Thursday, April 17, 2014

Grilling - Part 1 - Rubs


It's that time of the year again... Grilling Season!  I love to grill and love to try different rubs and marinades so I'm doing a two part post giving you suggestions for both.  I'll also give you a couple tips that hopefully you'll find helpful.

Rubs are seasoning blends applied to the surface of roasts, steaks and burgers.  They add flavor but don't tenderize.

Dry rubs consist of herbs, spices and other dry seasonings.

Paste-type rubs, which are perfect for roasts, contain small amounts of wet ingredients, such as oil, crushed garlic or mustard.

They can be applied just before cooking or up to two hours in advance, just remember to refrigerate until cooking time.  The rubs below are specifically for beef but I'm game to try them on chicken and pork.  Each should make enough rub for 2 - 4 steaks, depending on how heavy you want to flavor your steak.

Dry BBQ Rub
2 Tbsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. cider vinegar
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper

Smoky Paprika Rub
2 Tbsp. smoked or Spanish paprika
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper

Espresso Rub
2 Tbsp. finely ground espresso coffee beans
1 Tbsp. garlic pepper
2 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. ancho chili powder

Ancho-Chocolate Citrus Rub
1 Tbsp. ground ancho chili powder
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves, crushed
1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. freshly grated orange peel
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Mustard-Peppercorn Rub
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
1 Tbsp. mixed black, white, green and pink peppercorns or black peppercorns, cracked
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt

Lemon-Pepper Rub
2 1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
3 large cloves garlic, crushed

Simply combine the ingredients and apply evenly to all sides.  Cook beef to desired doneness.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Setting Up a Kitchen Inventory



I like to keep a list of pantry and kitchen food items that I use frequently or at least want to have on hand just in case a recipe calls for it.  The way I keep my inventory up is by printing out my list, taking an inventory of what I have and pin it near the section that these items are stored.  I also keep a pen near the list so when I use the item I can mark its count down on my list. 

Example:  If I have 3 jars of Mayo and take out one I mark it down to 2 on my inventory list.  When I get ready to go shopping I look over my lists to see what I have in stock.  This also helps with sales and using coupons.  If I'm down to 2 jars of mayo and my brand isn't on sale I can wait and watch for it to go on sale and hopefully have a coupon that can be used along with the sale. 

I do try to stock up on my products when I find them on sale and mark my inventory list when I make additions. 

Example:  When my favorite mayo goes on sale for buy one, get one, I'll buy at least 2 and 4 if allowed by the store.  These I'll add to my inventory list.

The lists I'm giving you include some of those items that you may not normally keep on hand.  I cook a lot so I try to keep them just in case.  This is just an example list of what I have on my list.  You can easily make adjustments and make my list fit your own needs.  

I think you'll find that by keeping up with your inventory you'll find shopping a lot easier.  And due to you knowing exactly what you need, you will find it a lot cheaper because you're not looking at items that you don't normally buy but only at those you do.



Meat & Seafood
o Bacon/Sausage 
o Beef - roast, cubed, chunk, ground
___________________________ 
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o Chicken - whole, boneless/skinless, bone in, strips
___________________________ 
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o Fish/Shellfish - Shrimp, cod, flounder, crab
___________________________ 
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Cereal
o Cereal
___________________________ 
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o Oatmeal
o Granola Bars

Pasta & Grains
o Mac & Cheese
o Pasta 
o Pasta Sauce
o Rice
___________________________ 
___________________________ 
___________________________ 


Sweets & Snacks
o Candy, Gum, Chocolate
o Cookies
o Crackers
o Chips: Potato, Corn, Other
o Nuts
o Popcorn, Pretzels
o Salsa & Dips
_________________________ 
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Condiments
o Ketchup, Mustard
o Mayo, Spreads
o Peanut Butter
o Jams & Jelly
o Salad dressing
o Cooking Oil
o Vinegar
__________________________ 
__________________________ 
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Spices & Herbs
o Salt
o Pepper
o Spices:
__________________________
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o Herbs:
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Frozen
o Waffles & Other Breakfast
o Vegetables
o Juice Concentrate
o Ice Cream
__________________________ 
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International
o Soy Sauce
o Salsa & Hot Sauces
o Tortillas & Tacos
__________________________ 
__________________________ 
__________________________ 

Cans & Soups
o Tomatoes Sauce, Paste
o Soup
__________________________ 
__________________________ 
__________________________ 
__________________________ 

Beverages
o Coffee
o Tea bags
o Sugar, Splenda
o Juice
__________________________ 
__________________________ 

o Soda
__________________________
__________________________ 
__________________________ 


Cleaners

__________________________ 
__________________________ 
__________________________ 
__________________________ 


Paper Goods
o Paper Towels
o Napkins
o Tissues
o Toilet Paper
o Zip Lock Bags
o Garbage Bags
__________________________ 
__________________________ 
__________________________ 


Personal Care
o Deodorant, Soap
o Toothbrush & Toothpaste
o Razors & Shaving cream
o Eye Care
o Feminine Care
o Shampoo & Conditioner
o Sunscreen
__________________________ 
__________________________ 
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Petcare

__________________________ 
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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

4 Wonderful Tastes of Italy


There's nothing like a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce flavored with garlic, topped with cheese and pesto.  These 4 ingredients are what you always want to have on hand when making your tasty Italian dishes.

Tomatoes:
Fresh - Tomatoes are at their peak during late summer but they can be found year-round.  When buying look for vine-ripened for best flavor.  When out of season, you can choose canned which can be just as flavorful.
Sun-dried - For a richer taste, sun-dried tomatoes are a great choice.  They're vine-ripened and have been naturally dried to remove all of their water, leaving them chewy and full of concentrated flavor.

Garlic:
This is actually a cousin of the onion.  When cooking, break apart the head of garlic and remove the skin form individual cloves before shopping.
The smaller you chop garlic, the stronger the flavor.  Chopping or pressing releases more of its essential oils, giving the strong garlic aroma.

Cheese:
Mozzarella - This popular, mild-tasting cheese is great for cooking and foods like pizza because of its great melting qualities.
Parmesan - Is known for its sharp flavor.  This firm cheese is excellent for grating and enhances the flavor of your favorite Italian dishes.
Romano - Is another firm cheese with a tangy, robust flavor.  It makes a great topping for vegetables too and can be substituted for Parmesan when you want a bolder taste.

Pesto:
This delightful sauce is usually made with a mix of basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil.  You can also find other types made form sun-dried tomatoes or red bell peppers.
If you grown your own basil or purchase it fresh, you can make your own pesto.  This sauce adds rich flavor to soups, chicken, fish dishes and pasta.

I've found that these 4 ingredients are a must for my kitchen and I try to never be without them.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Retirement


I sometimes feel that I'm in the process of developing that horrible disease called Alzheimer, but I'm blaming my problem on too much going on in my head.  Daily, I'll go from one room to the next and have no idea what I went in there for.  Usually if I go back into the room I came out of I'll remember.  Crazy!  But I'm hearing more and more people say they have the same problem. In my case I feel it is due to working so many organized years.

I've been retired 7 months and have accomplished not one thing.  I've thought about that a lot and have finally come to a conclusion.  I've lived a structured life for years and now my life has no structure.  I have less to do and more time to do it in, but...

When we work:  We know what time to get up in the morning.  We know what time we must be at work.  Our work is defined for us by our job description.  We know when we will leave for the day.  When we get home there is usually some sort of routine that we all go through - cooking, cleaning, watching a favorite show on TV, etc.  Then bedtime comes before all of this starts over again.  We even have our lives structured over the weekends...  laundry, cleaning, shopping, yard work, visiting friends and family, church, all of this pressed into 2 short days and then, the week starts over again. 

So many of us say that "when I retire I'm going to ....." but when the time comes it just isn't that easy to do.  Some of us retire due to health, which will put a strain on all of those things we were 'gonna' do.  Some retire because of age.  But no matter when or why you retire, if you're like me, you leave behind the structure and find yourself at a loss. 

I decided to change that and put some structure back into my life.  I've made a list of things that I want to do.  Due to my back I'm limited as to how much I can do at one time but at least I can do a little every day.  I started in my kitchen where I spend so much time.  I looked at my cabinets and came up with an idea to change them.  I like their color - yellow - but wanted to change the handles.  I looked online, in Lowes, Home Depot, etc. and found some handles I like but they are almost $4.00 each plus shipping and since I need 24 handles that will climb up there a bit in dollars.  Then it hit me.  You have time, make your own.  I wanted flowers for my handles so I went to Wally World, found some wooden round handles, printed out a simple flower pattern that fits the handle perfectly, traced it onto the wooden handle and am in the process of painting my own. 


Now for the structure part.  I'm doing 1 door a day.  Taking down the door, sanding it lightly, giving it another coat of the yellow as well as a coat of clear so it can be easily washed.  Then I add my new handles.  Since I can only do the sanding when the weather outside is clear I've only been able to finish 2 doors in the week that I started restructuring my time.  But every time I walk into the kitchen and see those 2 doors I'm inspired to continue.  When the kitchen is finished I'm moving on to the next room.  Look out cabinets and closets because I'm back in the working world - at home and feel so much better.  Hopefully, the next time I get up from my computer and walk into the kitchen I'll be able to remember it was for a glass of tea.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Grilling Vegetables



As well as chicken, fish and seafood on the grill I also like vegetables but haven't taken the time to try grilling them myself.  That is about to change now that I know how simple it can be.

1.  Be careful not to overcook vegetables when grilling, watch them closely.  (This, I assume, is something that will take some time getting used to.  I know that most vegetables I've eaten that were cooked on the grill still have a 'nip' to them so this, I feel sure, will come with practice.)

2.  The simplest way to grill vegetables is to brush them with oil, then rub them with minced garlic and fresh herbs.  Cook vegetables over direct heat alongside meat, poultry, or fish on an oiled grill.  (This sounds like another good use for the basket grill like the one you cook fish in.  I've also run across some throw away pans that have holes in the bottom.  They would be perfect for grilling vegetables but I think I would spray them with non-stick 1st so the vegetables can be turned easily while cooking.)

3.  If you want to add vegetables with meat, poultry or fish onto skewers, select vegetables that will cook in about the same amount of time.  For example, shrimp cooks very quickly, so the best choices would be cherry tomatoes, green onions, or mushrooms which also cook quickly.  Any meat that takes longer to cook goes well with vegetables like bell peppers, onions or zucchini.   (This, of course makes sense but for a beginner like myself I think I'll start with cooking my vegetables by themselves until I actually learn how long each seems to take and how thick it should be before I pair it with a meat/seafood.)

Now that I know a little more about grilling I can't wait to crank up the grill.  Spring is here and so are my taste buds.

Monday, March 24, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Grilling Tips for Fish



Spring is in the air and with you can find those of us who simply can't wait any longer to start grilling.  Well, I've given up almost all red meat but eat my weight in chicken and seafood/fish.  Most of the time I cook my fish in the oven but love the taste that grilling, especially with charcoal gives to any meat and even vegetables.  This year I plan on trying my hand at grilling fish and to do that I did a little research so I can get it right the 1st time, I hope.  Here is what I found.


1.  Use a hinged grill basket to keep delicate fillets or whole fish intact as you turn.  But before adding your fish to the basket, spray it inside and out with oil.  (I've seen these baskets in many of my local stores but never really paid attention as to what they were used for.  I feel sure they would work well for shrimp too as well as vegetables.  For my oil spraying I think I'll use non-stick spray.  It works very well when sprayed on the racks of the grill so I'm sure it will work great with the baskets.  And clean-up should be a breeze too.)


2.  Cook fish or seafood 4 - 6 inches from the heat, turning only once and brushing occasionally with oil or marinade to prevent drying.  (I've never used a marinade on my fish when cooking them in the oven but I can see why it would be needed on the grill.  I would think a little lemon and maybe some herbs would be good.)


3.  Be careful not to overcook fish as it will become tough and dry.  (I have a feeling this is something I'll have to play around with.  I know when fish is done when cooked in the oven so it shouldn't be too hard to determine on the grill.)


4.  Don't use leftover marinade from raw fish or seafood on your food unless it has been thoroughly heated first.  (I feel sure this is for the same reason as chicken and any other meat.  What I usually do when I marinade any meat is make up just a little extra for basting.  This should work with fish too.)


5.  To test for doneness, press the flesh of the fish with your fingertips.  When the fish is done, it is "just firm" - raw is soft and overdone is hard and firm.  (This method works for me with fish no matter how I cook it.  I did find that the general rule for cooking fish on the grill is 10 minutes for each 1" of thickness.)



Now that I know a little more about cooking fish on the grill, you can bet I'll be giving it a try and soon.  My favorite?  Nice thick slices of Cod.  Nothing better in my opinion, unless you offer me flour battered, deep fried like you find at Captain D's!  With a little Malt Vinegar of course.

I did run across a Rosemary-Thyme Marinade that I plan on trying so I thought I would share it too.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. lemon zest

Combine all ingredients, mix well and set aside until ready to use.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Omelets



I love a good omelet but have always had trouble making them.  Finally I've found not only simple to follow directions but also a few tips, thanks to Redbook Magazine.  Here is their recipe, instructions, and tips for making an omelet



2 large eggs
sea salt  ground black pepper
1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. grated Gruyere cheese (I use finely grated cheddar)
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, tarragon and chives (I like the herbs but also like mine with bacon or sausage.  (For this I use bacon bits which are small or cooked sausage that I've crumbled finely with a fork after cooking)



Directions:

1.  In a medium bowl, gently beat the eggs, 1/4 tsp. sea salt and a pinch of black pepper and set aside.  Now, prepare the rest of your ingredients.  Omelet-making is a quick activity, so get everything chopped, grated, and measured BEFORE you begin to cook.



2.  Heat a small (8") nonstick skillet over medium heat.  After the pan has been heating for 2-3 minutes, add the butter.  Wait for it to bubble before adding your eggs, but be careful.  If your pan is too hot, it will dry out the eggs.  (I don't use nonstick skillets but do use a stainless steel sprayed with non-stick spray before heating.  This does prevent the egg from sticking.  Don't spray it after heating or it will smoke when it hits the hot skillet)



3.  Pour the egg mixture into the center of the pan and tilt the pan so the eggs spread around the entire surface.  As they set, gently stir them with a spatula, pulling the set eggs up and allowing the liquid to spread into the pan.  There should be no gaps or holes.  (This is another reason I use stainless steel.  A lot of non-stick pans tend to buckle in the middle after long-term use.  The stainless steel keeps its flat bottom and allows the egg to run evenly.)



4.  Keep scrambling.  Doing this allows the eggs to cook evenly, and it won't affect how the omelet looks on the outside.  You want to cook the omelet until the bottom is set and the top is just set but still looks moist, 1-2 minutes.  (This is where I've always had a problem.  In the past I thought you just allowed the egg to cook without any kind of 'scrambling' and the results have always been the same for me - brown and dried out on the bottom.  With this method you simply pull the egg from the outside in allowing the uncooked egg to run to the area you've pulled form so you aren't actually what I've always called scrambling.  I've also found it helps to tilt the pan a bit when doing this to allow the uncooked portion to flow onto the pan.)



5.  Your omelet is almost cooked so now it's time to sprinkle it with your cheese, herbs and whatever other goodies you've chosen.  (I've always thought the fillings needed to be added earlier so they sort of 'glue' themselves to the eggs.  And I always added the cheese early on so I would make sure it melted.  This was another mistake I made when making my omelets.)



6.  Using a rubber spatula, loosen the edges of the omelet.  Slid the spatula under half of the omelet and tilt your pan, letting gravity help you fold it in half.  Gently slide onto a plate.  (I found a trick to allow myself to have more cheese in my omelet.  Just before I fold the omelet in half I sprinkle it with just a little bit more cheese.  The egg is hot enough that the cheese melts and I have my omelet just the way I like it.)

Now for Redbook's tips on making the perfect omelet.



1.  Size does matter - an 8" nonstick skillet is the perfect size for a two-egg omelet, which works out to about 6 Tbsp. of liquid.



2.  Don't over-beat your egg mixture - this will toughen the protein in the whites.



3.  Less is more when it comes to fillings - adding too much cheese or too many fillings will prevent your omelet form folding shut.



4.  The eggs inside your omelet will continue to cook and set - even after you've removed it from the heat, so it's best to cook the eggs slightly underdone.  by the time you've filled, folded and transferred it to a plate it will be fully cooked but still be moist and tender.



5.  Practice makes perfect - no one's first omelet is a masterpiece, but with a little practice your omelets will look just like they do in a restaurant but don't worry - an ugly omelet is still a tasty one.



Friday, March 21, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Bananas


When I think of banana trees I think of the pictures I've seen with 'bunches' of them hanging ready to pick.  Well, there is a little more to it than that.  This may be a bit long but I feel it's well worth reading.   After doing my research I actually went out and bought more bananas. 


First a little history.
The banana as we know it today is a specifically-grown species of the wild banana.  Now get this.  The plant originated from seed bearing relatives in the Pacific and the South-East of Asia.  The wild banana was not edible but it was discovered that if you crossed two inedible wild species, you could grow a sterile plant that actually bore bananas as we know them today.  Because of its sterility, once the new edible fruit was discovered, it was spread using offshoots form the base of the plant. 

Another interesting note is that the banana doesn't grow on a 'tree' but a giant herb plant that is part of the same family as lilies and orchids. 


Americans consume 11 billion bananas annually.  The majority of the bananas being exported to the United States today are form Latin America.  Uganda is the leading producer of bananas in the world.  Plus, bananas are also grown in Iceland due to the soil being heated by volcanic steam vents.

Banana consists mainly of sugars (glucose, fructose and sucrose) and fiber, which makes them ideal for an immediate and slightly prolonged source of energy.  They also have health benefits such as:

1.  They help reduce depression.  Bananas contain tryptophan, an amino acid that can be converted to serotonin leading to improved mood.

2.  They are relative high in iron which helps the body's hemoglobin function and prevent anemia.

3.  They can help with both constipation and diarrhea.  Due to their fiber content, they help restore a normal bowel function.  In addition, diarrhea usually depletes your body of important electrolytes (of which the most important is potassium, contained in high amounts in bananas).  They also contain pectin, a soluble fiber (hydrocolloid) that can help normalize movement through the digestive tract.

4.  Can you believe it can even help protect your eyesight.  Research published in the Archives of Ophthalmology has proved that adults consuming at least 3 servings of fruit per day have a reduced risk (by 36%) of developing age-related macular degenerative, the primary cause of vision loss in older adults, compared to persons who consume less than 1.5 servings of fruit daily.

5.  Bananas are an exceptionally rich source of a compound that nourishes probiotic (friendly) bacteria in the colon.  These beneficial bacteria produce enzymes that increase our digestive ability and protect us from unhealthy bacterial infections.  This increases our body's ability to absorb calcium.  In addition, green bananas contain indigestible short chain fatty acids that are very nutrient to the cells that make up the mucosa of the stomach.  These cells, when healthy, absorb calcium much more efficiently.

6.  About 190,000 cases of kidney cancer are diagnosed each year.  Research published in the International Journal of Cancer has shown that daily consumption of whole fruits and vegetables, especially bananas, is highly protective to kidney health.  The results show that, over a long timeframe (13.4 years) women eating more than 2.5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day cut their risk of kidney cancer by 40%.  Among the fruits, bananas were especially protective.  Women eating bananas 4 to 6 times a week halved their risk of developing the disease compared to those who did not eat this fruit. 

7.  Bananas are extremely high in potassium (about 4673 mg), yet very low in sodium (1 mg), thus having a perfect ratio of preventing high blood pressure.  So much so, the US Food & Drug Administration has just allowed the banana industry to make official claims for the fruit's ability to reduce the risk of blood pressure and stroke.

8.  Bananas have a natural antacid effect in the body so if you suffer from heartburn, try eating a banana for soothing relief.

9.  It has been found that snacking on bananas between meals help to keep blood-sugar levels up and avoid morning sickness.

10.  And when it comes to ulcers, the banana helps reduce acidity and reduces irritation.  Bananas stimulate the cells on the internal stomach lining to produce a thicker mucus (which protects against acid).  It contains protease inhibitors that help eliminate bacteria in the stomach that have been pinpointed as a primary cause of ulcers.



So now that we know how good the banana is for our body I'll give you a few tips on purchasing.  They can be found in just about any stage of ripeness.  You want to look for plump undamaged fruit, but don't be too concerned about slight bruises, the skin is tough enough to absorb most bumps.  You can actually peel them, cut them into halves and store them in a sealed glass jar in the refrigerator where they will keep at least 2 1/2 weeks.  If stored outside the refrigerator keep in mind that they will continue to ripen after picking so store them at room temperature away from direct sunlight until they reach your preferred color.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

AHHHH Nuts! I Didn't Know That


I love nuts but didn't really know very much about them, other than the fact that they taste good.  I had always heard that they were healthy but also grew up with the old saying that "if it taste good it probably isn't good for you."  Well, I went checking to learn a little more about some of my favorites and here is what I found.


Peanuts - They supply 7 g of protein per serving and are an excellent source of niacin and a good source of magnesium and vitamin E.


Pecans - These delicious nuts are the only popular nut native to North America.  One ounce of these domestic nuts is a good source of copper, fiber, thiamin and zinc.


Almonds - Excellent source of vitamin E and a good source of dietary fiber.  Early explorers traveling from Asia to the Mediterranean brought almonds and dried fruit along with them.


Walnuts - Are a nutritious addition to desserts, salads, pastas and sauces.  The botanical name is Juglans Regia.  No matter what you decide to call them, these nuts are a good source of copper and magnesium.



Pistachios - These delicious nuts are ripe in late summer when their shells naturally split open along their seams.  An ounce of these provides a good source of phosphorus and almost 290 mg of potassium.


Hazelnuts - These nuts are also called filberts and are a good source of Vitamin E.  Toasted hazelnuts not only remove their bitter skins but also bring out their rich, buttery flavor.

And just so you'll know how much is in a serving, I found this in my research:  A handful of nuts is equal to about 1 oz., which corresponds to a standard serving size on many packages of nuts. Looking at the actual number of nuts in a serving, 14 shelled walnut halves and 24 shelled almonds equal one serving. Other measures of serving size by number include: 16 cashews, 28 peanuts and 45 pistachios. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends 1.5 oz of nuts a day, roughly equal to 1/3 cup.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What to Look for When Buying a Slow Cooker


When my kids were young I loved my slow cooker.  I could put my meal on before leaving for work and come home to a tasty smell throughout the whole house.  After the kids grew and left the nest I stopped using my cooker.  Now, I find myself going back to this wonderful piece of kitchen equipment when I want to cook a roast - both beef and pork, or when I want to make a big pot of soup.  I actually now have 2 cookers.  One is smaller and has a metal pan allowing me to make smaller meals.  The other is larger and is great when making large amounts that I plan to share.

With the slow cooker coming back to not just me but to many busy cooks out there I felt it might be useful to know what to look for when buying your next cooker.  This information came from my internet research and I agree with this completely. 

When choosing you may want to consider a programmable model.  These are equipped with timers so you can set them to cook for a specific time with the cooker turning itself to a keep-warm mode.  Standard models have adjustable temperature controls but no timer so you'll need to be around to keep an eye on the food and turn off the unit when done.  In general, reviewers say programmable slow cookers are preferable to mechanical ones but the prices are usually very far apart with the programmable costing as much as $200 or more.

What size do you need?
The size of your family may play a factor in your choice.  Families of four or more should look for a 6 quart cooker, while couples or single people may only want a 4 quart model.  To cook food safely, a slow cooker needs to be at least half full, but no more than 2/3 full so that should be a factor in your choice too.  If you are a small family and do decide to go with the larger cooker, you can always prepare the larger quantity of food and freeze leftovers. 

What you plan to cook the most?
If you're buying a larger cooker, you may want to consider one with an oval-shape which can accommodate large cuts of meat like roasts or whole chickens.  The round crocks are great for soups and stews but if you're making large qualities of either the oval will work just as well, just remember the half full rule.

What type of insert do you prefer?
Most cookers have removable stoneware inserts which are heavy, sturdy and practical for the average user.  Some slow-cooker inserts can even be reheated in the oven or microwave.  A few models have aluminum or stainless-steel inserts which allow you to brown meat directly in the crock - but some experts agree that a skillet works better.  Some have a nonstick coating but these must be treated with care to avoid damaging the finish.

How important is the ease of cleanup?
Most of us will agree that a slow cooker must have a removable insert that is dishwasher-safe for easy cleanup.  But if you happen to have one that doesn't you might want to consider he disposable liners made of food-safe nylon resins.

What kind of lid do you want?
The best lids fit snug and are either glass or clear plastic.  This allows you to monitor the food during the cooking process without removing the lid which would allow the release of steam and slow the cooking.

And Most important is the actual safety of your food.
When using a slow cooker, it's important to avoid extended heat-up and cool-down periods.  According to the Food and Drug Administration, bacteria thrive at temperatures in a zone between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.  Several slow cookers tested by the Good Housekeeping Research Institute aren't recommended because they take more than three hours to heat water to 160 degrees on low, meaning that food might remain too long at an unsafe temperature.  One way to avoid this is to set your slow cooker on high for at least the first hour of cooking.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Fantastic Uses of Baking Soda





1.  Make Toothpaste - A paste made form baking soda and a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution can be used as an alternative to commercial non-fluoride toothpaste.  You can also just dip your toothbrush with toothpaste into baking soda for an extra boost.


2.  Freshen Your Mouth - Put 1 teaspoon in half a glass of water, swish, spit and rinse.  Odors are neutralized, not just covered up.


3.  Soak Oral Appliance - Soak oral appliances, like retainers, mouthpieces and dentures in a solution of 2 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in a glass or small bowl of warm water.  The baking soda loosens food particles and neutralizes odors to keep appliances fresh.  You can also brush appliances clean using baking soda.


4.  Use as a Facial Scrub and Body Exfoliant - Give yourself an invigorating facial and body scrub.  Make a past of 3 parts baking soda to 1 part water.  Rub in a gentle circular motion to exfoliate the skin.  Rinse clean.  This is gentle enough for daily use.


5.  Skip Harsh Deordants - Pat baking soda onto your underarms to neutralize body odor.


6.  Use as an Antacid - Baking soda is a safe and effective antacid to relieve heartburn, sour stomach and/or acid indigestion.  Refer to the baking soda package for instructions.


7.  Treat Insect Bites & Itchy Skin - For insect bites, make a paste out of baking soda and water, and apply as a salve onto affected skin.  To ease the itch, shake some baking soda into your hand and rub it into damp skin after bath or shower.


8.  Make a Hand Cleanser and Softener - Skip harsh soaps and gently scrub away ground-in dirt and neutralize odors on hand with a paste of 3 parts baking soda to 1 part water, or 3 parts baking soda to gentle liquid hand soap.  Then rinse clean.


9.  Help your Hair - Vinegar is amazing for your hair, but baking soda has its place in the shower too.  Sprinkle a small amount of baking soda into your palm along with your favorite shampoo.  Shampoo as usual and rinse thoroughly - baking soda helps remove the residue that styling products leave behind so your hair is cleaner and more manageable.


10.  Clean Brushes and Combs - For lustrous hair with more shine, keep brushes and combs clean.  Remove natural oil build-up and hair product residue by soaking combs and brushes in a solution of 1 teaspoon of baking soda in a small basis of warm water.  Rinse and allow to dry.


There are 51 uses listed on the 51 Fantastic Uses for Baking Soda.  Read the other 51 by going to the site.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bounce - It's not just for your laundry.


Summer is just around the corner and that means the bugs will be coming out.  I ran across this list of uses for Bounce dryer sheets that, to me, is worth giving a try.

1.  The U. S. Postal service sent out a message to all letter carriers to put a sheet of Bounce in their uniform pockets to keep yellow-jackets away.  I did ask my mail carrier and he said this is true and that it does work.  Gonna give this a try.
2.  It will chase ants away when you lay a sheet near them.  It also repels mice. Bet you could put a few around the picnic table to keep ants away and maybe even flys.  It is worth a try.
3.  Spread sheets around foundation areas, or in trailers, or cars that are sitting.  It will keep the mice from entering your vehicle.  Not sure if they are talking about vehicles and trailers that aren’t in use but I would think so.
4.  It takes the odor out of books and photo albums that don’t get opened too often.  I will say this works.  I buy books from Estate sales and never know if the previous owner was a smoker.  Putting just a small piece of this in the book takes away all odors so I don’t smell cigarette smoke if it’s there.
5.  It repels mosquitoes.  Tie a sheet of Bounce through a belt loop when outdoors during mosquito season.  This does work.  I use this last year when I would go for walks.
6.  Eliminate static electricity from your television (or computer) screen by wiping it with a Bounce.  This one I haven’t tried and probably won’t.  I’m afraid that some of the residue on the Bounce might come off on the screens.
7.  Dissolve soap scum from shower doors.  Clean them with a sheet of Bounce.  It doesn’t exactly tell how this is done but I may try wetting a sheet to see if it works.
8.  To freshen the air in your home place an individual sheet of Bounce in a drawer or hang in the closet.  I think this would work pretty well in a drawer but I’m not sure how long the scent would last in a closet.  Worth a try.
9.  Put a Bounce sheet in the vacuum cleaner.  This sounds possible so I’ll give it a try.
10.  Prevent thread from tangling by running a threaded needle through a sheet of bounce before you begin sewing.  I think this would work a lot like wax and can see it working.
11.  Prevent musty suitcases by placing a sheet inside empty luggage before storing.  I can see this working.
12.  To freshen the air in your car place a sheet of Bounce under the front seat.  This too I can see working, especially in the summer when the car heats up.
13.  Clean baked-on foods from a cooking pan.  Put a sheet in a pan, fill with water, let sit overnight and sponge clean.  The anti-static agent apparently weakens the bond between the food and pan.  This is interesting.  I want to give this a try with one of my casserole dishes.
14.  Eliminate odors in wastebaskets by placing a sheet at the bottom of the basket.  I can see this working with a wastebasket that is used for paper products only.  Just not sure how long it would last.
15.  Collect cat hair by rubbing the area with a sheet of Bounce.  It will magnetically attract all the loose hairs.  I don’t have a cat but I’m sure that if this works it will work on dog hair too.  Possibly even human.
16.  Wipe blinds with a sheet of bounce to prevent dust form resettling after dusting.  If this works it would sure lengthen the life of blinds, at least for me.  I don’t wash my blinds.  Due to their low cost, I just replace them.  This would give my blinds a longer life before replacing.  I will give this a try.
17.  Wipe up sawdust from drilling or sand papering.  A used sheet of Bounce will collect sawdust like a tack cloth.  That sounds like something worth trying.  I wonder if it will collect dirt that doesn’t quite make it into the dust pan. 
18.  Eliminate odors in dirty laundry by placing a sheet of Bounce at the bottom of the hamper.  I can see this working with clothes but I’m not so sure it would work very well with anything damp such as towels.  But it might.
19.  Deodorize shoes or sneakers by placing a sheet of Bounce in your shoes or sneakers overnight.  Now this is a great idea!  I will try this tonight.
20.  Golfers put Bounce sheets in their back pockets to keep the bees away.  If it works for the mail carriers it should work for golfers too but I’m not sure I would have thought about them.
21.  Put Bounce sheets in your sleeping bags and tent before folding and storing them.  It will keep them smelling fresh.  This would probably be good to do even when in use to keep the bugs away.
22.  Wet a Bounce sheet, hose down your car, and wipe love bugs off easily.  I could have used this a few years ago when I drove from Florida to NC during the love bug season.
23.  Put a sheet of Bounce in your suitcase when traveling, it will help keep mites or any other critters out of it.  While you are at it, travel with several sheets and run them up and down your bed linen before getting into bed, it will cause all the critters already in your bed to run.  Keep a sheet in your suitecase even after you have unpacked to protect your suitecases from bugs nesting in it.   I always worry about hotel beds and the possibility of bed bugs.  Hopefully this will be something to keep them away.

If any of you try any of these tips, please leave comments on this post for everyone to read.