An apology of sorts

I’m embarrassed by the amount of time between my last post and this one.  I mean, I am truly shamed.

No one likes excuses, but I have one anyway.  Back in June, I found out I’m pregnant!

So (lady readers, back me up here), motivation was at an all-time low while I battled morning sickness, deathlike exhaustion, and some ungodly food aversions.  How do you write about food, let alone cook it, when all you can stomach is pizza, potato chips, and (dare I admit it) Top Ramen?

But I’m now five months along and feeling much better, and with a baby on the way, I’m adulting more now than ever before!

Sorry for the hiatus.  I hope you forgive me.  Now let’s get back to it!

Tip of the Week: Recipe Read-Throughs

A cooking tips article on Lifehacker’s website indicates that reading recipes in full before starting to cook is a “no-brainer.” Eeek. Since I began teaching myself how to cook, this is something I’ve failed to do—but what’s worse is that until recently, I never realized how dumb it is that I’ve skipped this very important cooking 101 tidbit.

I shamefully admit my laziness has been to blame. As long as the recipe indicates a “start-to-finish” time, I tack on ten minutes for my slowness and dive right in, thinking that reading the recipe in its entirety is wasting precious time.

But wouldn’t ya know it, it’s just the opposite! I recently started reading my recipes all the way through prior to cooking, because it helped me to set up my mise en place (which I was also trying to improve on). I was amazed at how much more smoothly my cooking experiences went!

It’s like walking in the dark. In a dark room, you can still make it from point A to point B by feeling your way around, slowly but surely. But if you turn on a light, you get there much more quickly because you can see what’s around you and you’re not fumbling. Reading the recipe before cooking is like turning on that light, because you can see what’s ahead of you.

Rolling in Dough

Over the weekend, I was bit by the baking bug. It happens quite rarely, but when it does…oh boy.

And of course I didn’t start off with something easy. On Sunday morning, I drank a cup of coffee for a burst of energy and then stepped right into my bread-makin’ shoes. (Note: I didn’t actually have any shoes on while I made bread. I did, however, bust out my trusty pink floral apron.)

Right off the bat, my husband had little faith in me. I can’t say I blame him. He’s more familiar than anyone with my work in the kitchen. But he had good reason to be weary of my bread’s success; I was making a mixed-grain bread that called for quite a bit of whole-wheat flour, which is notoriously more difficult to bake with than your standard all-purpose flour.

The husband went out for a mountain bike ride and I got to work mixing and kneading…and kneading…and kneading. Honestly, longest six minutes of my life.

And when my husband returned home, look at what I got to gloat about:


He was quite impressed. Truthfully, it was too early to be genuinely impressed, as I hadn’t yet tasted it. Luckily, the first bite validated my ability as a baker; I baked one seriously delicious loaf of bread! I was telling my coworker about it, and in a surprised tone she asked, “You made your own bread? Like, with a bread machine?” Let me tell you how good it felt to tell her that I did all the dirty work by hand: it felt goooooooooooood.


That same afternoon, I made these Oreo Cheesecake Cookies:


I’m pretty sure this was the simplest cookie recipe I’ve ever used, and the cookies were to die for. I took them to a family get-together that evening, and within five minutes, they were gone. Every last one of them.

I recently posted a rant about my food looking nothing like the pictures in the recipes I find online, and what made me happiest about these cookies is that mine looked exactly like the pictures in the original recipe. FINALLY.


Have you baked anything good lately?

Tip of the Week: Well-Planned Workstations

One of the most important aspects of cooking is mise en place, which is the idea of gathering the ingredients and tools needed for cooking and having everything arranged prior to getting to work. I hate to admit that I’m still not perfect at it. I do prep about 75% of my ingredients before I begin cooking, but I’m a complete failure at gathering my tools and cookware ahead of time.

Part of the problem is that I don’t have a proper “workstation” in my kitchen. I tend to spread myself out while I’m cooking: on one counter I do my measuring, on another I do my chopping, and as I work, I make at least half a dozen trips to the trash can on the other side of the room. Clearly, I missed the last call for boarding the efficiency train.

I found a great article on Bon Appetit about building a better kitchen workstation. Based on their suggestions, there are a few major improvements I need to make when it comes to prepping and cooking my meals. I think these tweaks to my setup will greatly improve my ability to adhere to the idea of mise en place.

  1. I need to secure my cutting board to the counter with a damp towel or nonstick pad. I also learned this recently in Sur la Table’s online cooking basics course. It’s a miracle I haven’t chopped off a finger!
  2. I need a trash bowl. The time spent on each trip to the trash can adds up, and we all know mere seconds can make or break a vital step in preparing a dish.
  3. I should keep my salt in a ramekin. I usually pour my salt from the round Morton canister into a measuring spoon or into the palm of my hand. Sure, it works, but wouldn’t it be more efficient to simply dip the measuring spoon into the ramekin or grab a pinch with my fingers?
  4. I need to keep paper towels handy for cleaning debris from knives and cutting boards. My paper towel holder is cheap and lame, and both hands are required to tear off a towel. Again, any time saved is beneficial to my cooking; I should start tearing off a few towels ahead of time and having them at the ready.
  5. I need to keep the essential tools handy. I said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m terrible at gathering the necessary tools before I start cooking. It’s not uncommon for me to realize that the pan I need is dirty and I have to wash it while, meanwhile, the food in another pan is burning because of my lack of preparation. It has to end!

Do you have any tips for a more efficient workstation in your kitchen?

Company Clean

Preparing for visitors in your home is like putting on a pair of glasses for the first time.  Even though I feel like I keep my house pretty clean on a day-to-day basis, getting ready for my in-laws to visit has magnified every speck of dust, every stain on the carpet, and every slightly disorganized closet.  Does it matter that my family is very unlikely to inspect all of my closets for their cleanliness?  No.  No, it doesn’t.  It will bother me if it’s not fixed before they arrive.

I believe I inherited this mentality from my mother.  Before anyone visits her house, it must be what she calls “company clean.”  It’s like a clean house on steroids.  Luckily, since yesterday was the first day of spring, I might be able to get away with calling it “spring cleaning” and look a little less fanatical.

So I’m off to embark on a mass cleaning spree.  Happy Saturday, everyone.

Do you tend to get carried away cleaning before company arrives?

Tip of the Week: Writing in Cookbooks

Sur la Table recently released a series of online cooking classes, and to promote them, they offered a cooking basics course for free.  The course covered topics such as proper knife technique, how to use salt in cooking, how to perfectly cook chicken, and so on.  After watching the first session, I was hooked!  I took notes while watching and practiced in the kitchen over the next several days, and I feel the course was a tremendous help.

Only then did it occur to me:  although I cook almost every single day, and despite my improvements, I’m not continuously learning about cooking.  Yes, I’m getting plenty of hands-on experience; but there is still so much about cooking I don’t know, which means I have an endless amount of growing to do as a cook.  So each week, I will be sharing a tidbit I’ve learned about cooking–whether it is a simple, quick bit of advice, or a major tenet of culinary arts.

I read the following snippet of advice on the Epicurious website:

Write in your cookbooks.

Soup could have used more tomato? Chicken needed ten more minutes in the oven? Make a note of it and you’ll never make that mistake again.

This is something I have never—seriously, never—done. Yet I find myself making comments all the time like, “The vinegar is a little overpowering,” or complaining that the food took twice as long to cook as was stated in the recipe.

On the surface, this seems like a simple tidbit of advice for someone who uses recipes often. But for someone like me, this truly applies to cooking as a whole. Although my culinary skills have improved tenfold since I started this blog three years ago, I find I’m still lacking confidence when it comes to cooking without a recipe to guide me.

If I start jotting notes down in my cookbooks, it will not only help me the next time I cook that particular dish, but it will help me to recognize the things that make or break a meal. It will force me to consider how the different ingredients and their amounts work together and contribute to the final product. Usually I’m so focused on following the steps that I don’t really think about how each thing added really changes the recipe. By making notes in my cookbooks, I’m hoping this forces me to take a step back and analyze what I’ve learned by adjusting the recipe according to how it tasted.

What about you? Do you make notes in your cookbooks?

Freezer Spill Prevention 101

Last week, I sifted through the fruit and veggie compartment in my freezer and grabbed a bag of stir fry veggies—and promptly spilled half the bag all over the inside of the freezer. How did this happen? Because there aren’t enough chip clips in the world for all the frozen fruit and veggies we keep on hand. The stir fry veggies were one of the many bags in our freezer that had been opened, but not clipped to prevent spillage. As I stared down into my freezer and cursed the bits of broccoli, snow peas, and carrots strewn about, I knew something had to change.

Last night, I pulled everything out of my freezer for a mass reorganization. I saved the fruit and veggie compartment for last, because I had more than an organization issue to deal with—I also had a storage issue. I piled all of the bags on the counter, and then I grabbed a Sharpie and two different sizes of freezer storage bags.


I emptied every single bag of fruits and veggies into freezer storage bags and labeled each one. This was meant to solve the spillage problem, which was half the battle. The other problem was that I’m always having to dig through the drawer in the freezer to find what I need. When I buy new frozen items, I tend to toss them into the freezer and they all end up in a disorganized jumble. After transferring everything into freezer storage bags, I placed them neatly into the compartment in the freezer, arranging them according to how often I usually access them. The fruits I use in my morning smoothies are all at the front, easily accessible. The veggies I use less frequently, such as the corn-carrot-asparagus mix, are stacked up nicely in the back of the compartment, underneath the veggies I use more often, like peas and peppers.


I’m feeling very optimistic about this new arrangement in my freezer. Already this morning, I felt so much more relaxed as I prepped my smoothie ingredients in my blender. It goes to show that even the seemingly small changes in a kitchen can make a big impact on cooking and food preparation.

Do you have any tips and tricks for freezer organization at home?