Practical Kitchen & Cooking Tips

A Winning Brunch


Are you sensing a food theme in my practical tips the last 2 months?  For me, delicious meals are an essential and special part of hosting holiday celebrations. Add a helping of family and guests savoring nurturing cuisine and delightful conversation, and that is the epitome of exquisiteness.   

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To minimize stress, I prep to reduce hassle and stay on schedule especially if homeward bound flights are looming as was the case with our guests this morning.  For breakfasts, I set the table before heading to bed, load the coffee beans into the grinder, fill the kettle with water, wash any fruits or veggies, measure ingredients, and gather any necessary pots, pans, baking dishes, casseroles, utensils, food processor, blender, etc. so the process flows smoothly. Lining the prepping countertop surface with rags also helps to minimize clean up time. Finally, I run the dishwasher if it is nearly full so that there is plenty of capacity after the meal.

Below is the breakfast/brunch recipe that my kiddos request for Thanksgiving and Christmas morning or my go-to whenever hosting breakfast company. I modified the recipe over the years so that it is gluten-free and dairy-free.  Despite the modifications, it’s super easy, receives rave reviews from guests, and is based upon an Apple Puff Pancake with Orange Syrup recipe from the Bountiful Arbor cookbook assembled by the Junior League of Ann Arbor (1994). 

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Apple Puff Pancake with Orange Peel Maple Syrup

Pancake: 

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6 eggs
1 ½ cups of nutmilk (almond or cashew work well).  I make my own.
2 rice cakes
1 cup of almonds
½ cup of gluten-free oat flour
3 tablespoons of sugar in the raw (or any sugar).  I sometimes use coconut sugar.
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Liberal sprinkling of cinnamon
2 tbs. of Earth Balance Vegan Sticks (you can use butter if you choose)
3-4 apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced

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Syrup
¼ cup pure maple syrup
Grated orange peel using roughly ½ of an orange
½ cup of orange juice

Preheat the oven to 425F.   

In a food processor or blender, grind the rice cakes and almonds into a fine flour. Add the oat flour.

Combine the eggs, milk, flour, sugar, and vanilla.  Blend in a blender or food processor until thoroughly mixed.  Set aside.

Melt the vegan butter alternative in a 9x13 baking dish.  I place it in the oven for 5-10 minutes as the oven preheats.  Be mindful that it doesn’t burn.   

Layer the apples in the melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and return to oven until the butter sizzles approx. 15 minutes, but keep an eye on it.  The apples should be soft. 

Remove the pan from the oven and immediately pour the batter over the apples and sprinkle with additional cinnamon and sugar.  Bake for 20 minutes or until puffed and golden.  Check it with a knife to ensure the knife is clean with no signs of liquid batter.  Serve immediately with the syrup.

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To prepare the syrup, combine the syrup ingredients in a small saucepan while the pancake bakes.  Reduce the liquid until the mixture thickens into a maple syrup consistency and simmer until the pancake is ready. 

To bulk up the meal, serve with sausage, bacon, meat alternative or vegetables, orange slices or other fresh fruit as garnish. The grated orange renders cool looking orange slices.

The dish is fantastic with mimosas and hot, freshly brewed coffee. 

Enjoy this easy and scrumptious breakfast or brunch treat.


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Sometimes I am astounded when simple tweaks make noticeable “happy dance” improvements.  Here’s the thing, occasionally when cereal and mixing bowls or casseroles are placed on the bottom rack of the dishwasher they are just as dirty at the end as they were when first loaded. Frustrating right?

Gently load bowls and casseroles on a tilt

Gently load bowls and casseroles on a tilt

Recently I spoke with the manufacturer about numerous performance issues with my aging dishwasher.  When I mentioned the dirty bowls from time to time, he asked in which direction they are facing.  It took a second not to reply with Monday morning, pre-caffeine snark as I was thinking “Well down of course” otherwise they would be receptacles for debris and gray water.  After listening to my puzzled reply, he suggested that I place the bowls on a tilt if possible to allow a more thorough rinse.  He admitted that this didn’t sound all that logical and that my placement technically should have been solid, but asked if I would be willing to give it a go. 

At the end of the load, all the bowls were clean not just the cereal bowl

At the end of the load, all the bowls were clean not just the cereal bowl

No debris at all left on the bowl

No debris at all left on the bowl

Rather than wasting time and water recleaning dirty bowls, I was open to any and all suggestions.  So far, knock on pottery, the technique has been working.  As best I can, I try to prop the bowls so that they maintain a slight tilt before I turn the machine on.  Sometimes that may require gently resting them on another item as carefully as possible so as not to chip or break either.

So if your bowls are less than stellar after the dishwasher finishes, remember to tilt.  Honestly, there could be a number of adjustments required such as water temperature, detergent, spacing, etc., but this is a good starting point.



Egging You On: Being Fresh

Does your family consume lots of eggs?  Are there multiple cartons of eggs in the fridge?  Does freshness matter to you?  Then how do you quickly track which cartons are the freshest without having to search for a freshness date?

Place newest carton under the older carton to ensure you use the older eggs first

Place newest carton under the older carton to ensure you use the older eggs first

I am an egg fan, and on those mornings when I feel like I need an extra hit of protein to get me going, keep my energy up for hours and hunger at bay until lunch, I whip up a couple of eggs. As I don’t wish to be caught short, I keep an extra carton or 2 on hand. 

To rapidly determine which carton is the newest if purchased during different grocery runs:

Place the newest carton underneath the original one so that you reach for the older eggs first.

Alternate white and brown eggs for easier freshness tracking

Alternate white and brown eggs for easier freshness tracking

If you use an egg tray and refill it before it is completely empty:

Alternate between brown and white eggs.  As far as I can tell there is no taste difference, and at my grocery store, the price is the same if I purchase the same variety of eggs (i.e., free-range vs caged, organic vs. conventional, large vs. extra-large, etc.).  Therefore, if I have 2 white eggs left, I know that they should be used before grabbing a brown egg.

I hope these tips help you enjoy your breakfasts or any egg based meals with the freshest ingredients.








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You are zipping along adding ingredients to your prized chocolate layer cake. Yay! Everything is going groovy right on schedule for your dinner guests’ arrival. You’re approaching the last step, getting the cake into the oven when an egg shell drops deep into the murky batter. CRAP! Finding and fishing it out will be a challenge, slowing down your progress for sure.

One simple step can prevent the unwanted crunch of an eggshell in your dessert. Use a prep bowl. Nothing fancy, a measuring cup, a food container, or a ramekin. I have a set of metal prep bowls that I use for a variety of purposes including cracking eggs.

If your recipe calls for more than one egg, crack one egg into the bowl at a time. Before adding another egg, dump the cracked one into the other ingredients after insuring that no shell bits are present. Slithering shells are hard enough to get out of the whites of one egg so avoid putting multiple eggs in the prep bowl.

Cracking eggs into a prep bowl can save you time and embarrassment

Cracking eggs into a prep bowl can save you time and embarrassment

If a shell gets into the prep bowl, there are a variety of tricks to remove it which will be the topic of an upcoming Practical Tip.

So remember, to save yourself time and the embarrassment of a guest chomping down on a shell. Crack your eggs prior to adding them to the batter, and your cake will be on time. shell-free, and awesome as usual.

#Eggs, #Eggshells, #Baking, #Prep Cups

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Use rice cakes when you need rice flour

Use rice cakes when you need rice flour

Are you gluten free?  Do you use rice flour for baking? 

I rarely use rice flour anymore, but occasionally I like to add it to my gluten free oat or nut flours.  Oat flour can be noticeably dense, adding rice flour creates a lighter batter and end result.  Since I do not use rice flour often, I prefer not to keep it on hand so that it doesn't go rancid.  What I do always have is an adequate supply of rice cakes.  After trying several brands of rice cakes, my go to is Lundberg's vegan, organic, salt-free brown rice cakes (that sounds so Portland doesn't it?).  They are light, airy, and most importantly they do not taste like cardboard.  These make the perfect flour for baking.

Toss the rice cakes in your blender and within seconds you will have rice flour.  No time wasted cooking the rice and allowing it to cool or using raw rice that renders hard chunky pellets.

Lately I have not been able to find my "go to" Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Oat Flour, so I do the same with his gluten free oats.  Toss them in the blender, and voila powdery oat flour.

For nut flours, I shop the bulk aisle, then grind my own nut flours.  They taste so much fresher and more flavorful than packaged nut flours.

Can't find gluten free oat flour? Grind your own from rolled oats.

Can't find gluten free oat flour? Grind your own from rolled oats.

A high quality blender makes all the difference for making producing a fine powder and is well worth the investment.  It took me years to save up for a Vitamix, but I use it every day several times a day for making flours, smoothies, salad dressings, marinades, and so much more.

Try making your own rice, oat and nut flour when you are in a pinch.

#lundbergfamilyfarms #Riceflour #bobsredmill #vitamix

 

 

 


That little drip is a veritable feast for ants.

That little drip is a veritable feast for ants.

This might seem like a trivial tip, in essence it is, but it can save you hassle and avoid bug infestation.  Wipe down the sides of bottles with a damp cloth after each use.  This is particularly true of products that contain any forms of sugar or artificial sweeteners.  You may be noticing insects getting active indoors this time of year.  Last week my husband discovered a trail of sugar ants leading to our kitchen compost bin.  Knock on wood, but I have not seen any in my pantries.  I have been super mindful about wiping down the rims and sides of honey, syrup, and jam bottles after each use.  It is easy to miss a drip or two after you recap the lid, but bugs surely won’t.  Nothing is 100% foulproof, but if I can deter them from making their new home inside of mine, I am super happy.  The bonus is that your cabinet and refrigerator shelves will stay much cleaner.

Removing residual trickles down the sides of bottles will keep your storage areas cleaner and less likely to attract insects.

Removing residual trickles down the sides of bottles will keep your storage areas cleaner and less likely to attract insects.

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Tired of dirty produce bins in your fridge ?  Line them with a cloth.  When the cloth gets dirty, toss it in the laundry.  I use a cotton diaper and launder it with my other weekly linens.  My bins stay fairly clean.  If I notice leaves, grit or other deposits as I take out the cloth, I remove the bin and rinse it under the faucet.  Produce bins clean up so much faster when protected.

Cloth diapers make excellent rags for a variety of purposes.  Typically I use the ones without the weave or folds for cleaning, but these weaved ones are heavier and work well as liners.

Nutritious Time Saver

Looking to make your meals more nutritious and your clean ups much faster?

Line the entire pan bottom with a variety of leaves. The more colorful, the higher the nutrient value.

Line the entire pan bottom with a variety of leaves. The more colorful, the higher the nutrient value.

Remove some of the leaves before entree is thoroughly cooked to avoid charring.

Remove some of the leaves before entree is thoroughly cooked to avoid charring.

Try this simple suggestion.  Add greens to your baking dish.  Spinach, Swiss chard, and beet leaves are beginning to fill my garden beds and popping up at farmer's markets.  These dark leafy greens are packed with vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, iron, fiber, and phytonutrients  (those of you on blood thinners speak with your medical practitioner before incorporating foods with high vitamin K content).  The more colorful leaves, the higher the nutrient value.

By lining your pans with vegetables, your pan or dish will stay so much cleaner.  Entrees won't stick to the pan as they bake so you won't need to scrape away hard to remove burnt food remnants.  Clean up is a breeze.

Line the entire pan.  As you can see the leaves keep the pan moist on the bottom, so the grease from the meat did not burn and adhere to the pan.  You may wish to remove some leaves before the entrée reaches the desired internal temperature otherwise they will likely burn.  Just keep enough for the meat to rest upon.

I boil water while we eat, then immediately pour the water into the empty baking pan along with a splash of vinegar, about ¼ cup of baking soda (or less depending upon the pan size) and a squirt or 2 of Dr. Bronner’s soap.  The pan virtually cleans itself.  Sponge away any remaining grease in or around the pan, and voila.

Save yourself time, hassle and the elbow grease while adding these powerhouses to your meal plan.

Use a splash of vinegar, a few shakes of baking soda, and a squirt or 2 of Dr. Bronner's soap along with boiling water into the pan and let it soak for a few minutes.

Use a splash of vinegar, a few shakes of baking soda, and a squirt or 2 of Dr. Bronner's soap along with boiling water into the pan and let it soak for a few minutes.

You can use a bristled brush to agitate the water. Be careful not to burn yourself. The pan will virtually clean itself.

You can use a bristled brush to agitate the water. Be careful not to burn yourself. The pan will virtually clean itself.


Excess chicken soup in the process of freezing

Excess chicken soup in the process of freezing

You may have noticed by now that I love finding ways to repurpose everyday items.  When my daughter was an infant, I was big into homemade baby food.  I pureed apples, pears, sweet potatoes, beans, peas, carrots, you name it.  After jarring enough to get us through a few days, I froze the remainder in ice cube trays. 

Once the contents were frozen, I emptied the cubes into labeled (including the date) containers or baggies.

Defrosting the quantity I wanted was fast and easy.  Getting little sleep at the time meant sometimes being forgetful when it came to pulling food out of the freezer for meals.  But since the cubes thaw rapidly, I was able to have her food at the ready in no time. 

No more need for baby food in this house, instead I use this process for soups, stews, and sauces.  Big chunks of solid ice take a long time to thaw so try this method and see what you think.

If your fingertips get like mine in the winter if I don't continuously moisturize, the dryness can make them a bit slick when I pick up objects.  This can be noticeably troublesome when I grab eggs from the refrigerator or remove them from the carton to place in an egg holder to nestle on a shelf.

In order to prevent dropping them, I lightly dampen my fingertips which counter-intuitively renders them less slippery.  So before you pick up an egg, quickly run your fingers under water for a little extra hold especially in the winter.

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Lids can be a challenge to open sometimes.  Plastic seals around a new bottle top can cause further difficulty when opening a jar for the first time.  I use 2 solutions.

For small bottles such as extract that have the extra plastic security seal, a damp plush washcloth helps to get enough traction on the lid to get it to turn thereby loosening and releasing the plastic band.

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For larger mouth jars, I gently tap them on the countertop or other hard surface until I hear the tell-tale pop that the pressure has been discharged.  If I still need some extra assistance, I grab a rubber jar gripper and that usually provides enough torque to finish the job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Condiment Storage

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Have an unused baby food jar carousel?  Convert it into storage for condiment/oil/vinegar bottles.


What's For Dinner? 
5 Simple Steps to Manage Meal Planning

What should I make for dinner tonight?  Do I have the ingredients? 

Do you dread searching for desirable recipes and scouring for necessary ingredients after a long day’s work or hustling between children’s after-school activities?  

Wouldn’t you love to painlessly plan meals? 

Use The Practical Sort's "No Sweat" method to manageable meal planning.  Follow the steps below to:

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Plan simple, homemade, weekly meals

Locate appealing, wholesome recipes

Easily track the groceries you need

Step 1:  Download The Practical Sort's Weekly Planner and Grocery List Template below.  Print the Planner on one side and the Grocery List on the other.   This method will ensure that you have the necessary ingredients.

Click on each link below to download :

Weekly Meal Planner

Grocery List Template

Basic Ingredient List

Step 2:  Recipe Selection
See suggested recipe sites below for easy meals.  As you select recipes, scan your fridge, freezer, and cupboard to see what you have on hand.  You can even pre-group ingredients into bins in your storage areas to coincide with the upcoming dinners.   If you have time, pre-mix your dry ingredients.

Step 3:  Grocery List 
Put an ‘x’ by any essential Grocery List items.  If you need more than one, such as 2 cans of tomato paste, then jot the number in the box next to the listed item.

Step 4:  Basic Ingredient List 
Add to your grocery list the products on the Basic Ingredient List if you are likely to use them.  A well-stocked pantry can be your saving grace for unplanned meal nights.  Store these items to ensure that you will always have basic “go-to’s” in order to whip up last minute dishes.

Step 5:  Recipe Sites
Need ideas for healthy recipes ?  Check out:

Eatingwell.com
This site is user-friendly, the recipes are simple, and they have an array of special diet options ranging from gluten-free,  vegan, dairy-free, diabetes-specific, low-sodium, etc.

CookingLight.com
And this Cooking Light site is really cool.  You can drag and drop simple recipes into the 5 day menu planner.  Then select “View Recipe” to see what ingredients to add to your list.  “Eating Out” and “Leftover Nights” images are available to insert into nights when you know you won’t have the time or desire to cook.

Finally, if you forget to pull frozen meats out of the freezer, no need to worry.  Not a fan of microwave ovens like me?  No need to go that route if you use this trick.  In fact, it has been over 10 years since I used a microwave.  Put the meat or fish into a plastic bag and then immerse it in lukewarm water in a metal bowl.  Prep the remainder of your ingredients.  Occasionally check the water to be sure it does not get too cold.  If it does, empty it and refill with lukewarm water.  Save the frigid water and as it warms, use it to water your plants.  The meat will typically thaw within 30 minutes.  Fish may take less time.