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Archive for the ‘Organizing Space’ Category

This week for Mission: Appliances, we were finally able to use one of our newest appliances, our deep fat fryer. While not an appliance we think we should use too often (um, ya, not too healthy people), we have always wanted one for special meals. So, without further adieu, let’s get out the deep fat fryer!

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We own the Presto 05466 ProFry Stainless-Steel Dual-Basket Immersion-Element 12-Cup Deep Fryer (now that’s a mouthful). We asked for it for Christmas and have not had the opportunity to use it yet—that is, until now.

While I like to keep battering and frying foods down to a minimum, I do think that occasionally it’s fun to do. And in our case, we really wanted an easier way to prepare certain foods we were already frying, just in a skillet (talk about a mess!). Enter the deep fat fryer.

Deep Fat Fryer Vital Statistics

  • Brand: Presto
  • Average Price: $70
  • Power: 1800 watt immersion element
  • Size: 16 X 15 X 11 inches; 12 pounds
  • Features: Adjustable thermostat; oil-ready indicator light; cover acts as a spatter shield
  • Complexity: Easy to use
  • Versatility: Deep fat fries just about anything
  • Cleaning: A little involved to clean
  • Storage: Unit is pretty large, so needs a bit more room than most appliances in order to store
  • Safety Tips: Heating elements get very hot; oil and steam can both be extremely hot
  • Pre-series Location: On the top shelf of a hall closet
  • Pre-series Use Level: Brand new, never used before

deep-fat-fryer

Project Deep Fat Fryer

When we asked for a deep fat fryer for Christmas, we actually picked a particular model out. It was highly reviewed and seemed like a good choice. After taking it out the box, we prepared it by cleaning it out fully and purchasing a 5 quart jug of canola oil.

deep-fat-fryer-canola-oil

One of the meals we had wanted to cook with a deep fat fryer was egg rolls, or more specifically, Lumpia. Our friends make it all the time and also recently started using a deep fat fryer. We thought it seemed like a good idea since frying the little egg rolls in a skillet was difficult and messy.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

1 lb ground hamburger
3 carrots, minced
8 oz jar of water chestnuts, drained and minced
1 egg
¼ cup soy sauce
Ground pepper and garlic powder to taste
2 TBS lemon juice

1 lb package egg roll wrappers (~20 wrappers)
1 TBS flour + 1 TBS water mixture

Directions:

1. Mix the hamburger, carrots, water chestnuts, egg, soy sauce, pepper, garlic, and lemon juice in a mixing bowl.
2. Take 3 small spoonfuls of meat mixture and place them along the long edge of an egg roll wrapper. Gently roll the wrapper until it is almost rolled up. Apply some flour/water mixture to the end and finish rolling (seals the egg roll shut).
3. Cut each long egg roll into 3 sections. Continue to repeat steps 2 and 3 until you’ve used up all the meat mixture.
4. Fry the egg rolls in oil until the meat is fully cooked inside and the egg roll wrappers are crispy.

deep-fat-fryer-egg-rolls

Here’s what we did with step 4, using our deep fat fryer: We pre-heated the oil for 20 minutes to 375 degrees F. Then we placed egg rolls at the bottom of each of the two baskets, submerging the baskets into the hot oil. After 2-3 minutes, the egg rolls were done. We continued to do this until all the egg rolls were fried.

deep-fat-fryer-egg-rolls-cooked

There were a few complications we encountered, but were able to work through by the end. First, we were not sure if we would have been able to place more uncooked egg rolls in the baskets at one time. We were afraid they would stick to one another and cook together as one big glob. So we played it safe and only placed one layer of egg rolls in each basket, making sure there was enough space between each egg roll to prevent touching.

The second issue we had was with the egg rolls sticking to the bottom of the basket. We read in the instruction manual that this could be a problem. We eventually realized that if we coated the baskets with hot oil first before adding the egg rolls and if we shook the baskets a few times while the egg rolls were submerged, the egg rolls did not stick too much.

The Verdict

The lumpia was quite yummy! It was great to be able to fry them so quickly (2-3 minutes) and have them evenly cooked. That was definitely a problem I had with frying them previously in a skillet. They were nice and crispy and tasted great coming out of the deep fat fryer. Clean-up was a little more involved than with most appliances, but it was to be expected. We plan to reuse the oil several times before discarding it. Overall, we love the deep fat fryer!

Reader Reflection

Do you own a deep fat fryer? What is your favorite thing to fry?

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Clutter control is awesome. It reduces stress, stops our stuff from taking over our lives, and helps us live more simply. But are there times when a person can go overboard with decluttering? In my opinion, yes.

Last week I was making a salad. My husband handed me the croutons and I took what I wanted. I noticed that there were only four croutons remaining in the box. Several thoughts quickly passed through my mind, like, “I should just eat the rest and be done with it” and “then I can clear a space in the cupboard and recycle the box.” Under some circumstances, thoughts like these would lead to productive decluttering. But didn’t I just waste those 4 croutons?

I’m not perfect. I strive to be organized. Hey, I love to be organized. But I’ve got a ways to go. And when I put those extra four croutons on my salad, I realized that I have to be careful not to go overboard with decluttering. There’s a line and I crossed it. Now, it’s only four little croutons, but attitudes like that could spill over into other areas of my life and I don’t want that!

After contemplating my actions with the croutons, I came up with five signs an organizer should be careful to watch out for to make sure he or she is not going overboard with decluttering. “Clutter control” has the word “control” in it, so let’s stay in control.

obsessed-with-clutter

1. You are obsessed with decluttering

Do you go through your day constantly thinking about things you can get rid of? Does unsightly clutter cause you to feel stressed until you can get it cleaned up? These are signs of an obsession with clutter control. Getting rid of clutter is good. Letting clutter bother you and control you in a negative way is bad.

2. Your decluttering habits annoy people

I know a person who is so fixated on decluttering that he will literally take the soda can out of your hands before you are even finished drinking it so he can crush it and recycle it RIGHT NOW. These types of habits really annoy people, especially people who are not at all sympathetic to the organizing cause in the first place.

3. You judge other people for their clutter problems

As organizing junkies, it is very easy to walk into someone else’s house and think of ways they could organize their belongings more effectively.  For some of us, this is just second nature.  But when constructive observation turns into critical judgment of that person’s lifestyle and character, you’ve crossed the line.  Having an attitude like this is very dangerous, and you should try your best to avoid it.

4. Your decluttering methods result in waste

This is where my crouton example fits in. I didn’t need to eat those four croutons. But even though they were only four little pieces of toasted bread, I truthfully just wasted them. And you know what? They cost money. Be careful not to get so hung up on decluttering that you start to go against your frugal principals.

5. Decluttering costs you money later

Have you ever hesitated throwing something away because you were worried you might have a use for it months or even years down the line? Clutter control gurus would give you a time limit to put in place and tell you to throw that item away if you didn’t use it by that time. Well, I think there is something to be said about the opposite problem—what if you impulsively throw something away in order to declutter, but then you realize later on that you needed it? What if you have to buy it again? That’s money you wouldn’t have had to spend if you had saved the item in the first place. Now I’m not advocating that everyone become a pack rat. All I’m saying is that there is a healthy balance between what useful possessions to save for later and what clutter to get rid of now.

Reader Reflection

It’s clear I’m talking extremes here, but they do exist and we have to be careful not to go too far with decluttering. Do you notice any areas in your life where you sometimes cross the line?

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This week for Mission: Appliances, I’d like to feature an appliance that I wish I had dusted off long ago…the smoothie maker. Why? Well, I find myself using it regularly now that I’ve discovered how cool it is!

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We own the Back to Basics SJR1X Smoothie Blast smoothie maker. My husband got it before we were married and as I said above, I only recently discovered its potential.

You see, my husband’s grandparents have a HUGE garden. And every year they supply us with copious amounts of frozen fruit, like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and apples. I certainly have used this fruit to make desserts in the past, but now with this smoothie maker, I can use the fruit in lots of new ways (and the fact that the fruit is frozen is a bonus!). Let’s see how great this smoothie maker really is.

Smoothie Maker Vital Statistics

  • Brand: Back to Basics
  • Average Price: $40
  • Power: 350 watt motor
  • Size:32 ounce container, 6 x 16 x 7 inches, 8 pounds
  • Features: Dispenser valve serves smoothies without a mess
  • Complexity: Very easy to use
  • Versatility: Marketed for smoothies, but can blend just about anything a normal blender would blend
  • Cleaning: Easy to clean
  • Storage: Unit breaks down into parts that fit well inside a cupboard
  • Safety Tips: Blending blades are sharp
  • Pre-series Location: Inside a high cupboard that can be reached without a chair
  • Pre-series Use Level: My husband used it a couple of times before we were married, but I never had until now

smoothie-maker

Project Smoothie Maker

A few weeks ago when we used our blender to make milkshakes, we also decided to bring out the smoothie maker too. I searched recipes online, never having made a smoothie before, and came up with this:

Strawberry Yogurt Smoothie
8 frozen strawberries
3 ice cubes
½ cup milk
½ cup plain yogurt
2 TBS white sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

We added the ingredients to the container and immediately noticed a feature with this smoothie maker that was going to make it better than our blender: a stirring stick you can use to stir the ingredients while they are blending so you don’t have to keep turning the unit on and off to mix the solids around.

smoothie-maker-ingredients

After everything blended, we used the handy little spout to pour the smoothies into our glasses. Yum! Now this first time we used a recipe, but since then, we’ve invented all sorts of different smoothies. For example, my husband loves to combine frozen pineapple chunks, yogurt, orange juice, sugar, and vanilla extract. I for one love strawberries as my base, but I’ve been adding blueberries, cran-raspberry juice, and sometimes ice cream instead of yogurt if I’m feeling naughty. It’s actually quite fun to try different combinations to see what you can come up with!

smoothie-maker-smoothie

I want to mention here also as a side note that we were also able to borrow another kind of smoothie maker from a family member this month, called the Magic Bullet.  This smoothie maker uses a smaller blender unit and the container you use to blend your ingredients in is the same container you use to drink out of later.  I really like that concept because there’s less to clean.  It’s definitely a nifty little gadget, but our smoothie maker also gets the job done.

The Verdict

We love our smoothie maker! It blends better than our blender (thanks to the stirring stick) and we’ve had a lot of fun inventing smoothie recipes. I know we’ll keep using this appliance regularly and I’m glad we have it!

Reader Reflection

Do you own a smoothie maker? What is your favorite kind of smoothie?

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This week for Mission: Appliances, I chose an appliance I actually do use on occasion, but I wish I used more: a slow cooker, or crock pot. Slow cookers are so cool, there are even whole blogs devoted just to them. So that inspired me to try to find a recipe unlike any I had ever tried before so I could stretch myself a little. Let’s see how it turned out!

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We actually own 2 slow cookers, the Proctor Silex 33015 1.5-Quart Round Slow Cooker and Hamilton Beach Stay/Go Slow Cooker. One is small and other is large. I’ve used both equally in the past, mainly to transport food to a potluck or a party, and a few times to cook ribs. For this particular experiment, I used the small one.

Slow Cooker Vital Statistics

  • Brand: Proctor Silex
  • Average Price: $20
  • Power: Keep Warm, Low, & High settings
  • Size: 1.5 quart capacity, 5.6 pounds
  • Features: Dishwasher safe stoneware and lid
  • Complexity: Very easy to use
  • Versatility: Slow cooks just about anything
  • Cleaning: Very easy to clean stoneware as long as you do not let it sit out too long to dry
  • Storage: Unit is pretty compact so fits well inside a cupboard
  • Safety Tips: Heating elements get hot on High setting
  • Pre-series Location: Inside a deep cupboard; must remove several other appliances and pots first
  • Pre-series Use Level: Used on occasion to keep foods warm or to cook ribs

crock-pot

Project Slow Cooker

In my search for a creative recipe to try with my slow cooker, I found a popular one on allrecipes.com: Slow Cooker Pot Roast. A pot roast might not seem all that creative to some of you, but I had never made one before, let alone bought one! It was actually kind of fun to try a new meat that was relatively inexpensive. I went with a 2.35 lb Angus Beef Bottom Round Roast and modified the recipe some to enhance the flavors:

GRAVY:
2 10.75 oz. cans cream of mushroom soup
1 1 oz. package of dry onion soup mix
1 cup beef broth
¼ cup red cooking wine
1 TBS Worcestershire sauce

RUB:
2 TBS flour
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp Italian seasoning
2 tsp rosemary

Directions: Mix rub ingredients together in a small bowl. Coat roast with rub. In a skillet in olive oil, sear all sides of the roast until brown to lock in the juices. Meanwhile, mix all the gravy ingredients in the slow cooker. Place the seared roast inside and cover with the gravy. Cook on high for 4 hours and low for 2 hours.

crock-pot-ingredients

I found the prep to be pretty fast and after you get the ingredients inside the slow cooker, you basically just have to wait! I do like slow cookers in this way—I was able to prepare most of dinner before lunch and we just ate when it was done. One thing I tend not to like about slow cookers is that they seem to cook the snot out of some things. For meat this could be perfect—who doesn’t want tender, falling-off-the-bone ribs or what not? But for veggies, I prefer a little texture and crunch. That’s why I left veggies out of the gravy.

crock-pot-cooked

After 5 hours, I prepared my two sides (garlic mashed potatoes & frozen corn) and then after 6 hours everything was ready. Clean up was pretty easy and I made sure I rinsed out the stoneware before it got too cool and dry. Overall we really enjoyed the roast! I’m not a big fan of roasts in general (I’m more of a steak person), but the sauce was quite good and the meat was moist and tender.

crock-pot-meal

The Verdict

Well, I’m convinced to try more slow cooker recipes! I really have wanted to, but I just haven’t done it. Maybe I’ll get a slow cooker cook book or visit a slow cooker blog. In any case, this is one of those staple appliances that really does offer a lot of versatility.

Reader Reflection

What is your favorite recipe to make in your slow cooker?

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I did…draw the line on my overfilled utensil drawer, that is. Do you ever have one of those moments where you just feel a strong urge to organize something? Well, that happened to me the other day so I decided to tackle an area of my kitchen that had long bothered me: my specialty utensil drawer. Not my regular utensil drawer, with forks, spoons, and butter knives. I’m talking about my serving spoons, whisks, measuring cups, you name it. And you know what, it was out of control! Check it out:

utensil-drawer-disorganized

So I got excited. I thought, hey I can satisfy this urge to organize something AND fix a problem that’s been nagging at me for a while. Here was the situation:

Honey, can you grab me a whisk?

  • I couldn’t find anything. Okay, I was able to find some things, like those items I always kept on top the pile, but where was that black serving spoon we used to have? Or the whisk?
  • Even if I could see what I wanted, it wasn’t always easy to remove. Take the rolling pin for example. It was always kept off to the side, but was literally buried underneath several other utensils. The very thought of getting that rolling pin out to use it was a chore. And that’s only one of many examples. Anyone want to help me detach my potato masher from my pastry cutter?
  • Sometimes the drawer wouldn’t even open or close properly. Now you know you have a problem when this happens. Wooden spoons and ladles get contorted so much that the drawer gets stuck on its way open. Or you can’t remember how to arrange the funnels so that the drawer will actually close again.

Operation: Utensil Drawer

You’d think I wouldn’t have let my drawer get to this point in the first place. Well, I felt like I had no choice in the matter. I thought I really only had this one drawer for my specialty utensils and I basically had to make it work. That is, until I had that urge I mentioned up top.

Urges are funny things. Sometimes they can really crank up the creativity level. So I waltzed into the kitchen, determined to free up a second drawer to use for large utensils because clearly my one-drawer system was not working. Yes, I did think of putting a mug or jar on the counter with all my wooden spoons, but I rejected that idea ultimately because (1) I really do loathe clutter on my kitchen counter, just ask my husband, and (2) I don’t think removing a few wooden spoons would have made much of a dent in my problem.

How I freed up another drawer is really not too important here (if you’re curious, I moved my cutting boards to the oven drawer and then moved my plastic bags/foil/saran wrap supplies to the cutting board drawer…instant empty drawer!). What is important is that now I had a nice clean slate to work with to divide my one totally disorganized drawer into two organized ones.

Here’s what I did. I decided that the most obvious division between all my specialty utensils was serving utensils (wooden and plastic spoons, ladles, ice cream scoops, spatulas, etc.) and everything else (measuring cups, whisks, funnels, pastry cutter, rolling pin, etc). As it turned out, dividing the utensils that way meant a pretty equal usage of each drawer. Perfect. Check out my after shots:

utensil-drawer-organized

Wow, I can see the whisk!  And I found that black serving spoon I thought we lost!  But I can just hear the naysayers now: Sarah, you can’t possibly keep those drawers looking so nice and tidy for very long. Well, I have kept it this way for 2 weeks. Is that long? Drawer dividers would be ideal, but I don’t have any of those. I think the real key is that my husband and I both stick to the new system and we enjoy it too much to mess it up. Simple as that.

It’s a thing of beauty

To summarize, the new organizational system ensures that (1) everything can be found, (2) everything can be easily removed, and (3) the drawer opens and closes with ease. My three initial problems are solved. I probably should also mention that I ended up getting rid of a couple of utensils that were doubles or triples (i.e. we already had one (or two) and didn’t need yet another) or totally unknown to us (i.e. um, what does this do?). Clutter control can be a beautiful thing.

Well, so goes my story of how I satisfied an urge to organize something. Do you ever get these kinds of urges?

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This week for Mission: Appliances I pulled out a fairly common appliance, my blender. The thing is, I barely use it! One of those typical wedding gifts, the blender seems to be touted as a necessary gadget in everyone’s kitchen. But as far as I remember, I had only used it once before. Why not? Let’s find out.

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The blender we own is the Black & Decker 48-Ounce Glass-Jar Blender. We received it for our wedding after having registered for it at Target. Now that I look at the reviews for this particular blender on Amazon, I fear we might have made a bad choice! Hopefully our unit doesn’t die like many others supposedly did (according to Amazon reviewers). I guess not all blenders are created equal.

Blender Vital Statistics

  • Brand: Black & Decker
  • Average Price: $50
  • Power: 500 watts
  • Size: 10 X 7 X 14 inches; 9 pounds
  • Features: 48-ounce chip-resistant glass jar, 5 speed settings, plus pulse and ice-crush functions
  • Complexity: Very easy to use
  • Versatility: Blends various foods or beverages
  • Cleaning: Very easy to clean since unit comes apart
  • Storage: Unit can be stored in separate pieces, so is a little easier to fit in tight spaces than other appliances
  • Safety Tips: Blending blades are very sharp
  • Pre-series Location: Inside a tall cupboard only reached with a chair
  • Pre-series Use Level: Used once before

blender

Project Blender

My husband and I really love dessert drinks, so we decided to use our blender to make chocolate milkshakes. Shakes are pretty costly ($3.50 for a 16 oz at Culver’s) so making them at home proves to be very cost effective. Furthermore, we had the ability to choose the ingredients so (we hope) our shakes were a little ‘healthier’ than Culver’s.

After some research on the Internet for milkshake recipes, I created the following recipe that we ultimately used for our own shakes:

2 cups vanilla ice cream
1/3 cup skim milk
4 TBS chocolate syrup
½ tsp vanilla extract

(makes 2 small-medium servings or 1 large serving)
(can add 2 TBS malt powder and/or 2 TBS peanut butter if desired)

blender-ingredients

We put all the ingredients inside the glass jar and began blending. We started with low speeds and worked up to higher speeds gradually. The problem was, we had to continually stop the blender to manually mix our ingredients because they were not blending! Additionally, the motor was beginning to smell because it was being overworked. Hmmmm.

blender-shake

After we finally got everything blending nicely, we enjoyed our milkshakes no doubt. But I’m a little concerned about the performance of the blender unit. If it can’t handle soft ingredients like ice cream and liquids, then how will it handle ice or other solids?

The Verdict

Well, it’s apparent from my analysis that we do not own the best blender on the market. However I hear that really awesome blenders can be quite expensive. All that aside, we still enjoyed great milkshakes, drinks we could not have prepared without the blender. I think in the future we will just have to be more careful about not overworking the motor since we now know that it is pretty sensitive. Not all appliances are perfect, right?

Reader Reflection

What kind of blender do you own? Have you ever had problems with the motor burning?

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Last week for Mission: Appliances I featured an appliance I use pretty regularly, my electric indoor grill. This week I dusted off one of my less frequently used appliances, my waffle iron. Waffles are pretty cool—in fact I usually order them at restaurants for breakfast. But it’s been a bit of a struggle to use this appliance very often. Let’s hope that can change!

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The waffle iron we own is the Hamilton Beach 26200 Restaurant Style Belgian Waffle Baker. My husband bought it before we got married and frankly I’m not sure how often he used it either. We pulled it out a few months ago, but had a bit of a problem with the batter sticking, so we weren’t exactly eager to use it again. But this time I think we figured out the sticking problem, as explained later on.

Waffle Iron Vital Statistics

  • Brand: Hamilton Beach
  • Average Price: $25
  • Power: 1000 watts
  • Size: 11 x 4 x 12.5 inches; 6 pounds
  • Features: Fast-flip design, Cool touch handle and indicator lights
  • Complexity: Fairly easy to use
  • Versatility: Used to make waffles
  • Cleaning: Very easy to clean as long as waffle batter doesn’t stick
  • Storage: Unit is pretty compact so storage isn’t too hard
  • Safety Tips: Interior gets very hot
  • Pre-series Location: Deep inside a low kitchen cupboard (must remove several other pots, pans, and appliances in order to reach)
  • Pre-series Use Level: Used once before to make chocolate chip blueberry waffles

waffle-iron

Project Waffle Iron

As I stated before, I really do love waffles. The last (and only) time we used this waffle maker was to prepare chocolate chip blueberry waffles a few months ago. It was kind of a bust because the batter stuck pretty severely to the interior, likely due to the chocolate chips. This time, when preparing strawberry waffles, we knew to spray the interior with cooking spray first.

waffle-iron-batter

We used the recipe for Blueberry Oat Waffles on allrecipes.com and just omitted the blueberries and pecans. Overall it’s a tasty batter! The recipe makes about 4-5 five inch waffles. We used a ½ cup measuring cup to pour the batter into the center of each grid and each waffle took about 5 or so minutes to bake (you can do two at a time).

waffle-iron-waffles

We kept the waffles warm in the oven while the others were finishing and then I topped each waffle with strawberry sauce (made with my food chopper!), whole strawberries, and whipped cream…yum!

waffles

The Verdict

I really did enjoy the waffles and they make a great post-church brunch meal. Furthermore, now that we know about the cooking spray issue, we will have no more troubles with sticking (which was a real pain to clean up the first time by the way!).

The issue I have with this waffle iron in general is that it is a unitasker appliance (as far as I know). I have a problem with unitasker appliances because I feel that the space they take up is not as worthwhile as appliances that are more versatile. Nonetheless, I don’t know of any other way to make homemade tasty waffles. 🙂

Reader Reflection

Do you have a waffle iron? Does anyone know of other creative ways waffle irons can be used besides for making waffles?

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