Kitchen Tip of the Week: Controlling Wasps

28 08 2009

Yellow Jacket

Wasps (the insects) are common around outdoor gatherings toward the end of summer.  It’s pretty much guaranteed if you’re eating or drinking on a patio in late August, wasps will soon join the party.  Unless you happen to be allergic to their stings, they’re basically harmless but they can be very annoying.  In fact, there were so many buzzing around me the other day when I was trying to read on my porch that I had to go back inside. 

I spoke to a pest control expert and he told me that business has been steady this year in Toronto.  We had a lengthy garbage strike earlier this summer and the wasp and insect population exploded with all of the garbage that sat around outside for weeks. Luckily there are a few ways to keep the pests under control:

Keep BBQs and Recycling/Garbage Bins Clean

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Prevention goes a long way in controlling wasps.  If there is nothing to attract them, they’ll be less likely to come around.  Clean barbeque grills after use and discard any old food that falls through the grill. Keep outdoor garbage and recycling bins clean: rinse with a hose and use an environmentally friendly cleaner such as vinegar, baking soda or eco-friendly dishwashing soap (bleach is not recommended as it may contaminate the organic waste).  Many municipalities allow green bins to be lined with recyclable bags which helps keep spills and mess to a minimum.  

Dryer Sheets

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I had heard that dryer sheets repel wasps but was skeptical.  So I purchased a box of Bounce sheets (I’m not endorsing a particular brand, it was just what was in stock) and headed outside with my book.  I placed a dryer sheet on my footstool and settled in to read for a half hour or so.  Not a single wasp came near me.  It’s hardly scientific proof but I’ll definitely be arming myself with a dryer sheet or two the next time I sit outside during wasp season.

Wasp Traps

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Building a simple wasp trap from a used plastic bottle will capture some of the bugs and draw them away from people.  It costs nothing and takes minutes to put together.  Check out How to Make a Wasp Trap for step-by-step instructions with pictures. You can also purchase attractive glass traps that can be hung around your property.

Exterminators

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If there is a wasp nest in a place where it could endanger people (particularly if someone is allergic), consult an exterminator about getting rid of it.  They can help you decide if the nest should be destroyed and safely deal with it if necessary.

Update: I have heard from a couple of people about putting up fake ‘wasp nests’ made of fabric to deter wasps.  Apparently they are territorial and won’t go near an area they believe has been claimed by other wasps.  It’s an environmentally friendly option because they don’t contain chemicals or kill the wasps.  A fruit store near my house has a number of them mounted near the outdoor displays to keep pests away from the fruit.  Check out Waspinator.com for more information.

In addition to wasps, apparently it’s been a bad year for fruit flies as well.  Check out my tip from last summer, How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies, for some advice in getting rid of them.

There is a new Kitchen Tip of the Week posted each week.  You can also check out the archives for more helpful tips and tricks.





Kitchen Tip of the Week – Power Outages and Your Fridge

20 08 2009

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A couple of weeks ago I awoke to a dark and silent house.  The power was out.  It turns out that a giant tree limb had fallen on the street behind my house, taking down the power lines with it.  It took most of the day but the power was restored and things went back to normal. However, sometimes power outages can last for much longer, as was the case six years ago when a massive outage affected much of northeast North America for a few days.  We’re also in the middle of  hurricane and tornado season and power outages are common during these storms.  

If you’re concerned about power outages and the contents of your fridge while you’re away, consider this tip: Place an ice cube in a ziplock bag and lay it flat in the freezer. Check on it when you return – if the ice cube is still intact, everything in the fridge and freezer should still be good.  If the ice cube has melted and re-frozen, the power was out for an extended period and the contents are not safe to eat and should be discarded.  

If the power is out for a relatively short time, refrigerated foods should still be safe for about 4 to 6 hours.  Do not open the fridge during this time, as it will let in warm air and increase the temperature.  If the power outage is going to last longer, add bags of ice to the fridge.  A refrigerator thermometer is good to have so you can ensure that the proper temperature is maintained in the fridge and freezer, particularly if you live in an area that is prone to a lot of blackouts.  A good guideline for safe food handling is: If in Doubt, Throw it Out.

For more information about food and water safety during power outages, visit: Food and Water Safety when the Power Goes Out.

There is a new Kitchen Tip of the Week posted each week.  You can also check out the archives for more helpful tips and tricks.





Kitchen Tip of the Week: Chopping Onions Without Tears

20 07 2009

Onion

Onions are notorious for causing eye irritation when we peel and cut them.  Some people are quite sensitive to this and some onion varieties are more pungent than others.  To avoid tears when chopping onions, try some of the following tricks:

  • Light a candle close to your cutting board just before you begin to peel and chop your onions.  The flame will burn off irritating fumes before they get to your eyes.
  • If you’re very sensitive to onions, try wearing goggles when you chop.  Yes, it looks a bit silly but it will keep your eyes from getting red and watery.
  • Peel onions under cold water.
  • Cut onions under a strong stove vent.  Just move your cutting board to the stovetop and turn the fan on full power et voila!  The onion fumes will be whisked away.
  • Use a small fan to blow fumes away.  Place a small portable fan near your cutting board and it will keep the onion’s compounds from reaching your eyes. 

Source: How to Break and Egg: 1,453 Kitchen Tips, Food Fixes, Emergency Substitutions, and Handy Techniques, by the Editors, Contributors, and Readers of Fine Cooking Magazine.

There is a new Kitchen Tip of the Week posted each week.  You can also check out the archives for more helpful tips and tricks.





Kitchen Tip of the Week: Household Uses for Wine Corks

2 07 2009

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If you drink wine, you’re likely to have some corks lying around. Although many wine makers are switching to synthetic corks or even screw-top enclosures, a lot of bottles still have real corks.  Cork is produced from the cork oak  and is considered an environmentally friendly product.  It is also a useful material around the house.  

Here are a few ideas for using wine corks:

Cut a Slice of Cork to Steady a Wobbly Table

If you have a table that wobbles slightly, you can use a sharp knife to cut a slice of cork to place under the leg to steady the table. Cut to the desired thickness.  In addition, if you have a small item that is missing a leg, a cork can be used to replace it.  For example, my old microwave lost one of it’s legs and I cut a cork to size and used it in place of the missing leg.  

 

Use a sharp knife to slice cork for your various household needs

Use a sharp knife to slice cork for your various household needs

 

 

Put Pieces of Cork on the Back of Hanging Frames so they Don’t Mark the Wall

Sometimes a hanging picture will mark the wall if someone bumps against it, particularly in high traffic areas.  A  few small rounds of cork glued to the back of the frame will prevent this.

 

A few small pieces of cork will keep picture frames from marking your walls

A few small pieces of cork will keep picture frames from marking your walls

 

Protect Knife Tips

A knife block is the best way to store knives but if necessary, you can protect the tips of your sharp knives by sticking them in a cork.

 

A knife block is best but a cork will protect tips in a pinch

A knife block is best but a cork will protect tips in a pinch

 

 

Store Small Sharp Objects

Corks are a great way to organize small sharp objects such as corn cob holders, tacks or push pins.  Just stick them into a cork and you’ll be able to find them in your drawer easily, without poking yourself with the sharp ends in the process.

 

Organize sharp objects like corn cob holders and push pins with a cork

Organize sharp objects like corn cob holders and push pins with a cork

 

 

Protect Your Furniture

Slicing a few pieces of cork and gluing them to the bottom of items that could mark furniture is a free alternative to buying felt protectors.  Old trivets and coasters can also be saved with a few pieces of sliced cork.

One final use for a used cork: to re-cork a part bottle of wine.  However, the portion of the cork that was in the wine will swell up, making it hard to get back into the bottle.  Turn it around so the narrower (dry) end goes into the bottle and you should have no trouble.

Enjoy!

There is a new Kitchen Tip of the Week posted each week.  You can also check out the archives for more helpful tips and tricks.





Kitchen Tip of the Week: Making a Grill Pan for the Barbeque

23 06 2009

iStock_000007977215XSmallNow that summer has finally arrived, the weather is nice enough that cooking often moves outdoors to the barbeque.  Whether you cook on gas or charcoal, there is nothing like a nice steak or ribs cooked to perfection on the ‘que.  In addition to the usual burgers and meats, I also like to grill vegetables and fish.  To do this, you may need a grill pan so your meal doesn’t wind up falling through the grate and getting charred to a crisp.

Grill pans can usually be found for less than $15 at many hardware stores and supermarkets

Grill pans can usually be found for less than $15 at many hardware stores and supermarkets

Inexpensive grill pans can be found at hardware stores, supermarkets, kitchen stores and places that specialize in barbeque equipment.  They are typically metal with medium sized holes along the bottom so smaller items can cook efficiently and still get a great smokey flavour (particularly if you’re cooking over charcoal).  There are also mesh grill pans available from stores such as Williams Sonoma.  They are a bit more expensive but come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  I like the mesh ‘skillet’ I got last year because it cleans easily and the handle doesn’t get too hot (although I usually use an oven mitt anyway, just to be safe).

 

A mesh grill pan keeps cut up vegetables from falling through the grate

A mesh grill pan keeps cut up vegetables from falling through the grate

If you don’t have a grill pan and find yourself in a situation where you need one, it’s easy to improvise one for very little cost. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A disposable aluminum foil pan, any size and shape you choose
  • A sharp pointed knife or scissors
  • Cooking spray or neutral oil
  1. Pierce the  bottom of the foil pan with the tip of your knife. Twist the tip so that it makes a hole about 1/2″ around.  Repeat over the bottom of the pan. Carefully fold any sharp jagged edges under.  
  2. Spray pan with cooking spray or rub a small amount of neutral oil on the bottom of the pan.  Grill items on the barbeque as desired.
Use a disposable foil pan in any shape and size you wish

Use a disposable foil pan in any shape and size you wish

Use the tip of a sharp knife to pierce the foil pan, twisting it to make the hole bigger

Use the tip of a sharp knife to pierce the foil pan, twisting it to make the hole bigger

The finished product doesn't look fancy but it gets the job done

The finished product doesn't look fancy but it gets the job done

   A word of caution: Be careful when removing the foil pan from the hot grill.  They are flimsier than metal pans so use oven mitts and transfer the pan immediately to a baking sheet or large plate to carry.

Enjoy!

There is a new Kitchen Tip of the Week posted each week.  You can also check out the archives for more tips and tricks.





Kitchen Tip of the Week – Improvising a Trivet

10 06 2009

 

Metal or ceramic trivets protect your counters and tabletop from hot pots but you can improvise one in a pinch

Metal or ceramic trivets protect your counters and tabletop from hot pots but you can improvise one in a pinch

Many kitchens these days have gorgeous kitchen countertops made from marble, slate, granite or engineered stone.  While they are tough, they are not indestructible so it’s important to take care of them.  This means not putting hot pots and dishes down without some sort of barrier between the pot bottom and the counter.  Trivets are heat-proof ‘coasters’ that you can set a pot on so it doesn’t damage the countertop or wood furniture.  They are generally inexpensive and readily available at kitchen stores or grocery stores.  However, if you don’t have one or do not have enough to accommodate all of your hot pots and casserole dishes, you can improvise a trivet very simply.

To Improvise a Trivet:

1.  Unroll 2 feet (24″ or 60 cm) of aluminum foil and cut along the ‘teeth’ of the box.

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2. Roll the foil into a ‘snake’. 

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3. Bend the foil tube into a coil.

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4.  Place hot pots or pans on the coil, pressing down lightly so the foil conforms to the shape of the pot and is sturdy.  Et voila-instant trivet!

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Kitchen Tip of the Week – Anchoring Serving Bowls

2 06 2009

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Last year I had started doing a weekly post on Kitchen Tips (search ‘Kitchen Tip of the Week’ to view archives).  I stopped doing them in November because frankly, no one was reading them.  However, my readership has grown a great deal since them (May 2009 was my best month to date – yay!) so I’ve decided to start featuring a weekly tip again.  So if you’re interested in learning some new tricks and advice for the kitchen, please check back each week.

This week’s kitchen tip can help solve a common dilemma when entertaining guests. Have you ever prepared a platter of hors d’oeuvres with a side bowl of dipping sauce, only to have the smaller plate slide around as you’re transporting or serving the food? To prevent this, use a dab of honey (about 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon) under the smaller bowl to ‘glue’ it to the larger serving platter.  Et voila!  No more sliding around and spilling.

(Source: How to Break an Egg: 1453 Kitchen Tips, Food Fixes, Emergency Substitutions and Handy Techniques, Taunton Press)

 

A small amount of honey can be used to 'glue' platters together for easy entertaining

A small amount of honey can be used to 'glue' platters together for easy entertaining





Kitchen Tip of the Week – Making Vinaigrette

11 11 2008

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This week I’m going to discuss the basics of making your own salad dressings (or vinaigrettes, as they’re also called).  For years my fridge would be filled with bottles of different dressings, only to go bad before I had finished them.  Not only that, they can be full of additives and are typically expensive for what you get. Plus, as I’ve said before, fresh just tastes better.  Making your own allows you to control what goes in your dressing so you can customize it and have your own unique ‘house dressing’.

Vinaigrette Basics

I used to be intimidated by the idea of making my own dressings but if you remember a few basic proportions (see below), it’s very simple.  A few tips to remember:

  • Mustard helps keep the oil and vinegar from separating.  It also adds a subtle flavour.
  • Balance sweet with a bit of acid.  For example, if you add honey or maple syrup for sweetness, add a little bit more vinegar or lemon to make it less cloying.  Likewise, adding a touch of sweetness (a small amount of sugar, honey or syrup) can take the harsh edge off the vinegar.
  • Use the best quality ingredients you can.  While you don’t have to spend a fortune on fancy oils and vinegars, use ones that taste good to you.  They typically last a very long time so it’s a good investment for your pantry.
  • Dressing your salad: Add dressing a bit at a time and toss well.  You want it to just coat the greens but not weigh them down or make them soggy.  Remember, you can always add a little bit more but you can’t take it away!  If you do overdress the salad, add more greens.
  • Vinaigrettes can also be used to drizzle over cooked meat and vegetables, to marinate meats such as chicken or as a dressing for sandwiches.

Selecting Your Ingredients

Acid: There are many types of acid you can use such as lemon juice, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, white vinegar, white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, raspberry vinegar, red wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, sherry vinegar, fig vinegar, balsamic vinegar…. The list goes on.  Let your imagination run wild!

Oil: Use a neutral tasting oil as your main oil.  Olive oil can work as long as it’s mild – you don’t want the dressing to taste overwhelmingly like olives.  Other neutral oils such as canola, sunflower or safflower work very well and have a lighter taste (but unfortunately they are not lighter in calories).  More ‘exotic’ oils such as avocado, walnut or sesame oil can be added in small quantities for flavouring to make a dressing that is unique and different.

Mustard: Dijon style mustards usually work best.  Avoid using bright yellow ‘hot dog’ mustard – it’s a bit too harsh tasting for a vinaigrette.  I generally prefer a smooth mustard over a grainy style.

Additions: While optional, adding a bit of minced garlic, diced shallot or finely chopped onion can give your dressing depth.  Likewise, herbs and spices can help customize your dressing and make it more interesting. Add fruit juices such as orange or apple for a touch of sweetness.

Basic Vinaigrette - Proportions to Follow to Make a Custom Dressing:

  • 3 to 4 parts OIL
  • 1 part ACID
  • 1/6 part MUSTARD
  • A pinch of SALT, to taste
  • Optional ADDITIONS:  Suggestions include finely minced fresh garlic, finely diced shallots, finely chopped herbs, a splash of fruit juice, 1/3 part honey or maple syrup, etc.

Add ingredients to a small bowl and whisk together until combined.

Basic White Wine Vinaigrette:

  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons neutral oil
  • 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced shallot
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.  Can be stored covered in the refrigerator for a few days.  If the ingredients separate, whisk until it emulsifies again.

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Honey-Mustard Dressing

Makes approximately 1/4 cup – can easily be doubled

This makes a great salad dressing, particularly for chicken.  It can also be used as a glaze or dip for chicken, shrimp or pork (it’s really good with chicken fingers!).  The proportions of oil and vinegar are a little different for this recipe.

  • 2 Tablespoons dijon-style mustard
  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola or safflower.   Tip: Use the same spoon to measure both oil and honey.  If you measure the oil first the honey will not stick to the spoon.
  • 1 Tablespoon liquid honey
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 clove garlic, very finely minced
  • Pinch of salt, to taste

Combine ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until combined.  Use as a dip or a dressing for your favourite salads.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





Kitchen Tip of the Week – Keeping Clean

5 11 2008

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Keeping Clean

I’m practically obsessed with keeping my hands clean in the kitchen, especially if I’m working with meat.  I also need to clean my favourite knives and other utensils frequently as I’m cooking, using the dishwasher only for a large load at the end of the meal.  

To make things easy, I fill an old hand soap dispenser with dish detergent.  This allows me to pump a small amount without getting my dirty hands all over everything (particularly important when working with raw poultry).  I keep it in a small container along with a fresh sponge or two so I’m not searching all over for a clean sponge when I need one.  The container keeps things neat so there aren’t soapy drips all around the sink.  Fancier hand soap pumps are often sold at kitchen and bath stores but you can easily re-use an old dispenser.  I prefer a clear one so I know when it’s time for a re-fill.  

Sponges should be replaced frequently, as they can harbour a lot of bacteria.  To help keep them clean, you can soak them in bleach that has been diluted with water. Another popular method is to microwave damp, metal-free sponges for one to two minutes at full power.  However, this must be done with caution because sponges can catch fire if heated too long.  Luckily, sponges are very inexpensive so the best way to keep things clean is replace them often.  

 

A soap dispenser filled with dish detergent makes kitchen clean up easy

A soap dispenser filled with dish detergent makes kitchen clean up easy

 

 

Ciao!

Trish





Kitchen Tip of the Week – Removing Sausage Casing

29 10 2008

Sausages are great to use in recipes.  Of course they’re delicious grilled on their own but they’re also versatile for use in sauces, meatballs, meatloaf, pastas, casseroles and more.  All you have to do is remove the meat from the casing and use it in your favourite recipes.

For some reason, when I used to remove the meat from sausage casings, I would squeeze it out the end, as though it was a tube of toothpaste.  However, this isn’t the easiest way to do it.  The following method is very simple (and probably obvious to most people but it was a revelation to me!):  

How to Remove Sausage Meat from the Casing (Efficiently!)

 

1. Slice the sausage lengthwise down the middle, making sure to pierce the skin but not cutting all the way through the sausage

1. Slice the sausage lengthwise down the middle, making sure to pierce the skin but not cutting all the way through the sausage

 

 

 

2. Peel back the casing as though you are removing the jacket of a small child for them

2. Peel back the casing as though you are removing the jacket of a small child for them

 

Et voila!  Discard the casing and you have sausage meat, ready to use.

For a great recipe using Italian sausage meat, check out my latest entry for Suite 101.com.  It features rapini, which is also known as broccoli raab or rabe:

Orecchiette with Rapini, Sausage and Crisp Garlic Crumbs

 

Orecchiette with Rapini, Sausage and Garlic Crumbs
Orecchiette with Rapini, Sausage and Garlic Crumbs

 

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!








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