Kitchen Tips & Tricks: How to Ripen Bananas for Baked Goods in 20 minutes.

Have you ever wanted to make a banana bread, maybe banana muffins, or some other recipe where ripe bananas were required, but the bananas staring back at you from the counter are underripe? And you know it will take daysssss for them to ripen on their own, but you are just wanting/needing to make that recipe TODAY?

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Yeah, me too. It’s quite a predicament to be in. Especially if you are baking for an event. (Or just because you love your family and you know they would appreciate some banana chocolate fudge muffins on a Saturday morning).

So, I turned to my dear friend Google to find a solution, but unfortunately none of them brought about immediate results.

“Put them in a brown paper bag,” they said.

“They’ll ripen quickly,” they said.

And the truth is they’ll ripen faster; as in, maybe you’ll have ripe bananas in 3 days instead of 4.

But sometimes, that’s just. not. fast. enough.

So, here I am, to let you know you CAN have ripe bananas in 20 minutes. The method is surprisingly simple, but effective. All you have to do is lay the bananas on a baking pan like the picture above. Stick ’em in the oven at 325F for 20 minutes.

That’s it.

Are you shocked? I was.

You’ll know they’re ready when they look like this:

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They’ll be suuuuper dark on the outside, but on the inside they’ll be perfectly soft and ready to be mashed and transformed into your baked good of choice. Speaking of which, here are some of my favorites.

Super easy, right? Too-good-to-be-true-(but it is)-kind-of-easy, really.

If your bananas aren’t quite as underripe as the ones I had, you may only need to bake them for 10-15 minutes, depending, Just make sure the peel turns completely black before you take them out.

Happy baking! Let me know what you make!

How to Ripen Bananas for Baked Goods in 20 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • Underripe bananas

1). Pre-heat the oven to 325F.

2). Lay the bananas on a baking pan and bake for about 20 minutes. Let them cool for about 5 minutes before peeling.

Thanks to America’s Test Kitchen for this amazing kitchen trick!

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Kitchen Tips and Tricks: How to Make Homemade Whipped Cream.

Homemade whipped cream is one of the easiest things to make, and it undeniably takes your dessert to a whole new level. Whenever I need to serve whipped cream, I always make my own. It is cheaper, requires only 3 ingredients, and is ready in 5 minutes. In my opinion, the light and fluffy richness of homemade whipped cream is not reproducible in the store bought variety. Thanks to my best friend from high school who first made me appreciate the value of this homemade topping, it has revolutionized the way I view the stuff!

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So, let’s get started. All you need are 3 simple ingredients: whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla extract. Easy peasy, right? Start by pouring the whipping cream in a bowl. Next, turn your whisk attachment/mixer on to a medium-low speed because you don’t want to splatter cream all over your kitchen.

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Now let the mixer do the rest of the work! See the bubbles happening in the picture below? That’s a good sign. Keep going…

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After a couple more minutes your whipped cream should look like the picture below. It is starting to firm up enough that the whisk is leaving it’s “path” through the cream.

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Mix in your sugar and vanilla, to taste. I like a good amount of vanilla in my whipped cream so I usually use at least 1 teaspoon, often more. Whipped cream should be slightly sweetened, so I use about 1 tablespoon of sugar–granulated or powdered will both work. Taste it and adjust to your liking. Let your mixer continue to whisk the cream until the cream becomes stiff. You should be able to pull out the whisk, turn it upside down, and have stiff peaks of whipped cream on the end that stand up. (Just for the record…if you continue to whisk after it is stiff you will eventually end up with butter, so don’t go too crazy!)

Can you believe it’s that easy?!

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Homemade Whipped Cream

Ingredients:

  • Whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp sugar (granulated or powdered)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (or more!)

1) Pour the whipping cream in a  large bowl. Using the whisk attachment, turn it on medium-high and whisk the cream for several minutes until it begins to stiffen.

2). Add the sugar and vanilla. Continue whisking until the whipped cream is firm enough that stiff peaks form. Enjoy!

Easy Homemade Taco Seasoning

Let’s talk about taco seasoning. You can buy it at the store in the form of those little convenient packets, or you can add maybe 3 minutes to your total cooking time and make your own from the spices sitting in your pantry.  It is EASY and tastes just as good (if not better!) than what you get in the packets. Plus, even if you don’t want to make it a habit of making your own, someday you may realize you are out of taco seasoning right before you wanted to whip up some tacos. Now that problem is solved!

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All you need are 7 common spices, plus salt and pepper. Give them a stir in a little bowl and continue on with your dish as usual! Like I said, it’s so easy. One batch of this mixture is equal to one packet of taco seasoning. If you are making tacos, you will need to add 2/3-3/4 cup water just like you would with the seasoning packets.

Now, I’m going to jump on my soap box about why you may want to start making it a habit to prepare your own taco seasoning. Packaged taco seasoning has many unnecessary and even unhealthy ingredients. For example, take the list of ingredients from a name brand taco seasoning I found in my pantry: maltodextrin, chili pepper, salt, onion powder, corn starch, garlic powder, spice, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, yeast extract, silicon dioxide, sunflower and/or cottenseed oil, spice extractive, and ethoxyquin. Um, what? I can hardly pronounce some of those unrecognizable ingredients. And “spice”?? Why don’t they name the spice? The first ingredient listed, maltodextrin, as well as “yeast extract” are alternate names for Manufactured Glutamic Acid, aka MSG (source). And the partially hydrogenated soybean oil? Trans fats (source). The side effects of MSG and trans fats have been pretty well documented and I encourage you to read up on them if you haven’t already. Ok, ok. I’m done. All I want to say is if you are going to buy pre-packaged taco seasoning (which, let’s face it, we all probably will from time to time), read the ingredients list and make sure you select one where all they list are regular spices. No preservatives or ingredients you don’t recognize, k?

Homemade Taco Seasoning

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp freshly ground sea salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper

1). In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients. (This mixture will be equivalent to one packet of taco seasoning).

Recipe adapted from: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/taco-seasoning-i/ 

Kitchen Tips and Tricks: How To Hard Boil Eggs In The Oven.

This post is not really a recipe, but more of a “how-to.” I know this time of year many of you are looking for healthier alternatives after the holidays, and eggs are a great source of protein (particularly if you ditch the yoke). Recently, I noticed a lot of Pinterest posts on hard boiling eggs in the oven. You simply place the eggs in muffin tins, preheat the oven to 325F, and let them cook for about 25 minutes before moving them to an ice bath. The ice bath stops the cooking process, leaving each egg perfectly hard boiled, unlike many experiences I’ve had trying to hard boil them on the stove. Am I the only one that struggles with that? I just can’t seem to get consistent results, but that’s exactly what I do get from the oven method. I just had to share with you in case you too have a hard time achieving perfectly hard boiled eggs on the stove!

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Another great thing about this method? I can easily cook anywhere from 12-24 eggs at a time, which I can then use for breakfast throughout the week, a snack, chopped up in salads, etc. I’m not a big deviled eggs person, but if you are this would be an easy way to cook a large quantity for that purpose as well.

How to Hard Boil Eggs in the Oven

What you need:

Eggs

A muffin tin

A large bowl with ice water

1). Preheat the oven to 325F. Place eggs in muffin tins. Bake for 25-27 minutes, depending on your oven.

2). Immediately move the eggs to the bowl with ice water to stop cooking. Let them cool for several minutes before draining the water and drying the eggs.

3). Refrigerate eggs until needed!

One Minute Homemade Pie Crust

An easy, quick way to make homemade pie crust. It’s my go-to for every pie, including my family’s favorite: apple!
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Making homemade pie crust seems to intimidate many home bakers. I, too, used to be one who never thought I could (or wanted to) make my own pie crust. “What’s wrong with the frozen one from Pillsbury?”, I used to think to myself. That all changed the first time I had homemade pie crust (and looked at the ingredients list…see below). Y’all, it seriously makes all the difference in the world as to the result of your final pie. It takes a good pie and makes it something special. And really, if you’re going to go through the trouble of making a pie, it is not that much more work to put together a pie crust from scratch. Especially if you use this one minute recipe!

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When I first started making pie crusts, I did it the old fashioned way: by hand. Cutting the butter into flour without even a pastry blender was a little tricky. Eventually I bought a pastry blender, and at the time I thought it made it immensely easier. You know what can take it from easier to just plain easy?

A food processor.

Yes, the food processor does all the work for you in this recipe.  Just a few simple ingredients and pulses of the food processor and you can have ready-to-roll out pie crust in 60 seconds!! Let’s look at the ingredients found in Pillsbury pre-made crusts, and then tell me if you have 60 extra seconds to spare to make your own:

No thank you! We can all agree that pie is not the healthiest thing to eat, but I figure if I’m going to eat pie (which does not happen often), I would rather put in the extra minute to make it homemade with real ingredients!

And, in case the food processor trick is not enough of a delightful kitchen tip, I have another one to share. Have you ever had pie crust stick to your rolling pin when trying to roll it? It is highly annoying, and could potentially turn any baker away from making their own pastry. To remedy this problem, simply roll your pie dough in-between two sheets of plastic wrap!! It prevents the dough from sticking every time.

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Once you have refrigerated and rolled out your pie crust, you can decide how you would like to form it. I always love the classic look of pinched edges and a lattice crust, but you can be creative! Remember, rustic is okay here: you want your pie to look homemade!

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I wanted to share this special recipe with you before the holidays come to hopefully inspire you to make your pie crust in lieu of purchasing one for all of your autumnal/holiday baking. And, in case you didn’t know, it’s currently apple picking season!

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This recipe makes a single crust (with some leftover). If you are going to make a double crust pie, you must double the recipe!

One Minute Homemade Pie Crust

Ingredients:

  • 1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour  (about 9 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1-1/2 sticks butter (12 tablespoons), cut into slices
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp ice water (approximately)

1) Place flour and sugar in a food processor.  Pulse.

2) Add about half of the butter. Pulse.  Add the rest of the butter. Pulse until the mixture turns into coarse crumbs.

3) Through the feed tube, slowly add the ice water and pulse until the dough gathers up into a ball.  If it doesn’t after a few seconds, add a few more drops of ice water until it does.

4) Take the dough and flatten it into a disc and place it on a sheet of floured plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes before rolling. Remember to use the plastic wrap trick from above!

Happy baking!!IMG_20121027_143906

Recipe adapted from: http://theitaliandishblog.com/imported-20090913150324/2011/9/9/you-will-make-homemade-one-minute-pie-dough-and-raspberry-pi.html

How to Make Perfectly Shredded Chicken in the Crock Pot and KitchenAid Mixer

I want to share with you one of my most favorite, most used kitchen tricks: how to make perfectly shredded chicken! You know all those recipes that call for “cooked, shredded chicken breasts”? This is how I make mine, and it could not be simpler. The great thing about it is you can cook a lot of chicken at one time, shred it, then use it for a variety of recipes throughout the week or even put it in a freezer bag and freeze the excess.

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First: cooking the chicken in the crock pot. 

1) Spray your crock pot with cooking spray.

2) Put as many chicken breasts as you’d like in the crock pot. These can be thawed or frozen. If using frozen, simply adjust the cooking time.

3) Season with lots of salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

4) Cook on low for 4-5 hours or on high for 3 hours. If using frozen chicken breasts, you will need to add an additional hour or two to cooking time. Keep in mind crock pots all heat up to different temperatures–test the chicken with two forks and see if it comes apart easily. If it does, then you’re done!

You may notice I did not add any chicken broth or water to the chicken–I have done it both ways, and it works out with or without the additional liquid.

Second: transfer the cooked chicken breasts into the KitchenAid mixer.

The first time I tried this method of shredding chicken breasts, I was so skeptical. It sounds crazy to throw cooked chicken breasts in your KitchenAid mixer and let it run, but it works perfectly every time. Simply turn it on low and let it run until the chicken is shredded. I typically add back several spoonfuls of the chicken broth left in the crock pot to ensure it does not dry out. Taste the chicken and add more salt/pepper/garlic powder if needed.

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It only takes one to two minutes for the mixer to shred the chicken perfectly, and then you can use it for all kinds of things. Here are a few recipes and ideas:

-Add BBQ sauce and make BBQ chicken sandwiches

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-Make Chicken Enchilada Zucchini Boats

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-Add salsa and create a Mexican flavored salad

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-Add pesto and make pesto chicken paninis.

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-Make baked chicken taquitos.

IMG_20130730_183409-You can also add leftover shredded chicken breasts to salads, pasta dishes, soups, and sandwiches. The possibilities are nearly endless!

Stay tuned for the pesto chicken panini and baked chicken taquitos recipes very soon!

Spaghetti Squash: What it is, how to cook it, and what to do with it.

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Spaghetti squash is a vegetable I never even heard of until I was student teaching a few years ago. My cooperating teacher loved to cook, too, and we would often share recipes with each other. One day she told me she was going to make spaghetti squash for dinner.

Unfortunately, my first (incorrect) thought was that she was going to make spaghetti with squash in it. She then explained to me how it is actually a vegetable that, when cooked, contains spaghetti-like strands that you remove and use in place of spaghetti. A vegetable that passes for spaghetti? It sounded too good to be true, and I remember I stopped at the store on my way home to pick one up that very evening.

Here are some nutritional facts regarding why you might want to swap spaghetti squash for pasta:

  • 1 serving of pasta usually has around 200 calories. 1 cup of spaghetti squash is only 40!!
  • It is high in vitamin B6, vitamin C, fiber, manganese, and potassium.
  • It is gluten free and a great choice for people trying to watch their carb intake.
  • It is fat free!
  • It is very low in cholesterol.
  • After purchasing, it can stay fresh stored at room temperature for up to 3 months!

There are many options for cooking spaghetti squash. I have tried all of the following these are my personal opinions:

Option #1) Pierce spaghetti squash several times with a fork; place in a 9×13 baking dish.  Microwave, uncovered, at High 10 minutes.  Cut in half lengthwise and discard seeds.  Place spaghetti squash, cut side up, in baking dish;  add water.  Cover tightly with heavy-duty plastic wrap, turning back one corner to allow steam to escape.  Microwave at High 12 to 14 minutes or until tender, turning squash every 5 minutes.  Let stand 5 minutes. This is a great option if you wanted the squash for dinner and didn’t plan ahead. Just be careful…my microwave cooks it a lot faster than the suggested times, but every microwave is different. I suggest checking on it every few minutes until it’s done.

Option #2) Cut the squash in half and roast it cut sides down. This is nice because it cuts down on the amount of time the squash has to cook. This method worked okay, but the squash did get a little mushy where it was laying on the pan. It’s also really difficult to cut through a raw spaghetti squash!

Option #3) Place the squash in a slow cooker with a little bit of water for 4 hours on low. I did NOT like this option because the squash became very mushy on the bottom where it was in direct contact with the slow cooker. I do not recommend this method but it does work if you are in a bind.

Option #4) Pierce the squash with a knife several times all over. Preheat the oven to 400F. Bake the squash on sprayed baking dish for 55 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of squash. This is the easiest and best method! The squash comes out perfectly every time. Simply cut the squash in half when it comes out of the oven (this will be very easy to do because it will be soft), and allow to cool. When it is cool enough to handle, remove the seeds with a spoon. Then, use a fork to separate the “spaghetti” strands.

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After roasting, cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Then use a fork to separate the strands.

So, what can you do with spaghetti squash? The answer is simple: anything you would do with regular pasta. I now substitute spaghetti squash for pasta for me every time I make my husband a pasta dish. He isn’t as big of a fan of the squash substitute, so I reserve some of the sauce from his pasta dish and add it to my spaghetti squash. It works out perfectly! I have not tried this yet, but I have seen some spaghetti squash lasagna recipes lurking around the internet that I am curious to try. You can also make baked spaghetti squash as you would baked ziti.

The only downside to using spaghetti squash is that it does require some planning because it will take close to an hour to cook in the oven (unless you use the microwave option). Often times I will start the spaghetti squash ahead of dinner just to ensure it will be ready when the rest of the meal is done. Remember, even though it bakes for an hour, there are only maybe 5 minutes of active cooking involved. During the hour it cooks, you are free to cook other things or relax with a good book. I encourage you to try to make this if you haven’t before! I’ll be posting specific recipe ideas in the future as well!