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Tip Hero: how to save time and money on EVERYTHING

19 Jan

The other day I was searching The Interwebs for some help, probably on stain removal or something, and this site came up: TipHero.  Ever since then, I have been totally obsessed with it! 

They have awesome tips that are user generated, along with some standards they put out every week like the “Top Free Samples of the Week” like you see above.

You can look up tips based on lifestyle category, or you can just browse the featured tips on the home page.  I decided that I should join and become a tipper (where I add tips I have found useful in the kitchen or anywhere else for that matter).  As a tipper, you create your tip then submit it for review.

So I was excited to see that my first tip, Brown Bananas Save Money in the Summer, was just approved! YAY! It’s not earth-shattering, but most helpful tips rarely are. It’s the actual implementation of those easy tips that is really amazing. If you can find the time to do it, you’ll be amazed at (a) what it saves you, (b) how great you feel, doing something good for yourself and your family, and (c) how easy it really was, when you just focused for a few minutes!

DIY Dinner: Hunt’s Brings prizes AND recipes to the table!

7 Jan

I was entering this fun little contest today, for a chance to Host the Ultimate Chef Party with Celebrity chef George Duran and after I didn’t win, they gave me a fun little recipe.  I was actually pretty impressed, because even though I didn’t win, the recipe they gave me (above, for Pizza Pockets) is super easy!

Not only did this remind me that I LOVE pita pockets, it also reminded me of when my mom would make me tuna pockets for lunch (not gross, even though it probably sounds like it).

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Onion Dip: when I dip, you dip, we dip!

14 Jun

If you’re too old or young for the reference in the title, then here. That is very 1998, and reminds me of high school whenever I hear it.

And it makes me want to dance, and I love to dance in the kitchen, while I cook. And so, naturally (right?) I want to make this aromatic and rich onion dip that Baking Banter posted. (I CAN’T get enough of them lately, I know!!!!!)

Image credit to King Arthur Flour Company

Here is how they made their version of the onion dip.

I would say my only switch up would be a healthy swap out of the mayo and cream cheese (sorry fatty dairy products….I love you, but the seams on my bikini and everyone at the beach in Bali that will have to see my fat, white thighs? not so much!)

I would, instead, keep the non-fat sour cream, because it’s really not that bad, and that zip it adds is unmistakable, and I would make the rest from (you guessed it) my lady in waiting, non-fat plain yogurt. Strained or not, it keeps it creamy and filling, without a million extra calories that I won’t have time to run off before August.

I may just have to make this over this weekend…and try it out on my subjects, er, friends.

What in the chocolate cake!?

3 Feb

I don’t even like chocolate cake. Seriously. I. Don’t. Like. It.

It always ends up being some gross, dry, crumby, cotton-mouth-dry disaster that someone always swears is “my grandmother’s grandmother’s famous recipe!” (gag)

I would rather have vanilla anything, any day of the week over chocolate. I know, boo hoo. Boring me, right?  Sorry, that’s just how I feel….

So this morning when I saw an email from those cooking freaks (and I mean that in a good way) at my favorite (you guessed it) BHG (what? you don’t know the acronym yet? It’s Better Homes and Gardens) were touting their top cake recipes, I decided to stumble on over and see what was up.

I was REALLY surprised when the third cake I saw was this incredibly dense and NOT dry looking chocolate cake:

Chocolate Sour Cream Cake with Fudgy Frosting

{credit: Better Homes and Gardens. www.bhg.com}

And of course when I clicked on the picture I realized we share a love of secret ingredients. Theirs is Sour Cream, for this cake….I don’t know about the rest of the cakes, I’m too busy stabbing my screen with a fork.

So, I thought on a rainy Wednesday I’d share with you the joy of their Sour Cream Chocolate Cake Recipe:

Ingredients
2  eggs
1-1/2  cups all-purpose flour
1/3  cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1  tsp. baking powder
1/2  tsp. baking soda
1/2  tsp. salt
1/2  cup shortening
1-1/4  cups sugar
1  tsp. vanilla
3  oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1  8-oz. carton dairy sour cream
1  cup milk
1  recipe Fudgy Frosting

Directions
1. Let eggs stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Set aside.

2. In small bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In large bowl beat shortening and sugar on medium speed until combined. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in melted chocolate and sour cream. Alternately add flour mixture and milk; beat on low after each addition just until combined. Spread batter in prepared pans.

3. Bake 25 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans; cool.

4. Prepare Fudgy Frosting. Place one layer flat side down on plate. Spread top with 1 cup frosting. Stack second layer flat side down. Spread with remaining frosting. Makes 16 servings.

5.Fudgy Frosting: In large pan over low heat melt and stir one 12-oz. pkg. semisweet chocolate pieces and 1/2 cup butter. Cool 10 minutes. Stir in 8-oz. carton sour cream. Stir in 4-1/2 cups (1 lb.) sifted powdered sugar; stir until smooth. Makes 4 cups.

I’m not going to lie and tell you it’s healthy, because it’s not. If I were making it, it probably would be healthy. But I’m not making it. I’m just eating it (or not, since no one else is making it for me. sniff sniff)

Go to the Better Homes and Gardens website for the full nutritional facts, reviews and comments by other folks, and while you’re there, check out the rest of the cake pron (that’s right, I said cake pron. You know what I mean.)

Secret Trick: Top turkey tips (and other quick ideas)

24 Nov

Again, I have been reading the Better Homes and Gardens website lately, and they have some great tips for holiday prep, I really thought I should pass on:

Tip 1: Carving the turkey

Carving a turkey

You might not be cooking it yourself, but if you’re going to someone’s house, many times they have a guest carve it, or alternatively, NO ONE knows how. So, show your expertise here by jumping in and impressing the crowd!

Tip 2: Thaw it out!

Putting a frozen turkey in refrigerator

No use in attempting to cook it if you forgot to thaw it out in advance right? There’s a couple things to remember when thawing, so this would be a good tip to remember!

Tip 3: Mashing it so good

Assortment of Potatoes

Everyone thinks mashed potatoes are the easiest side dish to make. And they can be, but they can also be very easily ruined (I would know, I’ve done it before). So take a minute to commit this tip to memory.

Tip 4: THE MOST IMPORTANT – Turkey Gravy

Making turkey gravy

Seriously, this is the MOST IMPORTANT dish at the table. I don’t care what anyone says. I’ve been making gravy from scratch for years, and it is hands down the best thing EVER. (don’t even bother arguing this point with me, all you’ll get is a blank stare, followed by a spoonful of my gravy to shut you up).  It also happens to be SO easy to make. Don’t skimp, don’t use a packet. Use what that poor bird gave you. You’re servin’ him up for dinner, at least let him keep his dignity by impresssing you with his tasty gravy bits.

Their recipe for turkey gravy isn’t exactly what I do, but it’s close enough and easy to follow. (I add fat free half and half and a bit of water instead of chicken broth, but i like the chicken broth idea and will try that this year. Also, 1/4 cup of the FAT?!?! Yeah, keep the difibrulator near by, kay? you don’t need that fat.  I only use 2 tablespoons and dump the rest of the fat leaving the broth juices behind for the gravy. This way, you can use more gravy on your taters, and not feel badly about it!)

Gobble Gobble!

(All tip pictures from Better Homes and Garden Tips articles.  http://www.bhg.com)

Secret: my new favorite tea

24 Nov

I’m sitting at work, and it’s cold, rainy and generally just yucky out! I decided a cup of tea sounded nice, but I’m almost getting sick of peppermint, because I have it almost every day. So I saw someone brought in some Jasmine Green Tea from GoodEarth.

 

This stuff is so good! Without using any explitives to express how much I really like it, let’s just say, I’m going to be putting this on my grocery list! YUM.

Enjoy!

Secret Trick: I’m comin’ out! I want the world to know…

22 Oct

 

SING IT SISTER!

You know the words! Every year around this time, I want to scream and shout when I bring out my secret trick: my slow cooker.

This thing is simply THE FREAKING BOMBDIZZLE.

Seriously, whoever invented this: thank you.

I am so excited to get started using it this Fall and Winter. Last year, Emily and I bought a book at Ikea called 100 One Pot Meals.

I have flagged about 25-30 pages so far.  Many things are great about one pot meals, oh let me count the ways:

-You have very little prep
-Don’t have to stay in the kitchen
-Can start it before you go to bed, it’s done in the morning
-Can start before you leave for work, it’s done right when you get home from work
-You can eat from the same meal for at least 4 sittings
-The leftovers for lunch at work only require 1 tupperware dish
-Barely any clean up for the KP (Kitchen Patrol) duty person
-Flavors get better as days go on
-You can take to a friend’s house or event
-The warmth can help you stay cozy even if you’re cutting back on heating -the house
-It’s a great excuse to have friends over, without a bunch of labor
-It tasts so good when it touches the lips

So, if you’re not convinced yet, then I’m wasting my time with you. If you ARE convinced, GREAT! Welcome to the cult. Please no recording devices. :)

I am going to start making these cheap, easy and dilicious meals soon, and will of course share with you my recipes (or lack thereof), thoughts, results, and ideas, along with pictures. Lots of pictures.

But since I haven’t done one yet, I wanted to show you what someone else has done to get this party started:

Hearty slow cooker meal of beef stew with mushrooms served over mashed potatoes.

Slow-braised Beef Stew with Mushrooms

From Sunset Magazine

Yield
Makes 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients
4  pounds  boned, fat-trimmed beef short ribs or chuck
1  orange (2 1/2 in. wide), rinsed
1  onion (about 8 oz.), peeled and finely chopped
About 1 cup fat-skimmed beef or chicken broth
1  cup  dry red wine
1/2  cup  port or cream sherry
1/4  cup  balsamic vinegar
2  tablespoons  soy sauce
1  teaspoon  dried thyme or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
3  or 4 very thin slices (quarter size) peeled fresh ginger
1/2  teaspoon  Chinese five spice
1  pound mushrooms (1- to 1 1/2-in.-wide caps)
2  tablespoons  butter or olive oil
2  tablespoons  cornstarch
Salt and pepper
1/4  cup  chopped fresh chives or green onions

Preparation
1. Rinse meat; cut into 3- to 4-inch lengths (for chuck, about 1 in. thick and 1 1/2 in. wide) and place in a 5- to 6-quart slow-cooker.

2. With a vegetable peeler, pare orange part of peel from orange and sliver it; save orange for other uses. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart pan, combine peel, onion, 1 cup broth, wine, port, vinegar, soy sauce, thyme, ginger, and five spice. Bring to a boil over high heat. Pour liquid over meat. Turn slow-cooker to high, cover, and cook until meat is very tender when pierced, 5 to 6 hours.

3. Rinse and drain mushrooms; trim off and discard stem ends. Cut mushrooms in half lengthwise and place in a 10- to 12-inch frying pan; add butter.

4. Skim off and discard fat from liquid in slow-cooker. Ladle 1 cup liquid into pan with mushrooms. Stir mushrooms often over high heat until liquid has evaporated and mushrooms are lightly browned, 13 to 17 minutes.

5. With a slotted spoon, lift meat from juices in slow-cooker and lay in a single layer in a shallow casserole (about 9 by 13 in.). Pour mushrooms over meat. Bake in a 375° regular or convection oven until meat is sizzling and browned, 12 to 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, measure remaining liquid from slow-cooker. If less than 2 cups, add beef broth to make 2 cups, pour into a 2- to 3-quart pan, and bring to a boil over high heat; if there is more, pour into pan and boil, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 2 cups, 8 to 12 minutes. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch with 1/4 cup water. Pour into boiling liquid and stir until thickened, about 30 seconds. Pour evenly over meat and mix gently to blend with liquid in casserole, adding salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chives.

Notes:
Don’t confuse beef short ribs with back ribs cut from the beef loin. If you don’t have a slow-cooker, put meat in a 2-inch-deep, 4- to 5-quart baking pan (about 9 by 13 in.); heat liquids and flavorings (step 2), pour over meat, and seal with foil. Bake in a 350° oven until meat is very tender when pierced, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. After 1 hour, check liquid and add water up to original level. Reseal pan with foil and return to oven; after 30 more minutes, check and adjust liquid level again. When meat is tender, continue with step 3; leave meat in pan, draining off liquid, or transfer to a casserole. You can make this dish up to 2 days ahead; let cool, then cover and chill. Bake, covered, in a 350° oven until meat is hot, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve stew with hot cooked rice or mashed potatoes.

Secret Trick: yogurt

14 Oct

I have a few secret tricks I keep in my back pocket for anytime I’m making a meal or dish that either has a recipe or that I’m winging.

Secret Trick for this week: yogurt.  It’s your new best friend, didn’t you know?

 Nancy's Yogurt

I don’t mean the kind you eat at breakfast that comes in a tiny portion cup for $0.89 at the store. I mean plain, nonfat, unsweetened yogurt.  You might not want to eat it plain this way, but it makes one hell of an ingredient and substitutor.

You will notice when I post recipes or ideas on A Half Cup, many times yogurt will be an ingredient. IT IS SUCH A WORK HORSE.

For $2.99 (give or take), you can buy a quart of nonfat, plain yogurt.  And here’s some of the things you can do with it, over it’s pretty long shelf life in your fridge (usually mine lasts me almost three weeks):

Substitute for: butter, oil, shortening

Add to: soups, salad dressing, frosting, cheese-based dishes (like lasagna)

You can also dump it into a strainer lined with a cheesecloth or a cotton (non terry) dish towel and drain the water out of it to make a thicker dip.

Or my all time favorite, you can freeze it and make homemade frozen yogurt! YUMMMMMMMMMMMMM, but also BRRRRRRRRR!

Greek Gods Yogurt

There are a few kinds of yogurt that are great to have on hand: plain nonfat, nonfat greek, and whole fat (although use that whole fat very sparingly if you’re watching your intake).

If you’re not currently using, buying or trying yogurt, give it a chance! It’s cheap, lasts a long time, and (duh) it’s really good for you. Unless you’re lactose intolerant…..in that case, you can use soy pudding (which is creamy like yogurt, but made from tofu)

Have questions? Want a recipe that uses yogurt or soy pudding? GIMME A SHOUT!

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