Quick Tip Thursday – Spring Decommissioning

It’s Spring! It’s Spring! IT’S REALLY SPRING!

Here in Colorado it hasn’t felt much like spring this past month. We’ve had a few major snowstorms. But finally – in May – I feel confident I can start to pack away our winter gear.

Some of the things I’m getting ready to pack away for summer are:

  • winter coats, hats, gloves
  • snow shovels
  • sleds
  • ice scrapers
  • snow boots

Watch this short video to see how I prepare our snow boots for storage.

Quick Tip Thursday: Keep It Where You Need It

Are you confusing ORGANIZING with CENTRALIZING? Centralization is putting like items together. That may be organized but it’s not always effective. And don’t we want our stuff to be more effective for us?

There are a number of things you may want to keep decentralized.

  • Toilet paper – you probably already do this. I can imagine few situations more angst inducing than needing a new roll right now and opening up the cabinet in the bathroom and finding no replacements.
  • Toothpaste – you keep a separate tube in each bathroom where people brush their teeth.
  • Tissue – you may have one on each bedroom nightstand.

But what about non-consumables? You may also want to keep multiples of:

  • Scissors – how often do you need a pair in the kitchen or laundry room but you keep them in your desk?
  • Stapler – I have one in my desk but keep another in a kitchen drawer for when I have to staple papers that are going to school (e.g. check & permission slip)
  • Thermometer – your first aid kit is in the mudroom but your kid gets sick in the middle of the night. You might want several (downstairs, your bathroom, kids bathroom)

Watch the short video below to see one more item I keep multiples of to save myself a little bit of hassle!

 

Spice It Up!

While thinking about the topic of spice storage it seemed a fine time to discuss how long to keep those little jars in your cupboards!

I don’t post much about cooking here on the blog but I do quite a lot of it. We are a family that eats together at home each night and that means a meal to please a family. And while Mr. Brown is actually quite a good cook, the kitchen is most often my domain. For me, it’s important to have a variety of herbs and spices available. Many times I use a recipe but often I wing it. Just as important, is having spices that taste good! I’ve never had a spice go “bad” on me, but I have kept some well-past when they actually added any flavor to the food.

The key when checking your spices for quality is to actually LOOK at them and TASTE them. I have been known to sprinkle a bit of something on a spoon and taste it directly.

McCormick has a simple chart that breaks it down.  In addition to giving the basic breakdown on how long spices will last they also provide tips on checking color and aroma and how best to store and handle them to retain their freshness.

If you don’t like keeping ground spices around the house in full jars because you don’t use them often enough, there are a few things you can do.
1. Buy whole spices and grind them yourself. A coffee grinder works well for this.
2. Try the new McCormick Recipe Inspirations packages of pre-measured spices. I have not tried these yet (I tend to cook enough to buy full bottles!) but it’s a great idea. I think I’d like to try the Asian Sesame Salmon. (Thanks to reader Valerie for this great tip!)
If you love spices and want some fabulous high-quality additions to your cupboard, check out the great selection from Penzeys. We are fortunate enough to have one of their actual store-fronts just a few miles away and going in there is heavenly. There are so many wonderful aromas to take in and you can really see and smell the difference in the different varieties.

Personally, I have a set of their glass jars on my wish list along with the Pasta & Salad Seasonings Gift Crate! (*hints for anyone who’d like to buy me gifts!*)

Finally, I know you just read this and you’re thinking “Hmmm…. just how old IS that jar of oregano in my pantry?”  I can’t answer that. But I can tell you that when you buy a NEW jar put the date on the bottom with a permanent marker (or a little sticky label if you have reusable glass jars). Then when you check your cabinets the next time you’ll know if that jar is 6 months or 6 years old.

Quick Tip Thursday

Today’s Quick Tip isn’t organizing related, it’s food!

This is one of my favorite easy, inexpensive, delicious recipes.  It’s great for a weeknight or for sharing with company.

Roast Chicken Breasts with Garbanzo Beans, Tomatoes, and Paprika
source: Bon Appetite via Epicurious.com
my notes in italics

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika* – the smoked paprika makes all the difference. Regular paprika is NOT the same as smoked.
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt or Greek yogurt
  • 4 chicken breast halves with bones – I prefer to use boneless skinless chicken breasts or even chicken thighs.  I find the thighs are usually cheaper and have more flavor. 
  • 1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
  • 1 12-ounce container cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 450°.
Mix first 5 ingredients in medium bowl.
Pour 1 teaspoon spiced oil mixture into small bowl; whisk in yogurt and set aside for sauce.
Place chicken on large rimmed baking sheet. (I line mine with foil sprayed with cooking spray to make cleanup easier)
Rub 2 tablespoons spiced oil mixture over chicken.
Add beans, tomatoes, and 1/2 cup cilantro to remaining spiced oil mixture; toss to coat.
Pour bean mixture around chicken.
Sprinkle everything generously with salt and pepper.

Roast until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cilantro.
Transfer chicken to plates. Spoon bean mixture over. (Or you can serve it on a big platter!)
Serve with yogurt sauce.

Huge thanks to my friend Stephanie for sharing this with me about a year ago.  I’ve made it many times since and always love it. I just love the sweetness of the cooked tomatoes.  This is very fast to prepare.  I usually do not make the yogurt sauce because it’s not something I like but others think it’s delicious.

Enjoy!

Pardon The Dust

I’ve been noticeably absent from this blog for a few days now.  But I haven’t forgotten about you!  I have been busy getting some of my projects in order so I can share them with you soon.

Here’s a sneak peak of some of what’s taking up my time:

I hope you are having a fun and productive week!  For more frequent updates this week, stop by my Facebook page where I’m posting more real-time information.

Organized Cooking

This Sunday I spent about 4 hours cooking.  “FOUR HOURS?” You’re shouting at your screen.  Yes, friends, 4 hours (okay, 1 of those was shopping).  But I made five meals!  A few months ago I signed up to receive the menu plans from Once A Week Cooking.  I did it several weeks before the holidays and loved the process.  It’s a good amount of work on Sunday but it makes for much more pleasant week nights.  Then the holidays came and our meals were all over the place.  And so far this year I’ve had trouble getting things planned in advance and setting aside several hours on the weekend to get the shopping and cooking done.

But this weekend it was time to get back on track.  How did I do it?

We took the kids to the park this morning to burn off some extra energy.  Right before we left I printed out my menu and shopping list (Val puts it all together for you!).  I popped it on my clipboard and worked while Mr. Brown did the driving (we went to a farther away park).  Val’s menus are great but there’s usually at least one that isn’t right for my family so I always figure out which ones we’re going to actually make (this week I made 3 of her recipes and 2 of my own) then adjust the shopping list accordingly.  Next I rewrite the list, adding any extra things my family needs (like breakfast foods, milk, butter, etc) and put things in the order I shop through our supermarket.  This sounds like a lot of work but it probably takes 10 minutes – tops.

Once the kids were down for afternoon naps I headed out to the grocery store.  I’m much faster alone.  By the time I got home the kids were up and watching a movie.  I immediately unloaded the groceries and got to work.  One of my adjustments was the addition of a chili that Mr. Brown saw on Barefoot Contessa (it must have been a slow day in sports) so he basically made that one.  I made the rest.

Here’s what the kitchen looked like as we got started – Mr. Brown cubing the brisket

Our hardworking stove – ground beef browning for taco casserole, chicken cooking in the big pot for enchiladas and oil getting hot for browning brisket in the dutch oven.

More of the fun

And here’s what we ended up with:

Chicken Enchiladas (which we ate tonight)

Beef Stew, Chili, Honey Ginger Chicken & Taco Casserole
With the exception of the chicken everything is cooked and just needs to be reheated to serve.  Even the chicken is easy to prepare, just pop into the oven and bake. We’ll serve them all with simple sides (salad, rice, rolls, frozen veggies, etc) and my evenings will be a million times easier.
When you sign up for the Once A Week Cooking service, you’ll be provided with great information on how to prepare and carry out the process.  Here’s a few of my own tips:
  • Wear comfortable shoes when you’re cooking.  It’s a lot of standing.  You don’t want to have sore feet.
  • Unless your kids are old enough to actually help and know not to touch hot stoves and things, find a way to keep them entertained elsewhere.
  • Start with a cleared countertops and an empty dishwasher.
  • Put things away when you’re done using them so you don’t have tons of ingredients to put up at the end.
  • Put anything you can directly into the dishwasher.  For everything else… fill your sink with soapy water and let them soak until the end.
  • If you don’t want your glass baking dishes tied up in your freezer, go with disposable aluminum trays for your freezer meals.  I’ve found you can get them really cheap at the Dollar Store.
  • Write any reheating instructions you can right on the freezer package so if you aren’t home to do the actual cooking the cook doesn’t have to hunt around for instructions.
  • Swap out ingredients or meals you know your family won’t like for tried and true ones.
  • 6 meals is too many for our family.  We do 5 so I have meals for Sunday – Thursday.  We eat 5 nights, have 5 days of leftovers for lunch and usually still have a “leftover lunch” on Saturday afternoon.  Of course my kids are little and not big eaters.  Your family might be different.
  • Clean up when you are done.  Waking up to a messy kitchen on Monday morning won’t do you any favors.  Then all your hard work will feel futile.
  • If you use up an ingredient from your pantry or spice cabinet, write it down on your shopping list at the end of the meal prep so you can get it on your next shopping list.  Today I used the last of my ground ginger and added it right away to the shopping list I keep in my Springpad account.
Overall I’ve found that life as a family of five requires a good amount of extra planning.  This advanced meal prep really saves my sanity during the week.  Maybe you’ll find some help from it to.
***Disclaimer: Neither Suzanne or Delightfully Organized has been compensated in any way, monetarily or otherwise for this review of Once A Week Cooking.  All opinions expressed are my own.  I do have an affiliate link with OAWC.  If you subscribe to their service I will receive a small amount.  If you’d rather not use my affiliate link you can go to http://www.onceaweekcooking.com/ 

It’s About… Delightfully Simple Solutions

Do you have something in your life that just makes you crazy. I’m not talking something major, but one of those little annoyance that happens so often and just makes you frustrated every time.

There are many in my life. Today I did something about one of them.

We have a front-load washing machine and matching dryer. They spin at something like 80,000 rpms. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it’s pretty fast, and as a result if there is anything sitting on top of them when running it will fall off.  For most things it’s fine – I try not to keep stuff on top.  But I do have a little mini trash can on top of the dryer to hold lint and used dryer sheets. I could just get rid of it and use the regular trash can but, well, I don’t want to.

Last weekend when it fell off yet again I had a light bulb moment. VELCRO!

So today I finally got around to it:
I took this trash can.  Okay, it’s not actually a trash can.  I couldn’t find a trash can I liked that was small enough when I was shopping a few years back.  It’s actually a Kleenex holder box for a bathroom.

I already had this package of velcro (no clue why.  I think my dad must have bought it for a project when he was here)

And I attached two strips.

Then I found the right spot on my dryer (where it misses getting hit by the cabinet doors) and stuck it on.

I took that last picture while the dryer was running. 

So now it won’t fall off and I can still remove it to empty the trash when I need to. Hooray! These are the small things that make me happy. 

If you have a simple solution you’ve come up with in your life to end one of those small frustrations, SHARE IT!  Take a few pictures if you can, write a blog post and let the rest of us know about it.

You can link to the MckLinky I created here.  Please make sure that you link to your actual blog post, not your main page.

Valentine’s Cake Pops

Those are not my cake pops.  That’s just some Valentine’s imagery from my mantle to keep you in the mood of the day.

These are my cake pops:

This is not the best an awful picture.  You try taking a picture at 6am while it’s still dark out and there are 2 preschoolers hovering around asking if they can “have one yet!”  It’s not easy I’ll tell you that.

My cake pops taste delicious!  They look, um, sad.  This is no reflection on their awesome idea originator, Bakerella.  This is purely a function of my lack of following directions.  Mistakes I made:

1. Made my cake balls too big.  I thought, bigger is better, right?  Wrong.  Bigger meant they didn’t want to stay on their sticks while being dipped.  There were several rejects that were too bad to even make it into the photo.

2. I didn’t buy candy bark.  I didn’t fully read the directions until AFTER I went to the store.  I thought the coating on the outside was frosting.  I had plenty of frosting.  It’s not, it’s candy bark.  I did have white chocolate chips.  I melted them and added a bit of red food coloring to make them pink and it actually worked pretty well.  But I didn’t have enough.

3. I didn’t get them coated entirely.  This is probably because a) my pops were too big. b) my bowl was wide instead of deep and c) I was so busy worrying about whether they were going to fall of the stick that getting them coated perfectly wasn’t really a concern.

In the end, the look a little funny, taste really good, and my kids love them.  Lessons learned.

I will definitely be making these again.

If you want to see how awesome cake pops CAN look… head over to Bakerella and see all of her awesome variations.

DO Holidays – Plan The Grub

Are making any big meals or hosting any parties this holiday season?  It’s time to start thinking about your menu.  Yes, I know Christmas is still 2 weeks away.  But, hello… Christmas is only 2 weeks away!  Let’s get cracking.

How to create the holiday meal/event menu you need:

1. Write down the date, time & name of the event
2. Figure out the number of people you need to feed.  Make a list!
3. Decide if this is a full meal or an appetizers & desserts type affair.
4. Write down what your ideal menu looks like.  Don’t forget:

  • appetizers
  • specialty drinks or cocktails (eggnog, spiced cider, signature cocktail, etc)
  • beverages (adults & kids)
  • garnishes for drinks (lime & lemon wedges, maraschino cherries, peppermint sticks)
  • main dish
  • sides
  • condiments (gravy, cranberry sauce, etc)
  • bread
  • dessert
  • after dinner drinks (alcoholic or non-alcoholic, coffee)
  • ice

5. Determine if you know how to make everything on your menu.  If not, it’s time to find recipes or decide on a substitute.  My personal favorite websites for recipes are All Recipes and Epicurious but there are hundreds of places to search.  Don’t forget to peak in that old Better Homes & Gardens cookbook you got for your wedding too.  My favorite cookbook for making, well, anything is How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.  Never roasted a turkey?  Mark will help you produce a tasty bird the first time.

6. Decide what to delegate to others who are coming

7. Now that you have a menu and recipes it’s time to determine quantities.  You know what you want to make but how much?  There’s an easy calculator at Best Party Ever than can help with quantity suggestions.

8.  You’re finally ready to make your shopping list.  Go through each recipe.  Write down every ingredient it calls for (even if you know you already have it on hand.)  Now check to confirm what you have on hand and put a check by it.  The rest is your shopping list.  At this point you might want to rewrite the list to sort by store (liquor store, warehouse club, grocery store, etc) and within each store by category.  The more you can group like items together (produce with produce) the less likely you are to overlook something on your list and the less amount of back-tracking you’ll have to do in the store.

Steps 9 & 10 are purely optional for those of you who want to maximize your savings.
9.  Do you clip coupons?  Now is the time to go through your coupons and pull anything you can use for your shopping trip.

10. Check the grocery store website(s) where you normally shop and see what they have on sale this week.  Add anything that’s already on sale to this week’s grocery list.  Save the rest for next week.

11.  Hit the stores!

DO Holidays – Stock The Freezer

Are you making dinner tonight?  If you are, why not make a double batch.  Instead of 4 chicken breasts, make 8.  Instead of cooking up one batch of meatballs, make double.  Instead of one lasagna, assemble two.  Wrap the extra portion well (freezer bags, plastic wrap covered with foil, etc) and place in your freezer.  Make sure you LABEL the package with what it is and the date you put it in there.  And if there are special instructions for reheating, put those somewhere you’ll find them easily.  Then, next week when you’ve just had a crazy day, pull out that frozen meal, reheat it (or cook your pre-assembled item) and serve your family something hot and homemade.

If you are feeling especially ambitious and want to really make make-ahead meals a staple in your family check out Once A Week Cooking or request the book Don’t Panic, Dinner’s In The Freezer by Susie Martinez, Bonnie Garcia & Vanda Howell at your local library or bookstore.