Monday, February 28, 2011

Mise, Please

In the past few years as a housewife, I think I have grown to become a pretty competent little home cook. I can chop like a champ, whip like a whiz, and  puree like a pro. The one thing that took the longest to master, though, and that I still mess up every now and then, is timing everything so that it all is finished at the same time. Inevitably, the salmon sits out getting cold or, worse, overcooked, while I wait for the potatoes to bake through.
One strategy I have learned to combat this, is using the technique of mise en place. "Mise en place" is french for "put in place" and refers to "having all the ingredients necessary for a dish prepared and ready to combine up to the point of cooking" (thanks, Epicurious). Like in a cooking show, when the host has everything all chopped and measured in little bowls in front of them, and all they have to do is throw them together. Haven't you always wished you could cook like that? Well, you can!

When you are cooking dinner, even just for yourself, don't just flip on the stove and dive right in. Slow down, take stock of what you'll need, and get everything organized in front of you, so it's all easily reached and ready to go at just the right moment. Dice the herbs, slice the veggies, and measure all the spices into a bowl. Because I work from home, sometimes I will chop the onions or slice the carrots in the middle of the day, and cover and set them aside for dinner. If you invest in a set of small dishes, like these  Pyrex containers with lids, $14, from, you can take things right from the fridge to the stove. You can even lay out the pots and pans you will be using. It may seem like this will produce an unnecessary number of extra dishes, but if you are smart, and combine ingredients that can be added at the same time, and reuse bowls, you'll be surprised at how much work it saves you in the long run. I keep a small bowl of chopped parsley in my fridge at all times- I pull it out and use it over the course of a week, saving myself precious herb-chopping time every week.

You'll be amazed at how much more fun cooking is when you aren't scrambling to mince the garlic before the sauce burns on the stove- you will truly feel like the star of your own cooking show. It's up to you whether you want to narrate your actions into an imaginary camera as you go, like I do. Bam!

Top photo: Ranger Mike Designs

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Striking Idea (with Guest Blogger Lea)

 Out of the blue this week, I got an email from my childhood friend, Lea (who you might remember from this post or this post), with a couple of pretty great ideas for blog posts (with even the photos included!) that she just whipped up 'cause she felt like it. I have been busybusybusy (so what else is new?) and this little unexpected surprise arrived in the nick of time. Check out yesterday's post for the best method for cleaning waxy, smokey, dirty old glass votive holders. And read on today to see some of the unexpected ways Lea has used them around the house.  Candle holders: They aren't just for holding candles anymore. Thanks, Lea!

I hate throwing things away and, just like my mother, I have nightmares of landfills filling up. So, instead of trashing the old votive candle holders I collected for my wedding, I cleaned them and repurposed them. I even turned a hexagonal votive into a great matchstick holder and striker- just the thing to accompany all those candles. Here's how to do it: 

Step 1: Cut the striking strip off a box of all-purpose strike anywhere wood matches.
Step 2: Use an all-purpose glue stick to adhere the strips to the side of a glass holder. 

Step 3: Wait until glue dries,  then fill the votive with matches. Much cuter than a matchbox, you can keep this match holder close at hand for whenever you need a light. It's one way to really strike a bargain.

And even if you aren't feeling quite so crafty, you can find a million uses for glass votive holders all over the house. Votives are so pretty, match with any decor, and are very useful for holding all sorts of things. They make great bud vases, cotton swab holders, toothpick holders, mini bins for office, sewing, or art supplies, and whatever else you can think of (the possibilities are endless).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rock the Votive (with Guest Blogger Lea)

Out of the blue this week, I got an email from my childhood friend, Lea (who you might remember from this post or this post), with a pretty great blog post that she just whipped up 'cause she felt like it. I have been busybusybusy (so what else is new?) and this little unexpected surprise arrived in the nick of time. Plus, we're only a couple weeks away from Valentine's Day, and who couldn't use a little cheap, romantic candlelight in their lives? So bust out those gross, burnt, waxy, old glass votive candle holders you were going to throw away (or pick some used ones up for next-to-nothing at a thrift shop- they look great mixed and matched en masse), and give them a new lease on light (see what I did there?) PLUS: check in tomorrow to see a few unexpected uses Lea has found for her votives (including one brilliant craft project I wish I'd thought of).  It'll be all the candle you can handle.  Thanks, Lea!

 Every year, before the holidays, starting from when I was a child, I have made it my job to clean all of the votive candle holders in the house and get them looking fresh and new and ready for the season. I've always liked this job because it's a big mess/project/production and I get to experiment with different ways to remove candle wax. And when I was finished I loved the atmosphere that candles brought to the house.
I tried many different approaches: Melting off the wax in hot water on the stove (what a mess...), putting the candle holders in the freezer and then picking off the wax (works OK for big pieces of wax but does not leave a clean look), scraping the wax off with a butter knife or fingernails (ouch!) or razor blades, or using hot water from the faucet to soften the wax. All of these approaches were difficult, time consuming, and always left me with a terrible waxy mess to clean up afterward.
 I was married a little over a year ago and I wanted to have a candlelit dinner as part of the celebration. Lil (a.k.a A Charmed Wife)'s mom had 50+ glass votives left over from Lil's brother's wedding that she said I could have. I was up for the challenge of cleaning them, but I knew I needed a better method.
What I came up with put all of my previous years of work to shame! It is very simple and effective (at least for glass votives) and best of all... it leaves no mess! Here's what you do.

Step 1: Put the oven on VERY low (100 to 150 degrees F) because you don't want an oven fire, and place all of your votives on an old baking sheet. (note: I did once cause an oven fire in my mother's oven when I was trying to make new candles from old ones and beeswax crayons... The oven was on WAY to high but luckily there was a fire extinguisher nearby... what a mess... sorry mom, you were so patient with me, I love you).

Step 2: Once they are warm and you can see some melted wax, remove only one of the votives from the oven with an old oven mitt or pot-holder (take care not to burn yourself) and pour the melted wax into an open paper bag that you have already set in the trash. 

Step 3: Next use paper towels or cut up old t-shirts or paper napkins (I hold on to unused takeout napkins and keep them in a drawer -just like my mother does- so I can use them for dirty jobs such as this) to wipe away the left over wax and any soot or dirt and !VOILA! you are done!

4) Repeat for all of your votives, throwing away your wiper into your paper bag when it gets to much wax on it. If any wax got on your baking sheet you can also just wipe it of:) Don't forget to turn off the oven, something I always need to remind myself to do, or else my husband reminds me with a worried look in his eye.

5) After this process, your votives will be very clean and ready for new candles. If you want them extra sparkly or if you want to repurpose them (check in tomorrow for some novel ideas), just wash them like dishes.  I hope this gives you a motive for cleaning your votives!