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Category: Kitchen Tips

  1. Sunday, April 26, 2020

    Pomona’s Pectin Freezer Jam, My New Favorite

    I have been writing about freezer jam for years. My mom always made it and I have continued the tradition as an adult. I love freezer jam – you don’t have to cook the jam, you can store it in any container you have handy and just pop it in the freezer, and it’s the best tasting jam around (in my humble opinion, at least!). I have a major update to share regarding my annual freezer jam process. I’ve always used Sure-Jell pectin because that’s what my mom always used and it’s what I could find in any standard grocery store. This year, however, I ended up trying Pomona’s Universal Pectin and I am in love!

    Boxes of Pomona's Universal Pectin in front of a jar of jam

    Since I have been limiting myself to just one grocery store per week (thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown), Pomona’s was my only option because that was what was available. I was a little nervous about switching it up, but I will for sure use Pomona’s Pectin over Sure-Jell going forward, pandemic lockdown or not!

    SURE-JELL PECTIN: CONS 

    While I love the freezer jam I have always made with Sure-Jell, there have been a few drawbacks over the years.

    1. Potential of jam not jelling: Sometimes the jam simply doesn’t jell. You’ll follow all the directions precisely and for whatever reason the jam just never jells. So, every batch was stressful. And when it didn’t jell, it was just such a waste of time and fruit. I know for a fact I’m not the only one this happens to, based on years of comments here on the blog.
    2. Recipe misprint: One year Sure-Jell misprinted the freezer jam recipe in the pectin boxes. It is amazing how many years those bad recipes keep turning up for people, ruining batch after batch of jam.
    3. Sugar Content. The classic Sure-Jell freezer jam recipe uses SO MUCH SUGAR. I know, I know, Sure-Jell has a low-sugar pectin option and I’ll admit I never tried it. I’m sure it’s great. But I love the original so much, but it is a heck of a lot of sugar.
    4. Different Recipes for Different Fruits: The recipes for different types of fruit are all different, so you have to be super careful when reading the recipe to prepare your jam or it won’t jell.
    5. Finicky Recipe: The directions are very finicky in general – you have to follow them precisely or else, well, see #1 and #4 for why this is frustrating!  

    Spoonful of raspberry freezer jam made with Pomona's Universal Pectin

    POMONA’S UNIVERSAL PECTIN: PROS

    Enter Pomona’s Universal Pectin. The texture of the jam is a little different from Sure-Jell’s, but it is equally as delicious. I will now address each of the issues listed above as applied to Pomona’s:

    1. Happy Jelling! This pectin is super reliable. I have made many batches now and every time the jam starts jelling instantly. It’s magic. And completely un-stressful.
    2. No misprinted recipe legacy. Pomona’s, however, does not include the freezer jam recipe in the box. You can find it on their website, but it’s kind of buried. So, I will share the recipe below (and re-write it with my notes). 
    3. Sugar Content: Pomona’s freezer jam recipe uses WAY LESS SUGAR and is still delicious. And the jam jells no problem and isn’t so dependent on sugar content. Also, the recipe gives you a range of the amount of sugar to use, so you can adjust to your taste.
    4. The recipe for different types of fruit are all the same. Four cups of prepared fruit per 4 teaspoons of pectin! (Note, there are approximately 9 teaspoons of pectin in 1 box, so don’t dump the whole thing for one batch…make sure you measure.)
    5. Simple Recipe: The directions are simper and seem no fail to me. I would be stunned if this recipe didn’t jell. It’s worked like a charm every time for me!

    So, there you have it. I’m a Pomona’s convert! 

    Looking down into a jar of raspberry freezer jam made with Pomona's Universal Pectin

    FREEZER JAM RESOURCES

    • Click here for my Freezer Jam Fruit Buying Guide. This guide will tell you how many ounces of fruit to buy for different amounts of pectin and sugar. I included measurements for both Sure-Jell and Pomona’s Universal pectins. This guide is a lifesaver for me year after year and I updated it with a nice graphic this year! Note: the guide is only for strawberries and raspberries.
    • Click here for the Sure-Jell raspberry and strawberry freezer jam recipe. Sure-Jell is delicious and some of you may still want to go that route. 
    • Lastly, the Pomona’s Universal Pectin freezer jam recipe! This recipe can be used for many types of fruits, listed below! 

    Boxes of Pomona's Universal Pectin in front of a jar of raspberry freezer jam

    Freezer Jam with Pomona's Universal Pectin
     
    This recipe is for raw freezer jam using Pomona's Universal Pectin. "Raw" simply means you do not cook the jam. The jam can be stored in any air-tight container, in the fridge for 1 week and up to 1 year in the freezer. (Note: I'm certain we've kept it in the fridge longer than 1 week without it going bad, but do what you feel safe with!) Recipe suitable for the following fruits: Strawberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Sour Cherry, Sweet Cherry, Pear, Kiwi, Blackberry, Plum, Peach, Apricot, Nectarine This recipe is from Pomona's Pectin website, but I have re-written it for ease and specifically for raw freezer jam, and have added notes as well.
    Author:
    Serves: 4-6 cups
    Ingredients
    • 4 cups mashed fruit (see step 3 below for preparation details)
    • ½ cup to 1 cup honey OR ¾ to 2 cups sugar (I use sugar)
    • ¾ cup boiling water
    • 3 teaspoons pectin
    • 4 teaspoons calcium water (plus more if needed, see step 1 below for how to prepare)
    Instructions
    1. Prepare calcium water: Combine ½ teaspoon calcium powder (included in the box) with ½ cup water in a small clear jar with a lid. Shake well. Set aside. Extra calcium water should be stored in the refrigerator for future use if needed.
    2. Wash and rinse freezer containers. Set aside.
    3. If using Strawberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Sour Cherry, Sweet Cherry, Pear, Kiwi, Blackberry, Plum: Remove hulls/stems/pits/skins as applicable, mash or grind, then measure to 4 cups. Make sure fruit is at room temperature when making the jam. If using Peach, Apricot or Nectarine: Pit/Chop/Mash OR peel/pit/mash fruit - bring to boil in a pan, boil for 2 minutes while stirring then let cool in a bowl, then measure to four cups.
    4. Measure fruit into large bowl. Add chosen sweetener (honey or sugar) to fruit and mix well.
    5. Bring ¾ cup water to a boil. Carefully pour into a food processor or blender. Add 4 teaspoons pectin. Vent lid and blend 1-2 minutes, until all powder is dissolved. (Jane note: I brought the water to a boil, then removed the pan from the heat, added the pectin, and whisked vigorously for 2 minutes and this worked, too.)
    6. Add hot liquid pectin to fruit mixture and stir to mix well.
    7. Add 4 teaspoons calcium water from jar, mix well into fruit mixture. Jell should appear at this point. If not, stir in 1 teaspoon calcium water at a time until jam is jelled.
    8. Fill containers, leaving ½" space at top of container. Store in freezer immediately for up to 1 year. Refrigerate after thawing.

     


  2. Sunday, April 19, 2020

    Kitchen Tip: Chopping Strawberries

    Since we’re chopping cauliflower, how about we chop some strawberries, too? I mean, it is strawberry season after all! Last year I was chopping strawberries for some strawberry shortcake and realized that every time I went to cut up a strawberry, I would do it this way…

    Step-by-step photo of the wrong way to cut up strawberries

    As you can see from my beautiful Photoshopping, this is the wrong way. I would always quarter the strawberries vertically from stem to tip first and then cut it into smaller pieces. This is no bueno because everything slips and slides, making it so that your pieces are all different sizes. It is also a wee bit dangerous, too.

    It’s taken a year, but I’ve broken the habit! I finally have retrained myself to cut strawberries the proper way, with no slipping and sliding to be seen! By cutting the strawberries horizontally (so not stem to tip) to start, you can then place the strawberry on its flat end (where you cut off the stem and leaves) and everything stays put! It’s a subtle difference but one I find that makes chopping strawberries much easier!

    Here are step-by-step photos! Tha may not be necessary, but strawberries are pretty so why not? 😉 

    Step 1: Cut off the leafy top.

    Whole washed strawberries on a black cutting board

    Strawberries on a cutting board with tops cut off

    Step 2: Cut the strawberries horizontally.

    You can cut them in halves or thirds, depending on the size of the strawberry.

    Top view of strawberries cut in half horizontally

    Step 3: Turn the strawberries up onto their cut-off-stem side, so the tips are pointing up.

    Backlit side view of strawberries cut in half horizontally

    Step 4: Quarter the strawberries, cutting tip to stem.

    Top view of chopped strawberries Side view of chopped strawberries

    Step 5: Knock all the strawberries over and eat them!

    Chopped strawberries on a cutting board


  3. Kitchen Tip: Chopping Cauliflower Without Making a Huge Mess

    A few years ago I posed a question on Facebook, something along the lines of, “What common kitchen task do you hate doing?” One of the responses was something I had never thought of but, once someone said it out loud, it forever bugged me, too! This fellow cook talked about how they hate chopping cauliflower because there are always a ton of tiny cauliflower pieces that get everywhere and are hard to wipe up. That person was right – those little pieces are annoying. So for years I’ve bemoaned the cauliflower mess, never quite figuring out a way to tackle it. UNTIL TODAY.

    Chopping cauliflower on a small cutting board on a rimmed baking sheet to minimize mess

    While prepping cauliflower to be roasted, I washed the head of cauliflower and cut out the core, used my hands to break it into large pieces, then put those pieces on the rimmed baking sheet to await being shopped smaller. As I reached for a cutting board, I ended up grabbing my smallest cutting board and putting it in the center of the pan. That’s where I chopped the pieces smaller, on the cutting board on the pan! It was awesome, my knife wasn’t damaged and all the cauliflower bits stayed right in the pan.

    I know it’s crazy I’m doing a whole blog post about this but that is how excited I am to make this discovery. Bring on the cauliflower! 

    Note: This tip will work well even if you aren’t planning to roast the cauliflower. Cutting the vegetable on a cutting board in a rimmed pan does a great job of minimizing mess. I’ll probably use this technique when chopping other foods, too!


  4. Thursday, April 25, 2019

    Show and Tell: IKEA Kitchen Finds + Live Music You Need to See

    I went to IKEA last month and found a few things for my kitchen that I am loving. And then I bought a bunch of concert tickets that I am pumped about, so I think a Show and Tell post is in order! 

    IKEA Kitchen Finds: Steak Knives, Dish Towels, Hand Whisk, Cheese Grater

    IKEA Kitchen Finds

    I haven’t been to IKEA in ages, but I went with the kids recently to get some new bedding for Anna’s room. I came home with a small pile of really awesome kitchen stuff, so I feel I must share.

    • Cheese Grater. IKEA made this type of cheese grater years ago. I’ve had mine forever and it’s still going strong. I even gave it to everyone for Christmas one year. Then IKEA stopped selling it for a while, which was sad, but now it’s back on the shelves! I’m so excited because every kitchen needs one of these. Reasons this grater is awesome: it doesn’t take up a ton of storage space, non-slip surface on the bottom, there are two grate size options, the container comes with a lid for storing cheese in the fridge, and it is only FIVE DOLLARS. This is, in my opinion, the best cheese grater around. Click here to buy.
    • Steak Knives. These little knives are only $5 a piece and work great. Here’s the thing, I got some cheap-o steak knives when we got married that were marvelous, and I’m down to only one left. I don’t want to spend $100/knife (or even $20/knife, really), but every cheap steak knife I’ve met since stinks. Not this IKEA knife. It’s great. Not quite as marvelous as my free set of Farberware steak knives, but close. 😉 Click here to buy.
    • Dish Towels. Okay, so, I bought these black dish towels and these grey/blue striped dish towels. They are exactly the same except for the color/pattern. The fabric finish is different from other dish towels at IKEA. These towels are pure magic and legit dry things off completely. Not a speck of water left behind. Plus, they aren’t white, so, you know, they don’t look like crap after a couple of uses. I ended up ordering more online and have a nice stash that will hopefully last me until I die.  
    • Hand Held Whisk. This is so random, but this whisk is like those antique hand held whisks that existed before hand blenders came along. And I love it. And you can put it in the dishwasher. It’s kinda bulky, but, whatever, I’m just glad IKEA brought the old-school hand blender back! Click here to buy.
    • Enameled Steel Grey Dishes with Blue Trim. I didn’t actually buy these dishes because I’m looking for white enameled dishes with red or black trim, however these were completely adorable. So, if you like grey and blue, you should totally get them because I feel like someone should. You can get bowls, plates and/or mugs
    • Prize Wheel Game. This is one of those wheel of fortune spinny wheel things. No, it has nothing to do with the kitchen. Yes, it is completely awesome and fun to spin and perfect for practicing cello with your 7-year-old son. I’ve told two teachers about this and two teachers have since bought it. So, you know, if you have a need for a prize wheel, here you go! Click here to buy.

    Live Music You Need to See

    I just bought a bunch of concert tickets. Happy Birthday/Merry Christmas/Everything Else to me! We have already seen these performers perform live and they were so good we are spending money to see them again. 

    • The Avett Brothers are on tour! Seriously, they are amazing live, and I’m not just saying that because they are my favorite band, which they totally are, but seriously, seriously, seriously, they are so good live. Click here for tour info.
    • Hozier is out and about, too. This dude is unbelievable live and can really jam, plus he has the happiest, kindest vibe about him. Click here for tour info.
    • Last but not least, Sara Bareilles. As a piano-player-singer-type, of course I’ve always loved Sara. But when I went to her concert a few years ago I had no comprehension of how truly spectacular she lives. Her musicianship is impressive, but she is also incredibly funny and witty. Her favorite word starts with “F” and she uses her favorite word a lot, but she makes it very endearing (haha!) and it’s not stopping me from taking my girls anyway. 😉 Click here for tour info.

  5. Friday, March 8, 2019

    Awesome Avocado Tips You Need In Your Life (Ep. 50)

    Header for Episode #50 of the This Week for Dinner Podcast - Avocado Tips Today marks the 50th episode of the This Week for Dinner podcast! To celebrate I am sharing some of my most favorite kitchen tips and they all have to do with avocados. Over the years I’ve had the chance to visit some avocado groves and here from some avocado experts and along the way I have picked up some really great tips. In the show I cover the best place to check for ripeness on an avocado, strategies for storing them at peak ripeness, and how to get the pit out without cutting off your hand. These tips have been game changers for me and I’m excited to share them with you all on the podcast.

    Shownotes:

    Plastic refrigerator wine bottle holder used to store avocados

    It’s easy to listen to the show!

    • Via the web: Click the play button below!
    • Via an app: Search “This Week for Dinner Podcast” on your favorite podcast app (iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, Spotify, etc.).

    Other Stuff!


  6. Friday, January 11, 2019

    Friday Show & Tell: I Caught the Tidy Bug and It Feels Great!

    Marie Kondo and her magical tidying-up ways are all the rage…again. AND WITH GOOD REASON. Have you seen her new show on Netflix? It’s wonderful, both because there are tons of great tips and inspiration and Marie Kondo is the cutest human and you’ll totally fall in love with her.

    Photo of Marie Kondo from Netflix's new show "Tidying Up" | Photo Credit Denise Crew/NetflixPhoto credit: Denise Crew/Netflix

    Last week the kids and I visited two of my aunts while we traipsing around the West in our minivan. Both of these aunts have very tidy homes (I know for a fact at least one of them read Marie’s book years ago). Stepping into their homes and finding my way around their kitchens/cleaning supplies/whatever was no problem because everything was so organized, logical and easy to see. While all of it was inspiring, the thing that really stuck with me was my Aunt Barb’s pantry shelves. Sure, they looked great, but more importantly I noticed that she very clearly only stocks the foods she uses on a regular basis. I know, DUH. This should be obvious, but I had so much food I’ve kept for years (and even moved from house to house) that I was never going to use. So, I came home and immediately started cleaning out my food drawers and shelves.

    Photo of my newly-organized kitchen food shelves

    Then Nate told me that Marie Kondo had a new show on Netflix called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. We bought her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up years ago but I never read it. It seemed the fates were trying to tell me something, what with the tidy aunties and the tidy TV show converging on me. Anna and I watched a few episodes over the weekend and, well, I’ve been an organizing Tasmanian devil all week.

    I didn’t do any before-the-tidying-frenzy photos, but I did take some after shots! (On my iPhone so my photography is, well, not awesome…but whatever, this isn’t a photography lesson, amiright? I’m tired after all this cleaning, too tired to pick up my heavy camera.)

    Organizing The Kitchen

    Newly-organized canned goods shelf as inspired by Marie Kondo

    Most every shelf, cabinet and drawer got cleaned out and organized this week. Previously all my canned goods resided in the drawer you see below. Which means I couldn’t see all the cans easily. But also I hardly ever used anything that was in that drawer, the drawer that happens to be the most accessible in my kitchen. Out all the cans went (holy crap some of them were old…you can see the rings from a leaky, rusty can in the drawer that I couldn’t clean off!), and I put the good cans of food on a shelf in the garage, where everything is super easy to see and, therefore, actually useful. I put things in drawer-previously-known-as-the-useless-canned-food-drawer that we use on a regular basis and even ended up with room to spare. (One of my favorite things in life are empty spaces in closets and drawers!) This is only one major change that happened in the kitchen this week…I won’t bore you with the rest, but needless to say using my kitchen is now 100% easier.

    One of my food storage drawers, newly organized and much easier to use

    Clothing

    We’re not quite done cleaning out everyone’s clothes, but most of it is done. The way Marie Kondo folds clothes is fantastic. Owen knows how to do it now and was super excited to organize his drawers. As I went through all his shirts with him there was one that he never wears and I was surprised when he said he wanted to keep it. When I asked him why he never wears it he said, “Because I can’t ever see it.” Now he can see all his shirts, again making the things we have more useful! I am really hoping as we get into the normal routine of life we can maintain this folding technique when doing laundry because it is awesome. I’ll keep you posted!

    My son's t-shirt drawer, with all the clothes folded the Marie Kondo way

    Bathrooms

    Every single drawer and shelf in both our bathrooms was completely emptied and then organized. Like food, there was stuff in there we hadn’t touched in ages (sometimes over a decade!). We went from completely stuffed cabinets and drawers to having room to spare. Again, everything is viewable and therefore more useful. Here’s our medicine cabinet, organized by category. It’s like a pharmacy!

    Our newly-organzied medicine cabinet, one that would make any pharmacist happy!

    Everything Else

    I cleaned out closets, linens, shoes, you name it. Here’s my cloth napkin drawer, where now I have room for dish cloths and my vacuum attachments. This drawer is like a whole new person (you know, if drawers were people).

    Cloth napkin drawer after going through the Marie Kondo method

    We kept the things we use regularly as well as those things that spark joy, we recycled/tossed/donated everything else, and then we tidied up. And it was the best use of my time in our home in a long time. Thanks Aunt Sue, Aunt Barb and Marie Kondo!

    Happy New Year and Happy Tidying!


  7. Thursday, December 20, 2018

    How to Make a Cake That Looks Like Toast. Yep, Toast.

    My oldest child Cate turned 14 a few days ago. (PS: FOURTEEN. Unreal.) Cate is obsessed with toast, so much so that I’ve instituted a toast ration in our house. Yeah, I know, meanest mom ever. But this ration is there to protect all of us – it keeps Cate from dying of malnutrition from overindulgence of toast and also saves me from spending my entire retirement on good toast bread to support her habit. (I think drugs might be cheaper, quite frankly. Not that I’m condoning drugs or anything but seriously I SPEND SO MUCH MONEY ON BREAD, PEOPLE.) As her birthday party was approaching this year she came up with a brilliant/hilarious/bizarre birthday cake request: toast. Yes, she wanted a cake that looked like toast. Honestly, I wasn’t opposed because I figured it couldn’t be too hard to figure out how to make a cake that looks like toast.

    Side view of a cake that looks like cinnamon sugar toast

    I was right. A toast cake is not hard at all. And the cake ended up being so fun the photo I posted on Instagram got the most likes of any photo I’ve ever posted there. Who could have predicted a cake that looks like toast would be so popular, even among non addicts?

    Since the cake was such a hit, figured I’d give you all a quick rundown on how to pull it together. In addition to a quick step-by-step, I’ll share the recipes I used.

    Top view of a birthday cake that looks like cinnamon sugar toast

    How to Make a Cake That Looks Like Toast

    • Bake two 8- or 9-inch square cakes. I made vanilla cake with cream cheese frosting because those flavors go great with cinnamon sugar.
    • Stack the unfrosted cakes on top of each other and then cut out pieces as indicated in the drawing below.

    Template for cutting a square cake into the shape of toast

    • Frost the cake like you would any 2-layer cake but leave the sides unfrosted. I made a back and forth motion on the top in parallel lines so the frosting would look like butter was spread on the cake.
    • Once the middle and top of the cake are frosted, sift a bit of cocoa powder into the frosting and blend well. You want to make a nice light brown-colored frosting. I probably added about a tablespoon or so. Use this to frost the sides of the cake.
    • Once the cake is frosted, sprinkle the top carefully and evenly with cinnamon sugar.
    • Be sure to click here and read through my Amateur’s Guide to Making Super Cute Cakes post. That post has all the tips you need to successfully decorate the cake!

    Birthday cake that looks like toast with cinnamon sugar on top!

    That’s it! If you can make a 2-layer cake, you can make a toast cake.

    Vanilla Cake
     
    Prep time
    Cook time
    Total time
     
    This is a great basic vanilla cake recipe from Matthew Mead's "Cakes for Kids" book. I've re-written the directions in my own words.
    Author:
    Ingredients
    • 2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for pans
    • 2½ teaspoons baking powder
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • ⅔ cup butter at room temperature
    • 1¾ cups sugar
    • 2 large eggs, room temp
    • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1¼ cups milk
    • 2 teaspoons grated fresh orange or lemon zest (optional...I have never added this b/c I am lazy)
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 350º F.
    2. This recipe works for 24 cupcakes, 2 8-inch or 9-inch cakes, or 1 9x13 cake. If using cupcake liners, place liners in muffin tin and set aside. If using cake pan(s), lightly grease the bottom of the cake pan, line it with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper and the sides of the pan. Lightly flour the pan. Set aside.
    3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the 2½ cups flour, baking powder and salt.
    4. Using a stand mixer, beat butter on medium-high speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl.
    5. Leaving the mixer on medium speed, add ¼ cup sugar. Beat for 3 minutes. Keep adding sugar ¼ cup at a time, mixing for 3 minutes between each addition until you've added all the sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then beat on medium speed for 2 more minutes.
    6. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating at medium speed for 30 seconds between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
    7. With the mixer on low speed, add ⅓ of the flour mixture, then half of the milk, then ⅓ of the flour mixture, then the rest of the milk, then the rest of the flour mixture, mixing until just combined for each addition. If using zest, add it now.
    8. Scrape down the sides of the bowl then give the batter one more mix at high speed for 20 seconds.
    9. Spread the batter in the pan, filling cake pans or cupcakes ⅔ full with batter.
    10. For 8- or 9-inch cakes, bake for 30-35 minutes. For 9x13 cake, bake for 35-40 minutes. For cupcakes bake for 10-12 minutes. Toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean when done.
    11. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Using a knife, cut around the edges of the cake, then invert the pan over the wire rack, lift pan to remove cake and peel off parchment paper. Let cake cool completely on the rack. For cupcakes, let cool in the pan for 15 minutes before removing.

    Cream Cheese Frosting
     
    This frosting is perfect for decorating cakes and cupcakes!
    Author:
    Ingredients
    • 1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
    • 10.5 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 5 cups powdered sugar (maybe 5½ cups if you feel like it needs to be a bit thicker)
    Instructions
    1. Beat the butter and cream cheese with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer until smooth.
    2. Beat in vanilla.
    3. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed until frosting is smooth.

     

     


  8. Thursday, September 27, 2018

    Super Cute & Super Easy Minecraft Slime Birthday Cake

    If you’ve been around this blog for a while you know that I love making fun birthday cakes for my kids. Owen just turned 7 and it was a family year for him (the kids get friend parties on their even-numbered birthdays). In addition to it being a family year I also turned 40, so I kind of forgot about making him a cake. (WHAT?!?!?) Then, the day before his birthday, Owen was talking about his Minecraft Slime birthday cake. And I realized, “OH. I need to make a birthday cake.” There may have been a bit of panic on my part, however Minecraft saved me from a full blown panic attack because SQUARES. I looked up what Minecraft slime looks like and I was especially relieved.

    Picture of a Minecraft Slime Birthday Cake (instructions for assembly included in the post)

    This Minecraft Slime birthday cake is so easy to throw together, even a mom who forgot that she makes awesome cakes for her kids every year and had to throw together a cake last minute could do it. So, if you have a kid (or grown up) in your life who loves Minecraft, you should totally suggest this cake to them. Because you’ll knock their socks off and won’t even break a sweat doing it!

    Birthday cake that looks like slime from Minecraft (assembly instructions included in the post)

    If you’re going to make this cake, I highly recommend reading my post An Amateur’s Guide to Making Super Cute Cakes before jumping in as it has lots of great tips. In addition, I used the frosting and cake recipes included in that post for this Minecraft Slime birthday cake.

    How to Decorate a Minecraft Slime Birthday Cake
     
    Author:
    Ingredients
    • A 1- or 2-layer 8 inch square cake (I halved the cake recipe and only did a 1-layer cake, but a regular 2-layer cake works perfectly)
    • Buttercream frosting (I one-and-a-half timesed the buttercream recipe I linked to above for a 1-layer cake; if you do a 2-layer cake I would recommend 3 timesing the recipe)
    • Fondant
    • Green food coloring (I used Wilton's Leaf Green gel food color)
    Instructions
    1. Please read the "Amateur's Guide" post to get tips about frosting the cake (which includes freezing the cake, doing a crumb coat, etc).
    2. Frost your 8-inch square cake with light green frosting. Use a long icing spatula to make the buttercream look as flat as possible.
    3. Add a lot of green food coloring to a handful of fondant - the fondant will be the same green color as the icing, but it should be darker, so keep adding color until it is darker. Massage the fondant in your hands until the green food coloring is fully incorporated.
    4. Using a rolling pin, roll out the fondant into an even, semi-thin layer. When rolling the fondant, place waxed or parchment paper on the cutting board and then another piece of waxed or parchment paper on top of the fondant before rolling. Also, rolling the fondant out once and then balling it and rolling it out again is a good way to get the color to look even.
    5. Cut two 2-1/2 inch squares out of the fondant using a pizza cutter. Cut one 1-1/2 inch square. Click here to download a template for the squares and placement on the cake. Place the large squares on the cake about where you would place them for eyes if the square was a face. Place the small square around where you would put a mouth, but be sure to offset the square to the right a bit.

     

     


  9. Monday, February 26, 2018

    The Trick to Perfectly Baked Bacon

    I’ve been baking bacon for years. I love the technique because you can cook a lot of bacon at once, it doesn’t get your stove totally greasy, and the bacon comes out great. It’s my favorite. But I didn’t realize until last week that there is a small trick I didn’t know about that makes for perfectly baked bacon.

    The Key to Perfectly Baked Bacon from @janemaynard

    So, what’s the big secret? This magical trick? The trick is putting the bacon into the oven when it’s cold. That’s right, do not preheat the oven. The cold oven allows the bacon to cook slowly, which makes bacon happy. Now, I’ve been putting my bacon into a preheated oven forever and been totally happy, but since I’ve started not preheating the oven, the bacon is just that much better and more evenly cooked.

    Also, putting the bacon into a preheated oven doesn’t add any time to the preparation. After all, you’re going to be preheating the oven no matter what!

    The Key to Perfectly Baked Bacon from @janemaynard

    I know, an entire blog post about this little tip? Well, that’s how excited I am about it. This discovery is, to me, completely blog post worthy.

    Perfectly Baked Bacon
     
    Author:
    Ingredients
    • Bacon
    Instructions
    1. Place bacon on a rimmed baking sheet, making sure pieces do not overlap. It's okay if they are right up next to each other, but overlapping is no bueno. (I like to line my baking sheet with foil to help with clean up. This is one of the things I do in the kitchen that makes me feel totally guilty about my environmental impact, but alas, I continue in my terrible ways. It's just so much easier! But you totally can put the bacon directly on the pan.)
    2. Place baking sheet in oven, then turn oven on to 400º F.
    3. Cooking time will depend on how long it takes your oven to heat as well as how thick your bacon is. My oven takes 25 minutes to get to 400º F, and then our super thick bacon from the local grocery store takes about another 20-30 minutes to finish cooking, so my total cook time is usually around 45 minutes. I would start peeking at the bacon to see how it's doing once the oven is fully heated, and then check in on the bacon every 5-10 minutes. When it's getting close to done, 1-2 minutes can make a big difference in how crispy it is. You'll figure out what works best for your taste after a few times cooking it this way.
    4. My other latest trick is to cook the bacon so it is a little bit underdone then storing it in the fridge so we have cooked bacon at our fingertips. To reheat, microwave for 30-90 seconds (depending on your microwave's strength, the thickness of the bacon and how crispy you like it - work in 10-15 second increments to find the magic number) to finish off cooking the bacon and enjoy!

     


  10. Thursday, October 5, 2017

    The Easiest Dinosaur Birthday Cake That Was Beyond Beloved

    Owen’s birthday was last week and I have yet to share his birthday cake with you all. I love making fun birthday cakes for my kids and my kids really look forward to planning out their cake each year. For his 6th birthday, Owen decided he wanted a dinosaur birthday party. He and I sat down and scrolled through Pinterest together to find the perfect dinosaur birthday cake. Owen picked out a few options, kept changing his mind about which cake he wanted, and then learned about chocolate candy that looks like rocks. Once he knew that candy existed he was hooked on making what turned out to be the easiest dinosaur birthday cake ever. Thanks, Owen!

    Easiest Dinosaur Birthday Cake from @janemaynard

    So, how do you make the easiest dinosaur birthday cake ever?

    1. Make a 2-layer round cake. Frost with chocolate frosting. Be generous with the frosting, especially on the top as those dinosaurs need a nice layer of mud to sink their feet into so they can stay standing!
    2. Buy chocolate candy that looks like rocks/pebbles. (I found the candy at Cost Plus World Market. They have pebble candy on Amazon, too, although the candy at Cost Plus were cuter and cheaper.)
    3. Place said candy on top of the cake.
    4. Pick out 3 of your child’s toy dinosaurs, stick them on top of the cake. (Dinosaurs should be relatively small – the big ones tip over.)
    5. YOU ARE DONE. You’re welcome.

    Easiest Dinosaur Birthday Cake from @janemaynard

    I used Matthew Mead’s chocolate cake recipe, which you can find at the end of this blog post. I made a chocolate buttercream frosting for the outside of the cake – recipe below!

    Click here for the the inspiration for this cake!

    Click here for the other easy dinosaur birthday cake idea (hello, cutest fossils ever) that I was totally trying to get Owen to choose. I had him convinced for about 2 hours, but then that rock candy ruined everything. Except it didn’t because Owen’s cake was super awesome.

    Easiest Dinosaur Birthday Cake from @janemaynardThat’s Owen’s “I knew the rock candy cake would be as cute as the fossil cake, Mom” face.

    Here is how I made the chocolate buttercream frosting. Once again, people who usually do not like cake loved my cake. These recipes are winners. Also, use HIGH QUALITY cocoa powder. I’m telling you it makes a difference. Promise.

    Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
     
    Author:
    Ingredients
    • 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) salted butter, room temperature
    • ⅔ cups cocoa powder
    • 6-7 cups powdered sugar
    • 6-8 tablespoons milk or cream
    Instructions
    1. Beat butter with a mixer (I use my KitchenAid with the paddle attachment).
    2. Using a fine mesh sieve, add the cocoa powder to the butter. (The sieve prevents the cocoa from getting lumpy.)
    3. Gradually work in the powdered sugar, alternating with the milk/cream and beating well after each addition. I put a range for the powdered sugar and milk/cream measurements. Start with 6 cups and 6 tablespoons each, then add more powdered sugar if the frosting is too thin, or more milk/cream if it is too thick. Frosting should be a spreading consistency that still holds its shape.
    Notes
    This makes enough frosting for a 2-layer 8- or 9-inch cake, with a little leftover.