Browsing Category: how to make this work

How to correct too-tart tomato sauce without adding sugar or sweetener

tomato-sauce-from-scratch-wikimedia-550x400
how to correct tomato sauce without adding sugar

“Unless you are using sweet, height-of-summer tomatoes, chances are your tomato sauce will taste more tart than you might like. Many recipes call for adding a pince of sugar… but sugar doesn’t eliminate the tartness; it just makes the sauce sweeter. Nevertheless, I did that for years until my scientist husband reminded me that the way to neutralize an acid is with a base. He suggested adding a pinch of baking soda to overly tart tomato sauce.

“It works like a charm. You don’t need much baking soda to have an impact, so start with a pinch. The sauce will foam briefly as you stir it in. Let the sauce simmer for a minute or so, then taste again. Add a little more baking soda if necessary. Be careful not to add too much or your sauce will taste soapy.”

From the cookbook Four Seasons Pasta, by Janet Fletcher, p. 26.

Image source: Wikimedia

Three weeks of week-night menus

3-week-menu
Note: These days, I use my sort-of meal plan (explained in my ebook “The meal plan for people who hate to meal plan“), but in a different season of life, this three-week plan was a life-saver.
When my kids were still living at home and evenings were crazy-busy, I used a three-week rotation to save me the trouble of having to figure out day-by-day what we were having for dinner. And I created a grocery list for each week that I kept on the computer. I resisted this level of planning for a long time (I’m an artist, man!), but once I started using it, it freed up SO much brain-space and simplified life so much, I loved it.

Here’s kinda what three weeks looked like for us, but for you, I’ve chosen recipes that are less carb-heavy than what we were eating when our kids were small, and dishes that I think most people would like.

(Later note: they pre-date my Paleo days, so they’re not all wheat-, sugar-, or dairy-free. But they are pretty whole-food focused.)

A few notes to make it easier:

Every Monday is a salmon dish; I try to eat salmon at least once a week for health reasons. I like to do it on Monday, because I’m usually not on top of things most Mondays, I always keep individual portions of salmon in the freezer, and it cooks in 10 minutes! If fish on Friday is part of your routine, feel free to switch it up.

Every Tuesday, you make extra chicken to be used later in the week.

Once you’ve tested these recipes and decided which are keepers, you can make up the seasoning mixes in bulk to streamline that part of weeknight cooking.

Note that some recipes can have part of the prep work done the night before, or earlier in the day, to further simplify your evening prep time.

Many of my recipes incorporate vegetables so I don’t have to make a side dish, but for those that do need one, my side dish usually consists of this: pulling a bag of frozen vegetables (green beans, cauliflower, mixed veggies) or pre-sliced carrots out of the fridge, steaming them, and adding some butter and salt. Other possible additions: cheese, for broccoli or cauliflower; pine-nuts, almonds or pecans for green beans; orange marmalade or cinnamon for carrots.

Week 1:

paleo whole30 real food main dishes, entrees, meat

Tues: Super easy shredded chicken tacos  (start early; uses a slow-cooker. make extra for tomorrow’s salad)

Wed: Tex-Mex salad 

Thurs: 10-Minute French dip (Or freezer burritos. Gluten-free option included.)

Fri: Asian lettuce wraps

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Week 2:

Almost-Panera's Asian Chicken Salad

Mon: Ancho-crusted salmon (Substitute an off-the-shelf BBQ dry rub if you don’t want to make your own. But I highly recommend this one!)

Tues: Honey-mustard grilled chicken * (make extra for tomorrow’s salad)

Wed: Almost-Panera’s Asian salad

Thurs: Chipotle pork tacos

Fri: Salsa verde chicken

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Week 3:

curry-chicken-salad-be2-500

Mon: Herb-crusted salmon

Tues: Easy roasted chicken breasts (make extra for tomorrow’s and Friday’s salad)

Wed: Caesar salad with leftover chicken; here’s a recipe for easy homemade Caesar dressing without raw or coddled eggs.

Thurs: Herb-roasted pork tenderloin

Fri: Orange-cranberry chicken salad

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For Fall and Winter meals, I would substitute the following soups for the Wednesday night salads:

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*These recipes have not been tested by me, but they’re highly rated on AllRecipes.com.

Timetable for roasting vegetables

roasted vegetables
I have previously posted this in recipe form, but since I work out a detailed timing schedule for all of my cooking on Thanksgiving and keep it in a file on my computer,* I thought I’d share my schedule for making a large batch of roasted vegetables for a crowd.

This schedule assumes you’ll be serving the meal at about 12:30. Adjust as needed.
.

Roasted vegetables cooking schedule

earlier** – chop carrots, onions, peppers and zucchini
10:30 – preheat oven to 400 F; cut potatoes
10:50 – put carrots and potatoes in oven; snap the asparagus
11:10 – turn carrots and potatoes
11:35 – take carrots and potatoes out; put onions and peppers in
11:45 – turn onions and peppers
11:55 – take onions & peppers out; put zucchini in
12:05 – add asparagus to zucchini; toss; put back in
12:15 – take veg’s out of oven

The full recipe.

Make-ahead tip: The vegetables can be roasted and kept at room temperature up to 2 hours in advance or refrigerated up to 1 day in advance. Reheat from room temperature at 350° F to 400° F. Do they taste as amazing as roasted veggies fresh out of the oven? Not quite, but still delicious!

*This makes me sound super organized in the kitchen. Ha! The REASON I spell all this out carefully and keep record of it is because, while I can (and do) get by with winging-it in the kitchen for daily cooking, holidays and parties require more organizing than I can do in my head. And I find that the less info I try to store in my head, the less wigged-out I get trying to stay on top of it all!

**For all the veggies except the potatoes, you can chop them earlier that morning, or do them the day before and store in the fridge, grouped according to what goes into the oven together.

Truly the best & easiest way to cook bacon!

best way to cook bacon

I’ve tried ’em all — stovetop, grill, microwave, and oven on a slotted broiling pan — but this method makes crispy, evenly-done, flat bacon with substantially less mess than any other method.

Here’s the summary:

  • use good quality, fairly thickly-cut bacon (I like Wright brand, at Dillon’s)
  • preheated 400 F oven
  • good quality cookie sheet: half sheet for 8 oz of bacon; full sheet for 16 oz.
  • cover the cookie sheet with aluminum foil completely; up the sides and around the edge, for the easiest clean up
  • lay the bacon on the foil, close but not touching
  • bake for 12 minutes, pour off excess fat (save it for another use), return to the oven
  • check every two minutes till done to your liking, minus a bit (it will continue to cook a bit after being pulled from the oven)

Clean-up consists of carefully draining off the rest of the grease, wadding up the foil and tossing it in the trash!

For more details, check out the original article from The Kitchn. (Photo from The Kitchn.)

How to quickly thaw meat without a microwave

thawing-meat-550

This simple trick defrosts steaks, chops, chicken breasts and other small cuts of meat in 10 to 12 minutes, without the microwave. And it’s approved both by the FDA and America’s Test Kitchen. (But it shouldn’t be used on larger items like roasts or whole chickens.)

Place each individual cut of meat in a zip-sealed plastic bag. Heat a large pot of water on the stove till the water measures 140 F. If you don’t have a thermometer,* the water will be steaming, with just a few small bubbles on the bottom.
Remove the pan from the burner, and place the meat in the water. According to the Test Kitchen, chicken breasts should take about 10 minutes, and cuts of pork or steak about 12. They recommend not leaving any cut it the water more than 45 minutes (I’d recommend even less).
*P.S. If you don’t have a cooking thermometer, you really should get one. Learning the proper temperature for different cuts of meat will improve your cooking like nothing else! It can also be used for making sure water is the right temp for meat, green tea, or yeast doughs, or even to make sure a loaf of bread is done in the middle. This is the cooking thermometer we use. It’s handy because it has a remote, so you can put your food in the oven or on the grill, then go do whatever you need to do elsewhere, but still keep an eye on the food’s temp. Love it!

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Meat image and info from America’s Test Kitchen.

 

How to reorganize a kitchen, Part 3

blank-moving-boxes
First, read Part 1 and Part 2.Enough with the mental exercise; let’s get down to business!

How to reorganize a kitchen - moving boxes!

Pull and give away. Pull out the Zone 4/purge items and give them to a young person/couple who’s just setting up house. My DD just moved into her first apartment, so I compiled a nice pile of stuff for her to go through. She’s home this weekend, and was only too happy to take my mini loaf pans and pumpkin carving tools. If you don’t have someone to give away to, or after they’re done picking it over, load all that stuff up and take it to Goodwill, DAV, or Sally Ann’s (my MIL’s boutique nickname for the Salvation Army store). You won’t believe how great it feels to drive off, leaving that clutter behind! (Update: Here’s a great idea via Apartment Therapy — swap stuff with neighbors or friends. Just make sure you do more dropping off than picking up!)
Oh, and if you’re also tossing trash and recyclables while you pack, get two different colors of trash sacks, and consistently use one color for each type of waste.

How to reorganize a kitchen - pack like things together

Pull and pack. Whether or not you’re actually moving, it would be ideal if you could set up some table space in or near to your kitchen where you can lay everything out. Pull out all the Zone 2 & Zone 3 stuff (leaving the Zone 1 stuff, ’cause you need it every day, right?). Then give it another assessment: Have you discovered more stuff you don’t really need? Add it to your give-away stack.
Now, start grouping together things that you use together. Extra dishes that I use for large dinners can be packed with the linens or holiday table decorations that normally get pulled out at the same time, for example. Another idea: my soup ladle is bigger than anything else in my spoon-and-spatula canister that I keep out on the counter, and I rarely use it unless I’m making a big pot of something, so now I store that big soup ladle and my big soup pots together.

If you’re moving, start packing up the Zone 3 stuff first, because you can live a couple weeks without it. LABEL EVERY BOX CLEARLY! Write on the box a good description of its contents. Here are some nice looking labels for moving — free printables!
Why detailed labeling? Your Zone 3 stuff may not get unpacked for a while, so a few months later, when you’re ready for a big gathering, you might not remember whether “glass stuff” means extra drinking glasses, or glass cake stands.
Repeat the process with the Zone 2 stuff. Resist the urge to mingle the two if you have partially-filled boxes. Whether your reason for this is downsizing or a more efficient kitchen, these zones will start to make more sense once you begin unpacking and putting away.

By the way, where to get good, free boxes… Liquor stores are always a great bet. They get shipments in frequently, and the boxes are made to hold multiple glass bottles of liquid, so they’re good and sturdy. If you stop in one and ask for boxes a few days before you’ll actually need them, they may be willing to save them for you over several days. Be sure to say thank you! Another source is friends or family members who work in a place that receives regular shipments and normally breaks the boxes down for recycling. Your local craigslist or freecycle is another great source.

Next installment: Zone 1, and your moving-day kitchen kit.

How to reorganize a kitchen, Part 2

vintage-kitchen-tools-etsy

Or, questions to ask yourself when you’re trying to downsize.

If you haven’t already, read Part 1 of how to reorganize a kitchen. It’s a fundamental step, and it’s super easy!

In theory, at least…

When it gets down to reality, though, it can be kind of tough to let go of some items, even if you rarely use them. So here is a progression of questions to ask yourself when you’re standing there with a widget in your hand, wondering whether to keep it or give it away.

Find this collection on Etsy at http://www.etsy.com/listing/102475691/empeco-bread-box-siftervintage-kitchen

Let’s start with the practical:

  • When was the last time I used this?
  • What are the odds that I’ll use it within the next six months? Name a percentage.

If you can’t remember the last time you used it, then you’re not keeping it for a practical reason, you’re keeping it for an emotional reason. (More on that in a minute.) If you won’t use the thing more than once or twice a year, then you might want to question whether you really need it. Exceptions may be made for special holiday traditions that you and your family truly treasure. For example, we always have homemade waffles with mixed-berry sauce on Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings, and once-in-a-blue-moon just because.

My kids (now in college) love that and look forward to it. It makes no sense for that waffle maker to be taking up space in my kitchen for the 363 days that it doesn’t get used. Still, it’s a beloved tradition, so I pack the thing away in a box in the basement, and pull it out just when we’ll want it.

(No, that’s not my photo, and no, I don’t put sprigs of mint on our Christmas morning waffles. Or anything else, ever. But the sauce looks kinda like ours. Thanks, Taste of Home.)

Now, to identify those things that you don’t really use, but are keeping for an emotional reason. Try asking…

  • Does it represent a happy memory? Or does just seeing it make you smile?
  • Would you feel guilty getting rid of it because Great Aunt Sadie brought it over from the old country?
  • Does it represent me being someone I wish I were, but really am not?

If you’re just keeping it because you have some happiness attached to it, and if you have room for it, keep it!  Put it out on display (not buried in a drawer) and enjoy it. If you don’t have room for it, however, consider getting a nice photo taken of it, and frame a small picture of it to keep in your kitchen where you’ll see it often.

http://www.thefancy.com/things/268828651/Vintage-Teapot

If you’re keeping a thing just because it belonged to some ancestor, let me share some advice that an older relative gave me years ago which was incredibly freeing. I was debating what to do with an old ornate table that had been my grandma’s, but that I wasn’t particularly fond of. This woman — who collected antiques and was very into family history — said, “If you don’t love it, don’t keep it. You have other ways of remembering your grandma.” Which is absolutely right.

Okay, how about those things that represent some past hopes you had, or someone you once wanted to be. Say, cookie cutters that you envisioned sharing with your kids at Christmas cookie-baking time — only to discover that they had no interest and you had no patience! Let it go! Be free! You have other ways to count your success as a baker, wife, husband, mother, etc.

I recently let my sewing machine go for this reason. I used to sew pretty often, and I still think of projects I’d like to do, but honestly, I really only go at it about once every three years. I had to come to grips with the fact that I am no longer A Person Who Sews. But that’s okay. I am now A Person Who Works From Home, and A Person Who Volunteers, and A Person Who Walks the Dog (Almost) Every Day, which I wasn’t before, so it’s not like I’m becoming nothing by giving up this one aspect of myself.

Still having a tough time letting go of some things? Here are a couple more questions to ask yourself:

  • How tough or expensive would it be to replace this if I really do need one again in the future?
  • Is there someone else who might get more use and enjoyment out of this than I am?

In regards to that last question, I learned an important lesson from three people: Oswald Chambers, and my parents. In his classic book of devotions, My Utmost for His Highest, Chambers talks about keeping things for ourselves for so long, they become spiritual dry rot. He was speaking of spiritual blessings, but I think it applies to material things, too. When disassembling my parents’ belongings for their estate sale, there were so many things they held on to for so long that the stuff had become worthless. If they’d given away that TV or those clothes or that sofa when they first realized they didn’t need them, someone else might have enjoyed and been blessed by a few years’ use of the goods. Instead, the stuff sat in storage until it was so outdated or decayed that it was only fodder for the dumpster. Now, I try to look at items I’m keeping but not using — whether kitchen gear, clothing, or books — and ask, “Am I depriving someone else of the use and joy of this item by hoarding it for myself?”

I hope these questions are helpful to you. Next installment we’ll get down to sorting and packing!

How to reorganize a kitchen, Part 1

Because we recently moved to a house with less kitchen storage space, I had the perfect opportunity to re-think and reorganize how and where I store things in my kitchen. Whether you’re downsizing, moving toward a more minimalist lifestyle, or just want a more efficient use of your small kitchen (or large one), you might want to try this approach. If you’re doing this without a move forcing you to pack anyway, you might need to set aside an entire day or two — depending on your stuff and your cabinets — to disassemble things and put them back in a new, improved storage scheme.

Here’s the first step — and it’s pretty easy:

Think and write. Think through what you have and how often you use it. First, off the top of my head and then, walking through my kitchen looking in cabinets, drawers, counter and pantry space (and hall closet, since some of my kitchen storage overflowed there over time), I broke my kitchen tools and equipment down into three four zones:
     Zone 1: Things I use every day or every week. For me, this was things like frying and sauce pans, sheet pans, measuring cups and spoons, knives and cutting boards, some of my spatulas, one set of mixing bowls, the hubby’s coffee stuff, spices, and so forth. Also included in this is just enough everyday dishes to work for the two of us between dishwasher runs.
    Zone 2: These are things I pull out a few to several times a year: when we have more than a couple people over for dinner (extra/nicer plates, cloth napkins, bread baskets), or when I’m making something I don’t make often (muffin tin, pizza pans, bread machine, etc.)
   Zone 3: These are the things I only pull out for large gatherings: All of the extra plates and silverware, large serving platters, crock pots, extra coffee cups and glasses. Also in this group is the stuff that’s special and seasonal: waffle iron, dehydrator, extra-large soup pots.
   Zone 4 – Purge: Every kitchen could benefit from the occasional purge. Whether it’s equipment for a hobby you no longer practice, or a gadget you thought you HAD to have that hasn’t seen the light of day in years, everyone has some kitchen stuff they could jettison. For me, this included some cake decorating stuff, half a dozen small tart pans, stoneware cookie molds, and a plastic lettuce knife. (Really?!)

In Part 2, I’ll explain how to start breaking down your kitchen contents into these zones, along with some packing and re-thinking tips.