Can-free: Homemade condensed cream of celery soup (new recipe)

I've had so many requests for this recipe, I can't believe it's taken me so long to share it! But, better late than never, right? :)

Ten years ago, I would head to the dollar store to stock up on cheap canned cream soups -- cream of chicken and cream of celery.

We also happened to have quite a few new friends in the area where we had just moved (SW Missouri) who were health-conscious, and to them, the idea of making a recipe that used a can of cream soup was sacrilegious. ;)

I wasn't ready to ditch some of my favorite recipes -- like cheesy potatoes -- just because they called for a can of soup. Instead, I created my own condensed cream of chicken soup recipe, which I've been making and successfully substituting in recipes ever since! (And, it's one of my more popular recipes, with 23 reviews!)

I usually use the cream of chicken recipe, but sometimes cream of celery is more appropriate. (And I like variety.) Here, finally, is my recipe for a homemade condensed cream of celery soup!

This recipe takes me about 20 minutes to make and makes about 2 cans' worth. No, you won't be saving lots of dollars per hour making this soup, but if you love high-quality homemade ingredients and enjoy cooking, this is a fun one to do.

And, it freezes well, so you can make a bigger batch, freeze in 1 1/2-cup portions, and just thaw to use as needed... since sometimes dinner prep needs to be cut short due to the clingy baby or toddler (not that I would know anything about that...). ;)

Do you make your own canned cream-of soup substitutes, or would you rather just pay the 50 cents for a can from the store? (Are they still 50 cents?) :)

Tips for a Homemade Make-ahead Thanksgiving Dinner (Eat Well, Spend Less)

Thanksgiving dinner menu planning tips

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays! For starters, all of our friends and family celebrate it, so my Thanksgiving memories are fond ones filled with family or friends (or both!). We get the day off from work or school, and sometimes there's even an early snowfall that gets us all excited about Winter ahead. :)

I also love a good excuse to do some cooking. We've always done potluck-style Thanksgiving Dinners, and one of my favorite things to provide is hot pumpkin dinner rolls spread with butter. (Okay, that's my very favorite Thanksgiving food, too.) When we lived in Ohio, I just made rolls for Thanksgiving. Lots of rolls. Rolls for everyone (40+ people). And they would be gone, every time. (I did a double batch of this recipe, which is already huge!) Now, here in Washington with a much smaller family potluck, I get to make more foods, and only about 10-12 servings of each. Cranberry sauce and green bean casserole are on my list so far for this year! :)

While I do enjoy cooking, I have trouble socializing or relaxing while cooking. I can't join a conversation very easily while I'm cooking, and then there's all the dishes and mess and the fact that I'm usually running behind by 15-30 minutes on whatever I'm doing anyway... so, I find it's extremely helpful to do anything possible ahead of time! Besides, I want to sleep in on Thanksgiving Day, not get up early to start cooking! ;)

Here are ways to make your favorite homemade Thanksgiving foods in advance (or mostly in advance)!

Eat Well, Spend Less series

Appetizers, like veggie trays, dips, chips, meats, or cheeses

Most dips can be made 3-4 days in advance, and meats and cheeses can be sliced for serving 3-4 days in advance, as well. Just store in the fridge, sealed. Veggies can be prepped 2 days ahead (possibly longer).

Tip for prepping veggie trays or cheese trays: I don't always have room in my fridge for the finished/assembled tray or dish, but I still prep the veggies or cheeses ahead of time. Store the prepped foods in Ziplock bags in the fridge, which take up much less space than a specialty tray or dish. You can quickly assemble the tray on the day it's needed! This is especially helpful for advance meat/cheese tray prep, as the foods are kept separate (so flavors don't mix) until a few hours before serving.

Turkey

Turkeys take a long time to thaw (and should be thawed in the fridge). I plan on about 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey (so, a 16-pound turkey would take about 3 days to thaw). If it happens that you didn't start thawing your turkey in time, you can do a quick-thaw. Leave the turkey in its original packaging and submerge in COLD water. Allow 30 minutes of cold-water thawing per pound of turkey.

Plan ahead for your turkey. Choose a recipe to use, make sure you have the ingredients on hand, and calculate when you'll need to start thawing and what time you'll need to start baking the turkey.

Gravy

Gravy can be made ahead and re-warmed for Thanksgiving Dinner -- unless you want to use drippings from your turkey to make the gravy. In that case, when the turkey is finished cooking, assign someone else to carve the bird while you make a quick gravy with the hot juices. Or, make giblet gravy ahead of time, and save the turkey drippings for another meal. (Freeze for later use.)

Stuffing

I love stuffing with gravy! The good part about stuffing is that you can make it 2-3 days in advance and bake it before serving (or actually stuff the turkey with it).

I'm guessing that stuffing would work great in the slow-cooker, too (anyone have a tried-and-true slow-cooker stuffing recipe/method?), freeing up more oven space. (My mom's Simple Stuffing recipe is here; hopefully this year I'll make time to take a picture and get the recipe "officially" added to the recipe browser!)

Mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes

Mashed potatoes is another homemade side dish that can take a bit of time to prepare if you wait until last-minute. You can make mashed potatoes 2-3 days in advance. Spread the mashed potatoes in a greased baking dish and re-warm in the oven on Thanksgiving. For sweet potato casserole, unless you're making something super fancy, make it ahead of time and keep in the fridge until you're ready to bake it!

The crock pot also works great for re-warming mashed potatoes! After you make your mashed potatoes, grease the inside of your slow cooker's crock (if removable) and spoon the potatoes into it. Store, covered, in the fridge. (If your slow cooker doesn't have a removable crock, then just store the potatoes in a container in the fridge.) On Thanksgiving Day, heat potatoes in the slow cooker on LOW for 3-4 hours, stirring once if needed.

Green Bean Casserole

Green bean casserole is another good candidate for the crock pot or slow cooker. If you have room in your oven, you can make the dish ahead of time and just bake on Thanksgiving Day. But make sure you really do have room in the oven for everything you're planning to bake or reheat! Turkeys fill up an oven quickly. :) (I'll be posting my homemade green bean casserole recipe early next week!)

Dinner rolls or bread

I love homemade dinner rolls, but like I said, I also like to sleep in. And a lot of our Thanksgiving dinners happen around noon or so -- with a commute. I've not yet successfully attempted the make-dough-ahead, bake-the-next-day approach to yeast breads without the dough completely poofing all over in my fridge while I slept. (I am partial to really truly freshly-baked homemade bread, so I'm not giving up yet!)

So, my method for fresh-like dinner rolls is to make the rolls in advance (up to a week is fine), and freeze them as soon as they're cool. Thaw in the bag before serving. If you have room in the oven, you can re-warm them and everyone will think you really did get up at 5am to start bread.

I've also found that using some natural dough enhancers / dough conditioners can make day-old homemade breads taste just like fresh, so that's another option if you want to skip freezing and bake a day or two early, with fresh-like rolls to serve the next day.

Cranberry sauce

I like whole-berry cranberry sauce, and it can be made 4-5 days ahead and stored in the fridge. Cranberry sauce was one of those things my grandma made and served for Sunday dinners -- just because she knew I loved it. I never disappointed her, and always ate a big helping. ;)

Pumpkin pies or cheesecake

Pumpkin pies can be made a day or two ahead of time. Cover with a layer of plastic wrap so the top doesn't dry out if you're storing them for longer than 24 hours. Pie crust dough can be made and frozen until needed. Or, you can eliminate the need to thaw the pie dough by making it up to 3 days in advance and just storing the ready-made dough in the fridge. (That's my favorite way to do it!) My mom's Foolproof Pie Crust recipe is the best-tasting pie crust we've found.

Cool Whip is just no competition for homemade real whipped cream. I've tried various ways of stabilizing real whipped cream, but none were successful enough in my opinion. Instead, I just plan on taking 2-3 minutes to whip up the cream for dessert. No one seems to mind waiting 3 minutes to get real whipped cream... ;)

Pumpkin cheesecake is another great dessert option, and cheesecake freezes wonderfully. Just thaw in the fridge, covered, for 24 hours before serving. (Cheesecake can also be made and refrigerated for several days before serving.)

Other Thanksgiving Dinner Preparations

Gather your recipes and supplies ahead of time, making sure you have everything you'll need. A roasting pan that's big enough? A meat thermometer? Ingredients for everything?

Calculate just how much space you will have in your oven for everything you plan to bake. You could borrow a slow cooker or a plug-in roaster oven / pan from a friend (who isn't hosting Thanksgiving at her house!) if you need to. If you're having a potluck-style dinner, talk with your guests ahead of time about anything they might be planning to bake in your oven. (They may want to bake at home and bring it in an insulated carrier, already hot, if your oven will be full. I've used my Pyrex dish with insulated carrier so many times!)

If you're using special dishes, linens, or decorations, make sure they're washed and ready to go, well in advance.

I also find it's nice to try to clean out the fridge (use up leftovers, organize, etc.) about a week before Thanksgiving, so I have room for all the extra, special things I'll need to refrigerate! :)

After writing all of this, I need the need to clarify that, of course, Thanksgiving is NOT about the food, but about giving thanks to God and enjoying a special day with friends or family! We've had very elaborate and very simple Thanksgivings, but what I remember most is who we were with on that day.

I hope that, whatever menu you're serving or having on Thanksgiving, these tips and ideas help free you up to relax and enjoy your family and friends on Thanksgiving Day. :)

I'll be sharing links to the other Eat Well, Spend Less Thanksgiving-themed posts this weekend. You'll love them! :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Tips for making mashed potatoes

I didn't know it was possible to ruin mashed potatoes. I watched my mom make from-scratch mashed potatoes for years, and have made them myself many times, with great success. But, tonight my mashed potatoes turned out wrong. They were smooth and creamy, but gummy -- almost the consistency of play dough. Very strange! I'm pretty sure I know what I did wrong, though. I used the hand mixer and mashed the hot potatoes with some butter added... and then poured in a little cold milk. Voila! Gummy potato play dough!

Chuck roast, gravy, and mashed potatoes

The good news? My roast beef turned out perfect, I felt *so accomplished* that dinner was started (in the crock pot) at 6 AM (yes, we're very early risers! :P), and it made the house smell good all day. The scary part is that I had over 4 pounds of chuck roast in the crock pot (for just our family!) and our leftovers were less than 1 cup of meat! I guess we'll be having beef vegetable soup heavy-on-the-vegetables next week. ;)

Potatoes can do funny things when put in the blender, too. I never knew this until a couple weeks ago when I was making blended potato soup for dinner after Joshua's wisdom tooth extractions. Ahh, the science of food! Apparently I had/have a lot to learn about potato starch! ;) Note: Don't try to mash potatoes using a blender or food processor, as it will make them gummy due to the blade breaking down the starch... ;)

Mashed potatoes
I'm still using fresh parsley from my pot outside! I've loved having a few fresh herbs on-demand. Many thanks to my friend Kathryn who gave me starts this year! :)

How my mom makes her amazing mashed potatoes:

Peel potatoes and cut into halves or fourths. Put them in a BIG pot (bigger than you think you need!), cover with water, and add some salt (like when cooking pasta or beans!).

Tip: To keep potatoes from boiling over when cooking, put a streak of butter around the pot on the inside, at the top. I've found this works, unless I've really over-filled my pot.

With the lid on, bring potatoes to a boil and then simmer until tender. Drain water from pan.

Tip: You can save a dish by using the pan's lid, slightly ajar, to drain the water. But, USE POTHOLDERS and be careful doing this! :) My mom's great at it, but I usually just grab a colander to drain the potatoes and then return them to the pan.

Return pan and potatoes to the stove. Add butter and milk and heat on low until milk is hot. Remove from heat, mash as desired, and add salt and pepper to taste.

My mom's other standby mashed potatoes: Parsley Potatoes!

My favorite mashed potato casserole: Gourmet Potatoes!

Eliyahu started beans for me!
Eliyahu (5), so excited that he got to measure, rinse, and start some beans in the crock pot for me (with only a little help). :) Joshua's taking beans (with sour cream, cheese, and hot sauce) in his lunches this week.

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please!

In order to keep the kitchen tips more easily accessible, posts not adhering to these guidelines will be removed. 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. Tip for greasing pans (Willa at Armstrong Family Fare)
2. Olive Oil Tasting 101 (The Local Cook)
3. Keeping lettuce fresh and crisp (Heather at Feel Good About Dinner)
4. Tips for making a self-basting turkey (SnoWhite at Finding Joy in My Kitchen)
5. What to do with empty butter wrappers (Stacy at Stacy Makes Cents)
6. Keeping hot dogs warm (Kolfinna's Korner)
7. Labeling spices (Living So Abundantly)

Weekly menu plan + Eating with braces

It's been 9 months since I last posted a menu plan here. Too long! :) Here's my menu plan for the week ahead.

Breakfasts: Fruit smoothies (using milk and frozen fruit, including our blackberries!) and oatmeal.

Lunches: Peanut butter and honey sandwiches, bananas

(Weekend lunches: Leftovers)

Dinners:

Monday

Slow-cooked Herbed Beef and Gravy, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli and carrots

Tuesday

Lemon-Dill Baked Cod, baked potatoes, steamed broccoli and carrots

Wednesday

My mom's chili, cornbread, and green beans

Thursday

Veggie Bean Soup with Spinach, leftover cornbread

Friday

Whole wheat blender pancakes, scrambled eggs, steamed broccoli

Saturday

Beans and rice, steamed broccoli

Sunday

Grilled salmon, cooked rice, green beans

This was a difficult menu to plan because everything needed to be fairly soft and easy-to-chew.

We've been eating a lot of soups and soft foods the past two weeks. Joshua had his wisdom teeth plus two other teeth out, and this Thursday he's getting braces! This is one of the things I mentioned at the beginning of the year -- something we've been trying to save for and hoping to do for quite a while. I'm so excited that it's finally happening!

I am not, however, looking forward to the eating restrictions he'll have while things are being fixed. (He won't be able to close his mouth all the way, with a bite plate.) The kids got pretty tired of soup after the first week. (Me? I may have lost a pound, and I think Joshua lost about 5!)

I'd love to hear any tips for what to eat when you can't chew very well / have braces! Soups in the blender worked pretty well, but between those and smoothies, it was just too much dairy (Joshua is lactose intolerant)... and by this point (week 3 of liquids and/or soft foods) we're all craving something besides potato soup, broccoli cheese soup, and gourmet bean soup! ;)

Easy old-fashioned: Plum Pudding Cake (new recipe)

Fresh plums

Are plums still in season? I think I saw some at Costco last week, so maybe they are. At any rate, I've had this recipe waiting to be shared since last Fall when I was on one of my blogging breaks. I just needed to write about it, and tonight I found the words.

I love a good plum. Growing up, my parents had plum trees and occasionally we'd get a bumper crop of plums. My mom always washed, halved, and dried the extras in her dehydrator. Then we'd have the dried plums to eat even through the many (or maybe most?) years when the trees produced hardly anything.

Plums from the grocery store just aren't the same. I've had amazing, super good plums from the store... and some really icky ones too. One of the things I like about buying plums is that you get to eat pretty much everything you're paying for! The pits are small and don't weigh much, so a good sale on plums is a good deal (if they taste good). :)


My friend Leona and I were discussing plums last fall, and she told me about one of their family favorite recipes her mom always made: Plum Pudding Cake.

Pudding cake? I'd never heard of it before. (I know, I'm probably in the minority there!) But, Leona said it was one of their favorites, and very easy to make. I'm always up for trying family favorites, especially easy ones! ;) There's something special about making a recipe when it's "the one Mom always made" -- or one from a friend who feels that way.

As I mentioned yesterday, I tend to be a slow cook. But even making this recipe for the first time went surprisingly quickly for me.


And this plum pudding cake is delicious! I think it's the perfect dessert with fresh plums turned into a juicy "pudding" with some texture, almost like a good pie filling or cobbler should be. If you have a handful of extra plums, or want an easy autumn dessert, Plum Pudding Cake is the one to make! :)

Moshe
Moshe (1 1/2) visits with his little goat friend at a nearby park.
The children love feeding the goats blackberry leaves,
bits of cedar needles, and dried leaves! :)

Sunshine in my kitchen: Cranberry Oatmeal Blender Pancakes (new recipe)

It's been so long since I've really written anything for this blog/website. I'm not sure where to begin again! But, a new recipe is always a good place to start. :)

I created these Cranberry Oatmeal Blender Pancakes to add some color and holiday feel to our November breakfasts! Everyone has enjoyed them whenever I make them. I usually serve them with butter, which works well since the pancakes are already slightly sweet and maple syrup is so expensive and so, well, sugar-y. And let's face it, little kids and maple syrup is a messy combo! These pancakes are, however, absolutely delicious with maple syrup AND butter on top. ;)

I am not a lightning-fast cook, by any means. It's rare that I can whip up a recipe from a magazine or website in the amount of time they say it will take. Part of the time it's because I'm multitasking, with little helping hands alongside mine. The rest of the time, it's simply because I'm puttery in the kitchen! My sister Bonnie leaves me in the dust when we cook together; a recipe comes together 3 times as fast with her help! ;)

That said, even I can feel like a speedy kitchen success when I make blender pancakes. While the milk and wheat are blending, I crack the eggs and pull out the other ingredients. In just a few minutes, my pancake batter is ready for the hot griddle! :)

I was introduced to "blender pancakes" by my friend Judy when Joshua and I were first married. I didn't have a grain mill, but I DID have a blender, and Judy supplied me with wheat berries to make my own freshly-ground whole wheat pancakes using the blender!

For large groups, I make these pancakes using whole wheat flour and a big mixing bowl. (The flour conversion is in the recipe.) My blender's just not big enough to feed a huge crowd. Thankfully, it can still make enough pancakes for a meal for our family of 7. ;)

Judy's original "Whole Wheat Berry Pancakes" made in the blender are really good, and possibly the only pancake recipe Joshua actually enjoys. Personally, I love the sweetness of the brown sugar, and the fact that these pancakes taste great with just a dab of butter on top! :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: How to unclog a garbage disposal or sink drain

I'm only slightly amused that I planned to write a post with tips for using the garbage disposal right before I completely clogged ours! So much for all my fabulous garbage disposal success stories, right? :) Well, I hopefully my tips will still be helpful despite my sink being clogged last week. ;)

I love having a garbage disposal. It makes it so easy to scrape plates after meals (we do clean our plates, but there are often things like fruit peelings or seeds). I also like using the disposal-side of the sink for food prep. I can let peelings or egg shells drop into the sink as I work.


I took a picture of all my leftovers! Beans, rice, pasta -- all waiting to be turned into other meals (especially freezer burritos)! :)

Our current garbage disposal works really well, and over the past year of living here, I've gradually tried putting more and more things down it. In fact, there's probably not much that I haven't been able to feed into it, although I haven't tried avocado pits or watermelon rinds or corn cobs.

That said, it has still gotten clogged a few times for me. I know, what can I expect when I put in potato peelings, onion skin, lettuce trimmings, carrot peelings, banana peels, and everything else? Probably not the greatest idea ever. ;)

If you're "adventurous" in the kitchen like I am, or just have a garbage disposal that likes to clog, here are my tips for getting it unclogged!

If the clog is in the garbage disposal unit (blade area):

1.  Unplug the unit (or turn off the breaker for power to it).

2. Use a flashlight to look down the drain. Sometimes you can see what's in there that shouldn't be.

3. Use a large tweezers -- or do what I do, which is use my hand (but remember the unit is unplugged!!!!) -- and carefully reach inside and pull out whatever shouldn't be in there. I've had baby spoons fall down there, and I've had to pull out mostly-pulverized banana peels. :|

Bonus tip: If your garbage disposal suddenly turns itself off, look on the unit for a little button that says "reset" and press it to turn it back on. Mine shut down one time and I wondered if I had broken it or something until I discovered that button! :)

If the clog is in the drain pipe, the garbage disposal blades will run, but the water won't drain out of your sink:

1. Try not to get it clogged in the first place. Put things down slowly, while running cold water. Putting too much in too quickly will clog it up fast. And really, banana peels don't do very well in the garbage disposal. ;) Don't assume that just because "it went down last time!" you can put whatever you want in the garbage disposal and it'll just go through.

2. If the garbage disposal gets clogged, keep running cold water and turn the disposal off and then back on to see if it will push the clog through. This works for small clogs.

3. A plunger works great for unclogging the garbage disposal. Plug the other side of the sink (if you have a double-basin sink), and the use the plunger on the disposal side. This has saved my sink from several pretty good clogs. If plunging on the clogged side isn't working, you can also try filling the other side of the sink with water and the plunging it through to help loosen things.

4. Drano (or Liquid-Plumr) really does work. Last week, I really, really clogged the garbage disposal. I tried plunging and nothing was moving. I mean NOTHING. Thankfully, the other side of the sink was still moving fine. I wanted to unscrew the pipe and clean it out, but Joshua got nervous when I started talking about messing with the plumbing, and got some Liquid-Plumr Gel at Costco. I was very skeptical. I mean, if my strong arm muscles and the plunger hadn't worked (and I'd tried several times over the course of several days...), I doubted that Liquid-Plumr would work. But, in less than 24 hours, it had completely cleared the clog! Tip: Scoop all of the standing water out of the sink, so the Drano can go in full-strength. (I know homeowners who don't like to use Drano, but for renters like us, it's an easy fix for slow-moving drains or clogs.)

5. If you don't want to use Drano (or don't think it will work), look under the sink and find the spot in the pipes where you believe the clog is located. If you have plastic pipes, you should be able to unscrew them and unclog the area. I found directions for doing this at lowes.com. (Be sure to scoop as much water as possible out of the sink before taking apart pipes, and have a big bucket ready to catch everything below!)

But as I mentioned above, we didn't end up needing to take apart any pipes. Another resource to try is a plumbing snake, which we used one time at our house in Ohio (before I got banned from using the garbage disposal after plugging up the pipes for the 3rd time...). ;)

To help maintain clean drains and pipes naturally:

Remove hair from drains (if you can see it/reach it).

Sprinkle baking soda in drains and then pour in some vinegar.

Flush drains with boiling water.

Doing that usually keeps our bathroom drains running great! :)

Our bath tubs in the last 2 rental places have had the push-down, push-up plugs and I finally figured out how to clean them: Unscrew the plug until it comes off (it takes a lot of unscrewing), and then you can reach the drain to pull out any hair. I have long hair so hair in the shower drains is something I have to keep on top of! :)

Do you have any drain or clog tips to add? I'd love to hear them! (Unfortunately I don't think this is the last time I will ever clog a drain...) :)

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please!

In order to keep the kitchen tips more easily accessible, posts not adhering to these guidelines will be removed. 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. Tip for rolling out pie crust (Willa at Armstrong Family Fare)
2. Tips for homemade breadcrumbs (Heather at Feel Good About Dinner)
3. 5 tips for substituting sweeteners (Adrienne at Whole New Mom)
4. Baking tip and garbage disposal tip (Rachel at Trial and Error Home Ec)
5. Single-serving freezer soups (Anna at The Joyful Wife)
6. Clean and re-use cheesecloth (Stacy at Stacy Makes Cents)
7. Chicken parmesan breading tips (Robin at Happily Home After)
8. Tips for spices (Georgia at Georgia's Cookie Jar)
9. Bread machine stand (Living So Abundantly)
10. Saving money on milk (Katy at Purposely Frugal)
11. Freezing smoothies (Michele at Simply Scaife Family Farm)
12. Substitute for double boiler (Amy at Amy's Finer Things)
13. Homemade bread tips (Jenna at Blessed Roots)
14. Cake tip and cooked corn tip (Kolfinna's Korner)
15. Salad in a jar tip (Newlyweds Blog)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Tips for slicing bread

When I shared photos of my wheat and rye bread, several of you asked about slicing bread. I don't have any magical tips, but I'm happy to share what works for me! :)

Knives: Bread knife or electric knife?

I like to use an electric knife for slicing. It makes thinner slices and is faster when there's 2-3 or more loaves to slice all at once. My electric knife was a wedding shower gift, and bread is the main thing I use it for. Growing up, my mom made 8-10 loaves of bread at a time and used and electric knife to slice them all before they went in the freezer.

If I  have only one loaf I am usually too lazy to pull out the electric knife and I use my bread knife. Any large, thin, serrated knife works well for bread.

Position the loaf

I also turn the loaf on it's side to slice, since the knife seems to go through the side easier than through the (soft) top of the loaf.

Tip for fewer crumbs when slicing

Slicing fresh-from-the-oven bread (after it's cooled slightly) can yield some crumbs due to the more dry crust, so if I don't need the bread right away, I like to put it in a bag for a little while and then slice when the crust has softened somewhat. Depending on the type of bread, this could make a big difference. (I notice especially with Italian-type breads!)

Does anyone else have any bread-slicing tips to share?? :)

My favorite homemade bread recipe can be found here! :)

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please!

In order to keep the kitchen tips more easily accessible, posts not adhering to these guidelines will be removed. 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. 5 tips for baking with apples (Willa at Armstrong Family Fare)
2. Easy pumpkin puree tips (Jill at The Prairie Homestead)
3. Pyrex heating pad substitute/tip (Stacy at Stacy Makes Cents)
4. Blueprint for an easy brunch (Jenna at Blessed Roots)
5. Squash in a slow cooker (The Local Cook)
6. Tips for making your own convenience foods (Heather at Feel Good About Dinner)
7. Tip for cooking noodles (Cheryl at The Bz House That Love Built)
8. Tips for leftover mashed potatoes (Donna at Moms Frugal)
9. Cutting bread (Rachel at Trial and Error Home Ec)
10. Cleaning crumbs from waffle iron (Alea at Premeditated Leftovers)
11. Cooking day tips (Living So Abundantly)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Tips for cutting cookies and softening butter

When we made cut-out cookies during the Feast of Tabernacles this year, all my cookies were sticking inside the cookie cutters. I could gently push them through without harming the shapes, but it was taking a lot of time to cut out the cookies that way. Then, I remembered what my mom taught me when cutting out cookies:

Cutting out cookies

In a small pile of flour, dip the cookie cutter before each cut. (It's almost like inking a stamp before stamping.) The cookie cutter doesn't stick, and it's much faster!

I also have a tip about melting or softening butter. I think I got in the habit of doing this when we didn't have a microwave. If your oven is in use, you can easily soften or melt butter in a glass or metal bowl by setting it near/over the steam escape vent for the oven.

Easily melt or soften butter

This is perfect if you're baking cookies or a cake and need some softened butter for the frosting later! :)

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please!

In order to keep the kitchen tips more easily accessible, posts not adhering to these guidelines will be removed. 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 fewer dishes when cooking (Willa at Armstrong Family Fare)
2. Busy schedule meal planning (Heather at Feel Good About Dinner)
3. 6 tips for eating healthy on a budget (Adrienne at Whole New Mom)
4. Emulsifying vinaigrette dressing with a whisk (Robin at Happily Home After)
5. Tip for baked pasta dishes (Georgia at Georgia's Cookie Jar)
6. Storage for silicone baking mats (Living So Abundantly)
7. Impromptu "wire rack" for cooling bread (Katrina at The Quirky Quaker)
8. Tip for freezing bananas (Jenna at Blessed Roots)
9. Tips for making homemade broth (SnoWhite at Finding Joy in My Kitchen)
10. Tips for using store-bought whole wheat flour (Donna at Moms Frugal)
11. Tip for baking with bananas (The Gentle Mom)

Enjoying Fall's Bounty of Pumpkins and Squashes (Eat Well, Spend Less)

October's Eat Well, Spend Less theme is about cooking with fall foods. I haven't been blogging much, but I sure have been enjoying the crisp days, sunshine, and having hot tea in the mornings. I can actually keep up with the yard work now (I love making it look beautiful!), and we've been getting outside on any days that are nice. Soon enough, the clouds and rain won't lift for weeks at a time...

But, on to the topic at hand: Using and enjoying delicious winter squash and pumpkins!

For more info on types of winter squash, see Aimee's great article about winter squash. (I haven't tried all the different types, but have tried some of the most common ones, and of course, pumpkin!)

I find that pumpkin puree and winter squash puree are interchangeable in most recipes. (Cooked and pureed carrots also can be substituted for pumpkin puree in most recipes.)

I usually end up using whatever I am given or find on sale. Some friends know that I love to cook with pumpkin and winter squash, and will give me their Fall pumpkins and squashes after they're finished using them for decoration. Other times, friends or relatives with gardens will give me some of their extra Autumn bounty. I don't think I've ever had too much pumpkin! :)

How to store pumpkin and winter squash:

Store pumpkins and winter squash in a cool dark dry and well-ventilated location until ready to use. It's best to store them on a soft surface, such as cardboard or a cloth/towel. Most varieties will keep for 3 months.

Before cutting into your pumpkin or squash, wash or rinse the outside with water to remove any dirt. I like to use a thin serrated knife to cut. (I actually use a bread knife!) Remove the seeds (save pumpkin seeds for roasting!) and stem before cooking.

How to cook pumpkin or winter squash on the stove top:

Cut into wedges to fit into a large stock pot. Add a couple inches of water to the stock pot. Cook over medium heat, covered, until the flesh is soft (test with a fork). Drain and allow to cool. Scoop flesh from the skin and discard skin.

(I find I prefer the stove-top method, especially when I have a lot of pumpkin or squash to cook, since I can fit a lot in a big pan.)

How to cook pumpkin or winter squash in the oven:

Place halves face-down on a baking sheet/pan and add 1/2-1 inch of water to the pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-60 minutes (may take longer for larger halves), until flesh is soft (check with a fork). Cool; scoop flesh from the skin and discard the skin.

How to make pumpkin puree:

Puree pumpkin in small amounts in a blender or food processor.

Puree can then be frozen in bags or containers (I prefer containers).

Easy no-blender pumpkin puree tip:

I've also used a potato masher to mash the cooked pumpkin and while that didn't make a smooth puree, it did just fine in my pies, muffins, and pumpkin dinner rolls!

Pumpkin differences:

Smaller "sugar" pumpkins (or "pie" pumpkins) are more flavorful, sweeter, and less watery. They will make a pumpkin puree similar to the store-bought canned pumpkin puree.

Larger "carving" pumpkins are definitely edible, though lighter and more watery. When using these pumpkins, drain the excess water for best results.

You definitely don't want watery pumpkin puree for your baked goods, and the thicker your puree, the more flavorful!

Pumpkin raisin cookies recipe
Getting ready to bake Pumpkin Raisin Cookies in the bright (but cold) sunshine. A friend gave me this recipe when I was first married and I love it. It also uses lots of pumpkin! :)

How to drain the excess water from cooked pumpkin or winter squash puree (important!):

Place a strainer inside a bowl or clean sink. Spoon the puree into the strainer. Don't worry, unless your strainer has huge holes, the puree won't slide through! Allow the puree to drain until water stops coming out. From 1 medium-large carving pumpkin, I drained over a quart of clear watery liquid!

Pumpkin dinner rolls
Pumpkin Dinner Rolls
: one of my favorite breads,
and a Thanksgiving tradition at our house! :)

Whole wheat pumpkin pancakes recipe
Whole wheat pumpkin pancakes, drizzled with maple syrup

More from the Eat Well, Spend Less team:

Fall Produce and Recipes (Katie at goodLife{eats})

Grocery sale outlook and predictions for Fall 2011 (Carrie at Denver Bargains)

Seasonal Soups (Aimee at Simple Bites)

10 Frugal Fall Snacks for Hungry Kids (Jessica at Life As Mom)

10 Things to do with Apples (Katie at Kitchen Stewardship)

How to Save on Thanksgiving (Alyssa at Kingdom First Mom)

Hearty Breakfasts for Cold Mornings (Shaina at Food For My Family)

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