A Very Berry Summer

I bought a container of price reduced strawberries when we were grocery shopping for bbq food. I gave them an eight min bath in 1/4 C white vinegar and enough water to just top the berries. After draining, I placed them on a clean tea towel to dry.

The former customer of ours that gave us blackberries from his backyard as I was making dinner to let me know he pick another huge yield that day. I dispatched the husband to grab another pint from the nice customer. When he got back, i set up the same vinegar and water bath for the blackberries. I rested them eight mins, drained them, and laid them out to air dry.

From there, I lined each plastic container with a bit of paper towel, and placed the berries back inside them before I found some room in the fridge to eat them this week.

Smash Taco Burgers

I watched a few Tik-Tok videos on these little Smash Taco hybrids since it’s all the rage this week, and they looked easy enough. Of course these videos tend to skip a lot of helpful information for the platform format that gets them the most view. Views = impressions, impressions = reach, and reach = virality. And somewhere a long that string is a spot for monetizing the content. But, fear not – I’ve got you covered.

On my journey to make some at home, I quickly discovered the content creators either use extra lean ground meat, resulting in far less grease (but also far less flavour) than my preferred medium ground beef. I don’t understand anyone eating lean and extra lean beef. Why not eat cardboard instead? It would taste about the same IMO.

Anyway, if you made these smash tacos from start to finish without stopping or resting the food, you will end up with a soggy, greasy, unpleasant final product. But, by cooking and then resting the meat on the tortilla, AND wiping out the grease of out your pan, you will notice the meat and tortilla will feel less moist/soggy as you eat it. The other side of the tortilla will them crisp up nicely in the pan better. I burned a few of these tacos in my first test run, but I nailed them in the second test run by keeping the pan clean and at a slightly lower temp in the last stage.

TIP: Season your meat well before you mix it up and divide them into the ~2 oz balls.

TIP: Use a square of parchment over top of the ball when smashing them down with whatever tamping instrument you have on hand all over one side of the tortilla. (I have the tamper that came with my slider pan.) I like to pick up the paper square and move it where I wanted to flatten the meat, and keep doing that until the meat is thin and evenly spread out.

TIP: Put the taco in the bare pan smashed out meat side down. I gave each one about three mins with me pushing them down into the pan for some lovely charred edges.

TIP: Let each taco REST on a wire rack face up for about 3-5 mins while you cook the meat side of any other smash tacos you’re making. REST that damn meat, people!

After you finish cooking the last smash taco on the meat side down, lay the first rested taco one back down into the pan, meat side up. Lay a slice or two of cheese on top at this point, drop the heat a bit, and cover it. Trust me.

It only needs about 1-2 mins to get gooey. Rest the smash tacos back on the wire rack for another 3-5 mins as you top them all with things like pickle slices, special sauce, caramelized onions, lettuce, etc. Whatever you like.

Resist the urge to fold them too early to serve them. The liquids will leak out of the corners instead of redistributing themselves in the meat, the cheese, the toppings, and tortilla. Patience will reward you when you wait to dig in.

I didn’t wait long enough, and there was grease and special sauce left on my plate, whereas the husband’s was made first and rested longer, and well, his plate was practically spotless when we finished eating.


Air Fryer Crispy Jacket Potatoes

I made these lovely ‘baked’ jacket potatoes in my air fryer. It took way too long, but that’s because I should have pricked and microwaved the potatoes for 3-5 minutes before spraying the outsides with oil and S&P, and stuffing them in the air fryer.

I really love how crispy the skins turned out. It was really enjoyable to eat, and the meal inside was perfectly cooked.

It was baked on 400*F for far too long, but if you do the 3-5 microwave trick, you can shave off a lot of time. I would check yours after 15 minutes of air frying. Go from there. Stop when you can stick a knife into one and it comes out with almost zero resistence.

I filled each one with sour cream, shredded marbled cheese, bacon crumble, and diced tomatoes (salsa or Pico de Gallo would work well instead). I think this was the best baked potato I’ve eaten in a very long time. I’m still thinking about it a month later.

Home Reno – Pantry Wall Tweak

Since we installed our wall of pantry storage cabinets, we have made some tweaks. One of them I had to be convinced we needed by the husband. But, in the end, I am grateful for it when I use it from time to time.

I’m talking about a pullout wood block I can use to drop hot foods from the microwave above it. I can also use it to lay hot trays of food on from the oven steps away in the kitchen. And, as I discovered after I woke up one day with hip pain and couldn’t sit to use my computer, it works as a lovely standing desk area.

Originally we both envisioned me making fresh pasta on that board, but I haven’t had time to use it that way yet. I hope to rectify that in the near future. 😀

Oh, and he hated the small area I had a tiny garbage can sitting in that was also exposed, so he built a pullout tall can drawer with a door panel to hide the can.

Lately I have been working on the organization of my canned goods. Since the drawer I store them in rolls out and hits the middle of my thighs, I find picking up cans to see if it’s the one I need while I’m rushing around to make dinner on the fly just unworkable for me.

I came up with a solution. It isn’t Pinerest worthy, but it works for me. More importantly, now I can ask the husband to grab me a can of something-something quickly. He often asks how he can help, and I can’t deal with him in there rooting around. That’s frustrating given how many cans I store. I’m hopeful this is the low-tech solution we’ve been seeking.

Low-Carb Pasta Alternative

Ok, so I found this recipe link for a Low-Carb Pasta Alternative buried in my old Pinterest boards. In a board I haven’t looked at in about six or more years. Otherwise, I would have suggested this long ago.

Use that bagged slaw we use for stir-fries. It’s quite versatile. Anyway, if you’re missing pasta in sauce, this might be up your alley, E.

Air Fryer Ciabatta Bread Loaves

A few nights ago I found a Youtube video showing me how to make ciabatta bread from scratch that can be baked in an air fryer. So, D-UH, I was into it. Here is my first attempt. This picture shows the bottoms after I finished flipping and baking the loaves. The tops look just as beautiful.

I made the mistake of spraying the loaves instead of brushing them with melted butter. I won’t do that again. I didn’t like the finished tops as much, but I did like them. Another thing this recipe calls for is using a bigger than the basket size of parchment so you can pinch up a segregation wall in the middle so the loaves don’t proof and bake together as one square of bread.

Baked at 400* for 8 mins over parchment paper, and then the parchment came off to finish the flipped over loaves in the bare pan another 6-7 mins. When they came out they felt hard or perhaps a tad overbaked, but after a quick rest on a rack, they soften up nicely. I was pleasantly surprised. 🙂

Air Fryer Mac & Cheese

Made this one last night. It took way too long and too much futzing with it to get the elbow noodles to finally finish cooking before adding the toppings and finishing it. BUT, I have ideas on how to speed it up for the next time.

After 25 mins, the cheese sauce was like molten lava. But that was ok; I felt it would help the toppings bake up faster, and I was right. Look at those bubbles along the rim of the baking dish in the video below. Love that visual.

Air Fryer Mac & Cheese:
1 1/2 C: Elbow Pasta / Water
1 tub Black Diamond White Cheddar Sauce (my new fave product!)
2+ tbsp Dry Mustard
1 tea: Onion Powder / Paprika

Stir it all up and put the baking dish inside the basket. Cook it at 360* for about 20 mins, stirring often to pull the protein skin down into the sauce every 4-5 mins. Till and turn the noodles up from the bottom so it all gets an even cook overall each time.

When you hit the 20+ mark, taste the noodles to see where their doneness is. If you need more liquid to get them softer, add 1/4 cup of water or heavy cream. Continue cooking it another 5 mins. Before adding the toppings, make sure the pasta is el dente. And then, add:

1+ C Marble Cheddar, grated
1/4 C Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs

Bake the dish with the toppings about 4 more mins. The dish was super hot, so I pulled the drawer out and scooped the mac out with a serving spoon directly. I didn’t even bother trying to get that hot dish out of the basket. It wasn’t necessary to do so.

I will post an update to the time saving changes after I make this again next week.

Cake Mix + Soda = Soda Pop Cakes

I’m not a big fan of basic birthday cake, and by extension, cupcakes. But. I have to believe if you spice up a basic cake batter, I might try a portion should I be offered. I made half a box of yellow cake mix for the husband’s recent birthday, but I forgot all about flavouring it because I wanted to try futzing around with the icing in a can to make a galaxy looking effect for him. It wasn’t special beyond the icing effect which turned out ok. He liked what I was going for.

Anyway, back to the flavour matrix. There is a Youtuber who did a taste test on most of the above and she only deemed a few of them worth the effort. If you care, here is her full video.

DIY Butter Making

I am really into making various dairy products from one carton of dairy. Given the rising prices (two increases this year alone!) of dairy across the board, it made sense to me to start making my own butter, cream cheese, and soft mozza cheese. All of these are staples in our fridge.

First up, buttah! Made in my KitchenAid mixer. Just like the pioneers did. Ahem. 🙂

The process of making butter is simply whisking (or churning) the cream long enough with enough force to separate the cream’s fat solids from the whey liquid.

And before you ask, yes I lightly salted the butter. Tastes so good. Can’t wait it use it. *swoon*

In a nutshell, this is what I did:
1. Ran 1 cup of 35% whipping cream in my mixer machine with the whisk attachment on a very high speed for about 8 mins. I scrapped the bowl down once before finishing up.
2. I dumped the butter mix into a mesh strainer over a bowl. I pushed the butter down into the mesh but quickly realised I should have put a cheese cloth between the butter and the strainer, so I gloved up and started squeezing it in my hands.
3. While still holding the butter lump in my hand, I moved it around in a bowl of cold filtered water to clean out that last of the whey liquids before squeezing it dry again. I had to be gentle because the butter was so soft at this stage. It kept trying to ooze out between my fingers, so I wrapped the lump of gold up in some Bounty. That helped.
4. While holding the butter in my gloved hand, I shook some salt on the blob and on my glove, and then proceeded to massage/knead the two together. I did a quick taste test, and then wrapped it in plastic film.
5. I formed it into a small brick and tucked it in the fridge so it can firm up.

In the end, this is what I was left with:

It weights 74g, and it measures out to 5″ x 3 1/4″ x 1 1/4″. All from 1 cup of cream and a bit of salt + time. This is good. I will do this more in future.

We don’t normally use a lot of butter day to day, so there is always the worry that our butter would go rancid in the fridge before we get around to using it up since I don’t do a lot of baking anymore. This will be a good money saver (hella expensive even for the low-end store butters) and a very real time saver (I typically wait for butter to go on sale, buy a few bricks, and store it in the freezer. I would then have to wait for it to thaw in the fridge over night, and then again on the counter as it comes up to room temp to use it.)

I can make a small batch in about 10 mins, and have it ready to use in a few more mins should I need it to be soft, or butter in 30 mins should it need to be firm. I hate that I didn’t try this years ago. Grr.

And now I finally have some pretty handmade butter to put in my late MIL’s cute glass butter dish with this cute cow embedded in the design.

DIY Coffee Syrups

I love coffee. I love flavoured coffee. I also love saving loads of money by making these dead easy coffee syrups at home for pennies. I kid you not. Pennies.

Syrup batches I made this week: Caramel, Hazelnut, and Vanilla

Here are but a few of my faves, and a few new-to-me kinds I recommend making at home yourself. And they all have the same two starter ingredients: water + sugar (or sweetener of choice) in a 1:1 ratio to form a simple sugar base. Here we go.

Bar Cart Simple Syrup:
1C Water : 1C Sugar (any)

Bring water and sugar to a boil on med-high heat, stirring constantly until the sugar is fully dissolved. Once at the boiling point, drop heat to a simmer and let it low boil 10 mins. Cool completely off the burner. It will thicken up if you chill it in a storage jar.

Caramel Syrup:
1C Water : 1C White Sugar

Over a less than medium heat, stir the sugar often and alone in a bare pan, until it hits a lumpy liquid stage. Heat up the water in the microwave so it’s hot, but not boiling.

CAREFULLY dribble the hot water into the sugar a bit at a time, whisking when it’s safe to have you hand near the pot. The water + sugar will cause a steam reaction initially that will burn your hand if you pour it all in at once. Resist that urge.

Keep stirring the mixture until all of the sugar is smoothed out (don’t worry if some of it hardens – that will melt eventually as you continue stirring).

If you need more control of the sugar from hardening or burning, you can slip the pot halfway off the burner as you stir, returning the pot fully to the burner when you feel the sugar is melting needs more heat to finish.

Cool completely off the burner. It will thicken up if you chill it in a storage jar.

Hazelnut Syrup:
1C Water : 1C Sugar (not brown sugar; it will overwhelm the final flavour)
1 tea Hazelnut Extract

I went to many stores, but Michael’s was the only one that had this extract product.

Like the above two recipes, dissolve the sugar in the water fully, bring to a gentle boil, drop heat and let it simmer 10 mins before adding the extract off the heat and cooling completely. Store in a jar in the fridge to thicken it, or on the counter to use as is.

Brown Sugar Syrup:
1C Water : 1C Brown Sugar
3-4 drops or 1/4 tea Vanilla Extract

This syrup was the hottest new thing last year at Starfakes, and it looks like they are going to make it a big player in the summer coffee drinks game this year, too. Add this to some whipped cold milk foam, and pair them with some cold coffee, and you will have the summer heat licked before it starts.

Make the same as any of the previous syrups: bring to boil, drop to simmer for 10 mins. Cool completely. Jar and store in fridge for thicker or on the counter.

Mint Syrup:
1/2C Water : 1/2C Sugar (any)
2-3 Drops Mint Extract

This is a great version of the bar cart simple syrup for sweetening your summer drinks. Make the same as any of the previous syrups: bring to boil, drop to simmer for 10 mins. Cool completely. Jar and store in fridge for thicker or on the counter.

Coffee Syrup:
1C Water : 1C Sugar
3 Tbsp Instant Espresso or Instant Coffee Powder

Make the same as any of the previous syrups: bring to boil, drop to simmer for 6 mins. Skim off the foam as it simmers or strain into a cheese cloth when off the heat. Cool completely. Jar and store in fridge for thicker or on the counter.