Fast Tip Friday: Microwave Pizza Trick

Pizza Crust Hack 1

I’m sure you’ve seen those “life hacks” all over the internet, and you have realized that most of them are bullpucky. If you look closely, though, you’ll find some gems, and here’s one of them.

Pizza Crust Hack 2

The Pie and I will often make (or buy) a pizza and have the leftovers for lunch the next day. And we have a microwave, so we use it to heat up the slices. The problem is that microwaves are terrible at heating up bread products – they turn the crust all weird and wrinkly and chewy.

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The way to avoid this is to place the pizza slice – uncovered – in the microwave together with a heatproof cup of water and reheat to your heart’s content.

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Tada, no more tough wrinkly crust!

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Caramel Corn

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I’ve been experimenting quite a bit recently with caramel (not “carmel”, like Newfoundlanders and many Americans call it, that drives me bonkers) corn — something to which I am entirely addicted, but usually too lazy to make.  I think I’ve finally come up with a recipe I like, however, so now you can have it.  This version is plain jane, but feel free to jazz it up with chopped salted nuts for extra pizzazz.

Caramel Corn 1

First, start with 10 cups popped popcorn.  This is generally about 1 cup of the unpopped stuff.  We don’t have an air popper here, and I’m afraid of the chemicals in microwave packets, so I’ll let you in on how I make my own popcorn (when I’m not doing it this way).  Take about 1/3 cup of popcorn and plop it in the bottom of a brown paper lunch bag.

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Fold the top edge down once and then again, over itself.

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Put that on its side in your microwave and cook away.  Every microwave is different when it comes to popcorn, but I’ve found that on mine, cooking it for 2 minutes and 35 seconds on power level 9 (out of 10) pops nearly every kernel, every time, without burning anything.  Make sure to save people’s teeth by sifting out all the unpopped kernels before you use this stuff.

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Now, preheat your oven to 250°F and spray a large roasting pan.  I used the one I save for turkey time.  You could also use a large metal bowl if that’s all you have. Plop your popcorn in the roasting pan for now.

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Scrounge around and find yourself a wooden spoon (always preferable to metal in candy making), a spatula, a whisk, and a candy thermometer.  Keep those all handy.

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Find a large pot, too, and plop in 1 cup butter, 2 cups brown sugar, 1/2 cup corn syrup (any colour, doesn’t matter), and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

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On the side, have two small dishes ready with 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 2 teaspoons vanilla.

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Bring the contents of the pot to a boil, stirring often, and clip the candy thermometer to the side. The reason you use the wooden spoon here is because sugar crystallizes more quickly on metal than wood, and crystallization is not what you want at this particular juncture.

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Once the mixture starts boiling, stir it constantly for 1 minute.

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Then take the spoon out and let it boil on its own for 5 minutes.  It’s going to boil up pretty high, so make sure you use a large pot for this. At this point, your candy thermometer should be reading 250°F, which is the magic number for the hard ball stage — exactly what we want.

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Turn off the heat and stir your mixture for about a minute.  Then remove it entirely from the heat.

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Whisk in your vanilla and baking soda.  It will fizz up, so be careful.  See how the texture and colour has changed?  Well, you can’t in that photo because it’s a terrible photo, but it will become smooth and a light opaque brown almost immediately. Keep whisking until it more or less stops fizzing.

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Slowly and in a controlled stream, pour your caramel over your waiting popcorn, mixing with a spatula.  Don’t worry if you don’t get it entirely incorporated.

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I suggest leaving all your caramel tools soaking in hot water for a few minutes.  It makes cleanup so much easier.

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Pop the roasting pan filled with popcorn in the oven and bake it for an hour, stirring it all over every 15 minutes.  While the caramel had started to harden on you before you stuck it in there, baking it at this low heat enables it to ooze all over the place and cover everything evenly.

So when you’re stirring, make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, because you will always find a nice puddle of caramel down there.

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Spread a counter with waxed paper and spray it, too.  Once the hour is up, take the pan from the oven and spread the popcorn in a thin layer on the waxed paper to cool. Squish it down with your spatula to spread it out. Doing that now will make it both cool faster and be easier to separate after it’s cooled.

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Once it has fully cooled, break it up into pieces and store it in a sealed container for up to a few days.

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Or package it in wee bags for a bake sale, which is what I did.

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I found the “Hello” stickers lying around in my office supply cupboard.  I figured what the heck, eh?

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MUGS Bake Sale 1

Off to See the Wizard — But Tidy Up Before You Go.

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Bakhita in motion.

Good morning!  Today we’re taking Ali Does It west as we travel home to spend the holiday season with our families.  We’ll be in Ottawa for a WHOLE MONTH.  During this time, Gren will have his second birthday (hopefully he’ll be able to celebrate it with his sister, Bakhita, who also lives in Ottawa).  And Cait and I will be starting on a new category of blog posts for you: Mad Science.  Because who doesn’t love science?  I know I do.  Especially when it involves things that fizz or glow.  So stay tuned for a wide variety of madcap experiments in the coming months.

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From left to right: unnamed female puppy, Gren, Paddy (Gren’s dad), and Bakhita (Gren’s sister).

And not to fret!  I will continue to blog while I’m home with the family — in fact, I will probably make them help out, so we should have uninterrupted posts all the way into the new year!

Cleaning Microwave 2

Before we go, though, I have a quick cleaning tip for you.  I hate leaving a dirty house.  I just can’t stand coming home to a mess, dirty laundry and expired food and stale whatever.  I’m not in the mood.  So the Pie and I tend to do a whole-house clean before we go, just making sure the surfaces are clean, things are dusted, the laundry and dishes are done, and the fridge is empty of anything that might expire in our absence.  It just makes for a better homecoming, especially when the first thing we do upon our (usually late night) reentry is open our suitcases in the middle of the living room and make a big mess.

Now, there’s a lot of work to do in the days leading up to our travel — usually the Pie is writing exams and I am packing and getting Gren ready for the airplane.  So anything that saves me time and effort is number one in my books.  So here’s a handy tip for quickly and lazily cleaning your microwave — while you do something else.  And this even works on super gross, super crusty microwaves.  Trust me.  I own one of those kind.  I’m a terrible housekeeper.  And I’m freaking LAZY.

Take a small bowl and fill it with about a cup of water, maybe a cup and a half.  Whatever floats your boat.  Then add in a few tablespoons lemon juice (you don’t have to be all elitist and use fresh lemons for this — bottled lemon will do just fine).

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Pop that bad boy into the microwave in the middle and nuke it for 3 minutes.  Then leave it in there, without opening the door, for another 5 minutes.  While cool and awesome science is going on behind that door, you can work on cleaning something else.  Or check Facebook.  Or play with your dog.  That is up to you.  What is happening is the steam from the boiling water is loosening baked on goo, and the acid in the lemon is breaking up all the grease.

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Then take your handy dandy scrubby sponge and simply wipe away all that grease and grime.  That’s all it takes, is a little wipe.  I kid you not. It’s that simple.

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Even gets the stuff on the ceiling of the microwave. Easy peasy.  And even if you forget about the microwave, all that lovely condensation will have done its job, even if you come back an hour later.

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And once the lemon water in the bowl has cooled, you can dip your sponge in it and use it to sanitize your counter tops and cutting boards. BLAMO KABLAM.

Egg Quickie

A couple of weeks ago I was procrastinating on the internet and I found a food blogger who discussed how after getting her husband and son off to work and school in the morning there was little time for her to find a nutritious breakfast (I wish now I had bookmarked the page).  Her solution was to take an egg to work and cook it there in the microwave.  We all know that eggs are the ultimate superfood, and a nice hot breakfast is a great way to start your day.

Before I was allowed to use the stove as a child, I used to make scrambled eggs in the microwave.  It’s easy, painless, and nearly instantaneous.

All you need is an egg.  Or two.  A fork.  And a coffee mug or very small microwaveable bowl.  The benefit of the mug is that the handle is cool enough to hold onto, while the bowl tends to get a little toasty.

Take the eggs and crack ’em in your container.  Scramble with fork.  You don’t have to worry about cooking spray.  The eggs will naturally peel away from the edges of the mug when they cook.

Feel free to stir in things, like cheese, or parsley, or Tabasco sauce (I did).  Or basil, or avocado, or red peppers.  Or whatever floats your boat.  Bacon, maybe?

Nuke it for about a minute, depending on your microwave.  Wash your fork while you wait.

BING!  Eat yer egg(s).

A good quick breakfast or lunch or snack with minimal dishes to do and a whole heap of nutritional goodness.

Twice-Baked Puhdadoes

This is a fantastic Friday-night (or Monday-night) comfort food meal for the middle of winter (sorry in advance for the dark photos), mostly because it’s super-quick, super-good, and full of starchy goodness.  It’s also super easy, though we made ours a team effort.

Cait grated the cheese.

I cut the tomatoes.

Even Ruby helped.  Mostly by sitting in the middle of the floor.

So get yourself some potatoes.  You want these to have a decent skin on them, like jacket potatoes, or russets.  Give them a good scrub.

You can pre-cook them a bit first in the microwave if you wish.  Just make sure to poke some holes in them first.

Pop the in the oven (no pan is necessary) at about 400°F and cook them for a long time, until the skins are slightly wrinkled and crisp, about 45 minutes to an hour.  You can tell if the potatoes are ready by sticking a fork into the potato and waggling it back and forth.  If you don’t encounter much resistance, they’re defeated done.  Take the potatoes out of the oven but leave the oven on.

Slice the potatoes open on one side in a large X pattern.

Use a spoon to scoop the cooked potato into a large bowl.

Grab yourself an electric mixer (because it’s late and you’re lazy).  If you must, climb up on the counter to reach your tallest cabinet.

Start mixing the potatoes with enough milk and butter to satisfy you, then add more grated cheese than you really think is appropriate.  We also chucked in diced tomatoes, for colour and vitamins.

Then of course we added bacon.

Spoon this magic mixture back into your potatoes.  They will be rather overstuffed at this point but that is very much okay.

Place them on a pan and bake them again until the mixture is crusty and golden on top, about 15 minutes.

Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of chives.  They are good cold and also reheated the next day, so I hear.

We had our potatoes with rectangular chocolate cake and a good evening was had by all.

So … ap.

My sister-in-law, back before she was my sister-in-law, gave me a wee soap-making kit for Christmas a few years ago.  Love ya Teedz.

I’ve always wanted to learn to make soap from scratch.  I even have a book on it. It’s a pretty complicated process, and I’m not sure where I would get the raw materials here in St. John’s.  Maybe it will be a project for the future.

This wee kit is a good start, of course.  You make it in the microwave!  I really don’t use my microwave enough.  Mostly for heating tea and magic bags.

The kit is from Life of the Party and it contains a block of white unscented soap, a mold with three spaces for pouring, some decorative hand-made paper, a bundle of raffia twine, two tiny pots of metallic colour powder (one pink, one green), a small bottle of scent (half-empty – I think some of it transpirated over time, though the scent is just as overpowering as it as before), and two rubber stamps.  And a sheet of instructions.

Being rather uber-scent-sensitive, I quickly discovered an allergy to the perfume in the bottle (upper lip numb and swollen, that’s a new one).  I think if I make soap again I’ll use natural extracts.  This scent makes my brain feel a little itchy so I think I’ll be using it sparingly – and probably giving away the results.  Better make them good in that case.

This is how we do it.

Each bar of soap uses about four cubes from the big-ass block.  I hacked these off with the aid of one of my stupid sharp knives and some adult supervision (because, let’s face it, I really can’t be left alone).  Actually, it was much easier than I had thought.  The soap has a soft and oily quality that is slightly disturbing to touch but which makes it relatively easy to cut. I had three spaces to fill (but only two stamps, hmm).  I decided to do the bars two at a time, then.

Eight cubes went into a microwave-safe measuring cup (I love Pyrex for so, so many reasons).

Microwave the soap on high for 40 seconds, then stir.  Nuke for a further 10 seconds.  Stir again. Repeat 10-second intervals until the soap is all melted.  It looks like coconut milk when it’s done but smells like soap.

The instructions want me to caution you that melted soap is hot.  No kidding.  It does, however, cool quickly, and will cake on your measuring cup and whatever you use to stir it.

Add fragrance, drop by drop, until the desired level of potency is reached.  Due to my allergy I decided to forgo the perfume and use lemon extract instead.

Add the colour powder in a similar fashion until you get what you want.  I had a hard time mixing in the powder, and in the end much of it ended up clumped in the bottom of the measuring cup.

Put a drop of soap into the centre of your “mold cavity” (that sounds gross) and use it to stick down your embossing stamp.

Fill the rest of the mold with melted soap.  I noticed that a lot of my soap still went under the stamp, despite my sticking.

Allow the soap to harden and remove from the mold by applying steady and even pressure to the back of the mold.  This took a lot more swearing and bending of plastic than I had anticipated.

To remove the stamp from the bar, simply peel it away like a sticker.  Ha.  On both of them I had to cut them out with a knife before peeling them away. 

Also, I noticed that some of the colour from the stamp was left on the soap itself.  The soap still felt oily and left a residue on my fingers.

Plus it was weirdly bendy.

In addition, there was scary stringy soap stuck on my measuring cup and spatula. 

Fortunately, due to the oily nature of the stuff it was pretty easy to scrape off in huge peels.

I decided not to use the rest of the soap, and chucked the lot, keeping the stamps, raffia, and handmade paper for a future DIY.

This was an epic fail (though does not in any way reflect on the giver of the gift).  On the plus side my garbage smells nice.