Make Your Own Pumpkin Spice Blend

The flavours of pumpkin pie are all the rage during the autumn months. You see everything from pumpkin spice lattes to pumpkin chai tea—even pumpkin spice Oreo cookies! IT seems as if pumpkin spice is everywhere as soon as fall hits.

But how do you get this spice? How do you bring the pumpkin into your home besides spending a fortune on the specialty products? Sure, you can buy prepackaged pumpkin pie spice if you want, but then you have no control! If you want to adjust the spices in your pumpkin pie (or anything else you want to add this flavour too) you have come to the right place!

Commercial pumpkin pie spice will vary based on the manufacturer, and thus so will your homemade blends. However, the common individuals spices you find in pumpkin pie spice are cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, allspice, ground cloves, and occasionally mace.

Making your own pumpkin pie spice allows you to bring out one of the specific spices more strongly, or eliminate one you really cannot stand if you so desire.

The fact that you have the control means there is not a hard and fast rule about how much of each spice you need in your pumpkin spice blend. However, our recommended basic recipe looks like this:

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons nutmeg

1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon mace (optional)

You can adjust these according to your taste and recipe requirements.

Even though buying a commercial pumpkin pie spice is convenient, making your own is not only far more economical, but also quite a bit more delicious. When you purchase all the individual spices you need there is some expense, but then you can mix your pumpkin spice regularly and even have some individuals spices left over, which you can then use in other recipes! With this and the taste in mind, you will never go back to commercial blends once you make your own pumpkin spice once!

3 Tips For Gluten-Free Eating

Do you have to eliminate gluten from your diet because of an allergy? Are you trying to improve your diet and have decided cutting back or eliminating gluten is a good place to start? Regardless of why you want to go gluten-free, it is very important to take gluten-free eating seriously. To that end, here are three tips for you to consider:

Read The Labels

When you are in the grocery store, it is important to read the labels on everything you buy. Sometimes it is clear what has gluten, but in some cases things may surprise you. Thus, especially if you are avoiding gluten because of an allergy, you should read the labels looking for references indicating the product may have even trace amounts of gluten.

Consult A Professional

Sometimes people make a lot of mistakes with their diet when they are trying to eat gluten-free. In many instances, they overload on the gluten-free versions of their favourite things (e.g. spaghetti). However, this is a big mistakes. We advise you to connect with a health professional who knows about the specific requirement people need each day with their diets and can help advise you on how to build your own gluten-free diet. They will help ensure your diet remains balanced, healthy, and that you are getting all of the vitamins and nutrients you need.

Experiment

Since you are gluten-free, there is a lot not available to you. There are, however, many options for gluten-free eating! Make a list of the foods you know do not contain gluten. When in doubt, experiment with new fruits and vegetables, along with any other new products you stumble across. Try something new each week to expand your palate. What you discover may actually surprise you in the end! Just be sure to keep the other tips we’ve discussed in this post so you can remain healthy with your gluten-free diet.

How To Make Jam

Have you ever purchased one of those jars of jam at the grocery store? Ever wondered if you would be able to make your own? The good news is you can! Some people think making jam is quite difficult, but the truth is making jam is quite easy to do! All you need is time and the tools. So here’s how:

Gather Your Supplies

The first thing you need to do in order to make jam is to have all of the necessary supplies. Sometimes the specifics will vary based on the exact jam you want to make, but in general you will need the following: a selection of canning jars, a large pot, a deep skillet, as well as the ingredients for the jam. A basic jam recipe includes lemon juice, sugar, pectin, and the fruit of choice (e.g. raspberries). The fruit can obviously change, but the other ingredients tend to remain the same.

Work With The Fruit

You need to cut the fruit into small pieces and put them into a large, hot skillet. Gently try crushing the fruit to help make smooth jam, and then add in your lemon juice. Once things have come to a rolling boil, you can add your sugar and pectin. The exact ratio of ingredients will depend on how much jam you want to make, as well as the specific brand of pectin (they will have their own recommended instructions).

Remember The Jars

Before you get ready to pour your jam into the jars, you need to make sure you have sterilized the jars and their lids. The easiest way to do this is to put the jars and lids into a large pot of boiling water. Generally, boil the jars for 15 minutes. Dry them off with a kitchen towel before spooning in your jam.

2 Tips For Canning Food

In addition to freezing food and reheating later, canning some of the ingredients you need is a great way of preserving them for later. You can save tomatoes for a sauce, turn cucumbers into pickles—almost anything you can think of, you can figure out how to can it! But how exactly do you can everything properly? We have two key tips here you need to consider when canning food, detailed below:

Sterilize Everything

When you have your Mason jars and other cans, you need to ensure you sterilize them very well—normally people will do this with boiling water. With this method, you need to wash all of the jars and lids in hot water and dish soap. Rinse thoroughly before placing the jars in a pot and covering them with hot water. Bring this water to a boil and keep the jars in the pot, covered, for 15 minutes after you start seeing steam. At this point, turn off the heat and let the jars stay in the hot water. Put the lids into another pot of boiling water and let them stand for five minutes.

Before you fill the jars with your chosen ingredients, you need to put them upside down on a kitchen towel to dry. You need to wait to do this because you should fill the jars while they are still hot.

Listen For The Pop

When you are sealing your jars, you need to make sure it is always done properly—it needs to be airtight every single time. If you don’t seal the jars properly, your food will actually spoil and your time canning will have been completely useless. So how do you know if you are canning your food well and the jars are sealed properly? It’s all in the pop!

You should hear the lid pop when you are closing up the jars. This happens when the contents cool and contract in the jar. You can test the seal after about 12 hours. The easiest way to tell is to press the middle of the lid with your finger—if it springs up when you release your finger, your jar isn’t sealed.

How To Freeze Baked Goods

Sometimes we might want to make sweet treats ahead of time and have to freeze them in order to ensure they are still god when we actually wish to eat them. This is particularly common with preparing for holiday parties and other holiday events. In addition, we may also have leftover baked goods from something. Regardless, it is essential to understand how to properly freeze baked goods if you are truly to enjoy the sweet treats to their full potential once you defrost them! Here’s how:

Cool Completely

Do not put freshly baked items into the freezer. Make sure everything cools completely before you do this. Not following this direction means you might end up with freezer burn or otherwise compromised baked goods! Leave your cakes, bread, muffins, et cetera on cooling racks for a while before you package them up for the freezer.

Eliminate Air

When you package your baked goods, be sure to eliminate as much air as possible with the freezer bags, containers, aluminum foil, et cetera. Air is one of the primary culprits of freezer burn! Always double check when you are wrapping up everything. We also recommend filling containers as much as possible in addition to tight wrapping.

Wrap Twice

Speaking of wrapping, you can give your baked goods a little bit more protection by wrapping them twice. For instance, try wrapping individual muffins in aluminum foil or plastic wrap before putting them in a freezer bag. Doing something like wrapping the muffins individually also helps you only take out a muffin at a time, which means you do not need to defrost the whole batch if you do not wish to! Perfect choice for on the go snacks and breakfasts! All you need to do is unwrap your sweet treat and pop it into the microwave for a few seconds if you are in a hurry—otherwise, let it defrost naturally.

2 Ways To Prevent Freezer Burn

If you have frozen any food before, you will have likely encountered freezer burn at some point. While you can still consume food freezer burn has affected, since it does not mean bacteria has ruined it, the taste will not be what you want it to be. No, freezer burn negatively affects the overall quality of your food—so why risk it? Here are two ways you can help ensure your food remains at its peak condition in your freezer:

Use Proper Containers

The containers you use have a significant influence on how long your food can last in the freezer without encountering freezer burn. In terms of bags, for instance, you need to have actual freezer bags for the best results. You also need to consider how full you will make each container, regardless of whether it is a bag or a solid container. Limiting the empty space, the air, helps prevent the air from causing the freezer burn you hate. With liquids, you want a little extra space since the liquid will expand slightly as it freezes. With solids, however, you just want to fill up a container as much as possible.

In addition, you want to provide extra insulation if you will be storing things for a long period—so try wrapping aluminum foil around your freezer bags! Certain specific items will have their own tricks for preventing freezer burn through packaging as well—with baked good, for example, you want to wrap them in aluminum foil before putting them in a bag.

Cool Food First

The temperature of your food and how fast you cool it has a significant influence over how long you can prevent freezer burn from occurring. You actually want your food to be as cool as possible before putting it in the freezer. Thus, we recommend you put your portioned leftovers in the fridge for a couple hours before you place them into the freezer. The only exception to cooling in the fridge first is if you are trying to freeze things like uncooked chicken, fruit, et cetera. Anything you haven’t heated—especially stuff you were already storing in the freezer—is fine!

4 Tips For Freezing Food

On a busy day, nothing saves time more than pulling out a frozen meal you made before and simply reheating it to enjoy as fast as possible. You can also build up a stockpile of ingredients to make meals in the future. This is especially helpful on your wallet, since you can buy the products when they are on sale and don’t need to shell out the big bucks later on.

All of this means you need to freeze your food. However, sometimes this can go wrong. You might encounter freezer burn and other issues. So what can you do? Here are 4 tips for freezing food to help you out:

Separate Into Portions

If you follow the proper defrosting protocol, you can technically refreeze something if you don’t cook it. However, we do not advise this because its hard to be sure everything went perfectly, and freezing and defrosting multiple times can degrade the quality of the food. Thus, we recommend separating everything into portions. For instance, if you are just cooking for one, only put one chicken breast in a freezer bag. Portion a big meal like lasagna into the size you like to eat for one meal. This dramatically cuts down on food waste!

Write The Date

Make sure you write the date you froze your meal, ingredient, et cetera on the bag or other container. This helps you keep track of everything—even freezing your food won’t make it last forever! You will run into things like freezer burn if you leave food in there for too long. Spoilage can also be a concern, though this is a very long process. More often than not the ultimate freshness will be negatively affected. Dating everything ensures you regularly consume what you have stored.

Use Freezer Bags

Speaking of storing items in the freezer, we highly recommend using freezer bags instead of regular storage bags! Freezer bags are thicker and thus make your food last longer as well as reducing the chances of the food developing freezer burn.

Chill In Fridge First

Though you want to freeze your food quickly, do not put it straight into the freezer after you portion it if it is cooked. Instead, put your food in the fridge to cool first. Putting it in the freezer right away can make the freezer rise in temperature, which can make the other food in there defrost slightly, which can impact the growth of bacteria.

3 Ways To Prevent Cheesecake Cracks

Cheesecake is perhaps one of the most popular rich desserts people make outside of restaurants. The vast majority of people enjoy them, since there are wide ranges of flavours. There is a flavour for just about every taste! However, baking cheesecake can be quite finicky, since there is a fine line between perfectly mixed and overmixed and they are very prone to cracking during or after baking. The good news? Cracks in your cheesecake are simply an aesthetic issue—they do not change the taste. Regardless, if you want to produce a perfect cheesecake without cracks, we have some tips for you:

Remember The Water Bath

Many cheesecake recipes tell you to put it in a water bath—and if the recipe doesn’t, you should still do it. A water bath is your cheesecake’s best friend for preventing cracks. It helps even out the baking process. Uneven baking can cause these cracks to form in the oven! The water bath is also a great way to cool your cheesecake slower, which is the second piece of advice we have on this list for you.

Cool Slowly

The time after your cheesecake comes out of the oven is a critical time for cracks forming—this is where they happen the most often. It has to do with the drop in temperature. A fast drop is a near guarantee of cracks in the top of your cheesecake. Instead, we suggest starting by shutting off your oven and leaving the door open a little bit. You can do this for 10 to 20 minutes before taking your cheesecake out of the oven. At this point, you want it on a cooling rack. Do not flip it or take it off its base though! At most, in another few minutes you should carefully take off the sides of the springform pan. Leave your cheesecake out on the counter for a couple hours before putting it in the fridge.

The key to all of this is to slow down the cooling process as much as possible to help prevent the cheesecake from seizing and forming cracks.

Use A Topping

Okay, so this one is less about preventing the cracks in your cheesecake and more about making it seem as if there are no cracks. Sometimes even if you try everything, your cheesecake will still end up with a crack or two in it. Thankfully, there is an easy way to make it look perfect again! All you need to do is make some kind of topping to cover your cheesecake. This can be a fruit compote, chocolate ganache, et cetera. Either way, it will disguise the cracks!

3 Tips For Cooking For A Crowd

Whether you are hosting a holiday dinner like Thanksgiving or Christmas, or you just happen to be having a large dinner party, there will be times when you will have to cook for lots of people. Cooking for a crowd, unfortunately, can get quite stressful—even overwhelming. Thankfully, we have some sharp tips to help you take control of the situation and pull off cooking for a crowd with minimal stress. Ready? Let’s go!

Go With What You Know

Now is not the time to try a new recipe. Use recipes you have tried many times before and have no mastered. If you know exactly what you are doing, you will be much calmer while you are doing it! Even if the recipes you know are not meant for a larger crowd, it is much easier to make a double batch of something you know how to cook, such as spaghetti sauce, than it is to try a new recipe. This is especially the case when you would have to double a recipe you are not familiar with!

Make Ahead Of Time

Chances are you have to make more than one dish when cooking for a crowd. Do not leave all of this cooking for the day of the event! Where possible, make dishes in advance so you can spread out the pressure. You can also strategically choose dishes to help. For instance, you can prep and entire lasagna the night before, but then put it in the oven before your guests arrive.

In addition to making things less stressful on the day, it also opens up your chances of mingling with the guests instead of being chained to the stove.

Slow Cooker Magic

When it comes to cooking for a crowd, there is nothing easier than using your slow cooker. You can easily feed a decent sized group with one 6 or 7 quart slow cooker!  In addition to making a large quantity of food in one go, slow cooker meals are also easy to make, since you often just have to dump ingredients into the pot and let the slow cooker work its magic. You can set it at the beginning of the day, thus freeing up time throughout the day so you can get one with other things (including other meal prep activities).

 

3 Meals To Cook With Loved Ones

Did you know cooking makes a great group activity? You can cook alone, a lot of people do, but involving other people can boost the fun of the task itself, and promote bonding between those who are cooking. This might be through the discussion they have while cooking, bonding over failed attempts at cooking, et cetera. So what can you cook with your loved ones? What meals lend themselves really well to this? Let’s look at three of them now:

Pizza

Pizza is amazing to cook as a group. You can do homemade crust if you would like, but premade crusts make this even better. It works well if you cook multiple pizzas, where each person can sit at the table and customize their toppings. Common ones to start with include mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, and green pepper. We recommend you ask people what their favourite toppings are so there can be a plethora of choices during the cook.

Tacos or Fajitas

Similar to pizza, tacos and fajitas work well for a group cooking setting since all you really need to do is heat up the shells and/or tortillas. Then it becomes a matter of each individual filling their tacos and fajitas with the toppings and fillings they desire. This normally includes one protein like chicken or ground beef, though it can be just about anything.

Barbeque

When in doubt, have a barbeque! Someone can grill the burgers, hot dogs, et cetera, others can make salads and sides, et cetera. Some of this can be made beforehand at everyone’s own house, but if you want to truly embrace the idea of cooking with loved ones, we recommend doing everything on the day. You have to do this with anything you are actually putting on the grill, so why not include the other parts on the actual day as well?