Monthly Archives: August 2012

Just Like Mom Used to Make

For some reason, my meatloaf never comes out the same way as my mom’s used to and no matter how hard I try, and how many times she has shown me how to make her vanilla pound cake, it comes out like just a dry pound of cake! I think it is just a rule, by law your food will never be as good as the way you had it growing up. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to open up your fridge and see your favorite classic meals, just like mom used to make?

When I was a kid, my aunt used to make me spaghetti and I loved it. I mean, every time I went to visit my aunt (which was several times a week) I asked her to make me spaghetti. I asked her recently what it was that made it so delicious and if she could give me the recipe for the sauce.

Here it is, she said…

1 Box of Spaghetti

1 can of Tomato Sauce

What? No slow simmering of tomato, onion, herbs and no careful planning of the day to lovingly stir sauce and no bringing it slowly to her lips to taste her famous sauce? Really? A $.49 can of pureed tomato? It must be that law at work again, because I can’t ever think of making spaghetti with a can of sauce now and I thought it was so delicious when I was a kid.

But I loved it. I loved it because she made it for me. Now that I cook for myself and my family I know that I can get a HomeStyle Meatloaf from MagicKitchen.com with all of the traditional sides and no one will ever know that I didn’t make it myself! Except for my family, of course but they don’t seem to mind because they love it so much.

Mariel, MagicKitchen.com blogger

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Dinner Takes All: How to Make Your Dinner Party a Success

With the continuing popularity of ‘Dinner Takes All’, dinner parties have never been more fashionable!

The program wonderfully demonstrates the fun that can be had when a host gets it right, but it also highlights the multitude of things that can go wrong!

But follow the steps below and your guests will score you a perfect 120!

 
 Image by Jules

 

Planning Your Dinner

The first thing to plan is what kind of dinner party you want. If you’re a cooking guru then try fine dining; if you’re idea of cooking is baked beans on toast, then it’s best to capitalize on fun and disguise your cooking with a theme!

Themed evenings are also good for breaking the ice, and will leave everyone feeling relaxed!

When it comes to food, the most important thing is to have realistic expectations. If you struggle to make cupcakes, you probably won’t be able to create a Panna Cotta from scratch!

But you don’t need to resort to ready meals, call on friends and family for help instead! If you can keep a secret, your guests will never know! Don’t feel too guilty about bending the truth; the Daily Mail reported that 40% of hosts cheat in some way!

If you are going for the complete ‘Dinner Takes All’ experience, it’s now time to create your menu. The key to a good menu is to create intrigue and deliver! Don’t state all the facts, but equally don’t describe a cheap Walmart pizza as a ‘Homemade Flatbread with mozzarella and sundried tomatoes’ -your guests won’t be too impressed!

On the Day

Make sure you’ve had a good night’s sleep. The only thing worse than falling asleep at someone’s dinner party, is falling asleep at your own!

Now you’re up and about, it’s time to get ready. Unless you have made the recipes several times before, make sure to overestimate how much time you’ll need.

Don’t drink too much while you’re cooking! Getting your guests drunk is almost guaranteed to boost their enjoyment, but if you’re the one stumbling around the kitchen, there may be a problem!

Image by Jules

Make sure your dining table sets you apart from the competition. Pay attention to detail; create name cards for each of your guests, make sure the cutlery is laid out in the correct order and fold your napkins into clever designs. Finally, you can create ambiance with candles and soft music.

Leave plenty of time to get dressed; the easiest way to tell that someone is running behind is if they haven’t had time to change. But make sure you get all of the messy cooking done early – you don’t want your best dress covered in flour!

 

Your Guests Arrive

Make your guests feel at home from the second they step in the door; no matter how flustered you are, be sure to act relaxed and greet them with a smile!

If you are offered gifts, accept them graciously –additionally, if you have a tendency to re-gift items, it is now a good idea to note down who gave you what!

Lead your guests through to a comfortable chair; don’t seat them on the dining furniture until everyone has arrived. Make sure to offer each person a drink, and small appetizers can be a nice touch.

 

Entertainment

The key to providing good entertainment is preparation. Playing hot cross buns on a recorder won’t have a good effect!

So rather than dusting off the instruments of your childhood, dust off your board games for a low effort way to keep your guests entertained!

 

A Fond Farewell

So you’ve made it through the evening, and it’s time to say goodbye. One tip is to give your guests a small memento.

If it’s summertime you could make mini bouquets from the flowers in your garden. They can also double as table decorations!

 

 
 Image by Jules

Foodie gifts are another nice idea. A simple idea is homemade chili oil. Simply fill a bottle with olive oil (or vegetable oil if you prefer), and add a couple of your favorite chilies. Within a couple of weeks the chili will start to infuse the oil, the flavor growing stronger over time.

Once the guests are out of the door, it’s finally time to relax!

With any luck you’ll have had a fantastic evening, and you can sit back and look forward to your guests inviting you back to their homes!

Do you have any top dinner party tips?

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Bio: Elise Lévêque is a wining and dining blogger, who loves hosting dinner parties for her friends.

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10 Great Kitchen Gadgets

Kitchen gadgets are the best; some of us are absolutely addicted to collecting them. I remember I had a lemon zester that I loved, until someone bought me a microplane! Now my zester sits unused in a drawer. Microplanes will be my first item then, of Kitchen gadgets you just can’t do without!

1. Microplane: These come in all sizes and prices. I find a mid-priced one is fine, no need to go with the Williams-Sonoma $25 model, one for $12.95 will work just as well. These little items are SHARP!! Be warned, and don’t shred your fingers. They can be used for grating ginger, nutmeg, nuts, coconuts, hard cheeses like Parmigiano, fruits, vegetables, cheddar, chocolate and more!  Woodworkers will recognize these tools as fine wood rasps. There are several sizes for several jobs. Another tool that stays in the drawer in our kitchen is the cheese grater, as my larger microplane also shreds cheddar 5 times faster.  Did I measure that? no, it’s just a guesstimate. But it’s fast!


2. Silicone Food trussers – If you’ve ever trussed a roast, you know that it takes a Boy Scout to get all the knots tight enough. Problem solved!! These little silicone zap-straps tighten up that roast in a jiffy and are Heat-resistant to 675°F. Of course they’re reusable and dishwasher safe.

3. Measuring Flour Sifter – For the baker in all of us. Baking uses a lot of dishes, and sifting into a bowl, then remeasuring is a big pain in the butt. This clever device measures the flour as you sift! It measures up to 3 cups, and stops getting flour all over the counter in the process. The bottom is removable, in case you want to get flour all over the counter, say to roll out a pie crust or knead some bread.

 

4. Actifry –  I have to admit I’ve never used this, but it gets good reviews, and for a person like me who is always trying to watch my weight, the idea of  really low-fat French Fries gets my appetite going. Here’s their blurb: “The T-fal ActiFry is a low fat cooker that enables you to cook tasty dishes while reducing the amount of fat you are having. The ActiFry is engineered to minimize the use of oil while cooking. This revolutionary appliance allows you to enjoy great tasting a wide array of dishes but at the same time stay healthy and feel good about what you are eating.” Now, at $211, that’s a pretty expensive kitchen device, but it’s on my wishlist.

5. Kebo – This will just make you the coolest party-giver on the block. This one-handed bottle opener is one of those conversation-starters with no real practical use. You place the Kebo on the bottle-cap(pry-off only, not twist off), and give it a squeeze. How cool is that?

6. Sassafras mini-Ice Cream maker  -This is great for a couple or someone living alone who loves homemade ice cream. It makes  2 flavors at once, and only a couple of cups of each. You don’t need salt, and you don’t have to hand crank the maker for hours. Just add ingredients, turn it on and put it in the freezer. Two AA batteries do the rest.

7. Gravy Separator – Take any fatty liquid like the leavings from your roast or turkey, and pour it into this measuring-cup looking device. Leave it for 10-20 minutes, and the grease will float to the top. Because the pouring spout is at the bottom, you can carefully pour out the liquid, leaving the fat behind.

8. Silicone Steamer Basket – those metal steamers will scratch up the bottom of your expensive pots. I use this silicone version, and I love it.

9. Salad Spinner – So simple, but completely indispensable. It gently dries off anything leafy, so your dressings and sauces can stick to the leaves.

10.  The Potato Ricer – If you want easy, fast and completely lump-free mashed potatoes, the potato ricer is for you. In my experience though, the style on the left, below, is harder to use. The one on the right gives you a bit more leverage and requires less pressure.

Melody, MagicKitchen.com blogger

 

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Activities for the Dog Days of Summer

Looking for easy meals and activities for the dog days of summer? Then look no further, my friend. We all dread those dog days, but there isn’t too much we can do about it. So, as I figured out a long time ago, you just have to make the best out of the situation. With that said, let me offer you some ideas on easy meals and activities for the dog days of summer.

Picnic by the Water

If you have a river or lake near you, take advantage of it. There is nothing like water and diving in on those hot days. For the easy meals part, pack enough sandwiches for everyone who is going. Place them in your cooler along with some drinks. Grab the floats and the water toys and hit the water! Everyone can play in the water for a little while and then get out to eat. After eating the easy meal you prepared, they can jump back in the water. All’s well that ends well! See you turned a dreadful day into an awesome day!

Stay Inside & Play

If you don’t feel like going out, that’s okay too. You and your family can stay inside and make it a day of games. The games can be anything from card games to board games to video games. While playing games, you can prepare easy meals that consist of finger foods like small square sandwiches, blocks of cheese with toothpicks, cut up fruits, and cut up vegetables. Everyone can relax, play games, and eat.

 

Have a Pool Party

If you own a pool, you can have a pool party to beat the dog days of summer. You can prepare many different easy meals for your guest such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, watermelons, cantaloupes, homemade ice cream, and so on. There is nothing like a peanut butter sandwich and a slice of watermelon at a pool party. If you are entertaining adults, you may want to serve ham or turkey sandwiches. Playing or relaxing in the pool is one of the best ways to spend your day during the dog days of summer. The easy meals just add a bonus to the whole deal!

Visit a Waterpark

If you have a waterpark near by, why not spend one of those dog days at the waterpark. You can prepare some type of easy meal for lunch to eat while you are at the waterpark. If you get there that morning, play until lunch time and then go out and eat lunch. After lunch, you can return to the waterpark and enjoy the rest of the day.

Don’t let the dog days get you down. Prepare some easy meals and play games or find some water. It is the best ways to get through those days!

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