Category: Kitchen Tips
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.)
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.