Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mom Tips - For Cooking, #1

What are "Mom Tips"? ~ I so enjoy the little "mom tips" that I've come across in life - those little things that I've learned learned from my mom, or a mom friend, that just make life a little nicer.  Things that make the daily-daily just a little easier, or make me smile a little more, or maybe will be a time saver for me.  I'm not referring to the bigger projects like de-cluttering or re-organizing, although summer is the ideal time for those things (and they definitely make me smile)!  But just the small things - the "mom tips" that aren't in the self-help books, they're just life-experience things that I've gotten from a mom with experience under her belt.  Well I'll share with you some of my Mom Tips for cooking; I hope they bring a simple breath of fresh air to your regular every day patterns!  *smile*


~ Post-it notes for dinner.  When I have a portion of our dinner that needs to be prepared later than the rest, I put a post-it note on the box on on the recipe card to remind me what to do what and when.  I write down what time I need to prepare the food item, and then what time it needs to begin baking and be done baking by.  I circle the prep. time on my note so that it's easy for me to see at a glance.  

I do not want to have to spend time re-thinking my timing for dinner, I desire it all to be done at the same time, I'm not willing to go without that food item I planed for when missing it is avoidable, and I don't even want to have to try to remember what time precisely I'm planning to serve dinner that night (it's generally at the same time each night, but sometimes there are variations depending upon my husband's work schedule, or upon what time company is arriving, etc.)  My note ensures my success without extra time or energy spent on it.  I will also set out the tools needed to prepare that food item so that it's all the faster to whip up when it's time, and I'll even periodically set a timer for myself to remind me to begin the food preparation for that later item if it's during a busy time of day when I'm likely to get distracted by all that's happening with our large family.  Cooking efficiently and on purpose.  *smile*  

~ Directions on my directions.  I'm a highly visual person, and I don't like to make mistakes that waste my time, energy, or finances... *chuckle*  So, I make marks on my recipe cards to help me see clearly what needs to happen to prepare that dish.  I highlight ingredients so that I can see quickly and easily what I need to shop for, and to help me avoid missing an item causing me to have to either make an additional trip to the store or not prepare that meal I planned for.  I also highlight the amount of time it will take to cook so that I am able to have it on the table when I've planned to do so without mistake.  The ingredients that will take time to prepare (things that need to be chopped, or browned) have an Astrix; this helps me plan for the amount of time it takes to prepare that dish. Ingredients that can go in to the pot as a group have [brackets] around them.  I also write down what the doubled or tripped amounts are for every ingredient (typing out the recipe in Word if necessary in order to have all of these amounts at-a-glance in 3 columns:  single, double, and triple).  This way I also do not have to figure these out more than once, and I am far less likely to make mistakes  then when I'm doing math on the fly.  I really like recipes to turn out perfect every time; I do not like to improvise or "wing" anything - including my cooking!  *laugh*  Some people love this and are very successful at cooking this way - but not me.  I prefer guaranteed success.  (click on the photo to enlarge)

~ Prepared in advance.  I always get out all of the ingredients I will need to cook or bake something in advance.  I desire to make sure I have everything I need (still - as sometimes ingredients get eaten by someone during the week!).  

~ No doubling up or missing out!  It is common for me to be interrupted during cooking, and I have in the past forgotten when looking at all of my ingredients on the counter whether I already put something in to the recipe or not!  *shoot!*  So in order to avoid doubling up on an ingredient and accidentally putting it in to the recipe twice (seasonings), or leaving out an ingredient accidentally, I take the seasoning I'm adding (for example), measure it out, add it to the recipe, and then set the container down on a different location of the counter away from the to-be-added group of ingredients, or I just put it back in the cupboard if that's convenient.  This way when I come and go from cooking there is no question in my mind as to what still needs to be added and what has already been added.  No mistakes.  *smile*

~ Kitchen conversions.  I keep a magnetized kitchen conversions chart handy on my refrigerator so that when I need to add 12 Tablespoons. of an ingredient, for example, I can see at-a-glance that this is the same as 3/4 cup.  This has been especially helpful when I've been doubling or tripling recipes.  (You may be able to order one of these by calling the number on the magnet, but if not or if you prefer you can find the conversions by Googling them online).

~ Sticky starches & melty cheese.  Use cold water to rinse pasta off of a colander, this prevents it from turning to cement but instead rinses easily.  I also use cold water to rinse shredded cheese out of the sink so it washes away easily and does not melt and then stick.

~ Are the herbs still good?  Herbs can be kept for up to 6 months and still be good, so I buy amounts I'm likely to use up in that period of time.  To check their flavor, let your nose be your guide.  Crush dried herbs with your fingers to see if they release their fragrance.  If they have no aroma, they likely should be discarded.

~ Keeping left-over grilled food hot.  A 6-pack cooler is a good insulator for cold OR hot, so after a cook-out of hamburgers, hotdogs, steaks, or chicken, place the extras in to the cooler to keep them hot for those folks who return for seconds.

~ Filling manicotti shells quick and easy.  This can be messy, but if you put the filling in to a cake decorating bag, or a ziplock baggie with the corner tip cut off, the shells can easily be filled by just squirting the filling in!  No mess - yes.

~ Four condiments in one.  When preparing for a picnic where you plan to grill hamburgers or hotdogs, mix the ketchup, mustard, pickle relish and chopped onion together in one container.  It's so easy to use this instead of packing, managing, and using all the separate condiment containers.

~ Cooking bacon with little cleanup.  I line a baking pan with aluminum foil, place one pound of bacon strips on top and bake it in the oven at 400 degrees until crisp, then just throw away the whole foil liner with the bacon fat contained inside.  OR,

~ Bacon bits for cooking.  Using bacon bits in a recipe is a great idea that will save time and prevent the greasy mess of frying bacon.  For each bacon strip, substitute 1 tablespoon bacon bits.

~ Already prepared seasoned beef.  Cut leftover meat loaf into thick slices and store each slice in its own freezer bag.  Then the next time I make a pizza or a pot of soup, I can simply thaw the number of slices that I want to cube and add to the entree.  The slices are also great for sandwiches.

~ Moist meat with great flavor.  Soak raw meat in a salt and sugar water solution called a "brine."  Place meat in a pot or ziplock bag with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup salt dissolved in two quarts of water.  Allow meat to brine for at least 30 min. before cooking.

~ Fresher asparagus or revived celery.  Place the cut stems of asparagus in a container of cold water, similar to flowers in a vase, and keep it in the refrigerator.  Change the water at least once every 3 days.  Celery stored this way will go from too soft, or even a bit floppy, to hard and crisp again!

~ Are uncooked eggs fresh?  I'm sure most of you large families have no problem with eggs being in the refrigerator for longer than 3 weeks.  *chuckle*  But if you do, you can check the freshness of an uncooked egg by placing it in a glass of cold water.  If the egg is fresh, it will remain on the bottom of the glass.  If it floats to the surface of the water it is not fresh and should not be used.  If the egg stands upright and bobs on the bottom of the glass, it is less than fresh but still all right to use, and is great for hard-cooked eggs because they'll be easier to peal.

~ Serving chips.  There's a nice way to serve chips if you don't have bowls (or don't want to use them) instead of opening the end and having to reach way down inside, and to avoid not being able to see if there's any even left in the bag.  Lay the unopened bag flat on the table and then use scissors to cut an oval opening in what is technically the flat side of the bag. 

~ Easy cookie frosting.  When chocolate chip cookies are done baking, place a Junior Mint on each one; when it's melted, spread it around a bit with a knife or the back of a spoon. - yum.

~ Cupcakes in ice cream cones.  To hold the cones upright while baking, place the cones in mini muffin tins.  They fit perfectly and don't tip over while baking.

~ Surprise tasty crunch in the cookie.  Add 1/2 cup of crushed sugar-frosted cornflakes to oatmeal cookie dough for a tasty unexpected crunch.

~ Cookies guaranteed soft and chewy.  If you add one box of instant vanilla pudding mix powder to any cookie recipe, after they're baked they'll stay soft for many days even in the open air!  And they avoid burning, cooking to a nice golden blond color.

~ Cold drinks without a cooler.  Fill a child's plastic wading pool with ice and add all of your cans, bottles, and juice boxes.  It makes it easy for everyone to find what they want without having to open several coolers and dig through the contents.

~ Avoid dull knives.  Wash and dry them immediately after use, avoid leaving them in the sink, and never put them in the dishwasher.  Sitting water will quickly dull the blades.

~ Sauce won't stick to pasta?  If you're serving the pasta with a sauce, don't add oil to the pasta water to prevent clumping; instead, stir often.  Oil keeps the sauce from adhering.

~ Food doesn't brown nicely?  Before cooking, pat meats and vegetables dry with paper towels.  If you don't, they will steam and won't get that nice brown crust.

~ Brown sugar hardened?  Place an apple wedge or two, or a slice of bread in the bag with the sugar; seal it and store at room temperature, it should soften in a day or two.

~ Shredded cheese, divided.  We purchase pre-shredded cheese in a large quantity from Costco (same price or less than buying it in a brick), and then when we get home we separate by hand-fulls that large bulk quantity in to about a dozen individual Ziplock sandwich baggies before storing the cheese in the freezer where it keeps for a pretty long time - a couple large hand-fulls per baggie.  This way we can thaw and use only two or so cups of cheese at a time.  (The photo below is not of an entire Costco-quantity bag, just of a few baggies; the Costco bag divides in to about a dozen baggies total)

~ Frozen bread yet quick sandwiches.  We keep our bread fresher longer by freezing it, plus I don't have the counter space to keep it out thawed anyway.  Then when I'm ready to use it I either just drop it right in to the toaster and toast it just like I would thawed bread, or I lay the slices out on a barely-damp paper towel on the counter tip and the slices thaw while I'm assembling the sandwiches.  If it needs to thaw a tiny bit more still when I'm done, then I'll flip the damp paper towel over the top of the sandwiches while kids are gathering at the table and within another minute the sandwich is nice and soft.  Damp paper towels are also a great plan if someone is going to be delayed in eating their sandwich to keep it nice and moist and prevent it from drying out.  If we're going to travel with sandwiches in our cooler, we always prepare them frozen and then wrap them up in damp paper towels before putting them into the sandwich baggie so that the sandwich is nice and soft and chewy when we eat them.  *smile* 

I would really love to hear about any other Mom Tips you have for Cooking!  Let's all add a little "Nice!" to our daily-daily!  

Blessings on your day tomorrow!

* You may also enjoy reading my posts of Favorite Family Recipes, on How I Organize Recipes, or other Mom Tips!


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