Archive for category Saving Time

Organized Cake Decorating Supplies

Keeping all my favorite cake decorating supplies in order is no small feat.  They range from tiny piping tips to a rather big turntable that I used to get an even coat of frosting on my layer cakes.  For the more frequently used supplies (spatulas, fondant tools, piping tips & bags, sprinkles etc.) I adapted the Wilton Ultimate Tool Caddy to fit my needs and make it easy to take on the go.

Wilton Cake Decorating Supplies Organizer

Luckily it is well-designed to fit a lot of the typical baker’s equipment, like this handy food coloring compartment:

Wilton Food Coloring Holder

But… I took it one step beyond Wilton’s vision and added some of my own touches to make it more practical.  I like to know where to find things, so labeling and organizing is an addiction second nature for me.  I’m also a little crafty and like to be unique so I did some personalizing while I was at it!

How I keep my Cake Decorating Supplies at Bay:

  1. Using a Silhouette SD that I borrowed from a friend (seriously the coolest crafting tool on the face of the earth!) I cut my logo out of sticker paper and applied it to bottom compartment.
  2. Bake Caker Logo Cut With Silhouette HD

  3. After putting everything in its place I used a label maker with black ink and clear labels (I don’t recommend the one I have to anyone… but it did the job). Now I don’t have to hunt for any of the supplies and I know where to put them back when I’m done making a mess in the kitchen (or better yet… hubby knows where to put them if he’s helping me with dishes)!Cake Supply Labels
  4. The last thing I did was get my piping tips in order…umm…like… by number. (Ok, maybe this was taking it a step too far but I looove it!)  Since the tip compartment is clear, I created a template that fits underneath, showing the spot where each numbered tip lives. If I have more than one of a type it just gets stacked on top!
  5. Cake Tip OrganizerWilton Piping Tips

I keep my fun BakeCakery stickers in one compartment so I don’t forget to include them with each cake. I soOoOO want to do a cake competition just so I can show off my sweet cake box!

How do you stay organized when it comes to kitchen gadgets?

Ten Kitchen Tips: Meat

Photo Courtesy of TheBusyBrain

I have to admit, when Jason and I first got married, I was more than squeamish about handling meat.  Growing up, I was grossed out by fat, bones, skin and because my mom is awesome, she would trim up and cook my meat longer than everyone else in the family. Call me spoiled, but I was all about lean, pristine cuts (boneless skinless chicken breast, pork loin, ultra lean ground beef).  These lean cuts are not only more expensive, they can also be very dry and chewy.

Over time, I have branched out to less perfectly trimmed meats because they are typically cheaper and more flavorful. However, I’m still not a fat and gristle kinda girl.  Here are my top 10 ways to make any cut of meat delicious and save money doing it.

1.  Shop when the meat is on sale.

I have a stock up price for most cuts of meat that we enjoy.  Make use of your freezer to buy when its cheap and then use over time.

Cut of Meat Good Price Cut of Meat Good Price
Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast $1.99/lb Whole Chicken 99¢/lb
Split Chicken Breast 99¢/lb Pork Loin $1.99/lb
Boston Butt $1.69/lb Pork Chops (Bone-In) $1.59/lb
Lean Ground Beef $2.99/lb Steak $4.99/lb
2.  Trim and bag into family-sized portions.

For our family of 2, that’s two chicken breasts, a lb of ground beef, or two 1″  thick pork loin medallions,  which fit nicely into a quart-sized freezer bag. If you have a family of 4, double it and use a gallon size storage bag.  Trimming the meat in advance means its ready to use, saving you time on weeknights.

3. Marinate

Marinades and dressings are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to doctor up your meat. (They are often B1G1 and have coupons too!) It requires a little bit of planning ahead, but you can pull something out of the freezer, dump some marinade in the Ziploc and throw it in the fridge overnight to thaw.  Or, if you are really organized, you could add the marinade BEFORE you freeze it and then just take it out the night before you want to cook it. My favorite marinade is sun-dried tomato vinaigrette!

4. Brine

Brining is not technique used that often by home cooks. My dad brines fish and meat before he smokes it to help it cure and flavor it.  But I learned recently that you can brine anything and it results in an oh-so-tender grilled hunk of meat.  Try a sugar brine on porkchops – just make sure you rinse or pat the brine off before you cook it (if you don’t it will be too salty).

5. Slowcook

The slowcooker is one of my ultimate time-savers. Who doesn’t love a hot meal ready and waiting for them after a long day, especially when its cool outside? This works great for cheaper cuts of meat because you always end up with a tender flavorful result. My dear friend Erica introduced us to Chicken Parisienne and its one of our go-to favs!

6. Jaccard


Most people have never heard of this tool. Actually, it looks more like a weapon.  My Jaccard has 48 tiny blades that pierce meat with spring-loaded action! Tough cuts are broken down, and marinade can penetrate better into the meat. It also evens out the thickness for more uniform cooking.  I see them at TJ Maxx/Ross frequently for $20, or you can find one at Amazon for about $25. We’ve give away several as gifts because its just that awesome!

7. Skip It

One of the best ways to save on meat is to skip it all together.  I’m not suggesting becoming a vegetarian by any means, but skipping meat just one night a week is great for your wallet and your waistline.  Also, eating low on the food chain helps save energy and natural resources (that’s the hippy in me talking 🙂 ) Try my roasted tomato pasta for a tasty meat-free dinner. If you can’t go totally meatless, try reducing your portion size at each meal instead!

8. Roast

My favorite way to cook pork tenderloin is to season and pan sear it on all sides and then roast it in the oven for a good 40 minutes. A nice crust forms on the outside of the meat and the inside stays very tender. We love this Pork tenderloin with roasted grape sauce.

9. Don’t Overcook – Pretty Please!

At first, I cooked everything to death for fear it wasn’t done (did I mention my squeamishness).  Even now, I have trouble eating a steak that isn’t well done.  But, overcooking is a surefire way to end up with a dry, rubbery piece of meat.  You can look up the cooking times for various cuts of meat and levels of doneness.  A simple thermometer lets you check the internal temp of the meat and decide if its done.

Cut of Meat Perfect Temp Cut of Meat Perfect Temp
Poultry 165 F Pork 165 F
Steak, Med 160 F Steak, Well 170 F
10. Let it Rest

Its tempting to pull a steak off the grill or a pork loin out of the oven and immediately slice it.  But there is good reason to let it sit for 10-15 minutes tented with foil.  High temps release the moisture in your meat as steam. If you immediately cut it open, that moisture is lost to the air. Oops! By letting the meat cool down some, the moisture is redistributed within the meat instead of escaping meaning a more juicy steak for you!

Quick Tip: Paint Can Upgrade

Want a simple way to make painting easier? Poke holes in your paint can!

No seriously,  grab a hammer and a sharp nail and punch a couple holes around the inner most rim of your open paint can. It will allow any excess paint from pouring or brush-wiping to drip back into the can. This conserves paint, prevents spillage and makes it easier to get the can open next time because you don’t have all that extra paint in the rim to unstick!

Paint Can Manufacturers -if you’re listening – go ahead and add this feature in the factory and save us the trouble!

Another option is this cute little blue plastic pour spout that snaps on the rim and also helps keep paint out of the rim.  As you can see, we used both options to keep our paint can rim nice and clean.  We are in the midst of remodeling our master bath (DIY of course).  Look for more posts on that project in the near future!

Recipe Review: Peanut, Caramel and Chocolate Tart

The Verdict? This recipe needs to go on a diet and chill out!

The October 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Living features several recipes for adult desserts that mimic childhood favorites so you don’t go dipping into your kids candy bowl.  There is a Malted Milk Creme Brulee, a 100 Grand inspired cake, and the Peanut, Caramel and Chocolate Tart made to taste like a Snickers that I decided to make.

Normally I read cookbooks and recipes like a story – in full before deciding whether I’ll make them. But Martha couldn’t lead me wrong, right? I’m a sucker for Snickers and the picture, complete with oozy caramel, won me over.  It doesn’t help that a lot of magazines have started showing the eye candy early and then making you flip to the very end of the magazine to actually see the recipes. (Does that annoy anyone else?)

I heard a new-to-me saying the other day on a cooking show that made me laugh out loud:

“What doesn’t kill you, makes you fatter.”

That is certainly fitting for this recipe!   This sucker has, count them, *3* cups of heavy cream. Not to mention creme fraiche, a whole stick of butter, cream cheese, and a honkin’ gob of peanut butter. I think Paula Deen just fainted! In all seriousness, a king-size Snicker’s bar has 537 calories and 27 grams of fat.  Martha suggests this baby serves 10.  I actually calculated it all in a handy Excel spreadsheet and at a whopping 943 calories/slice (68 g of fat, 31 sat. fat) you’d be better off eating 13 fun size snickers bars!!!!

I tried, really hard, not to modify the recipe the first time around so I would know what it SHOULD taste like. Martha’s recipe, even after refrigeration was loose and almost savory because of all the salt and peanut butter.To get it to look like the picture, I had to freeze it! It actually tasted a thousand times better after that because it made the peanut butter flavor more subtle.  At almost 1000 calories a slice, I felt betrayed having to doctor (no pun intended) this thing up.

One of my other favorite magazines is Cooking Light and they take our favorite fattening recipes and figure out substitutions to make them more nutritious.  Stay tuned for my next blog post where I will makeover this ungodly recipe into something delicious that you and I can actually eat. For now, check out Martha’s recipe complete with my sarcasm commentary in blue, but read quickly so you don’t absorb the calories!

PEANUT, CARAMEL, AND CHOCOLATE TART (Martha’s Version)

Active time :35 min
Total Time: 2 hrs 30 min
Makes 1 9-in tart
Serves 10

For the Chocolate Crust

1 box (9oz) chocolate wafer cookies, finely ground  (Amazon had to tell me what this was…)
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
Salt (umm..how much?)
1 stick unsalted butter, melted (yowza!)

For the Caramel Sauce

1¼ c. granulated sugar
¼ c. water
1 c. heavy cream (cup #1)
1/3 c. crème fraiche (because a vat of heavy cream wasn’t enough?)
1 c. roasted salted peanuts

For the Peanut Butter Mousse

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
½ c. confectioners’ sugar
salt
1¼ c. smooth peanut butter (aka creamy)
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 c. heavy cream (cup #2)

For the Chocolate Ganache

7 oz. semisweet chocolate (preferably 56% cacao), chopped
1 c. heavy cream (yep, cup #3)

1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Make the chocolate crust: Combine cookie crumbs, granulated sugar and 1/4 tsp. salt in a bowl (why not include the measurement in the recipe? weird).  Stir in butter. Press mixture into bottom and 2 1/2 in. up sides of a 9 in spring form pan. Bake until dry and firm, 8-10 min.  Let cool.

2. Make the caramel sauce: Heat granulated sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, washing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent sugar crystals from forming., until medium amber, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat, and carefully add heavy cream (mixture will bubble and steam).  Return to heat and bring to a boil, making sure caramel that seized up when cream was added melts. (sounds violent.. and it is!) Transfer to a bowl, and stir in creme fraiche. Refrigerate until cool but still pourable, about 45 minutes. Fold in peanuts. (This is the most dangerous  recipe for caramel I’ve ever made. It pops and splatters molten caramel lava all over the place.)

3. Meanwhile, make the peanut butter mousse: Beat cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in 1/2 tsp. salt. Add peanut butter and vanilla, and beat until combined. Whisk heavy cream in a separate bowl until medium-stiff peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the whipped cream into peanut butter mixture. Fold in remaining whipped cream in 2 additions.  (REALLY? Why do we need this many steps!)

4. Assemble the tart: Pour caramel sauce into cooled chocolate crust. Gently spread peanut butter mouse over caramel in an even layer, making sure they don’t blend together. Refrigerate 30 minutes. (or 24 hours if you want it to turn out right)

5. Make the chocolate ganache: Place chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl. Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour cream over chocolate and let stand for 1 minute. Whisk to combine. (Use immediately) (as opposed to letting it re-harden?)

6. Remove tart from refrigerator, and pour in ganache to cover surface. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (and by that I mean a lifetime)

Make ahead: Caramel sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Reheat in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water before folding in peanuts.

Storage assembled tart can be refrigerated overnight. (In fact, you have to do this or you’ll just end up with a pile of goo. Better yet, put that baby in the deep freezer.)

What I’m Cooking This Week

Almost every Sunday we make a plan for our weekly meals.  This helps prevent us from buying extra ingredients or overbuying because we are hungry and it allows us to plan meals around what is on sale.  I love to try out new recipes, so we have been saving them using Evernote and pulling them up on our iPad instead of wasting paper and ink to print them.

I am embracing the fact that its Fall. The leaves are starting to change from bright green to a yellowish hue, and there is a hint of cool air in the mornings.  Here is what we’re eating this week:

Monday:

Buttermilk Brined Pork Chops (I will use pork loin cut into 1″ chops)
Garlicky Greens (Swiss Chard)
Butternut Squash

Tuesday:

Chicken Enchilada Soup (will adapt for slow cooker)

Wednesday:

Greek Style Burgers with Cucumber, Tomato & Tzatziki on Flatbread
Sweet Potato Fries

Thursday:

Tarragon Chicken Pot Pies

Friday:

Grilled Shrimp
Quinoa Edamame Salad

Saturday:

A special meal out to celebrate Jason finishing his book update, and me finishing my research work at USC.

Quick & Free Photo Swap

Jason’s sister Jenna gave us an awesome stacked picture frame several years ago as a gift.  It originally came with black and white placeholder images of Italy and I have been meaning to swap them out in favor of real photos for way too long now.

We take most of our pictures digitally, and rarely do I get the chance to print out the good ones.  Since I didn’t have any photos handy, I opted for a different approach. My latest issue of Garden Design Magazine (a freebie from an online deal) had vibrant pics of several varieties of Mums which I cut to fit each frame.

Sometimes the quick projects like this are the most rewarding. We now have a colorful, in-season update to our photo frame and it didn’t cost a thing!

Toothbrushes That Don’t Suck (or do they?)

You know that annoying white goo that accumulates in the bottom of your toothbrush holder?  ICK!  Jason and I have tried so many solutions–open holders, ones with removable bottoms and we can’t escape it… until now.

Last weekend we were visiting family in Vero for my 10 year High School Reunion and my mom left a two-pack of toothbrushes for us in the guest bath. Little did I know it would forever solve our toothbrush woes – they have built-in suction cups on the bottom!!

This is a great example of someone taking a common annoyance and coming up with an easy solution.  They even have a cute name – Germ Evader (ok.. so its not that cute). What can I say, I’m in love.

Also, I noticed after uploading the picture that we have very consistent toothbrush color choices – Orange and Blue never get old, especially during football season!

Off to find coupons for suction cup toothbrushes…

Update: My cousin Breanna suggests putting a little hydrogen peroxide in the bottom of your toothbrush holder to nix the goo.  This might be more practical until the rest of the toothbrush manufacturer’s catch onto suction cups!