the pepperoni. For the onions, roll out the marzipan then use concentric round cutters to make the onion shapes.
- Unsweetened shredded coconut worked perfectly for the cheese! I sprinkled most of the cheese directly on the “sauce,” then placed the veggies and sprinkled a bit more “cheese” on top.
Voila! Deep Dish Pizza…that tastes like cake! It was seriously funny all afternoon with the cake sitting on the counter. It really looked like a pizza!
Posted by Jane Maynard at 3:39 pm 5 Comments
Categories: birthday cakes, kids, Kitchen Tips, sweet things Tags: birthday cake decorating, birthday cakes, cake decorating, deep dish pizza cake, kids birthday cakes, pizza birthday cake, pizza cake |
Thursday, October 30
I have a spectacular kitchen tip for you today. One that I should have figured out ages ago. One you probably have already figured out yourself. BUT, in case you haven’t, here we go!
My kids love cinnamon sugar on their wheat toast in the morning. I never have cinnamon sugar on hand because I could never figure out what kind of container to put it in. That means I make the lamest cinnamon sugar toast ever, with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled separately and haphazardly on top of the toast. My kids think it tastes good, but I know their toast could be sooooo much better.
I started thinking maybe I would start ordering cinnamon sugar from Penzey’s so that the cinnamon sugar would have its own container, but that felt a little over the top (even though I know the cinnamon blend they use must taste divine). And then, finally, it dawned on me – I can just use an old cinnamon jar to store my own homemade cinnamon sugar! DUH! A-HA! HOW HAD I NEVER THOUGHT OF THIS BEFORE? This idea is genius because you don’t have to buy something separate to store the cinnamon sugar in, the jar comes with a shaker top, and it fits in the spice cupboard perfectly.
Also, a 2.2 ounce spice bottle is just the right size to mix 1/4 cup of sugar with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon. There’s enough space left in the jar to shake it all together but you have a mostly full jar at the end.
ALSO, if you follow the Pioneer Woman’s technique for making cinnamon toast using an English muffin, you will die and go to heaven. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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.)