Composting in the Kitchen: Containers, Bags, and Everything You’ll Need.

The simple definition of “composting,” according to Wikipedia, is “organic matter that has been decomposed.” Over the years, this process has become more and more popular in homes across the country. Several cities have rolled out programs that provide compost bins to homes, and collect it separately from trash and recyclables.

Not only does compost reduce the amount of waste you toss out every week, but it is extremely beneficial to the environment. Collecting old food scraps, soiled materials, and yard waste are easier than you think. If you do not live in a city that has a compost program, here is everything you’ll need to start this process at home.

Containers

Keeping a bin in the kitchen to aid in the collecting of food scraps to take outside is a great idea. A stainless-steel bin will help keep odor to a minimum. If the odor is not an issue, or you don’t mind emptying it as often, a small plastic container will do the trick. You can also recycle a sizeable container that has been used before (coffee tin or ice cream pail). You will want to use something with a lid that can be easily emptied. This container can be kept on the counter, under the sink, or in a cabinet.

Outside containers take a bit more thought and neighborly consideration. If you have no outdoor space or a small patio area, consider a worm bin. For those who have a bigger space but still close to neighbors, consider a compost tumbler. You will want to “turn” your compost pile at least once every three days, or when it starts to smell. Keep your compost collection area in the shade. This will help with the odor.  

Bags

Keeping a bag in the bin in your kitchen will save a lot of time and energy that you would be wasting by constantly washing it. You cannot use a plastic bag, as those do not break down in the composting cycle. Find a disposable compost bag. Make sure the bags are BPI-certified. Paper bags can be used to collect larger composting materials, such as grass or yard clippings.

Make sure the bag says “compostable,” as opposed to “biodegradable.” There is a subtle but key difference. A biodegradable bag will break down, but it will take a longer time. These should be used to collect regular trash. A compostable bag breaks down quicker.

Moisture and heat cause compostable bags to break down quicker. Moisture and heat are also two things that can collect quickly in your countertop receptacle. Make sure to keep an eye on the bag and be cautious when taking it outside.

What Can (and Cannot) be Composted

Now that you’ve got your materials, it’s time to start composting. Here is a list of things that can and should be composted:

  • Yard waste (grass clippings or leaves)
  • Soiled paper (pizza boxes, used napkins, etc.)
  • Black and white newspaper
  • Vegetable and fruit food scraps (rinds, peels, skins)
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Old leftover food

Things that should NOT be composted:

  • Meat (raw or cooked)
  • Pet waste
  • Fats and oils
  • Diseased yard waste (or anything that has been exposed to pesticides)

At Home Tips 

The number one tip for composting at home is to have a tight-fitting lid on the container you keep in your kitchen. This cannot be stressed enough. It will keep the odor to a minimum, and also keep out the fruit flies and other critters.

Cut down food into smaller pieces. The smaller the food scraps, the quicker they will break down. The quicker they break down, the sooner your compost will become soil that can be used in the garden.

If you are not someone who eats at home regularly but are still interested in composting, consider keeping your collection bin in the refrigerator. This will save counter space. It will also keep the odor to a minimum, the pests away, and will allow you to collect scraps for a longer period of time. You will still want to make sure it has a lid on it.

The key to successful composting begins with knowing what can and cannot be composted. Consider printing off a guide and place it somewhere in your kitchen that is easy to see, to act as a reminder to yourself and others.


Wishing you the best of luck in your composting efforts!

How to Care for Your Cast Iron Skillet

There are so many wonderful things that can be made in a cast iron skillet. Cornbread probably isn’t as great if it’s made in a regular bread pan. Fried chicken could not possibly taste better if it were made in a regular frying pan. Everything just tastes better when it’s made in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. And it was probably a blast to make. But then comes the fun part. How the heck do you clean that thing? It’s sacrilege to soak it in water, and use a sponge and dish soap. Don’t you dare even think of putting it in the dishwasher. Allow me to help.

Cleaning

You’ve cooked something delicious with your beloved cast iron skillet. It’s the one passed down through the family from your great grandparents, no doubt. When cleaning, depending on the level of mess, you can usually just wipe it out with a paper towel. It is best to do this while the pan is still warm, but not too hot that you burn your fingers.

If the residue is sticky or syrupy, run the pan under warm water, and scrub using a gentle brush or sponge. Never use soap. No matter what. It removes the oils that keep the skillet in good working order. You want the oils.  While the pan is still damp, put it back on the still-warm burner.  Cast iron skillets are incredibly porous, and letting it dry on the warm burner will evaporate the water quickly. You will know it is cleaned properly and ready for another use when the pan has a nice shine to it.

If you’ve made a proper mess of your skillet, no need to worry. There are a  number of metal sponges that work wonders. Chainmail cloth has been determined to get cast iron skillets looking brand new. You can also try steel wool. If you do not have these handy, try scouring the pan with coarse salt. Sprinkle a healthy amount of salt into the bottom of the pan. Use a dry paper towel to rub the salt into the skillet and around the edges. If the residue still remains, fill the pan with water and bring it to a boil.

One helpful thing to note: when cooking in your skillet, be generous with the oils from the start. This will give you an added nonstick coating. Fats such as lard, butter, coconut oil, or ghee are helpful additives.

When you are satisfied with the cleanliness of your skillet, make sure to dry it and put it away.

Re-seasoning

Depending on how often you use your skillet, this may not need to happen often. It certainly does not need to be done after each use. When you start to notice the finish is wearing off, or it has lost its shine, then is it time to re-season. Seasoning is also what keeps the skillet from getting rust.

There is plenty of debate on which oil is best for seasoning. It usually comes down to vegetable oil versus flaxseed oil. Both seem to work well, so whichever you have on hand will do fine.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Rub the inside of the pan with the oil using a clean cloth or paper towel. Keep the amount light so that all that remains is a thin layer. Put the pan into the oven upside down, and let it “bake” for one hour. Once the hour is complete, turn off the oven and let the skillet sit inside until it is cool enough to remove.

A good way to test the non-stick surface of your freshly seasoned skillet: fry an egg. Add a small amount of oil to the pan, and crack open the egg.  If the pan has been seasoned properly, the egg should slide around easily.

If you have never seasoned your cast iron skillet before, follow the instructions from above, but repeat the oiling part at least 4 times to ensure proper seasoning. Keeping your skillet dry and seasoned will prevent rust and ensure it retains its place of pride for generations.

Helpful Tips

  • Never let your pan air dry, as that is how rust occurs.
  • Store your pan in a cool, dry place.

The best food scales and why you should be using them

You may have gone most of your life cooking without a food scale. That’s fine, you can get by without one. But if you learn how to use a food scale, you can take your cooking to the next level in a number of areas. First, a scale is essential if you’re into baking. If you’re doing barbecue, fried chicken, egg salad, sure, you can go ahead and eyeball your measurements. Cups and spoons will work just fine for soups and stews. But baking is one part cooking and one part chemistry. Getting those measurements precise, like down to a half a gram precise, is essential for ensuring just the right degree of fluff in your cakes and pastries. Second, a food scale is absolutely necessary if you’re trying to manage your portions, as it allows you to measure food that has already been prepared. You’re not going to cram a slice of lasagna into a measuring cup to see how much you have, but putting the piece on your food scale will let you know exactly how much food you’re eating.

With that in mind, here are three of our favorite food scales available today, and why we love them:

Budget Choice: Ozeri Touch

The Ozeri Touch line is great for a few reasons:

  • It’s affordable
  • It’s slick
  • It’s portable
  • It’s easy to use

This might be the best starter scale on the market in terms of value. An excellent digital food scale with a simple two button interface and a precise, sensitive weighing mechanism.

The design of the Ozeri Touch is very nice, with a slick, tempered glass surface and a lean build. The scale can be tucked away in any drawer in your kitchen. It’s about as thick as a magazine so you could even tuck it away on a bookshelf. The tempered glass is very durable, so combined with the small size, this is one of the most portable food scales available. Whether you’re attending a culinary academy, heading to mom’s to help with the holiday dinner, or you just like keeping your food scale on you when traveling, it’s easy to put the Ozeri Touch in your backpack or suitcase for easy transport.

For many users, the Ozeri Touch might be the only food scale you ever need. It can weigh food up to twelve pounds, and down to 0.05 ounces.

One downside to this scale is that is usesIt uses Lithium 3V CR 2032 batteries that seem to drain pretty quickly. This should be a factor when deciding on a food scale – especially if you are using it often. 

Natural Elements Traditional Balance Scales

If you wanna go old school, Natural Elements produces some of the best traditional food scales available. There are some downsides to going “analog,” of course. You’ll have to learn how to read a food scale, you’ll need a lot of counter space, traditional scales are more expensive, and the scale is anything but portable. But old school food scales provide a reliable sense of accuracy that digital can’t match. And it’s fun. Plus the added benefit is it will never run out of batteries like a digital food scale.

Our Choice: OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Scale

Durable, easy to read, easy to use, stainless steel, cord-free and incredibly precise.

The Good Grips scale is a little pricier and a little less portable than the Ozeri Touch, but it’s built to last. It is difficult to break this thing even if you’re trying. This is the kind of scale you’d stock a kitchen in a restaurant with, a device that can weigh hundreds of items in a day and stay in one piece.

The truth is that any of these scales will get the job done. The real tie-breaker? What goes best with your decor.

The Most Expensive Spice in the World: Three Incredible Facts

Imagine your favorite ethnic food, whether tacos from Mexico, Korean beef bulgogi, or something even more obscure. Today we take for granted that we have access to all flavors and spices, anytime. But just a couple centuries ago, you probably wouldn’t have had access to any of it, because most spices were impossible to come by outside the region where they grow. A wide range of spices used to be incredibly expensive, but thanks to our new global economy, most are pretty affordable today. There are still a few that are just crazy expensive, though. Let’s talk about the king of them all: saffron.

Saffron Is Crazy Expensive

The stigmas can only be picked by hand and it takes 250,000 stigmas to make just half a kilo of saffron, hence its high price. Fortunately, a little saffron goes a long way.

As with any commodity, pricing fluctuates, but you could expect to pay $2275 for a pound of saffron! Obviously if it’s that expensive you might want to buy a smaller package. One reputable retailer is currently selling saffron by the ounce at over $140 per ounce. Why is saffron so expensive? Well, you have to understand what saffron (the spice) is, first. It’s a little piece inside the saffron flower called the stigma. Each flower has only 3 stigmas.

So it starts to make sense why this spice ends up being so expensive. Imagine having to pick all those little strands by hand.

Saffron Is Hard to Grow and Harvest

Another reason saffron is so expensive: you can’t grow it just anywhere. According to a spice company that really knows their stuff, basically it’s got to be a pretty wild climate – scorchingly hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The biggest producer of saffron is actually Iran, and other places with similar climates (including parts of Spain, Greece, and Kashmir) also grow some. To make matters once, the flowers bloom just once a year, for less than a month, and if you don’t pick the stigma right away, they’ll dry up lose their flavor.

Watch Out For Fake and Adulterated Saffron

As with anything expensive (think “Rolex” salesmen on NYC streets, bro), there are some unscrupulous folks who sell fake saffron-flavored powder or who mix real saffron with other stuff that’s just filler. Be careful about buying saffron from shady sources, and never buy saffron that’s way cheaper than other competitors. Because who knows what you’re putting in your food if it’s not really saffron? Bottom line: if you want to experience the real deal, expect to pay a lot, and buy only from trusted high-end food and spice retailers.

So what’s all the fuss about? Why would people spend such a crazy amount of money for flower parts, anyway? Well, saffron can make an amazing difference in a wide variety of cuisines. Stop into any high-end restaurant in a major city, and you’ll find saffron-infused dishes on the menu (and plenty of people ponying up to buy them). Here are a few dishes that use the spice:

  • French bouillabaisse
  • Spanish zarzuela de pescado
  • Italian rissotto Milanese

Now you know: saffron is the most expensive spice. The only question: How will you use it?

The Most Expensive Pyrex and Where to Find It

Pyrex is one of those accidental product discoveries that has become legendary. It was created by a physicist who worked for the Corning Company in 1908. Being the fun-loving physicist he was, he apparently brought a cut-down battery jar home from work and probably said something like “Honey, can you make some muffins in this?” She did, it worked and he loved her muffins. A whole new oven-safe glass product was introduced to the public just a few years later. Pyrex has not only become a household staple for generations, but much of it has become very collectible.

Why Is Pyrex Collectible and Valuable?

Pyrex collecting has been fueled by a variety of factors that have boosted prices in recent years.

  1. It provides a sense of nostalgia. Mothers and grandmothers sweated in kitchens holiday after holiday using a variety of Pyrex products. Who wouldn’t want to relive those good olde days?

  2. It is available in discontinued patterns and colors. Nothing creates value like a pattern or colors that are no longer being produced. Avocado green and harvest gold? White Gooseberry on pink? Now, how much would you pay?

  3. It appeals to young, mid-century décor collectors. There’s a whole new group of young Millennial collectors who are using vintage Pyrex to decorate their spaces. Yep, Pyrex not only survives the heat but it is cool.

  4. Pyrex products were produced in a wide-range of products. You can find Pyrex produced nesting bowls, measuring cups, chip ‘n dip sets, casserole dishes, and more.

  5. It often comes in “sets”. Collectors feel a sense of accomplishment when completing a set, whether it be of the vintage nesting bowls or clear Pyrex casserole dishes. The fact that pieces get scratched or may be missing tops makes the hunt even more challenging.

The Most Valuable Pyrex Pieces

Of course, Pyrex values will depend on the pieces involved and their condition. Those looking to invest in cookware may find these editions collectible:

  1. Dotted Pyrex Bowls. These dotted bowls will often sell for $75 or more each and are even more valuable in a set.

  2. Early American or Americana Blue White Rim Pyrex. A set of these three slightly different colored light blue bowls will fetch close to $300 or more.

  3. Starburst or “Cinderella” Pyrex. The casserole dish with a heavy top and warming stand can command $300 or more to buy for your castle.

  4. Pink Stem Pyrex. Initially produced in the early 1960’s, a scratch-free casserole dish and lid can carry a $500 price tag. That’s a lot of scratch.

This being said, the value of anything is what someone is willing to pay. There have been unique Pyrex pieces listed for thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars. Unless you have an enormous knowledge of glass wear, a certain amount of courage, and a bottomless wallet, you may be better "served" collecting more traditional pieces.

Where Can You Find Expensive Pyrex?

If you are really fortunate, you can find these collectibles at a garage sale where the seller may be less than knowledgeable about what they have. Just pay and walk away slowly without saying a word. Other sources for valuable Pyrex will be flea markets, estate sales, and online auction houses. You’ll likely also find it at antique shops, but be prepared to pay the price.

Who would have thought that everyday pieces of kitchen cookware would turn into such a collecting phenomenon? Damn Beanie Babies.

Important tips before you start a kitchen renovation

Before you start renovating your kitchen, get a clear idea about what you want the final project to look like and what it will cost to achieve it. Have an architect draw up a set of blueprints or develop a floor plan and gather estimates on costs for new cabinets and countertops, appliances, plumbing fixtures, and flooring.

Secure Your Financing

Kitchen renovation projects can be costly depending on what you want done. The costs for remodeling a kitchen can range from $5,000 to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the plan and materials. But where’s the money going to come from? Homeowners may apply for a home improvement loan, dip into savings, or get a second mortgage for pricier projects.

Hire A General Contractor

If your project is more than cosmetic, hire a licensed general contractor. Your kitchen renovation project may involve tearing out old cabinets, countertops, plumbing fixtures, wiring and flooring. That kind of work requires a building permit and licensed contractors. A contractor will develop a scope of work, hire subcontractors, order and purchase materials, oversee the project and ensure the work is completed in accordance to local codes. Issued by the city government, a building permit will give you legal authorization to make extensive alterations to your home, such as electrical, HVAC and plumbing. Pay the fee and comply with city building regulations issued by the Planning and Zoning Commission; otherwise, you could be required to tear out work that is not up to code.

How to Find a General Contractor

Ask friends, neighbors and coworker to recommend firms they’ve worked with and offer referrals. Online sites also offer listings of qualified firms in your neighborhood. Check references with your local Better Business Bureau (BBB) before you sign a contract. Don’t be misled by shady contractors who promise the moon but fail to deliver. Ask to see a business license, contractor’s license, insurance, three references and pictures of previous projects. Check the contractor’s background and references before turning over any money. If the prospect seems to be more concerned with getting a down payment than providing definitive proof of his work, don’t do business with him or you could get burned.

A common practice with shady contractors is to begin work on a remodeling job, but drag the project on longer than reasonably necessary. Sometimes, they will commit themselves to several projects at once. You don’t want someone to start your job and abandon it midway to take on another contract. You cannot prohibit your builder from taking other jobs, but you can require him to be on the job as agreed.

Negotiate a Solid Contract

A contract is only as good as the terms written within it. Make sure that the scope of work includes everything you want and you and your contractor have a mutual understanding and agreement of what the job entails. A contractor’s agreement should include names, address, and phone number for both the contractor and homeowner. The proposal should also include a detailed line item list of each phase of your kitchen renovation, including demolition and cleanup, proposed work, cabinet and countertop measurements, proposed replacement flooring and description of appliances and fixtures. More importantly, the scope of work should specify how much the homeowner will pay and when. Be cautious about giving your contractor upfront money. It’s best to make successive payments as the job progresses. It is common for contractors to ask for payments after each renovation phases: demolition, electrical, plumbing, drywall installation, painting, flooring, cabinetry, cleanup and punch-out. Paying in phases ensures that should your contractor bail out, you still have enough funds to finish the job.

Make a Plan and Stick to It

Before you start demolishing the kitchen, make a plan that works within space and budget constraints. A blueprint of an extensive remodel shows where electrical and plumbing lines are located, where walls will be constructed or torn out, and the kitchen elevation.

If you do not hire an architect, measure the perimeter of the room, space taken up by existing cabinetry, and position and size of appliances. Take the measurements to a professional cabinet maker or remodeling contractor and work with a qualified consultant to choose cabinet styles and finishes, countertop materials, appliances and floor and wall coverings. A professional kitchen designer can accurately order custom or stock cabinetry, countertops and flooring based on your existing measurements. The beauty of working with a designer is that your finished renovation will not only be aesthetically pleasing but also functional.

Once you settle on a design, try not to change it. Modifying blueprints, cancelling special orders, or changing paint colors at last minute is not only aggravating but costly.

Count the Cost

Kitchen renovations can be expensive, so count the costs before committing to a design you can’t pay for. Those glitzy home improvement photos are inspirational, but possibly out of your budget’s reach. If you shop discount building supply stores and local sales or opt to refurbish existing materials, you can save big bucks. Shop for the best quality at the lowest price and get a manufacturer’s warranty.

Rely on Reputable Professionals

If you opt for stone countertops, choose a reputable dealer and an expert installer. You don’t want to spend thousands for defective materials or shoddy installations. Some stone dealers may also offer discounts on leftover materials or discontinued designs.

The one thing you don’t want to scrimp on is electrical wiring and plumbing. Make sure your contractor hires a licensed electricians and plumbers.

Proper Planning Pays Off

If you plan properly, hire the right general contractor and professional, licensed subs, your kitchen renovation project should go smoothly and end beautifully. Don’t be afraid to check background references, establish a realistic budget and make sure your contract details phases, payments and parameters.

Bad Smell? Removing an Odor in your Home

A foul odor wafting throughout your home can send you running for your favorite air freshener. Yet, even the strongest fragrances are no match for certain home odors. Bad smells happen in even the cleanest of homes, and it is essential to find what is causing it once one has been discovered. If you find your nose wrinkling when you step through your front door, then use this step-by-step guide to do a little detective work combined with some simple home maintenance that will make sure you destroy the odor at its source.

Follow the Scent Trail

As unpleasant as it may sound, you are going to have to rely upon your nose to sniff out the culprit. Begin by trying to determine if the odor is strongest in one room. Bathrooms and kitchens tend to be the most common source of an odor, but you may also find stinky messes in kids’ rooms, the garage and even your closet. As you go from room-to-room, smell the walls, vents, drawers and floor to see where the odor may be hiding. In some instances, you may need to rely upon a professional to find the source of an odor. For example, water damage from a leak could cause mold to emanate a smell in hidden areas of your home such as beneath the floor.

Start with the Drains

The combination of moisture, soap scum, grease, decaying food particles and other debris can create a noxious odor that travels up through your pipes and into your home. Fortunately, stinky sinks are fairly simple to fix. Begin by removing your p-trap, which is the little s-curved pipe located beneath your sink. Here, debris gets trapped, and the stench can travel throughout the entire house once it begins to rot. If you are dealing with a bathroom sink, then you may also need to use a special tool to remove any hair that may have fallen into the drain. Finish up by scouring the sink bowl with your favorite cleaning solution, and your drains should now be odor-free.

Tackle the Garbage Disposal

It’s a no-brainer that any place you stuff food particles might eventually begin to stink. Yet, many people are unaware that following a few simple rules will keep garbage disposal odors at bay. First, avoid pouring grease down the disposal since this tends to clog and turn rank. Second, freshen your disposal regularly by tossing a few orange or lemon peels in and turning it on. If you still have an odor despite these methods, then try adding a cup of baking soda followed by a cup of vinegar down the drain. Let it sit until the fizzing stops. Then, run hot water through the disposal

Eliminate Pet Urine Odors

A home should never smell like a pet store, and the best way to avoid these odors is to make sure your pet is properly housetrained. Still, accidents happen, and you may discover that your home odor is due to urine on the carpets or walls. If the damage is extensive, you may need to replace the flooring, furniture or any other home goods that may have been tainted. However, small pet accidents can be handled by using commercial pet odor removal sprays, or you can try making yours at home. Simply fill a spray bottle with a liter of water, several Tablespoons of brown sugar and some citrus peels. Then, spray the area thoroughly. Let it sit, and blot the excess moisture up with a paper towel. This homemade enzymatic cleaner breaks the odor down at its source, and the citrus can serve as a natural deterrent for future pet accidents.

Clean Smelly Clothes

Whether your teenager leaves their workout clothes in their gym bag for a week or your partner comes home from work smelling foul, a stinky laundry hamper can destroy the scent of a freshly cleaned house. While most clothing odors will be removed with regular washing, there are some times when the long cycle is not enough. For these times, try a prewash soak with vinegar and water. Let the clothes sit for 15 minutes, and wash as normal. This can also help to brighten colors so your clothing will look as fresh as it smells.

Deodorize Appliances

Dishwashers, refrigerators and other appliances are subjected to many of the same materials as sinks. Spilled food and other debris can quickly accumulate and cause an odor. Begin by removing any expired food from the refrigerator, and check your appliances for any debris that must be removed. Next, wipe the inside and outside of the appliances down with soap and water. If an odor is particularly strong, then a paste of baking soda and water can be applied to the source. Let this sit, and then rinse carefully so that you do not scratch any surfaces. Leaving a box of baking soda in the refrigerator can help to prevent odors from developing.

Deep Clean Toilets

Sometimes, a daily swish of the toilet with cleaner is just not enough. If you notice your toilet still smells, then it may be time to get down and dirty. Start by tossing any floor mats and seat covers in the washing machine. Then, carefully scrub the seat, lid and inside of the toilet with bleach diluted with water. Once that is done, move to the outside of the toilet where urine may have dribbled down the front and sides. Finish up by scrubbing around the base of the toilet, and allow a cup of bleach to sit in the bowl for an hour. Flush, and enjoy the scent of a freshly cleaned bathroom.

Stopping the smell, before it stops you

When a foul odor persists in your home, it can feel as though no amount of cleaning is enough. Making sure your home has adequate ventilation can help prevent some odors, and responding quickly at the first sign of a stench will keep it from getting worse. With a little effort, you can identify the source of the most common home odors so that you can be confident your home smells company fresh all the time.