Posts Tagged ‘How-to’

Food Blogger Cookbook Swap!

Food Blogger Cookbook Swap

At the beginning of the month, I signed up for a Food Blogger Cookbook Swap, hosted by Alyssa of http://www.EverydayMaven.com and Faith of http://www.anediblemosaic.com. For the swap, I sent a gently used cookbook from my collection to a food blogger and received a cookbook from their collection in return. 

Which Cookbook Did I Get?

Vegetables: The Most Authoritative Guide to Buying, Preparing, and Cooking, with More Than 300 Recipes by James Peterson.

Food Blogger Cookbook Swap

Vegetables by James Peterson

A big shout out to Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla for sending it to me. Camilla is a writer for Edible Monterey Bay magazine (that’s pretty much my dream job so I am super jealous!) and has quite the collection of recipes on her blog. Go check her out! You will not be disappointed.

I’m super pumped about this cookbook for two reasons. 1. It fits nicely into my Paleo and gluten-free way of life and 2. It has a TON of information about vegetables I have yet to try. For example:

Fiddlehead Ferns

Fiddlehead Ferns

Photo Source: Specialty Produce

Jerusalem Artichoke

Jerusalem Artichoke

Photo Source: With Love, Mags 

and, Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi

Photo Source: Healing Healthy

It also has a ton of information about how to buy each vegetable, the best way to cook it, how to store it, and how to prep it for cooking. This cookbook is seriously AMAZING! 

How to Prepare Asparagus

One of the cool things I learned from this book was how to properly prepare asparagus. The book states, that “asparagus must be peeled [because it] helps the asparagus cook evenly and makes almost the entire stalk as tender and as delightful to eat as the tip (James Peterson, p. 15).” And to think, I thought restaurants were peeling asparagus for the sole purpose of making it look pretty on the plate. 

I tried this technique the other night and, I have to admit, I was impressed with the results! To peel asparagus, simply lay it flat on your cutting board and peel the stalks using a vegetable peeler.

How to peel asparagus | peeled asparagus

Once peeled, I tossed the stalks in a bit of extra virgin olive oil, seasoned them with Lakeshore Drive seasoning (my current favorite!), and roasted them in a 400˚ oven for 15 minutes. I served them alongside some mahi mahi I had marinating in Three Citrus Garlic Marinade. It was a quick (read: lazy) meal, but it was delicious.

Check out the links below for all of the participating food bloggers. Visit their pages and see which books they received and how they intend to use them!

Participating Food Bloggers in the Swap

A Baker’s House
An Edible Mosaic
avocado bravado
Blue Kale Road
Blueberries And Blessings
Cheap Recipe Blog
Confessions of a Culinary Diva
Create Amazing Meals
Culinary Adventures with Camilla
Cupcake Project
Dinner is Served 1972
Done With Corn
Eats Well With Others
Everyday Maven
Flour Me With Love 
From My Sweet Heart 
girlichef 
Great Food 360° 
Healthy. Delicious. 
I’m Gonna Cook That! 
Je Mange la Ville 
Karen’s Kitchen Stories 
Kitchen Treaty 
Olive and Herb 
OnTheMove-In The Galley 
Our Best Bites 
Paleo Gone Sassy 
poet in the pantry 
Rhubarb and Honey 
Rocky Mountain Cooking
Shikha la mode 
Shockingly Delicious 
Sifting Focus 
Spiceroots 
Spoonful of Flavor 
Tara’s Multicultural Table 
The Not So Exciting Adventures of a Dabbler 
The Suburban Soapbox 
The Whole Family’s Food 

How To Shop For And Trim Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts. People love ‘em or hate ‘em. I, myself, am a sprout lover. I eat brussels sprouts two to three times a week. Sometimes I have them alongside eggs for breakfast and other times I have them as a side dish with dinner.

If you are a sprout hater, I beg you to try one of the recipes at the bottom of this post and surely you’ll change your mind! One of my favorite ways to enjoy them is browned in ghee and bacon fat, seasoned with salt and pepper, and tossed with dried cranberries and toasted almonds. Simple, colorful, and delicious.

How to Shop for Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are usually sold individually; however, during the fall when they are in season, sometimes they are sold on the stalk. How cool do they look on the stalk? I have unsuccessfully tried to grow brussels sprouts in my garden for the past two years. Perhaps this is the year! :-)

If your local grocery store or farmer’s market is selling the sprouts on the stalk, do not be intimidated! They are easy to remove and you do not need any fancy or special equipment to do so. 

Brussels sprouts grow on a stalk

To choose a “good” sprouts, pick them up and give them a little squeeze. The leaves should feel tightly packed especially around the base. You will be trimming off the bottom and if the leaves are loose around the stem, you’ll lose some of the good leaves along with the dirty ones.

Trimming brussels sprouts

How to Trim Brussels Sprouts

If you buy brussels sprouts on the stalk, you can snap them off by hand before you begin to trim them. I never wash brussels sprouts before I cook them. Is that gross? I don’t feel much of a need to wash them first because you end up removing all of the dirty outer leaves as you prep them for cooking. After you have removed the outer leaves, if you’d like to wash them, you can give them a quick rinse under cold water.

Trimming brussels sprouts

Trim a small portion off the bottom of the sprout. Some of the leaves may fall off on their own, that is ok. 

Trimming brussels sprouts

Pull the outer leaves off until you see lighter green, shiny leaves. You’ll also want to remove any yellow, bruised, or dirty leaves. 

Trimming brussels sprouts

Now, you are ready to cook them. You can roast them, grill them, sauté them, steam them, or pickle them. They are such a versatile veggie and so tasty when prepared correctly! In the picture below, I halved them, because I was about to toss them in olive oil, season them with this spice blend and roast them for 25 minutes at 375˚. 

Trimming brussels sprouts

Ready to tackle the sprout on your own? Check out these awesome brussels sprouts recipes:

How To Shop For And Store Fresh Ginger Root

Happy New Year! Can you believe it is 2014 already?! I remember Y2K like it was yesterday. Yikes. Let’s not talk about that!

Are you getting plummeled with snow? We are. Truth be told, I don’t mind snow and cold too much. The part about winter that I despise is the darkness. It is dark when I wake up, grey and gloomy all day, and dark before 5 p.m. nearly everyday for 5 months. Yuck! Who thought of that?!

Every year, I suffer from big time winter blues, but one thing that helps boost my mood is ginger. Ginger is an extremely aromatic root that adds a punch of flavor to both sweet and savory recipes. It pairs nicely with citrus and is used frequently in Asian cooking.

What Does Fresh Ginger Look Like?

Fresh ginger is a knobby root and is typically found next to other root veggies (example: beets, turnips, rutabagas, fennel, etc.) in the grocery store.

Fresh Ginger Root in the grocery store | cucinakristina.com

Fresh ginger root

Fresh ginger can be upwards of $4 a pound. In this photo, it was on sale for $1.99 a pound so I stocked up. 

Shopping for Fresh Ginger

Let’s say you are making a dish that calls for a 1-inch piece of grated fresh ginger. As you can see in the photo above, none of those pieces of ginger are an inch long. You’ll want to look for a piece that looks like this for two reasons:

How to pick ginger root at the grocery store

Look for smooth edges.

  1. You can easily break this larger piece into a smaller piece.
  2. The smooth edges are going to make it easier to peel. 

I always look for pieces of ginger with smooth edges because I use a vegetable peeler to peel fresh ginger. If you have a piece that is super knobby with a lot of nooks and crannies, you can scrape the skin off with a spoon

Fresh Ginger Root

These smaller pieces were broken from larger pieces.

You want the ginger root to feel firm and be free of any noticeable imperfections. When you break the pieces off, the scent of ginger should be strong. Sometimes, I break the pieces to test the freshness even if I intend on buying the entire larger piece.

Storing Fresh Ginger

When you get home, peel the entire ginger root. Put it in a freezer safe bag, squeeze all of the air out, and pop it in your freezer. It will keep in your freezer for up to six months.

Using Frozen Ginger

When you are ready to use your ginger, remove it from the freezer and grate it using a microplane or cheese grater. You do not need to thaw the ginger first. In fact, frozen ginger is easier to grate than fresh ginger. 

Now that you are a ginger expert, check out some of these recipes.

Homemade Ghee -or- DIY Clarified Butter

So many recipes in the Paleosphere call for ghee. What’s ghee? Ghee is another name for clarified butter! What’s clarified butter? The stuff that you dip your fingers into at a seafood restaurant… or lobster tail if you are trying to exhibit table manners. Seriously, how tasty is clarified butter? So tasty!

Wait? Butter is Paleo? No. Butter is not Paleo-friendly because it comes from cream, which contains casein and lactose, but when you make ghee, you remove the milk proteins and are left with a delicious nutty fat that is perfect for roasting, sautéing, searing, stir-frying, or melting and drizzling over your favorite veggie.

ANYWAY… it turns out that ghee is incredibly easy (and quick!) to make. I made this really early in the morning because I am a freak and like to wake up before the sun. True story. Then, I used it to make steak and eggs and baked apples. I even thought about putting some of it in my coffee and making Paleo butter coffee, but I thought that might be going a little overboard for one morning. Maybe I will try that next week. :-)

Ingredients and Supplies:

  • 1 pound butter
  • Glass jar for storing the ghee – I used a pint Mason jar
  • Cheesecloth
  • Wooden spoon/Solid spoon to skim the foam
  • Pot

Directions:

1.  Over a low heat, melt the butter in your pot.

Ghee - Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Use a low heat so your butter does not burn.

2.  Try to avoid stirring your butter as it is melting because you want to milk solids to foam up and separate from the fats. When it starts to look like the picture below, use a wooden or solid spoon to skim the foam off the top.

Ghee - Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Not stirring is so hard

You might have to do this a few times to get all of the milk proteins out.

Ghee - Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Just keep skimming, just keep skimming…

3.  When it starts to look like the photo above, let it boil for 10-12 minutes. The milk solids may start to brown and float to the side. That’s ok! You want that. That is giving the ghee a deep nutty flavor.

Ghee - Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

5

4.  When it the bubbling slows and the browned milk solids start to fall to the bottom of the pan, your ghee is ready to be strained.

Ghee - Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Strain any browned bits out.

5.  If you are using a mason jar, place 3 layers of cheesecloth over the mouth of the jar and loosely screw on the lid. You want to make sure that the cheesecloth has a little give to it. Notice in the photo above the gap between the cloth and the rim of the lid. Strain any browned bits or foam out.

Ghee - Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

This will be HOT. Do not grab it right away!

6.  Discard the cheesecloth. BE CAREFUL! The rim, jar, and ghee will be hot! Let it cool for a bit before you start to handle it.

Ghee - Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Ta da!

When it cools, it will solidify and turn a nice silky color. You can just scoop out however much you need and start cooking. Since the milk proteins have been removed, you do not need to refrigerate your ghee; however, I do to be on the safe side.

Now, stop reading and go make some ghee!

Perfect, Crispy Bacon Every Time!

Bacon, bacon, bacon. Bacon is pretty tasty, but it makes a mess when you fry it up in a pan. This method is the BEST way to get perfect, crispy bacon every time. The clean up is also a snap, which is an added bonus.

Place bacon in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in a COLD oven (do not preheat!) and bake for 15-17 minutes. Perfect, crispy bacon every time!  | cucinakristina.com

Mmmm!

Guess what? It took less than 20 minutes to make and clean up wasn’t a hot, dangerous disaster. It’s true! No greasy mess. No pouring hot bacon grease into an old soup can (although that is a fantastic way to add delicious flavor to anything you are frying or sautéing).

Start by completely covering a baking sheet in foil. It may take a few layers depending on the size of your baking sheet. I was using my toaster oven so I was able to cover my pan with a single layer of foil.

Lay bacon in a single layer on the baking sheet.

Place bacon in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in a COLD oven (do not preheat!) and bake for 15-17 minutes. Perfect, crispy bacon every time!  | cucinakristina.com

Start with a COLD oven.

Place the baking sheet in a cold oven. Let me repeat that in case you glossed over it. DO NOT pre-heat your oven. Place the bacon in a cold oven, turn your oven to 425˚ and go do something else for 15-17 minutes. You’ll want to keep an eye on your bacon towards the end because it can burn rather quickly.

When the bacon is done cooking, remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer bacon to paper towels to drain immediately. This will stop the cooking process.

If desired, you can pour the bacon grease into an old soup can and save for other uses. Otherwise, let the grease cool and thicken for a few minutes before removing the foil. You can discard the foil with the grease intact and your pan will stay clean!

Place bacon in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in a COLD oven (do not preheat!) and bake for 15-17 minutes. Perfect, crispy bacon every time!  | cucinakristina.com

Crispy bacon makes a perfect triple BLAT!

This is a great way to cook a large amount of bacon at one time. I used this method when I was preparing brunch for 10 people and it worked like a charm. I was able to make an entire package of bacon in less than 20 minutes!

If you need a way to use bacon slices other than alongside eggs here are some ideas. You can use crispy bacon to make sandwiches or you can crumble the bacon and add it to salads or soups. You can also top mashed or baked potatoes with bacon. If you are a sweet and salty type of person, you could make Maple-Bacon Crunch Ice Cream. Yum!

Homemade Vegetable Broth

Making homemade broth is incredibly simple and seems to really impress people. It is also inexpensive, totally customizable, and so much better tasting than any canned broth or bullion cube on the market. I make homemade vegetable broth approximately once a month. I keep a gallon sized freezer bag in my freezer and throw any vegetable trimmings and ends from my food prep into it.

Store vegetable trimmings in a freezer bag to make homemade vegetable broth

Store vegetable trimmings in a freezer bag to make homemade vegetable broth

When the bag gets full, I dump it out into a large pot of water and 4-5 hours later have a rich, dark amber broth that is perfect to use as a soup base. You can refrigerate the broth if you are using it that week or freeze it for later use. I like to freeze my broth in ice cube trays and use them to cool down hot soup. I use this method for cooling down my hot coffee.

Ice Cube Tray Measurements

2 cubes = 1/4 cup
4 cubes = 1/2 cup
6 cubes = 3/4 cup
8 cubes = 1 cup

Save Vegetable Peelings and Ends for Homemade Vegetable Broth | cucinakristina.com

Don’t discard gems like this!

This is also a great way to use up any vegetables you won’t be able to eat before they spoil. The smell that will seep throughout your house is amazing as this broth is simmering. The hardest part about making broth is waiting

Ingredients that can be used:

  • Carrots (shavings, tops, trimmings)
  • Parsnips (shavings, tops, trimmings)
  • Radishes (trimmings)
  • Celery (leaves, base, trimmings)
  • Onion/Shallots (all types! skins and trimmings)
  • Garlic (skins and trimmings)
  • Mushrooms (whole or scraps)
  • Fennel (trimmings, base, tops, scraps)
  • Leeks (base, tops, trimmings)
  • Turnips – I always toss a whole one into any batch of stock
  • Any vegetable you have on hand!
  • Herbs (rosemary, oregano, parsley, whatever you like!)
Freeze odds and ends for later

Freeze odds and ends for later

The great thing about this method is that your broth will change flavor depending on the scraps you collected in the bag. Generally, I make sure to add a few garlic cloves, an extra onion that is chopped into quarters, and a turnip. I find the turnip gives the broth a nice earthy undertone that is otherwise missing.

Homemade Vegetable Broth

Save Vegetable Peelings and Ends for Homemade Vegetable Broth | cucinakristina.com

Simmer for ~4 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 turnip, quartered
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 bag of vegetable trimmings*
  • Water – The amount of water you start with will depend on the size of your pot. Generally speaking, you want the water to reduce to about 1/3 of the original amount. The more it reduces, the more concentrated your broth will be.
  • Salt and pepper**

*NOTE: If you do not collect trimmings and want to make broth from scratch just use whole ingredients from the list above.

**Generally, I don’t add salt or pepper to my broth. I usually wait until I am cooking with it to add salt, pepper, herbs, etc. However, you should experiment and season according to your taste!

Directions:

  1. Place all items in a pot and fill with water. Leave about 1 inch from the top of the pot.
  2. Bring water to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to low and simmer for ~4 hours. Times will vary depending on the size of your pot so be sure to check periodically the first time you do this.
  4. When the water has reduced to about 1/3 of the amount, remove from heat and strain.
  5. Let the veggies cool and then squeeze them over the broth to make sure you get all the flavor you can out of them.
  6. Strain again to remove any big chunks of vegetables.
  7. Freeze in ice cube trays and store ice cubes in a large freezer bag.

How To: Cut a Pepper

This is a pretty typical Sunday night dinner in our house. We love fajitas. I make them by sautéing garlic, onions and peppers in olive oil then adding chicken flavored with and marinated in fajita seasoning from the Spice House. Simple and quick.

From left to right: chicken fajitas, tortillas, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, sauteed mushrooms, pico de gallo, and grilled green onions.

From left to right: chicken fajitas, tortillas (for hubs), cheese, sour cream, guacamole, sautéed mushrooms (for me since I don’t eat the tortillas), pico de gallo, and grilled green onions.

I usually make a double batch of the chicken and peppers along with a boat load of guacamole and pico de gallo so I can have the leftovers the next few mornings with eggs. Fajita omelette? Yes, please!

I can’t convince my husband to try Paleo with me for even two weeks so that’s why the tortillas are pictured here. However, this is Paleo-friendly as long as you eat everything a la carte. You could also serve this as a salad over a bed of lettuce greens with a bit of olive oil and fresh lime juice. When you make fresh pico and guacamole, you don’t even miss things like sour cream, cheese, or tortillas. I have to admit that even though cheese isn’t technically Paleo, it is the one item that I cheat with at times.

I have found that people really struggle with slicing and dicing peppers for meals like this. I can’t even recall where I learned this technique, but it is the best way to cup up fresh peppers. It’s makes it super easy to slice them into strips or dice them into cubes and you never have any of the little seeds flying about.

How to Cut a Pepper

Step 1

How to cut a pepper

Step 1

Step 1.5

Slice down the side of the pepper as close to the stem as possible.

Side view of step 1

Step 2

Now that you can see the inside, slice the other sides off avoiding the seeds.

Step 2

Avoid the seeds as you slice

Side view of step 2

Step 3

Notice the seeds are intact around the stem

Step 3

Repeat around the entire pepper

Step 4

Step 7

Discard the seeds

Step 5

Step 6

Slice into strips or dice into cubes

Easy peasy!

Mason Jar Salads

Mason Jar Salads. Stay fresh for up to a week in the fridge. Layer hardier ingredients on the bottom and more delicate items on top. Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Great time saver!   

I do my grocery shopping and food prep for the week on Sunday afternoon. It the single best time saver and stress reliever that I have discovered to date. It takes a bit of planning in the beginning to get the hang of it, but it is so worth it once you figure out the odds and ends!

I typically spend anywhere between 5-6 hours shopping, prepping, and cleaning up on Sunday, but it totally eliminates any work I have to do for meals during the week. At any point during the week, I can whip up breakfast, lunch, or dinner with zero prep time and minimal clean up. Mid-week clean up is reduced to the pots/pans I use to cook and the dishes we eat on.

For the past few months, I have been eating salads everyday for lunch and storing them in mason jars. I make 6 at a time and the mason jars keep the ingredients fresh for the entire week. Any airtight container would probably work, but I like mason jars because they fit in the door of the fridge. If I were to make the salads only, shopping, prep, and clean up would probably take 2-3 hours.

A few weeks ago, I posted a picture of my mason jar salads on Instagram and it sparked a ton of questions from people. I originally saw this idea floating around Pinterest so I thought everyone already knew about it, but it turns out they do not. I never actually “pinned” the original idea onto one of my boards so, unfortunately, I can’t credit the place that I first saw this.

I don’t add any dressing into the mason jars because I dress my salads with olive oil and vinegar only. If you want, you can add the dressing to the bottom of the jars. Just make sure that you always layer sturdy veggies at the bottom (like carrots or radishes) so they stay crisp throughout the week.

Mason Jar Salads
Time: 2-3 hours which includes shopping, prep, and clean up
Makes 6 salads

Make a week's worth of salads ahead of time and store them in mason jars. They will keep in your fridge for up to a week! Layer hardy ingredients on bottom and more delicate items (like lettuce or sprouts) on top. Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Example of the items you will need

Ingredients
You can use any ingredients that you want. For the above salads I used the following:

  • 3 green peppers – 1/2 pepper per salad
  • 12 radishes – 2 radishes per salad
  • 6 carrots – 1 per salad
  • 3 small apples – 1/2 apple per salad
  • 6 celery stalks – 1 per salad
  • 3 shallots – 1/2 shallot per salad
  • 3 heads of romaine lettuce – 1/2 head per salad
  • 3 small cucumbers  – 1/2 cucumber per salad. Note: Pictured above are 6 small cucumbers because I planned on using 1 per salad. As you can see in the picture below, it was way too much so I ended up using half of the original amount I bought.
  • Sport peppers

Directions

Mason jar salads will keep fresh and crisp in your fridge up to a week. Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Layer your ingredients

Start with your sturdy ingredients and layer each ingredient. Add the lettuce last. I layered in this order. Radish, carrot, cucumber, celery, green pepper, apple, shallot, sport peppers, and lettuce.

Mason Jar Salads - They will keep fresh and crisp in your fridge up to a week. Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Shake the jar to create more room

Don’t worry if your jar starts to look like it is getting full. You have tons of room left and you can push the items down when you add the lettuce. Before adding the lettuce, shake the jar to settle the ingredients and fill in the gaps between layers. The jar on the left has not been shaken, the jar on the right has. See the difference?

Make salads for the week ahead of time and store them in a mason jar. They will keep in your fridge for up to a week. From: Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Finished salads

Lastly, add the lettuce. Really pack it in there. You can fit a lot more than you think in these jars!

When you are ready to eat them, dump them out into a large bowl. At this point you can add a protein source like hard-boiled eggs, grilled chicken, or shrimp. Add nuts or seeds if you are keeping it vegetarian or vegan. You can also add homemade pickled banana peppers.

Store vegetable trimmings in a freezer bag and use them to make homemade vegetable broth. Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Use these to make homemade vegetable broth

Make sure you save any veggie shavings or trimmings. Just throw them into a plastic bag and store them in your freezer. When the bag gets full, dump the contents into a large pot of water and make homemade vegetable broth.

9 New Uses For Herbs

A friend of mine mentioned the other day that she wanted to start growing her own herbs because it would be cheaper than buying them every time she needs fresh herbs for a dish. For example, if a recipe calls for a sprig of rosemary, she will buy the tiny box of rosemary from the grocery store (these usually run about $3-$5 depending on the herb), use a sprig, and end up throwing the rest out because it goes bad before she uses it again. This got me thinking of ways to use up or preserve those fresh herbs.

I have been growing and drying my own herbs for years. Drying herbs is very easy and does not require any special equipment. All you do is bunch your herbs together and secure with a rubber band, then hang them upside down in a dark, dry place (closets work really well) and forget about them for a couple of weeks.

This bunch of sage is already dried, but you can see the rubber band at the top securing it together.

Cucina Kristina: Dried Sage

Dried Sage

I usually dry a bunch of different herbs at a time and hang them from one of those cheap hangers you get from the dry cleaner. I just twist the top apart, thread the rubber banded herbs onto the hanger, and hang them in my basement.

Cucina Kristina: Dry bunches of herbs on a dry cleaner hanger.

You can easily untwist these by hand.

Cucina Kristina: Dry bunches of herbs on a dry cleaner hanger.

Dried lime balm, pineapple sage, thyme, anise, and sage.

When I started this post, I only had a few ideas bouncing around in my head, but as I kept writing, the ideas kept coming. I’ve compiled a list of links and pictures of ways to use fresh and dried herbs. It’s a mix of my own ideas and links around the internet.

1. Make tea.

Fancy herbal teas can cost you a pretty penny. Why not dry those herbs and make your own teas? Simply boil water, add herbs, and steep for about 10 minutes. You could use fresh herbs to make tea, too. Nothing is stopping you!

2. Freeze fresh herbs.

When you think of preserving herbs, drying automatically comes to mind. However, you can also freeze them in their natural state for use throughout the year. There are three ways you can do this.

- The first is to freeze them whole. Spread individual leaves or sprigs onto a cookie sheet and freeze.

- The second is to use ice cube trays. Scoop 1 tablespoon of chopped herbs into each ice cube space and cover halfway with water and freeze. The herbs will float to the top, don’t worry. This is why you fill the tray only halfway at first. When frozen, cover the rest of the way with water and freeze again.

- The third is to freeze fresh herbs in olive oil. This idea from The Gardner’s Eden has been floating around Pinterest for a while, but I thought it was worth mentioning in case folks hadn’t seen it. I think it is a great idea. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it!

3. Make you own potpourri.

Once your herbs are dried, you can put them in a sash and use them to scent drawers or closets. You can also spread potpourri into a decorative bowl or dish and use around your home. If you’d like, you can mix in other scents. Add cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, or dried citrus fruits. This idea works especially well with anise, rosemary, and lavender.

4. Infuse things.

You can infuse olive oil, vinegar, or butter. These would make great gifts for any occasion. If you get fancy jars, your olive oil and vinegar can double as kitchen decor.

5. Brighten up your home or office with a fresh herb bouquet.

The smell of fresh herbs seeps through the air as you work and has a very calming effect. Also, how cute would this be for a housewarming present or a hostess gift?

Cucina Kristina: Fresh herb bouquet

Rosemary, sage, and oregano. The scent is amazing!

6. Use fresh or dried herbs as gift toppers.

I did this for a kitchen themed bridal shower and used fresh rosemary and cinnamon sticks. I thought I was a genius when I came up with the idea, but it is already all over the internet. Sigh. Maya*Made has some great photos in her post on herbs as gift toppers.

7. Make your own spice blends, rubs, or mixes.

Here are some ideas that come to mind. Use equal parts of dried herbs. Be careful when you get into the powders as they tend to be strong. You can experiment, but in the case of powders less is more.

  • Italian herb blend: Rosemary, Oregano, Basil, Thyme, Sage
  • Scarborough Fair blend: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme
  • Steak/chicken rub: Oregano, thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, paprika
  • Fajita mix: Oregano, cumin, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper

8. Make flavored simple syrups. Use in cocktails, mocktails, and sweet treats.

I found this awesome step-by-step tutorial from Oh My Veggies for basil simple syrup, but you could use this method for any herb. She also lists some uses for basil simple syrup to get your creative juices flowing.

9. Press herbs, frame, and use as artwork. 

We all probably pressed leaves at some point for a school project, right? Why not do the same with herbs? I’ve pressed many leaves and flowers in my day using the basic method I was taught during the 80′s. I’m sure it will work the same for herbs. Lay herbs flat between two pieces of newspaper. Place a few heavy books on them and wait about 2-3 weeks for the herbs to dry in their pressed shape. They can then be framed and hung in a kitchen.

Any other ideas? Please share!

How To Correctly Put a Lid on a Coffee Cup

Fall is in the air! As much as I miss living in California, there is no better place to be during the fall season than the Midwest. It is always sad to say goodbye to summer, but these things help make the transition easier:

  • College football season (Go Bears!)
  • Boots (I’m in love with these, these, these, and these!)
  • The smell of burning leaves
  • Sunday drives through the forest preserve
  • Apple picking, apple cider, apple butter, apple donuts
  • Canning the last of summer’s bounty (my new project this year)
  • Pumpkin carving & roasting the seeds
  • Oktoberfest & seasonal beers (Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale? Yes, please!)
  • Scarves and hats

and finally…. warm pumpkin-spiced coffee drinks! I can’t think of anything more amazing on a chilly autumn day than the smell of fall in my coffee cup. I’m dying to try this homemade version of a Pumpkin Spiced Latte from Averie Cooks using pumpkin puree and almond milk. How delectable does that sound?

Speaking of coffee, am I the only one that has major issues with coffee dribbling down the side of my paper coffee cup? I have coffee stains in my car, on my gloves, and on the front of countless shirts because of this. Little did I know there is a simple solution to this problem.

I was in Boston three weeks ago for the last leg of my honeymoon, and I stopped into Wired Puppy for my morning cup o’ Joe. At the sugar/creamer station, they had a photo tutorial explaining the proper way to put a lid on a to-go cup of coffee. Ever since following their directions, I have had zero coffee dribbles on the front of my shirt. This is seriously exciting news. I wish I knew this years ago.

How to Correctly Put a Lid on a Coffee Cup

Step 1: Find the cup seam.

Cucina Kristina: Cup Seam

Find the cup seam

Step 2: Put the lid on with the spout facing opposite the cup seam.

Cucina Kristina: Put the lid on with the spout facing opposite the cup seam and your beverave won't dribble down your shirt.

Put the lid on with the spout facing opposite the cup seam.

That’s it? Seriously? All I had to do was rotate the lid?! Does this mean I can finally have nice things? :)

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