Our Top 40 Good Things
Mise en Place
Our favorite approach to cooking comes from the kitchens of France and can be adapted to any recipe. The term "mise en place" refers to the advance preparation of a dish's ingredients; all should be measured, chopped, diced, or sliced according to recipe instructions before you begin.
When citrus, herbs, and other bright ingredients are added to a pitcher, water is deliciously transformed. For citrus-rosemary water, use lime slices, large strips of orange zest, and gently crushed rosemary sprigs. For ginger-cucumber water, try sliced ginger, cucumber ribbons, and mint sprigs. Steep ingredients in water, refrigerated, for an hour.
Stuffed Turkey Burger
Prevent turkey burgers from drying out by putting toppings in the burger instead of on it. A tablespoon of cheese or flavored butter cooked into the burger keeps it juicy. Scoop out 1 tablespoon of meat from the top of the patty, and set aside. Put 1 tablespoon of roasted-garlic butter into the opening, then place reserved turkey back on the patty. Grill or cook until cooked through. Experiment with different herbed butters and cheeses: Goat and blue cheese work well.
Dishwashing Liquid Bottles
When it's kept in an attractive glass bottle, dishwashing liquid doesn't have to stay hidden beneath the sink. Decorative bottles and pour spouts are available at housewares stores; vintage bottles work well too, as long as they are perfectly clean. Simply fill the bottle with dishwashing liquid, and top it with the spout. Then begin to buy your detergent in quantity, and refill the bottle as necessary.
Bleach is usually off-limits where colored fabric is concerned, but this decorative application gets our full approval. Using a bleach pen, we created the look of batik (a type of patterned Indonesian textile) on a blue runner and napkins for a coordinated table setting. Try this technique on pillowcases, curtains, and even canvas tote bags.
A cookie puzzle offers a challenge and an even sweeter result. Form a sheet of gingerbread to the size you desire, and bake. Cut into pieces upon removing from the oven, while it's still soft. Let cool, place pieces together, then create a design of your choice with royal icing. Package the pieces in a box with a note that says, "No nibbling until assembled."
Like vines, gardening tools can get all tangled up, so organize them on a trellis: It has a ready-made grid from which you can hang many things. At the top of every other vertical strip, drill a hole with a 1/8-inch bit, then insert a 1 1/4-inch No. 10 screw to attach the trellis to the wall of a garden shed or garage. Suspend tools from S hooks; use paper clamps to hold items that can't be hung directly from hooks.
The first step to tackling a spot or spill is knowing exactly how to get it out. To make a handy reference for addressing sudden accidents, slide our stain-removal chart into a clear plastic sleeve, and place it in a skirt hanger where all the launderers in the family can see it.
It's frustrating to wrest a garlic clove from its skin only to have half of it stick to the knife when you chop it. Try this: sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt and a drop of olive oil over the cloves before chopping; the salt acts as an abrasive, helping to pulverize the garlic, and the oil lets it slide off the blade. To make a paste, lay the side of the knife on the garlic and, applying even pressure, drag it across the garlic several times.
Brown Butter Sauce
Melted butter has a more intense flavor if you allow it to brown just to the point of burning. In a small saucepan, slowly melt a stick of butter over medium heat. Swirl the butter in the pan occasionally until it starts to foam and brown flecks appear. Remove pan from heat immediately, and transfer the brown butter to a small pitcher or bowl. Pour over cooked vegetables, fish, or meats.
Turn fresh cranberries into a delectable juice mix: Serve it hot, alone or with tea; or cold, with seltzer, vodka, or white wine. For 5 cups of the blend, combine 3 cups fresh cranberries, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 strips orange peel, 6 cloves, 1/2 vanilla bean halved lengthwise, and 5 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; after about 5 minutes, reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring, 10 minutes more. Let cool a bit; pour through a strainer into a pitcher. Refrigerate, covered, up to 1 week.
Gilding a Lampshade
Gild the inside of a lampshade using Permacoll, a gilder's adhesive, to create a warm, golden glow. The finished product will result in a gilded surface that can't be polished. Instead, the shade will retain the brushed texture of newly applied leaf.
Icing can masquerade as flowers, of course. But why squeeze daisies from a tube when the garden's blooming with the real thing? Any variety of edible flowers can be crystallized in sugar, then scattered across a cupcake's frosted hilltop or a cake's wider pastures.
Copper plumbing doesn't have to be hidden in walls. In the garden, the tubing makes a handsome trellis that develops a natural patina with age. Arrange precut tubing from the hardware store into a ladder shape or other design, and use elbow and T pieces to connect the sections. Secure the joints with a heavy-duty adhesive. To trim lengths of tubing, use a pipe cutter, then a wire brush or metal file to sand off any burrs or sharp edges.
China should be handled with caution to avoid chipping it or scratching the glaze. Large baking cups, paper plates, and felt rounds are just right for cradling dishes without adding bulk. Alternate plates and inserts, then carefully lower a glass cover of appropriate size over the stack.
Keeping Pesto Green
Fresh pesto quickly turns from green to brown if it is not stored properly. The flavor is unaffected, but the color is less appetizing. To prevent this discoloration, which results from contact with air, pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top, and refrigerate in an airtight container.
Lightweight Pot Filler
To conserve soil when planting up large containers, consider how much soil your plants really need, then fill the bottom of the container with lighter-weight materials. An upended plastic nursery pot does a fine job of taking up space; fill in alongside it with Styrofoam peanuts. Make a barrier between filler and soil with a cut-to-size layer of spun-bonded polyester. The reduced weight of the container makes it easier to move around, too.
Hors d'oeuvres by the Dozen
To feed a holiday roomful, you need something you can whip up a batch at a time and serve quickly in individual portions. A mini-muffin tin is the key. Double or triple any favorite recipe, chopping fillings extra-fine so they suit the proportions of the hors d'oeuvres. Bake them about a third as long as you normally would: 10 to 12 minutes for most recipes.
Tug at your valentine's heartstrings with an embellished envelope. Cut out the hearts from colored card stock using a specialty hole punch. Poke two holes into each heart with a needle, then sew the hearts onto dual-capacity envelopes using the needle and silk beading cord. Secure stitches with a double knot on the backside of the flaps. After inserting the valentine, close the envelope by winding a 5-inch length of the cord in a figure-eight motion around the hearts.
A simple bamboo pole elevates a sprinkler to another level, so each plant gets its fair share of water. Cut bamboo to the size you need: for low vegetables, 2 to 3 feet; for tall flowers, 4 to 6 feet. Push bamboo about 8 inches into soil to secure it. Rest an oscillating metal spigot plate on top of bamboo; spike will hang down bamboo side. Tightly fasten spike to bamboo with two plastic fastener strips; trim ends. Attach hose.
Ornamental wooden finials intended for drapery rods or fence posts make sturdy and handsome doorstops. Choose a ready-made finial longer than your doorknob at your local home center. Paint or stain so it harmonizes with your decorating scheme. Attach a rubber furniture bumper to its top to prevent scratches or dents on the door. Screw into the baseboard or wall a few inches above the floor, making sure that it will make contact with the door.
Personalized Welcome Mat
Welcome guests -- and reassure them that they're ringing the right bell -- with a mat displaying your house number. You can easily embellish an inexpensive doormat with hardware-store supplies to create an accent for your entrance that is both functional and decorative.
Restoring Garden Tools
Like your hands, the handles of your favorite wood-handled garden tools suffer from overexposure to weather and soil. To renew splintery, dry, or cracked wood, sand the handles with medium sandpaper; wipe clean. With a rag or disposable brush, coat wood with a mix of equal parts linseed oil and turpentine. Let dry overnight; then buff the handle with fine steel wool to remove excess oil. To reclaim very worn wood, brush and buff a second time.
While your hands are hard at work in the kitchen, give your feet a break with this simple-to-make felt mat. Constructed with alternating layers of felt and fusible webbing, the only tools you need are a rotary cutter, a straightedge, and an iron.
Freeze a Burst of Flavor
Brightly colored ice cubes add a cool splash of color -- and taste -- to glasses of seltzer, iced tea, and lemonade. Drop combinations of fresh berries, mint leaves, ginger bits, and strips of citrus zest into empty ice cube trays. Add water to trays, and freeze.
Blooming for just a few brief weeks in spring, cherry blossoms are famously ephemeral. Unless, that is, you craft artful renditions of them from glassine or vellum, in which case they'll deliver year-round pleasure. Embellish woody branches that you have pruned from the yard with the colorful blooms, and use them to decorate a mantel or spruce up a collection of favor bags.
Use a gold-colored metallic-paint pen to "gild" the borders of invitations, note cards, gift tags, envelopes, and place cards. On a covered work surface, run the pen's felt tip flush along all edges of the paper; the paint will bleed slightly, creating a glimmering border.
Before delivering these playful presents, you can set them out for all to see in a candy-counter-style display. Collect peanut-butter, jelly, and olive jars -- or buy inexpensive containers at a discount store -- and fill them with treats. Select colorful candy like peppermint sticks and jelly beans and layer in a jar or arrange them to form patterns. Coat metal lids with red spray paint; cover plastic tops with decorative paper, and finish packages with ribbon and gift tags.
Pretty and practical, our ribbon board keeps party invitations, postcards, and photographs organized and easy to spot. Cut Homasote fiberboard to size. Pull linen taut around board, and staple it to back. Be creative in arranging ribbons (which you can tuck cards behind) in a pattern on the surface and secure with upholstery tacks. Screw a picture hanger to the back, and hang on the wall.
On February 14, only one flower will do. It's not that a big bouquet isn't sublime, but the rose, preferably in lush tones of red and pink, best conveys a message of love. Although long stems crowd every florist's cooler, any romantic knows that beautiful blossoms are the heart of the matter -- especially when their stems are cut short and they're gathered into tiny vases or glasses arranged in the unmistakable shape of affection.
Have a tiny bit of mustard left in the jar? Toss in a few ingredients, and shake a tangy Dijon vinaigrette right in the container. A crushed garlic clove, some chopped fresh herbs and minced shallot will add the right flavor. Pour in balsamic vinegar, season with salt and pepper, then close the lid and shake. Add olive oil; shake again to emulsify the dressing, and then drizzle over your favorite salad. With a tightly sealed lid, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Outlining a Flower Bed
Defining the best contour for a new or expanded planting bed doesn't have to be a frustrating process of trial and error that leaves spade scars in the lawn. A rubber garden hose is an ideal tool for laying out the lazy curves of a flower garden. Shape and reshape the hose along the ground until you're satisfied with the design, then use a squeezable condiment bottle filled with powdered lime to mark the outline. Roll up the hose and start digging.
Cut and Carry
Here's a convenient way to transport flats of blooms you've purchased and recycle a shopping bag at the same time. Start with a large paper bag that has handles. Cut the bag along both long sides of a side panel. Repeat on other side. Fold cut panels in to create more support at the base of the carrier; trim excess paper. Store the carrier in the trunk of your car to reuse as necessary.