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Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Tips for soaking pans

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

Since I generally do dishes just once a day, I often have a few pans from earlier in the day to wash after dinner. Here's a couple soaking tips for pans:

When you're finished using a pan, put the lid on it. This traps the moisture inside and keeps food from drying on the pan.

Soaking pans

If you heat water for coffee or tea (am I the only old-fashioned one who still heats water on the stove for these?), use any extra (leftover) hot water to soak pans or skillets until it's time to wash them. Just pour the water in the pan and put the lid on -- even just half an inch in the pan with the lid on will "soak" your pan nicely! :)

Soaking pans
My cleaned-up kitchen before bed; I love a clean kitchen!

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link in a comment here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please! We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. Make the most of your oven use (Day By Day Masterpiece)
2. Tips for healthy grains/breads on a budget (Purposely Frugal)
3. Freezer meal tips (Trial and Error Home Ec)
4. Baking potatoes without foil (Simple Foody)
5. Pantry and stockpile organization (Cooking Up a Sale)
6. Measuring shortening (Meditations and Bread)
7. Keeping greens fresh (A Proverbs 31 Wife)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Birthday cake and frosting tips

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

We always do homemade birthday cakes at our house. Growing up, we had homemade cakes and I learned how to make them at a young age. I love cake and frosting and it's so fun for me to get to make a special cake for the birthday person! I also like to be treated on my birthday. When Ruth was born, 12 days before my birthday, my mom made my favorite oatmeal spice cake for my birthday that year and brought it over. I like taking the day "off" when it's my birthday. ;)

Now that we have 5 kids of our own (!!), we get to do lots of birthday cakes every year. This week is our 11th wedding anniversary and Joshua and I just made our favorite two-layer chocolate cake for the special day! :)

Now, even though I make cakes, I am no expert. I don't do anything too fancy, and I've had my fair share of cake and frosting disasters. Here are a few things I've learned:

1. Make the cake a day ahead of time. This allows plenty of time for the cake to cool before frosting, and makes the special day much more relaxing when you don't have to get up early to start a cake, or rush around at the last minute getting it finished up! And of course for cheesecakes, they're really top notch at about 24 hours after coming out of the oven.

2. Make the frosting when you're ready to apply it. I have made frosting "ahead" and when I went to spread it, it was stiff and all the light fluffy airy bubbles "stirred down" and the frosting wasn't as good. For best results, I've found it's a good idea to put it on the cake as soon as it's made.

3. Find a good recipe and follow it. This is especially, especially important for the frosting part. Softened butter means softened butter, not half-melted butter or chopped up cold butter.

4. For a perfect frosting, use powdered sugar from the store (and a good recipe). I've tried making homemade powdered sugar for frosting, first in a regular blender (disaster!!) and then in our newly-purchased VitaMix blender. I really thought the powdered sugar from the VitaMix would be fine enough for frosting but still, it made a gritty frosting.

If any of you have made amazingly perfect frosting with homemade powdered sugar, tell me your secret! I can't stand even a hint of grittiness in my frostings...

5. For 2-layer cakes or cake rolls, line the pan(s) with parchment paper or waxed paper to make it easier to remove. I've been using parchment paper (purchased from Costco, of course!) and don't need to grease or flour it.

6. Make an easy 2-layer rectangular cake by using a half sheet pan (13"x18") and cutting the finished cake in half, stacking the halves. Since I don't have many (any) fancy cake pans, this method works great for me.

Any more cake tips? Share with me! :)

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link in a comment here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please! We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. Make the most of your frying pan (The Local Cook)
2. Perfectly shaped drop biscuits (Feel Good About Dinner)
3. Using up eggs (Recipes Happen)
4. Peeling garlic quickly (Anne Jisca's Healthy Pursuits)
5.

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Easy brownie frosting substitute

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

My friend Kathryn brought over a pan of brownies recently, and I commented on how cute they were. "I'm usually doing good just to get brownies made, much less frosting for them too!" Kathryn's also a mom of 5 kids, so as it turns out, she had a secret tip for the "frosting" part.

When your brownies come out of the oven, sprinkle some chocolate chips on top and then put the pan back in the oven for a few minutes.

Chocolate brownie topping
(This made a fairly thick topping; I think less worked better)

When the chocolate chips are hot and soft, take the brownies back out of the oven and spread the chocolate over the top.

Chocolate brownie topping

Allow to cool before cutting. The chocolate topping keeps the brownies moist and soft, makes them look cute, and is easier than frosting! :)

Fudgy black bean brownies

I made fudgy black bean brownies for this past weekend (we had company both days). These were more fudgy and dense than in the past, and the only thing I can think that I did differently was using a stick blender instead of a regular blender. Maybe having more air beaten into the batter (from a tall, fast blender) makes them fluffier!

At any rate, they were chocolatey and delicious as always... and fancy-looking this time too. ;) The best kitchen tips come from friends and family! :D

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link in a comment here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please! We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. Using a Mason jar on a blender (Everyday Mom)
2.
3.

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Shake to coat

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

As I was preparing some broccoli and cauliflower for dinner, I realized how much more effective it is to SHAKE than it is to STIR when you're trying to coat something.

Seasoning veggies for roasting
The lids from my Cuisinart cookware fit tightly onto my Cuisinart mixing bowls,
a feature that frequently comes in handy (my bowls didn't come with lids)

Whether it's oven-roasted root veggies, broccoli and cauliflower, or baked potato wedges -- shake in a sealed container or bag rather than stirring in a bowl. The oil and seasonings will get dispersed much more evenly. I find that shaking especially helps the oil to thinly coat everything without being doused and dripping with grease.

Broccoli and cauliflower
Ready to spread onto my baking sheet and roast in the oven

If you do have to stir, make sure you use a bowl that's plenty big so you can toss everything easily together.

Broccoli and cauliflower

Related:

Tips for using silicone baking mats (I love mine!)
6 Tips for perfect oven-roasted veggies

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link in a comment here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please! We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. Fruit on the desk tip (The Local Cook)
2. Keeping mashed potatoes warm (Feel Good About Dinner)
3.

Am I "On a Diet"?!

Veggies and dip
Veggies and greek yogurt dip

One of the questions people ask when they see (or hear) about my weight loss is:

"Are you on a certain type of diet? And what is it??!!"

No. I am not "on a diet".

From a health perspective (and considering that I was/am breastfeeding), slower weight loss is preferable. And I knew that with the amount of weight I wanted to lose, going at it 1 pound per week was going to take, well, what seemed like forever at the time. Ten months? Or longer? I could not imagine "dieting" for 10 months. (Remember, I really loooove food!!)

I knew that losing weight had to be done in a way that I could continue to do it, without giving up, for a long time. Preferably never, since I don't want to gain it back. ;)

Egg pizza
One day, I was craving pizza so I made a quick "egg pizza" for lunch with 2 scrambled eggs, pizza sauce, a serving of mozzarella cheese, and some turkey pepperoni. I made ones for the kids, too. They loved them!

So, I didn't cut out any foods or food groups altogether. Instead, I started counting calories to make sure I wasn't overeating (which I had been doing). I already knew what foods were good for me and what foods weren't so good. I'm a firm believer in variety and balance in eating. :)

I eat fewer potato wedges and more grilled fish at dinner. I stopped making most desserts except for special occasions -- which still ends up being 1-3 times per month. I love chocolate, but switched from lighter chocolates to dark chocolate only. Chai tea lattes are a treat/dessert, not a snack. Honestly, most desserts or junk food don't make it into my daily calorie allowance.

There is one "diet food" I've used: Greek yogurt. I probably won't continue to rely on it as a snack now that I don't need to lose weight; homemade yogurt is much cheaper.

My birthday spread!
My birthday meal earlier this month: Homemade pizza (a smaller "healthified" one for me!), fresh veggies, apple slices with cream cheese apple dip, tea, and an amazing chocolate birthday cake that Joshua and I made together!

Being aware of #1 What I am eating and #2 How many calories I am eating has been key to helping me make the right choices.

I also determined from the beginning that I was not going to "give up". I knew that in 10 months' time I'd feel discouraged and guilty and like a failure many times, but that if I were to succeed I would need to re-start as many times as necessary. I've "re-started" on probably every day of the week at some point. I think that having to "begin again" so many times actually has given me confidence. I know that one "bad day" won't ruin all my efforts. "Failure" is not when we mess up; failure is when we stop trying!

Channah in Ergo

My Ergo gets lots of use! Currently, it's how I get housework done when Channah (age 1) is fussy. After Yehoshua snapped this picture, I put my hair in a bun and we went on a 40-minute cleaning spree... which counts as exercise in My Fitness Pal, of course. ;)

I should probably do a separate post about how I manage to work in exercise and what my favorite activities are... :)

Sleep, Breakfast, and Calorie Counting

Salmon, eggs, and coffee for breakfast
Three fried eggs (240 cal.), 4 oz. salmon (169 cal.) and a cup of black coffee
= 409 calorie breakfast (20 g fat and 47 g protein)

Last year when I decided to get serious about losing weight again, I had a handful of healthful practices in mind that I tried to prioritize (or continue to prioritize). Ten months later, and 40+ pounds lighter, I'm ready to blog about it.

Top of my list: Sleep and breakfast.

We all know how important a good night's sleep is; study after study confirms just how much our bodies need sleep for us to be at our best and feel well. I used to skip sleep, get naps when possible, and just be tired most of the time. How did you think I managed to start this blog with 2 kids two-and-under? ;)

A few years ago, I really changed my sleep habits for the better. I stopped blogging late at night after everyone was in bed, and instead started going to bed on time or early. With two of our children being especially early risers (4:30 is nothing to them!), getting up "before the kids" has been impossible. This partially explains why, after cutting out the late nights, my blogging dwindled to basically nothing -- not to mention my email inbox and anything else computer-related.

As a result, I have felt healthier. I'm positive the full nights of sleep have boosted my weight loss and mood, as well. And now? I'm a big baby if my night involves less than 8 hours of sleep. I fight to make my early bedtime happen, because I want to feel rested in the morning! Do you know how much easier it is to be "a morning person" after 8 hours of sleep? It's a lot easier than after 5-6.

After sleep comes breakfast! I do not skip breakfast. Aside from the studies showing how important a good breakfast is for health and weight loss, I've learned something from my own weight loss efforts:

I have to "start over" a lot. A ton. I don't even know how many times I have gone to bed telling myself "I will start over tomorrow. I can do this!!"

Which brings me to... breakfast! I'm pretty sure if I were "graded" on how healthy my meals were overall, breakfast would rank at the top. My motivation and willpower is strong with a fresh day ahead.

Salmon, eggs, and coffee for breakfast
My salmon and eggs for breakfast -- a delicious combo!

I do vary my diet based on what we have on hand or were able to purchase affordably (for the most part). I know I've mentioned that one of the perks of Joshua's employment at a seafood company is discounted fish. I've been so spoiled!

One of the cases of fish we got last fall was 4-ounce salmon fillets, individually vacuum sealed, with a chili pepper-type sauce/marinade. The rest of my family didn't care for the sauce, but I found I loved this salmon. Since each piece was individually sealed, I could thaw out one for myself whenever I wished (I use the microwave to cook it).

For some reason I had one for breakfast one day (hey, like I said, my healthy-eating desires are strongest in the morning...) with some eggs. It was a delicious combo and filled me up until lunchtime!

So, I ditched my morning oatmeal for a while. We had 20# of this salmon, and that's a lot of 4-ounce breakfasts! I'm not tired of it yet, but I'm down to the last 6 pieces. I haven't decided what I'll do when it's gone. I may go back to oatmeal, or maybe I'll start doing veggie omelets. I'll probably try something and see how I feel.

How I feel is a good barometer for what to eat. With trying to lose weight, I was paying close attention to what I was eating. When I finished a day and felt energized and alert and just generally good that day, I took note of what I had eaten.

My coffee mug from Joshua
My cute coffee mug from Joshua with breakfast

I keep a food diary at My Fitness Pal, which makes it easy to keep track of what I am eating. It was like a light bulb moment when I realized that when I had a "perfect" day of good foods that made me feel great -- I could eat the same things the next day, too. Whether it was the specific foods or the times of day I was eating them, keeping a food log (which includes statistics about protein, fat, carbs, fiber, and sugar as well as calories) has been immensely helpful.

So, that is one of the reasons I've continued to have the same things for breakfast every day. Aside from, you know, having 20 pounds of salmon in the freezer. ;) I'm a big proponent of variety in my diet, but while trying to lose weight I tried to figure out what "worked" and then keep doing it.

I have lots more to write! I'll be back. :)

Find me on My Fitness Pal! If you're a member there (it's free), you can view my detailed food logs.

How to make perfect fried eggs -- I do this daily, 1 egg for Joshua and 3 eggs for me, with a dab of coconut oil. The eggs are perfect and my stainless steel skillet is a breeze to clean!

Willpower -- a book I got from the library. The chapter on dieting was enlightening! Check your library for it! (Disclaimer: I only skimmed the rest of the book. Read Catherine's review here.)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Meal planning tip

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

I'm occasionally guilty of planning a main-dish menu for the week and when it's time to make dinner, I'm at a loss for sides. I'm prone to serving the same things over and over again. Cooked green beans... again? Okay, they were great the first 2 days... but by day 3, everyone wants something different. Something that actually goes with whatever meal I'm serving.

To combat the mental block that often accompanies my menu-planning attempts, I've started writing serving suggestions on my recipe cards. This is my way of remembering what made a good "main" food into a good meal.

Sometimes food packages will have serving suggestions on them, such as recipes or photos. I try to find (and remember) serving suggestions whenever possible!

Serving suggestions

What turned beef vegetable soup into the meal everyone loved? Hot fresh biscuits drizzled with butter and honey. (Fresh homemade wheat bread is another great option, if I plan ahead.)

What made my simple dinner of chili a hit? Having chopped onions, cheese, and fresh jalapenos, along with a sheet of oven fries on the side.

Serving suggestions: Write them on your recipes! :)

There's something else I like to write down these days, too. More on that tomorrow. No, not next week... tomorrow! Yes, I am blogging 2 days in a row. (Has anyone missed me? I hope so... I mean, I hope you're ready to read again. :D)

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link in a comment here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please! We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. Hardened spices (Titus 2 Homemaker)
2. Pizza dough rolling tip (Feel Good About Dinner)
3. Grocery shopping tip (The Local Cook)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: What to cook with smoked paprika

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

Joshua's been wanting to try smoked paprika for a while now (ever since he first heard of its existence!), so when we saw this 8.5 ounce bottle of smoked paprika at Costco for $3.75, we got one.

I was expecting it to be strong and, well, not something I would be too crazy about. However...

...I love it!! It's not too strong at all, and it has a delicious, sweet, smoky flavor.

Smoked paprika

Here are some of the things we've tried with smoked paprika and loved the results:

Fish (white or salmon)
Chicken Parmesan
Potato wedges (almost impossible to use too much on these!)
Fried eggs (not too much)
Potato soup
Potato salad
Chicken breast
Chili
Popcorn
Taco meat (or anything Mexican)

I find smoked paprika especially delicious with potatoes, which is handy since we have lots of potatoes to use right now, thanks to my brother's generosity (and garden)!

We also have plenty of fish, so "fish and chips" is on the menu frequently. I make baked versions of both the fish and chips rather than fried, which is healthier while still delicious.

Have you ever tried smoked paprika? What are your favorite foods to use it with? If you see a bottle at Costco (or maybe Sam's or BJ's?) I recommend getting it to try! :) I already bought another bottle to have a spare on hand... let's hope Costco doesn't stop carrying it... Costco has great prices on their spices/herbs for cooking! :)

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link in a comment here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please! We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. Homemade bread cutting & keeping tips (Extraordinary Ordinary Wife)
2. Gluten-free baking tips (Whole New Mom)
3.
4.
5.

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Cloudy drinking glasses from the dishwasher

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

While I love the convenience of a dishwasher, I am not always happy with how it cleans the dishes. (Getting the water level sensor -- whatever it's called -- fixed on our dishwasher last fall did help get the dishes a lot cleaner though!)

After so many years of only hand-washing dishes, I notice the tiny scratches that appear after dishes have been washed in the dishwasher for a while. I notice the annoying way water pools in the crevices in plastic containers. I can feel any tiny specks left on what should be a completely smooth clean glass surface...

BUT, I do love using the dishwasher to lighten my evening kitchen cleanup routine! So, I ignore the less-than-perfect aspects of a dishwasher. After all, life is a lot about choosing to be happy about the "good" in things. :)

Our "real" drinking glasses (as opposed to mason jar drinking glasses) have had a cloudy surface on them since shortly after we started using a dishwasher 4 years ago. It's embarrassing to use them for guests because the glasses do not look clean, even though they are!

Cloudy drinking glasses from the dishwasher (soft water and detergent)

Today I decided to do some research and try to remove the cloudy film. I learned that cloudy drinking glasses could be either:

#1. Hard water deposits, which can be removed using vinegar, or

#2. Etching/scratching on the glass from the combination of soft water and dishwasher detergent, which cannot be removed.

Since Seattle tends to have pretty soft water, I figured it was more likely the second scenario. But, I had to try some vinegar. I scrubbed with vinegar, and then scrubbed with baking soda, and then discovered that the "film" was actually on the outside of the glasses, not the inside! So, I scrubbed the outside with vinegar and then with baking soda and when I rinsed and dried the glass...

...it looked exactly how it did when I started.

So, my glasses are doomed to look dirty forever, I guess. Good thing we've broken all but 5 of that set (it was a wedding gift 11 years ago)...

SO, guess what Joshua got for me at Costco last week? New drinking glasses! And they are so pretty and so sparkly and so fun to drink from (and I so don't want to put them in the dishwasher but I will because they weren't that expensive anyway).

However, starting today I am going to use less detergent in my dishwasher. Hopefully these will stay nicer... :)

Do you have any tips for keeping drinking glasses nice in the dishwasher? I'd love to hear! :)

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link in a comment here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please! We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. Saving time on meatloaf (Sabby Ink)
2. DIY Softscrub (Whole New Mom)
3. Organizing frequently-used recipes (Titus 2 Homemaker)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Dirty dishes tips

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

Since my last trip to Ohio to visit my parents (in November), I've been copying my mom's dirty dishes stacking trick.

A stacking system for dirty dishes? Sounds a little OCD but honestly, for me it's all about reining in the dirty dishes piles while still only doing dishes once a day (after dinner). :)

Dishes stacked and waiting

My system (we have 2 sinks):

Stack bowls, small plates, and silverware neatly in one side of the sink.

Set glasses, containers, etc. on the counter beside the sink. (This means I still have one side of the sink free for washing produce, etc.)

Dishes stacked and waiting

This usually keeps things tidy until dinner, when I actually cook and make a big mess in the kitchen. After dinner is when I load the dishwasher and clean everything up. Since I hand-wash the pans, strainers, large bowls, etc. I can get away with running the dishwasher once a day, after dinner. This allows plenty of time for the dishes to air dry overnight, and one of the kids unloads and puts everything away the next morning.

The good part: With a stacking system, the kids can clear their own dishes after breakfast and lunch without filling up my counter with miscellaneous stacks... and it's a lot faster to load the dishwasher in the evening, too!

Small plates: more fit!

Notice all my small plates in use? Some months ago I discovered two things:

Small plates are often sufficient for breakfast or lunch, and any time for little kids or weight-losing individuals (me).

Small plates also fit 3-wide in the bottom of my dishwasher. This is one of the ways I am able to still run the dishwasher only once a day with 7 people in our family: We only use big plates at dinner. :) Granted, this may change as my children get older (our oldest is 8), but overall small plates help reduce portion size (the kids can always get seconds!) and mess. :)

If you have a difficult-to-efficiently-load dishwasher like mine, take note... :)

I don't have any tips on conserving silverware use. We go gung-ho and fill that silverware basket to the max. I bought spoons for 20 cents each at GoodWill, picking out the nicest-feeling ones, and while they sure don't match my set, we never run out of spoons anymore! :)

I also watch for Corelle plates and bowls at GoodWill and have been able to supplement my set more affordably that way. :)

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link in a comment here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please! We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. Princess flavoring (Make Do & Mend)
2. How to clean your crock pot (A Proverbs 31 Wife)
3. 5 ways to use a bakery baguette (Feel Good About Dinner)
4. Make-ahead lunches tip (The Local Cook)
5.