Archive for the ‘Kitchen Basics’ Category

I am under the impression that EVERYONE should have an herb garden, as it is a great source of flavor for your dishes, can teach your kids lots of things about growing, planting, caring for plants, hard work, character, etc, and just looks nice. If you have an OUTDOOR herb garden,make sure you are well after the danger of a frost. If you have an INDOOR herb garden, make sure that you can regulate the amount of sunlight that hits your garden, preferably near a south or west facing window, and make sure it stays away from drafts, doors, and protect it from the younger kids, and the cat. Cats will nibble on your indoor herb garden. Fair warning.

There are only a few spices that I can think of that are absolutely necessary in every kitchen, and thankfully they are all easy to tend to, are fragrant throughout the seasons, and some can even be dried and stored for later use. They are as follows:

Basil: My favorite spice. Basil is a plant that starts out as one stem with several large leaves on it, and eventually can reach the size of a small shrub. It grows quickly, taking about 8 weeks from seedling to harvest time, and is used in dishes based in Italy and the plant itself originated in India. Basil compliments the flavors of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and other squashes, and is grown outdoors in the summer, in 1/2 sun.  

Dill: Originated in Egypt. It is most often used in brine recipes for pickling any number of items, from cucmbers to pigs feet. It has a sharp tangy flavor that compliments potatoes, especially the little red ones, root vegetables, eggs, mayonnaise, and cottage cheese. It grows best in full sun, spreads very quickly, and grows perennially, so you won’t have to replant every year.

Marjoram: Comes from North Africa, has been used in recipes since ancient times. Marjoram compliments a lot of fried foods, and has  a spicy sweet flavor that is great with pork and fish. Plant your marjoram in May, and if you harvest it before the first flowers start to appear you can hang it in bunches to dry without losing any flavor.

Oregano: Closely related to marjoram, oregano is a more bitter spicier plant. It is found all over Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It compliments a lot of the same recipes as basil, and gets the same planting, harvesting and drying treatment as Marjoram. 

Parsley: Parsley is used in dishes all over the world, especially in French cuisine. It has a refreshing spicy sweet flavor that compliments almost anything you make with it, and it also makes a delightful garnish. Originally parsley was added to a diner’s plate to be chomped on to cleanse the palate between meal courses. It grows throughout the summer and early fall if outdoors, but dies every year, as it is only an annual.

Rosemary: Rosemary has been regarded for centuries for is mysterious medicinal and magical purposes. It is used the most in Europe and the Mediterranean regions, and compliments root veggies, pork, chicken, fish, and squash dishes. Plant your rosemary well after the last frost and keep it from freezing, as it is very temperature sensitive.

Chives: The chive originated in central Asia, and is related to the onion. It looks very much like a tiny shallot with a long green stem and a white root base. It’s flavor is not as intense as the onion or shallot, but it lends a nice flavor to egg dishes and is great chopped fresh over a sour cream and buttered baked potato. Plant your chives in April, wait til June to harvest, and they will SPREAD.

Thyme: Grows wild on the rocky areas of the Meditteranean coast, with the same growing condidtions as basil or oregano. It loves the sun, so put this pot right in the window, but make sure its away from any drafts or windy areas.

Mint: This sweet and refreshing herb grows anywhere you put it, as long as it is not in full sun. Mint compliments any number of dishes, and is best used fresh as it does not dry well. My dad’s mint garden grew so quickly that a large part of our lawn is now mint. It makes a very nice scent that wafts through the neighborhood when you mow it in the hot summer months.

Catnip: It’s technically an herb, but it has no value to human cuisine. It makes cats act FUNNY. They love it. Grow it and see what happens to your cat. Its quite amusing. It grows much like basil.

Here’s a quick lesson in starting a basic herb garden from HowCast.

Going back to basic math and vocabulary with a short yet informative post about the different units of measure, some of the conversions, and some of the terms that you and your kiddos will find in a number of recipes while cooking and baking. Hopefully this can help you if you find a recipe that needs to be converted from standard measurments to metric, and it should be very helpful when measuring flour as the technique of weighing it in grams or ounces instead of measuring it in cups is becoming more and more popular.

1 oz = 28.3495 grams
1 pound = 453.59 grams
16 oz = 1 pound1 cup = 0.236 liters
1 pint = 0.473 liters
1 quart = 0.946 liters
1 gallon = 3.78 liters1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons or .5oz
1 cup = 8 fluid oz
1 pint = 2 cups
1 quart = 2 pints or 4 cups
1 gallon = 4 quarts, 8 pints or 16 cups
1 bushel = 8 gallons

pair = 2
couple = 2
trio = 3
handful = 4-5
several = between 4 and 7
dozen = 12
baker’s dozen = 13
gross = 144

tbsp =Tablespoon
tsp = Teaspoon
c = cup 
oz = ounce
lb = pound
qt = quart
in = inch
ft = foot
Doubled = X 2
Tripled = X 3
Quadrupled = X4

Maybe you’re rushing off to the next kid-related activity, or you’re just too tired at the end of a long day to think about turning on the oven and baking those cupcakes for your kids birthday party over the weekend. Maybe your kitchen is smack dab in the middle of a construction zone, like I am right now, and an oven isn’t available, but you don’t want to go the route of store bought treats. That is when a microwave can step in and more often that not fill your big ol’ ovens shoes!

I know what you’re thinking… baking? In the microwave? But honestly, its easier, faster, and more efficient than your oven. You even support the “green” movement by using your microwave instead of your oven, as it uses less energy than preheating and baking in your oven. It also heats your home less, which saves you money on your A/C bill. On top of that, the products you use to cook in the microwave are primarily made of silicone, which is highly re-usable and long lasting.

A few things to remember before you start cooking and baking with your microwave:

Never use any kind of metal to cook with in your microwave. This includes tin foil, gold leaf plates, spoons and forks for stirring, or even a Hershey Kiss wrapper. The metal will draw the energy created by the microwave and cause a very unpleasant reaction called “arcing”, and eventually if you continue to cook with the item in the microwave it will short out and be ruined. No Metal, Not Ever.

Remember that cooking times vary according to the item your cooking and the level of power in your microwave. It only takes a minute to thoroughly cook a dozen sugar cookies, but it can take up to ten to cook an entire pound of ground beef. It’s also good to remember that the higher the amount of sugar in the item you are cooking, the faster it will cook, and the hotter it will be when you take it out. Keep in mind that most types of microwave recipes call for a certain amount of standing time, which finishes the cooking process, much like a roast in the oven. This standing time is important to the item being cooked, and your fingers, as you don’t want to be burned.

Sealed items do not microwave without mess. As the item heats, pressure builds up underneath the lid, and eventually it WILL burst. This rule applies to ANYTHING you put in the microwave. This is why you do not microwave raw eggs in their shell, and always poke holes deep into a potato before you ‘nuke’ it. In my research for this particular article I came across a story about a woman who was heating ice cream topping, and mistakenly hit 3:00 instead of :30, and on top of it forgot to remove the plastic lid. The glass jar burst, and there was a piece of glass jammed into the liner of her microwave, about a 1/4″ deep. I read about stories of items flying through the glass door and landing on the opposite sides of kitchens.  Please remember to unscrew and remove all lids from containers and poke holes in hot dogs, potatoes, anything with a skin…

Use this site for more information about baking in your microwave.


Here are some quick and easy recipes for baking in your microwave.




Great Dishes to Use in the Microwave from

Silly Feet Cupcake Cups

Animal Bakeware

Insect Bakeware

The Cupcake Pen : Great for filling your cupcake liners with batter and NO MESS

Moms with younger kids find it hard to get anything done during the day, especially getting out of the house unexpectedly. So when you are in the middle of the recipe and you find you don’t have enough of an ingredient what can you do? The baby’s asleep and teething, there’s no WAY you’re gonna wake her up to go to the grocery store, and your neighbors eat out, they don’t cook. This is where substitutions can save you. Here is a list of basic ingredient substitutions that you can use in baking to save that next batch of school party cupcakes.


1 tsp Baking Powder = 1/4 tsp baking soda + 1/2 tsp cornstarch + 1/2 tsp cream of tartar.

1 cup Dark Corn Syrup = 3/4 cup light corn syrup + 1/4 cup molasses

1 cup Light Corn Syrup = 1 cup white sugar, and add 1/4 cup more of whatever liquid you are using in the recipe.

1 tbsp Corn Starch = 2 tbsp all purpose flour or instant tapioca

1/2 tsp Cream of Tartar = 1/2 tsp white vinegar or lemon juice

1 cup Heavy Cream (not for whipping) = 2/3 cup whole milk + 1/3 cup melted unsalted butter

1 cup Sour Cream = 1 tbsp lemon juice + enough milk on top to fill 1 cup. Let stand for 5 min before adding to recipe.

1 tsp Vanilla Extract = 1/2 of one vanilla bean

1/2 cup Unsalted Butter = 1/2 cup of shortening or lard

1 cup All Purpose Flour = 1 cup self rising flour, and omit baking powder and salt from your recipe
            1/2 cup white cake flour + 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup Whole Wheat Flour = 7/8 cup all purpose flour + 2 tbsp wheat germ

1 cup Honey = 3/4 cup maple syrup + 1/2 cup sugar

1 cup Maple Syrup = 3/4 cup corn syrup + 1/4 cup butter + 1/2 tsp maple extract (optional)

8 Marshmallows = 1/2 cup marshmallow fluff

1 cup Ricotta Cheese = 1 cup dry cottage cheese

Caster sugar is easily made by processing regular white granulated sugar in a food processor until it is very fine.
Kosher salt, table salt and sea salt are interchangeable, but you may recognize the difference in taste.
You can substitute vinegar for lemon juice in almost any recipe, EXCEPT those requiring the lemon juice for flavoring. You don’t want a lemon cream pie to be a vinegar cream pie. A good rule is to never substitute when there is more than a tablespoon or two required.

For more information and even more substitutions you can go to The Joy Of Baking.

If you want to perfect your cooking and baking techniques, HERE is a great book from Williams Sonoma that can help you with the ins and outs of your kitchen and the best ways to make your favorite dishes.