The Great Cookie Sheet Hunt

It’s over now. The Great Hunt. I’ve found what I’ve been wanting. It took a long time; I’ve shopped all over town and online looking for the perfect cookie sheet, one that meets my very specific needs:

♦ Don’t always need to be greased, especially between batches of cookies

♦ Are big enough to hold up to 2 dozen cookies

♦ Won’t bake the oil, shortening or cooking spray right into the pan

♦ Are heavy duty enough not to bend and dent

I finally found them at Bed, Bath & Beyond. The Brand is USA Pan www.usapans.com  and having used them for a few weeks now, I’m sold.  They meet all my criteria and then some:

♦ They are silicone coated, but don’t look like it. (Don’t risk scratching with metal untensils.)

♦ Their ridged surface cleans like a charm. I don’t grease them and between batches ; simply rinse them with cold water and wipe with a paper towel. (Instructions say do not wash in the

dishwasher.) No matter;  they wouldn’t fit, anyway. A dishcloth and a little soap makes quick work of any cleanup.

♦ You can bake at a reduced temperature (as a rule of thumb, I go with 25° lower) and sometimes  for a shorter time period.

♦ There’s only one rimmed edge.  So there are no corners to get gunked up – hooray!  The one edge makes the whole pan appear larger. Plus they store so much easier. I have a stand up rack in the pantry and I just pull out the cookie sheet. Nothing else comes with it.

USA Pan cookie sheets cost more than most:  $18.00+ Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons come into my mailbox on a regular basis, so I never pay full price, but would be willing to because they are the best I’ve ever baked with.

Your friend in the kitchen,

Jean

My Kitchen Companions

Other than Roger, pots & pans and actual cooking tools, my favorite kitchen companions are books - cooking, of course. I learned to cook as a new bride from a Better Homes & Gardens beginner book, way back when. It was a wedding gift from my Mom and over the years I literally wore it out.

When I cooked my first Thanksgiving turkey, BH & G taught me how. Thanks to them, I found no surprise package of giblets in the turkey cavity when we served it.

When hamburger was on sale and I bought ten pounds, my book provided recipes for meatloaf, hamburger soup and steak substitute.

It was the first place I looked for answers to the questions, “How do I …..?” and “What is this ingredient?” (Now, of course, you go online!)    

My library has quite a few cooking and recipe books. One of the most used is a slightly more recent (1994) reference book: The Kitchen Companion (aptly named) by Polly Clingerman. I did an online search to see if it is still available and it is, with prices ranging (used) from 5o cents to several hundred dollars – go figure!

The book is actually a compilation of recipes, notes, charts, substitutions, tips, tricks and techniques from a  log she created  during 30 years of living, cooking and entertaining around the world while in the diplomatic service.

It is my go-to kitchen reference. I learn something every time I open it.

What are your kitchen companions?

Your friend in the kitchen,

Jean

Home Made Jams & Jellies – Easier than you think

Over the past year I’ve been experimenting with home made jams and jellies. This is after many years of store bought. Even though I’ve received jars of jam as gifts from other people, I somehow never considered (until now) doing it myself.

I’m delighted, not only with the results, but discovering that a small batch doesn’t take all day, the directions are fairly simple, people love home made and there are lots of interesting recipes to try.

So far, I’ve had yummy success with five that are sweet and two that are savory (meaning don’t try them on a peanut butter sandwich!)

The sweets are an Orange Rosemary Jelly, an Apple Thyme Jelly, an Apricot Pineapple Marmalade, a Balsamic Strawberry Jam and a Basil Jelly.  The three jellies call for fresh herbs. I have a rosemary plant in my yard that grows all year, so I can make the Orange Rosemary any time. Fresh thyme and basil are seasonal and now done for the year, so I’ll have to wait.

The other two are Tomato Jam and Red Onion with Herbs Jelly – definitely different, but good. The tomato is excellent on meat sandwiches and I’m still experimenting with the onion. Maybe I’ll mix it with barbecue sauce and brush it on the last few minutes.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Your friend in the kitchen,

Jean

Jams and jellies make great gifts as well as treats for the family. So I’m stocking up

Entrepreneur at a Young Age

A young man, age 7,  who attended a ladies’ networking lunch with his mom proves that age has not too much to do with the entrepreneurial spirit.  I was selling some of my homemade breads and he was my first customer of the day.

With his own money, he bought a loaf of the lemon pecan bread. (see Homemade Breads page) While at the lunch, he didn’t open it to look at or taste (it was wrapped in foil), which I thought indicated a lot of self control.

His mom told me later he truly enjoyed it. In her own words, “He charged my husband for a slice. The bread almost started a riot. It was delicious.”

I wish he lived next door – he could be my sales rep!

Let’s Get Real About Home Cooking

Maybe cooking isn’t your outlet for creativity. Maybe you don’t feel confident enough to enjoy it. Maybe the demands of 3 meals a day, EVERY DARN DAY, are too much for you. Take heart, you’re not alone.

The good news is: there are myriads of choices in the grocery store, although some are better than others.  You get to choose the level of cooking you do:

  • Nothing from scratch
  • Lots of help from the deli, freezer section, packaged food & canned goods aisles
  • A blend of fresh foods and prepared foods
  • Cooking mostly with fresh ingredients
  • Eating more fruits and vegetables that don’t need cooking

Some of the Pros & Cons of cooking at home are summarized below:

PROS:

  • It’s healthier than fast food  (You control the sugar, fat & salt and there are no preservatives)
  • It’s cheaper than eating out
  • You enjoy knowing you’re eating healthier
  • You feel better physically when you eat healthier
  • You’re investing in your family’s health and well-being
  • Everybody can help

CONS:

  • You don’t have time to cook
  • You don’t know what to cook
  • You hate grocery shopping
  • Everything in the kitchen gets dirty
  • Your kids won’t eat vegetables

These are just a few.  Making the commitment to cook at home can seem “Not possible!”  Just like the commitment to control your temper, drive under the speed limit, lose 30 pounds or build an exercise program into your routine when the most exercise you get now is walking to your mailbox.

Isn’t it all about change; choosing to do something different that will make your life better?  Here are 5 things that can help you:

1) Start small – Commit to just one home cooked meal a week or one more than you’re doing now.

2) Enlist help – Spouse, teens and even younger kids can help. Family time spent in the kitchen and at the dinner table presents great opportunities for connecting at the end of the day and affirming family relationships.  Check this site often for quick and easy recipes, kitchen reference information, fun things to cook.

3)  Know that planning, which is simply deciding ahead of time, is the key to success in the kitchen.  Watch this spot for how-to information and systems that work.

4)  Sign up to receive free weekly  “Tips, Hints & Cooking Shortcuts”  which will give you lots of ideas and support in home cooking.  For immediate help, order the booklet  “Organize and Love Your Kitchen! 89 Tips & Ideas.”  www.jeanskitchen.net/organize-love-your-kitchen Few people have a perfect kitchen and here you’ll find things you can do today to make your kitchen work.

5)  Come to a cooking class in Jean’s Kitchen – Fun, interactive, great recipes, any skill level - delicious food. Bring a friend!

Yes, home cooking requires commitment and planning. Yes, it takes time. Like most other good things, it pays off big time and I promise, it’s worth it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee In a China Cup

COFFEE IN A CHINA CUP

I remember three things about Marta:

1)      She was pear shaped with pregnancy when she moved in next door
2)      Accompanied by her Ukranian mother, her toddler and her household goods, she moved 1500 miles across the country while her husband stayed at his job to finish a project
3)      The priceless gift she gave me

A couple of days after baby Sara was born, Marta caught me at the mailbox. “You come for coffee and see Sara, “ she said in broken English. “You and friend next door, other side. Come tomorrow morning, ten o’clock.”

When we walked into the house the next morning, the smell of fresh coffee and something really delicious  beckoned us to the kitchen.  There we found Marta’s mother creating homemade pastries. She whisked the rolling pin over the dough, cut it into strips, gave each a twist and gently dropped them into hot oil. In no time at all they were golden brown and smelling of cinnamon. Her delicate pastries needed no words and her welcoming smile said it all.

After our introduction to Sara, who went immediately to sleep, we moved back to the sunlit kitchen. To my surprise, Marta brought out china plates, cups and saucers. The still warm pastries, now sprinkled with powdered sugar, filled a basket lined with a colorful tea towel.

As I sipped my coffee from the china cup, it registered with me that this was a first - I had never been served on china before.  I felt like royalty. What began as an invitation to “drop by and see the baby” ended up being a wonderful hour spent with Marta and her mother.  Language was a bit of a problem, but we stumbled and laughed our way through it and had fun in the process.

This is many years later. I can’t recall a single thing about Marta’s house – furniture, paint colors, decorations – none of it. I wouldn’t recognize her if we met on the street. But I will never forget how she and her mother made me feel that day.

Marta and Sara were the reason we went, but we were treated as the guests of honor. Marta had made a major move, set up housekeeping and  had a baby without help from her husband. Yet, she took time to reach out to two younger women, one single, one married and extended graciousness to us. She and her mother made us feel  welcome and special.

Marta introduced me to what hospitality is all about.  It wasn’t just the good dishes and homemade pastries. It was how she and her mother  reached beyond self to care about someone else on a personal level.  Marta opened the door to her home – packing boxes and all – and her heart.

She had no idea how she shaped my perceptions of graciousness and hospitality; no clue that she defined what it means for me to ‘have people over;’ or that she created in me the desire to use food as a way of saying, “I care about you.”  Which in turn, unleashed a passion for cooking.  All this from homemade pastries and coffee in a china cup.