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.

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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.

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.

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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 

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.

5 Fabulous Ways to Hack a Boxed Cake Mix

If I didn’t know better I’d swear that cake mixes reproduce in the dark of night on the shelves of my pantry. One day not so long ago, I counted 18 boxes of cake mix.

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Here’s how that happens: Cake mixes go on sale routinely. One week it will be Betty Crocker, then Pillsbury takes its turn and so on. This week in my supermarket Duncan Hines cake mixes are on sale for $1.57—that’s a good deal. Here’s how I make it an even better deal:

I still come across coupons for cake mix, so I hold onto them until that particular brand goes on sale and then time my purchase so it falls on double- or triple fuel points day. The sale price, minus my coupon’s value plus accounting for the $.20 or $.30 per-gallon discount I’ll get when I fill up at the store’s gas station equals free, or super cheap, cake mix.

While not all the cake mixes in my stockpile are freebies, rarely is my net cost more than $.50 for a cake mix.

Because no one my family is fond of plain, boring cake made from a box mix, my challenge has been to find better ways to use a cake mix than to simply follow the instructions on the box. Today, I’m sharing my favorite cake mix hacks:

Cake Mix Cookies

  • 1 (15.25 ounces) yellow cake mix
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Dump cake mix into a large bowl. Stir in the oil and eggs until well blended. Mix in the chips. It will be very thick. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls or roll into balls the size of walnuts and place 2-inches apart onto a greased cookie sheet. Flatten each cookie just a bit with your fingers. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Do not over bake. Remove from pan to cool on wire racks. Yield: About 2 dozen 2-inch cookies.

Note 1: Because there are so many different kinds of cake mixes (with pudding, with double pudding, extra moist and so on), you may need to make slight adjustments to this recipe. For example, I’ve found that with some varieties of mix the dough is so stiff and dry it’s not possible to form the cookies into balls. When this happens I simply add one or two tablespoons of water until the dough is workable.

Note 2: If you want to cut down on fat, try substituting half the oil with applesauce (still 1/3 total—half oil, half applesauce).

Note 3: If you need lots of cookies in a hurry, this recipe multiplies well. Just start with two cake mixes and double the additions.

Note 4: Depending on the type of cake mix you use, these cookies may dry out after two days. To prevent this, store them in an airtight container along with a piece of bread. I don’t know why, but for some reason, this keeps the cookies just as fresh and moist as can be.

Variations: You can use just about any combination of cake mix and chips. Example: Carrot cake mix with white chocolate chips; chocolate cake mix with peanut butter chips; devils food cake mix with toffee bits chips; German chocolate cake mix with pecans and coconut; white cake mix with crushed pineapple (drained) and coconut.

Don’t miss: Best Inexpensive™ Kitchen Appliances

Readers Comment on Everything From Soap Scum to Homemade Yogurt and Heated Mattress Pads, Too

It’s reader response day when I take the opportunity to report back with a few of the comments I get from you, my Dear Readers, every single day of my life.

And you wonder why I keep doing this? It’s no secret that I thrive on your feedback and kind comments. Please, don’t stop.

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Comment on: Best Inexpensive™ Heated Mattress Pad

Dear Mary: I have been reading and enjoying your column and advice for years. You have saved us a ton of money and made us healthier with tips on non-toxic cleaning products, dryer balls, and getting out stains. But I’m truly most grateful for your recommendation for heated mattress pads. I have mild arthritis and winters are hard for these reasons: It’s cold, my bed is cold, my husband can’t tolerate it if I turn up the thermostat. But even if I turn up the heat, the bed is still cold and takes forever to warm up. Arthritis seems to hurt more when I’m cold and trying to get to sleep.

I got the queen sized heated mattress cover with dual controls. I’m so very happy with it. It’s like a giant heating pad for arthritis. I turn it on to heat a few minutes before crawling into bed. It puts me to sleep without meds. Thank you, thank you! You are a huge blessing to us. Anne

Comment on: 8 Wedding Gift Hacks

Dear Mary: I love these suggestions for wedding gifts but if you choose an idea from the couple’s registry and buy it elsewhere it remains on the registry and you take a chance that someone else buys the exact same item. D.J.

Some wedding registries, Amazon, for example, allow you to mark the item as purchased but from another source so that it comes off the list in order to avoid duplication. -mh

Comment on: How to Make Ugly Soap Scum Magic, Mildew and Water Marks Disappear Like Magic

Dear Mary: I just want to let you know how much I appreciate the recipe for the shower cleaner with vinegar and blue Dawn. I am amazed how it’s taken care of my soap scum buildup. None of the other cleaners I’ve tried work half as well as this does. Thank you. Julie

How to Make Your Own Highly Effective Fruit and Vegetable Wash

Every year, says the Center for Disease Control, nearly 48 million people become ill from foodborne contamination, including sickness caused by fresh produce. To avoid this, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends washing produce thoroughly with a fruit and vegetable wash to help kill bacteria and ensure produce is safe for consumption.

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Walk into any grocery store these days, and more than likely you’ll find more than few choices of commercial fruit and veggie “washes” displayed between baskets of kumquats and kiwis, all promising to save your family by making produce safe for human consumption.

Stop! Before you spend even a few bucks for a fancy container with glowing promises, consider that you can make your own highly effective fruit and vegetable wash for just pennies.

While buying a commercial product to do this might sound great because it’s convenient, check the ingredients. You’re likely to find an ironically high number of chemicals with a price tag to match.

Mixing up your own fruit and vegetable wash is not only cheap—it’s also ridiculously easy. As a bonus, you’ll always know exactly what’s in it.

The 4 Make-Your-Own-Mixes You Asked For!

They’re convenient and tasty, but the high cost of your favorite prepared mixes and spice blends is enough to make you choke right there in the supermarket!

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In less time than it takes you to run to the market to pick up a box of Bisquick or a few packets of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Mix, you can make them yourself—and save a bundle in the process.

Here for your mixing pleasure are the four copycat recipes most frequently requested by my dear readers over the past few months.

Whether you requested or not, I’m certain you’re going to enjoy these not only for the money savings but for the joy of knowing exactly what’s in the mixes you use. Plus making mixes yourself gives you the opportunity to tweak and control things like the amount of sodium. Even better, no MSG.

Garlic Seasoning (Copycat Tastefully Simple Garlic Garlic)

  • 8 tablespoons dried minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons dried minced onion
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried chives
  • 1 teaspoons dried dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container like a Mason jar. Use as seasoning for meats, poultry, fish, salads. To make basic Garlic Dip: Combine 3/4 cup sour cream, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, and 1 to 2 tablespoons of Garlic Garlic Mix. Start with 1 tablespoon, adding more to taste. Warning: As the dip chills in the fridge, the flavors become very intense. Enjoy!

Einstein Bread—So Easy to Make You’ll Feel Like a Genius

Updated 3-6-18

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If you’ve read my book, 7 Money Rules for Life, you know that Rule #1 is so simple it would be easy to overlook it as being too elementary. Here it is: Spend less than you earn.

Now think about it … “spend less than you earn” is not the same as “don’t spend more than you earn.” That implies it would be okay to spend all that you earn, but no. The operative word is “less.” You need a gap between what you earn and how much of it you spend. That is the fundamental secret to living below your means.

It’s in that gap that financial freedom can grow. You really need to read the rest of the book, but for now, let’s just say that growing the gap is the challenge.

Here’s an easy way to increase your gap this week even if only by a few dollars, because it all adds up: Make your own bread. Wait! Hear me out. I want to show you how to make homemade bread that is so amazing, so simple and so foolproof you’ll be tempted to call it Einstein Bread because it’s going to make you feel like a genius.

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