Tuesday, January 29, 2013

10 Uses for the Humble Clothespin (Tuesday Tips: Kitchen Edition)

One of the most useful (and least expensive) items in my kitchen gadget drawer is a little bin of colored plastic clothespins! If you're a a green freak, the wooden ones are great too...

Years ago I bought a pack of 25 from Dollar Tree ($1 compared to $6.99 for 10 Chip Clips at your favorite bed and bath store).


1. Close bread and chip bags, cereal bags inside boxes, and opened bags of frozen veggies to keep things fresh without wire annoying twist ties.

2. Hold your cookbook open to your page while you follow your recipe (this also works for sheet music).

3 Clip a few tea bags to a pitcher or teapot to keep the tag ends from falling in. If the vessel is too thick for the pin, just clip it on and use it as a weight instead.


4. To keep your tablecoth on, clip the sides together under the table.

5. Pin a stack of napkins together to keep them from blowing away.


6. Hang artwork or notes on a string.

7. Let them attach sheets to furniture with clothespins to make a fort.

8. Who doesn't know a craft project or two that uses wooden clothespins?


9. Pin pleats at the bottom of the hem for easier ironing. Also use mini wooden clothespins from the craft store instead of pins for hemming.

10. Mark a stain (or an area you've pre-treated) on an item of clothing so you won't forget to attend to it when you do laundry.


Oh, and you can also use them to hang laundry on a clothesline.

In closing, this is


"Use a clip to your keys when your child is in a carseat as a fail-safe way to make sure you never forget." - reader comment on another blog

If you read this post, you already know where I stand on this one. All I can say is: If that's what you have to do to keep your kid safe, then please do it!

What's your vote- BEST or WORST?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Pileated Woodpeckers

These two live in our backyard. They stopped by to visit today while I was washing dishes. 

I think they're married, because as soon as I took these pictures they started fighting!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Camelia's Quilted Couch

Photo by Camelia Elliott

Just when you think you've seen everything, Camelia goes and quilts her sofa!

When Camelia first told me of her couch-quilting plans, my first question was "Are you going to let anyone sit on it?" She answered "yes" without hesitation, but after all that work I wonder if she has changed her mind!

Read more about it and view pictures of her process here on her new blog.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cooking Veggies (Tuesday Tips: Kitchen Edition)

Tuesday Tips are back, and we're covering the kitchen - until I run out of material or tire of the topic, whichever comes first.

Covered or Uncovered?

Should you use a lid on the pan when cooking veggies? 

According to one of my vintage community cookbooks, old-fashioned wisdom dictates that any vegetable grown underground (carrots, beets, potatoes...) should be cooked covered.

Veggies that grow above ground (peas, beans, greens...) should remain uncovered. Further research leads me to believe that this helps retain the bright color of your green vegetables (all of which, of course, grow above ground).

Of course, if you're one of those city slickers who's not sure which veggies grow where, this isn't going to be very helpful advice, is it? I once witnessed a "sandwich artist" at Subway stumble over a vegetarian customer's request for a sub with "everything that grows in the ground" -so you might surprised what some people don't know about their food! 

Cold or Boiling Water?

Apparently, those who came (and cooked) before us also knew that the root veggies should start off in cold water, while those grown above ground should be placed in water that is already boiling.

How could I have cooked for thirty years (and read cookbooks and homemaking magazines for longer than that) and not learned that? 

Do you have a veggie-cooking tip to share?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Freezing Leftover Tomato Paste

Ever since this post about freezing things other than water in ice cube trays, I have been obsessively doing just that! I have zipper baggies of half and half cubes, several varieties of broth cubes, and fruit juice cubes. No leftover wine cubes yet- only because I am still trying to figure out what leftover wine is.

In the past week I've made two dishes with tomato paste, each using about a tablespoon. I understand it should last about a week in a sealed container in the fridge. Since I have no tomato paste plans for the near future (and detest food waste), I decided to try the ice cube thing.

If you've tried this, you're laughing at me right now. Because you already know that putting tomato paste into an ice tray is a very messy procedure. What was I thinking?

Dollop Method of Freezing Tomato Paste

Then I remembered reading somewhere that you could place dollops, approximately one tablespoon each (you'll see why I say approximately when you try it...), onto a piece of freezer paper and freeze until firm. Then you put the frozen lumps in a freezer bag and pull them out as you need them. Each tablespoon is about a half an ounce of paste.

Martha's Method of Freezing Tomato Paste

I also ran across Martha Stewart's method, whereby you freeze it in the can and cut into slices.

Since I'm the Home Ec Dropout, and not Martha Stewart, I chose to freeze it into sloppy little dollops. Maybe not as pretty, but just as frozen and safe from spoilage!

How to Avoid Having to Freeze Tomato Paste...

I've recently learned that tomato paste is sold in a tube, sort of like toothpaste. I think I'll check it out next time I shop for groceries! If it's not cost prohibitive, that sounds like great alternative.  

How do you deal with leftover tomato paste? Or do you manage not to have any? Either way, I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Replacing Butter with Olive Oil

I've often wondered in what ways butter, oil and shortening are interchangeable (this spelling always looks wrong to me, but it's right) in baking and recipes. The only time I have felt comfortable experimenting is in sauteeing. I still don't know all the answers, but last time I visited Oliveto to taste (any buy) some interesting oils and vinegars I was offered one piece of the puzzle:

Butter to Olive Oil Conversion Chart

Butter/Margarine =   Olive Oil
1 teaspoon               3/4 teaspoon
1 tablespoon            2 1/4 teaspoons
2 tablespoons           1 1/2 tablespoons
1/4 cup                    3 tablespoons
1/3 cup                     1/4 cup
1/2 cup                     1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons
2/3 cup                     1/2 cup
3/4 cup                     1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon
1 cup                           3/4 cup  

I plan to experiment with this a little. I also thought about replacing the vegetable oil in my Cranberry Pumpkin Bread with walnut oil to see how it changes the flavor. (My understanding is that any oil -nut, vegetable, olive, etc.- can be exchanged measure for measure.)

Has anyone tried replacing butter with oil in a recipe? How did it turn out?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

10 Days of Meals (Not Mine!)

For me, it turns out that getting a homemade dinner on the table every night does not seem to depend on planning. Planning does not always equal food on the dinner plates. 

A list of what will be served and when does not help me at all.  What helps me is having on hand what I need to prepare several dishes my family likes. And setting aside time to cook is what makes it happen! Sometimes that means preparing it the day before. And most times that means having the same thing two nights in a row. Fortunately, no one around here minds leftovers!

My method:


When making the list for Sunday afternoon grocery shopping (the whole family goes), I note of four or five dishes I'd like to make (and eat) for the week. Most dishes on the list will feed all three of us twice.


Then I add all the necessary ingredients and accompaniments for those meals to the list. 


Some nights when I'm not busy, I'll prepare two or three dishes at a time. Read about my cooking nights here  and here.


Once the fridge and pantry are properly stocked, it's just a matter of thinking about dinner more than an hour before dinner- preferably at least the evening before. 

10 Days of Meals from Katherine at rhymes with smile

If you like a more structured system, one of my quilting friends has come up with one of the easiest and best plans I've seen (and I've done lots of research). Follow these links to read her posts:

My New Way to Plan Food (Part 3): This is the genius part!
My New Way to Plan Food (Part 2): Read Katherine's Meal Planning Rules here.
My New Way to Plan Food (Part 1): Why Katherine wants and needs to plan her family's meals.
10 Days of Meal Plans
10 More Days of Meals Plans

What's your secret to getting dinner on the table every night?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Spicy Simmering Potpourri

Fill a small saucepan about 3/4 full of water. Add:

3 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves (or whole cloves)

Simmer this blend on low (adding water as needed) and your entire house will smell like you just baked cookies! Bonus: a little extra humidity during the dry winter months.

I tried floating a few lemon slices on top to make it pretty (otherwise it just looks like brown water), but the citrus scent clashed with the fresh-baked. Any ideas?

I've been using this batch for several days now and it still smells great. It got a little goopy around the edges after a while so I changed the pan, which I worried would be hard to clean. It wasn't!

Tomorrow, it's back to school and work for us. I'm sorry to see it end, but looking forward to getting back into a routine (although sleeping in has been nice...).

Here's my favorite picture from the holidays:

Niece Kerri (from Chicago), me, Madeline, Steve, sister-in-law Jenny (in front)
Photo by Kerri's beau, Jeff!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Trying Two New Recipes

Steve's friend came over to visit, leaving me with the whole afternoon to cook! Only three days into my New Year's Resolution, I'm starting to think it's more about actually getting into the kitchen and cooking ahead more than it is about planning. I've always had plenty of plans- and plenty of trouble following through with them.  I may change my little graphic to "What's Cookin' in 2013?".

Spicy Bean and Lentil Loaf

I copied this recipe from a friend's vegetarian cookbook. There's no sense in giving you the recipe since, as usual, I changed a few things. It was very similar to this vegetarian meatloaf, except that I used no protein substitute- just beans and lentils. I wasn't really trying to replicate meatloaf. I'm not vegetarian and could've made a meatloaf. It's just that I like Morningstar Farms Spicy Black Bean Burgers, so I thought I might like this. If it turns out well, and I make it again to refine the recipe, I'll share it.

Veggie Stuffed Pasta Shells

On my list for this week was Veggie Stuffed Pasta Shells, loosely based on this recipe. I wanted to use the whole box of shells, so I planned on using the whole container of ricotta to increase the volume of the filling, and adding a bag of frozen spinach (thawed and squeezed very dry). Also, I like to use the whole jar of spaghetti sauce, lilke I do for my Pumpkin-Ricotta Stuffed Shells.

What I didn't plan on was forgetting to buy the pasta shells. So I dropped by a store I normally don't shop in (because I hate because they never have what I want), which didn't even have jumbo pasta shells. So I'm thinking I'm not leaving the store without something. I buy manicotti shells. Same thing, right? Wrong.

First of all, the fragile lilttle things practically come wrapped in bubble wrap! This scared me- I mean, I've even had problems with the pasta shells! Secondly, you're supposed to pipe the filling in with a pastry-icing-squeezer-thingy, which I have. But guess what? This filling is really chunky, so it won't work. (No, I didn't try- I figured it out first...)

So I took a deep breath and cooked the manicotti. They all survived the boiling, but they split a little, since they're ribbed. A few of them actually worked, but as I tried to stuff the stuffing in, some ripped further. So I opened those up and stuffed them like hot dog buns.

This is what it looked like before going into the oven. I think it'll be okey-dokey. It's not for company or anything, after all.

By the way, I love my new OXO Julienne Peeler. It came in a set along with a regular peeler and a serrated one for tomatoes and other soft fruits and veggies (haven't tried that one yet). Look what it did for my zucchini and carrots!

The veggie-stuffed manicotti just came out of the oven:

A sprinkling of shredded Parmesan cheese near the end of baking hides a multitude of sins! If this turns out to be a good recipe, I'll send you this one, too. If not, at least you know not to buy manicotti shells!

This cooking day should take us through the weekend and keep us out of restaurants. If we decide to eat out, it'll be because we want to, not because we have to!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Off to a Good Start

I've made New Year's Resolutions before that didn't last through the first day. But this one's important to me because it benefits my whole family. Not to mention that I've made it in public, in writing, online.  

Tonight's dinner (planned on the way home from errands- anytime before I drive up the driveway counts as planned): 

  • mashed potatoes (freshly made, leftovers will be potato cakes for breakfast tomorrow)
  • corn (frozen)
  • peas (frozen)
  • cranberry sauce (leftover)
  • gravy (turkey stock cubes w/ spices and cornstarch)

Cooked for the next two days:

  • lentils
  • rice (2/3 basmati, 1/3 sweet black, in chicken broth)

Later in the week, we're trying a new recipe: Veggie Stuffed Shells! Well, it's actually goin to be manicotti, because the store was out of jumbo pasta shells. It's not an obstacle, it's an opportunity to try something new. At least that's what I keep telling myself...

I think that'll take care of Week 1. How's your resolution going so far?