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by Sarah Steimer

This summer I’ve frozen raspberries, blueberries and strawberries.

This time of year I tend to go a little overboard on the summer berries. I go to two farmer’s markets each week and somehow get more berries than I could possibly eat before the fruit goes bad. The best solution to the quick-aging berry? Freeze it. This way, you save yourself from having to throw out food — which is like throwing out money. Freezing berries now also means you can use your own, local fruit in the dead of winter rather than buying strawberries by way of Mexico at the grocery store.

Possible berries to freeze:

  • blackberries
  • blueberries
  • cherries (may want to pit them first)
  • cranberries (fall)
  • raspberries
  • strawberries (hulled)

For the sake of this how-to I’ll focus on raspberries and blueberries, two of the easier berries to freeze.

Step 1:

Rinse and pick.

Rinse the berries in a colander under cool, lightly streaming water. Do not turn the water on very hard as the berries are delicate and can bruise. Pick out any sad berries or stems that made it past the farmer’s eye.

Step 2:

At ease, raspberries.

Place one or two paper towels on a cooling rack. Gently shake the berries in the colander to remove as much excess water as possible. Transfer the berries to the towels using your hands — do not pour the fruit directly from the colander as it will dump extra water on the towels. Arrange the berries in a single layer. Fruit such as blueberries and strawberries can be arranged on the racks at random, but I like to sit raspberries and blackberries upside down (as pictured above), so their insides have a chance to drip-dry. It takes a little more time, but will save you from having tiny icicles inside the berries later.

The berries should dry completely (or close to it) for about an hour or so on the counter.

Why make sure the berries are totally dry? Because if you toss them into a bag while they are still wet, you wind up with an icy block of fruit. Using this drying method, it will allow you to grab a cup of frozen fruit without having to thaw the entire bag.

Step 3:

Semi-frozen blueberries on a baking sheet.

Once the berries have dried fully, place them on a clean baking sheet in a single layer.

I also found it helpful to set the raspberries on end even while they froze. Raspberries tend to stay a little more soggy than blueberries, so the less they touch one another, the better.

Freeze for 1-2 hours, or until the berries are relatively hard to the touch.

Step 4:

Bagged and ready.

Label freezer bags with the date and fill ’em up! Berries can stay in the freezer for a very long time because they contain a high amount of sugar. From what I read online, some people have used frozen berries up to four years after freezing them. Of course, I would suggest using them within a year, that way you can freeze a fresh new round next season.

To thaw the berries, either leave them out at room temperature or in the refrigerator over night. Some recipes, such as blueberry muffins, actually work without ever needing to thaw the berries at all. Frozen berries also make excellent smoothies because they create an icy texture when blended with yogurt and other ingredients — no extra ice necessary.

If you have any additional questions about freezing berries — or other foods — leave a comment below!

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by Sarah Steimer

The wild and wonderful world of my nonperishables, cooking tools and various kitchen odds and ends.

So Caitlin had some killer before and after photos for her refrigerator post, but I have no “before” pictures.  I got to start entirely from scratch because I recently moved to a new neighborhood in Chicago! But trust me, this was quite the challenge. My previous pantry looked nothing like this at all, so it took some serious brainstorming to get everything in place.

Unlike refrigerators, pantries are a lot more apt to vary from home to home, so I’ll try to avoid too many tips that are unique to a certain style of kitchen closet.

I look so much more organized than I feel.

Let’s start with the foodstuffs.

  1. As best illustrated by my oils and vinegars corner, try to keep like items grouped together. This is just a simple trick so when you reach out aimlessly with your hand, you at least have some general direction to head in. Using this same thought process, remember that accessibility comes first: Don’t worry about organizing by height, organize by how often you use the item.
  2. Save those extra shoe boxes or baskets! We all have lots of items in our pantries that are half-used and and wrapped in rubber bands or twisties. There is no easy way to stack or file these. Toss them into a box or basket so you can avoid a loose clutter that falls every time you reach for something. You can also store your extra twist ties and rubber bands for the next half-used bag of chocolate chips.
  3. Stack your cans! Canned goods are so great. They take forever to expire and they can be stacked up like (slightly less stable) Legos.
  4. Remember those container tips? Here’s where it really comes together. Storing you bulk ingredients in a few nice jars truly saves space and makes your pantry look crisp.

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Next up: Let’s accept that sometimes we need to add a little something to make storage easier. The shelves that already exist in your pantry just don’t always cut it. So add some shelves, some cubby holes or a few hooks.

I don't love Ikea all the time, but their quaint (and cheap) little cubby options are just what you need every now and again.

  1. My pantry already had hooks in it, but it would definitely be worth adding some yourself if you have the room. These certainly aren’t all of my pots and pans, but they are the ones I grab the most often. The rest I keep under the sink. On the opposite side of my pantry (see the smaller picture below) I also have a coat hook where I hang my apron and oven mitts. You want to have easy access to those mitts when you need to grab a hot pan FAST.
  2. It’s so easy to find a nice, solid pitcher or other ceramic container at a thrift store – or a new container for cheap as well. You want to be able to see what cooking tools you have without having to root around for them. I have another similar pitcher next to my workspace in the kitchen for the tools I use most often. I keep my knives in a drawer, though. You don’t want sharp objects in anything that could be tipped over.

    Special thanks to Anna for the oven mitts and hot pads and to my mom for the apron.

  3. I haven’t quite mastered my spice center, as it is not as visible as I would like. But I do try to keep the spices I use the most up front and at eye level or a little below. You don’t want spices above your head as they usually come in glass containers.
  4. This is my dishtowel, napkin and other assorted cloth center. Don’t store you towels with food or cookware. Keep them separate so they remain sanitary.

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Last, but not least, we have the bulkier items. When I started this guide I made a point to look around at other websites’ organization guides. Well, I don’t know where they keep their cooking appliances, but I don’t have a special hidden spot, I have space on the floor. Because I don’t own a house, I can be pretty sure that I’ll be moving again one day, so I don’t really like to throw away the boxes my appliances come in. It really makes moving a LOT easier when you keep those boxes. And guess what – it makes storage easier, too. If you look back at my top picture, I keep most of my appliances that I don’t use as often on the top, hard-to-reach shelf.

Get a microwave cart! They offer great extra storage.

  1. Keep your snacks in a nice basket. Not only does it organize them away from the rest of your food, but it can be easily picked up and carted off to your guests in the living room. Or it just makes it easier for you to hide it from your roommate or yourself.
  2. Some like to store their bakeware (cookie sheets, muffin tins, etc.) in the oven or in the oven’s separate broiler. Mine fit pretty cozily under the microwave. I guess this isn’t really a tip, is it…
  3. I have large appliances and no lovely spot on the counter to store them. Well, keep it in the box, on the floor. No one will judge you, I promise. Keep the items you use the most on top of their boxes if you want to access them faster. If the sight of the boxes really bother you, try sectioning them off behind a colorful curtain.

Looking for more cleaning tips and tricks? Check out our full Spring Cleaning guide here.

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by Sarah Steimer

A guide on containers in the kitchen can get pretty broad, so I'm focusing on some of the best containers to use for scratch ingredients. From left: all-purpose flour, coriander, dill, dried chilis and ground coffee.

One of the best things about a modern grocery store is that almost all food comes in its own nice, neat container that is pre-labeled and sealed. So why take the time to move your ingredients from their convenient packaging to an entirely different container? Well, I can think of a few reasons: Visual appeal, freshness and reuse.

One common thread you’ll find for most of my tips is that I’ve chosen glass containers. This is for a number of reasons, but most importantly for health. There has been a lot of publicity in recent years regarding bisphenol A, or BPA. This chemical is found in plastics and is banned in some cases in various countries and a few states, particularly for its use in baby bottles and other child-related items. The FDA very recently decided not to ban the chemical’s use in the U.S.

There’s no conclusive evidence of BPA’s effects on the human body, but it has been shown to act like the sex hormone estrogen and lead to adverse developmental effects in animal models such as mice.

I haven’t made a full switch to glass, as many of my leftovers find themselves in plastic containers. I’m trying to start with food items that spend the longest amount of time in one container: Scratch ingredients such as flour, coffee and spices.

Visual appeal: I love seeing my containers all lined up and ready to go in the pantry. They look far more inviting in uniform jars instead of haphazardly squished in the bags they came in.

So maybe visual appeal is the weakest argument for choosing new containers – but it’s valid nonetheless!

Many people like to keep their flour and sugar containers out on the counter or, if you’re like me, you may have an open pantry that just about anyone can peek into. If you take the time to make sure your dish towels match you kitchen’s decor, why not make sure your containers do as well?

There are lots of stores that sell attractive and cheap bulk food containers. My jars are from World Market, but the Container Store and Ikea also have great options. If your kitchen has a retro look, try using old-school Ball jars. If you have a specific color scheme you can find matching lids for your containers.

This can even be taken a step further with a little customization. I took the easy route with my labels (also from World Market), but I’ve seen some really cool ideas for painting labels jars or printing custom decals in cool fonts.

Freshness: Most containers that food is packed in do not guarantee freshness, so it's important to keep that in mind when deciding what food items could use a new container.

Buying in bulk is great, but storing all those items in the bags you shoveled them into at the store isn’t so wonderful. Many bulk items such as spices, flours and nuts/dried fruit will store much better in an air-tight container.

Some of the best containers to keep food fresh in have a rubber seal at the closure point. The lids usually pop on or have clamp lids (such as the ones shown). These sorts of containers are especially helpful for spices that you want to access quickly without shuffling through little zip-lock containers.

Coffee is a great example of an item that should be in a well-sealed container for freshness, and it’s also another argument for using glass. If you guy your coffee by the bag, it’s pretty obvious that it won’t stay fresh because it’s nearly impossible to reseal a bag once it’s open. Keeping coffee in a tin or plastic container can also change the way the coffee tastes. A well-sealed, glass container is the route to go for fresh coffee – just make sure that if you use clear glass that it does not receive any direct sunlight.

Don’t pass up containers that seal well but maybe are not the ideal material. Use these to store smaller containers! In the picture above, I used an old Teavana tin that has a good seal on it, which is meant for keeping for tea fresh. Instead, reused it for my extra packages of spices. This takes us right to the next tip…

Reuse: Plastic containers are more commonly reused, mainly because most food is sold this way. When you have the option, plan ahead and choose the glass jar of mayo instead of the plastic jar.

A chance to recycle is alway welcome, so I like to keep a lookout for glass containers that can be reused.

In the picture above, I show two really great examples of glass containers that can be saved for something else: a canning jar and a simple glass jar with a screw-on lid. I love getting homemade preserves, which usually come in containers with a metal band and a rubber ring to seal the product, making them perfect for keeping other items fresh.

As with any container you reuse, make sure to wash it well. It sort of goes without saying, but the most important part is to get into any of those nooks and crannies in the lids with a brush so you don’t contaminate the next food item.

Some of the best items to store in these reused jars are leftover canned goods. In the picture above, I used a canning jar to hold extra chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. This is usually sold in a can that cannot be resealed after use, and I certainly didn’t want to throw away perfectly good food.

Looking for more cleaning tips and tricks? Check out our full Spring Cleaning guide here.

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by Caitlin Saniga

You probably already have many of these items in your pantry. What are you waiting for? Try out some of these tips! (All of these photos enlarge when you click on them, by the way.)

One of the best parts of spring is prying open the windows and letting the sun in. But boy, that sure shines a light on all of the cleaning you neglected during the winter.

This year I vowed to tackle as many cleaning tasks with natural cleaners as I could. I started in the kitchen with *five* simple pantry staples that double as cleaning products, and I’m amazed with the success I’ve had. Some of these methods work way better than the store-bought products I’ve tried. And I can’t help but breathe a sigh of satisfaction (rather than choke on bleach fumes) when I see the results.

Have you cleaned with these items before? I tried to list the tips I thought would be most helpful in the kitchen, but I’m well aware that this list is by no means comprehensive. What natural methods have you had success with?

The refresher Lemons' citrus fragrance is invigorating and refreshing, and the acidic fruit can act as an antibacterial and antiseptic cleaner.

Use half a lemon with salt to scrub away stains on cutting boards. The juice will also erase garlic and onion odors.

  • Lemon rinds can be run through the garbage disposal to freshen a stinky drain. Hot water mixed with lemon juice can deodorize any drain.
  • Clean copper-bottomed pots and pans with the juice from a lemon half. Dip the open side of the lemon in salt, and scrub away spots. Add more salt as you go. Rinse the pots with water before letting them dry.
  • To brighten white tea towels and cloth napkins, soak them in a solution of lemon juice and water. Set them out to dry in the sun. The lemon juice acts as a bleaching agent.
  • Rub lemon juice into the stains on a cutting board. Let it sit until the stains disappear. Rinse the juice away with water. The lemon juice will also disinfect the board.
  • To clean up stained plastic containers, squeeze lemon juice in the container with a bit of baking soda. Use the lemon as a tool to scrub the stain. For stubborn stains, let the mixture sit on the stains overnight, and scrub again the next day.

The polisher Olive oil is a natural moisturizer, and just a few drops can make a variety of surfaces gleam.

  • Combine 1 tablespoon of olive oil with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to make a wood furniture polish. Use a rag to buff the liquid onto wooden surfaces.
  • Rub a rag with olive oil on stainless steel and brass surfaces to prevent tarnish, streaks and corrosion.
  • After washing a wooden cutting board in soap and water, let it dry. Once it’s dry, wipe it down with some olive oil to keep it from drying out.
  • Rub olive oil on your measuring utensils to keep sticky substances (honeys, peanut butter and syrups) from sticking.
  • Dab a little bit of olive oil on a towel and lightly wipe knife blades to preserve them.
  • Season a cast iron skillet by rubbing a faint amount of olive oil all over the pan’s surface and letting it sit in 350-degree oven for an hour.

The eraser Baking soda is a pH neutralizer and can zap away stains and odors. The powder is mildly abrasive and works wonders on troublesome spots.

One of my favorite ways to use baking soda is to scour away stains on my stove. I recommend wearing gloves when cleaning with baking soda.

  • Place a dish of baking soda in the fridge and freezer to neutralize smelly odors.
  • Use a sponge and some baking soda to scrub away coffee and tea stains on mugs.
  • Unclog a stopped-up drain by running a solution of warm water and baking soda down the garbage disposal.
  • Keep a box of baking soda near the stove in case of a grease fire. Throwing baking soda on such a fire is safer and more effective than attempting to extinguish it with water, which can further agitate it.
  • For pots with food burned to the bottom, sprinkle the dirty area with baking soda and add hot water. Let the pot soak overnight before attempting to scrub again. The baking soda will loosen the food.
  • To remove grease stains from towels and napkins, treat them with a paste of baking soda and water before running them through the washing machine.
  • Use a paste of baking soda and water to scour away burned-on crud from stovetop surfaces. Use a wet rag to mop away leftover residue.

The absorber Cornstarch is known for its ability to absorb grease and oils.

  • Remove grease spatters from appliances and walls by sprinkling a rag with cornstarch. Gently rub the grease spot until it’s gone.
  • Use a paste of cornstarch and water to polish good silverware. Let it dry before rubbing it away to reveal sparkling utensils.
  • To make a great glass cleaner, mix 4 cups of water with 1/2 cup of cornstarch and pour it into a spray bottle. Mist your windows with the solution and wipe it away for glistening results.

The dissolver White distilled vinegar is highly acidic and prized for its ability to break down stains and odors.

I don't use my microwave very often, so it doesn't get terribly dirty. But I was impressed by how swiftly I could wipe away stains after letting the vinegar-water heat up. I felt like I was in one of those cleaning product commercials!

  • Remove price tags and other sticky substances from walls and dishes by sponging vinegar over them several times. Wait about 15 minutes before rubbing away the substance with a damp rag.
  • Another great glass cleaner can be made by mixing 2 teaspoons of vinegar with 1 liter of warm water.
  • Clean the microwave by bringing a combination of 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in the microwave. Vapors will loosen crusty food so that it can be wiped away with a sponge, and odors will vanish.
  • For glassware that has lost its luster, soak a cloth in vinegar and drape it around the inside and outside of the glass. Rinse it with warm water after letting it sit for 1/2 hour.
  • Set out a dish of white vinegar to get rid of pesky fruit flies.
  • Drench a rag in vinegar and use it to wipe away greasy grime on top of the fridge.
  • Eliminate calcium deposits on faucets by soaking a rag in vinegar and tightly wrapping the problem area. Let it sit overnight before wiping the crud away with a clean rag.

Looking for more cleaning tips and tricks? Check out our full Spring Cleaning guide here.

 

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by Sarah Steimer and Caitlin Saniga

Vodpod videos no longer available.

There are only five more days until Hanukkah and 10 more days until Christmas, and according to a few informal surveys – a lot of people out there aren’t ready yet.

So on top of offering recipes for your holiday parties and charitable ideas for your yearly donation, we’ve also kindly put together a list of great holiday gifts for the food love in your life – whether he or she likes to entertain, is a seasoned pro or is just getting started.

Small kitchen appliance

  • Crock-Pot slow cooker
    • You really, truly cannot go wrong with a slow cooker. It’s so simple to use and does all the work for you. A slow-cooker can make anything from chili to dessert, or just simply keep your punch warm at a party. —S
  • Cuisinart 7-cup food processor
    • I’ve had my eye on this mid-size food processor for quite some time. Right now I use a blender to do many tasks, but a food processor opens up so many more possibilities! It can chop nuts, cut up meat, mix ingredients for bread dough, churn out pesto, etc. Consumer reviews say this machine does great work for the price and size. —C

Everyday cooking tool

  • Wooden spoon set
    • I think the safest bet for any type of pan is to use a wooden spoon instead of any metal or plastic spatula. It’s one of the handiest utensils I own and you’ll never burn your hand because you left your wooden spoon on a hot surface. I wouldn’t imagine, at least. —S
  • Glass citrus juicer
    • My mom has one, and now that I’m living on my own, it would be nice to have one, too. Citrus juicers come in a number of shapes and sizes (My current juicer is a fork!), but I like using glass because it is easy to clean. And if it chips or dings, it only adds to the character of the piece. —C

Entertaining item

  • Cork trivet set
    • Cork trivets are great to have around if you ever serve food straight from the oven or the stove. Instead of rooting around for a kitchen towel that will match your table scape or putting a bulky cooling rack on the table, place a few cork trivets underneath your hot pots and pans. The cork is simple enough that it can match almost anything. —S
  • Stemless wine glasses
    • I like this set because it include glasses for white (skinny) and red (fat) wines. And they have the potential to hold so many things other than wine: juices, iced coffee, layered salads, layered pudding desserts, ice cream sundaes, even votives or flowers. —C

Cookbooks

  • “Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets” by Deborah Madison
    • The recipes in this cookbook are extremely simple, as they should be when you feature seasonal foods. It’s a fantastic reference for any time of the year, especially when you’re stumped in the winter months or grab an odd vegetable at the farmer’s market on a whim. Madison also incorporates stories from markets she’s visited around the country. —S
  • “The Bon Appetit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh” by Barbara Fairchild
    • My three favorite words! I’ve cooked recipes from the magazine, and while they’re always delicious, they’re not always the simplest or quickest to prepare. I’ve tried a few recipes from the cookbook, and I can definitely tell that “fast” is emphasized in most of the dishes, as many can be prepared in 30 minutes or less (so they say!). —C

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Lots of churches, workplaces, schools and stores offer a food drive. Grab a few extra canned goods or other nonperishables next time you're at the grocery store and drop them off at a trustworthy food drive.

Thanksgiving is over and we’re driving full-force into the holiday season. Many of us struggle with one or two people on our gift list who seem to have everything, but this is also the perfect time to consider those who have nothing.

Lots of worthy organizations are looking for help this year, but we have focused on a handful of food-related nonprofits for your consideration. There are options for monetary donations, material donations and volunteer time.

If there are any other groups you think are noteworthy, please share it with us in the comments section!

Monetary donations

  • Share Our Stength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign
    • The national organization works to end childhood hunger in the U.S. through public-private partnerships, providing meals, educating the public and building awareness.
    • Give by Dec. 31 and your gift will be matched.
  • Food Research and Action Center
    • The organization aims to improve public policies to end hunger and undernutrition in the U.S.
  • Meals on Wheels
    • The oldest and largest national organization composed of and representing local, community-based senior nutrition programs in all 50 states, its programs provide well over one million meals to seniors each day.
  • Feeding America
    • The nonprofit’s mission is to feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and through community engagement.
  • Community Food Security Coalition
    • CFSC works to catalyze food systems that are healthy, sustainable, just and democratic by building community voice and capacity for change.

      Looking for a food pantry? Try a locator website such as FoodPantries.org. | Photo courtesy of FoodPantries.org

Non-monetary donations

Volunteer opportunities

Already have a nonprofit in mind? Make sure you can trust it! The Better Business Bureau offers a special section for charities and donors.
Happy giving!

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by Caitlin Saniga

It's just about the end of herb season, and I'm getting ready to put my bunch to bed.

Did you grow herbs this summer? This was the first time I tried. I started most of my plants from seeds, watered them every day, rotated their planters in the sunlight and did my best to keep the pests away. It was so wonderful to watch my diligence pay off. Most of the herbs grew into huge plants, with many that flowered. Here's some purple sage that did really well at the beginning of the summer.

It was so convenient to grab whichever herbs I needed for dinner right from the planters on my front porch. I used lots of this thyme, and basil, cilantro, oregano and dill. Now I swear by using fresh herbs when possible. Fresh is the best!

Did any of your plants flower and then dry up like this basil plant? That's great! It means you can harvest the seeds to plant next year. That's what I'm doing. It's so simple! You just snip off the dry flowers and pinch the base to release the tiny black seeds. Each basil flower holds about four seeds.

But how will you keep track of those baby seeds until next year? I got thrifty and used some leftover tea envelopes. I reinforced the seams of the envelope with tape and labeled it before placing the seeds inside. Lipton envelopes worked nicely because they have a foldover flap.

And I'm using a magnet to keep the packets of seeds on the fridge until next year. Dear guardian angel Lindsay Lohan, please keep my basil safe until next year, you crazy, weak magnet, you.

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