Tuesday, May 15, 2018

How to quickly update your spice drawer space

Tools of the trade.  Every job has some, and as a mama, I consider my kitchen to be my professional tool box.  I like to keep things streamlined, in working order, minimal yet highly functional.  I toss out cookbooks I no longer use, I donate gadgets that take up space and can be done the old fashioned way with a good knife (looking at you garlic press) and like to make life as easy as possible by buying pre-made, short-cut helping items for maximum efficiency, and I keep it tidy.  ALWAYS. 

The other day I was cooking, and I opened my spice drawer.  It was mostly fine... but it had also gotten un-alphabetized (I blame my family who love to do this to me as a regular prank) and a bit messy.  There were old spices that needed to be tossed out or replaced and it occurred to me that with a few moments of organizing I could really make this shine.  A quick search on Amazon and I had an inexpensive set of squared off spice jars that all matched, complete with chalk labels and a funnel... plus a white paint pen.  (I wanted the squared off ones to keep them in place!) (Here is your shopping link.) 

In about fifteen minutes, I had the entire drawer emptied, spices decanted, labelled and lined up, ready to go back in.  What I loved about this project, is that it's an instant transformation.  I don't like things that take all day and this one is a quick project.

 Here is the before...
 And the after. (I even made space for some seldom used items in a small container!)
I love that a white sharpie, paint pen (not chalk pen) doesn't easily wipe off but with some soapy water and scrubbing, it can be changed if need be.  I love the cohesiveness and do think that we all work better when our supplies are tidy and organized.  How do you store your spices?

I find myself buying only what we need, rather than huge containers at bargain stores, so that it stays fresh!  It's awfully easy to accumulate and buy big, but often that creates waste. This project really made me think about what spices I actually use on a regular basis and I was surprised by how many I never use.  I do keep a little herb garden right off the kitchen so I veer toward fresh whenever I am able.  I am hoping this post encourages you to think about how your function and figure out the best ways to make the most of your time, by making your kitchen efficient.


Monday, May 7, 2018

Tips for creating a great cheese tray

 We are freshly back from a sweet week in San Francisco.  We had a lovely time as a family and even better, it was a reward trip for my husband, for his work achievements last year.  It was a delight to celebrate him and get to bring the kiddos along too! (I shared a bunch of photos on Instagram @lemonademakinmama if you click on my San Francisco stories tab!)  Once we returned late Thursday night, I knew I'd be hitting the grocery store first thing on Friday, as we had nothing in the house to eat.  I was playing catch up all day Friday and by dinner time, I still didn't have a plan.

Not to worry, this simple cheese tray is almost always our answer when there isn't anything in the oven!  With two of us being gluten free, eating at home is normally our go-to but it's got to be quick! What our family likes about this, is that 1) it's super fast to put together.  The longest prep work is slicing things and start to finish, this took me about fifteen minutes while sweet Ava chatted me up on the other side of the island, occasionally stealing a bite or two...  2) We like that it's actually very filling and low carb (unless you're like my kids who add heaps of crackers to their plates. Not pictured. Ha!) 3) It is so pretty that it makes even an ordinary evening feel like a party. 4) We generally have plenty of cheeses on hand, as well as nuts, meats and other nibbles to pull out and throw together.
 I was fairly tired and yet this gave me such a boost, from it's pretty presentation to easy preparation, that I thought I'd share the little tips and tricks I use each time I create one of these (which is very often in our household.)

 My "family tip" for this... cut your meats small, then roll or bunch them to make them stretch.  I tend to purchase a variety pack from Trader Joe's or have a salami on hand.  Slice thinly, quarter cuts, and such.  It really does make a difference in the budget!

When preparing this, I begin with meats and then add cubes of various cheeses.  I used Cotswold, smoked gouda, some Stilton and a truffle brie (all from Trader Joe's.) I normally use about half a wedge of cheese, and store the rest for another time. I then begin to fill in the remaining areas with nuts, veggies, olives or tapenade, and fruits.  I use whatever we have on hand in the pantry or fridge, and so each one we serve is different.  Sometimes I add jams if we're serving brie, or dried fruits rather than fresh.  I pull out small bowls and use those for tiny items like blueberries and the yummy thai spiced cashews (Trader Joe's). (Keeping a variety of small serving bowls on hand is really helpful and though they are all different, they look great when pulled together, because they are the same color.)

I also like to use things in different ways when serving tableside.  In the photo above, you can see that I'm using a favorite candle holder, for wood picks.  It's both pretty and functional.  Of course I always add at least one candle for some twinkle too... (below.)

 I've noticed that if I keep all my cloth napkins washed, pressed if needed and folded, ready to go... we use them a lot more.  Being organized and prepared makes for simple (and stress-less) hosting.  I'm also a big supporter of the white dishes campaign. They work for everyday to fancy occasions, and everything in between.
 I like to slice some radish, endive and leave a few leafy stems for pretty presentation.
 I love this tip.  Quickly peel or wash a label off before opening a jar, if you plan on using the ingredient directly from the jar.  It is much prettier.

I went a bit crazy with the soft evening light and the happy colors of our food and took way too many pics.  We sat down and enjoyed it thoroughly and it was gone all too quickly.  Then it was back to real life, as vacation time came to a close! 

So tell me, have you got any tips to add to this in comments? (Please say yes!  What helps you prepare and serve something quickly when you're tired?) (I'm just cheating and trying to come up with more ideas for the week ahead. Ha!)