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Tips for Cooking at Home

Tips for Cooking at Home

Parent Tips > Food, Catering & Restaurants > Tips for Cooking at Home

A Baker's Pantry

A Baker's Pantry

Here's What you'll need to make all your goodies

  • Unbleached, all-purpose flour contains a combination of high- and low-gluten wheat. Store flour in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place for up to six months. Keeping flour in a large glass jar makes it easy to measure. To keep flour weevils away, insert a bay leaf or two into the jar.
  • Cake flour is milled from low-gluten soft wheat. It is used in tender cakes and pastries. Be sure to use cake flour that does not contain any self-rising agents. Store cake flour in a plastic bag inside an airtight container in a dark cool place.
  • Baking powder is a baking additive that releases carbon-dioxide gas which helps bread doughs and other items rise. Over time, baking powder loses its effectiveness. While you can find large containers in stores, it's best to buy small containers. Store them tightly covered in a cool, dry place.
  • Baking soda is also a baking additive, but it works by reacting with acidic foods, such as lemon juice or molasses, to help bread doughs and other items rise.
  • Granulated sugar is the most common form of sugar produced. It is created from either refined cane or beet sugar. Store sugar in a tightly covered airtight container. Sugar can stay in a pantry for a long time, which makes it useful for using in canning and preserving.
  • Superfine sugar is granulated sugar that has been finely ground. Because it dissolves quickly, it is most often used in baked goods and icings.
  • Confectioners' sugar is granulated sugar that has been ground into powder form. It is generally used in uncooked foods and is most often an ingredient in uncooked icings. Confectioners' sugar generally has a "10x" or "3x" descriptor, referring to the number of times the sugar has been sifted before packaging.
  • Light brown and dark brown sugar are two types of white sugar that contain molasses. The lighter the sugar, the more delicate it will be in flavor. Light brown sugar contains about 8 percent molasses and 92 percent granulated sugar. This ratio of molasses to sugar enables light-brown sugar to caramelize sooner than dark-brown sugar at low temperatures. Dark-brown sugar contains a higher molasses content and tends to burn faster during cooking. Brown sugars will harden if they are exposed to air, so store both types tightly in an airtight container.
  • Dutch-process cocoa has a richer flavor and darker color than regular cocoa, resulting from the addition of an alkali that neutralizes the cocoa's natural acidity. Store cocoa in an airtight container in a dark, cool place.
  • Chocolate varieties include semisweet, bittersweet, milk chocolate and white chocolate. Have all types available for different uses.
  • Walnuts can be purchased both shelled and unshelled. When buying shelled, look for walnuts with no holes or cracks in the shells. These should be stored in a cool, dry place for up to three months. Unshelled walnuts should be kept in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container for up to six months. Discard nuts older than these dates, as they most likely will have become rancid.
  • Almonds should be stored away from direct sunlight in a tightly covered, airtight container. Almonds can also be purchased both shelled and unshelled. Shelled almonds can be stored in an airtight container up to six months, but shelled almonds should be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container also up to six months.
  • Pecans that are unshelled can be stored at room temperature for up to three months. Shelled pecans tend to absorb odors when placed around other foods, so store them separately in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to six months.
  • Hazelnuts are perishable nuts. Since shelled hazelnuts will dry out very quickly, they should be used immediately. Unshelled hazelnuts can be kept at room temperature in an airtight container for up to three weeks. Shelled hazelnuts should be refrigerated for up to three months in an airtight container.
  • Vanilla beans are the seed pods of the orchid Vanilla planifolia, one of 20,000 varieties of orchids that bear edible seed pods. The most common types of vanilla beans originate from Madagascar, Mexico and Tahiti. Tahitian beans are the most flavorful.
  • Vanilla extract is a sweet liquid formed from the infusion of vanilla beans in a mixture of water and alcohol. The resulting mixture is allowed to age for several months, intensifying in flavor. Keep vanilla extract covered in a cool, dry, dark place. Avoid using imitation vanilla extract, as it does not yield the same flavor as pure vanilla extract.
  • Cinnamon is the inner bark extracted from an evergreen tree native to the tropics. The bark is harvested from the tree and dried. Cinnamon is sold both as sticks or ground into powder.
  • Unsalted butter is the best butter to use for baking. This type of butter should be stored in the freezer for long-term storage. The American Dairy Association recommends keeping unsalted butter no longer than two weeks in the refrigerator.
  • Parchment paper is a non-stick, unwaxed paper that is excellent for lining baking sheets when baking cookies. Parchment paper not only ensures that cookies won't stick to the baking pan but also eliminates the need for greasing the pan.

3 Soups and Soup #4

Submitted By: Parmalee Taff

Make sure you have a dozen quart canning jars on hand for storing soups.  Make three soups, store in quart jars and if you like, make Soup #4 by combining some of all three together.


Vegetable Soup

Toss with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and roast every favorite vegetable 45 min. at 350. Add cooked veggies to either vegetable or chicken broth and simmer.  Season and salt to taste.


Black Bean with Ham Soup

Soak a quart jar of black beans all day or night, rinse and add chicken broth.  Meanwhile simmer in water a hamhock and ham several hours until the ham is falling off the bone and you can scrape out the marrow into the soup.  Cool and skim off fat.  Combine beans, ham juice and extra water or chicken broth as needed and cook until beans are soft.  I like to take out a cup or two to run through the blender, then add back for thickening.  Saute a whole minced onion and add it and the ham to pot.  Season and salt to taste. I use a teaspoon each of curry and chipotle pepper.


Butternut Squash Soup

Bake two butternut squashes at 350 on a cookie sheet for about an hour or more depending on size.  Be sure to stab them so they can vent without exploding. Bake 3-4 apples also.  Peel and boil 4-5 yukon or white potatoes.  Cut out the seeds and combine squash, apples, potatoes, a minced onion sauteed in olive oil and vegetable or chicken broth.  Simmer until well blended.  Then, take your hand blender and mash the lumps into mush.  Season with a little nutmeg and cinnamon.


Soup #4

Add equal parts of all three together. Yum!

Tips for Canning with Children

Submitted By: Emily Paster

Printable Version

1. Decide what to make together. Look through a cookbook on canning and preserving with your child. Recipes for jams and pickles tend to be short and sweet and within the range of even a young reader. A cookbook with pictures does not hurt either! My daughter enjoys poring over the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which does have some nice illustrations. Mark some recipes that you look interesting to you and your child. It may be an obvious point, but your child will be more invested in the project if he or she has some ownership over it.

2. Take your child to gather, or buy, the food you want to preserve. In general, you want to preserve the freshest fruits and vegetables. That means using what is in season and, where possible, using local produce. If you are not growing your own produce, and your child is old enough, consider finding a good pick-your-own farm. Imagine the sense of accomplishment that comes from making jam out of fruit you picked yourself! Alternatively, take your child on an expedition to the local farmers' market. In many communities, the farmers' market is a community gathering place. Our town's market, for example, has live music and freshly made doughnuts, making it a fun Saturday morning outing. By coming to the market regularly, my children are learning that their favorite fruits have a limited growing season, despite what they see in the supermarkets. One week the cherries are at the farmers' market; the next week they are not. Learning this important lesson helps today's children understand why our ancestors needed to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables, and why it is meaningful to do so even today.

3. Be patient! There is a lot of prep work involved in making jams and pickles. Green beans need to be snapped; berries need to be crushed; cherries need to be pitted. These are terrific chores to hand off to, or do with, your child. Give them clear instructions, but let them do it themselves and don't micro-manage. Just be sure to build in extra time. They will take longer to do these tasks than you would. (Also, do check their work, surreptitiously, if you have to. I found plenty of pits in the cherries my daughter had allegedly pitted.)

4. Be safe. Obviously, there are many aspects of the canning process that are not suitable for young children. You are working with very hot liquids, for one. I let my daughter stand on a kitchen chair and stir the jam while it is cooking, but I am very, very careful about it. I make sure she has a long spoon and wears an oven mitt. Most importantly, I stand next to her the whole time. This is not the moment to take a phone call or do the dishes. And when the fruit starts to boil, I move her back and take over. I also fill the jars and process them by myself with my daughter watching from a safe distance.

5. Get creative! Come up with silly names for your goodies. Have your child decorate the labels. Personalization is a big part of the fun of making something yourself.

6. Acknowledge your child's contribution. When I decide to give someone a jar of our jam, I let my daughter choose which kind, and I let her present the gift. If I am talking to someone about canning, I always mention how much my daughter helps me and let her overhear me. This will make young child glow with pride. (Older children will still feel proud, even if they don't let you see it.)

7. Keep cooking together all year long!

CAA Contributor Emily Paster is a passionate home cook and novice canner who lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children. You can find her here on Twitter.


Dinner Co-ops

This is a fun easy way to share the work of getting a homeade meal on the table every night. Get together with 4 or 5 friends. Have each person pick a nite to cook dinner. When it is your turn, you make something simple and healthy to feed each family. Prior to the dinner hour, you can drop off meals at each house or they can pick them up. It helps to coordinate each month what each family will be cooking so there are no repeats. This is a great way to cook only once a week. It may seem overwhelming the first time but it really is not that much more work to make the same meal for more people.

Cook Twice as Much

When you are making lasagna, enchiladas, casseroles or other items that freeze well - cook an extra pan and freeze it. You only have to make the mess once and then you have something to pull out of the freezer on a night you don't want to cook. Pair it with a fresh salad or vegetable and voila, instant dinner.


Once you have children, it can seem overwhelming to have other families over for dinner. If you have a playgroup or group of friends you would like to see on a regular basis, start a dinner group.

Meet once a month. Have each family pick a night to host. Keep the meal simple for the kids and then have an art activity or video ready for the kids while the adults eat. The host can do the whole meal or plan a menu and have everyone bring a dish. One month, you may even decide to order take-out from a fun restaurant.

During the summer when nobody feels like cooking, have everyone prepare a dish or bring a picnic or takeout and meet at the beach, park or rose gardens for an early dinner. The kids can run around and burn off some energy before dinner and nobody has to worry about clean-up.

Mom's Cooking Group

It can be stressful as a mom to come up with 7 dinners a week when you have children underfoot, carpools, volunteer duties or work. Don't cook by yourself, get a small group of women and set a date to meet once every 2 weeks and cook together. This will give you a couple meals that are ready to go each week. Choose other moms that will be as committed to this group.

You can rotate kitchens or meet at the same house every time. Decide on several dishes so that you can freeze a couple of them. Choose main dishes that can be modified for each family so that it includes things that each family likes.

Shop the day before either as a group or have this person rotate and then everyone can split the cost. Make sure to get enough ingredients to cover the number of families you are feeding.

On cooking day, turn on fun music, pour a glass of wine, and have fun. Each person can take a dish to prepare or you can work as a group with each person doing a step until that dish is completed. Then you can move on to the next one. Purchase disposable tin pans and ziploc bags for transporting the meals back home. You will go home with something for dinner and several others that can be frozen and pulled out as you need them.

Cooking Parties

Find the latest rage in your town... These are commercial kitchens set up with everything you need to prepare up to 12 meals that serve 4-6 people. You freeze them and pull them out as you need them.

Go from station to station and assemble the the pre-cut ingredients for your entrées and put them into pans or Ziploc bags.

The best part of this is that you can have fun with your friends at the same time. You can even set-up parties and baby showers. You don't have to worry about any clean up and the prices are reasonable.

After you get home, you stick it all in the freezer and each container has directions on how to cook it and you just pull it out on the nights you don't want to cook.

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