Monthly Archives: May 2012

Easiest Boiled Corn Ever

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My kids love to shuck corn, just like me when I was little. That is the easy part of cooking a couple dozen ears. Bringing a large pot of water to a boil and trying to get the ears cooked right in time to serve a crowd gets the kitchen hot and I worry about overcooking those juicy kernels. There is a trick however that can be used at your next bbq, camping or even potluck. All you need is an igloo or ice chest.

I prefer the igloo as it is easier to carry and drain, but it is up to you which you prefer. Start by totally cleaning your igloo. Place the shucked corn in the igloo, standing upright. Bring a large pot of water to a roiling boil. Place the igloo in your sink, just in case you spill some of the hot water. If doing this while camping, I place the igloo on the grass as it absorbs the water faster than on the packed earth the picnic tables are usually set on. Pour the hot water into the igloo and immediately close the lid tight. You need enough water to completely cover all the corn.

If taking the corn to a potluck, it will be ready when you arrive. Leave the water in the igloo until it is time to serve. Do not drain all the water at once. Only enough so that the corn can be easily removed with tongs. By leaving the extra water in the igloo, you keep the remaining corn hot until it is used. I place a pot under the spout to catch the water as I drain it. I also tie the tongs to the handle on the lid so they don’t get lost.

Perfectly cooked corn

If you are of the mind to add butter to the water when you pour it in, it will settle onto the corn as you drain out the water. Let me know how it goes!

Why request samples?

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I request samples for 1 reason, to save me money. I do not use them instead of buying products, I do it so I know what products TO purchase.

I hate wasting money, it is like working for free or throwing money in the garbage can. How many times have you bought something only to find out you did not like the taste or the quality of the item just did not work as promised? Far too many I bet! I began requesting samples when I was pregnant with Boo. My skin was so dry and I had probably $60 worth of lotions and creams that had been used for a week sitting around my bathroom with no success. I turned to the internet to see what else was out there.

That is when I discovered you can request samples from companies. I spent the next week of my internet time doing just that, from cheap brands to holy COW expensive. I found that my face needed a simple apricot scrub followed by Olay Total Effects. Since then, I have found new food items that I really enjoy such as Ocean Spray’s sparkling juice and a myriad of other products I did not like.

If I receive samples for hair products I already know I would use, they go in a drawer in the closet. The kids grab them when they are going on trips for a day or two and I don’t have to worry about replacing the travel sized container, yet again.

The best part is that companies frequently offer coupons with the sample products, so if you find you like the item it gives you an incentive to purchase a full-sized version.

Now that your interest is peaked, how do you do it? Many companies are now on Facebook. Like their page and look to the left under the various categories. Sometimes they have weird titles so go ahead and click on the ones that seem interesting. I received a free pair of tennis shoes from a company on Facebook, you never know what they are going to give away.

Startsampling.com will ask a series of questions to get to know you and allows you to click on offers that suit your life. They are mailed to you from the address stored on their system. A google search will produce dozens of sites dedicated to offering samples.

Most companies have their own websites now. Even Wal mart is working in conjunction with other companies to offer coupons

So the next time you see an offer for a free sample, request it and you might discover your newest favorite thing.

BASIC COOKING TERMS

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Recipes are full of measurements, ingredients and directions. Sometimes we come across a word and are not quite sure what it means. Sometimes those terms require us to be very precise or the recipe won’t turn out correctly. Becoming familiar with those cooking terms is a necessity and allows the cook to spread their wings and try new things.

CUTTING TERMS

Crush – To press hard enough to extract juice. Can be done with a garlic press, flat side of a knife or mallet.

Mince – To cut into very tiny pieces such as with onions and garlic, using a knife such as the Chef’s Knife.

Chop – To cut with a knife by rocking the knife from the tip of the blade to the back. You need to use a knife that allows for this rocking motion such as a Chef’s Knife.

Dice – Cutting the food into cubes that are less than 1/2 inch in diameter. Most commonly done with a Chef’s Knife but if you are comfortable with your knife skills can even use a Cleaver.

Cube – Cutting the food into cubes that are 1/2 an inch or more in diameter. A Chef’s Knife is the most common but even a Cleaver can work, if you feel comfortable with such a large blade.

Sliver – To cut into long thin strips such as you find almonds.

Julienne – When food is cut into long sticks, such as french fries.

Pare – To cut off the outer skin of a food such as with potatoes and apples. Use of a paring knife makes the job much simpler.

Peel – To strip off the outer skin of food by hand, such as with an orange or banana.

COMBINING TERMS

Toss – To very gently mix food so as not to cause bruising, such as with a salad.

Fold – A way to combine food so as not to lose air such as with a mousse. The spatula is “cut” into the food and gently drug across the bottom of the bowl and the food is flipped over. Rotate the bowl and repeat as needed.

Cut – A way to combine fats with a dry ingredient. The end results are balls of fat and dry ingredients forming crumbs. There are 3 main methods.

1.) Holding a knife in each hand they form an X over the fats. The knives are pulled apart, thereby cutting the fat.

2.) A fork is used by pressing down on the fat until it has created crumbs.

3.) A pastry knife is used the same as a fork. This tool is much faster than using a fork.

Stir, Mix and Blend – Used to combine ingredients evenly. Stir is the most gentle, and as you progress to mixing and blending you become a little more vigorous in your efforts.

Cream – Beating until the food is light and fluffy, such as with butter and shortening.

Beat – To use a whip or firm spoon to vigorously combine ingredients. This is much stronger than to blend.

Whip – To use a whisk or beaters to incorporate air into a food, such as making whipped cream.

Knead – To fold dough over repeatedly in order to form a smooth dough and increase gluten. The more you knead, the more gluten is created. Always follow the time lines in the recipe as some foods you want very little gluten, while others you want a lot.

COOKING TERMS

Saute – To gently cook over medium heat.

Brown – To cook over medium to medium high heat in an attempt to brown all sides of the food. This not only adds flavor, but is aesthetically pleasing.

Scald – Heating milk to 180 degrees (82 Celsius) to kill bacteria and enzymes (required for making bread) and denature the proteins. This was needed before pasteurization so in modern cooking it is done mainly to increase the temperature of the milk or change its consistency for specific dishes like B├ęchamel sauce.

Simmer – To bring food to a very low boil. Bubbles will form and collapse under the surface and on the edges of the pan.

Boil – Bubbles will now form continuously and be breaking on the surface of the liquid.

Rolling Boil – The bubbles are forming more rapidly. Food can easily scorch or reduce at this temperature and should never be left alone.

Roasting – Using a dry heat to add carmelization for meats and vegetables.

Broil – to cook with a dry heat from above the food. This is done at a very high temperature and is only done to put a finishing touch on food. A close eye must be kept on the food to prevent burning. Some older ovens require that the door be slightly ajar when the broiler is used so know your equipment.

TEMPERATURE TERMS

Cool – To allow food to come to room temperature.

Chill – Requires the food be placed in the refrigerator to cool down.

Room Temperature – Allowing an item to sit on the counter to bring up the temperature. Butter and eggs whip better if left out for at least 15 minute before hand. Meat such as steak cooks better as the outside gets a nice crust and the inside is not ice cold. This does not mean you are ignoring basic food safety! Food should only be left out if it is going to be used immediately.

Meat Thermometer – Placed into the meat while it is cooking to check the internal temperature. It is common practice to insert the thermometer after the meat is cooked but this is a very bad idea. Doing so creates a portal for the juices to run out and leads to a dry cut of meat.

Candy Thermometer – Specifically designed to use while making candy. Look for one that you can attach to the side of the pot and the numbers are easy to read. Candy can move from 1 stage to the next rapidly and you should stop cooking right before it reaches the temperature you are looking for.

MEASUREMENT

T/Tb – Tablespoon

tsp – teaspoon

Packed – pushing down on the ingredient into the measuring cup. This is most commonly done with brown sugar, but also used when canning. Never pack unless instructed to!

Level – After an ingredient (such as flour) has been scooped into the measuring cup, take a flat object and rest it on the rim. Make a quick swipe over the cup and this ensures the measurement is precise.

Liquids – All liquids beyond a tablespoon should be measured in a liquid measuring cup. You will never get a completely accurate measurement in a dry cup. Once the liquid is in the cup, place it on a lever surface and bend down so you are looking straight onto the lines. From the top it may look accurate, but once you view it from this angle you may see it is off by quite a bit.

Splash – A quick tip or jerk of liquid added to a recipe.

Dash – A quick tip or jerk of a dry ingredient to a recipe.

Season to Taste – Sometimes a recipe calls for a specific amount of salt and pepper. However, especially when using canned ingredients that already contain salt, you may not require as much as the one who developed the recipe. Seasoning to taste just means you taste the finished recipe and see if you want more salt or pepper.

GENERAL TERMS

Slow Cooker – Often referred to as a Crock Pot, however that term refers to a specific brand. All Crock Pots are slow cookers, but not all slow cookers are Crock Pots. This is a counter top appliance that allows food to be cooked low and slow all day long without supervision.

Double Broiler – The fancier term is bain-marie, but whatever you call it, it allows food to be cooked in a very delicate way. For example, eggs can be heated to a temperature that will kill bacteria, but the eggs won’t curdle. The process is used when making sauces and melting chocolate. The bottom pot is in direct contact with the heat source and filled with water. The food is placed into the top pot.

A store bought double boiler, designed specifically for this cooking method.

The homemade version requires a pot and bowl.

The bowl can be glass or metal, just remember it will be hot. When melting chocolate special care must be made to ensure absolutely NO water gets from the pot into the chocolate or it will seize and be unusable.

Marinate – Placing food into a liquid in order to add flavor and tenderize. Always follow the directions of a marinade as leaving meat too long can either cook the meat or tenderize it to the point it becomes mush.

Baste – To spoon a liquid over food while it is cooking. Traditionally done with turkeys for Thanksgiving. However, It has been found that basting merely allows the heat to escape the oven every time it is opened and leads to a drier turkey. It is far better to cover with tin foil and keep the oven shut. When suggested for foods in a frying pan, it is much more successful in adding the desired flavor.

Sifted – To put flour into a sort of sieve or strainer and shake it in order to strain out the lumps and allow the finer particles to pass through. It also allows dry ingredients to be combined in a way to ensure they are incorporated throughout. For example, you can place your flour, baking powder and salt in a sift and it will mix together for you as it goes through the strainer. If a recipe calls for “sifted flour” it is to be sifted before measuring. If it calls for “flour, sifted” it is to be sifted after it is measured.

Rest – Putting food to the side and allowing it to set there undisturbed.

Flour – Okay, I know you are thinking of the food product, but it is also a verb. Wipe shortening, oil or butter on a pan making sure to get every tiny space. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of flour into the pan and shake it till the flour clings to every exposed bit of oil. This is to prevent cakes and brownies from sticking to the pan.

Did you learn anything new? Please let me know if you think I missed any terms and happy cooking!

Chocolate Covered Shortbread Bars

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I enjoy a good cookie, however I prefer not to make them. Somehow I always seem to over bake at least 1 batch. Give me a bar cookie any day and somehow it comes out perfectly. The added benefit is they take less time to throw together. These are a light shortbread cookie with chocolate on top and a breeze to make.

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 c softened Butter
1 1/2 c Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
2 tsp Vanilla
3 c Flour
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 to 2 cups of chopped Chocolate
1/2 c Nuts or Toffee bits (optional)

Cream butter and sugar till fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla. Combine the flour and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture.

Grease and flour a 10×15 inch pan. Spread the dough on the cookie sheet as evenly as possible. I find it is easiest to use my fingers and then smooth it with an offset spatula. Use a fork to pierce the dough periodically. This prevents it from puffing up as it bakes. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until the dough is golden brown.

While it is still hot, sprinkle the chocolate on top of the cookies. As it begins to melt, spread it over the entire pan. If you are using chocolate chips, they are designed to hold their shape and will take a little more work to spread around. I prefer milk chocolate but you really can use whichever type you like the best. If you want nuts or toffee on top, sprinkle it now while the chocolate is still warm. I have used almonds, walnuts as well as pecans. It just depends on the mood you are in. Candied nuts really put these bar cookies over the top.

Menu Planning

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How many things in life do we plan for? Vacations, weddings, college and even retirement. In a lifetime we spend more on food than any vacation, so why don’t more people plan their meals at home? Shopping for food has become a necessity and one we are often ill prepared to do properly.

Menu planning saves time and money. If you know you have dinner covered for the next week, you won’t be stopping at the grocery store on the way home from work. Which means avoiding those impulse buys that quickly add up. I like to create a menu for the whole month, but doing it week by week is better for many people.

First, look at your calendar and see how many days you need food that is going to be fast to cook and can be eaten quickly. I love soup and grilled cheese, but it really is hard to get down quickly when you only have 15 minutes to eat. Nor does it travel well to a baseball game when you have to eat on the sidelines tonight. Casseroles are a 1 dish meal and fit this category well. Meatball subs are something that you can wrap and take with you if need be.

Second, determine how much time you will have to spend in the kitchen. If you need to go into work early on Thursday, a meal dumped in the slow-cooker that only requires 4 ingredients is easily managed by you or the kids. If you will be home all day it might be a good day to make up some extra marinara sauce for the freezer.

Third, look into your freezer and pantry and choose meals that you already have 60% to 70% of what you need. Shopping from the pantry means you are using items before they expire and hopefully bought while on sale.

Fourth, when you write down the items you plan on preparing, make a separate list of every single ingredient and how much of it you will need. I am referring to how many pounds of hamburger, or cups of sour cream are required for each recipe. The larger amounts are important so that you can buy in bulk and still come home with enough the week. Say you are going to make stroganof on Monday, baked potatoes on Wednesday and a sour cream cake for Sunday. You want to remember to buy a larger container of sour cream this time. In general I know what I have in the pantry, but if there is any doubt, I write the ingredient down and double-check before I finalize my shopping list.

Fifth, plan how you prepare you food. If you need half an onion on Monday and the other half on Wednesday, just chop the whole thing on Monday and save the tears. This includes lunches you need to pack. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can be made and placed in the freezer on Sunday and pulled out during the week as needed.

Sixth, consider cleanup as well. If it makes your life significantly easier to use a disposable pan to bake dinner, or paper plates to eat from then do it. I certainly don’t use them on a regular basis, but there are times when I know it is worth it to not have to wash dishes when we are done eating. If using one of these items means you will cook instead of using the drive thru, then use them. Many companies are developing products with this idea in mind. For example, Reynolds makes liners for the slow-cooker as well as oven bags.

If you have been inspired to do some menu planning of your own, please share what dishes you plan on preparing.

Fun With Teenagers

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Call me crazy, but I love going on trips with teenagers. I get to know kids I otherwise might only know in passing. I see creativity at it’s best. To see their eyes opened to worlds they never thought they would enjoy is priceless. Yes, even teenagers can appreciate Vivaldi, musicals, opera and Cirque du Soleil. They can also be trusted at zoos, museums and the mall. When total strangers come up to comment how great the kids are and how impressed the stranger was with their behavior, I have to agree and am not one bit surprised. Watching them grow from timid freshmen to college kids ready to explore their future is an honor.

How can I convey how proud I am of the young lady who saw a stranger leave her wallet in the bathroom at Safeway and the student was determined to make sure it was returned before worrying about her own dinner? Percussionists who took second place at the competition and cheered the loudest for the school that took 1st place showed true class. The joy and excitement 103 teenagers truly felt when the news spread the teacher they left behind had a new baby girl in his arms was beautiful.

I spent this weekend sleeping on a gym floor, sitting on a bus for hours, walking for miles and eating fast food. Yet I would not change a minute of it. I hope the next time you are asked to give a little of your time for the youth in your area, you consider what you are missing when you say no.

Getting activities organized – Milk Crates

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I am involved in several things with my kids and church. However the thing I have the most responsibility for is a Girl Scout Troop. All the papers and information can begin to take over if one is not careful. Milk crates are cheap and can hold a lot of items in a portable container.

I have 1 crate that holds all the inserts for badges girls can earn. Each hanging folder is a general subject where I place any information that can help with those badges. I keep contact information, snack ideas, games, crafts,brochures and the badges themselves in the correct folder. If I find something that fits a topic, it is easily slipped into the hanging file. While mine are related to Girl Scouts, the same idea can be used for anything.

CRATE #1
Each tab is a subject. Some hanging folders have files within them to separate the information. I include newspaper articles, information found online, resources from agencies as well as non profits, Boys Life and even National Geographic. Organizing them here means I don’t forget I have them and I keep a huge mess from forming.

Tabs: Animals, Art, Birds, Citizenship, Conservation, Cookies, Crafts, Emergency, Fashion, First Aid, Food, Girl Scouts, Health/Nutrition, Hike/Camp, Invent/Design, Mae Own, Money, Performances, Photo, Plants, Service, Science, Self Improvement and Sports

Badges

CRATE #2
Each tab is for a different Journey as well as Girl Scout traditions that apply to all levels. Because the Journey books are thin, they fit into the hanging folders quite easily. It is also a great place to keep magazines that I only use when dealing with the specific subject. If I don’t want the entire magazine I can staple the article together.

Tabs: Bridging, Thinking Day, TAP info, WOW, Quest/Teamwork, Get Moving/Energy, aMaze/Relationships, Sow What/Gardening, Fishing, Scrapbooking, Transportation, Holidays/Seasonal.

Journeys & Other Basics

CRATE #3
This is my Daisy level crate because they earn awards differently. Each hanging folder is assigned to a Petal where I keep the papers specific to them. One of the things I keep is picture books for each Petal. This crate has extra room so I keep specific items behind the files that relate to this level only.

Tabs: Petals/Uniform, Cookies/$, Crafts, Awards, Center, Each Petal has own file, Garden Journey, 3 Cheers

Daisy level

Take a peek inside the hanging folders. None of them are the exact same, they hold things I have found here and there related to the topic.

Plants

Workbook I found online, info from local noxious weed control board, poster, gardening tips, badge inserts

Money

Info from Modern Woodsmen, Consumer handbook, toy money, bank statement, local contact information

Conservation

Brochures, booklets, Boys Life

Honest and Fair

Story book, coloring page, ideas found online, Journey plan. Everything relates to the subject of the Petal.

I can add and remove items as needed or just grab a single file and go. I hope this helps you organize your life a little better. What will your milk crate be about?