Tools and Tips

  • Tools and Tips (Ziploc Bag Trick)

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    Hello Friends!

     I live in Southern California and this week we are back up to over 90 degree weather again. And with that warm weather comes flies… UGH! I cannot stand flies! They gross me out beyond words. I love to eat outdoors, but with the flies? No thank you. Well, I have got a great trick for you to make sure you will have a fly free, outdoor dining experience! (For those of you in cold climates, remember this for next summer!) 

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    It is as simple as a heavy duty Ziploc bag and pennies. Sounds crazy I know, but trust me… it works! If you filled a quart sized Ziploc (I use heavy duty freezer ones so the water won’t leak out) bag about 2/3 full with water, add 3-4 pennies (the need to be shiny and newer) and hang the bag outside in the area you want to keep the flies out, it will do just that… keep the flies away. Well… I thought… I could really put this to the test! As you know, I teach cooking classes and in the summertime we take the class outside and grill and dine al fresco. The first year we did this I had to keep the food covered to keep the pesky flies off the food. It was of course a big bother. Then I tried this trick…. I hung about five of them on my back porch around the food and eating tables and …. voila… no flies! It was amazing! I mean seriously amazing!

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    The food was untouched by anything but humans! It was a glorious night and a glorious finding! There were no flies to be found on or near the tables where we ate either. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?! 

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    So there you go! They may not be the prettiest things, but given the choice of hanging these “not so ideal looking bags” or having flies over everything you bet I choose the bags! I hope to one day find some cute, clear, hanging jars that I can put the pennies in as an alternative. I bet that would work too? No one seems to know for sure why this works but I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that it does! Just make sure to change the bags out with fresh water and pennies every day you plan on eating outdoors. I hope you are loving this tip as much I do! 

    Update: I put pennies in clear mason jars filled with water and placed them on the table around the food and did not get the best results. I thought that would look a lot better than the Ziploc bags hanging around the table. They did look better.. but we still got flies… so I’m back to using the Ziplock bags. Dang!

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  • Tuesday’s Tools and Tips – Keeping Chopped Lettuce Fresh

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    I am teaching salad classes this week, so I thought a great tip to keep lettuce fresh all week long, especially with summer around the corner, would be perfect. We’ve all been there. Wanting to be prepared for the week…. we chop and bag lettuce for salads. (If you have lettuce cleaned, chopped and ready to go… you will eat more salads. Am I right? You know I am. I love to be right! :)) But you find your lettuce has wilted and/or has browned edges after a day or two. How do you keep your lettuce crisp, fresh and keep the leaves from browning? Who wants to eat lettuce that is browning? I have heard and read many tips on how to keep your chopped lettuce fresh… but this my friends works and it is so simple!  I have been doing these steps for years with the perfect results!

    Step 1:

    You must cut the lettuce with a very sharp knife! If you use a dull knife, you will bruise the leaves when you cut them and they will brown quickly!

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    Step 2:

    You need a salad spinner. Getting all the extra moisture off the freshly cut leaves will keep the leaves nice and crisp. I love my OXO salad spinner

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    Step 3:

    I store my chopped lettuce in heavy duty freezer Zip Loc gallon size bags. In they go!

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    Step 4:

    Zip the top of the bag about 2/3 of the way shut. 

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    Step 5:

    Squeeze as much air as you can out of the bag with your hands. I press down on the top and upper sides of the bag. 

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    Step 6:

     I then zip the bag all the way shut…. careful to not let any air in the bag. 

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    And there you have it! How easy was that? No paper towels are involved. My lettuce will stay this fresh and crisp for a week using this quick and easy process. With not a hint of any brown edges.  Make sure to do steps 4-6 every time you open the bag to keep the lettuce fresh. Keeping air out of the bag is key. Here’s to salads and fresh, crisp lettuce ready at our fingertips! Is it summer yet?

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  • Tuesday’s Tools and Tips- Fresh vs. Dry Herbs

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    It happens to all of us. We are in the middle of a recipe, to only discover that instead of fresh basil that the recipe calls for, we only have dried basil. What to do? In most cases, like a pizza sauce, you can substitute dried herbs for fresh ones. But you have to reduce the measurement called for! Why is that? Because dried herbs are more concentrated in flavor than fresh ones. If the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon (there are three teaspoons in a tablespoon), you will only add 1 teaspoon.  So if you ever find yourself out of fresh rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage or any other fresh herb, you can usually substitute it with 1/3 of the amount called for with the dried version. 

    When does the dried version not work? Typically when adding the herb to finish the dish. Dried herbs need time to cook and infuse into the dish, such as sauces or soup. Often I will add fresh basil to the pizza after I take it out of the oven or use it as a garnish. You definitely need fresh not dried herbs to garnish any dish. You also need fresh herbs such as basil when making a pesto sauce where the ingredients are pureed, not cooked. 

    I hope this helps and saves you a quick and unnecessary trip to the store when you find yourself in this predicament. As I always tell my class, “It’s ok…. It’ll be fine!” At least that is true most of the time. And when it’s not… a quick trip to the store isn’t the end of the world. Just crank up those tunes in the car… a little car dancing is good for the soul!

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  • Tuesday’s Tools and Tips- Cooking in Real Life

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    This week I want to talk about real life people. I realize that looking at bloggers lives and what they post makes your life seem not as perfect as what theirs appears to be. “Gosh, their child is always happy!” “She is the best mom. Always so fun and patient!” “Their home is always perfect!” “Every meal they make looks like it belongs in a magazine!”  (This includes instagram and social media too.) As you know, I post mostly about cooking. It is my passion and what I love to do. Do I post about it to make you feel inferior? NO WAY! I actually hope to encourage you to make one of my recipes to share with those you love. I truly believe that sharing meals brings people closer together. And brings great joy!

    But… you say, “I don’t have the time to cook. You seem to be able to do it all.. but I just can’t.” First of all, yes, I do make cooking meals or baking treats a priority in my life so I make time for it. Trust me… If ever there was someone with no spare time.. that someone is ME! So how… how in the world do I have the time to make dinner for my family most nights of every week?

    That’s what this post this week is all about. Showing you how I do it and how you can too… if you want to. Trust me… I am no superwoman. 

    Ok… so lets take the day I decided to make chicken noodle soup for dinner. It was a cold day and I thought it would be the perfect meal for my family. It also happened to be one of the busiest days of the week (so a perfect example). Kids to take to various activities all afternoon into the night. So how did I pull it off and mind you…. make the noodles from scratch for the soup too? Taking 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there and finally 15 minutes before another pick up. Let me explain. 

    I literally had 10 minutes at home in between dropping off one child to their activity before I had to take pick up another child. I simply put the ingredients for the homemade noodles in my food processor and mixed them up. That took less than five minutes. Then I left the lid on and let the dough rest while I was off again!

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    When I got home, I had 20 minutes in between pickups so I rolled out my noodles and hung them to dry. I still had a little time before I had to leave so I started my soup by chopping some vegetables and threw them in the pot with some chicken, water and seasonings, turned on the stove and I was off again. It is amazing what you can do with 20 minutes!

    Before my last pickup I was left with fifteen minutes (See… I don’t live in my kitchen like you think!). I took out the chicken, shredded the meat, checked the seasonings and put the noodles in the soup. Put the soup on simmer and off I went again. When we all got home… the house smelled wonderful and my hungry kiddos got a healthy, meal I felt good about serving them. 

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    On a side note, once I made homemade noodles there was no going back. My kids fell deeply in love and as you read above it didn’t take a lot of time. I can spend way more time looking at my social media feeds on my phone! It all depends on how you choose to spend your “spare”time. May sound crazy, but it really wasn’t. And in the end… my house was calm and happy! 

    There you go… a day in the real life of me. Crazy, busy and real. And yes of course there are days where there is literally no time to make anything. Take out is real too. Especially if it is Mexican!

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  • Tuesday’s Tools and Tips- Microplane Love

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    This is another “must have” tool in your kitchen… a Microplane. I have a serious crush on this baby.

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    I love to use fresh zest in my recipes. With this wonderful tool, zesting is a snap and it produces a nice fine zest. I don’t care for the thick pieces of zest a regular zester does. 

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    Fresh Parmesan cheese? 

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    Yes please! 

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    Need fine grated chocolate pieces? Viola!

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    Grating fresh ginger is no longer a pain. Do you see how the ginger collects in the top of the micorplane? Whatever you grate with this collects on the top and you simply dump it out when you grated the amount you need. It grates effortlessly.. such a perfect tool. How did I survive before this tool? Go get yourself one now! 

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  • Tuesday’s Tools and Tips- Knives

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    One of the most important tools you can have in your kitchen is a good knife. A really good knife. Just know that it is going to cost you, but it will be a great investment that will take you through years and years of preparing so many great things! A really good, high quality knife will make any job a snap!

    Something I get asked a lot is “What kind of knife do you recommend?”. There are a good number of good knives out there. I would never buy a knife without “trying it out” for size and performance. Size you say? Yes, size. My favorite knives are made by Miyabi and I got them at Sur La Table. 

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    Never mind the “play video” arrow. I copied this picture from the Sur La Table site. This is the knife I have. I love it so much I bought two! It is the Miyabi Artisan SG2 Collection Chef’s knife 9 1/2 ” ($229.95) It cuts like a dream. 

    Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 10.06.33 PMWhen I went to Sur La Table to look at their different knives, the gal there highly recommended this knife. It is a Bob Kramer 8″ Stainless Damascus Chef’s Knife  (399.95). I excitedly took the knife in my hand to try it out. She handed me an apple and said I could cut the apple to try out the knife. I quickly asked for something more substantial to cut. An apple? You don’t need a sharp knife to cut an apple! How was I supposed to see how well this knife performed by cutting an apple? I asked for carrots or something firmer like that. After cutting the carrots with this knife, I knew it was not a good fit for my hand. The handle felt too bulky for me.

    That’s when I asked for another recommendation and she handed me the Miyabi knife. It was like I was cinderella slipping on the perfectly fitting glass slipper! It cut effortlessly and fit perfectly in my hand.That’s what I mean when I say you need to try it on for size. 

    You can keep buying your sets of 50.oo knives in a block set that will never perform that good, dull quickly and then buy a new 50.00 set. Or you can buy one amazing knife that will perform incredibly and make you feel like Julia Child in kitchen! 

    Head out to your local Sur La Table or gourmet kitchen store to take some knives out for a test run. Remember to ask for something firmer than an apple or onion to slice. I hope this helps with making your decision and gets you in “slicing and dicing” good form!

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  • Tuesday’s Tools and Tips- Hand Held Juicers

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    Seriously people… these are some of my most favorite tools in my kitchen. I am always needing a tablespoon or three of some sort of citrus juice in my recipes. With these juicers, it is quick and easy!

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    In need of some fresh lime juice to go in that dressing? Just cut a lime in half. 

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    Place it pulp side down. 

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    And squeeze! The juice will come pouring out and the pulp and seeds will stay behind. 

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    Need lemon juice? No problem.

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    Nothing like fresh orange juice in my orange rolls and icing. 

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    There you go. See how easy and fast that was? And clean up? These wash up in a snap! I got these juicers at Sur La Table, but I saw the lemon and lime ones at my local grocery store too. I also hear Target sells them. If you don’t have some of these for yourself yet, what are you waiting for? Go! I know you will thank me later… guaranteed.

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  • Tuesday’s Tools and Tips- How to Cut Cilantro Leaves off the Stem

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    I can’t tell you how many times people watch me cut cilantro or flat leaf parsley leaves off the stem in my classes and say,”Wow… just watching you do that was worth the class!” I guess most of you have been picking the leaves off the stems one by one. Yikes… what a pain! What I am about to show you is a piece of cake easy! 

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    Here is a big bunch of cilantro. Oh I love this stuff!

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    A sharp knife is crucial for removing the leaves with ease.

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    Holding the cilantro with one hand, take your knife and hold it almost parallel to the stems. 

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    With short, light strokes, shave the leaves off the stem. Starting at the base and working your way up to the top.

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    Rotate the bunch and do the same thing on all sides.

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    Until they are all shaved off. The stems that are left are longer than what the picture is showing. 

    IMG_0246 Now to answer another common question. What about the stems that are in there? Should you pick those off? Nope! Just chop them up with the leaves.

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    See? You barely notice the stems that were left in there. See… wasn’t that easy? Now go make some salsa or chimichurri with some of this amazing stuff! 

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  • Tuesday’s Tools and Tips- I.F. Thermometer

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     I saw this here little guy at Sur La Table and had to try it out. A point and shoot instant read thermometer? Sounds too good to be true!

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    Do these look familiar to you? These are what I used and have in my kitchen tools drawer. Honestly, the dang things frustrated me. They seemed to stay at one temperature forever…. then suddenly jump up. I am never sure if they are working correctly or if they broke on me. I don’t know about you, but when I try to attach these to my pans, they don’t want to stay in the position I need them in in order to get a correct reading. I end up holding them forever….. hoping they still work. 

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    I put the infrared thermometer to the test making ricottta cheese. The temperature is crucial when making ricotta cheese. 

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    You just press a button while shooting the food you want the temperature read on. A red laser light beams down on the surface of the liquid and gives me a reading. This will not give you a correct reading on meat where you need to probe it to get the inner temperature. It was honestly so easy! 

    I can’t wait to try it when making caramel sauce. This thermometer is great when you need to measure the temperature of the surface of anything. I love a product that makes my life easier and saves me time. Double win!

    And guess what? It is on sale right now at Sur La Table for 29.00! The other I.F. thermometers there were closer to 80.00. Got to love a great deal! 

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  • Tuesday’s Tools and Tips- Garlic Made Easy!

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    IMG_8652Have you ever found peeling the skins off garlic cloves a pain in the “you know what”? Try peeling up to 100 cloves for a cooking class! Today’s tip is all about the “tool” and a “tip”. My first tip… the type of garlic you buy makes a huge difference! I found these bulbs of garlic imported from China the easiest to peel BY FAR. Funny thing…. I didn’t buy these at an asian market. I find these packs of garlic bulbs in my local carnaceria. Go figure! These are the only garlic bulbs I buy… to save my sanity and time! Look for garlic bulb packs like this from China in your area.

    IMG_8636The must have tool for this job is a stainless steel meat pounder like this one. I got this one at Sur La Table and use it for a ton of different uses. 

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    Come down fairly hard on the top of the bulb with the pounder and……

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    Voila! The cloves will separate and some will automatically come out of their skins. For those that didn’t, just give them a light pound and the skins will fall right off effortlessly. And I mean effortlessly! 

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    Look at those naked cloves…. lovely to all garlic lovers like me!

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    Remember when I told you about the many uses for this tool? After you are done de-skinning (Yes I make up my own words and I like it) the cloves, rub your fingers on this stainless steel tool and  voila…. the garlic smell will disappear! Pretty cool, huh? Happy Tuesday everyone! 

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