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Archive for January, 2009

Last week when I introduced my new series, Mission: Appliances, I found myself getting very excited! I can’t wait to wipe the dust off my nifty kitchen gadgets and find creative ways to use them. This first week was no exception.

mission-appliances2

I decided to kick off the series with one of my simpler appliances, a small food chopper. The one I own is officially the Proctor Silex Food Chopper. It is quite compact, not to mention pretty inexpensive. This particular appliance is one I married into and we think my mother-in-law bought it for my husband as a gift.

Food Chopper Vital Statistics

food-chopper

  • Brand: Proctor-Silex
  • Average Price: $16
  • Capacity: 1.5 cups
  • Size: 8 X 5 X 4 inches
  • Weight: 2 lbs
  • Complexity: Very easy to use
  • Versatility: Can chop bread, crackers, cookies, nuts, veggies, fruits, and herbs
  • Cleaning: Very easy to clean, also dishwasher safe
  • Storage: Stores easily on a shelf or can be left out on the counter
  • Safety Tips: Chopping blade is very sharp
  • Pre-series Location: High cupboard (requires a chair to reach)
  • Pre-series Use Level: Never used

Project Food Chopper

One of the reasons I decided to start with the food chopper was because I had a meal planned last week that required a fair amount of chopping: onions, roasted red peppers, and sun-dried tomatoes. I started with the onions.

food-chopper-onion

Unfortunately you can’t just throw the entire onion in there because it is just too small. The instruction manual said to chop it up into 1-inch pieces. I still consider that a fair amount of leg work on my part, but the chopper did chop A LOT more finely than I ever would.

food-chopper-peppers

These particular red peppers come packaged in a glass bottle because they are roasted and packed in oil. Therefore, you can just throw the whole pieces right into the chopper. I found that the end result would be great for a sauce or even a dip, because the peppers became pretty minced. However, many recipes would probably prefer slightly larger pieces.

food-chopper-tomato

The sun-dried tomatoes were by far the selling point for me. I took them out of the package, threw them in the chopper and after 5 seconds I had a perfect little pile of pieces. In the past, cutting up sun-dried tomatoes was very tedious and slow because of the texture. But the food chopper came through and did a great job!

The Verdict

I really liked using the food chopper overall! It’s small, VERY fast, and easy to clean. I’ve decided to leave it out on the counter for now since putting it on a cupboard shelf only accessible by standing on a chair just means I may never use it. I’m a big stickler when it comes to cluttered kitchen counter tops, but this device is small enough that it doesn’t seem to have an impact on space. My hope is to use it more regularly in the future.

Reader Reflection

Do you own a food chopper? How often do you use it?

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Let’s first get something out of the way. I am a Green Bay Packers fan. Hopefully I’m not bursting anyone’s bubble here, but they did not make it to Super Bowl this year, with or without Brett Favre. In fact they weren’t even close. But as a football fan in general, I still plan to watch the BIG game and have a little party with my friends. And of course a party of any kind can be organized, right?

Whether you are a fan of the game, the commercials, the food, or the social aspect of this football event, it is important to recognize that adding a little organization to the equation can make everyone’s evening more enjoyable. So I’ve decided to write up a handy post about how you can organize your time, money, and space all when it comes to your Super Bowl event.

football-game

Get the facts straight

First let’s cover the basic facts you need to know:

  • The Game: Super Bowl XLIII
  • The Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals
  • The Date: February 1, 2009
  • The Time: 6 p.m. EST
  • The Network: NBC

Organize your time

Preparing for parties can be stressful, especially if you plan to have a lot of people over. Here are some easy tips to help you manage your time as you get ready for the big game.

  • Make lists. Write down who is invited, who is actually coming, how many adults vs. kids you will have, and when everyone plans to arrive. This helps get your mind organized and ready to move on to actually planning the party.
  • Figure out what you need to buy in advance. Don’t save your grocery trips for Sunday afternoon!
  • Make a game-day food preparation schedule. Figure out what needs to be prepared, how long it will take, and who you will have helping you. You don’t want to get caught a few minutes before the game realizing that something you were hoping to make takes longer than you actually have. Also be sure that the person preparing the food (you?) will be finished in time to watch the game.

Organize your money

It’s okay to not want your party to burn a large hole in your wallet. Read on to learn some money-saving tips you can adopt for your Super Bowl party.

  • Take advantage of Super Bowl sales. Many stores offer common party foods and drinks on special sales this week. Be sure to look for soda, chips, dips, and other foods that have a reduced price.
  • Serve simple inexpensive appetizers. Don’t feel like you need to prepare a grandiose feast. Most people would probably prefer to just casually graze on appetizers all night anyways.
  • Ask people you invite to make a contribution. Plan your Super Bowl party to be a potluck and ask each family to bring a dish to pass. If this method won’t work, consider asking for a small monetary donation to help contribute to your costs (especially alcohol, since this is a lot more expensive).
  • Order pizza (or something similar). Want to be really simple and have everyone basically do the work for you? Order take-out at the party and split the cost right then and there among all the people you invited.

Organize your space

Super Bowl parties occur in a number of venues that range from bars to restaurants to homes. If you’re hosting a Super Bowl party this year, then the space in your home needs to be prepared to handle the extra people, not to mention the food and beverages. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Be sure you have good seating for everyone. If you need to borrow chairs or even pillows, then do so. It’s a long game and most people will want to sit down. Rearrange your furniture if you have to.
  • Check to make sure all the seats have a view of the TV. Yep, you don’t want to miss that Hail Mary pass at the end of the 2nd quarter. Also make sure your TV’s volume or speaker arrangement makes it possible for everyone to hear above all the socializing (see the next point).
  • Make it clear which rooms are set aside for watching, cooking, and socializing. I’ve been to Super Bowl parties where everything happened in the same small room and it was really hard to focus on the game. People totally uninterested in the game (which is fine) were pretty distracting to those trying to pay attention because they basically had nowhere else to go.
  • Clear enough table and counter space for food and beverages. Create a buffet style method of serving, provide the necessary utensils and plates, and then ensure people have a place to put their food once they return to their seats.

Reader Reflection

Which team do you plan to cheer for in Super Bowl XLIII?

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Good morning everyone! I hope you all had a nice weekend. Our weekend was marked by extremely cold temperatures (again) so we couldn’t really get out and try our new (used) cross country skis yet. But I digress. On to meal planning!

Our new recipe from this past week (Artichoke and Sun-Dried Tomato Fettuccine) was a much better success than our new recipe the previous week (Pizza Biscuit Bake). However there was one funny hang-up involving the artichoke.

I wasn’t able to find artichoke hearts by the jar in oil as the recipe called for, so I decided to buy my first ever fresh artichoke heart and learn how to cut it! I read this article and watched this video. But when it came time to cut my own, I realized my tiny artichoke heart was only one artichoke heart and of course needed several! My husband joked, “ya, we’ll be asking each other: did you get the artichoke heart or did I?” I decided to leave it out because one little heart wasn’t going to go very far. Silly me! Instead I substituted some roasted red peppers I had left over from a previous recipe.

Overall, the recipe was full of great flavors so I’ve decided to include it here. I originally got it from allrecipes.com (called Carrie’s Artichoke and Sun-dried Tomato Pasta), but I made some modifications of my own before cooking it myself and decided to rename it since I ultimately left out the artichoke hearts. So here’s the recipe as I made it:

Roasted Red Pepper & Sun-Dried Tomato Fettuccine

Ingredients:
1 12 oz. package fettuccine noodles
4 TBS butter
1 tsp minced garlic
1 medium onion, chopped
7.5 oz. roasted red peppers, chopped
3 oz. packaged sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 7 oz. jar mushroom pieces and stems
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 TBS lemon juice
1 cup white cooking wine
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp black pepper
1 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

Directions:
1. Cook fettuccine until al dente. Drain and set aside.
2. Melt butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Sauté onions with minced garlic until onions are translucent. Stir in roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Then add the lemon juice, the wine and the Italian seasoning. Boil and cook until liquid is reduced by a half (about 20-25 minutes).
3. Toss pasta with sauce. Top with parmesan cheese, pepper, and basil. Serve.

Enjoy!

meal-plan-mondays

Monday 1/26/09

Leftovers

Tuesday 1/27/09

Leftovers

Wednesday 1/28/09

Grilled Hamburgers and Pineapple

Thursday 1/29/09

Mini oven-baked pizzas and Pineapple

Friday 1/30/09

Superbowl Weekend Madison Trip

Saturday 1/31/09

Superbowl Weekend Madison Trip

Sunday 2/1/09

Superbowl Weekend Madison Trip

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I posted my weekly menu to the I’m an Organizing Junkie blog, so be sure to check it out and participate if you’d like!

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A few weeks ago I was wandering around my kitchen and I had an epiphany! You see, like many people, I have several appliances literally collecting dust in my cupboards due to the fact that they are used so infrequently or have never been used at all.

But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost! Each appliance represents a significant amount of money spent, whether I bought it or it was a gift. And each appliance takes up a huge amount of my precious cupboard space! So what can I do?

I’ve decided to make a commitment to using my appliances more so that they aren’t a waste of money or space in my kitchen. And what better way to accomplish this goal than to blog about it! Mission: Appliances will be my approach to researching and planning new ways to use my appliances, reporting my findings back to the readers, and ultimately making decisions about what to keep and what to simply get rid of.

Today’s Mission: Appliances post will basically be an introduction to all the appliances I currently have on hand. Then each Friday I will feature one appliance that I was (hopefully) able to use creatively that week. And my goal is not only for myself, but I want all of YOU to be able to benefit too! I’m sure I’m not the only one with dusty appliances sitting lonely on the shelf.

mission-appliances

Mission: Appliances – An Inventory

To begin I would like to make a list of all the kitchen appliances I own. To be clear, I’m using the term ‘appliances’ a little loosely to be able to include fancy gadgets that don’t necessary use electricity, but still perform a special cooking function.

I have decided to divide the list into appliances that I actually do use regularly and ones that I almost never use. For the purposes of this series, I only plan to feature appliances I do not use regularly. But first let’s get appliances I use often out of the way.

Appliances I use regularly

  • Refrigerator – Well, of course.
  • Oven – Obviously.
  • Dishwasher – Yes sir.
  • Microwave – Now I’m just getting silly, but I like to be complete.
  • Toaster – We use our toaster almost every day.
  • Coffee maker – While we don’t actually drink coffee, we have this coffee maker for our coffee-loving guests.
  • Rice cooker – Anytime I cook rice (which is fairly often), this is what I use.
  • Bread maker – We have two of these (one was given to us recently by someone who no longer wanted it). My husband loves to make bread.
  • Lettuce spinner – I grow lettuce in the garden and also buy a lot of lettuce during winter. We use this lettuce spinner regularly to wash, dry, and keep lettuce fresh in the refrigerator while we are eating it.
  • Kitchen Aid beaters – While I don’t use these as much as I just use a mixing spoon, I will pull them out occasionally to beat the thick mixes or mixes that require some ‘fluff’ to them.

Appliances I do not use regularly (or not at all!)

  • Food dehydrator – We’ve used this three times total–twice to make beef jerky for vacations and once to dehydrate herbs. I’d like to use it more because it’s pretty nifty.
  • Slow Cooker – We have two of these (large and small) and I actually mainly use them for transporting food to potlucks. I’d like to find more recipes so I can actually use them for cooking. And as we all know, crock pots can be huge time savers in the kitchen!
  • Food processor – I was actually really excited about this appliance when we got it because I wanted to use it for pureeing soups and sauces. But I can honestly say that I have NEVER used it.
  • Food chopper – You’d think I would use a food chopper to speed up the cooking process. Well, I’ve never used it.
  • Blender – Everyone needs a blender, right? I think we’ve used our blender only once.
  • Smoothie maker – I married into this appliance and am curious how it differs from just a plain old blender. We’ve never used it since getting married.
  • Waffle iron – I married into this appliance as well and we’ve used it one time to make chocolate chip waffles. We had a little difficulty. But the idea of having waffles regularly intrigues me because I think waffles are great!
  • George Foreman Grill – The staple of a college student, right? We use this grill rarely for meats. It’s a pain to clean if you ask me. But I’m willing to give it a chance.
  • Electric Indoor Grill – We just bought this grill and actually have been using it regularly so far (I even wrote a review for it here). But I want to try some new recipes so the regular use continues.
  • Partial pressure cooker pots – My husband got a deal on these a few months ago, but I haven’t tried them yet. One of the problems is that I have to learn how to use them. If they do what they claim, then I could save a lot of time in cooking. Stay tuned.
  • Wok – I love Asian cooking, but I am ashamed to say I’ve only used our Wok once! It just seems like a hassle to pull it out of the cupboard when a normal skillet gets the job done.
  • Deep Fat Fryer – We got this for Christmas and I am very excited to use it. However, it remains sealed inside the box.
  • Mandoline Grater/Slicer/Juicer – We also got this for Christmas. I’m not sure exactly what it does, but I am looking forward to finding out.
  • Frosty Treat Maker – This was a hand-me-down mini appliance from my mom. I don’t think we’ve used it. But sounds tasty, doesn’t it?!
  • Double Boiler – My mom gave me this because she had two of them.  I know she uses it for melting chocolate for candy, but I have never used it.

Wow, you sure have a lot of appliances!

Two words: Wedding gifts!

Can I play too?

If you have a kitchen appliance that is not on this list, then I’d love to have you guest post about it in the future! Send me a message if you are interested.

Reader Reflection

Which appliance in your kitchen do you use the least?

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Have you ever been in a pinch to clean your house before guests arrive, or do you sometimes just have an urge to quickly remove some unsightly clutter? Never fear, all you need is 10 seconds, in fact, less than 10 seconds. Observe:

table-messy

I woke up on Monday morning and spotted this disaster on our living room coffee table. I hate messes like these because they make the whole room appear cluttered and unkempt. But I couldn’t really put anything away because everything belonged to my husband. He left out his projects from the night before (which is fine), but he wasn’t around to do anything about it the following morning.

Should we give up when faced with situations like these? Absolutely not. You can still organize existing messes without having to completely clean them up if you aren’t able to or have no time. Take a few seconds and simply straighten these messes into nice neat piles. Arrange each pile so that they are evenly spaced on the surface and celebrate—you’ve instantly transformed your room.

table-organized

BE WARNED. Don’t make this policy of temporarily organizing messes a habit and end up never actually taking care of the source of the clutter. You’ll just end up with piles all over your house! And whether they are organized piles or not, eventually lots of organized piles end up looking messy and cluttered too. This quick fix is just for those times when you are in a bind and need to organize an area fast. Or if you’re like me and just have a compulsion. 🙂

How do you feel about organized piles?

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Happy Monday everyone! My first week of meal planning was, for the most part, a great success! I say ‘for the most part’ because my new recipe for the week was a bit of a bust, but I’ll get to that later. First, I just want to say how amazing it felt to have a plan every day…no more scrambling around for ideas last minute!

So, about my new recipe for last week, Biscuit Pizza Bake—I had high expectations for this one…biscuits, tomato sauce, bell peppers, onions, Italian sausage, pepperoni, cheese, how can you go wrong? Well, something was very wrong with the recipe instructions for one thing. It said to bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees F, but many of my biscuit pieces were still raw dough after one whole hour in the oven! We soon thought of a modification to that plan, like baking the biscuits by themselves first so they actually get fully cooked and then adding all the pizza ingredients on top for 20 minutes or so. However, we are scrapping this recipe because I failed to consider the extremely high salt content of canned refrigerated buttermilk biscuits! We were drinking water all night. Oh well, recipes can’t all be great.

So, below begins my official week 2 of meal planning, again with one new recipe. Hopefully this new one will be good!

meal-plan-mondays

Monday 1/19/09

Leftovers

Tuesday 1/20/09

Leftovers

Wednesday 1/21/09

Dinner Party with friends (@ friend’s house)

Thursday 1/22/09

Coconut Curry Basil Chicken with Rice

Friday 1/23/09

Leftovers

Saturday 1/24/09

Artichoke & Sun-Dried Tomato Fettuccine (NEW)

Sunday 1/25/09

Leftovers

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I posted my weekly menu to the I’m an Organizing Junkie blog, so be sure to check it out and participate if you’d like!

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Last Friday I posed a question to Lifestyles of the Organized readers: Do gift cards help us or hurt us? After a bit of thinking this week, along with some great responses from Autumnesf (from Autumn Asks Why), Christina (from Nifty Thrifty Homemaker), Kimm Boes (from Reinvented), and Michelle, I put together a list of things to consider when you receive your next gift card in the mail.

best-buy-gift-card

1. Try to spend the exact amount the gift card is worth

If you receive a gift card in the mail for $10, try to buy something that costs $10, or as close as you can get. The problem is, sometimes the stores make it tricky. Christina pointed out:

I received an e-mail from JC Penny in December for $15 off $15 or more. But almost everything I liked was priced at $14.99, meaning I needed to spend at least some money.

So if you can’t spend the exact amount, what can you do? See the next point.

2. Buy something for your children

It goes without saying that kids’ merchandise is considerably cheaper than that for adults. If you can’t find something for yourself within the price range of the gift card, then try to buy something for your children. Christina (from above) bought snow pants for her daughter. Autumnesf tried this tactic as well:

Luckily right now I have a 4 year old. This means when the JCP $10 comes I get her something and have yet to spend over $2 out of pocket. And she looks smashing in the dress or shoes I find. So, for me it is currently a plus. But when she gets older I have no idea what I would use those $10 for!

Michelle also spent her gift card money on her kids:

I have always had good luck with them [gift cards] because I have 2 young kids, so most of the time I get a cute outfit or pjs and only spend a couple of dollars.

So it definitely seems like the way to go is to use those tempting gift cards for inexpensive children’s items!

3. Use the gift card to get higher quality items

Have you ever bought a cheap pair of shoes because you were trying to be frugal, only to have those shoes fall apart a few months later? It’s in cases like these where gift cards could come in handy. You’re given extra money that can push you up to the level of being able to afford the more expensive shoes that last much longer. Autumnesf had a similar experience:

Once I was in need of bed pillows when I got the card. They had a sale of buy one get one for a penny. So with the card I ended up getting a higher quality set of pillows for the same price I would have paid anyways…so that one worked in my favor as I was already going to spend the money anyways.

4. Hold on to the gift card until you can spend it on something you actually need

My husband and I still have a Best Buy gift card (pictured above) that is now going on 2 years old. We just haven’t had anything we really need come along that we can’t get somewhere else for cheaper. So we’re waiting. Something is bound to come along at some point. Kimm Boes shared:

Lately, I’ve been saving gift cards until I NEED something (although that can be dangerous in today’s economy). This is part of my new focus on “look how little I spent”, instead of “look how much I saved.”

Just watch out for expiration dates! Sometimes gift cards last as little as one week.

5. Beware of compromising your price standards

It’s tempting to use your gift card on just about anything because it’s free money, right? But it wouldn’t really be wise to buy something that costs well above what you would ever agree to pay just because you can. Don’t compromise your frugal standards—you should still try to get great deals! And think of how much greater that deal will be using a gift card on top of it.

Reader Reflection

Kimm Boes said it best when she stated:

Gift cards are tricky little buggers. I’ve been guilty on many occasions of receiving a gift card and then immediately going to said store, determined to find something, ANYTHING to buy to use the card. Usually this results in a purchase that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. And that item almost always costs more than the value of the gift card, while I rationalize, “look how much I saved.”

I think we’re all guilty of this! So get out there and try to beat the stores at their own game…spend your free gift cards wisely and truly save.

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