Tag Archives: every day tips and tricks

15 Common Food Questions ANSWERED

With so many types of foods available for purchase today, it can be hard to determine what foods to buy when.  How do I know when to use broth instead of stock?  What’s the difference between green onions and scallions?  Can I use light brown sugar and dark brown sugar interchangeably?

I know, adulting is hard.  But I’ve set out to try to clear up at least SOME of these questions that plague us every time we gear up for a shopping trip or embark on trying a new recipe.  In most instances, the changes in these common foods is pretty minimal, but in other cases swapping one for the other may change your end result completely.

So get ready to take back your pantry…here are 15 Common Food Questions ANSWERED.

thedifferencebetween

Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda

Both baking powder and baking soda make a big difference for baked goods, but powder and soda are much different, and are used differently.  Baking soda only has one ingredient:  sodium bicarbonate.  Sodium bicarbonate is a base that reacts when it comes into contact with an acid, like buttermilk or vinegar.  This reaction produces carbon dioxide in the form of bubbles, helping batter or dough to rise.  But when baking soda comes into contact with acid, it reacts immediately, which sucks for baking.  For many recipes, you want an extended reaction so the rising doesn’t take place all at one time.  Baking powder to the rescue!  Baking powder has two different ingredients that create carbon dioxide gas at two different stages of the baking process.  In addition to sodium bicarbonate, baking powder also contains two acids, one of which reacts when mixed with wet ingredients, the other reacting when it gets hot.  Cakes and muffins that use baking powder in the recipe often result in fluffier and lighter sponge because the batter is rising for a longer period of time and there’s an additional rising reaction after your batter is placed in the oven (this especially helps for bigger batches when you have batter sitting on the counter for an hour or so as you bake sheet after sheet).  Since they both contain sodium bicarbonate, substituting one for the other is possible, but it may or may not affect the taste of your recipe, as you will then also have to alter the amount of acid.

Whole Milk vs. Heavy Cream

Both whole milk and heavy cream are made from cow’s milk, but the major difference is the amount of fat.  Heavy cream, or heavy whipping cream, contains about 38% fat, so this is great for achieving stable results, such as making whipped cream or butter.  It will also resist curdling, so it’s great for soups.  As for whole milk, when milk is processed, the cream is taken out of it, then put back in manually, resulting in such labels as skim, 1%, 2%, etc.  For skim milk, there is no additional cream added once it’s been removed.  Milk labeled 1% or 2% has all the cream taken out, then added back in until it’s 1% or 2% of the total volume.  Whole milk is actually only about 3% fat, so really not that much different.  The “whole milk” label has less to do with the fat content and more to do with the fact that it’s pretty much unadulterated in terms of preparation.  In a sense, whole milk is the way it comes from the cow before processing.  So basically whole milk and heavy cream start off coming from the cow, but heavy cream has about 35% more fat added to it to help it stabilize.

Jam vs. Jelly

Let’s be honest…jam, jelly and preserves are pretty much all the same thing.  They’re all made from a combination of fruit, sugar and pectin.  The difference in what they’re called comes in the form the fruit takes.  For jelly, the fruit comes in the form of fruit juice…so jelly is often smooth when spread, making it great for picky eaters and for layering in desserts, like cakes and cookies.  Jam uses fruit pulp or crushed fruit, so you can often see pieces of fruit when you use jam.  It’s less stiff than jelly, so it’s great for using to flavor or mix in with other items, like icing or butter.  In preserves, the fruit comes in the form of chunks in a syrup or jam, so preserves can be pretty sweet.

Broth vs. Stock

While they both can be made with the same ingredients, stock is often thinner and less flavorful than broth.  Stock tends to be made from bony parts of the animal and various veggies, whereas broth is made using more meat and full bone pieces.  Stock has a fuller mouth feel and richer flavor, due to the gelatin released by long-simmering bones.  Broth is best used for the busy home cook.  It is great for chicken soup and for using in place of water for any recipe where you want to add a little chicken or beef flavor.  Stock is better for richer soups and stews, as it has more flavor and is great for recipes where you want to highlight the meat or fish flavor of a dish.

White Rice vs. Brown Rice

There are literally so many types of rice varieties in the world!  For us simpletons, the choice is usually simple:  white or brown.  It’s been ingrained in our heads that brown is better than white, but why?  The answer is fiber.  Brown rice is the whole grain with just the first outer layer (the husk) removed through milling…so it retains its fiber and germ, which contains vital nutrients.  White rice is brown rice that has been milled to remove the bran and much of the germ, reducing the fiber and nutrients.  Since white rice has been stripped of most of its nutritional value, it actually has a much longer shelf life than brown rice.  The essential oils still remaining on the brown rice start to go rancid after about 6 to 8 months, while white rice can easily last up to 10 years.  So, if you love white rice, you’re in luck!  If you prefer brown rice, buy it in small quantities.

Banana vs. Plantain

Not surprisingly, plantains are members of the banana family, but both taste very different.  Bananas are sweet and soft, while plantains are harder and only soften after they’ve been cooked down.  This difference comes in the amount of starch and sugar in both fruits.  While there are several types of bananas out there, the type we all know and love is the Cavendish banana, easy to peel and sweet to eat.  Plantains, on the other hand, contain a much higher percentage of starch and less sugar.  Because of this, they’re quite unpleasant if eaten raw.  To get the most out of a plantain, they have to be cooked.  They caramelize nicely and have a heavy potato-like character to them, making them great for both sweet and savory dishes.

Sweet Potato vs. Yam

While a yam is technically a TYPE of sweet potato, they are quite different.  Chances are not many people have even had a yam!  A true yam is a starchy root that grows in the Caribbean.  It’s rough and scaly and very low in beta carotene.  Depending on the variety, traditional sweet potatoes are usually orange, but can also be white or purple.  The orange variety was introduced to the US several decades ago in order to distinguish it from the white variety.  Producers and shippers chose the English form of the African word “nyami” (to eat) and labeled them “yams”.  So yes, here in America, sweet potatoes are often labeled both “sweet potatoes” and “yams”, which adds to the confusion, however, yams are actually a different TYPE of sweet potato with a different skin, meat and texture.

Granulated Sugar vs. Confectioners’ Sugar

Granulated sugar is the pre-form of confectioners’ sugar.  Confectioners’ sugar, also known as powdered sugar or icing sugar, is actually granulated sugar that has been finely ground and mixed with a small amount of cornstarch to prevent caking.  So can you make your own confectioners’ sugar in a pinch?  Absolutely!  A few rounds in a food processor will help turn granulated sugar into confectioners’ sugar (there are several recipes online for making your own confectioners’ sugar).  Since it’s finely ground, confectioners’ sugar is best used in recipes where sugar has to dissolve smoothly and provide sweetness…namely in frosting and icing.  So the simple answer is that granulated and confectioners’ sugars are the same thing, one is just finer than the other.

Ice Cream vs. Custard

According to the USDA, the standards for ice cream consist of 20% cream and 10% milk.  It can also contain anywhere from 10% to 20% fat, depending on how luxurious you want your ice cream to be!  While some may think it’s healthier, soft serve ice cream is actually the same thing.  Soft serve is made with the same ingredients as regular ice cream but is served in a machine that keeps it, well…soft.  The machine incorporates air and doesn’t allow the ice cream to harden, like a tub of ice cream would in your freezer.  Gelato has a higher ratio of milk to cream than ice cream does, and contains about 5% to 7% less fat than ice cream.  It’s churned very slowly, making it much denser than its counterpart.  Finally, custard contains a magical ingredient that makes it thick and happy and amazing:  egg yolk.  All the other ingredients are the same as regular ice cream, but the yolk helps add thickness to the final result.

Bourbon vs. Scotch

Not surprisingly, the difference between bourbon and scotch is minimal…basically it all comes down to where it was made.  Scotch is whisky made in Scotland.  Bourbon is whisky made in the US.  Scotch is made mostly from malted barley, while bourbon is distilled from corn.

Green Onions vs. Scallions

THEY’RE THE SAME THING.  No difference whatsoever!  Ok, moving on…

Onions vs. Shallots

Shallots have a much sweeter flavor than onions do…and are actually an onion/garlic hybrid.  In fact, shallots share about as many similarities with garlic as they do with onions, so they’re great for almost any and all savory recipes!  Their roots are garlic-flavored and made of cloves and their bulbs, which are the majority of the plant, grow similar to garlic.  You’ll often get 2 or sometimes 3 cloves in one shallot.

Light Brown Sugar vs. Dark Brown Sugar

Both varies of brown sugar are a mixture of granulated sugar and molasses, with dark brown sugar containing more molasses than light brown sugar.  Light brown sugar has a much more delicate flavor than dark brown sugar.  They can be used interchangeably depending on your taste preferences, but I prefer light brown sugar myself.  Dark brown sugar is great for adding rich flavor to stews or stronger molasses flavor to baked goods, like gingerbread.

Olive Oil vs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Let’s start off simple first…olive oil, in all its forms, is oil obtained from the fruit of an olive tree.  Plain and simple.  The rest of the name is added based on how that oil is processed.  Extra-virgin olive oil is unrefined and is the highest quality oil you can buy.  It retains more true olive taste and has a lower level of acid than other varieties.  It also contains more of the natural vitamins and minerals found in olives.  This is olive oil to use with breads, salads and dressings.  If you’re going to splurge, do it on a good quality extra-virgin olive oil.  By contrast, regular olive oil is typically a blend between a couple varieties of olive oil.  It is lower quality than extra-virgin olive oil and contains a higher amount of acid.  It’s great for cooking, as it has a high smoke point and doesn’t have much flavor.  Can one substitute the other?   In short, yes…but keep this in mind:  extra-virgin olive oil SHOULD be used for dishes where you’re meant to taste the olive oil and should not be used to cook, as it burns easily.  Regular olive oil has little to no flavor and is great for cooking.  So yes, you technically CAN substitute, but keep in mind that flavor may change if you use extra-virgin instead of regular.

Tonic Water vs. Seltzer Water

Both carbonated waters are stables on any bar, but they’re not interchangeable.  Tonic water will add both sweet and bitter to whatever you’re creating.  It pairs particularly well with gin and, unlike many other waters, it contains calories.  Seltzer water is just plain water that has been artificially carbonated.  Club soda is also much like Seltzer water, but mineral-like ingredients are added to club soda to enhance the flavor.  These two (club and Seltzer water) can be used interchangeably.

 

Every Monday is a “Reci-bee” post, where I share my favorite recipes, recipe collections, and cooking and baking hints and tips. 

Leave a comment

Filed under cooking and baking tips

15 Angel Food Cake Tips and Tricks

Happy National Angel Food Cake Day!

Anyone who has tried to make angel food cake before knows…it can be kind of a bitch.  The possibility of getting a sunken cake with a dense sponge scares a lot of people from trying to make this light and delicious cake…but with these helpful baking tips, you’ll be able to create a heavenly dessert that comes out perfectly every time!

  • Use cake flour to keep your sponge nice and light.
  • SIFT, SIFT, SIFT!
  • Separate your eggs when they’re cold, otherwise the yolks will break easily.
  • And speaking of eggs, your egg whites need to be 100% free of yolks. If you get yolk in your egg white, toss it and start over.  To save on eggs, separate each egg in a container before dumping the egg white into the bowl…that way if you get a broken yolk, you only have to toss one egg, not the whole batch.
  • LET YOUR EGG WHITES COME TO ROOM TEMPERATURE. This is perhaps the best tip when it comes to making angel food cake.  They should be at room temperature about 30-45 minutes after you take them out of the fridge.
  • When it comes to beating those egg whites, use a very clean metal bowl…or copper if you have one. Don’t use a plastic bowl, as plastic retains oil and fat from previous dishes and that residual oil will prevent your eggs from getting fluffy.
  • There is such a thing as overbeating your batter. Beat just until soft peaks form.  If you overbeat it, the egg whites will deflate and your cake will become dense.
  • As much as you may want to, don’t grease the pan. RESIST, DEAR BAKERS!!  The batter “clings” to the side of the pan, which helps it rise.  Greasing the pan makes it hard for the batter to cling and your cake will not rise as much as it could.
  • However, since you’re not greasing the pan, make sure you do use a “tube” pan with a removable bottom so it’s easy to remove the cake.
  • Also, make sure your tube pan has a center tube that is higher than the remainder of the pan. This helps with cooling and removing your cake.
  • If you absolutely must grease the pan, do a very light coating and dust the grease with sugar so the cake can still cling to something as it rises.
  • Smooth the surface of your cake before putting it in the oven. Angel food cake batter won’t even itself out, like a traditional cake batter would, so if you want a smooth look, you have to do it yourself.
  • Avoid checking the cake and opening the oven door too much. Changes in temperature may cause your cake to fall, and an underdone cake is always at risk of falling.  Try cooking your cake to the minimum time listed on the recipe, then quickly checking for doneness.  Use the oven light if you have one.  If not, make sure you open and close the oven door quickly to avoid a huge change in temperature.
  • Before putting your cake in the oven, gently cut the batter with a metal spatula or knife to break up any air pockets.
  • Cool pan upside down to help cake rise and release from pan.

Every Monday is a “Reci-bee” post, where I share my favorite recipes, recipe collections, and cooking and baking hints and tips. 

Leave a comment

Filed under cooking and baking tips

10 Kitchen Staples You Can Make Yourself

Why spend money on things you can make yourself?  From must-have condiments to DIY baking supplies, these Make-It-Yoself Kitchen Staples will allow you to create your own amazing sauces, spice packs, and more.

Besides being able to say, “Why yes, that ketchup IS homemade!”,  making your own seasoning packets and sauces also gives you the ability to control your sugar and sodium intake.  PLUS, homemade always tastes better!

So toss that 3-year-old bottle of ketchup.  Don’t waste money on those salty seasoning packets…get creative in the kitchen and have fun making your own kitchen must-haves with this list of DIY Kitchen Staples!

kitchen-staples

Condiments:

DIY Homemade Ketchup
Don’t Waste the Crumbs

Homemade-Ketchup-1

Ridiculously Easy Homemade Mustard
Simple Good and Tasty

mustard2

BEST Homemade Mayo
Satisfying Eats

044

Homemade BBQ Sauce
Gimme Some Oven

Homemade-BBQ-Sauce-3

DIY Spice Packs:

Taco Seasoning
The Pioneer Woman

how-to-make-taco-seasoning-12

Ranch Seasoning
Damn Delicious

DIY-Homemade-Ranch-Seasoning-Mix

Chili Seasoning
Whole New Mom

Chili-Powder-Square-Wmk-728x728

Baking Supplies:

Homemade Buttermilk
My Frugal Adventures

buttermilk-500x332

Confectioners’ Sugar
The Burlap Bag

diypowderedsugar-1024x765

Baking Powder
A Bright and Beautiful Life

IMG_66411

Every Monday is a “Reci-bee” post, where I share my favorite recipes, recipe collections, and cooking and baking hints and tips. 

Leave a comment

Filed under cooking and baking tips

9 Clever Ways to Keep Your Food Cold in the Summer

HAPPY 4th OF JULY!

If you’re a citizen of ‘MURICA, chances are you’re donning your red, white, and blue attire and heading to your local firework display or BBQ cookout, picnic basket in hand. And if you’re traveling with fruit, deli salads, meats, cheeses, desserts, or the like, you’re probably wondering how to keep your food cold, despite boiling July temperatures. Well, you’ve come to the right place.

Whether you’re just trying to keep your edibles cold in transit or you need them cold for outdoor entertaining, these picnic and entertaining hacks will help you keep your cool and refreshing treats, well, cool and refreshing.

Summertime Hacks!
How to Keep Your Food Cold

keep-food-cold

Place bottles of water in the freezer and use them to keep food cold when traveling. If frozen at least a week in advance, the bottles could stay frozen for up to a day, much more economical than that gas station ice that lasts about 2 seconds.

Keep drinks cold by placing them in a mixture of water and ice. Using just ice won’t distribute the cold as evenly as water will, so placing your drinks in an ice bath will keep them colder longer.

Full coolers tend to stay cold longer, so if your cooler has empty space, fill it with ice.

If traveling by car, keep your food/cooler in the passenger area. The temperature is usually cooler inside the car than it is in the trunk.

Create an ice bowl by putting a medium-sized bowl inside a larger bowl, then fill the larger bowl with water and freeze. Serve your salad or fruit in the insulated bowls.

If possible, freeze part of your dish. If you’re serving a fruit salad, mix in frozen blueberries before you head out the door. They should defrost in about 30 minutes.

Fill small water balloons with water and pop them in the freezer. Use them around your food to keep your table cold and decorative!
Side note, add some food coloring to the water before you freeze it. Peel the balloon off the frozen water for an amazing winter (or summer) decoration.

If you’re traveling a long distance, consider waiting to assemble your dish until you arrive at your destination. Mayonnaise, for example, can be kept at room temperature until the container is opened. It might also allow for easier travel if you don’t have to worry about your bowl tipping over. Just cut and package everything and assemble when ready.

Like your fridge, a cooler will stay colder if the lid stays closed. Avoid opening and closing the lid of your food cooler by keeping drinks and food in separate coolers, if possible.

Every Monday is a “Reci-bee” post, where I share my favorite recipes, recipe collections, and cooking and baking hints and tips. 

Leave a comment

Filed under clever uses

10 Must-Know Baking Hacks

To celebrate World Baking Day (May 17th), I’ve collected a few of my favorite baking hacks that I find myself coming back to again and again.  Some of these I learned from friends and family…others I picked up along the way by trial and error.

Baking shouldn’t be intimidating!  It’s really fun and actually quite easy to experiment with different flavors and textures.  Cake won’t rise?  Canned frosting tastes terrible?  Don’t worry!  There’s a hack for that! 😉

800-pie-crustIf your flour or sugar needs to be sifted, pay attention to how it’s phrased in the directions. For example, “1 cup sifted all-purpose flour” (flour is measured AFTER sifting) is not the same as “1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted” (flour is measured BEFORE sifting).

For better results, use a liquid measuring cup to measure liquid ingredients and dry measuring cups to measure dry ingredients.

For lighter, fluffier baked goods, spoon flour into measuring cups and then level it off. Do not use your measuring cup as a scoop, as this will cause flour to pack down and actually give you more flour than you need.

If you’re measuring sticky items, like honey, syrup, or molasses, spray your measuring utensils with non-stick cooking spray to prevent sticking.

Baking temps matter! For a fluffier cake, bake at a lower temperature (325 degrees F – 350 degrees F). Cakes will bake denser at higher degrees (375 degrees F – 400 degrees F).

Hate that canned frosting taste? Take the frosting out of the can and whip it with an electric mixer for a few minutes to beat in air and add volume. Add a few drops of vanilla or almond extract to add more flavor.

Keep berries and chocolate suspended in your desserts and baked goods by first coating them with flour. A very light coating will work. Great trick for cookies, cakes, and muffins!

If you’re having trouble with your cakes and cookies not rising properly, try replacing your baking powder.

When baking cookies, make sure you bake like-sized cookies for even baking. Use a scoop for plop and drop cookies and bake similar-sized cut out cookies together to make sure everything bakes evenly.

If you have empty cavities in your muffin tin or doughnut pan, add water in the empty cavities to help your baked items cook evenly.

Knowledge is power!  Learn fun facts, hints and tips, and creative ways to use every day items with “The Buzz” posts on Thursday.

Leave a comment

Filed under cooking and baking tips

How to Use Your Favorite Herbs

If you’re a beginner gardener like me or you’re looking for easy window plants to liven up your home this spring, herbs are a great solution.  They can grow in medium to full sunlight and plants like basil, parsley, sage, and cilantro are great to have on hand for your cooking needs.

Use this helpful printable chart to keep track of how to use your favorite spices!

common-uses-for-common-herbs

While they may all look similar, herbs vary in taste, texture, and usability.  Some, like the bay leaf, offer wonderful flavor to soups and stews but should not be eaten.  Others, like cilantro or basil, can be chopped up and added to just about anything…even desserts!

To Grow In or Out?

Herbs are not only food for humans, but hungry bunnies, chipmunks, bugs, deer, and other wildlife that might come visit your garden…so grower beware–if you grow your herbs outside, make sure you fence them in or protect them so you can enjoy them, too!  Herbs are also great for indoor gardening and grow easily on a windowsill in medium to full sunlight.  Last year we planted basil, sage, lavender, and cilantro in our little Chicago windowsill and had delicious fresh herbs all season long.

Dry Spell

Dried herbs are more concentrated versions of their fresh counterparts; however, not all herbs are good when dried.  Do some research before drying your herbs and store dried herbs in a cool, dry environment.

These herbs are great when dried:  bay leaves, oregano, sage, and thyme.  They will keep 1-2 months when dried and dried herbs make great gift ideas for hostesses or friends who love to cook.

 

What’s your favorite herb to cook with? 

Every Monday is a “Reci-bee” post, where I share my favorite recipes, recipe collections, and cooking and baking hints and tips. 

Leave a comment

Filed under cooking and baking tips

How to Properly Freeze Foods

Using your freezer to store bulk food is a great way to save on money and space, but be weary of what you freeze…some foods freeze beautifully while others can’t quite take the cold.

Not All Fruits and Veggies Are Equal

While most berries freeze wonderfully and have a much longer shelf life frozen than they do fresh, not all fruits and veggies are granted the same luxury.  As a general rule of thumb, if a fruit or veggie has a high water content, it won’t freeze well.  Foods like watermelon, cucumber, celery, and oranges just get mushy after freezing.  Fresh cheeses and yogurt can also sour and become unusable if frozen for too long.

Bakers, REJOICE!

However, foods with higher fat content (butter, avocado), grains, and meats are great for storing in the freezer (great news for you bakers out there!  You can keep all your baking materials fresh for months in the freezer!).  Most freezer-friendly food should be consumed within 6 months if possible, but you could stretch the lives of some foods to last you up to a year if stored properly.

Here are some foods that can stand up to the chill, and some that should just be left out of the cold.

what-to-freeze-printable

Freezing Ready-Made Meals

Prepping and freezing is also a great way to portion out meals and plan food in advance so you’re not scrambling last minute to come up with something for dinner.  Casseroles and pasta dishes often freeze easily and don’t change in taste or consistency when defrosted.  You can also bake and portion out cookie dough and bake cookies as needed for a warm, fresh cookie whenever you need one!

As always, check food labels before freezing anything…and make sure anything you store in the freezer is protected from frost by storing items in air-tight containers.  I also suggest labeling and dating anything you store in the freezer to keep track of what you’re storing.  If you find that you’re freezing a lot of food, it might be worth it to invest in a vacuum sealer to ensure freshness.

 

What foods do you keep in your freezer?  I store my chocolate in the freezer to help with portion control!

Knowledge is power!  Learn fun facts, hints and tips, and creative ways to use every day items with “The Buzz” posts on Thursday.

Leave a comment

Filed under cooking and baking tips

13 Clever Uses for Cotton Balls

Who would have thought that cotton balls could be such a help around the house? From simple sachets to helpful cleaning tools, these little balls of cotton can do much more than remove nail polish and makeup.

url

13 Creative Uses for Cotton Balls

  • Here’s a great tip for spring cleaning…saturate a cotton ball in your favorite scent and drop it into your vacuum cleaner bag. As you vacuum your house, it will slowly release the scent into the room.
  • Spring time also means flood season…and when it comes to fighting mildew, it can be a never ending battle of frustration to get to those hard to reach places. If you’re having trouble cleaning little corners and crevices, soak some cotton balls in bleach adn place them in those hard to reach spots. Let them sit for a few hours and rinse with warm water.
  • Nasty stink coming from the fridge? Soak a cotton ball in vanilla extract to keep you fridge smelling nice and clean. Granted this won’t get rid of the smell, but after you wash your fridge and rid it of any unwanted food, the vanilla can help keep your fridge smelling clean.
  • Cotton balls also make great ear plugs. We all remember the days of ear infections and using cotton balls to keep the medicine contained in the ear, right? Well cotton balls are also great for blocking out loud sounds if you’re trying to sleep or concentrate.
  • Cotton makes a great fire starter. You can use them for lighting oil lamps and candles that are hard to reach with a match or a lighter.
  • I use cotton balls to stuff small toys and objects that I’m sewing. No need to buy all that filling if I’m making a small felt toy…I just pull apart some cotton balls and use them to bring my project to life.
  • Help your beautiful daffodils last longer by filling their hollow stems with water and plugging it with a cotton ball. This method works similarily to those plastic tubes that come with store bought or mail order flowers.
  • If Peter Cottontail is reaking havoc on your garden, soak some cotton balls in white distilled vinegar and place them in one of those old 35mm film containers (remember those?). Place these around your garden to keep bunnies from eating your crops.
  • Keep ants and other pesky critters away from your food by soaking cotton balls in peppermint extract adn placing them in the corners of your cabinets. This is great for those moving into a college dorm or an old apartment that’s in need of some work.
  • Don’t you hate when your pop goes flat? Help prolong the life of the fizz by placing a cotton ball in the bottle before you place the cap on (just don’t push it in too far…you don’t want it floating around in your drink!). The cotton will help plug any air leaks so your pop stays fresh. This also works for cans as well. Just place a cotton ball in the opening to help keep it fresher longer.
  • Cotton balls are also naturally great for removing nail polish and makeup, cleaning dust from a computer monitor and/or keyboard, cleaning jewelry, touching up shoe polish, and they can act as a temporary bandage if you accidently cut yourself and can’t get to a doctor in time.
  • Cotton balls are also great for crafty folks. Besides being used in thousands of craft projects, they can also work as paint brushes and a way to spread glue onto a surface.
  • Does your hair need a bit of a lift? Add a few cotton balls to beef up a chignon or French Twist hairstyle.

Knowledge is power!  Learn fun facts, hints and tips, and creative ways to use every day items with “The Buzz” posts on Thursday.

Leave a comment

Filed under clever uses

12 Clever Uses for Cornstarch

Cornstarch is a common ingredient in the kitchen. Perfect for thickening up everything from soup to pudding, cornstarch is a wonderful go-to product that can do wonders for your favorite recipes. But don’t limit yourself to gravies and sauces…

Cornstarch can also be used to make face paint, untangle knots, clean oily hair, fight tough stains, and so much more. One box can last you for months, and you’ll love how easy your cleaning (and cooking) routine becomes with the help of this wonderful ingredient.

corn-starch

  • Use cornstarch to make face paint for Halloween, birthday parties, and more. Simply mix two parts cornstarch with one part white vegetable shortening to make a non-toxic grease paint. Add food coloring to change the color.
  • Make your old silverware sparkle like new with a simple combination of cornstarch and water. Use a soft cloth to apply it to your silver, let it dry, then buff each piece for a beautiful shine.
  • Late night poker game leave your cards gross to the touch? Dump those cards in a paper bag, along with a couple tablespoons of cornstarch. Shake the bag to coat the cards, then wipe them down to clean.
  • If your carpets are smelling a little musty, you can sprinkle cornstarch over the surface and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Vacuum as normal.
  • You can use cornstarch as a dry shampoo. Between regular shampoos, a sprinkling of cornstarch can help absorb excess oils. Brush thoroughly to remove excess cornstarch. This is also a great temporary method to help clean dogs as well.
  • Use cornstarch instead of flour to help thicken gravies, sauces, casseroles, soups, and stews. When your recipe calls for flour, use ½ as much cornstarch and your result will be much creamier (so for 2 TBS flour, use 1 TB cornstarch instead).
  • Untangle knots in strings and shoelaces by sprinkling the trouble spot with a little cornstarch.
  • Create your own streak free window cleaning solution by mixing 2 TBS cornstarch with ½ cup ammonia and ½ cup white vinegar. Combine everything in a large bucket containing 3-4 quarts of warm water. The solution should look milky when ready. Put the mixture in a spray bottle and spray on car and home windows to clean. Rinse with warm water and wipe with a paper towel.
  • If you have a roach problem and want to take matters into your own hands, combine equal parts of cornstarch and Plaster of Paris and sprinkle into any crack and crevice in your home. The roaches will eat the fatal mixture and you should be roach free!
  • Need some spray starch for collars and shirts? Mix one tablespoon cornstarch and one pint of cold water. Stir to dissolve. Fill a spray bottle with the mixture and use normally as you would any starch.
  • Sprinkle cornstarch on furniture, clothing, briefcases, and shoes to help eliminate stains. This method works especially well for oil stains. Let the cornstarch work its magic overnight and rub the stain out the next day.
  • You can use cornstarch to prevent and kill mildew in your old books that may have had water damage in the past. Just sprinkle the cornstarch all throughout the book to absorb the moisture and let it sit several hours before wiping the book clean.

Knowledge is power!  Learn fun facts, hints and tips, and creative ways to use every day items with “The Buzz” posts on Thursday.

Leave a comment

Filed under clever uses

14 Tips for Brewing Tea and Coffee

If you’re going to take the time out of your day to enjoy a nice cup of tea or coffee, make sure you keep these helpful suggestions in mind so you can brew up the perfect cup of whatever you like to drink!

drinking coffee

Tea Brewing Tips:

When using loose tea leaves, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. Everything from the water you use to the steep time will effect the taste of your drink, so use these guidelines to create a beverage that suites you “to a tea”!

Start with fresh, cold water: The best tea is only as good as the water with which it is prepared. Try using filtered or bottled spring water with a natural mineral content. The freshness of the water is important as fresh water contains more oxygen, which enhances the taste of the tea. Never use hot tap water or water that has already boiled for a long time as this will result in a flat and dull tasting tea with little aroma.

Preheat the teapot: It is important to preheat the pot or cup in which the tea will be steeped. If hot water is poured into a cold vessel, the temperature of the water will drop too quickly and the full flavor of the tea will not be extracted. To preheat the pot: pour a little of the boiling water from the kettle into the pot and then pour this water off into the drinking cups to warm them.

Measure the appropriate amount of dry leaves: Ideally, 3 grams of dry leaves should be used for every 6 ounces of water. If you don’t have a scale, try starting with one rounded teaspoon of dry leaves for each 6-ounce cup. With lighter weight teas such as large, wiry oolongs and whites, try 2 teaspoons per 6 oz cup.

Select the right water temperature: Black, Dark Oolong, and Herbal Teas are best prepared with water that has come to near boiling. Don’t let the water boil too long or the oxygen content will be reduced and the tea will taste flat. Green, White, Green Oolong teas should not be prepared with boiling water as this will cook the leaves and destroy their flavor. Japanese greens tend to taste best with water at 170-180º F. China green teas tend to taste best with water at 185º F. Generally, the finer the green tea, the lower the water temperature should be.

Steep time: The time it takes for tea to brew depends on the leaf size. The smaller the leaf, the faster the tea infuses. When you’re experimenting with new teas, let your leaves steep for 2 minutes, then taste your tea. When the tea tastes right, serve or pour off all the liquid to avoid oversteeping. Here are some general guidelines:

Japanese Green Teas: 1-2 minutes
Chinese Green Teas: 2-3 minutes
White Teas: 2-5 minutes
Green Oolong Teas: 2-3 minutes
Dark Oolong Teas: 3-5 minutes
Black Teas: 3-5 minutes
Herbal Infusions: 5-10 minutes

When your tea is done steeping, immediately remove the loose tea from the strainer or the tea bag and lightly stir. Then serve while fresh and hot. If your tea gets too cool, it is best to enjoy it over ice verses re-heating the brew.

Coffee Brewing Tips:

Similar to tea, the perfect cup of coffee begins with using clean water and proper water to coffee ratio.

Start with good water: Like tea, the best coffee comes from mineral content water. The absence of some minerals can lead to bitter tasting coffee, so avoid using distilled water when you brew.

Good quality coffee: Obviously the quality of the coffee you’re using matters when brewing the perfect cup of joe. Also, make sure you store your coffee properly. Oxygen is one of coffee’s biggest adversaries, so keep your beans in an air-tight container to ensure freshness.

The size of the grind: A finer grind means more surface area of the bean is exposed to the water. For a brew method that uses a longer dwell time such as French Press, a coarser grind is necessary. An even grind of any size is ideal, so follow the directions on your grinder.

Use clean equipment: Old sediments easily make for rancid flavors in your coffee. A good rule of thumb is to clean your equipment if you notice or smell any odor. If you can’t remember the last time you cleaned it, it’s probably time to clean it again.

Portion control: The official recommended proportion is 2 tablespoons for every 6 oz of water. If this ratio to strong for you palate you could back it off to 2 tablespoons for every 8 oz of water but any less than this puts you at significant risk for under extracted, watery and thin coffee.

Beans are best: Always purchase whole bean coffee (never pre-ground), and grind just prior to use. Yes, this is an inconvenience compared to buying pre-ground, but it is an absolute must if you want to end up with a tasty cup. Home coffee grinders are very inexpensive and can be found at most department and kitchen/home stores.

Every Monday is a “Reci-bee” post, where I share my favorite recipes, recipe collections, and cooking and baking hints and tips. 

2 Comments

Filed under drink recipes