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Great Recipes Know No Season

My mother-in-law, Gwen Hunt, was a very organized woman. She had file folders for everything you can imagine including one containing lists of her most valued possessions along with the name of the person who would fall heir to that item upon her passing.

Among the items I received are two three-ring binders, filled with magnetic scrapbook pages into which she had carefully placed hundreds of handwritten and newspaper-clipped recipes. Next to them are little handwritten notes about the recipes. She includes each recipe’s origin along with other tidbits of information she undoubtedly believed I would want to know, like for example, how many cookies she baked for her parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration on April 27, 1950 (10 dozen each of six different recipes, neatly arranged on facing pages). Many of the recipes are dated 1942 and, she notes, were in her original trousseau collection.

I stuck these binders away in a closet after we settled the estate and sold the house. I guess I just wasn’t ready to admit that her many years of cooking and mothering were over. Until this past week.

Going from one page to the next has been like sitting down with her over tea, once again. Oh, how she loved to recall names, occasions and “lovely times” with her friends and family. Each one of the recipes reminds me so much of her, and in that I’ve found comfort.

Make it Better Yourself: Homemade Coffee Creamer

UPDATE: As you know, Eufy RoboVac II SOLD OUT after 3 hours on Monday, leaving thousands of you disappointed. While we were not successful in getting the exact same deal, I’m happy that at least for right now (things can change fast) Eufy RoboVac II is $220 with free shipping (Looks like the Prime free shipping inventory sold out! It is still available, however with a fee for shipping). Consider this a  second chance. – mh

Cream. It’s coffee’s perfect mate. And when that creamer comes flavored in a handy bottle from the dairy case, even more perfect, right? Oh, but so pricey!

Generally, popular brands like Coffeemate, International Delight, Dunkin Donuts Extra Extra and Natural Bliss retail for $.10 to $.30 per ounce. Ouch! But you can make it yourself for a fraction of the price—and it is so easy. The hard part will be not using it all at once. Bonus: You’ll know exactly what’s in it and you can control sweetness and the flavors, too.

Stored in the refrigerator in a glass bottle or similar container with the tight-fitting in the refrigerator, homemade coffee creamer is good for at least 10 to 14 days.

Generally, homemade coffee creamers start with a base to which you add sweetener and flavor. There are two ways to make coffee creamer base—one that starts out sweet (Base Recipe #1)  and one that is not sweet to start (Base Recipe #2).

How to Store and Reheat Leftover Pizza

So, by some miracle you ended up with more pizza than you could eat—or you intentionally ordered a larger pie just to have leftovers. Great idea, unless those leftovers sit in the fridge until they dry up, curl up and turn downright disgusting.

Properly stored, leftover pizza will retain its best quality for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator or up to 2 months in the freezer.

STORE LEFTOVER PIZZA

The best way to store leftover pizza is NOT to leave it in the box and shove the whole thing in the refrigerator. The cardboard and air freely circulating around the slices will dehydrate them in a big hurry.

The best way is to stack and wrap: Place a single layer of slices on a dinner plate, top with a layer of wax, freezer, foil, or parchment paper, and keep stacking, alternating pizza and paper, until all the pizza’s on the plate. Wrap the whole thing tightly up in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. That’s it! It’s not as easy as just throwing the box in the fridge, but you’ll end up with tastier leftover pizza. Which leaves you with lot of cold, leftover pizza to reheat.

Mother’s Day Gift Idea: Spa in a Jar

I don’t mean to throw you into a panic, so let me say this gently in hushed tones: Mother’s Day is Sunday. Today is Wednesday. I think you get the picture. Don’t panic.

You still have time to buy a gift. In fact, thanks to Prime Shipping you can expect to have any one of these 16 guaranteed-to-please gifts delivered in time for the big day.

If you have more time than money this Mother’s Day—or just prefer to give homemade gifts—here’s my best gift idea requiring no particular artistic or crafty talent, that will cost less than ten bucks.

DIY SPA SET

Give the stressed-out moms on your list the gift of relaxation. Make your own bath product and them assemble them in a nice basket.

Bath Salts. 1 cup Epsom salts, 1 cup sea or rock salt, 20 drops fragrance oil, food coloring. Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until fully combined and color is even. 

Turn Your Barbecue Grill into a Baking Oven

If you have an outdoor barbecue grill with a cover that closes over the top of the grill, you can turn it into an outdoor oven. Why would you want to do that? To preclude the need to heat up your kitchen this summer to bake pizza, cookies, cakes, bread and casseroles. Or so you can expand your camping-out cooking repertoire.

photo credit: blackbirdcd

GENERAL. You can bake nearly anything with a covered grill. If your grill doesn’t have a cover, improvise with a large inverted pot. The heat rises and circulates in the covered area just as it does in your oven. The heat source can be charcoal, gas, or even wood, however gas is preferable because it is easier to control and does not transfer a smoked taste to the baked items.

TEMPERATURE. This is the challenge. If your grill has a temperature gauge installed, you’re in luck. If not, you’ll need to get a small oven thermometer so you can more accurately regulate the inside temperature of your grill when it is closed.

PRE-HEAT. Always fire up the grill for a few minutes to set the temperature before baking.

GET BRICKS. When baking, never set the baking pan directly on the grill. Instead, set a brick or two as necessary on the grill, then the banking pan on top of the brick(s). 

How the Right Thermometer Makes Me Look Good in the Kitchen

Faithful readers know how much I love to cook. That has not always been the case. It was coming face-to-face with how much money we were spending on restaurants, diners, take-out and drive-thrus that forced me (kicking and screaming) into the kitchen.

All those years ago, I looked to TV shows, cookbooks and online videos to teach me how to cook. I became a marginally decent cook.

Several months ago, I ponied up about $20 (I had a coupon!) to test a subscription to Home Chef meal kit delivery service (read all about that HERE and HERE).

Stop! Don’t Throw That Away

Now and then it happens. Bread gets stale, milk turns sour, produce turns ugly and frozen stuff thaws but can’t be used right away. So, out it goes because who in their right mind is going to drink soured milk, take a risk on frozen meat that’s been thawed out for a while or serve horribly wilted produce or dried up stale bread? We do have our standards, after all.

Surprisingly perhaps, from now on those standards need to include a load of ideas for how to put food items once considered inedible to good—possibly even delicious—use.

SOURED MILK

Wait. Hear me out. Sour milk may be gross, but it is not harmful. Think about sour cream, cheese and buttermilk, sour dough starter and so on. All of those items rely on “souring” of fresh milk in some way. While you will not want to drink soured milk, use it as you would buttermilk in biscuits, pancakes, cornbread, muffins and so on. There are some recipes that call for sour milk, instructing cooks to add vinegar to sweet milk to make it sour quickly. HINT: Sour ingredients are always balanced with baking soda. If you use sour milk in a traditional recipe, adjust accordingly. If the recipe does not call for it already, add 1/2 teaspoon for each cup of flour to counter the soured milk. Here’s a great, easy recipe to keep handy for when the milk goes sour:

Sour Milk Cake

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sour milk (or buttermilk)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cup flour
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • pinch of nutmeg

Instructions: Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a Bundt pan (or angel food pan). Cream butter and sugar together. Add milk and baking soda. Add flour, spices and raisins. Mix well. Pour into pan and bake for approximately 45 minutes or until a toothpick when inserted comes out clean.

STALE BREAD

Breadcrumbs, which all good cooks use frequently, are nothing but hard, dry stale bread that’s been grated or processed into a pile of crumbs. And those croutons you love? Uh-huh. Stale bread that’s been cut into tiny squares and seasoned. There are lots of recipes that call for stale bread as an ingredient with instructions for how to make it stale if all you have is fresh (place it in a warm oven for a few hours). So, the next time you’re tempted to throw out those pieces of stale bread or rolls, don’t. Toss them into a bag you keep in the freezer so you have all you need to make something wonderful. Like this delicious …

What’s Up with the Clumps of Crystals in My Laundry Detergent?!

Several times over the past years, I have wished with all my heart I could call Mr. Migaki, my favorite teacher of all time who sparked curiosity and the love of science in my fifth-grade self. I needed to ask him about minerals and crystals and why something called borax can be powdery soft one day and hard as a rock the next.

Dear Mary: Your Everyday Cheapskate column is one of the few emails I receive that I open and read every day, without fail. Both your product recommendations and your recipes are wonderful. Your Italian Sausage Soup and Bread Pudding recipes are five-star and often served at our house. Practically all of our dinner guests have raved and asked for both recipes!

I also use your homemade laundry detergent recipe, and it works well to clean our clothes, but I have a question about it. The last batch I made went into two clean gallon containers, and as I was pouring the last out of the first container, I got a lot of white crystalized lumps at the bottom. So I strained the contents of the second container into another jug and got a lot of the same white crystalized lumps from it. So:

1.  Did I do something wrong? The previous several batches were fine and lump-free, and I followed the same recipe with the same ingredients.  (I know you probably can’t answer this, but maybe other readers have reported the same phenomenon?)

2.  Do you know what these lumps are?

3.  Is the strained liquid going to be an effective cleaning agent? Where I live in Southern California we’re still under drought water-usage rules. I don’t want to waste a couple washer loads of water with useless detergent if I don’t have to. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated! Pat