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Blog Archive for November, 2016

Take it easy with these Thanksgiving dinner cooking tips and time-savers.

Categories: Blog | Posted: November 24, 2016

thanksgivingcooking

It’s coming. That time of year when the family descends on one another for a day-long feeding frenzy. If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, don’t panic. Take it easy with these Thanksgiving cooking tips and time-savers.

  1. Estimate 1 to 1 ½ pounds of turkey per person, to make sure you have enough. Too much never seems to be a problem (sandwiches, pot pie, a la king, soup, and good old casseroles).
  2. Remember that thawing a frozen turkey can take DAYS—about 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds. Do the math, and plan ahead so you’re not scrambling the morning of Thanksgiving—or serving up a turkey-sicle.
  3. In addition to the 12-minute-per-pound cooking time, allow 20 to 30 minutes at the end to let it rest before carving. This extra time lets the juices spread out and provides a moister bird.
  4. While the turkey is waiting to be carved, siphon up the juices and make the gravy. You can make it ahead, if you want, using broth or stock. Then, add the juices and thickener when you take the turkey out of the oven.
  5. Speaking of making gravy, don’t add cornstarch or flour directly into your simmering pot of would-be gravy. This leads to lumps. Instead, dilute the thickening agent in a liquid measuring cup with broth, water, or turkey drippings, to the consistency of a paste. Stir it well and add the thickener to your gravy for a lump-free result.
  6. For the tastiest mashed potatoes, start with the right tater. Yukon Golds give the creamiest texture. Red Bliss potatoes are nice (leave some of the skin on for added color). Russets are good and readily available. White potatoes lack the flavor of these preferred potatoes.
  7. Don’t mash potatoes with a hand-mixer or other electric tool. You’ll end up with a paste-like substance. For fluffy mashed potatoes, use a ricer or hand masher.
  8. Warm the milk a bit before mashing it into your potatoes (20 seconds on high in the microwave). Cold milk will only reduce the temperature of your potatoes.
  9. Pre-made pie crust is great! Why struggle with getting the perfect combination of flour and moisture for your pastry? The name-brand, refrigerated crust adds a flaky, tasty foundation to your pie (the store brand isn’t as good, in my humble opinion). Before rolling it out, let the crust come to room temperature (or thereabouts) on your kitchen counter.
  10. If you’re a pumpkin purist, you probably take the time to roast and puree the mighty gourd. But a very good substitute is pure pumpkin in a can—not to be confused with pumpkin filling.
  11. Be careful about trying a new recipe on the Thanksgiving dinner crowd. Do a trial run ahead of time to make sure you like the result. People don’t often remember their favorite dishes, but they somehow never forget the terrible ones!

How to choose your kitchen backsplash

Categories: Blog | Posted: November 17, 2016

kitchenbacksplashblog

The kitchen backsplash used to be purely functional—protecting splatters, stains, and chips from damaging your wall. With kitchens getting more design attention than ever before, you have more choices for making a splash with your backsplash. In fact, you have more options in materials, color, and style in backsplashes than the countertops themselves.

What will work best for you—your style preferences, kitchen design, budget, and upkeep? Here is a guide to kitchen backsplash choices, so you can weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.

Tile

The increased popularity of decorative kitchen backsplashes has driven manufacturers to provide greater versatility. Porcelain and ceramic tiles are available in colorful patterns, as well as the look of natural stone or wood. You also have a broader range of shapes and sizes when choosing a tile backsplash.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Resistant to heat, water, and scratches
  • Easy to clean
  • Relatively simple to install
  • Chipped tiles are easy to replace
  • Wide variety of colors, designs, sizes, and shapes

Cons:

  • Not resistant to chipping
  • The choice of white tile and grout will get dirty in an active kitchen

Stainless Steel

The polished shine of stainless steel looks great with a modern kitchen and the matching appliances, so it’s a natural choice as a kitchen backsplash. Like your stainless steel appliances, however, it’s not as “stainless” as you might like!

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Heat-resistant
  • Easy to clean with warm water and a soft cloth (and mild dish detergent for greasy areas)

Cons:

  • Not scratch-resistant
  • Dents can’t be repaired (but add character)

Granite

You love it on your kitchen countertop, so why not use granite for your backsplash as well? The uniqueness of each slab make every space a one-of-a-kind. Plus, you can choose from the polished or honed finishes, for the shine or matte look you want.

Pros:

  • Durable
  • All-natural beauty
  • Easy to clean
  • Wide range of colors

Cons:

  • Porous, so requires occasional re-sealing to prevent stains
  • Expensive

Marble

The beauty of this natural stone adds the look of luxury to any room in your home. Whether or not you have a marble countertop in your kitchen, a marble backsplash makes a definite statement.

Pros:

  • Natural beauty
  • One-of-a-kind uniqueness to every slab

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Not stain-resistant
  • Requires regular re-sealing

Polished Plaster

The texture of a polished plaster backsplash can range from smooth to rough, depending on how it is applied—and that step can be done yourself! Once you’re satisfied with the texture, you can apply one or more colors.

Pros:

  • Relatively easy to apply yourself
  • Easy to maintain

Cons:

  • Chips easily
  • Difficult to repair

Composite

Solid surface materials, like Corian, are manufactured from a composite of resin and minerals. Prior to the surge in popularity of granite countertops, composite was all the rage. The durability, color choices and easy care lend it wonderfully to a backsplash choice!

Pros:

  • Wide variety of colors
  • Can be molded to angles and curves
  • Seamless surface prevents cracks where dirt and germs can collect
  • Non-porous and hygienic
  • Durable

Cons:

  • Not scratch-resistant
  • Not heat-resistant (e.g., can’t be installed behind a gas cooktop)

Laminate

Perhaps your most affordable choice, a laminate backsplash can add the color or texture of natural stone or wood, thanks to the advances in the manufacturing of this popular material.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Wide range of color choices
  • Easy to clean
  • Water-resistant
  • Durable

Cons:

  • Not heat-resistant (e.g., shouldn’t be installed behind a cooktop or stove)
  • Water can seep into cracks if the laminate isn’t properly installed

Checklist for winterizing your home

Categories: Blog | Posted: November 14, 2016

winterizeyourhomeblog

Can you feel it in the air? Winter is coming. The first blast of cold weather or snowstorm could happen any day now. Are you prepared to stay warm, safe, and comfortable in your home? Before you get too cozy, review this checklist for winterizing your home. Make sure you haven’t overlooked an important detail.

Prepare your furnace. Your heating system has been hibernating over the warm months. Don’t expect it to wake up easily. Have a professional inspect your furnace and clean the air ducts. Have a supply of furnace filters on hand so you can change it monthly. If your home is heated by hot water, bleed the valves to remove the air in the line.

Inspect for drafts. Walk around the exterior of your home and look for cracks that could allow cold air to seep inside. Check the doors and windows, including the trim. Recaulk or add weatherstripping, as needed. Cover basement windows with plastic. Replace screen doors with storm doors. Go into your attic to see if you need additional insulation there.

Check your roof and gutters. Repair or replace any missing or damaged shingles on your roof. Clean out all the leaves and debris in your gutters. Inspect the flashing to ensure it will protect water from entering your home.

Protect your foundation. Rake the dead leaves, plants, and debris away from your home’s foundation. Look for any cracks, and seal them to prevent drafts and rodents from creeping inside.

Prepare for snow removal. Start up and tune up your snowblower. Check the quality of your snow shovel and decide if you need a new one. Stock up on sand, litter, or ice-melt to scatter on icy surfaces. Make sure every vehicle has an ice scraper and brush.

Prevent the freezes. Insulate all of the exposed pipes in the attic, basement, and garage. Disconnect and drain all garden hoses so the ice build-up in there doesn’t lead to a burst pipe. Shut off the water to the exterior faucets (or replace them with a frost-proof spigot).

Prepare your fireplace. Have your chimney, fireplace, and flue professionally inspected and cleaned, to remove highly flammable creosote and patch up cracks that could cause a chimney fire. Stock up on properly seasoned wood, and stack it outside away from your home, so that any chimney sparks don’t ignite the wood. Change the batteries on your smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector.

Get ready for power outages. A heavy storm can leave you without heat or electricity for hours or even days. At the least, you should have an emergency kit with flashlights, extra batteries, and indoor lanterns. Keep a supply of bottled water and non-perishable food on hand. Buy a battery backup or UPS (uninterrupted power supply) to protect your computer in the event of a power outage. You might also invest in a generator in the event you go days without electricity in your home.

With the right preparation, the only thing you’ll have to worry about this winter is how to handle your kid’s snow days!

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