All Posts by Kendra Peterson

2 how to thaw chicken safely

How to Thaw Chicken Safely

Have you asked yourself what is the safest way to thaw chicken? Over time, I’ve had a lot of community members ask what is the proper way of thawing chicken. Today, we are going to cover those options.

how to thaw chicken safelyWhile the MOMables meal plan helps you with the menu, recipes, and some of the planning, sadly, we can’t actually prep and cook it all for you. There are however, built-in kitchen tips and time-saving ideas to help you along.

Since we aren’t all as organized as the Chief Mom here (har har!), some of us might be faced with a situation where we need chicken breast for dinner tonight, but only have frozen chicken. Did I mention that we need it tonight?!

While it might be tempting to leave it on the counter to thaw while you go about your day, leaving meat at room temperature can be unsafe and cause illness.

Here are the three safe ways to thaw frozen meats!

Refrigerator

The safest way to thaw meat is by moving it to the refrigerator first, but that involves some planning in advance, and can take days depending on a few variables.

  • Allow up to 24 hours per 1 to 5 pounds of frozen meat.
  • Some areas of the fridge stay colder than others. The warmer zones are the front and middle, but it’s best to keep meat in the bottom drawer so that if anything leaks, it doesn’t contaminate food stored below it. If your meat has already been unwrapped, place it in a bowl or pan to catch all the juices.
  • Refrigerators set at 35F take longer to thaw than those set at 40F.

Fridge-thawed items remain safe for a day or so and can be refrozen if needed (but there might be some loss of quality). If you’re not cooking right away, store thawed meats in the coldest parts of your refrigerator (the back of the top shelf where the cold air is blown in and also the bottom drawer).

Cold Water

This is the best method to thaw frozen meats if you’re short on time.

  • Your meat must be in a leak-proof package or baggie (zip-top bags work great). The air-tight bag is needed to prevent bacteria around your kitchen from leaking in and also to avoid the water getting in and making your meat soggy.
  • Submerge your bag in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes.
  • Small packages (around 1 pound) may take up to an hour. A 3- to 4-pound package may take 2 to 3 hours.

Foods thawed using this method should be cooked before re-freezing. You’ll want to cook your meat fairly quickly after thawing, depending on how long your meat has been out of the fridge, but thawing in cold water is safer for a little longer than meat just left at room temperature.

MOM Tip: If you need to cut frozen boneless meats into smaller pieces, partially thaw using this method, (thaw enough that there is less than 30 to 60 minutes needed to finish thawing), remove from the bag, and cut. The frozen core in the meat helps keep it from sliding around as you cut, allowing for neater, more uniform slices. Put the pieces back in the leak-proof bag, seal, and finish thawing. Check the pieces, and change the water more often to thaw faster. Plan to cook right away after thawed because by opening the bag, you’ve introduced bacteria that could be breeding in there!

Microwave

This is the least ideal of the “safe” thawing methods because the meat gets heated unevenly. This method is not considered safe for whole chickens.

  • Set your microwave to “Defrost” or 50% Power to prevent the outside from getting cooked while the inside remains frozen. Times vary based on weight, but if you aren’t sure, defrost for 2 minutes, let stand for 1 minute, then check the progress. Repeat.
  • If your frozen meat is in pieces, pause the defrosting every few minutes to break the pieces apart.
  • If using this method, you must plan to cook immediately after thawing because parts of the meat reach the “danger zone” temperature for breeding bacteria (between 40F and 140F).

Foods thawed using this method should be cooked before re-freezing.

Cooking from Frozen

When there just isn’t enough time to thaw frozen foods, just remember: It’s safe to cook from the frozen state! The cooking time will increase by roughly 50% over the recommended time for fresh or thawed meats.

**Perishable foods should never be thawed by being left on the counter or in hot water, and should never be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

4 how to keep veggies fresh longer

How to Make Veggies Last Longer

Do you find yourself throwing away veggies because you can’t use them fast enough?

how to keep veggies fresh longer

The easiest way to keep produce fresh longer is to buy only what you need every few days. But that isn’t always feasible. So here are some other tips on keeping your weekly shopping bounty fresh longer!

Luckily, the MOMables meal plan already helps you make the most of the produce you buy by featuring the same food in more than one recipe each week, or using a whole bunch/package for a dinner idea with leftovers for lunch!

Other than product-specific tricks, you can try to integrate these general tips into your routine:

  1. If possible, shop for produce locally. Farms, farmers markets, CSA shares, etc. The less time they spend in storage and transit, the longer they’ll last for you—I’ve had farm-fresh cabbage last for months before!
  2. When at the store, instead of buying produce first, save it for last. That way, instead of your foods wilting and getting smooshed while you’re selecting the rest of your groceries, you’re taking them home as “fresh” as possible!
  3. When designing your meal plan, try to use the foods that spoil faster (like mushrooms, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and corn) first, and leave the sturdier ones (carrots, potatoes, cabbage, onions) for the end of the week! (Use up spinach and greens, peppers, zucchini and summer squash, and cucumbers somewhere in the middle).
  4. Since many fruits release ethylene gas, which can escalate ripening and spoiling of nearby vegetables, keep them segregated.
  5. In most cases, store your veggies in their original packaging. They’re stored and sold that way for a reason!
  6. Excess moisture can also accelerate decay, so wait to wash until you’re ready to eat, or dry thoroughly after washing before storage.
  7. Before storing any vegetable, remove all ties and rubber bands and trim any leafy ends (leave an inch or so to help keep the vegetable from drying out). And make sure any plastic bags have a few holes poked in them to let them “breathe.” Pack them loosely in the fridge, to allow some air flow.

Storage Tips for Lettuce, Spinach, Cabbage, and Greens:

For best results, trim a little off the bottom of the stem(s) and soak in water for an hour before storing in the fridge (crisper drawer is best). Greens and lettuces should be washed before storing, as long as you dry them thoroughly. If you get pre-washed greens, be sure to cull any rotting leaves before storing in the fridge.

  • Lettuce leaves should be separated and bathed in several changes of cold water (a bit of vinegar or lemon juice to add crispiness is optional) before spinning the leaves dry or air-drying on a towel. Then wrap and store the leaves in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer. You can also layer them between paper towels before storing in the bag, which will help them last even longer!
  • Cabbage should be stored whole in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer.
  • Greens (collard, mustard, kale, chard, etc) can be prepped and stored like lettuce, or stored in a “bouquet” with an inch or so of water in a jar in the fridge. For the ones with thick stems (like kale) you can revive wilting greens by soaking them for an hour in water before drying and storing again.
  • Spinach should be rinsed and dried thoroughly before storing on top of a dry paper towel in a plastic bag or lidded (or plastic-wrap-covered) container in the fridge. Remove any yellowing or slimy leaves as you find them.

Storage Tips for Roots:

  • Potatoes, onions, shallots, and garlic should be stored out of the refrigerator in a cool, dark, dry place. The “root cellar” was created for a reason. But pantries and cupboards work pretty well too.
  • Vidalia onions, on the other hand, should be wrapped in paper towels and then foil or a plastic bag before being stored in the fridge.
  • Carrots, radishes, turnips, beets, etc. need to have their greens trimmed immediately (you can save the greens and use them like you would mustard or collard greens or kale!). Wait to peel them until ready to use, and store in the fridge (crisper drawer is best) in plastic bags.
  • Another option for carrots, if you have the space, is to store them in a covered container filled with water. They’ll last quite a long time this way.
  • Sweet potatoes should be stored in the pantry with potatoes and such, but used much sooner, within a week.

Storage Tips for Shoots:

  • Celery does best when the ribs are wrapped in damp paper towels and then foil or a plastic bag and stored in the crisper drawer. You can revive wilting celery by slicing a thin layer off the bottom and soaking in a glass or vase of water for about a day (in or out of the fridge).
  • Scallions and green garlic/scapes do best stored in a jar or vase with an inch or so of water. Cover the whole thing with a plastic bag and keep it in the fridge, and they should last about a week. Or wrap the bottoms in a moist paper towel and store in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer.
  • Leeks should be stored in the crisper drawer, preferably wrapped loosely in a plastic bag. Store them unwashed and untrimmed, and they should last 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Asparagus should be stored in the fridge (crisper drawer is best) either with a moist paper towel around the stems or stood up in a glass of cold water with a damp paper towel wrapped around the tops to keep them crisp. But use them fast; they’ll still only be good for a day or two.

Storage Tips for Savory Fruits:

  • Winter squash (the ones with the thicker hulls, like butternut squash and pumpkins) should be stored outside of the fridge, in a cool dark place. Cupboards and pantries work well, or even on the counter (in most climates) will do, short-term.
  • Tomatoes need to be kept at room temperature, and I’ve heard that they last longer when stored stem-side-down.
  • Eggplant should be used within a couple days of purchase and stored in a dark cool area (outside the fridge is best) or in the fridge in the warmer areas (front of upper shelves and door). Avoid sealing in a plastic bag.
  • Zucchini and summer squash should be stored in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer. Do not wash until ready to eat.
  • Cucumbers should actually be stored at room temperature, like tomatoes! They are sensitive to temperatures below 50F. If you must refrigerate them, or have a partial one left over, store them for a limit of 1 to 3 days, and try to keep them in the warmer parts of the fridge (front of upper shelves and door).
  • Peppers (bell and sweet) should be stored in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer. Green peppers will usually stay fresh longer than other colors.
  • Chile peppers should be used as soon as possible, but you can wrap them in a dry terry cloth towel inside a paper bag in a cool dark place (pantry or cupboard) or fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Storage Tips for Other Veggies:

  • Mushrooms vary. Wild mushrooms should be removed from their containers and stored in a paper bag on a shelf or the crisper drawer in the fridge. They might dry out a bit, but are still great for cooking. Commercial mushrooms should be kept sealed in their original containers and should last about a week. If you only use part of the package, wrap the container in plastic wrap, poke a few holes in it, and store it in the crisper drawer. You should either wait to clean them until ready to eat, or dry carefully after you individually clean them with a damp paper towel or a mushroom brush.
  • Corn should be placed in a wet paper bag or paper towel, wrapped in a plastic bag, and placed in the front area of the fridge and used within a day or so of purchase. If you can’t eat it right away, corn loses its sweetness and becomes starchy. So your best bet at that point is to slice off the kernels and freeze them and microwave steam or use in soups and salads.
  • Peas should be stored in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer or the front area of the fridge (rather than  the colder zones in the back of the fridge). Use within a couple of days.
  • Broccoli heads should be misted and wrapped loosely in damp paper towels before heading to the crisper drawer. Do not store in a sealed plastic bag, but a loose or perforated one is okay. Use within 2 to 3 days.
  • Cauliflower should be stored loosely wrapped in plastic in the crisper drawer and will last up to 2 weeks. You can also cut the cauliflower into florets and store them sealed for up to a week.
  • Green beans are best stored in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer and used within a few days. 
  • Brussels sprouts should be removed from the stalk (if you’re lucky enough to find them sold that way!) leaving the outer leaves alone, and store them in a bowl or un-lidded container in the fridge. The outer leaves will shrivel, but just remove them before cooking.

You can also freeze veggies, but that’s a post for another day! But here are some MOMables tips on freezing veggie puree!

If you do find limp or wilting veggies, they’re still good for soup and veggie stock!

2 How to Dye Easter Eggs Naturally

What do you use to dye Easter Eggs?

how to dye easter eggs naturallyHere at MOMables, we like to help you make healthier versions of certain favorite foods. And while we might make all-natural healthy meals for our families, we still trot out the petroleum-derived artificial colors to dye Easter eggs, and fingers, and parts of the egg whites when the shell cracks.

Well now you can take the fake and harmful ingredients out of Easter, too! Use real foods and ingredients to make dyes for your Easter eggs, and feel secure that you and your family aren’t accidentally exposed to any harmful petrochemicals while having your holiday fun!

We know your family’s health is important and you want to do anything you can to keep them eating healthy! This is a big goal of MOMables, to give you creative ideas to fill your lunch boxes that your kids will love and keep them happy! AND if you need to know how to make the perfect easy-to-peel hard-boiled egg, then just go here!

Here are some ways to make popular Easter Egg dye colors:

Red/Pink:

Beets: Take 1 or 2 beets, roughly chopped, and combine with 1 quart water, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 1 tablespoon salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain beets and reserve the liquid.

Beet juice (light pink): Mix 1 cup strained beet juice from canned beets with 1 tablespoon vinegar.

Orange:

Yellow onion skins: Take the skins from 6 yellow onions and simmer in 2 cups of water for 15 minutes. Add 3 teaspoons of white vinegar and strain, reserving the liquid.

Carrots (juiced): Add 1 tablespoon vinegar to 1 cup carrot juice.

Paprika (faint red-orange): Add 2 tablespoons paprika to 1 cup boiling water. Add 2 teaspoons vinegar.

Yellow:

Turmeric: Add 2 tablespoons ground turmeric to 1 cup boiling water and stir well, until turmeric dissolves. Add 2 teaspoons vinegar.

Carrot scraps: Simmer 4 ounces of chopped carrot tops and peels in 1 1/2 cups water for 15 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons vinegar. Strain, reserving the liquid.

Green:

Red onion skin (jade green): Peel the skin from 6 red onions and simmer in 2 cups of water for 15 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon vinegar and strain, reserving the liquid.

Spinach (juiced): Add 1 tablespoon vinegar to 1 cup spinach juice.

Blue:

Red cabbage (purple): Shred 1/2 head red cabbage and boil with 2 cups water, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons vinegar. Strain and reserve the liquid.

Frozen blueberries (bluish grey): Mix 1 cup frozen blueberries with 1 cup water. Let soak for a while, until room temperature, then strain, reserving the liquid. (Or boil 1 cup fresh berries with 1 1/2 cups water for 10 to 15 minutes, then drain and reserve the liquid.)

Purple:

Grape juice (lavender):  Add 1 tablespoon vinegar to 1 cup purple grape juice.

Blackberries: Mix 1 cup frozen blackberries with 1 cup water. Let soak for a while, until room temperature, then strain, reserving the liquid. (Or boil 1 cup fresh berries with 1 1/2 cups water for 10 to 15 minutes, then drain and reserve the liquid.)

Brown:

Coffee: Add 1 tablespoon vinegar to 1 cup strong coffee.

The stronger colors, like beets and turmeric set pretty quickly, but you’ll want to keep the others soaking longer. Your egg colors won’t be as vibrant as the fake ones, but you also aren’t risking neurological and other harmful side-effects from the petroleum-derived food colors. Which is a big win in my book!

Feel free to mix and match foods and colors to make different shades, too! Red cabbage water plus turmeric water mixed together look brown, but make a nice green egg as well!

easter egg dye

After the Eggs

Worried about wasting all that food? You don’t have to! The carrot and spinach pulp, as well as the purple cabbage, beet, and berries can all go into smoothies. If you want to use all the food waste, be sure to add the vinegar after straining, instead of before.

You can even save the “dye” water to color the eggs themselves, or add to food later, too! Just heat the colored water to a boil, then drop the shelled egg in and let soak for a few minutes. When you’re done making eggy art, freeze the colored water in ice cube trays so you can use as much or as little as you like for various dishes, to spread out all that vinegar flavor!

Vinegar is a great substitute for lemon juice in smoothies to cut the “green” and “earthy” flavors from spinach and beets. So toss a few beets, carrots, cabbages, spinach, or juice water ice cubes into a smoothie. You can even toss in a cube of turmeric water while you’re at it!

The acidity of tomatoes will also mask vinegar, so you can use the onion or cabbage water to boil noodles or rice for a tomato sauce dish like MOMables Baked Pasta or Busy MOMs Lasagna, or sub for some water in a soup like MOMables Hearty Vegetable Soup or a minestrone that will have tomatoes in it!

6 gluten free wheat thins

Gluten-Free Wheat Thins

Do you need a new allergy-friendly snack recipe?

gluten free wheat thins

I am always on the lookout for healthy, tasty, kid-friendly gluten-free crackers to add to our lunches. MOMables Cracker Stackers are an easy go-to staple around here, but they can get kind of expensive for a $5 store-bought box of gluten-free crackers, with only 12 unbroken ones.

I’m a somewhat mediocre baker (and by “mediocre,” I mean “incompetent”) and so anything homemade has to not only be tasty enough to bother with again, but easy enough that I’m willing! These crackers definitely fit the bill!

What is so great about MOMables is that you don’t have to be a master chef to produce wonderful snacks and lunches. Just like these gluten-free wheat thins, all of MOMables recipes are made for the working parents who want to provide fun and exciting yet nutritious lunches and snacks for their children without buying all that processed stuff. Join us here to get started with the weekly meal plan that gives you real food ideas! You can also sign up for our FREE weekly newsletter for even more ideas sent straight to your inbox!

gluten free wheat thins vertical

Gluten-Free “Wheat” Thins Crackers

gluten free wheat thins

This 1-bowl recipe is easy to make and easy to roll and cut, but hard to stop eating!

  • Author: MOMables.com

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour (also called tapioca starch)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted, or 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil*
  • 3-5 tablespoons water

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Mix the flours, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter and then add water 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing in between, until a dough forms that will hold together when gathered into a ball. (You can start mixing with a spoon, but you’ll want to knead with your hands at the end to make sure you won’t need to add more water.)
  3. Place the dough on a piece of parchment paper and cover it with another piece of parchment paper. Roll the dough until about 1/8-inch thick.
  4. Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut into squares, or use a cookie cutter to cut shapes. (You can take rough edges and scraps and roll them out again to make more shapes.)
  5. Transfer the parchment paper with the crackers to a baking sheet. For a more toasted look, lightly brush or spray the tops with melted butter or oil. Sprinkle extra salt over the tops if desired.
  6. Bake at 350F for about 12 minutes or until they begin to turn golden. Turn the oven off, and leave the crackers in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Notes

*You can substitute butter with coconut oil OR palm shortening, which will give them a slightly different flavor. Or I prefer to use 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil instead, and add an extra tablespoon or two of water (for 4 to 5 tablespoons total).

These have that slightly sweet and salty taste I remember from the brand-name crackers, but are very pasty-white looking, even with the brown rice flour. You can experiment with adding ground brown flax seed meal for some wheaty-looking flecks, or subbing in partial amounts of darker gluten-free flours. (You can also check out our regular wheat thins recipe here.)

But a cracker savory enough to use in Cracker Stackers, and sweet enough for Monkey Ice Cream Sandwiches make this recipe a regular must-have for gluten-free lunches!

Inspired by a recipe from Homemade Dutch Apple Pie

10 valentine

Real-Food Valentine’s Day Snack Ideas

Need real-food Valentine’s Day snack ideas? Here are 10 easy ones your kids will love.

10 valentine

Here at MOMables, we like to keep things simple and healthy. But once in a while, it’s okay to spend the extra time to make it fun! All you need are a few inexpensive and easy-to-find tools, and you can easily make a meal or snack fancy for Valentine’s Day! Need more lunch ideas and just a bit (or maybe a lot) of help getting school lunches planned? MOMables has you covered, come check it out!

Tools You’ll Need:

  • Small heart-shaped cookie cutter(s)
  • Toothpicks, food picks, or uncooked spaghetti noodles
  • Heart-shaped ice cube mold

You can use a small cookie cutter to make heart-shaped mini sandwiches (made with whole-grain gluten-free bread and MOMables Sunflower Nutella), and sliced cheese, chewy granola bars, cucumber and bell pepper bites, and blood orange slices, and to help shape and remove the stems from strawberry halves. A small cookie cutter is a fun way to cut the core from apples sliced horizontally. Check out these tips on how to keep apples from browning.

You can cut baby carrots at an angle, then flip them and secure them with uncooked spaghetti noodles (after starting the hole with a toothpick). Or just use a toothpick or thin food pick, if the eater can be trusted with them!

A healthier alternative to frozen juice is using a heart-shaped ice mold to make your own Fruit Ice Cubes! Fun, healthy, and delicious!

What About the Scraps?

Other than just eating them on the spot, feeding them to a toddler or family dog, or tucking them under the shapes when you serve them, there are plenty of uses for scraps made from cookie-cutter cuteness.

Veggie scraps work great in a salad, sandwich wrap, or tossed in a soup or stir-fry. Fruit scraps can also work on a salad, or you can save them for a smoothie!

For sandwiches, I like to cut the bread first before adding the sandwich fillings so I can save the scraps for meatloaf, homemade bread crumbs or croutons, (1 cup torn scraps equals 1 slice of bread), or MOMables Frugal French Toast Sticks.

And meat and cheese scraps are still yummy in a quesadilla, grilled cheese pocket sandwiches, sandwich wraps, or on top of pizza!

Some Other Heart-y Ideas!

For the cookie cutters, any firm fruit will do. Apples, melons, and mangoes work well. And any vegetable wide enough for the cutter. You can slice larger carrots into vertical slabs to get large enough areas for a small cutter. You can even turn the heart-cored apples into MOMables apple sandwiches for a fun twist.

Any small oblong fruit or vegetable works well to turn into hearts, too. Grapes and small oval tomatoes can be sliced horizontally and secured with a toothpick or noodle to make hearts as well!

Bread for toast (broil on a pan in the oven for a few minutes on each side), pancakes, and waffles all work well with a cookie cutter. Heart-shaped crackers make a great snack (Gluten-Free Lunchbox Crackers and Homemade Cheese Crackers work well). Or make your own fun Cracker Stackers with heart-shaped deli meats and sliced cheeses!

Other healthy uses for the ice mold include Frozen Yogurt BitesFrozen Cloud Bites, and frozen smoothie bites (check out these Chocolate Green Smoothie and Easy Strawberry Smoothie recipes from MOMables!)

The best part about holidays such as Valentine’s Day is that they give our family the opportunity to get in the kitchen together and have fun. There is nothing quite as cute as seeing my little ones get creative with their food. Their smiles are all I need!

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