Make It Better Yourself: In-N-Out Burgers

It happens at least once a week: Someone asks me if I miss living in California, a question I find truly appropriate. After all, I did live there for 47 years and in some ways, we are still adjusting to a much different life in northern Colorado.

My inquirers assume my list of missed things will start with the weather, followed closely by the beach and Disneyland. But honestly, those are not on my short list of just three things: Our older son, our friends, and In-N-Out.

photo credit: BenFrantzDale

We take care of the first two things with monthly trips back to our old digs to catch up with family and friends and take care of business. Here’s the funny thing: We hardly ever hit an In-N-Out burger joint. That’s because I’ve figured out how to make those burgers myself, hot and fresh, at home in Colorado.

As arrogant as that may come across to folks who are unashamedly part of the INO burger cult following, I’m serious. In fact—and I make no apologies for this—I believe mine is even better! There. I said it. And now, I’m here to teach you how to do it, too. 


Letters to the Editor: Reheating Pizza, Dinner-in-a-Box, Feel Good Vacations, Robot Vacuum

Every message that shows up in my inbox or on my desk, regardless of its contents, I take as proof positive someone out there is reading what I write. That’s good because I’m not fond of talking to myself.

Once again today, I am glad to share a selection of those letters, hoping that one day soon, I’ll hear from you, too.

Comments: How to Store and Reheat Leftover Pizza

Dear Mary: I followed the directions for reheating pizza in a skillet. Cold covered pan, medium-high heat, 8 minutes, no peeking. Well, I like my crust crisp but there are limits. I imagine the secret is just what is “medium-high heat” on my gas stove top. The burning smell and the smoke should have been a clue. I confess I peeked then. I may try it again when I have a slice of pizza to spare. Marcia


Dear Mary: Thanks for the best tip ever—reheating pizza! Tried it, turned out perfect! Tasted for all the world just like it did the first time around. Bravo! Pete


Dear Mary: This is the method I use that you might like to try. Turn on faucet moderately.  Quickly pass frozen or refrigerated pizza slice under running water. For a crunchy crust from a frozen slice, pass the bottom under water, also. Care should be taken not to get the refrigerated slice bottom wet. Put in a hot toaster oven. I use a convection  countertop oven. The result is soft melted topping and a crisp crust. Clyde


Should You Fix It Or Nix It?

You’re worried that the washing machine may be on its last spin cycle. It makes a horrible screeching sound and needs a lot of coaxing to make it all the way through a full cycle. It’s not like it’s still under warranty. You’ve had it for a long time and it wasn’t new when you got it.

You get an estimate for repair and discover it will cost $319 to get it back into tip-top shape.

Should you give this old, inefficient machine the heave-ho in favor of a new model that will use less electricity and water?

A new name-brand front-loader is on sale for $899 plus tax and delivery. Should you basically throw away $319 now for a temporary fix, or bite the bullet and buy the new one?


Two Amazing New Kitchen Gadgets—Thaw Claw and FryWall

I’ve recently added two new gadgets to my kitchen that famed television chef Alton Brown would not be happy about if he knew. He’d call them unitaskers—single-use kitchen gadgets; objects whose only real purpose is to create clutter.

I’d argue that while his theory—that every tool in the kitchen should be able to perform multiple tasks—is certainly ideal, there are exceptions. Then I’d demonstrate for him my new gadgets, and let him know that I truly wonder how I ever got along without them.

THE THAW CLAW. We’ve all been there. You forget to take the chicken, roast or burgers out of the freezer in the morning to give them enough time to thaw in the refrigerator in time for dinner. Now you’re left scrambling. Do you try to thaw that chuck roast in the microwave? Search for something else altogether? Or just give up and go out—again.

My handy Thaw Claw has given me another option: thaw it super quick. Here’s the deal: The best way to defrost meat, fish, or poultry safely and quickly is by submerging it in a sink full of cool water. The only problem, those packages from the grocery store tend to float. For the thawing process to work really fast, your frozen item needs to be completely submerged.


Going on Vacation? Make Your Own Plant Nanny Plus More Great Reader Tips

Every day I get loads of mail including wonderful notes, letters, and email messages from my awesome readers.

Tucked into many of those messages are tips, hints, tricks and great ideas for the ways you save time and money every day. I’m pretty sure I have the best job on earth!

PLANT NANNY. When I go on vacation, I fill bottles with water and push them upside down into my plants—houseplants and outdoor plants as well. The water keeps the plants moist for days! Sophia

I’ve been using Sophia’s tip for several months now, only I’m not on vacation! I fill bottles every couple of days in addition to regular watering. As you can see from the photo above (this is a $12 Walmart plant bowl that was tiny and pretty sick looking when I got it in May), constant watering must be the trick! Especially in the super hot Colorado sun.  -mh


Make It Better Yourself: Mac n’ Cheese, Lemon Loaf

According to a recent Reuters story, one-third of U.S. adults are eating out less frequently than three months ago. The reason? Mostly the cost. No surprise there. Not even drive-thru fast food is inexpensive these days.

In the same survey cited by Reuters, two-thirds of the respondents said they consider eating at home to be very or somewhat cheap. And that’s because … it is!

Now, somewhere in between not eating out because it’s too expensive and eating at home because it’s cheaper there has to be a solution that makes eating at home not only cheap, but  satisfyingly delicious, too.

Everyone has their weakness—mine happens to be macaroni and cheese and in my opinion, it’s hard to beat Panera Bread’s signature Mac & Cheese. But that $8 price tag is hard to swallow.

Everything in me has been determined to figure out how to make this myself at home, and for more like $.80 a serving. And that’s exactly what I do—as often as I dare.

This mac and cheese is in my opinion even better than Panera’s. It’s smooth and creamy thanks to a secret ingredient that may make some of my readers wince.

In a word: Velveeta.

I know what you’re thinking, but if an ingredient or technique makes a dish taste better and gives it a heavenly texture, I am all for it. The key lies in how much Velveeta you use—only a very small amount. I promise you, people will go nuts for this Mac & Cheese. Just don’t mention the V-word. It’ll be our little secret.


Ask Me Anything: Pet Hair, Almond Milk, That Stick Vac

I have a friend who considers himself single, living alone. But nothing could be further from the truth. He has four cats, or as I call them, The Four Shedders.

Max solved his cat hair problem by replacing all of the carpet in his house with laminate flooring and getting a robot vac. Fortunately for today’s first questioner who has her own kind of pet hair problem, I have a much easier (and cheaper!) solution.

Q: How can I remove stubborn pet hair from the carpet in my car? Not one of my three vacuums can remove the hair left behind by my two big dogs. Ellen

A: Grab a pumice stone—the kind we use in foot care to exfoliate dead skin, or to remove a nasty toilet bowl ring—to “scrub” the carpet. Work on a small section at a time, scrubbing in one direction. Prepare to be amazed. That pet hair will surrender and allow you to gather all of it into one pile, the way you might sweep a floor. Then use one of your vacuums to pick it up. You may need to use some elbow grease but it will work because pet hair sticks to the pumice stone more stubbornly than to the carpet. And don’t worry. This will not harm the carpet.

Later from Ellen: I used a pumice stone on a rocker to see if the dog hair would come off it (the rocker needs to be recovered anyway, in case the fabric was damaged). It was AMAZING how quickly and easily the hair just fell onto the floor making it easy to vacuum away. Next: the car! Thank you so much.


Clever Ways to Use This for That

What a great idea!

For anyone who has had to deal with a child in pain, it can be a painful experience for everyone regardless the age of the child. That’s why as a parent and now a grandparent, I appreciate hints and tips that will help me be even more resourceful.

BABY ORAJEL NOT JUST FOR BABIES. Our teenage daughter badly stubbed her toe and we needed to clip the nail. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t let us near it because of the pain. My wife found a tube of Baby Orajel and covered the area using a cotton swab. It was like magic. It numbed the area well enough that I was able to take care of things. I would never have thought to use Baby Orajel this way. Randall, Texas

DAWN FOR SPONTANEOUS CLEANING. I keep a bottle of Dawn, an automotive detailing brush and an old toothbrush in my shower. Dawn cuts the soap scum and does not leave a gritty residue. Just don’t overdo it since it can get pretty slippery! Laurel, email

SHOUT OUT THOSE STAINS. I found the best cleaner for my dirty golf shoes: Shout laundry stain remover. It works like a charm, getting down in the creases and crevices to get out the ground-in dirt. My golf shoes are leather, and it has not hurt them or the color. Brenda, Michigan

ERASE THE RED POLISH. Red fingernail polish accidentally spilled on my carpet, making a long red streak. A friend told me to use Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. The polish had already dried, but with a little elbow grease and several erasers, it all came out of my carpet. This is a wonderful product! Carolyn, Tennessee

LOOK OFFICIAL TO GET ATTENTION. Take a clipboard with you when you’re shopping. You’ll get waited on quickly, since sales associates will think you’re either a mystery shopper or you’re snooping for the competition. LaVonne, California

PEROXIDE CLEANS UP. I use a 50/50 mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water in a spray bottle to clean just about everything in my house. It works great on windows using newspaper, and it freshens my wooden cutting boards. On the lip of my sink, it foamed and cleaned up what I thought was rust. And the best part is it’s cheap. Carol, Illinois

FOAMING BUBBLES AROUND THE HOUSE. I took my foaming bath cleaner out of the bathroom and started using it on my walls, floors, patio furniture, kitchen basically, anything and everything. It cleans it all. When we removed the carpet in the hall, the old vinyl flooring underneath had seen better days. After using the foam on the floor, the dust and carpet fibers came up, and I didn’t have to replace the flooring right away. For most things, just spray, wait a few minutes and whip away the dirt. And it disinfects, too! Jennie, email

Share your own tips in the comments section below, or HERE. Include your first and last name and state.