Give Your Oven a Holiday Tune-Up

The last thing you need during the holidays is an oven failure, so we’re getting you ready for holiday kitchen overdrive with a simple oven tune-up to keep you running smoothly from Thanksgiving appetizers to New Years desserts.

1. Clean the oven. No need to dread this task. Most modern ovens have a self-cleaning function, but if not, there is no need to buy dangerous chemical cleansers. A spray bottle of water and a box of baking soda will do wonders.

2. Check the thermostat. The thermostat is the mechanism that helps measure and regulate the temperature in the oven. They can go bad or become unreliable, but are replaced easily. The most common indicator of a bad thermostat is an oven that overheats. You should be able to identify the thermostat in your oven by looking inside for a long tube near one of the side walls. To replace it, be sure to disconnect the electricity to the oven before starting and consult the owner’s manual for any specific instructions. It is most often a process of disconnecting the wires on the old thermostat, removing it, and installing the new one in the reverse order.

3. Check the heating elements. If you’ve noticed things baking unevenly in the oven, or taking much longer to cook, the heating element could be going bad. Replacement is quite simple. Be sure to disconnect electricity before beginning, then follow the instructions in this simple video.

4. Inspect the flames. For gas ovens, ports for the flames can easily be blocked by debris. Turn the oven on and check to see if flame levels are even in both size and disbursement. Clean away any debris or blockage. If the flame seems too low, consult your owner’s manual to find where adjustments can be made. The manual should also indicate the recommended size of the flame for your particular unit.

5. Clean or replace the bulb. The oven light is one of the most underutilized tools, since it allows you to check on foods without opening the door and letting hot air escape. If the bulb is dirty or failing, replace it before the busy season.

Simple as that, your oven is ready for whatever your holiday schedule brings!

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Guide to Gourds

It’s pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere you go right now, but don’t let those beautiful orange orbs overshadow some of the other great gourds and squashes in season right now. Squash is healthy, delicious, and can be prepared in so many different interesting and crave-worthy ways. Here are 5 delicious gourds you should get to know, along with recipe ideas to get you inspired!

1. Acorn Squash
This smallish squash has a mild, buttery flavor and a smooth texture. Try this recipe for Roasted Parmesan Acorn Squash and fall in love.

2. Spaghetti Squash
This incredible squash, when cooked, flakes into spaghetti-like shreds that are savory and delicious and can literally take the place of spaghetti on your plate with a little marinara sauce on top. And the best news? You can cook it easily in the microwave.

3. Banana Squash
This winter squash has an earthy sweetness and when paired with chipotle peppers, makes an incredible Soft Taco Recipe.

4. Patty Pan Squash
You should still be able to find some of these UFO-like summer squashes, and when you do, try this delicious Overstuffed Patty Pan Squash recipe.

5. Muscat Squash
Sometimes called the “Cinderella Squash” or a “Cinderella Pumpin,” this gorgeous, squatty squash is great for cooking (not as great for carving). Try it in this mouthwatering Thai Pumpkin Curry recipe.

Do you have a favorite squash recipe? Share it with us in the comments!

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Halloween Home Tour

via Nifty Thrifty & Thriving

With nearly 6.9 billion dollars spent on costumes, decorations, and candy, Halloween is the silly holiday we love to take seriously. Not only do we dress up the kids, ourselves, and the inside of our homes, but many of us are decorating the exterior of our homes as well. And the results are scary awesome! We’ll take you on a tour of some incredibly creative (and spooky) homes.

We love the cob webs and boarded up look of this otherwise adorable home from Between Naps on the Porch.

Talk about an infestation! We love this house crawling with oversized spiders found on The Daily Party Dish.

What looks like an impressive choir of jack-o-lanterns, is a fabulous display from Ash Tree Cottage that has a wow factor in day or night!

The Kenova Pumpkin House in West Virginia features over 3,000 carved pumpkins each year, thanks to volunteer carvers. What a scene!

Green lights and strong silhouettes make an eery display and a haunting glow.

A Los Angeles house-turned-haunted-house called The Forest of Mirrors has a fiery skull pile that is as creepy as it is cool.

Vancouver Science World Halloween Theme

The Vancouver Science World transforms into a fabulous jack-o-lantern, lighting up the BC skyline.

An over-the-top look doesn’t require an over-the-top budget! Big, bold monster shapes cut out from paper with some backlighting will make a huge impact.

This homemade UFO crash is a show-stopper and so creative. (We have to wonder where it gets stored in the off-season!)

Now we want to see your homes! Post your favorite Halloween decorations to the comments section, or on our Facebook page!

Amazing Halloween Makeup You Can Do Yourself

The countdown to Halloween is on, and just in case you need a little inspiration, we’ve gathered some incredible makeup tutorials for you. Everything from vampires to sugar skulls to gory zombies, and you don’t even need to be a Hollywood makeup artist to pull them off. (Although we threw in a couple of crazy cool advanced-level tutorials for the truly adventurous.) Check them out for inspiration and give them a try!

Vampire makeup for kids. Skill level: Easy
Zombie Ghost for kids. Skill level: Easy
Cheek Scar tutorial. Skill level: Easy
Spiderman tutorial. Skill level: Easy
Simple Skull tutorial. Skill level: Easy
Comic Book Face tutorial. Skill level: Moderate
Easy Sugar Skull tutorial. Skill level: Moderate
3D Stretch Lips tutorial. Skill level: Advanced
Missing Eye tutorial. Skill level: Advanced

 

Easy DIY Fall Decorations

Mrs. Fields Secrets DIY Fall Decor

Ready to deck your halls with all things fall? We’ve rounded up some fabulous fall decor that is so simple, you can put them together in a jiffy. How long is a jiffy, you ask? Not long at all! From top left to bottom right:

  • Raking leaves and pruning trees? Save a substantial branch and use a drill to make room for tea lights. Brilliant!
  • Keep that drill out, because this hole-y pumpkin lets of a beautiful glow.
  • Wrap candles with burlap, ribbon, or even colorful leaves to give your everyday decorations a seasonal look.
  • Fill your antique pots and pitchers with tiny bunches of branches and berries. Rustic and ravishing.
  • Use glow in the dark foam to create eyes for your tree trunks. Fun, but not too spooky!
  • Fill a vase with candy corns in a vase and nestle a small candle inside for a darling decoration.
  • Tiny gourds on top of your regular candlesticks give height and presence to a little decoration.
  • Stark branches and small orange pumpkins fill a large vase and a large space.

Cold Weather Pantry Staples

When the weather changes, so should our pantries. A well-stocked seasonal pantry makes it easy to make homemade meals, even at the end of a long day. Stock up on these essentials and stay cozy and full all through the winter.

  • onions, carrots, and celery: these three are known as the trinity in cooking and are absolute staples for your pantry. Together, they are the foundation of soups and sauces, not to mention the ideal accompaniment to roasted meats.
  • potatoes: bake them, boil them, mash them or smash them, potatoes are hearty and delicious and strong enough to stand alone as the main course.
  • sweet potatoes: not yams, but actual sweet potatoes are delicious diced into soups, hash, even paired with spicy seasoning for tacos.
  • canned pumpkin: our favorite gourd that can be used in a savory or sweet manner for sauces, soups, pies, and cookies.
  • chicken broth: whether you make your own or buy it in cans, chicken broth can be used in beef, poultry or veggie dishes adding depth of flavor, and an extra can can turn last night’s leftovers into enough for dinner again tonight.
  • pasta: for a side dish or a main course, pasta is a favorite comfort food in cool weather.
  • beans: dry or canned, beans are a hearty ingredient in soups, chills, and wraps.
  • canned or jarred tomatoes: for a sauce, a soup, or a quick salsa, your favorite summer fruit is one that tastes just as good in its preserved form.

Those are our cold weather staples. What are yours?

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5 Ways to Enjoy Caramel Apples Without the Mess

Mrs. Fields Caramel Apple Hacks
You love caramel apples. You hate the sticky mess. Now you can have your caramel apple and eat it too (without the need for soap and water). Check out these five brilliant caramel apple hacks for the sticky-averse!

1. If you love the original, maybe you just need a crash course in how to properly cut and serve caramel apples. Serve individual slices with a toothpick.
2. One-bite mini caramel apples on a stick are great for kids or those who want just a taste.
3. Make an inside-out caramel apple by hollowing an apple half and filling it with caramel sunday syrup. Chill until caramel is firm, then slice into wedges!
4. A caramel apple martini is a delicious, no-stick grownup spin on this favorite treat.
5. Caramel apple trifles are ooey-gooey delicious, but served with a spoon!

Do you have a favorite way to enjoy caramel apples?

No-Sew Closet Sachets

Mrs. Fields Secrets Closet Sachet
It’s that time of year to box up the tank tops and shorts and transition your closet into cool weather wear, and we’ve got a great little trick to keep your clothes fresh and smelling great all season through. This no-sew sachet will cost pennies compared to store-bought alternatives and is easy to refresh every time you transition your closet. Make a handful of these sachets and tuck them into drawers and closet shelves. Your clothes will smell amazing, and you’ll keep pesky moths away too.

No-Sew Closet Sachet

9 x 9 inch piece of fabric
10 inch strip of ribbon
1/3 cup dried lavender flowers

Directions
Place the lavender flowers in the center of the wrong side of your fabric. Pull the corners in and tie the ribbon around tightly to secure. Place in dresser drawers or closet shelves for up to 6 months of freshness. After 6 months, untie the ribbon and replace the lavender flowers.

HINT: Use cloth napkins, scraps of fabric, or old clothing to up-cycle for this project.
HINT: Cedar chips, rosemary and pine needles are other great sachet-fillers that will give a lasting scent and deter moths.

25 Genius Uses for Your Kitchen Appliances

Use your slow cooker to bake fresh bread.

You may think you know your kitchen appliances, but you might not know all the amazing things they can do if you just think outside the box. Or the toaster, as the case may be. Check out these ideas and try them yourself!

  1. Your dishwasher is an ideal place to clean and sanitize baby’s toys and teething rings with no harsh chemical residue. A great idea, especially during cold and flu season.
  2. Your steamy dishwasher is also a great place to cook seafood! Wrap fresh fish tightly in aluminum foil with a bit of oil, spices and fresh lemon, then run through a short cycle (no soap!) and you’ll have fresh steamed fish.
  3. Use a pizza cutter to quickly chop fresh herbs. Simply bunch the herbs together and roll the cutter back and forth over them to get a fine chop.
  4. Your coffee grinder is perfect for grinding fresh spices like peppercorns, anise or cumin for big flavor.
  5. Grind rice in a coffee grinder to make fresh, quick rice flour for tempura recipes.
  6. Make a quick garlic paste by using a micro planer.
  7. Need to quickly shred meat? Place your meat into the bowl of your stand mixer with the regular paddle and turn it on. You’ll have evenly shredded meat in about 30 seconds!
  8. An immersion blender or a french press makes great whipped cream without a splattered mess or a tired arm.
  9. Use the hot plate on your coffee machine to toast a bagel or heat a muffin.
  10. Flip your toaster on its side and make quick grilled cheese sandwiches by placing a slice of bread with cheese on top into the slats and allow the toaster to broil the cheese. (HINT: Set it on the highest setting, then attend closely and pull the bread out when cheese is at desired consistency. You don’t want the bread launched out!)
  11. Your food processor can make homemade ice cream in minutes flat. Freeze your ice cream mix in ice cube trays, then pop into the food processor to get a quick, creamy blend.
  12. Your food processor is also an ideal place to make pizza dough, even better than your stand mixer or your hands. You’ll have better, more elastic dough in a shorter amount of time using the food processor.
  13. Preserve fresh herbs by chopping them and putting them in ice cube trays. Fill the trays with olive oil and freeze. Transfer the cubes to a freezer bag and use fresh herbs for your soups and sautés whenever you need!
  14. Use your pepper grinder to make fun, fresh flavors for different dishes. For example, fill it with your favorite cookies to create a fun topping for ice cream or cakes.
  15. Your turkey baster can be used all year long for your pancake batter. It’s less messy than your cup measurer and (bonus!) you can create fun shapes, almost like its a pen.
  16. Use your waffle iron to create crispy hash browns.
  17. Pour brownie or cake batter into your waffle iron for a quick dessert.
  18. Your bundt pan is a perfect roasting dish for your chicken and vegetables. Place the chicken’s cavity over the center ring, then fill the pan with your carrots and potatoes and onions. The bird will cook quickly and evenly and those savory juices will drip into the veggies!
  19. Your microwave is the perfect place to produce a poached egg for your eggs benedict. Crack the egg into a microwave save bowl, then add about 1/2 cup water and a 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar. Place a saucer over the bowl and microwave on high for one minute.
  20. Microwave lemons and limes for 10-15 seconds (depending on size) before juicing. The heat will help release juices.
  21. Use your slow cooker as a towel warmer for your Girl’s Spa Night.
  22. A slow cooker can also bake a fresh loaf of bread while you’re at work.
  23. Use your freezer to help restore stretched out clothing. Place stretched out sweaters or jeans in a plastic bag and freeze overnight. The cold air can help to tighten the fibers and restore shape.
  24. Use your hard-boiled egg slicer to cut strawberries, butter, and mozzarella cheese.
  25. The hot water from your Keurig machine is perfect for cooking a cup of noodles.

How to Clean Your Outdoor Garbage Cans

After a long hot summer, outdoor garbage cans have spent a lot of time roasting and the smell can knock you out (but not in a good way). We’ve got a great project to clean and refresh those bins while the weather is still pleasant. Try it out and thank yourself every time you breathe freely around your cans.

  • Reserve time on or immediately after garbage collection day, so that you start with an empty can.
  • Technically, one person can perform the job, but it’s much easier with a partner.
  • You’ll need rubber gloves, a non-toxic disinfectant (we recommend Simple Green), a long handled broom, a flashlight, a garden hose with a jet attachment, and a sunny, safe spot like a patch of grass or a driveway to perform the task.
  • A power washer is not necessary, but extremely effective. If you use one, remember to wear safety goggles and be careful to avoid spraying any skin or paint.
  • Turn the can on its side with the lid open.
  • Use the flashlight to inspect the inside of the can and identify any areas that have stuck-on debris. Depending on the size, depth and color of your can, it can be hard to miss problem areas.
  • While wearing your rubber gloves, use the broom to shake loose any debris.
  • Use the jet hose attachment or power washer to spray into the can for an initial rinse. Hold the water on any problem areas for 20 seconds to give them a soak and loosen debris.
  • After rinsing, tip the can upside down to drain.
  • Turn the can upright and pour a thin drizzle of disinfectant all along the edge of the can, allowing it to dribble down and coat all the sides. Use your flashlight to determine if you need more. Once the sides are coated, pour a thin layer over the bottom of the can. Allow the disinfectant to sit for 15 minutes.
  • Tip the can on its side and use the broom to scrub the inside and bottom of the can. This should get sudsy and break down any debris.
  • Use the hose again to give everything a thorough rinse. Tip the can upside down to drain as much moisture as possible.
  • Tip the can upright and shine the flashlight to be sure you haven’t missed anything.
  • Spray and scrub any debris off the outside of the can and lid.
  • If clean, allow to air out (preferably in the sunshine) for an hour or two. The sunshine will help disinfect.
  • Finally, use the hose to thoroughly rinse your broom. Use disinfectant if necessary.
  • Enjoy a fresh, clean garbage can for months to come!

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