Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tip Tuesday

It’s another gorgeous day here, although a bit cooler. The dreams of planting flowers and gardens have been put on hold a little longer – until at least Mother’s Day around our area.

One of my favorite summer foods is tomatoes – and they seem to be high on just about everyone’s "favorites" list. There appears to be no end to recipes and techniques for tomatoes, and some of the simplest are the best. How about just a plain tomato sandwich? Sliced tomatoes on good white bread with a little mayo, salt and pepper. Yum.

Here are a few tomato facts:

Tomatoes are a fruit and could also be classified as a berry because of their edible seeds. Most of us treat them as vegetables in savory dishes.

Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, which is even more potent in cooked or processed tomato products. They also contain measurable amounts of vitamin C, vitamin A, phosphorus, potassium and iron.

It’s much easier to freeze fresh tomatoes than to can them. Simply wash and dry them well, place in zipper-seal freezer bag, suck out the air with a straw and place in freezer. No blanching or peeling needed.

Tomatoes have been grown as food since the 16th century, but often were considered poisonous. In the United States they were cultivated in home gardens as early as the 1700s, but really gained popularity in the 1800s. There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes – choose your favorite!

A few tomato tips:

1) Cut tomatoes with a sharp serrated (or steak) knife for best results. A flat-blade knife could crush or bruise the tomato.

2) Store tomatoes at room temperature – not in the refrigerator – for best flavor.

3) Cook tomatoes in non-aluminum cookware since aluminum can change the flavor and color of the tomatoes, and the acid from the tomatoes may pit the cookware.

4) Add a bit of sugar to cooked tomato products to balance the acidity.

5) Canned tomatoes are a good substitute for those not-so-tasty out of season tomatoes.

6) Looking for the easy way to peel tomatoes? Simply cut a small “x” in the blossom end and drop them into boiling water for 15 to 20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice water. When cool enough to handle, remove and gently pull skin away from the tomato flesh.

7) If not ripe, place tomatoes in a brown paper bag in a dark place for 3 or 4 days.

8) For sandwiches, slice tomatoes vertically to prevent seeds and juice from running out.

9) When buying tomatoes, look for those with smooth, unblemished skin. Also choose tomatoes that are heavy for their size.

10) To dehydrate tomatoes, slice them 1/2” thick and place on rack in baking pan. Preheat oven to 120 to 150 degrees. Place baking pan in oven with door slightly ajar to allow moisture to escape. The process may take 10 to 18 hours, depending on the moisture in the tomatoes. Rotate pans occasionally and turn tomatoes for even drying.

Now for a recipe I made the other night. I know there are tons of baked tomato recipes out there, but I just started mixing things together, and this is what I came up with. Enjoy!

BAKED TOMATOES

4 large tomatoes, cut in half horizontally
1 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup Panko crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
dash salt & freshly-ground black pepper
3 Tablespoons olive oil

Remove small core from tomato and cut a very thin slice from blossom end so it will stand level. Cut out center of tomatoes to form a cup, reserving pulp for another use. Mix remaining ingredients well. Fill tomatoes with crumb mixture and mound on top. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

Have a great week! As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome. If you've just found this blog, be sure to read the archived posts!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tip Tuesday


Hello, and Happy National Cheese Ball Day! Yes, it is a real, designated day to celebrate. According to some internet research, it’s been celebrated for years; however, it is not a federally-proclaimed holiday. So let’s all mix up (or buy) our favorite cheese ball, grab some crackers or veggies and enjoy!

Here’s a good recipe given to me by an employer over 25 years ago (Thanks, Barb!):

Vegetable Cheese Ball

2 8-ounce blocks cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1 1/2 cups shredded vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, celery, green pepper)
garlic powder to taste
onion salt to taste
Worcestershire sauce to taste

Mix all well. Form into ball. Serve with crackers. (Ball could be rolled in chopped nuts, chopped parsley, etc.)

Today’s Tips:

1) When chopping vegetables, don’t scrape them onto your knife blade to move them to your bowl or pan – that will dull the blade. Use the back side of the knife.

2) An easy way to fill deviled eggs – place filling mixture into plastic zip-close bag, cut a small portion off bottom corner, then pipe into egg halves.

3) To easily slice meat for a stir-fry or other recipe requiring thin slices, place meat in freezer for a few minutes.

4) Use an ice cream scoop to drop cookie or biscuit dough onto baking sheets. They will be of more uniform size and will all bake more evenly.

5) If a recipe calls for self-rising flour and you have none on hand, make your own! Mix 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder.

6) When baking in glass pans, reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees.

7) When baking bread, place a small pan of water in the oven. Bread will not be dry or hard. This technique is good for baking cheesecakes, too. Simply place the springform pan in a rimmed baking pan and add about 1/2” water. This should keep the cheesecake from cracking.

8) To freeze fresh berries, do not wash them first. Place in a single layer on a flat pan and place in the freezer. When frozen, put in freezer storage bag or container. Wash before using.

9) It sounds strange, but bananas should not be stored in a bunch. Separate the bananas and place in bowl or basket. And do not store with other fruit, especially apples.

10) If you do have some of those bananas get too ripe, simply freeze them for baking banana bread. I’ve frozen them whole (peel and all) with good results. Or remove from peel, mash and add a bit of lemon juice.

I hope you all have a great week! Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tip Tuesday + 1

Hello, everyone! Yesterday was very busy, and around 9:00 last night I realized I hadn’t published anything. By that time I was just too tired and decided to wait until today. But my son said maybe the tips would be so good they’d be worth waiting the extra day!

I hope you’re all having a great day. It’s very pretty here, but much cooler than it has been for a while. We’re all just waiting for the warm temperatures to return!

This week’s tips are entirely different than the usual food-related ones – they are all about stain removal and laundry. We all have to deal with these issues unless we have household help (wouldn’t that be nice?) or take everything to a professional.

1) Do not iron a stained article of clothing – stain will be set.

2) Treat spots and stains as soon as possible.

3) Launder small or delicate items in a pillowcase closed with safety pins. Or look for mesh lingerie laundry bags in department stores.

4) To remove grease stains, sprinkle with cornstarch or talcum powder. Let set for a while, then wash.
5) Ink stains can be treated with hair spray.

6) Remove blood stains by soaking with peroxide for 10 minutes; rinse well with cold water.

7) To remove gum on clothing, put the item in the freezer. When the gum is hardened it should peel right off.

8) Ring around the collar? Brush on shampoo with a soft brush, such as a soft toothbrush. Wash as directed.

9) Keep the washer clean for best results. About every 2-3 months add a quart of white vinegar to the tub full of warm water. Run through a wash cycle without clothes.

10) To prevent musty smells in drawers, closets, linen closets, etc. place  fabric softener sheets in them. Unwrapped bars of scented soap work well, too.

If you have any hints or tips that work well for you, please share them with us – we’d all appreciate any help we can get!

Have a great week. And thank you for your readership and interest in this blog!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tip Tuesday

Well, these Tuesdays roll around quickly, don’t they? It’s a beautiful day out there, and I’m hoping to get out to enjoy it.

And April came quickly, too! We really didn’t have much of a winter, and the spring has been warmer than normal here, so we’ll see what April and May bring us. Hopefully, lots of flowers and green, growing things. I’m anxious to get to the garden stores for some annuals and vegetables. We really don’t do a big garden now since the squirrels and deer started eating it all a few years ago, but I love stepping outside the back door to pick a tomato or cut some fresh basil so I’ll put some things in pots this year and see what happens.

Here are a few tips for you….hope you find something useful!

1) Instant mashed potato flakes are great to keep around. They will thicken up soups and add a bit of body. They also make a great coating for chicken with some added herbs and seasonings.

2) Don’t dilute your iced tea or coffee with ice cubes – freeze leftover tea and coffee in ice cube trays.

3) Wait until the end of cooking time to salt your beans. Adding the salt too early will make them tough and hard.

4) Be sure your pasta pot is large enough. Pasta needs plenty of boiling water to keep from sticking together. Stir often. Drain but do not rinse if using with pasta sauce. If making pasta salads, rinse.

5) Apples will stay fresh much longer if refrigerated in a plastic bag – the bag they came in is fine.

6) No time to make a whole meatloaf? Put the mixture into greased muffin cups or shape into small, individual loaves. Adjust the cooking time accordingly. Kids will love them!

7) When making pie crust be sure everything is cold. Handle as little as possible. Shape dough into a disc, wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling. Handling the dough too much will warm the fat particles causing them to melt into one large fat "lump". And an easy way to get it into the pie pan once it’s rolled out - roll it around the rolling pin, place over the pie pan and unroll, then press into pan.

8) Be sure bowls and utensils are dry when making meringue. And use glass, ceramic or stainless steel bowls – not plastic. Separate eggs a few minutes before beating so whites are room temperature. Seal meringue to pie shell to prevent shrinking.

9) To unmold a jello mold, dip mold into warm water for about 15 seconds. Place on slightly moistened plate, invert, shake – mold should pop right out! If it sticks a bit, moisten fingers and gently pull the edges away from the mold.

10) Quick veggie pickles: place julienned carrots, onion slices, cauliflower, etc. into a jar of leftover  pickle juice. Let marinate in refrigerator for 2 or 3 days.

I’m off to run some errands and enjoy the sunshine. Hopefully, those ebooks will be online this week, so check back.

Comments and suggestions are welcome. Have a great day!