Tuesday, October 25, 2011

{31 Days to a Functional Kitchen} Day 25: Ikea

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Ikea!  If you have never been to Ikea, it is an amazing place to find everything you can imagine for your home.  They are masters at design and space planning.  I am in awe of their organization solutions.  They have some amazingly simple solutions for the most challenging situations.  And their prices are amazing.

You can now go in to Ikea with your basic floor plan and completely design your ideal kitchen from cabinets, counters, sinks, appliances and even down to the dishes, pots and pans.  They have it all!  I love that.  Their products are not necessarily high end but they are good quality for the price.

While I am not looking to redesign my kitchen, I love the marketplace.  During my most recent trip I bought napkins, chip clips and a new 3 quart stainless steel pot.  They have amazing storage containers - both plastic and glass at amazing prices.  They have great glassware too if you are having a party.  So much fun!

If you are looking for storage ideas, organization solutions or a brand new kitchen - you must check out Ikea.  Just make sure that you give yourself at least a couple of hours to fully take it all in.

P.S.  Don't forget to pick up a bag of frozen meatballs and a a couple of packets of their amazing cream sauce!  Cook up som potatoes or egg noodls and you can have dinner on the table in no time!  Now that is function!!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

{31 Days to a Functional Kitchen} Day 24: Coffee Bar

We are on day 24 of my 31 day series and I will say, nothing really functions at my house until I have a cup of coffee!  On Mother's Day my kids gave me a Keurig.  It is awesome.  It is like having my very own coffee bar right in my kitchen.  I still love Starbucks, but I love being able to roll out of bed and have a cup of wonderful coffee in my hands within a couple of minutes.  Better yet, my kids have even learned to use the machine and insist on being our Batista's!!!

This is my coffee bar.  It contains a carousel with our coffee supply, our wonderful coffee maker, filtered water and our cups!  Everything I need for my morning cup of coffee - well besides my flavored creamer which is just inside the refrigerator door!  I am addicted to sugar-free french vanilla creamer although we are really looking forward to the peppermint mocha creamers that come out during the holidays.

I am not big on a strong, bitter coffee.  I like the milder blends and really like a flavored coffee.  Some of our favorites are french vanilla, caramel and there is even a Kahlua flavored coffee that is exceptional.  The beauty of the Keurig is that whatever we are in the mood for, we can have whatever we want since we are making one serving at a time.

Right above our "coffee bar" is our supply cabinet.  This is where we keep our extra k-cups and travel mugs.  I love using the travel mugs because they don't spill and are insulated which keeps my coffee warmer longer.  The green basket (from the Dollar Spot at Target) is where we keep overstock of our K-Cups although I will admit, we have A LOT more stored in the pantry.

If you have a Keurig, you know that the K-cups (the individual portioned coffee grounds) can be somewhat expensive.  Here are a couple of tricks we have learned...
  • Costco - the machine and coffee is significantly cheaper than anywhere else.  The biggest draw back is that the selection is very limited.
  • Bed Bath & Beyond - BBB has a nice selection of coffee choices and when you use a 20% off coupon the price is very competitive.  I love BBB because you can use up to 5 coupons per order and they even accept expired coupons so save them up until you need to restock.
  • Office Max/Office Depot/Staples - the office supply stores are a great place to purchase k-cups.  They also regularly have coupons.  Be sure to sign up for their reward programs watch their ads and emails for great savings.
We love our new private coffee bar!  No longer do we throw out half a pot of coffee nor do we have to suffer because we didn't make enough for a second or third cup!  It is great when our parents are visiting too because we can make them a fresh cup of decaf in no time flat!

Do you have a life saving station set up in your kitchen? 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

{31 Days to a Functional Kitchen} Day 23: Clean as you go

I am posting late today because just a few minutes ago, I was running around the house picking up dirty dishes, throwing out the recycles and trash, putting away toys, clean clothes that has been folded but sitting in the living room for a few days now and washing up some dishes from lunch.


It is refreshing to wake up in the morning or come home after being out of the house for a few hours and find a clean kitchen and home.  Now, I am not by any means saying that my home is clean right now.  What I can say is that I can see the floor, the dishes have been washed and the clothes and toys have been delivered to their respectful "homes".

So what have I learned with this evening cleaning ritual?  Which is sometimes a morning cleaning ritual as I am often too exhausted to make the clean sweep before bed.  The lesson is that you should clean as you go.  When mealtime is over, get the family involved in cleaning up.  Don't leave it until later, because you won't want to do it later any more than you want to at that moment so get it over with.

When you are cooking or baking, run a sink full of sudsy water and wash the dishes and utensils between steps or throughout the process.  This saves you from that mountain of dishes at the end.

I am by no means an expert in this field - if I was, I would not have been cleaning a few minutes ago!  I promise to be better at this this week - and get the kids involved more too!  Are you in?

Friday, October 21, 2011

{31 Days to a Functional Kitchen} Day 21: Freezer cooking

I know I skipped a day yesterday but I was so, so tired the other night, I just couldn't finish my post and get it ready to go.  I will admit, this series is taking a lot out of me but it really truly has been fun looking at what makes my kitchen function for me.  I hope you have enjoyed some of the tips I have shared - 10 more tips to go!

Freezer cooking is a great way to bring efficiency to the kitchen.  Stocking your freezer with pre-prepared meals and prepped meats and vegetables is wonderful.  Recently I have been introduced to a couple of programs that offer bulk purchases of a single ingredient (i.e. tomatoes, peaches, ground beef, chicken, etc.) at an amazing price.  I have really enjoyed the opportunity to stock my freezer and pantry with some great, healthy ingredients.

The key with freezer cooking is prep, prep, prep!  I may spend a few hours prepping 20 lbs of ground beef (like I did here), but it has saved me valuable time at meal-time.  This prep gave me the following:
  • 3 meals of Italian meatballs
  • 30 hamburger patties
  • 5 packages of pre-cooked ground beef base (for chili, tacos, pizza, spaghetti, etc.)
  • 8 one pound portions of ground beef

This week I was able to get 40 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast for just $1.49 a pound.  These were not your typical chicken breasts either - they were beautiful, large butterflied breasts.  With these, I simply spent a couple of hours prepping them for the freezer.  I know 2 hours sounds like a lot of time, however it was 40 lbs - I ended up with 36 individually portioned breasts!  YIKES, that is over 1 pound EACH!!! 

I trimmed a little fat, cut them apart into individual breasts, wrapped them in plastic and laid them out on baking sheets.  I then placed them in the freezer overnight.  After they were frozen solid, I placed them in Ziploc bags and put them back in the freezer.  I can now pull out just what I need for a meal and not worry about having too much.  Once they are thawed, they are ready to use!

What have you stocked your freezer with to make meal time prep easier?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

{31 Days to a Functional Kitchen} Day 19: Stockpiling Basics

For me, having a functional kitchen means having a well stocked pantry, freezer and refrigerator.  Meal planning is much easier when I have the ingredients that I need, when I need them.  This is a real look at my pantry.  Yes, we are a family of four (or 2.5 considering we are 2 adults and 2 young children who don't eat much).  Yet having a good supply of items is crucial for putting meals on the table on a moments notice.

Smart shoppers fill their cupboards by buying low, buying lots and thinking long-term.  This is the art of stockpiling products you regularly consume or use so that you never run out.  Impulse and “need it now” shopping is a budget-conscious shopper’s enemy.  Reactive shoppers buy only what they need, when they need it despite the price – which is usually full retail.  For example if a pasta your family uses is usually $2 a box and between coupons and store sales you can get it for $.50 a box you would stock up on that item.

Here are a few things to consider when beginning to stockpile…

  • SPACE – You need to understand what and how much space you have available for your stock-pile. Extra shelves, a spare closet, garage space, freezer space, etc.  Think about space for food, cleaning products, toilet paper, toiletries and more.  You may want/need to look in to shelving to keep your stockpile organized and accessible.
  • CONSUMPTION – What products does your family go through quickly, use daily, weekly, monthly?  This is important when allocating space for your stockpile.  It doesn’t make sense to buy 12 boxes of cake mix if you only make a cake once a month.  However, if you go through 2+ boxes of cereal a week, you can easily buy 15 boxes for your stockpile.  Generally speaking you want to have a 2-3 month supply in your stockpile.  Be mindful of expiration dates on items so you don’t buy too much.
  • BUDGET – Building your stockpile will take time and is an on-going process.  If you have a set amount of money you can spend per week on shopping, set aside a portion of this to put towards your stock-pile and pick up a few extra of the “great” deals that week.  Over time, this stockpile plan will free up more of your budget because you are not having to buy “cereal” this week because you bought 15 last week when they were $1 a box – this week they are $3 a box.
  • WATCH FOR THE DEALS - Most items are on a 12 week sales cycle with the “best price” for an item or category of items to be offered every 12 weeks.  They may be on sale more often but their lowest price will occur about every 3 months.  The best sales will be around 50% or more off of the regular price.  Coupons are also cyclical and will generally follow these seasonal cycles.

  • Generally speaking, you want to purchase enough of an item to last you about 3 months.  This is the typical sales cycle for most grocery items.  More non-perishable items like toilet paper can be stockpiled longer if you have the space.
  • Shopping may cost a little extra in the beginning until you have built your stockpile.  Once you have filled your pantry and freezer, you may see a significant drop in your weekly shopping bill and will find that you are having to buy fewer things at full price.
  • Be mindful of expiration dates.  You don’t want a year’s supply of something that expires before you can use it all.  Also rotate your items and place the new stuff in the back and pull the older items to the front. 
  • The more coupons you have for an item, the more of that item you can purchase.  This is where picking up multiple copies of the paper can come in handy.  When you stockpile you want to buy multiples of the item, needing multiple coupons.  Trading with friends is another way to get your hands on coupons for the items you want.
  • Don’t stockpile items that are new to your family until you know that the item is something that you will use and enjoy.  The last thing you want is to have 10 of something that your family won’t eat. 
  • Don't get caught up in all of the packaged foods and overlook the basics.  Items like pasta, canned tomatoes, beans, rice, spices, condiments and baking supplies can be used to make a wide variety of meals.  Keep your favorite vegetables (canned or frozen) on hand to quickly add to a meal (if you only like fresh vegetables then this is not an item you would stockpile).
  • Don't forget to plan your menu (at least a little bit).  The last thing you want to do is come home from the store with $100 worth of groceries and nothing to eat for dinner.
  • Think about how your eating habits change seasonally.  If you bake more in the winter, stock up on more of those supplies.
I hope that this information gives you the motivation to stock your pantry and save a few dollars along the way!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

{31 Days to a Functional Kitchen} Day 18: Lighting

Proper lighting in any room is quintessential in providing function, ambiance and style.  It is important to have proper general lighting, task lighting and even ambient lighting to make a space "work" for you.  This is no more important than in the kitchen.  I am so excited to share a major project that we took on last week with regards to lighting in our kitchen.

We live in a tract home community where matching builder grade finishes can be found in most of the homes in the neighborhood.  While I must say, many of the "standard finishes" in our community are quite nice, they are still standard.  There is nothing unique about them.  The outdated, super basic, (dare I say) cheap can lights in our kitchen did not fall into the "nice" category.

We have considered many options for replacing these lights over the past year.  After seriously looking at different lighting options over the past couple of months, we finally went for it.  It all started with a light fixture that my Father-In-Law had purchased for over his pool table, but then changed his mind.  After looking at it, we decided it would be great in our kitchen, with a couple of simple modifications - longer chain (we have vaulted ceilings) and a can of Oil Rubbed Bronze spray paint to match the other lighting fixtures in the great room.

We brought it home, held it up in the kitchen and decided it would work great.  The new light had a clean style and would provide great light since it used 3 bulbs and would hang much closer to the work surface.

I will say, I was so excited, that I had the entire thing painted the next day.  I couldn't wait to get it hung up.  I am sure you all can related to the excitement of a new project.

With a little help from my darling husband and our wonderful neighbors' 12' ladder, we hung it up last weekend and it has been so awesome using this light this week in the kitchen.

As you can see in this photo, we still had the can lights in the other two locations.  We had looked at so many different options for these two lights but knew that we needed the hanging light up before we made our final decision.  After looking at several different varieties of track lights and other directional lights, we decided upon a 3-light round base fixture from Home Depot. 
We selected this fixture because it gives us the ability to utilize the existing mount locations, direct the lights to the desired work surfaces and was in the bronze tone that we were looking to match.  Another reason we liked this fixture is that it was all metal without a glass bowl around the lights.  As of right now, the light over our kitchen table and the new bar fixture have different color bowls - the new one is white while the table chandelier is more of an antiqued bowl.  At some point we may get these all to match but for now, they look fine.

We found this awesome fixture at our Habi-Store - New in the box for dirt cheap!
This hangs over the kitchen table in the dining nook.  I love the filigree.
Overall, the lighting project has been amazing.  The kitchen looks great and the new fixtures bring warmth and light to our kitchen. 

I still am considering under cabinet lighting in a couple of areas but for now, the new spot lights bring great task lighting to our work surfaces.

Cutest, Not-So Scary Haunted House

Last week I shared some of of our outdoor Halloween decorations over at Sweet Peas and Bumble Bees and I couldn't wait to share it here with you too!

Last Halloween we had just purchased our house and were too busy painting, fixing and prepping our new home to move in so we didn't get to decorate.  Not this year - this year we are having fun.  With two young kids who can be spooked easily, we decided to go with the "cute" instead of "scary"

I was inspired by a simple project we did with the kids one afternoon - googly eye wall monsters.  Who doesn't love googly eyes?  Right?  The kids and I have been a bit obsessed about googly eyes lately, as is much of blogland - do a search on Pinterest and you will see what I mean.

Using the inspiration of our googly eye wall monsters - we created our Cutest Not-So Haunted House!

Believe it or not, this entire project was done for $3.50!!!  HUGE IMPACT, LITTLE MONEY!!!

I picked up 3 different sizes of white Styrofoam plates and a sheet of black poster board.  Pretty simple.  I found some glasses in my kitchen to trace 3 different sized circles.  Cut them out and glued them to the plates.  Easy peasy homemade googly eyes!

Then I headed outside with a roll of duct tape and got to work.  I was going for haunted but honestly, it is way too cute to be haunted - well, maybe by Casper the Friendly Ghost!  And guess what, I have enough plates left over to have a Halloween party!!!

I hope you are enjoying my series 
It has been a lot of fun!

Monday, October 17, 2011

{31 Days to a Functiona Kitchen} Day 17: Menu Planning Monday

One of the first blogs I ever followed was I'm an Organizing Junkie.  Laura has an amazing blog and website about all things organizing.  I must say, she is my idol.  Every week she hosts Menu Plan Monday, an amazing link-up party with over 300 bloggers sharing their weekly meal plan.  While I find this idea amazing, I am horrible at planning.  That being said, meal planning is an incredible way to be more efficient in the kitchen. 

Having a plan allows you to be prepared which can save you both time and money.  Two things any busy mom can appreciate.  With a plan you can ensure that you have the necessary ingredients, you can base your plan on your schedule, available time each night to cook and of course, the weekly specials.  If you are interested in starting to menu plan, Laura share some amazing resources here.  I highly recommend checking these out.

Back in January I gave menu planning a try - sadly, it lasted only a couple of weeks.  But, in the spirit of this series, 31 Days to a Functional Kitchen, I have made a plan for our very busy week!

Monday - Lemony Shrimp Scampi Pasta with broccoli

Tuesday - Taco Salad with Ground Beef and Quesadillas

Wednesday - {Chuck E. Cheese - school fundraiser}

Thursday - Chicken Stir Fry with Brown Rice

Friday - Spaghetti with Meatballs (husband will make as I will be at Glitter Academy - can't wait)

Saturday - Pork Tenderloin with Fingerling Potatoes and Fried Apples (possible dinner party)

Sunday - {Dinner at In-Laws}

What is on your menu this week?  Do you menu plan?  How has it helped you save time?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

{31 Days to a Funcitonal Kitchen} Day 16: Cookbook Storage

Every cook needs a few secrets and those generally come in the pages of some of our favorite cook books.  Whether you have cookbooks for show or for content, they need a proper and convenient place to call home. 

I love these creative ways to display your cookbooks out in the open.  I especially like the end of the cabinet bookshelf and the over the door shelf.  What a creative way to utilize otherwise wasted spaces.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

{31 Days to a Functional Kitchen} Day 15: Baking Supplies

Today we are going to review the supplies that should be kept on hand for baking.  This way, you can always whip together a dessert or treat on short notice.

Pantry Items
  • Flour - All purpose
  • Flour - Bread, Cake, Alternate Flours (if necessary for your diet)
  • Sugar - White Granulated
  • Sugar - Brown (light, dark or both)
  • Sugar - Powdered
  • Liquid Sweeteners - Honey, Corn Syrup, Molasses
  • Baking Soda
  • Baking Powder
  • Extracts - Vanilla, Almond, Peppermint, Lemon, etc.
  • Cornstarch
  • Yeast
  • Salt
  • Baking Chips - Chocolate, Butterscotch, Vanilla
  • Sprinkles / Sugars
  • Cupcake Liners
  • Parchment Paper
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Cream Cheese
Of course, if you really want a go-to, last minute dessert, you kitchen should never be without...
  • Cake Mixes (chocolate, vanilla, yellow, etc.)
  • Canned Frosting (chocolate, vanilla, cream cheese)
  • Brownie Mix (Ghiradelli and Betty Crocker are my favorites)
  • Cookie Mix (Betty Crocker is my favorite)
  • Marshmallows & Rice Krispies
I could go on and on. I also like to keep some key canned goods on hand...
  • pie filling
  • pumpkin puree
  • canned pineapple
  • evaporated milk 
  • sweet and condensed milk.
What are your must have that you always have on hand?  Is there a special ingredient for one of your favorite recipes that you can't live without?

Friday, October 14, 2011

{31 Days to a Fuinctional Kitchen} Day 14: What's in your Pantry?

Yesterday I shared my essential spices that are a must in my kitchen.  Having these and other go-to items in my pantry make it quick and easy to throw a meal together.  In addition to the spices there are a few other essentials...these are the items that when you are making dinner (recipe or not) are necessary to add flavor and consistency to your meats, vegetables and other foods.


Oils -
  • olive oil
  • canola oil
  • peanut oil
  • sesame oil
  • vegetable oil
  • other___________________________

Vinegars -
  • white vinegar
  • apple cider vinegar
  • balsamic vinegar
  • white wine vinegar
  • other___________________________
Condiments -
  • salt & pepper
  • ketchup
  • yellow mustard
  • spicy mustard
  • brown mustard
  • mayonnaise
  • salsa (I often have a couple of different kinds that I have made and canned myself)
  • soy sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • pepper sauce (like Tabasco, Sriracha, etc.)
  • barbecue sauce (again, I often have a couple of different kinds on hand)
  • sweet chili sauce (we love this for all of our Asian inspired dishes)
  • other___________________________
What are the go to flavor enhancers in your pantry and fridge?  These are the items that I can't live without but I am certain there are others. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

{31 Days to a Functional Kitchen} Day 13: 25 Spices

I came across a couple of different lists of the must have spices in the kitchen.  After reviewing the lists, I decided to make my own.  If I could only have 25 spices in my kitchen, this is what i would have.
Bed Bath & Beyond

  1. Allspice
  2. Basil
  3. Bay Leaves
  4. Cayenne
  5. Chili Powder
  6. Cinnamon--Ground and Stick
  7. Cloves
  8. Cream of Tartar - I have an amazing sugar cookie recipe I promise to share soon
  9. Cumin
  10. Curry Powder
  11. Dill Weed
  12. Fennel Seed
  13. Garlic Powder
  14. Ginger--Ground
  15. Herbs De Provence
  16. Italian Seasoning
  17. Nutmeg--Ground and nuts
  18. Onion Powder
  19. Oregano
  20. Paprika
  21. Black Peppercorns - whole
  22. Red Pepper Flakes
  23. Rosemary
  24. Sage
  25. Yellow Mustard
I will admit, in addition to the spices above - I also love the McCormick Grill Mates Montreal Steak and Lemon Pepper seasoning blends.  They are awesome for burgers, steak, chicken and pork on the grill.

What are your go-to spices and herbs?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

{31 Days to a Functional Kitchen} Day 12: 5 Small Appliances

Yesterday I shared five of my favorite gadgets in the kitchen.  Today I want to share my favorite small appliances.  Having tools that make navigating mealtime easier is essential to any functional kitchen.

#1:  Cuisinart Immersion Blender
The versatility of this blender allows you to blend, whip and even chop using a small, easy to clean tool.  I have had other immersion blenders but I love the additional attachments available with the Cuisinart.
Bed Bath & Beyond

#2:  Hamilton Beach Electric Griddle
Great for pancakes, sandwiches, quesadillas, eggs and more.
 #3:  Keurig B70 Coffee Maker
I SWEAR this is my lifeline each morning.  The Keurig makes a single cup of coffee with no waste, hot every time and ready in about a minute.  I especially like this model from Costco as it comes with the $20 reusable filter plus 60 K-cups, all for less than any other store.  Additionally, the return policy at Costco is amazing if you ever have issues with your machine.

#4:  KitchenAid Stand Mixer
This one is on my wish list.  I hope to own one of these some day.  The power and versatility of this machine can be used for both baking and cooking.


#5:  Crock Pot Slow Cooker
I recently replaced my slow cooker and went with this one.  I love the size of the bowl which is great for roasts.  I still have my old slow cooker which was taller and was nice for soups, stews, chili, etc but was almost impossible to use for larger pieces of meat. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Guesting at Sweet Peas and Bumblebees

I am over at Sweet Peas and Bumblebees today sharing our cutest, not-so haunted house!  Come on over for some googly eye fun!!!

Then be sure to come back for our 31 Days to a Functional Kitchen series.  We are on Day 11!

Day 6:  Under the Sink
Day 8:  Utensil Storage
Day 9:  Oven Lifesaver
Day 11:  5 Gadgets

Welcome to my new friends from Sweet Peas and Bumblebees.

{31 Days to a Functional Kitchen} Day 11: 5 Gadgets

Today I want to share 5 of my most favorite gadgets in the kitchen.  These simple and inexpensive gadgets definitely add function and efficiency to my kitchen.  I use these items weekly if not daily.

#1:  Micro Plane
 Love this for zesting citrus, shaved chocolate, grated nutmeg, grated Parmesan cheese and so much more!


#2: Paring Knives
I love the versatility of this little knife and I am especially partial to these from The Pampered Chef.
The Pampered Chef

#3:  Silicone Whisk
The silicone allows you to use this whisk in your non-stick pans which is great for sauces, eggs, etc.


#4:  Pot Strainer
This simple tool allows you to strain hot liquid off of pasta or veggies without dirtying a full size colander.

Food Network Store

#5:  Pan Scraper
These simple nylon tools have different shaped corners to fit all sorts of pans.  If you have ever burned something on the bottom of a pan, these are wonderful in protecting the pan surface but efficiently removing the food remains.
The Pampered Chef

What kitchen gadget can't you live without?