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Entries in works for me Wednesday (5)

Wednesday
Nov182009

Make-ahead mashed potatoes.

I'm getting off pretty easy this year for Thanksgiving.  My folks just moved into a new house this summer and we're gathering there for Thanksgiving.  The last few years, we've hosted.  And to say I like to go overboard on the menu is an understatement--all of the magazines I get tempt me with fabulous looking recipes...and before I know it, I'm making a dozen things in varying textures and tastes, both savory and sweet.  And that's just the appetizers.

My folks will have an abundant spread, to be sure.  But it'll be nice and traditional, no frou frou.  Good, delicious, time-tested family dishes--everything from feel and memory.  In fact, my mind simply cannot form the image of my parents cooking in their kitchen while referring to a recipe in a magazine or cookbook.  You might as well ask me to picture myself eating nothing but raw celery (the one veggie I cannot stand--and it does so have a flavor). 

Along with my sister-in-law, I get to bring dessert.  I'm also allowed to bring one or two starters.  This means I'll bring five.  And they asked me to make the mashed potatoes!!  I about fell over.  But then I remembered that I recently made mashed potatoes for them (using the below recipe) and my mom and I "tasted for seasoning" a good quarter of the dish before it made it to the table.  And then I caught her licking the mixing bowl.

This recipe initially caught my eye because you can make it ahead and store in your fridge for up to 2 days--when planning a large meal, this really works for me.  But even if I'm serving it immediately, it's the only recipe I use because it is amazing.  Once you see the quantity of butter and cream, I doubt you'll doubt that.  Plus, it's from Cook's Illustrated--enough said, right? 

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoess

from Cook's Illustrated

Note:  bake the potatoes until they are completely tender; err on the side of over (rather than under) cooking.

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs russet baking potatoes (evenly sized), scrubbed and poked several times with a fork
  • 3 cups heavy cream, hot (** sometimes I use a cup of half and half but I've never replaced all of the cream)
  • 8 tbl (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • salt (I use kosher) & pepper to taste

1.  Adjust oven rack to the middle position; preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2.  Microwave potatoes on high power for 16 minutes, turning over halfway through the cooking time.  Transfer to the oven, placing directly on the hot oven rack (use tongs).  Bake until a skewer glides easily through the flesh, about 30 minutes, flipping over halfway through the baking time (do not under cook).

3.  Remove potatoes from oven and cut each potato in half lengthwise.  Using an oven mitt or folded kitchen towel to hold the hot potato, scoop out all of the flesh into a medium bowl.  Break the cooked potato flesh into small pieces.

4.  Transfer half of the potatoes to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on high speed until smooth, about 30 seconds, gradually adding the rest of the potatoes to incorporate, until completely smooth and no lumps remain, 1 to 2 minutes, stopping to scrape sides and bottom as needed (you can use a hand mixer instead but lumps will remain). 

5.  Remove bowl from mixer and gently fold in 2 cups of cream, followed by the butter and 2 teaspoons of salt (this is for kosher salt--start with a lot less if you are using table salt).  Gently fold in up to 1/2 cup more of the cream as needed to reach your desired consistency.  If you are serving immediately, you are done--so dive in.  If storing--continue:  Once the desired serving consistency is reached, gently fold in an additional 1/2 cup cream (the potatoes will be quite loose...don't worry).

6.  To store:  transfer potatoes to a large microwave-safe bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for up to 2 days.

7.  To serve:  poke lots of holes in the plastic wrap with the tip of a knife, and microwave at medium-high (75 percent) power until the potatoes are hot, about 14 minutes, stirring gently half-way through the reheating time.  Add salt and pepper to taste--always stirring gently.  Enjoy!

*check out more "works for me" ideas over at We Are THAT Family.

Wednesday
Nov042009

Works for me Wednesday, holiday weight management.

Just about everyone I know dreads putting on a few pounds during the holidays.  And let's face it--it's probably going to happen.  There are countless once-a-year treats to be had, and I for one think you should have them.  Then again, at our house, butter is basically its own food group during the months of November and December, so I may be biased.  I also think it's too ambitious for anyone to try to lose weight during the holidays.  Instead, I'm all about damage control for weight management these next two months.  And to do it, I employ a simple mindset on how I eat. 

I'm not a dieter in a traditional sense and never have been.  But that's not to say I don't watch what I eat because I do.  I just don't restrict myself on a daily basis.  Instead, I think of my overall eating habits in blocks of days:  Mon & Tue; Wed & Thur; Fri, Sat, & Sun.  And I spread the good, the bad, and the downright ugly amongst these blocks of time.  If I eat horribly over a weekend (I cannot be let loose on party dip--it's really a problem), I try to redeem my diet over other days.  I actually do this throughout the year but it's especially helpful during the holidays. 

Let's talk specifics.  Most of the upcoming holiday parties will fall during the latter part of the week.  So I'll front load the veggies and fiber and all things healthful earlier in the week.  This goes for my family, too.  Because then I won't have a battle on my hands when the older boys are too excited at the party or family dinner to sit and eat like they usually do and only have eyes for the dessert spread.  Instead, I'll remember the midweek spinach fest and hardly blink when they belly up to that buffet o'treats and help themselves to, say, a third serving of pie.  In fact, they're probably just falling in line behind me--mmmm, pie.  And it's all good because come Monday, we'll crave something green and from the earth and I'll happily oblige. 

This game plan used to work on its own.  And then my aging metabolism became a factor--grrr.  Now I also up my cardio as much as possible and here's what has helped on that front: 

A few months ago, my friends turned me onto this super affordable workout video by Jillian Michaels.  It combines cardio and strength training but only takes 20 minutes.  Seriously.  And I dare say that every single one of us has 20 minutes a day (or at least every other day) to squeeze in a workout, right?  Especially when the commute is just to your TV and not your gym.  And in case you're wondering, it's no walk in the park.  I usually turn up my nose at workout videos, truth be told, because I'm a part-time fitness instructor going on my 14th year and my class motto is "hate me now, love me and your thighs later."  But this video challenges me.  And it's just the little extra I need to balance the excess in calories I cannot wait to consume.  Because as much as I love going to the gym (no sarcasm there.  I really do love to workout), I'm not going to go any more frequently during the holidays.

Here's to you, your forthcoming smorgasbord, and jeans that do not bind.

For more tips, be sure to check out the posts over at We Are THAT Family's works for me Wednesday.

 

Wednesday
Oct282009

Works for me Wednesday, muffins.

 

I like to have fresh muffins on hand, but sometimes I'm not up to hauling out all of the ingredients.  Here's what works for me to make it a little easier.

At the beginning of each month, I make up four baggies of muffin mix and store them in the freezer (you probably don't need to put them in the freezer but I do).  I use a standard recipe that can be tweaked by a variety of mix-ins.  Throughout the month I just grab a baggie, add in the "wet" ingredients and whatever mix-ins I happen to have, then suddenly fresh muffins are ready for the taking in no time at all.  In fact, hold on, I'll be right back.  See?  Just made some muffins (pineapple coconut because that's what was in the pantry).

Here's the recipe I use.  I set up an assembly line, laying out four quart-sized baggies into bowls (so they'll stand up), then measure and dump the dry ingredients into each one.  Do not add the "wet" ingredients!

Old-School Muffins

from Alton Brown

dry ingredients (for each bag)

  • 2 1/4 Cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt

"Wet" ingredients--to be added later!

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (I've also used sour cream if my mix in is sweeter)

Extras

1 to 2 cups nuts, berries, chocolate chips, or any combo.  Do not do more than 1 cup of chocolate chips though.

To assemble:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Prep muffin tin with baker's joy spray or muffin liners.  Dump dry "mix" into bowl, whisk several times to fluff up (Alton says to pulse in a food processor for 5 seconds but I don't bother).  In separate bowl, whisk together all wet ingredients.  Dump wet ingredients onto dry, add in mix-ins, then stir until batter comes together.  Do not mix smooth. 

Drop batter into prepared tin.  Cups should be full (at this point, you can store uncooked muffins, loosely covered, in the fridge if you want to bake them up the next morning.  You could also store them in the bowl but do not stir everything up again before you pan them--you'll let out all the bubbles in the batter and you won't get all those awesome muffin-y nooks and crannies).

Bake for 18-20 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately place muffins on cooling rack or turn them onto their sides to let steam escape, preventing the dreaded mushy muffin bottom.

Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

A few more notes:  I put all of my quart-sized baggies into a gallon-sized ziploc before I toss them into the freezer.  It keeps them together so I know how many I have left.  Plus, when I empty a baggie, I just stick it back into the gallon ziploc to reuse several times to minimize waste. 

Be sure to check out more "works for me Wednesday" tips over at We are THAT Family.

 

Wednesday
Oct142009

Switch Witch to the rescue (with download).

 

A few years ago a friend passed on a great tip on how to manage all of the candy that your kids haul in from trick or treating.

Enter the Switch Witch.

Switch Witch is a very kind witch (we don't like things too dark or scary here) who comes by after Halloween to take away extra candy and instead leaves a more sensible goodie.  The beauty of the Switch Witch is you get to decide everything about her.  Unlike the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc., your kids have probably never heard of her, which is awesome!  Because it means you are not hemmed in by any preconceived notions or expectations--how fantastic, right?  It's fun to make your own tradition.  Here's what we do.

The boys come in after a fun night of trick or treating, their bags holding an impossible amount of candy.  We dump and check the loot and they get to eat a few pieces on the spot.  Then we take out some reasonable-sized containers (we decorate empty plastic peanut butter jars) and they fill them with whatever candy they choose (to be consumed later per some house rules).  I try not to candy-shame them into picking what I consider the "good stuff"--but it's hard (because in what universe does a roll of Smarties trump any candy made with real chocolate?).

The rest of the candy is set out for the Switch Witch, who takes the candy and leaves a non-candy treat.  In years past we've done books or small toys.  This year I found some nifty rotating toothbrushes that the boys wanted--I figured a toothbrush "toy" would be a perfect switch for candy!

It wasn't until last year that either of the boys asked what happened to all of the candy.  I told them she takes it to others to share (I left out that the "others" were my then-officemates).  This year the loot is headed to my husband's office. 

Here is a printable I made up--we like the Switch Witch to leave a little note.  I tried to make her look like a funny, happy, witch, not to mention sensible--she never forgets her scarf because it's chilly whizzing about on a broom.  I have no idea what I'm doing with graphic software, but it'll work for our family.  Be sure to check out other tips at We Are THAT Family's Works for me Wednesday.

Wednesday
Oct072009

Works for me Wednesday, cleaning tip.

 

I'm participating in We Are THAT Family's 'Works For Me Wednesday' and this week's theme is cleaning tips.  

I have a quick and simple tip about how I clean and polish our stainless steel kitchen appliances.  When we first got them, it drove me crazy how every little hand print and smudge showed up.  And many of the recommended cleaners I tried left ugly streaks.  Then I found out what store employees use to keep stainless steel appliances looking snazzy:  baby oil.  And because a showroom floor and my kitchen get roughly the same amount of traffic, I decided to try it.  You only need a couple of drops on a soft, lint-free cloth.  It's really worked for me so I hope you'll give it a try.