Browsing Category: tips & tricks

Foolproof, easy, 4-ingredient homemade mayonnaise

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homemade mayonnaise: paleo/whole30 mayo ingredients
I’ve been meaning to try to make my own mayonnaise for ages, because it seems impossible to find a mayo that’s both sugar-free and not made with canola. Most, if not all, canola is genetically modified. And sugar in mayonnaise?! Yeah, you’d be surprised. Read labels next time you go to the store.

But I thought homemade mayo surely had to be tricky. Perfect temperatures and/or timing, danger of the emulsion breaking, that sort of thing. Turns out… nope! I tried this recipe and method from The Healthy Foodie, and it’s so easy it’s ridiculous! Worked the first time, and every time since then. All that’s necessary is a stick blender, and a jar that’s the right size. It might also be just as doable in a normal blender, but I haven’t tested that.And, yes, for those who care: this is Paleo, and Whole30 compliant.

Perfect for my gluten-free, grain-free “BLT’s without bread“! A super-easy, low-carb Paleo snack or meal. Quick, too, if you have already-cooked bacon on hand — and you should!

I go crazy for these when good tomatoes are in season! But they’re still pretty tasty when the only decent tomatoes available around here (<sarcasm> yay, winter in Kansas! </sarcasm>) are grape tomatoes.

Plain ol’ mayo needs no herbs, but if you want to bump up the flavor a bit, add a pinch or two of your favorites. I’ve included my suggestion in the ingredients list….

Easy homemade mayo recipe

  • 1 large egg, taken straight out of the fridge (no need to bring to room temp)
  • 1 cup very-light-tasting olive oil (NOT virgin), or other flavorless oil of your choice
  • 2 – 3 teaspoons lemon juice, rice vinegar, or other pale vinegar of your choice
  • 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon salt (start small; mix; taste; adjust if necessary)
  • Optional bonus: flavor it with a pinch of dill and a few pinches of fresh chives – YUM!

Put it all in your carafe or jar, blend holding the stick still till the mayo-in-the-making reaches almost to the top of the oil, then move up and down a few times till all oil is incorporated. Yeah, it’s that easy.

Here’s the original mayo recipe, with detailed instructions. This works great in the beaker/carafe that came with my blender (below), but if you’re just using a glass jar, the size of the jar matters, so I recommend looking that up in the original recipe.
Note: when freshly made, it tastes kinda oily. If you’re going to immediately blend it into a salad dressing or slaw mix, that won’t be a problem. But if it’s going to be a star player, a chill in the fridge for a few hours or overnight will be a good thing.
P.S. My old Braun stick blender (also called an immersion blender or hand blender) went kaput this week, so I just ordered a new one from Amazon – Cuisinart this time. I consider it an absolute essential in the kitchen! The price goes up and down on Amazon, so if you want one and it’s currently over $45 — and you’re not in a hurry — put it in your cart and leave it there. They’ll send you an email if the price goes down!

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Thinking of going Paleo?

Check out my 20-Day Countdown to a New Way of Eating!

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Easy, make-it-your-own fish taco bar

fish tacos - how to set up a fish taco bar

I was recently asked for my recipe for fish tacos. “It’s not so much a recipe,” I said, “as it is a collection of ingredients.” Which makes it great for feeding a group with diverse tastes or dietary needs: just set up your fish taco bar and let guests create their own.

And much of it can be done ahead of time: everything except for the avocado can be sliced, chopped, or mixed ahead of time. The fish can be seasoned ahead of time, but will taste best if it’s made just before serving.

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Mealprep: 40 recipes to stock your freezer and free your mind!

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One of the best ways to eat healthy is to eat at home more. But for any busy person, this becomes a real challenge when it’s 4:30 and you have no idea what to make for dinner. Prepping some ingredients and/or dishes ahead of time to stash in the freezer can save the day. Not only does it save you cooking time, it also saves you brain effort at the very time of day your brain is most overtaxed!

Sure, these mean a little more work on the weekend — but you can do it at a leisurely pace, when you’re rested and not rushed. Which I’ve found makes cooking so much more enjoyable! 

Mealprep: taco kit from The Kitchn
A week of dinners in the freezer, from The Kitchn. Recipes for: Baked Manicotti – Freezer Taco Kits – Twice-Baked Potatoes – Chile & Sausage Oven Frittata – Cranberry Pork Chops – Chicken and Wild Rice Bake. (Also includes side dishes, not listed here.) You can also find this same list of recipes with additional notes on how to turn prep day into a Freezer Meals Party.
Mealprep: stocking the freezer

Here are tips for stocking your freezer with precooked and seasoned meats, which gives you more versatility than already-assembled dishes. Includes instructions (but not exact recipes) for twice-baked potatoes, two different ground beef mixes, a teriyaki marinade that you can use on any meat, poultry or seafood (lots of sugar in it, though), and shredded chicken plus broth. Also has a few nifty tricks for neater packaging.

ingredient prep, + why i like it better than meal prep

For the past several months, I’ve gotten into the habit of ingredient prep. This works really well for me! It’s less labor-intensive on the front end, and more flexible at go-time! (I was originally inspired by this post by Mel Joulwan at Well Fed.)

Mealprep from Pioneer Woman

Here’s Pioneer Woman’s freezer cooking post. Not a lot of healthy stuff on the list, but I do love her tip for grilling whole chicken breasts and freezing them to have on hand for dozens of uses. I count about 11 main-dish recipes on her list, skipping the carb-laden ones.

Mealprep: chicken breasts
I also like this method for an easy way to cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts, from Small Home Big Start.
Mealprep from New Leaf Wellness

Eight healthy freezer crockpot meals in 75 minutes, from New Leaf Wellness. Well, really four different meals, double batch of each. Beef Roast and Carrots – Chicken Fajitas – Mexican Chicken Soup – Garden Veggie Soup with Ground Beef.

Mealprep shopping lists

10 meals in 1 hour – super organized and detailed; even includes shopping list! Really just five recipes; double batch of each. Honey Lemon Garlic Chicken –  London Broil – Quick Taco Soup – Orange Glazed Pork Chops – Creamy Italian Chicken

Mealprep - more shopping lists

10 meals in 1 hour, take 2; the no-bake version; includes five warm weather recipes that are cooked either on the grill or in the crockpot—no oven required!

More about the method…

Here are a couple resources that aren’t recipe lists, but more of a how-to go about mealprep and make it work for you.

From Mealime: Meal Planning: The Definitive Guide to Planning Your Meals Stress-Free. This is an exhaustive collection with tons of tips — how to plan, how to shop, how to cook, etc.

Mealprep - the non-planned approach

A planned/non-planned approach. No recipes here, but some pointers for stocking your freezer with ready-to-go meat and cheese portions, then how to plan meals the weekend or night before, taking into account your schedule, the weather, and what’s in your fridge that needs to be used up.

 

And here are a few ingredients to have pre-cooked and ready in the freezer:

And a few things to know about food safety and quality:
Mealprep: freezer recipes

Keeping a rotisserie chicken SAFELY warm for a few hours

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I was looking this info up for myself; thought it was worth posting here.

What to do when you’ve bought a whole roasted chicken, still warm, but dinner doesn’t start for an hour or more? Even putting it in a low oven is going to dry it out — and they usually don’t start out all that great. Putting it in the fridge requires more oven time to warm it back up, which will also dry it out. But is it safe to leave them out?

Here’s what I found on a forum thread:

Original question: Dinner is about 1.5 hours away. The chicken was warm when I purchased it.

Normally, I buy earlier in the day and just stick it in the fridge. This time, though, it seems that it would be better to try to keep it warm. I keep picturing it lingering too long in the “bacteria growth” temp zone considering it won’t be in the fridge very long before I pull it out to start reheating.

Is my thinking off? If it’s okay to keep it warm, what’s the best temp for the oven?

Answer 1: I just leave mine on the counter until dinnertime. Then I cut it into quarters, stick it on a cookie sheet and reheat in the oven at 350 F. I’ve been doing this for years and we’re all still kicking.

Answer 2: It will be fine. It needs to sit out for a minimum of 2+ hours before you have to worry about getting sick.

Answer 3: Actually, you have 4 hours in the “temperature danger zone” from 40° to 140°F. If your store keeps the chicken at or above 140°, you have 4 hours after it is removed from the heater before it is considered unsafe. These are the numbers I was taught at culinary school and have followed without issue since.

Reply from original poster: Thank you all very much! Dinner was delicious! 

And a professional chef on another forum says:

Remember that the temperature danger zone is 40 to 140 F. When you buy a rotisserie chicken, it is being held at a higher temperature than that and they package them as such that they try to keep them warm for a decent amount of time. Then after that, once it drops to 140, it takes time for all those little buggies to grow, get married, and reproduce. The government states [the safe zone is] 4 hours to pass through the temperature danger zone. Add that to the 45-1 hour that it will take the bird to drop to 140, if left in packaging and considering the ambient room temp., and you have a considerable time before it becomes a microbe bomb. Of course, I probably wouldn’t try to stretch it that long but 1-2 hours, following government safety standards, should be more than safe.

So, I tried it. I kept two rotisserie chickens in a tote bag on the counter, with a folded dishtowel below (to prevent heatsink from my granite countertop; if you have wood or laminate counters, no need for this). I also took one of those big flat insulated foil-looking bags and folded it over the top of the closed chicken packages, then clothes-pinned the top of the tote bag shut. It sat for about an hour and a half before dinner.

Result? The temperature was a bit on the lukewarm side. It would have been better with a bit of oven time, I think. Although the breast was dry, and oven time would have made this worse. Maybe oven time sealed up with some extra chicken broth.
As for intestinal problems, that was three days ago, and we’re all good here!

Reheating rotisserie chicken

I later found this info on a forum comment on Chowhound:

Buy a Costco rotisserie chicken, the paler the better. Chill overnight.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a rectangular baking pan place sliced carrots, whole garlic cloves (still in their “sleeves”), and very thinly sliced potatoes; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper: put in the oven for 10 minutes.

Place COLD chicken atop vegetables and drizzle the chicken drippings from the bottom of the container over the chicken and vegetables; place in oven and cook until the chicken is crisp on the outside, about 25 minutes.

The chicken will be crisp on the outside and moist inside. The garlic will be roasted and is delicious spread onto bread slices. The vegetables will have been infused with the chicken drippings.

I tried this method, with a few changes. I cut the chicken up into two whole-leg sections (thigh and drumstick still attached), and the breast as one whole section. (I discarded the wings because they were overcooked, and put the rest of bones in the freezer for future chicken stock.) I put the legs and breast over sliced carrots (didn’t have the other items on hand). Because it was in smaller pieces, it didn’t need nearly as much time. The skin crisped up nicely and the dark meat was pretty good, but the breast was dry.

I think it’s probably impossible to get moist breast meat from a rotisserie chicken unless you eat it fresh out of the oven at the store. But you can still use this meat for recipes that bring some moisture to the party: chicken enchiladas or mayo-based chicken salad (have you tried my orange-cranberry chicken salad?), for example.

photo credit: terren in Virginia via photopin cc

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Thanksgiving and Christmas food prep FAQs

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Food image from PopSugar

Trying to plan a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal?

Here are some tips, calculators, and checklists.
Image from theKitchn

Turkey

cave-tools-thermometerFor any meat, a meat thermometer is the essential gadget to make sure your meat comes out perfectly every time. See “Shop my favorites” page for my recommended brands.
Image from farmflavor.com

Ham

Image from campbellskitchen.com

Vegetables

  • Make-ahead crockpot green bean casserole. Save your oven for other things, and save some day-of panic: Here’s the classic green bean casserole that everyone wants for Thanksgiving, tweaked to work in a crock pot / slow-cooker, and with optional make-ahead instructions. Classic green bean casserole for crockpot.
  • Roasted vegetables timetable. The number one must-do side dish at our house — besides the turkey, of course. Oh, and pumpkin pie! Okay, the third-most popular dish: roasted vegetables. A slow roast works oven magic, turning onions, carrots and bell peppers into sugar-free candy-sweet goodness! Here’s a timetable for roasted vegetables: what goes into in the oven when, to make everything come out perfect.
This is my favorite pan for roasted vegetables, and anything else that can be made on a rimmed cookie sheet: USA Pans Jellyroll.* LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS PAN!!! Bakes evenly, rinses off like brand-new teflon every time. Everyone in my house has been threatened to not even think of co-opting this for some craft or garage project!

All foods: How much per person?

  • Here’s a thorough chart from Good Housekeeping, showing per-person serving recommendations for 8, 10, 12, 16, 20 and 24 people, for 10 popular holiday foods. It includes turkey, stuffing, potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pie, and more. View the pdf.

Holiday meal planning checklists and calculators

  • An Excel spreadsheet that you can plug your number of guests into (including how many are vegetarians!), and it tells you how much food to buy. The page where you download it is a little confusing; just scroll down until you see this:

Would you rather have pictures?

Here’s a well-done info graphic from The Savory, showing turkey thawing time, brining time, brining recipe, roasting time, and more. This image is only one small part of it:
Image from The Savory
* Note: Product links in this post are to my Amazon store where I get a smidgen of the sales, but I truly use and fanatically love every product I link to.

The three best ways to keep guacamole or avocados from turning green!

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Image from The Kitchn

I used to just use plastic wrap, wrapped as tight as possible. Maybe if you could get it perfectly smooth over every molecule, but that’s not happening! Okay, so I heard about adding the avocado pit to the bowl. Tried that; no help. Adding lime juice or tomato slices on top? Helps a little, but not enough.

One time when I wanted to doggy-bag the last of my favorite restaurant guacamole, and no plastic wrap at hand, I had an idea. I smoothed the guacamole out, then spread a layer of sour cream over it, completely covering it so no green could be seen.

Next day, it was still a bright, fresh green — nice! And I don’t mind stirring a little sour cream into my guac. I wondered if the same thing would work for cut avocados. Sour cream turned out to be a little too soft for this application — but softened butter worked great. Again, you just have to spread it thick enough so no green shows through. Then wrap it with plastic wrap to keep the butter in place.

The reason these both work is because they completely seal the avocado off from any oxygen.

Now I see that The Kitchn has a similar method for keeping guacamole from turning brown: cover it with a half inch of water, in a closed container in the fridge. For up to three days, they say. Because the guacamole is so fatty, it’s not going to mix with the water. The author says, “After I take it out and pour off the water, I stir up the guacamole and the texture is no different than when it was made. In fact, I like the taste of guac after it has sat in the fridge overnight; I find the cilantro and onion flavors are blended better.”

Serious Eats says that you can do the same thing with cut avocado pieces. “I store my unused avocado pieces in a plastic container filled with water in the fridge for up to overnight. Perfect, oxygen-free seal for any shape, and because an avocado is so dense and high in fat, water is slow to penetrate it (it’ll eventually become softer).”

So there you go: all you need to keep the green stuff green is sour cream, butter, or water. I love simple solutions!

3 hours on the weekend, 10 meals for the week!

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Minimizing prep time for dinner by combining two nights of prep is something I’ve had in mind to write about here, but just haven’t gotten to it. Then I found out about a Columbia University student who has this concept completely nailed!Wow! So impressed by this guy. He’s pursuing a PhD in Electrical Engineering, which has got to keep his schedule busy. But every weekend, he takes a few hours to prep and package five lunches and five dinners for the upcoming week.

meals for the week, ready to go

And this is no tuna casserole or hamburger surprise! His meals feature things like lemon tilapia, roasted carrots, mashed sweet potatoes with honey and cinnamon, Cajun rice.

I have got in the habit of keeping my freezer stashed with healthy homemade burritos, and even though I eat them almost every weekday — with lapses for leftovers or lunch out with a friend — I don’t get tired of it. I love how easy and thought-less it is to just grab one and pop it in the microwave. And it’s been part of the bigger effort that’s enabled me to lose more than 20 pounds in the last few months! I will write about that here some day.

But for now, check out Sean’s plan. Get the whole story (and a couple recipes) here.

7 ways to make lemons last longer

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how to make lemons last longer
The Kitchn featured a post on how to keep lemons from drying out before you can use them. Their solution? Sealed in a ziplock bag in the fridge. But there were so many interesting notes in the comments, I’ve edited and compiled the best tips to make lemons last longer here.
  1. I have another solution which works for me when I’m not too lazy: when I have several lemons, I zest them all in one go and keep it in a plastic container the freezer. I also freeze the juice in ice cube trays. That way I always have lemon juice and zest on hand.
  2. I keep all citrus in my crisper drawer (humidity set to low).
  3. For lemons I want to keep whole, for an extended period, I dip into very hot water (120 to 125F) to kill any surface mold. I then put them in a bowl of fresh water, submerged completely by using a plate and other weight, in the fridge. Changing the water daily or every other day seems to be enough. I can keep fresh lemons in the fridge for up to two months.
  4. I had a problem with moisture accumulating in the sealed bag, but solved that with a tip I read on another site: chill the lemons first in the fridge, then put them in a sealed plastic bag. Nowhere near the moisture you’d get putting them in the plastic bag at room temperature. Dunno why, but it makes all the difference!
  5. I have discovered by accident that, since I’ve put lemons into an apothocary type jar (not tight fitting lid) on the counter out of direct sunlight, the lemons have stayed for months.
  6. Lemons that have become hard while sitting in the fridge can be brought back to life by a day of soaking in cold water.
  7. I wipe them clean to remove any wax or dark spots, and then freeze them whole in a bag. When I need the zest (yellow part of rind) I just pull one out of the freezer and scrape it directly into the recipe mixture. In this way, no pith (the bitter white part of rind) will find its way into the recipe. Another benefit that I found was that I don’t lose any lemon rind oils, which defrost straight into the recipe mix and not spray all over the kitchen counter. If I need to use the juice, I’ll let the lemons defrost for a couple of hours and them squeeze them. Unfortunately, once totally defrosted, the lemons will be squashy and not good for slicing and decoration.