Easy Tricks to Shortcut Your Cooking

Easy Tricks to Shortcut Your Cooking

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?

6 Hot Tips To Avoid Freezer Burn (and stop throwing away your $$)

6 Hot Tips To Avoid Freezer Burn (and stop throwing away your $$)

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Always use high quality zipper-style bags to freeze food, and try to wrap foods in a bag that fits just right.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

We have just the thing to keep your freezer full of great healthy meals so you never have to wonder “what’s for dinner”. Click here to learn more!

 

Back to Basics: 3 Kitchen Appliance Must-Haves

Back to Basics: 3 Kitchen Appliance Must-Haves

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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?

Back to Basics: Teaching Basic Table Manners to Children

Back to Basics: Teaching Basic Table Manners to Children

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.

Back to Basics: Kitchen Knives

Back to Basics: Kitchen Knives

One of the most overlooked techniques in cooking has to do with using a knife. A lot of people use the wrong knife for the wrong job. Not only that, but they cut inefficiently and don’t give technique its proper due, creating a much longer prep process than necessary. The fix? Use the right knife for the job and know how to use it! Here are some hints:

Back to Basics_ Kitchen Knives

Know Your Knives

Sharp, high quality knives are an investment. This is one place you cannot afford to skimp. Buy a good brand (I’ve used Henckels for over 20 years now) and you’ll have them for your entire cooking career.

First up on the list is a basic cutting and chopping knife. A 6 to 8 inch chef knife (or the same sized santoku knife, which is a Japanese knife used for the same chopping abilities) is the ticket. Don’t be intimidated by this large a knife. Once you learn how to hold it and chop with it (don’t worry, I will teach you how!), you won’t believe you ever could cook without one!

Next is the paring knife. Again, we’re talking quality here quality, no cheapie, 99 cent plastic handled numbers you picked up at the dollar store. In a pinch on your way to a picnic, maybe, but you can’t use a knife like that everyday in the kitchen or I promise, you will end up hating to cook. Quality tools DO make a major difference.

Paring knives have smaller blades, about 2 ½” to 3″ long. This is the knife you will use to peel or pare an apple, trim the ends off radishes, Brussels’s sprouts, etc.

Serrated knives will help you slice a tomato like a pro, cut bread into slices, and cut up citrus with ease. The toothy blade makes all the difference. My preference is a larger and smaller serrated knife (one of each); the larger knife for bread; the smaller one for the citrus and tomato slicing.

You can’t have Thanksgiving (or any other holiday requiring a slicing up of the holiday fowl or beast) without a large carving knife and fork. The blade on these knives is typically long and flexible, enabling you to negotiate corners and carve neatly. If you can, purchase the carving knife and fork set together. I have the same lovely set I received as a gift over 20 years ago and they work just as wonderfully now as they did all those years ago when I struggled to carve my first Thanksgiving turkey.

Two other knives you probably won’t need are a boning knife and a filleting knife. And guess what you’ll do with these knives? Bone and fillet! Now, let me tell you how often I use my boning and filleting knives. About once a year, if that. Bottom line is if I need something boned or filleted, I will have my butcher take care of it for me. Why? Is it because I don’t know how to do it or because I’m lazy? The answer is both. I can painstakingly bone a chicken breast or another piece of meat and I can fillet, too. But not well. This is why we ask the butcher to do it. This is what he does for a living and you don’t. Besides, you have other things to do besides boning and filleting meat or poultry don’t you? I’m glad we discussed this. So for the sake a full set of knives, make sure you have your boning and filleting knives. We’ll all sleep better at night knowing you have a complete set.

Use Your Knives

So now you’re asking me how to use that santoku or French knife–the big one. Okay, believe it or not, this is easy. First off, you will need to use both hands, one for holding whatever it is that you’re cutting (that will be the opposite hand you will be cutting with) and the hand that you are going to cut with. The hand that holds the food we will be transforming temporarily into a claw. Yes, a claw. Why a claw? Glad you asked. Because when you are holding the food in a claw-like fashion, if your knife accidentally gets too close to your fingers, the worst that will happen is your fingers will get too close a shave, but you won’t be losing any digits to the santoku!

Now as far as making the chopping go smoothly and quickly like they do on Food TV; that just requires a rhythm, which will come as you get better at chopping. The idea is to “rock” the blade slightly as you chop. This will build a rhythm and eventually, your speed. Next time you’re watching the Food Network, pay attention as Emeril chops effortlessly. He’s got his claw going; he’s a-rockin’ and a-choppin”, the whole thing is an art form. Remember though, you’re not Emeril. Go easy and slow and be careful. These are sharp knives we’re working with here, not rubber spatulas.

Keep your knives sharp (use a steel, not a “knife sharpener”) and hold the knife at 25 degree angle, move the blade down one side of the steel, than on the other. Make sure you do both sides evenly. I always count when I do my knives. If this makes you nervous, go to a good quality-cooking store and have them show you how, they’re happy to oblige! Just remember, dull knives are what cause accidents. Stay safe and enjoy cooking!

10 Tips to Help You Successfully Navigate the Grocery Store

10 Tips to Help You Successfully Navigate the Grocery Store

A lifestyle of poor diet and lack of exercise kills about 400,000 Americans every year—that’s as many who have died from smoking, can you imagine?? And that’s only Americans—this number does not count the rest of the world that eats poorly and neglects to exercise! YIKES!

It’s a tough world out there and today’s grocery store is no exception. Here are some tips to navigate the grocery store successfully and buy the healthy foods you need and avoid the unhealthy ones that could kill you! Healthy foods don’t need to bankrupt you or make you spend untold hours in the kitchen. Here are some tips for getting healthy happening in your kitchen today:

1)    Fast Food. Look for stuff that is fast and easy to make, like sweet potatoes (stab, bake, eat). Cheap eats, massively good for you and filling.

2)    Go Green. Baby spinach is fast-food friendly too. Not as cheap as sweet ‘taters, but worth the cost of admission! I like mine stir-fried (little bit of olive oil and lotsa garlic!) and in salads.

3)    Brown Rice. You can make a vat of this stuff (if you’re not eating Paleo that is), scoop into individual freezer bags and freeze for later use if time is of the essence. Having a box of quick cooking brown rice at home isn’t a bad idea either, but the long cooking stuff is much less expensive.

4)    Grow Your Own. Having a veggie garden is a lot easier than you think. Check out www.squarefootgardening.com for a plan for nearly everyone!

5)    Thirst Out. Water is about as economical as it can get. If you want clean and fresh water, check out different water purifiers and start pile driving the water. Cheaper than anything else you can drink!

6)    Seasonal Stuff. Buy in season (summer is the time to find cheap watermelon, not the middle of winter), buy locally when at all possible and buy organically if you can.

7)    Garlic and Onions. Very inexpensive and will ratchet up the flavor and potency of nearly anything you make, not to mention the antioxidant factors as well. Keep them on hand!

8)    Read Labels. And remember, if you have to spend 10 minutes deciphering a food’s label with unpronounceable chemical additives and you have no earthly idea what they are, your body doesn’t know what they are either. Not only that, but you’re going to pay for those expensive chemicals at the cash register and in your own health. Skip anything with fake colors, flavorings or “flavor enhancers”…they all ROB you of your health!

9)    Eat your veggies. Go heavy on the veggies.  In the summer, we have fresh tomato sauce on zucchini “pasta” with chopped fresh oregano. You can throw in a cooked chicken breast and you have a complete meal. I grow tomatoes, zucchini and oregano in my garden and the whole meal is divine!

10)    Beans, Beans. A healthy, yet frugal food, (skip this tip if you eat strictly Paleo) dried beans need to be soaked, cooked and then can be made into a multitude of cheap eats, from soups to chilis to salad.

Don’t become a statistic and please don’t think healthy food is out of your reach or budget! It’s not hard, it’s enjoyable and the cool thing about eating healthy, grown in the ground food is you always know what you’re eating—no labels necessary!

Enjoy!

PS – Want to make grocery shopping even easier?  Check out Dinner Answers to make your meal planning and shopping list in a flash!