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Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Vacuum-sealed foods

After I shared in this post about using our Food Saver to vacuum-seal some meat for the freezer, a couple of people had questions about my experience and opinion on the product. So, here are my thoughts! :) 

I have never used a Food Saver like you have pictured, but I've seen them advertised. I'd love to hear your opinion about them. How well do they work? Are they worth the money (and then the space to store it, and the time it takes to set it up and then clean up)?

We have a Food Saver (brand) vacuum-sealer, and it works very well. Joshua bought it about 6 years ago (not too long before we were married) and it's still working great. (Update: we're still using ours 10+ years later!)

Most foods seal quite well; the only exception is meat with sharp bones or anything sharp -- like dried bell peppers, with pointed, sharp edges -- that can puncture the bags. The bags (we use Food Saver brand bags) are quite thick, though -- thicker than normal zipper freezer bags. There is a manual seal option as well, so if I vacuum-seal something like bread or cookies, I can stop the suction before it has smashed the food flat. ;)

Food does keep much better/longer in the vacuum-sealed Food Saver bags. It doesn't get freezer-burned (though I haven't tried storing anything for more than 2 years). I definitely think it's better than just using zipper freezer bags, which tend to allow ice crystals to build up, and get punctured easily. If a Food Saver bag does get an air leak, it's easy to spot, and on the few occasions that it has happened, I just made sure to use that package of food first.

And, food takes up less freezer space when it is vacuum-sealed. I'm not sure exactly how much less... maybe 50% less space for something like cooked meats, which is one of the main things I vacuum-seal. With a smaller freezer, the extra space is nice, though it may not matter quite so much if you have a large freezer.

I have found a great way to freeze casseroles using FoodSaver bags, and it saves on dishes/containers as well as space, all while protecting food from freezer burn!

The Food Saver bags can also be used in the microwave (which we don't have, so I haven't tried that) or put into a pot of boiling water to heat the food while it's still in the bag. I prefer to thaw the food in the fridge and then heat it in a pan on the stove as I normally would, since the boiling water method seemed to take a long time to heat the food thoroughly.

The bags can also be washed and re-used, as long as they don't have any holes and haven't has raw meat stored in them. When I open a bag, I cut the top seal off, and it leaves a slightly smaller bag for re-use. I have re-used many bags twice, at least.

The box and instructions for the Food Saver are very optimistic about the many uses it has, but I have never done some of the things they suggested. Vacuum-sealing leftovers for the fridge? Vacuum-sealing my pantry staples? I don't leave the appliance out on my kitchen counter, and I'm not sure how realistic all of their suggestions actually are, at least for our home. And though the bags can technically be opened and re-sealed numerous times (like for an item you use from and then need to continue storing), it takes a couple inches from the top of the bag each time, meaning you need to use bigger bags (which cost more money) -- so I usually open the bag and use all the contents at once.

I use the Food Saver for longer-term storage items. When I have meats to freeze, I prefer to use the Food Saver. I also like to use it for freezing mashed potatoes.

I store the Food Saver in its box on our enclosed porch, and while it takes a little effort to lug it into the kitchen when needed, the actual bringing-in-and-setting-up only takes 5 minutes at most. So it's not a big bother, but like anything, it's more efficient when you have a number of things to seal instead of just one or two.

Now, the real question: Is it worth the money?

I think it depends on your home and how much you use it. Honestly, since I am NOT a gadget-type of person, I would never have bought one for us. But, most of our kitchen appliances have been originally Joshua's idea and not mine -- I just don't tend to want new appliances -- so take that for whatever it's worth! :)

But, since we do have one, I will admit that I really like using it. I would miss it if we didn't have one... and without the Food Saver, I definitely wouldn't be cooking up large batches of meat to freeze for later, because using normal freezer bags just isn't as nice (taste-wise) as the vacuum-sealed ones.

So while I do view a Food Saver as a "luxury" (since it's not really necessary), I think it's a really nice luxury to afford. ;) I think we all have various "extra" things, some of which are important to us, but that our neighbor wouldn't have any use for! I'd choose a bread machine over a Food Saver, but I'd definitely take the Food Saver over a microwave... I guess I don't feel qualified to say "It's worth every penny!" because it might not be to you. I do like having one though! :)

Any of you out there with vacuum-sealing devices -- I'd love to hear your thoughts on them, and what foods you've found most useful to seal! :)

Some of my favorite freezer casseroles and meal ideas can be found here!

To participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Post a kitchen tip in your blog, with a link to this post. Then come here and add your name, tip subject, and URL to this post! Links must be family friendly, as always. If you don't have a blog but would still like to share a tip, just leave a comment here with your tip! Everyone's ideas are appreciated. :) Note: Please link to your individual post, not your blog's main/front page! Thanks for participating! :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays Participants

1. Lindsey(canning tip)
2. Tapestries of the Heart (quick and easy lunch)
3. Mrs. S.
4. Mrs Pear (Menu Planning with Chart)
5. Rachel (baking tips)
7. Western Warmth (dinner roll recipe)
8. AmyG (home fries)
9. Gena (peeler)
10. Jennifer (easy chicken)

Food dehydrators

Kathleen B. left this question in a comment today:

Does anyone have a dehydrator? We are looking at getting one and are wondering about brands, sizes, reviews, etc. Any comments or recommendations?

We use (and really like!!) the Excalibur brand food dehydrator. These dehydrators are more expensive than the average, cheaper-quality dehydrator, but they work well and hold a lot of food. My parents have two Excalibur dehydrators, which they've had for many years and have used frequently. We also know several others who own Excalibur dehydrators, and have been very pleased with them.

Joshua and I were blessed with our dehydrator from a friends who was moving and selling hers. Ours is a 9-tray dehydrator, like this one. Ours doesn't have the timer feature, which just means that sometimes I end up setting my alarm clock in the middle of the night to get up and turn it off. ;)

In my experience, the Excalibur dehydrators dry food evenly (I do rotate the trays once during the drying time), and are easy to clean and fill (the trays have a plastic frame and a mesh plastic sheet for the food to lay on). Our dehydrator holds a lot of food, which makes it useful for getting reduced bananas and drying a LOT of them, or for doing up larger amounts of food.

However, I haven't had any personal experience with other brands/styles of dehydrators, besides watching other people use theirs. Do any of you have dehydrators? If so, what brand? Tell us about it! :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Sealing canning jars

While I am not a canning-expert, I do have some experience with (and have had good success!) canning tomatoes. It's so rare that one of my jars doesn't seal, I'd have to guess that about 97% of my jars of tomatoes do seal. (I'm including all tomato products in this generalization.)

So, here are my tips for jars-that-seal! :)

1. Check the jar for cracks or nicks on the top rim. The top of the jar, where the canning lid goes, should feel completely smooth.

2. Fill jars of tomatoes (or pizza sauce, etc.) about 1/2 to 1-inch from the top.

3. After filling a jar, wipe the top rim with a clean dishcloth to remove any spilled tomatoes or smudges of sauce.

4. Use canning lids that are new. They can be a few (even 5) years old, but don't use the ones you found in your grandmother's basement when you were helping her clean. The rubber gets old after a while. :) And don't re-use a canning lid that you used on your food last summer! :)

5. Tighten the ring over the lid snugly, but not as tight as you can make it. The ring should give some resistance when you try to unscrew it, but it shouldn't require a lot of effort to take off again.

6. Follow the directions on your recipe for canning (usually for tomatoes, a boiling water bath). After removing the jars from the canner, place them on a folded towel or on a wooden cutting board. Don't touch or disturb the jars until they are cool! :)

Does anyone else have tips for successful jar-sealing rates when canning? I'd love to hear them! :)

Canned pizza sauce

To participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Post a kitchen tip in your blog, with a link to this post. Then come here and add your name, tip subject, and URL to this post! Links must be family friendly, as always. If you don't have a blog but would still like to share a tip, just leave a comment here with your tip! Everyone's ideas are appreciated. :) Note: Please link to your individual post, not your blog's main/front page! Thanks for participating! :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays Participants

1. *Michigan Momma*
2. Shirley (Wonder Cleanser)
3. Mrs Pear (Zip Top Freezing Method)
 

Preserving food -- What do I do?

Reader Caroline emailed with a question about what foods I preserve each year:

I love your blog and I wanted to make a future topic suggestion if I may be so bold. I notice you talk a lot about putting up your own fruits and veggies. I would love to hear how you do it, how much you put up etc. I'm planning to hit as many you-pick places as possible this summer in our family's effort to eat more local and do more scratch cooking.

I've done some reading on extension sites but there is nothing better than reading someone's tips and suggestions. My mother didn't do this sort of thing so I have no idea how to do it. I'd mainly be interested in freezer ideas as canning scares me to death.

Hi, Caroline! :)

I do some food preservation each year, but not really what I would consider a lot. My mom is the real expert, and I'm blessed to have her help! :)

What we do:

I do get a lot of fresh food from the garden (I share a garden with my parents, who live about 15 minutes from us) each summer, and my mom and I can lots of tomato products. From our tomatoes, we make pizza sauce, diced tomatoes, salsa, tomato soup, and spaghetti sauce -- which for us is actually a half-and-half mixture of our pizza sauce recipe and our tomato soup recipe.

I don't can much besides tomatoes, though sometimes my mom gives us a jar or two of her dill pickles. ;) I have canned sour cherries for pies, but a few quarts of cherries will last us all year. :)

Read the rest of my reply... :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Ranch Dressing dispenser

A while back, I posted about our plastic squirt-bottle dispenser for sour cream. If you ever wondered how we got beautiful swirls of sour cream on our taco salads (or have ever actually tried to get sour cream into a hard taco shell using a spoon!), now you know our trick! :)

We recently discovered another handy use for these plastic bottles. Joshua, who prefers Ranch salad dressing, put some Ranch in a bottle (not completely full) and then increased the dressing by about 1/4, by adding water to the bottle.

After shaking to combine, we now have a thinner dressing (that spreads more easily on the salad rather than being thick blobs!) that has 20% fewer calories, because of the added water (plus, the bottle from the store will last longer this way!). And of course, a squirt-bottle is easier to use than the open-topped dressing bottle we had. :)

To participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Post a kitchen tip in your blog, with a link to this post. Then come here and add your name, tip subject, and URL to this post! Links must be family friendly, as always. If you don't have a blog but would still like to share a tip, just leave a comment here with your tip! Everyone's ideas are appreciated. :) Note: Please link to your individual post, not your blog's main/front page! Thanks for participating! :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays Participants

1. Mandy (awesome chopping tool)
2. Cammie (blueberry syrup)
3. Mrs Pear (using end of season berries)
4. AmyG (kitchen tool box)
5. Tiffany
6. Stephanie
7. Ginny (dehydrated bell peppers)

Your questions answered: Finding bulk ingredients

Annie emailed me with questions about purchasing ingredients in bulk:

I've read several times that you buy your flour, yeast, etc. in bulk to keep costs down. I would love to do this, since part of the reason I cook from scratch is frugality (that and it smells yummy and is more healthy!). Unfortunately, I can't find any where that sells these things in bigger than the 1-2lb packages at the grocery store. For the yeast, the only kind I've been able to find is the little packets that come in threes. Those are used up quickly and are expensive.

Where do you find bulk cooking ingredients? I'm not completely sure where you live, but I live in Florida and it seems we are a different culture altogether when it comes to stores and shopping. We have chain stores, but no Aldi's or Krogers. We also have several health food stores, but none of them carry anything in bulk. I can buy smaller boxes of flax seed or wheat germ or whole wheat flour, but it's three or four dollars more than the typical grocery store.

Hi, Annie!

My pantry staples come from a variety of sources, and I'd be glad to share how I've been able to find various things in bulk. I've lived in Ohio and Missouri, but perhaps some of my readers live in Florida and could give suggestions that are even more relevant for you! :) Read more...

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Slicing fresh tomatoes

My tip for this week is about slicing fresh tomatoes. This isn't rocket science or anything, but as I was enjoying our fresh tomatoes this week, I thought I'd share about my favorite kind of knife for slicing them! :)

My favorite kind of knife to use for slicing fresh tomatoes is a thin, serrated knife. (I think mine are actually steak knives!) The jagged edges catch the peeling and slice the tomato without bruising it. My mom always used a thin, very sharp paring knife, but since most of my paring knives are rather dull, I tried using a serrated knife one time and found that it worked wonderfully! :)


Tomatoes and Black Beans over Pasta recipe

What have I been making with my tomatoes lately? Well, besides eating them sliced (with salt and pepper on top!) and putting them in taco salad or nachos, I also enjoyed some Tomatoes and Black Beans over Pasta, a yummy summer dish that the children and I had for lunch one day. I took pictures, but they didn't turn out as good as this one I took last year. :)

To participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Post a kitchen tip in your blog, with a link to this post. Then come here and add your name, tip subject, and URL to this post! Links must be family friendly, as always. If you don't have a blog but would still like to share a tip, just leave a comment here with your tip! Everyone's ideas are appreciated. :) Note: Please link to your individual post, not your blog's main/front page! Thanks for participating! :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays Participants

1. Trixie @ Farm Home Life
2. Mrs. Brigham (Cleaning Produce Safely)
3. Mandy (cheap stainless steel cleaner)
4. AmyG (Mini Chopper)
5. Mrs Pear (OAMC simply explained)
6. Mrs Pear (Shopping for Freezer cooking)

Help needed: Making homemade crescent rolls

Shannon wrote to me with this question:

I was just wondering if you have ever experimented with making crescent rolls? There are a lot of fun recipes using the Pillsbury ones but I just refuse to buy them. They do taste good but I can't get beyond the expense or the fact that they're full of stuff I prefer not to eat. I did find a recipe one time that was supposed to be like them but except for being rolled and shaped the same they weren't anything alike.

Hi, Shannon! I'm going to have to refer you to my readers here, since I have actually never even tasted the store-bought crescent rolls that come in tubes!

I have made crescent-shaped rolls (very delicious cornmeal cescent rolls... a slightly sweet cornmeal yeast bread), but from looking at the label of the store-bought crescent rolls, I'm guessing they are greasier (hello, trans fat!!) and maybe flakey... ?? :)

Have any of you made crescent rolls that tasted like the ones from the tubes in the grocery store? And were they worth the effort? :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Leftover chicken nuggets

My tip this week is actually just a simple way to use leftover chicken nuggets. :) (And no, I don't make homemade ones... unless chicken parmesan counts! :D)

Salad, topped with leftover chicken nuggets

Tear leftover chicken nuggets into bite-sized pieces, and toss them on a green salad! This is handy when you have just a few nuggets leftover. If you want a healthier meal, you can do this to begin with, rather than eating chicken nuggets all by themselves. ;)

To participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Post a kitchen tip in your blog, with a link to this post. Then come here and add your name, tip subject, and URL to this post! Links must be family friendly, as always. If you don't have a blog but would still like to share a tip, just leave a comment here with your tip! Everyone's ideas are appreciated. :) Note: Please link to your individual post, not your blog's main/front page! Thanks for participating! :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays Participants

1. Mandy (misc. tips)
2. Choosing Voluntary Simplicity (Ingredient Substitutions)
3. AmyG (Fast Kitchen Clean-up)
4. Mrs. Brigham (Chopping Garlic)
5. Rachel (frugal fruit)
6. Mrs Pear (casseroles to freezer recipes)
7. Just in case: Flax and Menus
8. MrsB (storing oven mitts)
9. Mrs.S. (baking in the heat)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Making cookies easier

As I've mentioned in the past, I dislike making cookies. But my husband really likes cookies. (And I do too, actually!) I think I might have discovered the key to making cookies more... approachable for me, at least in this season of my life (young children, pregnancy, etc.).

I almost hesitate to share it as a kitchen tip, since it actually doesn't save time or resources in any way. However, it breaks up the task, and I'm going to be much more inclined to make cookies using this method.

This past weekend, we mixed up a huge batch of chocolate chip cookies. We refrigerated the dough, and then rolled it into logs, which we then wrapped with waxed paper (secured with masking tape) and then with foil. (Actually, Joshua did all of this!)Then we froze the logs of cookie dough.

Today I baked some of the dough. I sliced the frozen log and then baked it into cookies. It was pretty easy. For some reason, it just seems easier to make up a huge batch of cookie dough and then bake a few as needed. I guess I need tasks broken up into "bite-sized pieces" right now. ;)

To participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Post a kitchen tip in your blog, with a link to this post. Then come here and add your name, tip subject, and URL to this post! Links must be family friendly, as always. If you don't have a blog but would still like to share a tip, just leave a comment here with your tip! Everyone's ideas are appreciated. :) Thanks for participating! :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays Participants

1. Shirley - Choosing Voluntary Simplicity (Refrigerator Rolls)
2. Vicky (master cookie mix)
3. Just in Case- Sandwich station
4. Chrissy@ Dinner-My Place
5. Mrs Pear (freezer meals)
6. Mrs. Brigham (Storing Leafy Greens)
7. AmyG (pie crust)
8. Trixie (Foreman grill cleanup)
9. Sifted Heart (keep ice cream fresher)
10. Ginny (bananas and fruit flies)
11. Rachel (freezing peppers/onions)