Thursday, February 23
From Jane: I am super excited today because I get to introduce you to This Week for Dinner’s first-ever regular contributor (who isn’t me!). Everyone meet Cora Wallin! Cora is my sister-in-law who has been making good food for our family since the day we all met her. She’s an excellent cook who is behind some of my favorite recipes here on the blog (I’m looking at you taco meat, sour cream banana bread and sweet potato burritos with the yummiest black beans ever). Last summer when Cora and I were hanging out at my parent’s house, she was telling me about a few of her recent favorite recipes. I was thinking about how I needed to make them and photograph them so I could share these recipes on the blog, and then I had a genius idea. Cora is both a fabulous writer AND photographer, so, um, that means she can just write these blog posts for me, right? Somehow I got her to agree and now we are all benefitting! (Okay, maybe Cora isn’t benefitting so much, but whatever. She just loves me THAT MUCH.) Cora is kicking things off with a delicious and beautiful post that explains how to do charcuterie at home. Thank you Cora!
We had an official #adulting moment last month. We were invited to dinner as a family (including husband Christian, 7-year-old Maddox, 5-year-old Sophie and 8-month-old Phoebe) by one of Maddox’s classmates. Obviously, I’m not a stellar member of the PTA (excuse me, PTO) for this to be our first family-dinner-at-a-classmate’s rodeo. It felt significant. It felt a bit nerve-racking. Would it be an evening of polite and benign conversation while the smelly seven-year-olds made fart jokes at the end of the table or would this be the beginning of family friends?
About 30 minutes before show time, I sent the husband out to buy flowers and wine. Which meant we were almost late to a dinner only two blocks away. We arrived dew-kissed (read: sweaty) and slightly winded from the horror of getting three children in and out of coats, hats and shoes. The older kids ran off to destroy our hosts’ home while Christian and I joined the grown-ups on the sofa by the fire. I plopped down onto said sofa with Phoebe clinging to me and became even “dewier” thanks to the romantic, blazing hearth. Then my eyes fell to the coffee table where there upon the altar of friendship was laid mana. Life reviving sustenance. BEHOLD, a cheese board with the all the dressings and trappings of a Pinterest fantasy. Then I knew, I really knew, we would all be fast friends.
That’s the power of the charcuterie. It brings fancy salamis and smelly cheeses together on little edible carb-loaded plates and turns everyone into heart-eyed smiling emoji faces. It’s pure magic. It’s how we can heal this world. So let’s break it down Jeopardy style…behold the keys to world peace.
Charcuterie is just a snooty french word that means a collection of cured meats. Now, I’ve unsuccessfully attempted charcuteries in the past, but what my new best friends showed me was the key to friendship and charcuterie glory is an assortment. Before I would grab 3 different kinds of meats and it always felt like a bit of a let down when I made the spread. Go for a variety, not quantity. Try rosemary ham, 3 different salamis and a pate or teewurst. Have a mix of sweet, spicy, peppery meats as well as melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto. It’s much better to do a little bit of a lot of things than a lot of just a few.
But meat alone won’t do the trick, otherwise my southern cousins’ pepperoni logs and Slim Jims would be the height of social entertaining. The lactose-y wonder of cheese is what makes all those delectable meats sing. Again, it’s all about the the different textures and flavors. Pick up a creamy brie, crumbly blue, smoky gouda and zippy manchego. Each bite should feel like a choose-your-own-adventure book for your mouth.
What are…edible plates?
Serve that wonderful meat and cheese on delicious edible plates. And don’t forget, variety, variety, variety! (Are you sick of that theme yet?) Don’t just serve water crackers. Slice up a fresh baguette. Grab some fig and olive crackers at Trader Joe’s. Toss in thin and crunchy breadsticks. The more the merrier.
What are…all the extras?
The extras are what will really set your charcuterie and cheese board apart. There are SO many amazing options but here are just a few: marinated olives (pitted always feels less awkward), nuts, caper berries, pepperoncinis, roasted peppers, juicy grapes, thin-sliced Granny Smith apples, french dijon mustard, fig preserves, quince or guava paste, fresh honey…the list is endless. A great place for ideas can be your local wine shop. Many of them have cheese departments where you can get suggestions for wonderful pairings.
Lastly, don’t forget to make it pretty. Put cheese on little squares of parchment. Add fragrant sprigs of fresh herbs. Roll soft cured meats and fan out chorizo slices. Intermix your groups of meats, cheeses, crackers and extras.
Remember this is about coming together. It’s about building bridges of hope and love. Let the cheese show you the way.
Thursday, January 28
Let’s talk bagels and knives. The combination is deadly…well, at least for fingers and hands. I would hazard a guess that avocados and bagels cause the most knife injuries in home kitchens. I have ZERO data to back me up on that claim, but that’s what I my gut tells me. And I have smart guts. ANYWAY…I have already shown you how to cut avocados the awesomest most safest way ever. But until this week I didn’t actually know the safest way to slice bagels. But now I do. And so, of course, I am showing you!
We have a really great bagel shop down the street where I get bagels for my kids’ lunches. (PS: The bagel shop is called Top of the Bagel and it is seriously good – New Jersey native approved!) I like to buy a dozen bagels at a time, slice them, cut them in half and then put the bagels in the freezer so they are fresh for lunches. This week, as I was prepping the bagels for the freezer, I had a revelation.
I used to always slice the bagel (you know, like when you slice it to put in the toaster or spread with cream cheese) then cut it in half (my kids only eat a half a bagel for lunch). This week, however, I reversed the cutting order, cutting the bagel in half first and then slicing it. You guys. This way is so much easier and safer. How have I never thought of it before?!? From now on I will always do this, even if we are planning to eat the whole bagel.
I will describe in detail what I’m talking about so there is no confusion and to ensure the survival of everyone’s fingers.
Step 1: Cut the bagel in half, as shown in the photo below.
Step 2: Slice the bagel. To do this, when you place the bagel vertically on the cutting board to slice it, put it cut side (flat side) down on the board. Start to slice the bagel, pinching the top of bagel and holding it firmly with your non-knife hand. As soon as the top of the knife is level with the top of the bagel, flatten your hand and press down on the bagel to hold it in place. It works like a charm and never at any point is your hand or any of your fingers in way of the blade.
This is not rocket science, I know. And it was one of those “Duh!” moments for me and it is seriously helpful and so much safer.
So, there you go. Happy bagel slicing!
Tuesday, November 17
There hasn’t been much Thanksgiving prep happening here on the blog because, honestly, there just isn’t much Thanksgiving prep happening in my kitchen! I AM cooking next week, and I haven’t done one thing yet to get ready. Honestly, I’m not stressed about it. I’m sticking with the old stand-bys this year, so I pretty much know what we’ll be eating. Just need to do some shopping this weekend. It’s all good. However, if you are actually planning ahead, you can click on my “Thanksgiving Prep” tag and see all kinds of posts related to Thanksgiving!
I do want to share a quick Kitchen Tip today related to Thanksgiving. It’s one of those tips that is kind of a “Duh” thing to share, but I didn’t figure it out until last year, so I imagine I’m not alone in having not done this before. Every year I make crescent rolls for Thanksgiving. And every year I use a sharp knife when cutting dough for crescent rolls. You know, once you’ve rolled out a circle and cut the circle into triangles. Well, last year, I was about to use the knife and then, for some reason, I thought of the pizza cutter. It worked beautifully. Also, what did I tell you? DUH. How had I never done this before?!
Please note that it works best to cut from the outside edge towards the center. If you cut from the center, sometimes the tips of the triangles roll up as you roll the pizza cutter.
Life changer, guys. Well, when it comes to making crescent rolls at least. You’re welcome and happy crescent roll cutting!
Thursday, April 30
Today I have a story to tell. After the story there’s a really good kitchen tip. So, you know, make sure you keep reading to the end. Which of course you would do anyway because I’m such a good storyteller, right?!
Our house came with a lemon tree in the backyard. A big, beautiful lemon tree that grows the best tasting lemons in the world. There was just one problem – the lemons kept getting this weird brown spot on the bottom.
We researched the issue and came up empty. Our gardener thought maybe it was a deficiency of some sort and asked other gardeners about it. Everyone was stumped. Then, one day, Nate noticed a blue tag on the tree. He flipped it over and discovered the tag had words on it and the words were these: Bearss Lime.
WHAT?!?! Our lemons were limes! Our gardener was like, “Oh man, I love Bearss limes! The way the tree was pruned I just never thought of it!” Now that we knew what kind of tree it was, our research was much more fruitful (pun intended) and we discovered that our yellow limes with brown spots on the bottom were actually just overripe.
In our defense, Bearss limes can grow really big and really yellow. I think Bearss limes should be renamed Trick Lemons. I mean, seriously, look how yellow those two overripe limes are in the picture above!
The reason our lemons were the best tasting lemons in the world was because they were actually limes. My lemon bars? Lime bars. Our neighbors’ favorite lemon chicken? Lime chicken. The list goes on. Lemon or lime, we love the tree and Nate makes the best lemonade, I mean limeade, you ever did taste.
Owen says, “Hi!”
Story’s over, kitchen tip time! If you don’t have a lemon press, aka citrus squeezer, get one! Seriously, I’ve been wanting a lemon press for years and finally, two weeks ago, I popped onto Amazon, found one that looked good and hit “buy.” I bought the Bellemain lemon squeezer and I love it. It is super sturdy and perfect for lemons and limes. Click here to check it out!
I now consider my lemon press an indispensable kitchen tool and don’t know how I lived so long without it. Take note: when you start squeezing, go slow or you’ll end up with juice all over your kitchen.
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, 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!
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!