When All Else Fails, Cover It With Chocolate

As the story goes, the local inventor invited the town’s pastry makers to observe his latest inventionan automated pastry-making machine. To his dismay, the bakers deemed it unfit because it could not consistently turn out perfect pastries.

Not one to give up easily, the inventor took one of the chefs aside and asked, “What do YOU do when you make a mistake?”

“I cover it with chocolate,” he replied.

cover-cooking-mistakes-with-chocolate

With that, the inventor went back to his workshop, made a few strategic changes to his machine and invited the testers to return. To his joy, the pastry-makers were so impressed each of them commissioned a machine for their bakery. Little did they know he programmed it so that when something went wrong it sent a signal to simply cover it with chocolate.

The moral of our little story: It’s only a cooking mistake if you can’t come up with a clever way to cover the mistake. 

DRIED OUT STUFFING. If your Thanksgiving stuffing turns out dry as dust, don’t toss it out. Drizzle chicken broth over it, cover with foil and allow it to sit for several minutes. It will become soft and moist and no one will be the wiser.

RUNNY MASHED POTATOES. When making homemade mashed potatoes, if you misjudge and add too much liquid you can thicken by adding a small amount of uncooked instant potato flakes. If the mashed potatoes still seem too thin, wait a few minutes before adding more because the thickening occurs upon standing.

SALTY GRAVY. Gravy too salty? Don’t fret! If it’s only a slightly salty problem, add a pinch of brown sugar or 1/3 teaspoon white vinegar to counter the saltiness. For a more serious situation drop a peeled raw potato into the gravy and allow it to sit for a few minutes, stirring gently. The potato will absorb much of the salt leaving the gravy much improved.

SOFT FUDGE. If your homemade fudge refuses to set, put it back in the cooking pan over low heat, stirring constantly. Add just enough of the liquid you used in the recipe to bring it back to a simmer. As long as you can see large bubbles, keep simmering. When the bubbles reduce in size until they are almost nonexistent the fudge will be ready to set.

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Credit Card Payment Dates and Credit-Limits: What Difference Does it Make?

Few things in this world are more confusing than credit cards—how they work, what they really cost and how to manage them responsibly. While it’s only my opinion, I think credit-card issuing banks are just fine with that.

But I’m not fine with that and you shouldn’t be either! When it comes to credit cards, ignorance is not bliss.

Woman-with-credit-card-woes.

What’s the solution? Stop being ignorant. Learn all you can. Ask questions in order to grow your financial intelligence. That’s the way to win the credit-card game.

Dear Mary: I am on the fast track to paying off my credit-card debt in full and forever. I’m like a racehorse heading into the final lap. Here’s my question: Does it matter when I make my monthly credit-card payments? Would it make any difference if I paid earlier in the billing cycle rather than just before the due date? Kevin

Dear Kevin: Wow, this is great news and I’m out here cheering you on. The answer to your question is Yes, it does matter. Here’s why:

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The Case for Keeping IRS and State Tax Returns Forever

You may recall from a past post on record-keeping, that you should keep copies of your IRS and state Tax Returns forever.

Did you wonder about that? Many of my Dear Readers, like CMC, wrote to inquire. Well, wonder no more …

Shocked young woman seeking copies of past Tax Returns

Dear Mary: Why do you recommend people keep tax returns forever? The IRS has electronic copies of every return, and can only go back 7 years for audits. Thanks for this great blog! Call Me Curious

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Get Clever with Leftovers: Coffee, Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes

Leftovers and I have a kind of love-hate relationship. I can’t bear the thought of tossing perfectly delicious food into the garbage just because I made too much of it.

So I pack it, seal it, and fill the refrigerator with it. Once leftovers are past prime—looking more like a science project than tomorrow’s dinner—I find that they’re so much easier to part with.

leftover-containers-of-food-in-a-refrigerator

The solution, of course, is to have an immediate plan for leftovers and then be diligent to follow through. Check out these terrific ideas!

COFFEE

Freeze it. Coffee ice cubes are great in iced coffee; they don’t dilute the drink as the ice melts. Or add your preferred milk and flavorings to the coffee and pour into Popsicle-type molds for a frozen treat tomorrow.

Make a Sauce: After pan-frying chicken or pork, deglaze the pan with coffee instead of wine for a deeper, Southern-style gravy.

Beef Jerky: Marinate beef slices in strong coffee and your favorite flavorings for up to eight hours, then dry the beef in the oven at 200ºF for about four hours.

Related: Make It Yourself: Beef Jerky, French Salad Dressing, Steak Sauce

Instead of Syrup: Combine hot coffee with melted butter and pour over pancakes or waffles.

Brine a Chicken: Coffee-based brines that include spices such as cloves, star anise, peppercorns and, of course, plenty of salt make for delicious and super moist roast chicken. Here’s a recipe for your consideration: Coffee Brined Chicken Breasts

Dress a Salad: For a simple coffee vinaigrette, cook equal parts brewed coffee, balsamic vinegar, and maple syrup on the stove at a low heat until the mixture is syrupy. Top it off with a little lemon juice.

Don’t miss: How to Get Started Roasting Your Own Coffee Beans 

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Tomorrow is the Day—Don’t Make These Tax Filing Mistakes

Money For Your Used Clothing Tax Year 2017 still available!

Here we are, one day before Tax Day 2017—the day by which we must file federal and state tax returns for Tax Year 2017. Hopefully, you’ve rounded up your receipts, figured out allowable deductions and loaded all of that onto the proper tax forms. And if not, it’s not too late. You have time.

But this is not the time to get sloppy. Make sure you don’t run any of these red flags up the flagpole of your tax return and you will greatly reduce the chances of getting hit with the most dreaded of all tax events—the audit.

MESSED UP MATH. Double check to make sure your arithmetic is correct. Math errors are not limited only to miscalculations. They could also be truncated numbers—dropping decimal places. Negative numbers need to have brackets around them. Consider attaching a spreadsheet or adding machine tape. Messed up math is the number one tax filing mistake so double check everything. E-filing makes sure that math calculation errors don’t occur.

Credit Karma’s Simply Free Tax Filing to E-file your federal and state taxes is 100% free!

SLOPPY RECORDS. If you are self-employed your deductions need to be very carefully documented. As a member of this group, don’t be tempted to blur the line between personal and business expenses, especially mileage deductions and home-office usage.

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Demo Day and Beyond Starring Instant Pot!

We and I use the term loosely as in the “royal we,” are remodeling our kitchen. Think demo day, a la Chip Gaines of the popular HGTV show, Fixer Upper.

Rather than using the sledgehammer method, my husband Harold carefully deconstructed the entire kitchen in order to donate it—cabinets, appliances and even the kitchen sink—intact to our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Demo Day! Let the deconstruction begin

But before he removed a single screw, my personal home improvement designer/planner/hobbyist and talented woodworker remodeled the laundry room by stacking the full-size washer and dryer to make room for a new sink, more cabinetry, and counters.

Voila! A new temporary kitchen.

It’s small. Think: Barbie’s Dream House. Or cooking in a tent trailer. However, and quite amazingly, it works with just enough space for my Breville Smart Oven, Bunn Coffee Maker, Induction Countertop Burner, and Instant Pot.

I haven’t missed a beat; still making three meals a day, which would be nearly impossible were it not for my Instant Pot. The more I use it the more I learn. I could write for hours about all of the ways it has brought ease to my life—and delicious meals to our table—but I’ll save that for another day.

Today, I want to share recipes for some of our favorite Instant Pot meals.

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How to Eliminate Horrible Smoke Odor

I love the smell of a campfire mixed with the scent of pine trees on a warm summer night. But stale cigarette smoke odor in a car or the smell of a house fire that happened a long time ago? That’s different and not at all pleasant.

campfire-camping-couple-night

Last week this message showed up in my inbox:

Help! I have a chance to go back home—to the home I grew up in. The house has had a fire so there is smoke damage. Can you recommend something we could use to get the smoke smell out? We are tearing all the damaged wood from the home but still have the smoke odor. I’m curious to know if Nok-Out, the product that you talk about often, would work to eliminate that odor. I appreciate your column and enjoy reading it each day. Love, love the tips and use them often. Thanks again you have been a blessing to my life in so many ways. Lisa

Good news for Lisa (and many thanks for her kind words). Yes, without a doubt, Nok-Out will eliminate smoke odor and every other kind of odor she—or you—may be dealing with.

Unlike supermarket room fresheners that do little more than try to cover up odors with fragrance, Nok-Out is an “oxidizer.” When it comes into direct contact with the source of the odor, it oxidizes that smelly stuff, changing it into something that no longer has an odor. But it can only do this when it comes in direct contact with surfaces that have been touched by the stinky stuff, be that an entire room or a garbage can.

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My 22-Year Auto Lease Nightmare

It wasn’t our fault that a drunk driver plowed into our parked car in the middle of the night while we were on vacation more than 500 miles from home. The car was a total loss but no one was hurt; it could have been worse.

Our loss was insured and we got just enough money from the insurance company to pay off the loan. We wanted to replace that car anyway.

To buy a new car would have required borrowing the down payment and taking on bigger monthly payments. We could have financed a used car with lower payments, but that was beneath what we thought we deserved. A better option—or so we thought— was to lease a new car with nothing down and lower payments than we’d been used to making.

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