HOW TO PACK A HAT IN YOUR SUITCASE

Ever try traveling with a hat?  Where do you carry it?  Like most, the answer is likely on your head, lap, or maybe just leave it behind before you end up losing it en route.  BUT, the hat is an essential item for summer travelers, so here’s a great way to bring that accessory without hassle or worry. 

Gather all the items you want to pack; The place the heavy items on the bottom including things like shoes, purses, and jeans, creating a flat surface. 

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Save one heavy item and roll it up. Screenshot 2017-05-05 10.13.10

 

Grab your hat and gently fill the space where your head goes with the rolled item, leaving no space.  

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Next, flip your hat over and place it on the heavier clothes already packed.  Then you’re going to start adding the remaining items to be packed, all around the hat creating a barrier around it.

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Continue to pack the remaining items around the hat, snugly so the hat can’t flop around.  Once this is done, place any additional item on top so there is a nice flat surface, zip it and you’re off!

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If you have a great packing tip, we’d love to hear from you!  Please comment below and share this post.

Source: apairandasparediy.com

 

New Digs(part 3) How to pick a Mover

The Better Business Bureau said it received 8,486 complaints about movers in North America last year. Common complaints included final prices greater than original estimates, damaged or lost goods and, in the worst scenarios, movers who held belongings hostage until customers paid thousands of dollars.  But consumers can avoid the same fate by following some simple guidelines for finding a mover. moversWhat to look for when researching potential movers: For interstate moves, make sure the mover is licensed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (you can double-check a mover’s license at www.protectyourmove.gov). You can also search for interstate movers and complaints about them here. For moves within states, check for similar resources in your state.unloading-truck-released-MeatheadMovers In addition, regardless of the type of move, check to make sure the company has at least a satisfactory rating with the Better Business Bureau. According to the American Moving and Storage Association, the trade association for moving and storage companies, interstate movers must be rated at least satisfactory to display the association’s ProMover logo and be considered “a quality, professional” mover.

Get a written estimate from several movers: According to guidelines recently released from the Better Business Bureau and American Moving and Storage Association, “no legitimate mover will offer to give a firm estimate online or over the phone.” Instead, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s guidelines for “choosing a reputable mover,” the estimate should be based on actually looking at your belongings. examples-of-estimate-letterIn addition, remember that the lowest estimate you receive may be an unrealistically low offer just to rope you in and you’ll end up having to pay more in the end, warned the Better Business Bureau and American Moving and Storage Association. Also, keep in mind that movers are required by law to deliver your goods for no more than 10 percent above a “nonbinding estimate” of what your mover believes the cost will be.

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Watch for other red flags: Other signs of a rogue mover to watch out for, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, include the requirement of a cash or a large deposit before the move; a rental truck arrives on moving day; the mover’s telephone line isn’t answered with the company’s name; the mover claims all goods are covered by its insurance and the company’s Web site has no local address nor information about licensing and insurance.

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In addition, for an interstate move, movers are required by law to give you a copy of a booklet called “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” as you are planning the move (a book you should read before an interstate move to familiarize yourself with your rights).

 

What guidelines did we miss?

Share what you learned from your experiences with rogue movers in the comments below.

15 minutes to a happier week!

Over the last few months, I’ve got into the habit of spending a little bit of time on a Sunday night getting organized for the week ahead and it’s really helped me so I thought I’d share my Sunday night planning session with you all.

First of all, I print out a copy of my weekly planner and sit down and write down who needs to be where and when – this includes working hours, early finishes at school, after-school clubs and parties. Just doing this helped me massively as my guy works shifts and my hours at work can vary a little bit too so knowing in advance where there’s a clash is vital. Before I just used to try and remember in my head but I often forgot to make arrangements for the kids to be picked up from somewhere if neither of us could do it.

Once I’ve sorted that, I’ll have a look at what food we have in and plan our meals for the following week. I write myself a shopping list for the following day and also scribble down on the shopping list what meals I’m planning. I often change things about a bit when I’m shopping if I find a deal so having the meals written on there as well as what I need means that I can quickly cross things off my list that I don’t need if we’re not having a particular meal anymore. I don’t write the meals on the weekly planner until after I’ve been shopping on Monday.

Saturday is my laundry day (yes, I do it all on one day rather than throughout the week) so while I’m doing this, I usually persuade my guy into sorting the kid’s clothes for the week so I don’t need to worry about doing that either. He then hangs them up in their closets so they’re out of the way and ready to go.

With a 15-year-old and an 8-year-old, homework is a very regular thing in our house and I encourage them to do it as soon as possible so it’s done and out of the way. Any homework for the coming week needs to be done by the Sunday night though so if it’s not done by then, they sit with me at the Dining room table while I write the planner and they get it done. We’ve had the last minute homework rush in the past and it’s not good so this way I’m giving them a chance to do it in their own time but giving them a deadline to make sure we don’t have the stress that doing it at the last minute inevitably causes.

Once all of that’s done, I usually have a quick fridge clean out and make either a frittata or a quiche with anything that’s seen better days. This is a great way to use up food before I go shopping the next day and usually does me for Monday’s lunch too.

You’re more than welcome to use my weekly planner, just print out and use.

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Image credit: Shutterstoock, crealova09 and eulebie

Fifty before 50

Inspired by great blogger I discovered on WP, Suzy over at  From the Fringe, who created a list of thirty things she wanted to do before turning 30…I decided to create a list that reflects some things I have always wanted to accomplish and well, 50 is a BIG milestone birthday, so why not give it a go!

I decided to look around and peek at some other “lists” to see if I might borrow some ideas and I can across a really neat tool called bucket list.org, that not only allows you to create your own list, but also has thousands of ideas and categories to set up goals for your list as well as earn a following and ranking from othere participants.

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I have to say it reminded me of the first time I jumped on Pinterest…so much to see!  I ended up with a list of about 75 items after an hour of exploring…I had to stop myself! Some of the items are “normal” everyday things like to “be more patient” or learn another language, but I also found some really clever and interesting ideas as well, such as:

Write myself a letter seal it and read it 10 years later

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Drive Route 66

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Take a photo every day for a month

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Swim in The Mediterranean Sea

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This was fun and I can’t wait to add to my list as well as start “checking off” some items as I get adventurous! I encourage you to give it a try! Obviously this list is something very personal and reflects my personality, but I was suprised at some of the items I placed on my list despite my fear of them. I am terrified of sharks but in the Mediterranean Sea, they might now seem as bad…well maybe!  the point is to get out of your daily routines and comfort zones and start living! Here is a link to my list!

I turn 47 in July, so I have three years to get out there and make something happen! It will also provide an ongoing topic for future blogs…stayed tuned!

Cast Iron Cooking: The original kitchen workhorse

Your comprehensive guide to the one pan that does it all.

Cooking in cast iron is an incredibly versatile, durable, and completely chemical-free way to cook. And the more you know about it—how to choose the best one, how to clean and season it, and the surprising number of recipes that lend themselves to being cooked in it—the more you’ll appreciate this multitasking powerhouse.

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A Pan in a League of Its Own

Cast iron is making a comeback. Here’s why.

It’s likely that you remember your grandparents cooking in cast iron, or maybe it’s your favorite pan in your kitchen. But have you ever wondered about its origins? This all-American pan with Chinese roots has been around for centuries but is now experiencing a resurgence.

Centuries Old, and as Good as Ever

Cast iron is experiencing a renaissance centuries in the making.

What is Cast Iron?

The cast iron manufacturing process originated in China in the sixth century BCE and has barely changed since. Cast-iron skillets are made by pouring molten metal into a sand mold, which is broken apart when the pan cools, allowing the pan to emerge in one piece, handle included. The only major difference in modern manufacturing is that machines are used to partially or fully automate the work of pouring the insanely hot molten metal into the molds—it gets up to over 2,500 degrees at some points in the fabrication process!

Due to its affordability and durability, cast iron was the material of choice for cookware in America until the early 20th century, when aluminum became cheaper and more widely available and subsequently took over as the cookware material of choice. By the end of the 20th century, nonstick skillets had become more common than cast iron in most homes. However, as worrying reports about the effects of chemical nonstick coatings on the environment and our health came to light, more and more cooks returned to the original “green” pan, the cast-iron skillet, as an alternative and rediscovered all the advantages it has to offer. This began a new era in the history of this unique pan.

This renaissance has also been a visible force in cast iron manufacturing. At one time, there were dozens of American companies making cast-iron cookware, but because of the embrace of new materials in the early 1900s, those numbers dwindled and now there is only one major company producing cast-iron cookware in the United States: Lodge. Many of the pans currently available on the market are made in China. However, in recent years a new wave of American companies has begun producing small, artisanal batches of this classic cookware. Manufacturers in the United States and elsewhere have also experimented with innovative design tweaks to handles, shapes, and coatings in an attempt to modernize the classic bare-bones skillets, all of which has helped to bring this timeless pan firmly into the 21st century.

What About Enameled Cast Iron?

One of the most noticeable changes on the market has been the increasing presence of enameled cast-iron skillets. On an enameled skillet, the rough surface of the pan is cloaked inside and out with the same kind of porcelain coating found on Dutch ovens, and they’re available in a rainbow of colors.

Enamel promises a cast-iron pan with advantages: The glossy coating prevents the metal from rusting or reacting with acidic foods. The coating lets you thoroughly soak and scrub dirty pans with soap—generally taboo with traditional pans since too much soap and soaking will remove the patina, or top layer of seasoning on the cooking surface. While a handful of expensive enameled skillets have been around for years, new models are now appearing at lower prices.

Why a Cast-Iron Skillet Belongs in Every Kitchen

There are a host of practical and culinary reasons why cast iron is experiencing a comeback.

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It Improves with Use

One of its greatest advantages is that a cast-iron pan is possibly the only piece of kitchen gear you can buy that noticeably improves after years of heavy use. As you cook in it, a cast-iron pan gradually develops a natural, slick patina, called seasoning, which releases food easily. A well-seasoned cast-iron skillet can become just as nonstick as an aluminum or stainless-steel pan and will definitely outlast them.

It Maintains Heat

Cast iron doesn’t heat very evenly because its thermal conductivity, or ability to transfer heat from one part of the metal to another, is very low. What cast iron does do well is hold on to heat: Once a cast-iron pan is hot, it will stay that way much more effectively than stainless steel. This makes cast iron the ideal material for high-heat applications like searing steak. The initial drop in temperature caused by adding the relatively low- temperature steak to the hot skillet will be much smaller in cast iron, allowing for higher heat and better browning. And better browning means a more delicious steak.

It’s Virtually Indestructible

The durability of cast iron is legendary—many people are still cooking on cast-iron pans handed down through their family for generations. Cast iron is virtually indestructible and easily restored if mistreated.

It Can Develop a Nonstick Coating

Cast iron’s ability to develop a nonstick coating also makes it incredibly versatile. This is a boon for minimalist cooks who are looking to downsize their pot and pan collections to a few key pieces that can work in almost any application, but cast iron is also beloved by gourmet cooks who appreciate the particular benefits it offers for essential techniques like browning and searing.

Shopping for Cast Iron

These cast-iron favorites have all the makings of becoming true family heirlooms.

I’ve learned everything there is to know about cast iron over years of cooking with it in the kitchen. This supertool is definitely a star in home kitchens, and it’s an incredibly versatile, durable, and completely chemical-free way to cook. In this section, I’ve gathered my favorite cast-iron products, from skillets to more specialized equipment.

What Kind of Cast-Iron Skillet Should You Buy?

Once you’ve decided to buy a cast-iron skillet, there are some other choices you’ll face.

One of the biggest questions is whether you want a traditional skillet (the classic black kind that you probably picture when you hear the words “cast-iron skillet”) or an enameled skillet. Take the quiz below to figure out which cast-iron option best fits you and your kitchen, and then check out our cast-iron skillets review (which includes both traditional and enameled) to see which models I recommend.

When it comes to price
A
 I don’t mind spending more for extra features.
B I’m a thrifty shopper and I love a bargain above all.

If I’m washing something
A
 I feel like long soaking times and using plenty of soap are the only ways to get it totally clean.
I think that hot water and scrubbing are enough, so I’m OK with using little-to-no soap and no soaking.

If my pans could talk
They’d probably be pretty happy—I’m fairly careful with my things.
They might complain a little—I’m kind of tough on them!

My kitchen style could be summed up as
I’m always interested in trying the newest thing and I tend to collect gadgets.
I try to keep my collection pretty minimalist; if it’s not broken, I don’t fix it.

My patience level for a pan that needs some work is
I’d rather have something that performs consistently right out of the box.
I’m willing to put in some extra effort for something I really like, as long as it’s going to pay off  in the end.

I want my cast-iron skillet to be
A specialty tool I use for recipes that really benefit from its singular characteristics.
Basically a complete replacement for my nonstick skillet whenever possible.

If You Picked Mostly Option A

Try one of the newer enameled cast-iron skillets. You’ll pay a slightly higher price, but seasoning is never an issue and cleanup is much more straightforward. Plus, you can color coordinate! Our recommended 12-inch enameled skillets range from $50 to $180.

Stick with a traditional skillet. They’re hardy, inexpensive, and long-lasting, with just a few simple rules to follow about care and maintenance to keep them in perfect working order. Our favorite 12-inch traditional skillet costs around $30 and lasts a lifetime—or longer.

Cast Iron Cookoff

A cast-iron pan will last a lifetime—as long as you choose the right one.

While you may think of a cast-iron skillet as one of the most straightforward, no-frills options on the market, there are actually a surprising number of factors to take into account when buying one, and there are many more options today than there were 50 years ago. I purchased 10 cast-iron skillets, six enameled and four traditional, each about 12 inches in diameter.

How I Tested

  1. scrambled eggsseared steaks, made a tomato-caper pan sauce (to check if its acidity reacted with the pan surface), skillet-roasted thick fish fillets that went from stove to oven, baked cornbread, and shallow-fried breaded chicken cutlets.
  2. At the end of testing, I scrambled more eggs to see whether the pans’ surfaces had evolved.
  3. To simulate years of kitchen use, I plunged hot pans into ice water, banged a metal spoon on their rims, cut in them with a chef’s knife, and scraped them with a metal spoon.

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What I Learned

  1. Thicker pans are more sluggish to heat, hung on to hot spots for longer, and finally became too hot, making it a challenge to brown food evenly.
  2. Weight, handle length, and breadth make a big difference in how easy cast-iron pans are to use. The pans in our lineup ranged from 6½ pounds to nearly 9 pounds. Longer handles gave better leverage, though shorter ones worked if the pan had a good helper handle.
  3. Low, flaring, curved sides are usually ideal in a skillet. But a thoroughly preheated cast-iron skillet radiates heat so intensely that browning was easy even in pans with higher, straighter sides, as long as they had a broad enough cooking surface.
  4. The best pans in our lineup measure at least 10 inches across the cooking surface, which provides enough room for even the biggest steaks to brown without crowding and steaming.
  5. Neither enameled nor traditional cast iron is “best.” Both offer great heat retention and superior browning, and there are standout options for both types of pans at a variety of price points. To see which type of pan fits your cooking style better, take our quiz.

    What About Lightweight Cast Iron?

    Another new option on the market in recent years is lightweight cast iron. Unlike traditional cast-iron pans, lightweight cast-iron pans are made in a metal mold, which allows them to be made thinner. They are also machined or milled to thin them further, and their handles are attached separately with rivets. I tried three lightweight cast-iron skillets, comparing them with my favorite traditional cast-iron skillet in several tests.

    All of the pans I tried were indeed lighter than a traditional cast-iron skillet—but that was pretty much their only advantage. All three lightweight pans heated up and cooled down faster than the thicker traditional cast iron. While they were easier to lift and handle, they were also far more reactive to heat changes, which caused them to cook much less evenly, with a distinct tendency to scorch along the outer edges. Overall, lightweight cast-iron skillets proved a disappointment, so they aren’t included in my recommendations.

    Expand Your Cast-Iron Collection

    I’ve gathered my favorite cast-iron products—beyond the skillet.  Here are my favorites that withstood the test treatment to earn a place in my kitchen.

    Top-Rated Cast-Iron Equipment

    • Lodge Cast Iron Baking Pan

      Lodge Cast Iron Baking Pan

      Since it absorbs and maintains heat so well, cast iron is the ideal material for creating good pizza crust, which requires searingly hot temperatures. While a baking stone takes an hour to reach 500 degrees, this pan by Lodge was ready after a mere 30 minutes and retained the heat as we baked four pizzas in a row. Pizza baked up perfectly and the pan’s looped handles made it easy to move in and out of the oven.

    • Nordic Ware Cast Aluminum Stovetop Belgian Waffler

      Nordic Ware Cast Aluminum Stovetop Belgian Waffler

      This waffle iron was ready to use out of the box, heated up evenly and quickly, and made golden brown, crisp waffles that released easily. Easy-to-follow instructions and thin, flat handles facilitated perfect waffle-making on electric stoves. A quick scrub and rinse was all that was needed to clean the nonstick metal.

    • Imusa Tortilla Press

      Imusa Cast Iron Tortilla Press

      This product is lighter and more compact than a heavy wooden tortilladora but still has sufficient heft to make pressing easy. The handle arrives detached, so there is some assembly required (though the instructions are clear and easy to follow). At first, the handle was a bit stiff, but it loosened with use, and the ample surface area kept dough from squeezing out the sides.

    • Lodge Tempered Glass Cover

      Lodge 12-inch Tempered Glass Cover

      This lightweight lid helped produce nicely browned onions and evenly cooked eggs, and it was much easier to lift and clean than the heavy cast-iron lid. It contained moisture and messes, and its glass material allowed users to get a good sense of how their food was cooking.

    • Knapp Made Small Ring CM Scrubber

      Knapp Made Small Ring CM Scrubber

      The Small Ring Scrubber effortlessly removed cooked-on bacon and hamburger from cast iron and lasagna from our 13 by 9-inch baking dish. This scrubber’s larger size allowed it to cover more area efficiently, and we especially appreciated its fine rings, which scoured narrow grill pan grooves with ease. The smaller rings did, however, make this scrubber harder to clean. We don’t recommend using either scrubber on enamelware or stainless steel.

    • OXO Good Grips Silicone Pot Holder with Magnet

      OXO Good Grips Silicone Pot Holder with Magnet

      Whatever we were maneuvering—including a screaming-hot skillet—I always felt safe and confident using this potholder. It had cotton for flexibility and comfort and grippy, high-heat silicone for protection. At 10 by 8 inches, it was big enough for full coverage but also nimble, thanks to a pocket that allowed testers to precisely pinch thin baking sheet rims and to rotate cake pans with ease.

    • OXO Good Grips 12-Inch Tongs (Nylon Tips)

      OXO Good Grips 12-Inch Tongs (Nylon Tips)

      This is the cast iron-friendly version of our all-time favorite kitchen tongs by OXO, boasting the same locking feature and comparable ease of control. The nylon tips are safe to use on any nonstick surface and won’t damage the seasoning on your cast-iron skillet.

      How to Care For Your Cast Iron Skillet

      You’ve bought the pan. Now it’s up to you to maintain it.

      Caring for a cast-iron skillet is like caring for a car: Service it regularly and it will last forever; use it hard (or neglect it), and it will need more heavy-duty repair work. In this chapter, you’ll learn what it means to maintain your cast-iron skillet. (And don’t worry—it’s not as scary as it sounds!)

      Solutions to Your Cast-Iron Troubles

      Do you have a patchy or stinky skillet? I can help.

      Your traditional cast-iron skillet may get extra-dirty after a night of use, or your enameled cast-iron skillet might appear stained. Don’t be alarmed! I have the solutions for all that and more.

      How to Clean a Stinky Skillet

      Some sources recommend adding a thin layer of oil to the pan and heating it to its smoking point on the stovetop to remove stinky, stubborn fish oils, but this method leaves an oily mess to clean up. Luckily, it turns out that heat alone is enough to eliminate the two sources of fishy funk: compounds called trialkylamines, which evaporate at around 200 to 250 degrees, and oxidized fatty acids, which vaporize at temperatures above 350 degrees. Next time your skillet needs a little aromatherapy, simply heat the empty, smelly pan in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. This method is fast, neat, and effective and doesn’t stink up the kitchen.

      How to Clean an Extra-Dirty Skillet

      If your skillet has stubborn stuck-on food or is a little rusty, the best fix we’ve found is to scrub it with kosher salt. Start by rubbing the pan with fine steel wool (I normally don’t use steel wool on cast iron, but it’s necessary when you’re dealing with serious grime). Wipe out the loose dirt with a cloth and pour in vegetable oil to a depth of 1⁄4 inch, then heat the pan over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add 1⁄4 cup of kosher salt. Using a potholder to grip the handle, scrub the pan with a thick cushion of paper towels (hold the paper towels with tongs to protect yourself). The warm oil will loosen any remaining crud, and the salt will have an abrading effect without posing any danger to the pan’s seasoning. Rinse the pan under hot running water, dry well, and repeat, if necessary.

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      How to Fix a Patchy or Scratched Skillet

      Cooking acidic foods or following improper cleaning procedures can damage the seasoning on your pan, creating spots of dull, patchy, dry-looking metal on the inside of the pan instead of the smooth, rich black of well-seasoned cast iron. When this happens, you can restore the pan by following the instructions for Level 2: Minor Repairs. Wiping the warm pan with oil will help reseason the small areas of the surface that have been damaged, evening out the protective coating on the skillet.

      How to Clean a Stained Enamel Skillet

      While all of the enameled cast-iron skillets featured in our review have dark-colored interiors like traditional cast-iron skillets, other enameled pans have light-colored interiors like those you may have seen on enameled Dutch ovens. The interiors of those pans can sometimes become stained or discolored by foods. If this happens, you can use bleach to clean them. Le Creuset recommends a stain-removal solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach per pint of water. I found that stained pots were slightly improved by this but still far from their original hue. I then tried a much stronger solution (which was OK’d by the manufacturer) of 1 part bleach to 3 parts water. After standing overnight, a lightly stained pot was just as good as new, but a heavily stained one required an additional night of soaking before it, too, was looking natty.

      The Responsibility of Cast Iron Ownership

      The key to owning one cast-iron skillet your entire life is seasoning and maintaining it.  All well-maintained cast-iron skillets will become more nonstick with time. While you might think this will take years, I found a significant difference in my pans after just a few weeks of regular use in the kitchen. However, even new preseasoned skillets are not always 100% nonstick when you first cook with them, and a well-seasoned skillet will still become less nonstick without proper maintenance, so it’s important to treat your cast-iron skillet with care. Properly maintaining the seasoning on your skillet begins with properly cleaning it. Here are a few guidelines for keeping your pan in optimal shape. (These guidelines are for traditional cast-iron skillets; enameled skillets can be treated more like other pots and pans.)

      The Science of Seasoning

      When fat or cooking oil is heated for a long enough time in cast iron, its fatty acids oxidize and reorganize together (or “polymerize”) into a new plastic-like layer of molecules. This layer becomes trapped within the pitted surface of the pan and bonds to the metal itself, creating the slick coating known as seasoning. Repeated exposure to hot oil continues to build on this coating, making it more slippery and durable. That’s why even though most skillets these days come with a factory seasoning, the surface will become even more nonstick with repeated use.

      What Does “Well-Seasoned” Mean?

      A well-seasoned skillet will have a dark, semiglossy finish and won’t be sticky or greasy to the touch. It won’t have any rust or any dull or dry patches. An easy way to test a skillet’s seasoning is to fry an egg (heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in skillet over medium heat for 3 minutes, then add egg). If your pan is well-seasoned, you should not experience any major sticking.

      Use the Right Oil

      The more unsaturated the oil, the more readily it will oxidize and polymerize. We have found that flaxseed oil, which oxidizes and polymerizes faster than other vegetable oils, forms a particularly durable seasoning. But cheaper oils such as sunflower and soybean are also highly unsaturated and work fine.

      Level 1: Routine Maintenance

      Properly maintaining the seasoning on your skillet begins with properly cleaning it. Here are a few guidelines for keeping your traditional cast-iron pan in optimal shape. (Enameled skillets can be treated more like other pots and pans.)

      • Cleaning cast iron 1

        1. Clean after every use: While skillet is still warm, wipe it clean with paper towels to remove excess food and oil. Rinse under hot running water, scrubbing with brush or nonabrasive scrub pad to remove traces of food. (Use small amount of soap if you like; rinse well.)

      • Season cast iron 2

        2. Lightly reseason after each cleaning: Dry thoroughly (do not drip-dry) and set over medium-low heat until all traces of moisture disappear. Add 1/2 teaspoon of oil to pan and wipe interior with paper towels until lightly covered in oil. Continue to rub oil into skillet until surface looks dark and shiny and has no remaining oil residue. Let cool completely.

      Level 2: Minor Service

      Even if you routinely clean your skillet after every use, there will likely come a time when it requires a higher level of service. In those cases, use this cleaning method to bring it back to its original condition.

      • cleaning cast iron

        Stovetop repair (for dull or patchy skillets): Heat skillet over medium-high heat and wipe it with paper towels (held with tongs) dipped in 2 tablespoons oil until surface looks dark and semiglossy but isn’t sticky or greasy. Repeat 3 to 5 times with oil-soaked towel, letting skillet cool for a few minutes after each round.

      • cleaning oven method

        Oven repair (when stovetop repair doesn’t work): Heat oven to 500 degrees. Rub 1 tablespoon (for 12-inch skillet) or 2 teaspoons (for 10-inch skillet) oil all over surface of skillet using paper towels. Using clean paper towels, thoroughly wipe out excess oil (skillet should look dry, not glistening). Place skillet upside down in oven and bake for 1 hour. Using potholders, remove skillet from oven and let cool completely.

        Level 3: Major Service

        Over the lifetime of a cast-iron skillet, you’ll usually just maintain or touch up its seasoning. But if the seasoning becomes very dull or damaged (seasoning flakes off) or if it badly rusts (can’t be scrubbed away), you’ll need to give it an overhaul by stripping and reseasoning the surface. If this happens, use these steps to strip a cast-iron skillet—that is, completely remove any residual seasoning on a cast-iron pan before reseasoning it. Easy-Off is a caustic alkali, so be sure to work outdoors, wear rubber gloves, and avoid spraying near your face or skin. The pan will rust instantly after the seasoning has been stripped, so immediately apply oil to the surface and proceed with oven repair after step 4.

        1. Working outdoors, place concrete block on ground and cover with heavy-duty kitchen trash bag, draping bag over block so that sides will be easy to grasp and pull up over the skillet.
        2. Place skillet upside down on top of block. Wearing rubber gloves, spray skillet all over with Easy-Off Oven Cleaner, being careful to keep the spray away from your face and exposed skin. Flip skillet over and spray inside. Pull plastic bag up and around skillet and tie to close. Leave outside (or in garage) for 24 hours.
        3. Still wearing rubber gloves, remove plastic bag and scrub skillet all over with steel wool and hot soapy water to remove all residue. Rinse, repeat scrubbing, and rinse again.
        4. Combine 2 cups each white distilled vinegar and water. Fill skillet with vinegar solution and let stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Discard solution in skillet and use remaining solution to wipe outside of skillet. Rinse well and immediately apply oil to surface.
        5. Follow our oven repair method in Level 2 section above, repeating it six times or until skillet has a smooth, dark black, semiglossy finish.

          The Truth About Cast Iron

          When it comes to caring for cast iron, don’t believe everything you read,  There are as many falsities about it as there are benefits. “Is my cast-iron skillet ruined if it’s rusty?” or “I heard you can’t use soap to clean a cast-iron skillet—is that true?” Don’t worry: We’re here to demystify cooking with cast-iron skillets, and to debunk any myths that surround caring for them.

          The Myth: You can’t cook wine, tomatoes, or other acidic ingredients in a cast-iron pan.

          THE TESTING: When acidic ingredients are cooked in cast iron for an extended amount of time, trace amounts of molecules from the metal can loosen and leach into the food. Although these minute amounts are not harmful to consume, they may impart unwanted metallic flavors, and the pan’s seasoning can be damaged as well. To test how fast this happens and how noticeable it is, I made a highly acidic tomato sauce and simmered it in a well-seasoned skillet, testing it every 15 minutes to check for off-flavors and damage to the pan.

          THE TAKEAWAY: In the end, I could detect metallic flavors in the tomato sauce only after it had simmered for a full 30 minutes. So, while you can definitely cook with acidic ingredients in your cast-iron skillet, you have to be careful. First, make sure your pan is well seasoned; seasoning keeps the acid from interacting with the iron—to a point. An acidic sauce can afford a brief stay in a well-seasoned pan with no dire consequences. You should also be careful to remove acidic dishes from the skillet after they finish cooking; don’t let them sit too long in the warm skillet and transfer any leftovers to an airtight container. (These rules do not apply to enameled cast-iron skillets; the enameled coating makes it safe to cook acidic ingredients for any length of time.)

          All of my cast-iron recipes have been carefully developed to work in cast iron, even when they use highly acidic ingredients like vinegar, wine, tomatoes, cherries, and stone fruits. I use tricks like shorter simmering times, diluting the problematic ingredients to make the pH less of an issue, and waiting until late in the recipe to add the acidic ingredients. If you do accidentally oversimmer an acidic ingredient, you may have to throw out the food, but you can simply reseason your skillet and get back to cooking in it again.

          The Myth: One of cast iron’s greatest advantages is that it heats really evenly.

          THE TESTING:  I was interested in this question because it would affect the way I went about preheating my skillets for cooking. To see just how the pans reacted when placed over heat, I designed a test that would give me a visual indication of the way heat traveled through the cast iron. I spread 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flourin both our favorite cast-iron skillet and a traditional stainless-steel skillet and heated them over medium heat until the flour started to toast. As the flour browned in the hot pans, it essentially created a map of how each skillet heated up.

          THE TAKEAWAY: While the flour in the stainless-steel skillet toasted evenly to a uniform golden brown (below, left), the flour in our cast-iron skillet started to burn in some spots before other areas of the skillet had any browning at all (below, right). It turns out that because cast iron is such a poor conductor, it in fact heats very unevenly on the stove—and more or less so depending on the level of heat you use. To work around this, I preheat the skillet in a 500-degree oven when we need a really good, even, fast sear. The better heat distribution in the oven helps the pan heat more evenly, creating a superior surface for searing. For recipes where a strong sear isn’t necessary, we preheat the pan for either 3 or 5 minutes over medium-high heat on the stovetop, which I found to be the best way to get relatively even heat without too much work.

          The Myth: Cast-iron skillets work only on gas stoves; you can’t cook with them on an electric range.

          THE TESTING: Part of my testing procedure for the recipes in this book was to make them not only in both traditional and enameled cast-iron skillets but also on both gas and electric stoves. I know that almost half of my readers are likely to use electric stoves in their home kitchens, so I wanted to make sure my recipes would work for them, especially since some people think that cast iron and electric stoves don’t mix well.

          THE TAKEAWAY: I mostly found that cast iron works great on electric, although it may take a little longer to achieve the same results since cast iron is slightly slower to heat on an electric heating element. If you’re using a cast-iron skillet on an electric range, you may find that you need to cook things slightly longer—use the upper ends of the timing ranges given in the recipes. If you have a glass-top range, you should also take extra care when moving the heavy cast-iron pan around on the stove to avoid any scratching or damage.

           

          The Myth: You should never wash cast iron with soap.

          THE TESTING: During my extensive recipe-testing process I generated many dirty skillets and thus had plenty of opportunities to test different cleaning methods. While developing my recommended procedure, I experimented with a variety of cleansers, including dish soap and scouring powders.

          THE TAKEAWAY: I found that a few drops of dish soap are not enough to interfere with the polymerized bonds on the surface of a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. Don’t scrub the pan with abrasives like steel wool or use harsh cleansers like Comet, and don’t soak the pan, since those things can definitely affect the seasoning, but it’s OK to use a few drops of dish soap if you need to clean up a particularly greasy pan, or even if that just makes you feel more comfortable with your cast iron. Just make sure you rinse the pan clean and wipe it dry when you’re finished.

          The Myth: If a cast-iron pan gets rusted, it’s ruined.

          THE TESTING: Because cast iron is so durable, old cast-iron pans are a common find at thrift stores, antique shops, and flea markets. But older cast iron may not always be in tip-top shape. To find out whether even the most damaged cast iron could still be salvaged, I took the most abused skillets I could find; completely stripped them of all their dirt, rust, and ruined seasoning by sending them through the self-cleaning cycle on my oven; and then tried reseasoning them from scratch.

          THE TAKEAWAY: It takes a lot to kill a cast-iron skillet. If yours has a crack in it from improper use or storage, or if it has literally rusted through, it’s time to throw it out, but unless the structure of the pan has been truly compromised, there isn’t much that can “ruin” a cast-iron skillet. Even if the seasoning gets seriously marred or the pan starts to rust, you can clean it off and start fresh.

          The Pan That Does It All

          Some jobs your cast-iron skillet can help with, as well as some unexpected ways to keep it in top-notch shape.  Sure, there are dozens of ways to use your cast-iron skillet in recipes both traditional and surprising but this irreplaceable tool also has other unusual uses in the kitchen that you’ve probably never thought of before.

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          Creative Cast Iron Cleaning

          I have my favorite recommended techniques for cleaning and scrubbing your cast-iron skillet, but over time I’ve also come up with some alternative methods that double as creative ways to recycle common items from your kitchen. Here are two tricks for scrubbing your pans when the built-up, burnt-on food gets too bad for a simple rinse and wipe. After using either of these, be sure to follow the procedures for cleaning, drying, and oiling your pan outlined here.

          • PLASTIC MESH BAG: Let the dirty pan cool, then use a plastic mesh produce bag (the kind that holds lemons or onions) to wipe the pan clean. The mesh bag doesn’t damage the seasoning the way steel wool would, and you don’t have to ruin a scrubber with grease.

          • ALUMINUM FOIL: A wad of heavy-duty aluminum foil also makes a great cast-iron skillet cleaner. After using paper towels to wipe any excess grease from a cooled pan, simply use the foil to scrub off stuck-on food or dirt.

          In-a-Pinch Pie Plate

          If you find yourself short a pie plate, a seasoned cast-iron skillet can be the perfect alternative for just about any pie, such as Cast-Iron Apple Pie. Just make sure your skillet is 9 or 10 inches in diameter to keep the recipe volume and baking times consistent.

          Cast Iron Double-Team

          Here’s a trick for panini (like our Smoked Turkey Club Panini) without a griddle, panini press, or Dutch oven.

          • 1. Set a large, seasoned, oiled cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat; place your assembled sandwiches in the middle.

          • 2. Place a smaller cast-iron skillet on top of the sandwich to press. Cook until the bottom of the sandwich is golden brown, then flip and repeat the process on the other side.

          Thawing in a Hurry

          Your cast-iron skillet can help you even before you start cooking. Place thin, frozen cuts of meat in the skillet at room temperature and let them sit for an hour. The rapid transfer of ambient heat from the metal to the food will quickly, safely thaw the meat.

          Skillet Stove Helper

          Tired of burning butter that you’re trying to melt or scorching mashed potatoes while keeping them warm on the stovetop? Let your cast-iron skillet help you out. It makes a great flame tamer to keep things over gentle heat for a long time; simply place the skillet over a low flame, then place your pot or saucepan right in the skillet. The skillet will moderate the heat.

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          Check out my Pinterest board Cast Iron Creations for more ideas and recipes.

          Are you cooking something in cast iron? I’d love to see it! Simply share your photos in the comments below.

           

           

DIY Mason Jar Blender Bar

I am all about a great upcycle and this one comes from generations ago, and I feel it’s my duty to get you as excited about this as I am.

Create your own “DIY Blender Bar” by using a small mouth mason jar and attaching it right to your blender in place of your typical blender jar.  You heard me correctly. Use your own Mason Jar Blender and create SO many fun drink concoctions in your own personal size blender.

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Instructions
  • Put your favorite fruits (and veggies) into regular mouth Mason jars.
  • Store Mason jars in the freezer for up to two weeks.
  • When you’re ready to blend, take the Mason jar out of the freezer and add your favorite type of milk.
  • Unscrew the blade from your blender and screw it onto your Mason jar!
  • Blend your smoothie on the pulse setting, making sure to hold the Mason jar while blending.
  • Remove the blender blade.
  • Serve and enjoy!

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Our family uses our blender probably five times a week, but we always run into the problem of trying to decide which kinds of smoothies and frozen drink to create. With five children, everyone has their own preference. This has been so much fun because everyone grabs their own mason jar and creates their perfect gourmet drink. The kids love non-alcoholic Strawberry Margaritas and Pina Coladas and now they can have both without the cleanup hassle.

Not only is this perfect for smoothies and drinks, but it can also be used to make whip cream right in the jar, grind up coffee beans or even spices in a pinch.

I can’t wait to create a festive DIY Party Bar for our next large gathering. I have purchased a ton of mason jars lately because they are just fun for everything, especially serving drinks. I’ll have a variety of fruits, slushie flavors, coffees, drink mixes, ice cream and ice, allowing people to get as creative as they desire, and I know this will soon become a fabulous, new party tradition.

Here’ a few recipes to get you inspired:

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I can’t wait to see what you come up with. Please comment with your favorite recipes and by all means share & like this post if you please!

 

 

 

Road Trip Travel Hacks for Families

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Going on a road trip with the family can be tons of fun when you plan a little ahead of time. Most families go on a road trip a couple times a year. They typically vary from 4 hours to 11 hours to get to the destination, so playing games and singing songs together are some favorite ways to pass the time.

Here are some fun games and other activities to do with your kids to help the hours fly by on your next road trip.

  1. The Minister’s Cat. Start with the letter A. The first person says “The Minister’s Cat is an (think of a word that starts with A) cat”. Go around in a circle to each person while they say “The Minister’s Cat is an (fill in with a word that starts with the letter) cat. Some examples: Angry, Awful, Artistic, Adventurous, etc. When you run out of ideas for A, move on to B, then C, etc.
  1. The Alphabet Game. Work together to find the letters in the alphabet in signs that you pass. Make sure you say the word that you found the letter in and go in order from A to Z. If there’s not a lot of signs around, use license plates as well.
  1. Would You Rather? Game – Ask would you rather ….. or …..? Here’s 100 question ideas from The Measured Mom.
  1. 20 Questions Game. One person thinks of something and everyone in the car takes turn asking yes or no questions until someone can guess what the person was thinking about. To make it easier, you could start with a category like “Something you eat”, “Places to visit”, “Animals”, etc.
  1. Sing Silly Songs. A few of our favorites:national-lampoons-vacation

Fried Ham. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZqK8rIGPHo Lyrics: Fried Ham, Fried Ham, cheese, and bologna. After the macaroni, we’ll have onions, pickles, and pretzels. Then we’ll have some more fried ham, fried ham, fried ham!! What’s so fun about this song is that you change it up by singing it in silly voices for each verse after the first. You can take turns choosing how you want to sing it and have fun making it up. Some ideas: old lady, baby, opera, British, cowboy.

I’ve Been Working on the Railroad https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHe1Lt0EP-k

The Ants Go Marching https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACN5naJRFrk

Buy a kids silly songs CD for more ideas and to make it easy. My favorite is the WeeSing CDs with books for the lyrics. “Wee Sing Silly Songs”, “Children’s Songs and Fingerplays”

  1. Play Mad Libs. There are tons of different Mad Libs books. If you use a notebook to write the keywords down you can re-use the same pages again. Here’s a site with free printable Mad Libs http://www.classroomjr.com/printable-mad-libs-for-kids/.
  1. Kids Travel Activity Books like National Geographic Kids Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlasand The Everything Kids’ Travel Activity Book, and Fun book of Mazes for Kids
  1. Travel Games like Travel Scavenger Hunt for Kidsor Spot It! On the Roador Tile Lock Scrabble

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  1. Travel Game Printables. Here’s some from momsminivan.com including Car Bingo, Lines and Dots, and Battleship. There’s a huge list of printables and game ideas on discoverykids.comand travelwithkids.about.com.
  1. Wrap a few small presents and let the kids open one every couple hours. These can be little items from the Dollar Store that are fun to play with in the car like books, coloring books, sticker books, small toys, etc. Give them an incentive to not argue with each other or whine by telling them they only get their next gift if they behave well.
  1. Buy special snacks that they don’t get very often like Fruit by the Foot, Fruit Gushers, licorice, Ring Pops, etc.

fun road trip kits

  1. Make your own binder of reusable activity pages. Fill a 3-ring binder with clear plastic sleeves. In the sleeves, put the travel game printables (above) like hangman, the line dot game, tic-tac-toe, word searches, find the hidden pictures, and connect-the-dots. Also put in some blank paper. Use a 3-ring pencil bag to hold the dry erase markers and a rag they can use as an eraser. (From sixsistersstuff.com)
  1. Bring a few favorite DVDs or stop by a Redbox and return to another Redbox along the way. We usually let the kids watch one movie in the morning and one in the afternoon on long all-day drives.
  1. Make a playlist on your ipod or burn a few CDs of favorite songs that your family loves to listen to. Switch off between favorites of the kids/teens and favorites of the parents. Remember upbeat songs are best for the driver so they don’t get sleepy. Some of our favorite songs are in this playlist “Ultimate Road Trip Songs“.
  1. Research the areas you will be traveling through ahead of time and find a local park that would be a good place for a rest stop. Or use your GPS after you exit into an unknown city and search for a park with it. We’ve stopped during lunch time, grabbed fast food and taken it to the park or we’ve played at a park as an afternoon rest stop. It’s great for the kids to burn off some energy by running around and for the adults to stretch their legs and back. If the weather is bad, stop for lunch or a break at a McDonald’s or a Carl’s Jr. that has a playground so the kids can run around there.

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I hope your next road trip is your best one yet! Do you have any ideas to share? Please leave a comment and share this blog.