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Keeping your hand towel where it should be! Simplifying & Organizing Tips

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Ok, so maybe this only happened at my house but it seemed like whenever I went into the bathroom to wash my hands the hand towel has been thrown on the counter or floor-gross! I change hand towels often, usually daily, and I want it to stay put once I hang it up! Anyway, if you’re like me than you will probably appreciate this tip. I know I’m not the first or only one to think of this but I came up with this last year when we were running a school in Japan and successfully kept all the hand towels hung up in the school bathrooms and kitchen with this tip. Sometimes it’s the little things! So here’s the tip…

Tip: Once you hang up a fresh towel, use a binder clip or clothes pin to keep the towel in place. You can even fold the towel over it so you don’t see it if you like.

Another tip that goes along with this that I’ve discovered is putting an extra hand towel lower where young kids can reach. Some places, like in our bathroom, the younger kids can’t reach the towel without climbing on the counter and as we know, the easier it is for kids to wash their hands, the better! I use this over the cupboard door towel rack but many kinds of hooks would also work.

Give it a try at your home and let me know what you think!

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Popping Popcorn using a glass bowl in the microwave

This is one of those “Why didn’t I know about this awesome thing earlier?!” things. We love popping popcorn seeds at our house and usually eat this snack several times a week. I love that it’s whole grain, real food, super cheap and  totally versatile so you can top it with whatever you like. (We won’t even bring up all the ways that prepackaged microwave popcorn is gross and not healthy!) My organization loving heart is always so happy when you can eliminate a kitchen appliance and use things you already have!

For those of you who don’t know about this tip, here are the instructions:

Super Simple Microwave Popcorn

1-Get a large glass bowl and pour 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels into it

2-Put a microwave safe, ceramic plate or do what I do and use your microwave cover (If you don’t have one of these you really should pick one up-very cheap (I got mine at the dollar store) and they keep your microwave nice and clean!)

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3-Microwave for 3-4 minutes, listening for when the pops are slowing down. Since the bowl and cover are clear, my girls love watching the kernels pop.

4-Enjoy with some melted butter and salt, dark chocolate drizzled over the top or whatever you like.

*Cool tips:
-If some of the kernels don’t pop, you can take them out of the popped kernels and microwave them again until most of them pop!
-If you want to easily get the unpopped kernels out of the popped ones, put a cooling rack over your bowl and hold the rack tight to the bowl while you turn them upside and shake until the unpopped kernels fall out!

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List of essential items you need in your kitchen

Having a well equipped kitchen is essential when you want to make yummy, healthy meals at home every day.  However, I’ve discovered through cooking in the 7 different kitchens in our different homes in Hawaii and Utah over the past year and a half (yes, that means WAY too much moving) that some things are essential, some things are nice to have and a lot of things just take up space so I thought I’d write up a list of the things that I recommend for every kitchen.  When we moved to Hawaii we only brought suit cases so I had to completely start from scratch which was challenging but also refreshing because I only bought things I really needed and really loved.  Sometimes I was surprised by what I found I needed right away and what things I totally forgot about! You can click on the items that are in blue below and it will take you to a specific product that I recommend on Amazon or other places. (These are affiliate links so if you click on them from my site here and buy anything on Amazon I get a very small percentage. So thank you, if you do! And don’t worry, I will of course, only add links to things I truly recommend!)

Appliances
Essential right away:
-Toaster
-Crockpot/Slow cooker

Get them when you can:
-Stand Mixer, I recommend a Kitchen Aid or Bosch if you bake a lot like me.  This is the one I have  but this one is a little smaller and cheaper and still works great if you don’t make large quantities of things (Since these last forever try to get an awesome deal on one 2nd hand, or watch for a deal at Costco.)
Food processor (Love this for many things, but especially for making nut butters) I bought mine at Costco.
Rice cooker (We make a lot of rice so this is essential for us but you may not need it, check Costco for a better deal.)
-Electric griddle or skillet (great for pancakes and other things but do make sure you have the storage space because these are both bulky.)
-Grain Mill/Wheat Grinder (I love grinding my wheat fresh and use this several times a week, the one I have and love is the “WonderMill” it works great turning any grain into flour (rice, teff, quinoa etc.) I’ve also heard the Nutrimill is great too.)
-Waffle iron (if you love waffles like us!)

Kitchen Utensils & Gadgets
Essential right away:
-2 sets of measuring cups (I like the sets with 3/4 & 1 1/2 cups too.)
-2 sets of measuring spoons
-2 nice Santoku knives
-1 bread knife with serrated edge
-pizza cutter, I love this for cutting quesadillas, pancakes for my kids, brownies, pies etc.
Kitchen shears-I use these ALL the time! So great for cutting meat up in recipes like my Honey Garlic Chicken and for some many uses.
Can opener
Vegetable peeler
Cheese grater
Liquid measuring cup
-2 rubber spatulas that are heat resistant
-2 heat resistant spatulas/pancake turners
wire whisk I got this in a set with a spiral whisk at my local Ikea for about $2 but I could only find it online on the UK Ikea site so I linked to there so you could see what they look like-love them!
-spiral whisk
-large, long handled spoon for serving and stirring
-large, long handled slotted spoon
-long handled ladle
-salad tongs
-pasta server
potato masher

Nice to have when you can:
-Pie server (useful for serving cake, pizza and cheesecake too)
-Ice cream scoop
Apple Slicer
-Funnel (grab these at the dollar store)
-lemon zester
-fine grater (for ginger and such)
-1 hand lemon juicer

Dining & Serving (I recommend 3x’s the # of people in your household for each item)
-Set of flatware that includes serving flatware too, like larger spoon, fork etc.
-Chopsticks (if you eat a lot of Asian food like us)
-Dinner plates, matching & not too big to fit in your cupboard
-bowls for cereal and soup, matching set
-smaller matching plates for desserts, salads, toast etc.
-Half glasses & full glasses (I LOVE these sturdy ones with lids)
-Matching plastic cups (if you have younger children or frequent guests)
-2 water pitchers, I like clear ones so they go with everything
-1 or 2 Water bottles for each member of your family (love these for kids, look for both of these at Costco too)
-Ice cube trays if your fridge doesn’t have an ice maker
-Butter dish with a cover (find one at the Dollar Store, or here)
-Salt and Pepper Shakers

Bakeware and Cookware
-2 sets muffin tins
-2, 9×13 glass pan with lid
-2, 8×8 glass pan with lid
-2 loaf pans
-4 glass pie pans
-2 cookie sheets/jelly roll pans
-2 Silpat mats that fit in your cookie sheets/jelly roll pans
-large pot and lid
-sauce pan & lid
-large frying pan & lid
-medium frying pan & lid
-2 9″ cake pans (I love these silicone ones)
-rolling pin (You may not need this if you don’t intend to bake much)
-2 pizza pans (if you make lots of pizza)

Food Prep & Storage
-2 or 3 cutting boards (I recommend ones that are dishwasher safe so they can easily be sterilized)
-1 large colander
-set of food storage containers
-4 mixing bowls (preferably one’s that nest & have lids)
-set of 3 or 4 glass bowls with lids
Salad spinner (I use this all the time wash my lettuce and then store my complete salad in the fridge to keep it fresh longer)
-Fine mesh strainer

Cleaning
-10 dish towels
-10 dish cloths
-4 hot pads (2 mits and 2 regular)
-Scrub brush (I love the one at Ikea that is $1)
-Srubbie
-Scraper
-Dish soap dispenser
-Hand soap dispenser
-Spray bottle (for water & vinegar all purpose spray)
-Dishwasher detergent
-Broom
-Dust pan and small hand broom
-Garbage & recycling cans
-Cleaning cloths
-Mop or Swiffer (I use this with cleaning cloths, instead of the expensive pads made for it) depending on what flooring you have

Storage
-Bag clips, big and small

If you like to entertain
-table cloth that is stain and wrinkle resistant (start with white)
-linen napkins that are stain and wrinkle resistant  (start with white)
-Tiered dessert stand (I like the kind that swivel because they save space when you need to store them)
-serving platters -2
-serving bowls 2

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When in Doubt, Freeze it!

You can freeze a lot more things than you think (at least I was surprised when I started researching and experimenting with this.-Yes, I’m nerdy like that!) Hopefully a few of these tricks will be helpful for you…

Freezing food, tips and tricks
Even when you don’t have a lot of freezer space, like me right now, you can still fit a lot in your freezer!

1-Slice up your onions and bell peppers with a knife or a food processor and put those in separate freezer bags and keep in the freezer so you can shake out a little onion or bell pepper to use in Crustless Quiche, fajitas, Taco soup,  or maybe just eggs in the morning for breakfast.

2-Split your huge bag of shredded cheese that you get from Costco (or the store you go to) into 2 or 3 gallon Zip Loc freezer bags and freeze all the cheese you’re not going to be using in the next 2 weeks.  Shredded cheese defrosts so quickly on it’s own that you don’t need to do it before you sprinkle it on your lasagna or make your quesadilla.  Cheese does not freeze well in a brick so it either needs to be shredded or sliced (I freeze slices of Swiss cheese to use later for my Swiss Cheese Chicken recipe) I wouldn’t recommend using the slices for a sandwich or anything else that you won’t be cooking or baking though, use fresh cheese slices for that.

3-Squeeze fresh limes or lemons into ice cube trays and freeze them.  Once they’re frozen, pop the juice cubes into a labeled freezer bag and you’ll have them ready to add to Lime Cilantro Rice, Lemon Curd or simple lemon water.

 

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Cook Chicken in bulk (freeze and use for meals all month long)

1-Put some of your frozen or fresh boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts in the crock pot with a cup of water and 2 tsps (or cubes) of chicken bouillon (I like “Better Than Bouillon” that you can buy at Costco.)

2-Let the chicken cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 5 hours.

3-Shred or cut with kitchen shears (or two forks) and let it cook for another hour or so to soak up the juice.

4-You can then use a slotted spoon to put the shredded meat on a plate to cool for a little bit and then in a freeze bags to pull out and use for Taco Soup or Hawaiian Haystacks or whatever you need precooked chicken for.

 

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Brown your ground beef in the crock pot-yes, really!

This is one of those things that I wish I would have figured out years ago! For some reason I don’t like browning ground beef.  I know it’s not that hard or time-consuming but when it’s 5 pm (often referred to as “the witching hour” at my house) and everyone is hungry, tired and grumpy and your staring at a chunk of frozen, raw ground beef that you have to thaw in the microwave, then brown to even start your dinner…well, let’s just say the temptation to order pizza goes way up!  After I figured out that this road block for me I started browning ground beef in large quantities in an electric skillet as soon as I came home from grocery shopping and freezing the beef but as of the past year or so I moved that up a notch on the simple-ness ladder (Oh, there IS such a ladder in my house!) and have loved it!  I can tell from the collective sighs and “oohs” and “ahh”s in my meal planning classes that I’m not the only one!

Browning your Ground Beef in the Crock Pot

1-Put all or a majority of your ground beef in the crock pot on low with garlic and onions (fresh or dried) and leave it on low for 8 hours or so, stirring and breaking up the meat occasionally.

Put your ground beef in the crock pot when you get home from the store and brown it! That way you can bag it and freeze it and it's ready to go for spaghetti, taco salad, etc. plantomakeitsimple.com
You can put a small amount or much larger amount of fresh or frozen ground beef in the crock pot, like this.

2-You can let the meat cool down a bit and then use a slotted spoon to put the meat in freezer bags and lay them flat in your freezer.  That way when you’re making spaghetti, or my Three Cheese Pasta Bake or taco salad or whatever you can just grab a bag of already browned ground beef and toss it in!

Put your ground beef in the crock pot when you get home from the store and brown it! plantomakeitsimple.com
Break it up a little and stir while it’s browning in the crock pot.
Browned meat, bagged up and ready to freeze for spaghetti, taco salad, etc. plantomakeitsimple.com
Browned, cooled, bagged, labeled and ready to freeze

Note: If you plan to make hamburgers or meatloaf with your ground beef you’ll want to leave enough of the ground beef not cooked and just freeze the portion you need raw in a Ziploc freezer bag.  I like to form the hamburger patties using a measuring cup and freeze them like that so they’re ready to go. Give this a try and let me know how it changes your life for the better!

I have this crock pot and I love it!

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Trick for helping onions, apples, potatoes & sweet potatoes stay fresh longer!

Here is a handy little trick to help some of your produce stay fresh longer.  Keep onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes and apples in baskets in a dark cool place.  (I keep them in my pantry, pictured here, that usually has the door closed so it’s dark)  These kinds of produce need to “breath” so a basket works great for that and it looks cute.  I like to buy a bag of potatoes and put half in the basket in my pantry and leave the other half in the bag they come in and put that in my basement storage room so I can bring them up when I use up what’s in my basket.  A dark basement storage room is even better than a pantry but if I kept all  of these produce items down there I would forget to use them! Make sure that the onions and potatoes are NOT together or even sitting next to each other as they will cause each other to go bad faster.  However, if you add an apple to your sweet potato and potato basket the apple will help the potatoes not sprout as quickly!  Pretty cool, huh?  I find my potatoes and onions last about 1 month or a little longer, and apples and sweet potatoes last 2 months or more.  This will vary depending on the climate where you live.  When I lived in Hawaii produce would spoil much faster, which makes it more challenging, but these tricks still work, just expect shorter amounts of time!  You can also use baskets for garlic and shallots but I usually handle my garlic other ways and will write a post about that soon.
Left to right: onions, apples (I put half in the basket and half in the fridge and when we finish those we put the rest from the basket into the fridge), potatoes (with 1 apple) and sweet potatoes.

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Easy way to measure honey & other sticky ingredients

OK, several of the people who have attended my meal planning classes have requested that I put the baking tips and tricks I share in the class on this website so I thought I would start adding those.  These are basically things that help making things faster, healthier and of course, more simple.
The one I’m going to share today is something that  wished I would have known years ago!  When cooking or baking with sticky things such as honey or peanut butter or molasses, spray the inside of the measuring cup with cooking spray before you measure your sticky ingredient. (I use olive oil in my Misto since it saves a ton of money, doesn’t have any preservatives or chemicals like the cooking sprays in aerosol cans and keeps your shopping list shorter since you most likely already have olive oil on your list.)

It’s like magic when the honey just slips right out!  Yay! (OK, maybe I get over excited about these kinds of things but I always appreciate a good life hack to keep things more simple!)

No more wasting half of your molasses while trying to get it from the bottle to your cookie batter and then wonder how accurate that measurement actually was!