I get asked all the time for ways to make dinner faster. I get that; we’re a microwave society. We want it quick, dirty and hassle-free. This is why convenience foods are so popular (and expensive and 99% of the time, full of chemicals and lacking nutrients).
Here are a couple of things that I do that helps me get dinner done quickly and efficiently:
1) Shear Strength. I use my kitchen shears as much as I use my knives. From snipping fresh herbs, to opening bags of frozen berries, to cutting up chicken, I have two pairs and one in always in the dishwasher!
2) Foiled Again. To prevent my celery from going limp and nasty (and listen, having to run out to the store to buy fresh celery in the middle of cooking is total buzz kill) I wrap it foil. It stays fresh for weeks this way!
3) Garlic Getaway. I use these little garlic ice cubes (Dorot is the brand) that I buy from Trader Joe’s to shortcut the fresh garlic pressing stuff. The garlic is better (in my opinion) than that of the jarred variety and it’s so easy and convenient, love them!
4) Spin on Spinach. I buy triple washed tubs of organic spinach at the warehouse store. I saute it for a side dish, add it to salads, make it the salad, stir it into soups, eggs and quiches. It’s amazing and versatile and cuts my prep work way down.
5) More Spin. I use a salad spinner for my lettuce to get it nice and dry. Wash it, throw it in the spinner, take it for a quick spin and voila, lettuce that’s washed, dried and ready to go for your salad!
These are just a few of my shortcuts. What about you? Do you have some tried and true ones you’d like to share?
Have you ever removed a tray of meat from the freezer only to find discoloration and ice crystals? If you’ve forgotten about a carton of ice cream in the freezer for any length of time, you may have opened it to find its surface covered in ice. Freezer burn, we tend to call it.
Freezing food is a great way to extend the life of our perishable items, but when you freeze foods, you stand the chance of having your food become freezer burnt.
Freezer burn presents itself as discoloration on the surface of frozen foods such as bread and meat. Ice crystals are another sign of freezer burn, which we can find in frozen produce and ice cream.
To understand freezer burn a bit better, it helps to know more about how the freezing process works. When food is frozen, most of the water content of that food is converted to ice. Some of the water, though, is converted directly to water vapor and is released from the food all together. This process is called sublimation.
This water loss causes food to become dehydrated over time, like ice cubes that eventually shrink when they’re left in the freezer. So, in essence, this process freeze dries parts of foods, resulting in freezer burn.
In air-tight containers (like ice cream), that water vapor forms frost on the insides of the container and/or on the surface of the food. In open containers or containers that aren’t perfectly sealed, the vapor that escapes actually leads to that build up of ice on the inside of non-frost-free freezers.
And what we’re left with is food with strange flavors that’s difficult to chew.
When you have freezer-burnt food on your hands, you should do your best to discard the areas that have been affected. But you know I just hate food waste, so let’s talk about how to prevent freezer burn all together.
Tips to prevent freezer burn
- Remove as much air as you can from packages you freeze food in. The closer your food is to its packaging, the less chance there is of it losing water.
- Don’t leave your food in the freezer longer than you have to. The longer your food is frozen, the greater the chance of it becoming freezer burnt.
- Set your freezer at the lowest setting that you can in order to help avoid sublimation from occurring, as it’s less likely at lower temperatures.
- Always use high quality zipper-style bags to freeze food, and try to wrap foods in a bag that fits just right.
- Don’t place hot food in the freezer. You risk increasing the temperature of your freezer, and some of your frozen foods may even start to thaw.
- Avoid opening the freezer door more than it needs to be opened. This will help keep the freezer temperature from fluctuating, which can lead to freezer burn.
Making meals out of the meat/poultry/fish and produce you buy as soon as you get them home from the grocery store is another way to ensure that your food doesn’t get wasted and forgotten about at the back of the freezer.
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With packing up to move to our new home this week, it has me thinking again about the kitchen basics. What kitchen essentials does any college kid, newly married couple, or just someone starting out in the kitchen, really need to get started?
First: A toaster oven. This little gem is really a great multi-tasking work horse. It will bake a potato, heat up leftovers and make toast. Considering that most people aren’t cooking for a family just starting out, this little oven works great for one or two and keeps costs down in the utility department too.
Staff Pick: BLACK+DECKER Counterop Convention Toaster Oven
Second: Blenders are a fantastic little marvel. Smoothies are one of my favorite and most often used quick, to go breakfast options, and I wouldn’t get very far if I didn’t have my blender to rely on! They also prove to be useful beyond mixing smoothies or drinks, but blenders can also puree soups, and chop softer ingredients as well.
Staff Pick: Blendtec Total Blender Classic, with FourSide Jar or NutriBullet Pro
Third: Coffeemaker or hot pot. Keep your money and make your coffee at home! If you’re the parent of a college kid, I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough, LOL! The little hot pot is great for heating water for tea, hot cocoa or those dreadful instant noodles college kids consume by the truckload. (I certainly don’t condone this practice of eating those noodle cups, but it is a fact of life and part of the growing up process!)
Staff Pick: Hamilton Beach Single Serve Coffee Brewer and Full Pot Coffee Maker or Bodum CHAMBORD French Press Coffee Maker, Copper Classic Collection
So there you have it. There are several other appliances out there to be had, but that will come later. For me, walking into the appliance section of a store is like walking into a toy store. I love it, but we only need to start with a few and these 3 are definitely a good start!
What is the ONE kitchen appliance that you absolutely can’t do without?
You know how I feel about making dinner an event in your home. I’m a firm believer in getting everyone around the table together for dinner to reconnect with each other, discuss the day’s events and to nourish our bodies with good home-cooked food.
A few weeks ago I talked about the importance of learning how to set a proper table. Today, I’m going to talk about something else that makes sitting down to a meal an enjoyable experience. Today we’re talking table manners.
My children were taught how to behave at the table from the time they were in their booster seats, so they naturally grew up knowing what to do and what not to do at the table.
This might not seem like a significant life skill to some people, but I believe that it is.
Think about it. How quickly can someone be turned off by a person chewing loudly with their mouth open in a formal dinner setting? It drives me up the wall when someone reaches over my plate to grab something at the table, rather than asking for me to pass it to them.
If you have children around your table, you have lots of time to train them in dinner table etiquette.
Teaching table manners to pre-schoolers.
It’s never too early to start teaching the basic stuff, like washing your hands before going to the table and sitting down on your chair to eat. Those things can start being drilled into a child as young as 2. Between then and kindergarten age, here are some other basic table manners you can start to teach:
• Say please and thank you
• No toys at the table
• Ask to be excused from the table
• Set your napkin in your lap and to use it when wiping your face
• Thank the person who cooked the meal
• Use utensils to eat
• Take small bites
• No running around or yelling during dinner
For children at the higher end of this age bracket, they can be taught to say nice things about the foods they like and to not make a fuss about the foods they don’t like.
Teaching table manners to grade-school children.
A child at this age should automatically wash their hands before sitting down at the table and they should already be sitting nicely at the table, and saying please and thank you. But now it’s time to teach some more adult table manners:
• Don’t slurp
• Use a knife and fork to cut food
• Chew with mouth closed
• Don’t reach over a fellow diner’s plate
• Wait until everyone is served before starting to eat
Include children in discussion around the table and make sure your child knows that you’re interested in hearing about their day.
When they have these manners down as children, it’s really just a matter of refining them through young adulthood.
Comment on their good manners when you find they’re using them. Your praise goes a long way.
Teenagers should already have these basic table manners down, but please make sure there’s a “no phones at the table” rule in place. Lead by example! Everyone should wait until dinner is over before returning to their mobile device.
What is your biggest dinner etiquette pet peeve? Come tell us on Facebook.
Believe it or not, this is one question I get asked all the time–what containers should I consider for my leftovers?
I get it because I am always dealing with leftovers myself–I LOVE leftovers because they are the magical beginnings of a new creation or else, just a glorious recap of the night before’s dinner. Either way, I’m good with them because they mean less work and ease of accomplishment for the next meal.
So what do you put these divine leftovers in anyway?
I’ve done it all from Rubbermaid, to Tupperware to mason jars and plenty of wraps, bags and foil in between.
The cleanest however is mason jars–they come in a variety of sizes, can be used over and over and over again. They freeze (if you follow some smart tips to keep them from breaking) and they’re easy to write on (plain old masking tape with a sharpie to identify and date on the lid).
Mason jars are inexpensive and are easy to find whether you’re in a hardware store, shopping online (Amazon for sure), in Target or Walmart–they are everywhere!
The lids need to replaced every once in awhile–they wear out and can get gross if they’re not washed thoroughly because they’re a two piece lid.
I prefer to put both pieces (separated) in the silverware caddy in my dishwasher and I like to use the heat function of the dishwasher (I usually don’t–I open the door and let them air dry; living in Colorado, it’s really dry here) to keep them from rusting.
Sometimes though, you just need a little tiny something to store that 1/2 a lime in or spoonful of gravy (add it to your soup to add texture, depth and a little extra flavor).
That’s when I fall down the ziplock rabbit hole. I have them and I use them but its not my first go to. They do come in handy though!
Speaking of Amazon, here’s a great deal I found (and am getting myself!)
A couple members of our team also rave about Bee’s Wrap.
Date night doesn’t always have to mean finding a babysitter and making reservations at an expensive restaurant. That’s nice to do once in a while, but there’s no reason why you can’t have a date night in on a regular basis. Feed the kids early, put them to bed and prepare a romantic, candle-lit meal for just the two of you!
Set the mood
Part of the fun of going to a restaurant for a romantic dinner is the ambiance. Try to recreate that atmosphere at home by setting the table with some linens, flowers, candles, a nice set of dishes and beautiful glassware.
Sexy menu items
We’ve all heard that oysters are good for spicing things up, if you know what I’m saying, but they aren’t the only sexy foods out there.
• Asparagus is a natural aphrodisiac for men and women, so be sure to add some to the menu.
• Figs have been eaten to spice things up between couples for hundreds of years.
• Chiles are also known to turn things up a notch or two in the boudoir! The capsaicin in spicy foods raise the heart rate and trigger the release of endorphins.
• Chocolate-dipped strawberries. It’s cliche for a reason, people.
Dress for the occasion
Change out of the yoga pants and put on that killer little black dress and a sassy apron! Wear your heels while you’re cooking (or being cooked for!). Put on your favorite music, pour a glass of wine and have fun with it.
Reconnect with your honey over the chopping and peeling.
Serve your fancy meal in courses if you’d like to draw out the evening. Sit down to your salads while your main course cooks away. After your main course, clean the kitchen before serving dessert.
What you do after dessert is up to yourselves. 😉