Tips and Tricks

#10  Make your own maple syrup.
I've been doing this for awhile now.  Its really easy.  I happen to be a syrup snob.  Pure maple syrup straight from the tree is the only kind I will buy.  Its a total indulgence and a major splurge, but, like butter, some things just aren't meant to be substituted.  However, when I can't bring myself to spend $20 on a little bottle of syrup that will last me two, maybe three batches of pancakes, I make what I consider to be the next best thing.  I'm still trying to perfect the recipe but this one has served me well, so far.
"Maple Syrup"
2 c. granulated sugar
2 c. water (filtered or bottled is best)
2 tsp. maple extract

Add all ingredients to a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer for 10 - 15 minutes.  Let cool to room temperature before serving.

I have had to play around with the simmer times quite a bit, but so far, I think 10-15 minutes is good for developing a reduced consistency that most closely resembles that of actual maple syrup.  If you find that your syrup begins to crystallize or solidify at room temperature, just add a few tablespoons of water to the pot and stir it in until it is resumes its liquidity (I just made up that word).  Keep adding water until you get the consistency you're after.  Remember, while the syrup is warm it will be much thinner than at room temp. so if you're checking for consistency while you're simmering then you'll have to account for that.  If you find that even at room temperature the syrup is too thin, just let it simmer for a few more minutes to reduce it down. 

This is a great alternative to shelling out big bucks for the real stuff, and tastes so much better than the imitation products!  Give it a try sometime. 

#9  Save those scraps!!!

They may not look like the tastiest parts of the veggie, but there is still some good use for them yet!  I always save my celery, onion, and carrot butts (he he) in a plastic baggie and put them in the freezer.  See, here are some of my already frozen carrot parts.

I use them to make my own stock.  Typically its chicken stock.  I save chicken parts, too.  And turkey parts.  But THAT, I promise, is it.  There are no weird bovine or porcine bits and pieces in my freezer.  Carrots, celery, and onion are the golden trinity of any stock product so I always make sure to save the pieces I don't want to eat.  Carrot stems are not very tasty on their own, but they can add phenomenal flavor to a pot of boiling water (with a few other veggies and herbs).  I intend to post the recipe for my chicken stock in the next couple of weeks, so in the mean time, start collecting and freezing those undesirable veggie parts.  If vegetable stock is more your style, you can save any veggie scraps you like- the ends of zucchinis, bell pepper stems, broccoli stalks, you name it.  Throw it in a pot and boil away until the flavor is rich and tasty.  It takes a couple hours, usually, but you don't have to tend to it much except to check the water level.  Try making your own stock, its a snap!

#8  Easy clean your stove top grill
You know, the cast iron ones with the grill lines on one side and the flat griddle on the other?  If you have one of those, then you know, that as lovely as it is to be able to achieve grilling perfection indoors in times of inclement weather, it is equally painful to have to deal with scrubbing the charred surface clean. 

I grilled fish on mine for fish tacos.  There was a lot of sticking happening despite my best efforts to lube it up really well before grilling.  The problem with these is that when you remove the food from the grill and leave it to cool while you eat, the stuck on bits continue to cook with the residual heat and become even more adhered to the surface.  When its time to clean the thing, you find it a test of your resolve to get the job done versus just throwing the dang thing out and swearing to never use one again.  Its one of God's tests, I'm pretty sure of it.

What I have figured out, is that clean up becomes very simple if you can remember to do one thing.  As soon as the food is off the grill, as soon as you turn the heat off, very slowly and carefully pour water onto the surface of the grill.

There will be lots of steaming and hissing, so BE CAREFUL!

Fill the grill as full as possible so the top of the grill lines are covered (or nearly covered) with water.

By the time the grill is cool enough to handle, a simple swipe of the scrub sponge will be all it takes to remove the stuck on food. 

No elbow grease necessary.  Easy Peezy. 
#7  Make your fresh flower bouquet last longer.
So my husband surprised me with flowers a couple weeks back and I was thrilled!  I immediately began taking pictures to mark the occasion.

I made sure to cut the stems back and place them in a clean vase with just a little bleach to impede the growth of bacteria, just as is recommended by all those flower preservation tips I've read over the years have instructed me to.  But despite my best efforts, after about a week they were starting to visibly fade.  Normally I would allow a vase of dead flowers to sit atop my dining table for as long as I can stand to look at them, determined to get the most for my husband's money (okay, mine, too).  But, this time I had an idea.

Why should I look at a bunch of dying flowers until they are completely crsipy?  The only reason I hadn't thrown them out yet was because I was waiting for the absolute last flower to dry up before I could will myself to part with them.  I decided to save the ones that were still viable and make a smaller bouquet out of them and threw their dead and crispy neighbors out!

I retrimmed the ends and found a smaller vase, cleaned it out, added my bleach treatment (1/2 capful per liter) and made a new arrangement.

Its been about two weeks since my hunny brought them home to me and they still look great.  The yellow daisy is on it's way out, but the rest of them are still going strong.   

#6  Make your own brown sugar!
I was planning to make cookies one day when I discovered that I was out of brown sugar.  Running to the store wasn't an option, at the time, and I REALLY wanted those cookies!!  I remembered that I had a some molasses left over from making gingerbread cookies during Christmas... hmmm....  So I looked up the recipe, and sure enough - just add molasses to white sugar and stir like crazy. 

Instant brown sugar!

Brown Sugar Recipe
2 cups white sugar
1 1/2 tbsp molasses

Combine in a large bowl and mix until texture is even. 
#5  Have some stale bread?
Don't waste it!  Repurpose it!  Cut it into cubes, in a large bowl, combine the cubed bread with some salt, pepper, a little parsely or thyme and some olive oil.  Give it a quick toss and put them in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees and you have homemade croutons!

You know those end pieces that no one wants to eat?  Tear them into large pieces and put them in the food processor or a blender.  Blend on high to make bread crumbs.

Add these to ground meat when making meatballs, use them to coat chicken to make chicken strips, add them to stews to thicken the broth, or combine with a little parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, butter, and ground pistachios to make a superb topping for baked fish.  Just spoon it on top of the fish and bake as normal. 
#4  Peeling Hard Boiled Eggs
Have you ever boiled eggs with the intention of using them for later?  So you put them in the fridge, shell on (so as not to unnecessarily stink up your kitchen), and then when you try to peel the cold eggs later, you not only remove the shell, but also about 1/2 of the white part with it. That's because cold eggs don't peel well.  Warm eggs peel very easily.  Here is my solution: boil your eggs and peel them as soon as they're cool enough to handle.  Put them into a plastic storage container and fill it up with cold water.  Place the container in the fridge.

Be sure that the water rises above the surface of the eggs so they don't dry out.  Remove them for use whenever you need them.  They will keep like this for about 3 days.

#3  Medicine Charts
Some kids don't like taking cold medicine.  Mine LOVE taking cold medicine.  They're weirdos.  I think it makes them feel important.  They get to do something special that no one else in the family is required to do (unless they are also sick).  At least that's the impression I get.  Or maybe cold medicine just tastes better nowadays.  What do I know?  I do know, however, that remembering to give my kids thier full regimen of antibiotics can be a challenge.  Sometimes I forget.  Sometimes they don't like the taste of it.  Sometimes I don't feel like fighting about it.  So I devised a system that helps me remember and even gets the kids to remind me that its time to take thier antibiotics. 

I make a chart with the number of days their regimen will last and the number of times they will take it each day.  We currently have two ear infections going on.  They were both prescribed the same antibiotic that they are to take three times a day for ten days.  Ugh.  I decided that giving it to them after meal time is the best way to remember to take it, so I assigned three rows: B for breakfast, L for lunch, D for dinner.  Easy.  Every time they take their antibiotics, I let them make a big fat X in the corresponding box.  And the kicker...they get to use a pen or a sharpie to do it.  That makes all the difference.  Ink is a big 'no-no' around here so they get to do something that would otherwise be forbidden... and they eat it up.  They are sure to remind me to administer the drugs.

Works like a charm.

#2  Freezer Meals
Making a lasagna or other labor intensive meal?

Do yourself a favor and double your recipe.  Make one for now, and one for the freezer.  Its really not that much more work, and you're doing it anyway.  Use a freezer safe dish or a disposable aluminum one from the grocery store.  Seal it tight with foil and label it.  Make any notes visible.  Mine says, "needs mozz for the top."  I ran out.  Oops.  But when I go to defrost this a couple months later, I won't be met with any surprises.
Place the entire pan into a plastic freezer bag as an extra precaution and throw it in the freezer for later when you need something easy. 

#1 Cutting Onions
Have you tried this?


Ya, me too.  Why?  Because it takes a really sharp knife to get through that onion without having to saw your way down to the cutting board.  Forgive me if I forget to sharpen my knives every Saturday.  I have laundry to do. 

Here's another way to get the same results with a less than sharp knife.

Cut a few imperfect slices of onion.
Now cut those slices in half.
Working one half at a time, cut the onion by starting at one corner and working your way around to the other corner.  Think of your onion as a protractor (remember those?) and your knife is the pencil at zero degrees, making slices every 5 degrees or so.
Viola!  Perfectly chopped onion!

Please forgive the terrible pictures.  My kitchen has horrible lighting. 


  1. are those your chunky fingers??? lol

  2. no.... You know I have skeleton fingers.

  3. I love the Medicine Chart. My daughter hates taking her medicine....but she does love charts and stickers! I think it might work!

    I had no clue about the brown sugar....!