Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: No more fruit flies!

This evening, I finally decided to take care of the fruit fly problem in our kitchen. It's that time of year... all the ripe nectarines, tomatoes, and bananas were perfect targets, and it didn't help that I skipped washing dishes yesterday.

Rather than just be annoyed by the fruit flies, I washed all the dishes, dumped the bucket of compost (and washed that too, of course!), and put the fresh fruit out on our enclosed porch. I wiped down all the counters and the stove.

Then I set out a homemade fruit fly trap (made with dish soap and red wine vinegar -- recipe and more details here!). There were already a couple dead flies in it when I checked the trap about 30 minutes later. And I'm looking forward to waking up tomorrow to a kitchen with clean counters, no dirty dishes, and no fruit flies!! :)

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. Mrs. Brigham (Storing Onions)
2. Just In case: Frugal bento Lunches
3. Western Warmth (salsa and smoothies)
4. Shirley (making giant crescent rolls for subs)
5. AmyG (picnic perfection)
6. Mrs Pear (Dishes with 2 yr old)
7. Mrs. S. (multi-tasking)
8. Brandy :: Cloth Napkins in the Real World

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. :)

I don't do a lot of freezing, simply because we just use the small freezer on top of our fridge. One thing I have made room for in my freezer is sugar snap peas, since they are quite expensive to buy, but easy to grow. :) The rest of my freezer usually is filled with meats and fruit or vegetables from the store.

I do have a dehydrator, and for certain things, it is the easiest solution! Some things I like to dehydrate would be cabbage (sliced thinly and spread on the trays), bell peppers (diced), hot peppers (you can slice the side of the pepper, dry it, and then put one in chili while you simmer it, to depart flavor), and of course almost any fruit (bananas are the easiest, if I find a good sale!)! You can also dehydrate carrots, green beans, etc. to use in vegetable soup. It's not quite as good as frozen or canned, but is easy to prepare and easy to store. :)

Where we get the food to begin with:

The food that I freeze, can, or dehydrate is usually from our garden, or something that someone gives to us. It seems that when people know you're willing to use their extra food (apples, corn, etc.), they're more likely to call and say, 'We have a tree with a bunch of ripe apples on it... do you want them?' :)

So really, the only thing I actually buy to preserve is ripe bananas when they're on sale. :) For us, it's a combination of growing a little bit of what we like best and use most and have room for. We get blessed with free food unexpectedly (like zucchini, for example, which we haven't grown ourselves) and some of that makes its way into jars or into the dehydrator. ;)

How much food to preserve:

I think the amount of food you preserve depends a whole lot on your family size!

I'd also suggest starting small. Don't plan to make 4 bushels of apples into applesauce unless you've already done a small test batch... plus have a whole day free to work on them. ;) Doing up food takes a LOT of time! We love our homemade pizza sauce, but it is time-intensive to make. It would be cheaper and easier to just buy pizza sauce, but we're so spoiled with our delicious homemade sauce, that we put the time into making it. :)

For our family (2 adults, 2 children), I try to guess about how much of something we will use in a year's time.

For example, when we have pizza (a 16-inch pizza is a meal for us) I use 1 cup of sauce. So I figure that pizza once a week for a whole year would be about 26 pints of sauce. I try to do up at least that much for us. :)

Something like applesauce, well, we'd eat about as much as I could ever can (we love it!!) so if someone gives us apples... I just use them all. :)

Anyway, those are my very limited tips for right now. Preserving food is a huge topic when you think of all the different foods and methods!! :) For starting out, I strongly suggest trying one new thing at a time, and gradually learning more as you go along! :) I hope this has been at least a little help to you. :)

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! :)

Where we currently live, there is a small local bulk food store. I get a few things there, but don't do a lot of shopping there, since they're too small to have really great prices. We live about 2 hours from Ohio's "Amish Country", where there are bulk food stores with excellent prices. Though Joshua and I rarely (i.e. only once so far!) drive there ourselves, many of our extended family members travel more than we do, and are willing to pick up a few things for us when they're there. That's where I usually get my flax seed, flaked coconut, wheat germ, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, jumbo shell pasta, and spices.

First, finding dry yeast: I have found 1-pound packages of dry yeast at bulk food stores, a health food store, and at Sam's Club. I've never been a member of Sam's club, but I was able to go in a couple times with a friend when we lived in Missouri. I have, in the past, gotten spices at Sam's club, though I think a good sale on a large container of Kroger spices would be just as cheap.

With many things, I've just been blessed by others' generosity.

I'm blessed because my mom (who lives nearby) gets her rolled oats in 50-lb bags and she is willing to split that with me... so I get the benefit of cheaper oats, without having to buy 50 pounds all on my own! For my wheat flour, we were given a number of 5-gallon buckets of wheat berries, and my parents have a wheat grinder that turns the berries into flour for me.

I also recently found a local source for raw honey, and it's at a good price, too. ($7/qt. and cheaper if you order larger amounts!) Sometimes word-of-mouth helps... if you mention to a local friend that you're on the lookout for something, they may have suggestions for you!

I also, of course, watch for sales and clearance specials. When we lived in Missouri, our only grocery store was a small local one, but I was able to buy almost everything on sale and stock up enough to last until the next sale. Now that we live near an Aldi store, I purchase more things from there and fewer things on sale (since Aldi prices are often as low as other "sale prices", without the inconvenience of having to guess how much I will need in the next couple of months)! :)

Another thing, which I haven't done personally, is the possibility of ordering food from a local co-op. If you know others in your area who are interested in healthy or organic food, or buying in bulk, they might be able to help you find a co-op, where you could get ingredients that would cost you a lot more in your local grocery store.

Do any of you readers have suggestions or tips to add? What do you purchase in bulk, and where do you buy it? :)

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)

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