Thursday, September 29, 2011

Eat Smart Challenge


Hello! Welcome back to our last “Together Thursday” of the Eat Smart Challenge! Are you one of the 32 percent of parents who prepare four to five dinners per week with your children? Now that you’re ready to cook, you have one of the most important tasks in front of you—deciding who will do what! Take a few minutes with your children to organize all of the things that need to be done to make the meal you’ve planned. With your recipes in hand, determine the following:
• What food will need to be cut up?
• Will the food need to be baked, fried, or boiled?
• Will you need to use the oven or stovetop?
• What other appliances are needed?

This is also the time to talk to your child about food safety (here’s a link from Fizzy’s that covers the basics).

Assign the meal tasks once you’ve talked about the jobs that need to be done. If you have more than one child, give everyone a chance to be “head chef” by rotating each meal or week by each child (including mom and dad as “head chef”) then post a calendar and fill in the names for their assigned day.

As the “head chef,” your child should talk with everyone who’s going to be a part of preparing the meal to make sure they know what to do, when they need to do it, and where to find the foods and tools to do their part of the cooking.

Always encourage your child to always ask if there is something someone really wants to do? Use a dry erase board for kids to write down who’s doing what and when. As a task is completed, have everyone check it off the list. And, make sure you don’t forget things like setting the table and cleaning up!

Set the timer, good luck and have fun!

Here are some links to explore:
KE: Raising Kids Who Love Food
How much have your kids learned about food? Try the Hard Boiled Challenge!
Healthy Kids 
Quick and Easy 
Allrecipes Menu Planner Menus 
Family Time

Allrecipes.com’s Fresh Bites Back-to-School blogs are in partnership with Hidden Valley Ranch and PBS Kids.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Christmas in July


Every year for the last 14 years, in late July or early August, someone in the Allrecipes.com community asks the first Christmas-related cooking question. It might be about which cookies are good for freezing, or a request for a cookie their Italian great-grandmother used to make. For Allrecipes, this is the official start of the holiday season, our busiest time of year.

What does this have to do with SEO? The answer is – a lot. Long before Allrecipes had access to, or budget for SEO services, we followed the lead of our community. They search for Christmas cookies on our site…we publish Christmas cookie recipes in response. Reviews for gingerbread recipes begin to rise…we publish more gingerbread recipes. The interest in holiday baking has generated an incredible amount of content specific to the desires of a community devoted to food and cooking—and eating!

Allrecipes’ UGC (User Generate Content) model allows us to optimize for the big terms in our category AND capture related terms. How many ways can you search for sugar cookies? Take a look at some of these recipe titles. The reality is, home cooks use a variety of terms to talk about one thing. Synonyms (eggplant/aubergine), alternative spellings (lasagne/lasagna) – Allrecipes is optimized for most of the thousands and thousands of terms making up the food category.



According to Allrecipes’ president Lisa Sharples: “Our community of millions of home cooks is the best starting point when developing our SEO strategy; reviewing their search trends is like having a focus group of millions.”

Some people call this the “wisdom of the crowd.” We call it ‘common sense.’

Strong SEO practices have contributed to Allrecipes’ growth. The site has experienced 73 consecutive months (over 5 ½ years) of year-over-year growth and 29 months in the #1 position in the Food and Lifestyle category according to comScore. Allrecipes’ 17 websites serving cooks in 23 countries and 11 languages have quadrupled in size in just 5 years. Over the past year we have been working with Optify which has allowed us to further advance our SEO strategies. Millions of savvy and engaged home cooks have contributed to our success on a global scale. Our main goal has always been, and remains, to fill the needs of this community, creating innovative content and features on its behalf. We do this first and foremost by listening to them and acting on what we learn.



Lisa Sharples, President, Allrecipes
Lisa is the president of Allrecipes.com since 2007. Prior to joining Allrecipes, Lisa held the position of senior vice president of marketing at Classmates.com, a division of United Online, where she led a sizeable team and the company’s strategy for all product development, marketing, creative design, customer retention, and customer service. Prior to Classmates.com, Lisa co-founded Garden.com in 1995, where she served as Chief Marketing & Merchandising Officer and a member of the Board of Directors for 6 years. Her other business experience includes overseeing ArtCarved, the flagship retail jewelry brand at American Achievement Corporation, from 2003 to 2005, and marketing positions with Silicon Graphics, Sun Microsystems, and Standish Mellon Asset Management.

Syd Carter, Senior Director of International Content, Allrecipes
Syd is an alumna of the University of Houston, where she studied Biochemistry and spent all her free time cooking. After a stint in restaurants and catering that started with her working alongside three generations of her Greek family in their seafood restaurant on the Gulf Coast of Texas, she joined a web startup in the mid-nineties (like everyone else), at a site called cookierecipe.com. Hundreds of thousands of recipes, thousands of keywords, and several content taxonomies later – she still works at this site, one of the great loves of her life—Allrecipes.com (the evolution of cookierecipes.com). Her other great loves are her wonderful husband, her beautiful children, and her copper jam pot. 

Read more at: http://www.optify.net/seo/christmas-july/

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Couponing Trends


 

September 2011 --  Can watching TV save you money? The Couponing trend and how it’s been affected by reality TV, technology, and the economy. 

INSIGHT 1: Whether it’s inspiration or education, watching couponing shows helps consumers save!

Shoppers who watch coupon-related TV shows — 23% of the survey group — are 6 times more likely to save “more than $50” on major grocery shopping trips than shoppers who don’t. Only 1% of non-viewers reported saving this amount. 


INSIGHT 2: Shoppers who watch coupon-related TV shows are 67% more likely to use coupons weekly when compared with non-viewers. 

Coupon-related TV shows appear to also be increasing the popularity of coupons. 42% of those who watch coupons shows say they are using coupons more this year vs. a year ago, as compared to 27% of non-viewers. 


INSIGHT 3: Shoppers who watch coupon-related shows are 3X more likely to use a smart phone to find coupons. 

Overall, getting coupons from a smart phone is a pretty new concept — thus far only 14% of shoppers say they have tried this method to find grocery savings. Shoppers who watch coupon-related TV shows are more likely than non-viewers to have used their smart phones to find coupons. 

WHAT ELSE INFLUENCES COUPON USE? 
INSIGHT 4: Families with kids are more likely to access coupons on a mobile device. 

66% of families with kids say they are using their mobile phones to find coupons vs. only 10% of families without kids. Age is another factor. 28% of shoppers aged 25 to 34 (the largest group) have used their phones to find coupons as compared to just 7% of adults aged 55 and older. 

INSIGHT 5: Affluent families are more likely to be motivated to use coupons as incentives to try new products and by ‘satisfaction.’ 


What motivates households to use grocery coupons varies by income level? Middle to higher income families are most likely to be motivated by ‘satisfaction’ and incentives to “try new products.” Lower income shoppers are more motivated by cost savings and the fun of using coupons. 

INSIGHT 6: The top five product coupons most appealing to consumers? Household items (used by 70%), packaged foods (70%), personal care/beauty products (67%), restaurants (56%), and meat/poultry (39%). 

Runners-up among popular ‘coupons currently used’ are clothing/apparel (37%) and entertainment (37%). 

INSIGHT 7: 62% of shoppers say they don’t use coupons “because there are not enough coupons for things I buy regularly.” 

In an ideal world, shoppers say they’d prefer to receive all encompassing coupons for a specific brand, such as 20% off all a grocer’s private label products. 69% of families with kids would like to find and use coupons by having them automatically added to their retail loyalty cards, instead of printed coupons. 

COUPONS IN A CLOUD Based on survey responses from 971 consumers. 


Allrecipes, the world’s largest food site, receives 650 million annual visits from home cooks who discover and share food experiences through recipes, reviews, photos, profiles, and blog posts. For 14 years, the Seattle-based site has served as a dynamic, indispensable resource for cooks of all skill levels seeking trusted recipes, entertaining ideas, everyday and holiday meal solutions and practical cooking tips. Allrecipes’ global, multiplatform brand provides insights into the kitchens and cooking passions of home cooks everywhere with 17 websites, 9 mobile apps, and 13 eBooks serving cooks in 23 countries and 11 languages. Allrecipes is part of Lifestyle Communities @ RDA, a division of The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. For additional information regarding Allrecipes, please visit allrecipes.com

Please Contact: 
Stephanie Robinett 
Director, Communications 
206-708-9271 

The Measuring Cup Report is derived by analyzing the site behaviors and search data from more than 650 million annual visits to Allrecipes.com, along with survey data from Allrecipes’ online surveys. Allrecipes’ Coupon Use Survey was conducted between August 1 and August 13, 2011, with 917 total respondents.

Get Everyone in on the Act



Hi, and welcome back to Together Thursday! This weekend, incorporate healthy food on a fun and adventurous family outing. Do you have a local farmers’ market? How about a trip to a u-pick farm? Your kids will see where fresh fruits and vegetables are grown, and then they can participate in picking them together. Or, visit a local garden center to pick up some seeds and start your own indoor herb garden (this will come in handy this winter when many of you won’t be able to grow herbs outdoors).

While you and your family are doing any of these activities, encourage your kids to learn a little more about foods. Here are a few ideas:
     - If you visit a farmers’ market, teach your kids about what to look for in fresh produce with this activity from Fizzy’s Lunch Lab. Encourage your kids to ask the vendors questions, since more than likely they are also the growers. How much longer will the foods be in season? How should they be stored when you get home? How long will they last if you store them correctly? Do they have any recipes to prepare specific veggies or fruits?
     - Do some grazing, most vendors offer samples of fruits in their peak ripeness.
     - If you go to a pick-your-own farm, check to see what is in season. Help your kids learn about the growing seasons by asking the staff about other crops they grow. When are those in season?
     - If you decide to grow your own herbs, involve your children in what to grow and what to make. Start by talking and reading with your kids the seed packet instructions. How long will it take for the seeds to sprout? How often will you need to water them? Where should you put the plants so that they get enough sun? Begin to talk about ways to use them.

After your visit to the farmers’ market and you bring home your produce (or herbs), you and your kids can cook up some fresh foods! Have them turn through the pages of a food magazine, surf Allrecipes.com (have them use the ingredient search tool and search by the vegetables, fruits, or herbs you have purchased) or apps like the Allrecipes Dinner Spinner.

Here are a few links to help you out:
Best Bets for Gardening with Kids
Eco-Friendly Eating for Kids
Sesame Street: Plant a Garden
Fizzy’s Lunch Lab: Veggie Activity
Healthy Cooking
Family Fun at the Farmers’ Market
Crunchy Vegetable Wraps
Everything is Coming up Broccoli
Fruity Fun Skewers

Allrecipes.com’s Fresh Bites Back-to-School blogs are in partnership with Hidden Valley Ranch and PBS Kids.

Friday, September 16, 2011

CONGRATULATIONS THEY DRAW & COOK™ ‘COOKING FOR KIDS’ CONTEST WINNERS!!


This month, the focus at Allrecipes.com is all about Back to School cooking with special attention towards providing busy parents with resources that help get their kids excited about making and eating healthy foods.

We recently sponsored a contest on They Draw & Cook, an amazingly cool social media site created by brother-and-sister design-and-illustration duo Nate Padavick and Salli Swindel. TheyDrawAndCook.com is dedicated to the creation and sharing of illustrated recipes by talented artists from around the world. Since launching February 2010, They Draw & Cook has become the biggest (and funniest!) collection of recipe renderings on the web! If you haven’t visited this site before, we encourage you to visit—the artwork and creativity hosted on the site is truly inspiring.

The theme for our contest was “Cooking for Kids”--we told the artists we were looking for well-designed, fun, kid-friendly recipe illustrations that inspire kids to want to eat healthy foods. The judging panel was comprised by folks from They Draw and Cook and Allrecipes.com. Today we have the pleasure of revealing the contest winners.

Grand Prize Winner
APPLE SMILES by Tracy Mattocks from Brooklyn, NY
We were all in a fit of giggles when we saw this recipe! We loved how it was so simple yet so full of silly fun! Who can resist not trying this? Artist Tracy Mattocks really brings this recipe to life with her happy art style and apple-licious color palette! Everything about this recipe and illustration says "kid-friendly"; it's easy enough for kids to assemble, it's healthy (go light on the marshmallows or use raisins for scary teeth!) and it makes EVERYONE smile!!! Click here to leave Tracy a congratulatory comment on They Draw and Cook.


Honorable Mentions (in no particular order…we love them all equally).
FRUITY AND FUN ICE POPS by Laura Mayes from Ann Arbor, MI
We loved the wonderful story that artist Laura Mayes has illustrated with her recipe. Mom and daughter are having fun buying their groceries and making the sweet AND healthy fruit pops. Then the best part is sharing them with a friend! The colors and frosty borders seem to add to the fruity fun and icy goodness. And not to be overlooked is the cool use of photographic images! Click here to leave a comment for Laura on They Draw and Cook.


PIZZA FACES by Alison Kolesar from Williamstown, MA
We were all laughing when we saw this recipe! We decided to go home that night and make own favorite version of a Pizza Face! This is such a simple yet very clever combination of ingredients that can be customized so many different ways. Kids will have a blast making faces and eating their veggies at the same time! The judges give artist Alison Kolesar an A+ for creative presentation. Click here to leave a comment for Alison on They Draw and Cook.


ONE-EYED EGYPTIANS by James Orndorf from Skull Valley, AZ
We all unanimously agreed that sometimes it's all in the presentation of things! This classic recipe is made super awesome with the way it's plated. Not only has artist James Orndorf created an intriguing illustration, but he has given us a hilarious idea for serving up bacon, eggs, and toast! The only problem is what to eat first: the left eye or the right or the smirk! (Nate and Salli say their Dad called this a "Wink Eye"!) Do you call this something different? If so, click here to leave a comment on They Draw and Cook and let us all know!


PRINCESS PARFAIT by Lisa Graves from Medway, MA
Who can resist a princess? Not the judges! We loved a fairy tale and artist Lisa Graves! Her recipe layers all things healthy and beautiful. Every little girl likes to feel like a princess, right? Of course, Lisa has gently reminded us to eat daintily, put our napkin on our lap and go easy on the honey to avoid sticky fingers (a royal pain). C'mon Lisa, did a real unicorn actually model for this illustration??? Click here to leave a comment for Princess Lisa on They Draw and Cook!


BANANA STRAWBERRY CASHEW SHAKE by Samarra Khaja from New York, NY
Once we finished laughing at this terrific entry, we all agreed that the addition of cashews make this recipe 100% great. It's vegan AND lactose intolerant-friendly, making it even better! They thoroughly enjoy all of the humorous shenanigans that artist Samarra Khaja has included with the cashew bunch and think that kids will love looking at this recipe as much as they will love drinking this mega-shake! Click here to leave a comment for Samarra on They Draw and Cook.


Please join us in congratulating these winners and the more than 140 artists who entered (you can check out all of the entries by clicking here) for their amazing work. If you are interested, prints of these illustrated recipes are available for purchase at www.greatbigcanvas.com and www.imagekind.com; we think a trio of these prints would make a great addition to any kitchen wall. 50% of They Draw and Cook's net profits from the sale of each artwork go straight to the artist.

Esmee Williams, Allrecipes.com VP Brand Marketing

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Try out some veggies! Tip on recipes you can try with your family.


It’s another Together Thursday, and Cory Vicens of Allrecipes.com is joining us to share some tips on incorporating veggies into your family’s diet.

Almost every kid has something that they don’t like to eat, or goes through phases when they decide they’re no longer eating something. It’s a natural part of child development for children to express their independence through food choices. But, it does seem like vegetables get more than their fair share of rejection during this process. There are some things you can do to encourage your kids to keep an open mind toward making vegetables (and fruit) part of their everyday food choices. In a recent survey, 75% of parents told Allrecipes.com a benefit of cooking together as a family is it introduces new foods to their kids!

Focus on the positive:
• To start, involve your children in meal planning and making the shopping list. Go through the fridge or pantry and decide together what veggies and fruits should be added for the week’s lunches, snacks, and dinner.
• If your children join you at the grocery store, get two carts. Your cart can be loaded up on stuff for meals at home, and let your children shop for items for their school lunches and snacks.
• As you go through the produce section, look for new and unusual vegetables to try together. Jicama, tomatillos, radicchio, bok choy, dandelions, and many more foods sound unusual and can keep things fun! When you get home, search together (online or in cookbooks) for a recipe to make with your new find.
• When preparing veggies, think of different ways they can be prepared or served. Raw, steamed and dressed, pureed and added to another dish, combined with a baked potato, baked, even roasted on the grill. Why not serve the same vegetable two different ways at dinner, and have everyone vote for their favorite!
• Salads are a great way for kids to use their imaginations, learn how to combine textures and flavors, and it’s an easy job to get your kids involved in the nightly “veggie prep.”
• Play guessing games with your kids to build familiarity. Blindfold your child and have them touch, smell, and taste different fruits and veggies and try to guess what each is. Then have your children blindfold the adults in the family and you can take a turn.
• Be patient and keep trying. Sometimes it will take several attempts before your child is comfortable trying a new food. Keep offering and putting new foods on their plate, and keep encouraging them to just have a bite of each food on their plate.

Don’t go negative:
• Don’t try to encourage healthful foods by restricting favorites. Making some foods taboo will only focus your child’s attention on what they’re not getting.
• Forcing your children or bribing them to eat their veggies will not resolve their unwillingness to try something new or make for an enjoyable meal time. Be a role model. Make sure you’re trying new things, too. And, talk to you children about those times you’ve had reservations about a veggie or when you learned you liked something you thought you wouldn’t like.

Here are some links to help you encourage your kids to eat more veggies!
KE: Eat your Fruits & Veggies
Dinosaur Train: Hungry Herbivores
Video: Sesame Colors of the Rainbow
Healthy Kids
Meet My Plate
Ten Fast Fruit and Veggie Ideas
Veggie Face Pizzas
Vegetarian Recipes 





We asked our Facebook community to share how they get their kids involved in shopping for meals. This is what they had to say:

Jeri Y: My 7 year old get the grocery list (set up by aisle) and he reads off each thing for me...feels like he's helping AND working on reading :)

Heather A: At 17 months he helps put things in the cart and I tell him what everything is.

Rae M: I have 5 kids, so I divide the list up for 4 of them (my 12 yo doesn't get a list) and draw pics for the ones who can't read. Then, they are in charge of getting the things on their lists. Makes it easy when they all have to go with me! :)

Kandace F: My lil two year old guy, pushes his own lil cart and I'll let him pick out some yogurt, then some veggies and some fruit to put in his cart!!! I like shopping with him ♥

Shelly J: Pre-reading, I'd cut & paste photos of familiar items/brands to a document & print it out as his shopping list to find the items. Then I started adding captions under the photos. Now he gets his own list to read & find!!

What are you tips for getting kids to eat veggies?

Allrecipes.com’s Fresh Bites Back-to-School blogs are in partnership with Hidden Valley Ranch and PBS Kids.
Top photo courtesy of pbs.org.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Guest Blogger: Healthy Kids and Cooking with Caitlin


There’s no doubt that parenting, while ultimately rewarding, is the hardest job on the planet. From the moment the little guy comes home, life as you know it is turned upside down. First you wonder if you’ll ever sleep again. You actually wonder what the sound of silence is. And then you start to wonder if your child will ever actually speak English, or just the language of NO, for the rest of his life. And, yet, through the haze of fatigue, with black circles under your eyes, you wouldn’t change a thing.

I myself have two little boys; my oldest is just about to turn 5 and my youngest is 2. When they were babies they didn’t make a peep about what I fed them. In fact they were eager and grateful for whatever I served. Even though the green peas and yellow squash may have been spit right back at me, at least they were willing to try it all.

Times have changed. Things are different now. Neither of the boys is afraid to spend an entire afternoon negotiating what will be on his dinner plate in a couple hours. They will attempt to talk, argue, and barter their way out of just about any onion or sprout. Often by the time we actually sit down to dinner, I am worn down and too tired to argue. Having said all of this, however, I am proud to report that, slowly but surely, my boys are starting to make good food decisions all on their own.
Food is a huge part of my life. For years I was aghast to think my boys wouldn’t carry the same reverence for carrots from the ground and apples from the trees as I do. So it is with great pleasure I tell you that with a little finessing and a whole lot of fun, my boys are coming around to the best stuff on earth. Following are a few of my foodie-mom-chef habits I’ve found to be super helpful in raising kids who eat healthfully:

1) Good food is not fast. To really appreciate food, kids need to know what it takes to grow, clean, prepare, and serve it. I take my guys to all of the local farmers’ markets. I encourage them to get dirty making homemade pizza dough. I invite them to hand-mash the berries for dessert. And then, when we get to the table, we take our sweet time, as a family, to enjoy it and compare notes on what it took to put it all together.

2) Food is fun. Yes, I take food very seriously. I want to know every ingredient, cooking method, and spice that touches my plate, but that is because food is what I love. When it comes to feeding my boys, food is just good ol’ fashioned fun. Yes, we serve breakfast sausage on lollipop sticks. Yes, I let my boys stir the cookie dough with their (washed) hands. And, yes, when my boys want a banana, I'll get out my blow torch and brulee that baby. Not only are we having a grand ol’ time, we are making our very favorite memories.

3) Buy only the good stuff. If you only fill your house with good options, then your kids will only eat good-for-you food. We never buy juice, we only drink water. And we celebrate with chocolate milk. My boys love Greek yogurt for snack with a swirl of jam they’ve chosen, and frozen grapes for crunch. For lunch they stack their own turkey sandwiches and I grill them up hot. And we have to make the cookies we eat. I allow them to make good choices of their own at the store, and then they can’t wait to dig in when we get home.

On any given Tuesday, throughout the day, my little guys and I are always comparing notes on our muscles. They shine when they relay all the good food that’s gone into each muscle. And I, their mom, have a “healthy” glow about it all too.

Caitlin Steininger, Partner, cookingwithcaitlin.com



Find cookingwithcaitlin.com on Facebook | Follow them on Twitter @cookingwithcaitlin @FoodiesNiteIn

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Slow Cooking is Good Cooking


After a long day, walk in the door to the enticing aroma of a delicious, slow-cooked dinner.

Is Browning Better? 
You don't need to brown meat before cooking it in a slow cooker, but there are some advantages. If you sear it with a little oil in a hot skillet, the meat develops more complex flavors. Always brown ground beef or any ground meat before adding it to your slow cooker: otherwise, the meat will clump together and add lots of grease to the finished product.

Go Easy on the Juice
Because slow cookers work at low temperatures with lids on, there's nowhere for the liquid to go, so it just collects on the lid and bastes the food. If you're adapting your favorite recipes from the stovetop or oven to the slow cooker, decrease the amount of liquid you use.

Lightly Spice
Whole spices such as bay leaves, peppercorns, or cinnamon sticks will give slow cooker items a very intense flavor if left in the pot for the entire cooking time, so use them sparingly. Ground spices as well as fresh and dried herbs, on the other hand, can lose much of their flavor if allowed to simmer for several hours in the slow cooker. It's better to add these items during the last two hours of cooking if you can manage it.

Sooner or Later 
The slow cooker is one of the few cooking methods where you can cut the cooking time by turning up the temperature and still get great results. If something takes 10 hours on the "low" setting, you can safely cook it for 5 hours on the "high" setting with very similar results.

Now that you have a list of must-try slow cooker recipes and tips on how to convert your favorite conventional recipes, be sure to keep your slow cooker in great shape by following these steps from Hamilton Beach®.



Hamilton Beach®: Storage & Cleaning Tips
1. Do not leave cooked food in the crock for storage in the refrigerator. It can take food in this quantity up to 24 hours to cool to safe temperatures. Instead, divide food into small, shallow (no more than 3-inch deep) containers. Allow to cool to 65 degrees F before placing in the refrigerator.

2. Foods that do not freeze well: yogurt, sour cream, milk, large pieces of potato, sauces thickened with flour or cornstarch, and most natural cheeses including cheddar, mozzarella, Colby and Swiss. For additional information, contact your local county extension office or visit: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/ResourcesForYou/HealthEducators/UCM109315.pdf

3. Hamilton Beach® Stay or Go® slow cooker models (with a seal on lid to prevent spills) should be stored with the lid inverted. If you store with the lid in place, it can trap undesirable food odors inside of the slow cooker.
Test Kitchen Tip: Baking soda and white vinegar are excellent at removing odors from all plastic. 

4. Even after thoroughly cleaning it, a white haze will sometimes remain on the interior of your crock (also called stoneware). This is simply food residue left from cooking. This residue is more visible on black crocks. For complete removal of residue, make a paste from dish liquid and baking soda. Use paste mixture as a scrub to clean, then rinse well.
Test Kitchen Tip: Spraying the inside of the crock with cooking spray before you cook will make cleanup easier later.

What your storage and cleaning tips for your favorite slow cooker?

Be sure to check out all the Hamilton Beach® tips for your favorite slow cooker!
Find Hamilton Beach on Facebook | Follow them on Twitter @HamiltonBeachMB

Cooking for the family: what makes a good dinner?


Hi, I’m Cory Vicens from Allrecipes.com and I’ll join you every Thursday for the next four weeks to talk about cooking and eating together as a family. Earlier this year Allrecipes.com surveyed parents about their food and nutrition habits, and we found that nearly 85% of families will eat dinners together four or more times each week. That’s great! When kids are involved in the preparation of their meals they are more likely to enjoy eating it more or trying something new they helped make. We also know from scientific studies that there are many benefits from family meals including improved nutrition and overall physical and emotional health.

You can make the most of your time together by planning to cook and eat together. Here are some ideas to make everyone a part of the action during mealtime:
     - If your kids are helping you cook, review your recipes or cooking plans before you start so you can identify how your kids can be a part of the cooking. In particular:
          o Find activities that are age appropriate. Younger kids can help locate and identify ingredients; then hand them a spoon and let them stir away. Elementary-aged kids are ready to read the recipes, measure, wash, peel, and mix together ingredients at the stove top, while older kids are likely okay using a knife (after guided instructions and practice with an adult) or cooking at the stove top or in an oven on their own.
          o Make sure your children are working in a space that fits their size and where you can monitor their progress at all times.
          o Use cooking together time to help educate your kids on safe food practices like washing hands and surfaces as well as the correct use of knives and kitchen appliances.
          o You can also assign meal preparation activities like setting the table, even creating fun place cards for family members. Just make sure to help your child safely reach the items they will need to complete the task.

     - Mealtime is a great time to get to know one another and encourage your kids to open up about what’s going on in their lives. But, to get the conversation going, you might need a few shortcuts. Here are some ideas for a successful mealtime:
          o Do sit down at the table together.
          o Mix it up! Change where everyone sits to allow for different dynamics and conversation flow.
          o Encourage different members of the family to start conversation. Have your kids ask you questions about what you did during the day.
          o Put the extras on the table, so everyone can serve themselves seconds without getting up and down. This will also allow older kids to assist younger kids at mealtime.
          o Use mealtime to talk about the future. What will your family do this weekend? Are there any fun new activities you each want to try or do? Places you’re curious to see?
          o Keep a bowl with general questions that can help spur discussions: What was the silliest thing you saw today? Did you learn a new joke recently? What was the most interesting thing you heard today? What is your favorite smell? What was (or is) your favorite bedtime story? Kids are interested in what mom and dad were like as kids so chime in with those stores and discussion too!
          o Make sure everyone stays at the table until everyone is done…don’t let kids rush through meals. Teach them to slow down their eating and maintain portion control.
          o Make your mealtime together a family priority so eliminate any external distractions; no TV, texting, emailing, or phone calls for kids and parents.

For some more tips on family eating and some easy family meals try these links:
     - The Benefits of Family Dinners
     - Cooking with Kids
     - Table Talk
     - Fizzy’s Lunch Lab: Family Meals 
     - Healthy Kids
     - Kids in the Kitchen
     - The Dinner Routine
     - Five Dinners in an Hour or Less

We asked our Facebook community to share their favorite moments around the dinner table. This is what they had to say:

Megan H: sharing good food, and memories :)

Barbara H: When my kids get to "telling" stories on each other!! Lol. By the time the meal is finished, we had literally cried, from laughing so hard! The truth coming out... :)

Chris F: Just the family time, we get to slow down everyday and enjoy each others company at the dinner table without distractions of other things. It's something, from talking to other people, that is starting to fade in many American homes. Food is good, the company is good then life is good too.

Melanie T: I just love taking the time with my 3 daughters and husband to share a meal at the kitchen table without everyone in front of a tv or on the computer or texting.

Leigh W: When my children were younger, all of them, from the 29 year old down to the 5 year old, hummed whenever they ate especially yummy food. The thing is, they were all completely unaware of their humming. Our youngest still does it. I love listening to those happy hums -- even if it's just for Fruit Loops!

Barbara P: Every night we tell the funniest thing about today stories. It's great. It really brings us together in a good way, and forces us to find something good about the day! I love hearing my kids' stories.

What are some of your favorite moments around the dinner table?

Allrecipes.com’s Fresh Bites Back-to-School blogs are in partnership with Hidden Valley Ranch and PBS Kids.
Top image courtesy of pbs.org.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Back to School, Back to Cooking


At Allrecipes, September marks not just Back to School, but also what we like to call Back to Kitchen. With cooler weather, days become more chaotic with school buses, soccer practices, and homework. Family cooks transition away from the grill and back into the kitchen for quick and easy meals the entire family will enjoy.

Allrecipes.com is home to a wonderful collection of Back to School pages and newsletters focused on helping busy parents decide what to make for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When creating our Back to School pages, the Allrecipes team took guidance from the experiences of our amazing community of family-focused home cooks (their ratings, reviews, and photos) to ensure we highlight the absolute most popular, guaranteed-to-please, kid-approved recipes.

This year we paid special attention to present smart food choices. According to Allrecipes’ 2011 Back to School survey, more than half (56%) of families with school-aged children are very/extremely concerned with the food their kids eat. When asked who could make the biggest impact in the fight against childhood obesity, 95% of respondents said parents by buying and preparing healthier food choices for their kids. In the same group, 66% felt the media could make a positive difference by promoting healthy food choices on TV, and 59% felt food marketers could make a difference by making healthy foods more interesting and exciting.

Given this information we are particularly excited about our Healthy Kids Back to School page—created in partnership with PBS Kids and Hidden Valley Ranch—featuring PBS KIDS online host Professor Fizzy in his Lunch Lab dishing up a fun mix of good-for-you tips and food ideas. Allrecipes.com, PBS Kids, and Hidden Valley Ranch are committed to providing parents with easy, convenient access to trusted tools, programming, and products centered on healthier family eating habits and smarter food choices.


Each Thursday throughout September, Allrecipes Fresh Bites blog will feature a new post comprised of expert healthy eating tips, recipes, and strategies from Cory Vicens, Allrecipes.com Culinary Director. We encourage you to come back weekly to discover new ideas on a variety of topics, as well as share your favorite family-focused, healthy eating strategies with our community.

Thursday, 9/8 Cook for the family: what makes a good dinner? 
Thursday, 9/15  Try out some veggies! Tip on recipes you can try with your family.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

From Stovetop to Slow Cooker


Put a few ingredients in a slow cooker, turn it on, and come home at the end of the day to a hearty homemade supper. Here are some hints for getting top results every time.

Convert Your Favorites
You can adapt many conventional recipes for the slow cooker. Any oven or stovetop recipe that has some moisture in it—whether from water, broth, wine, sauce, or canned soup—should work beautifully in your favorite appliance. Just keep these things in mind:
•Cut all liquid amounts in half when adjusting recipes for the slow cooker.
•The low heat setting is approximately 200 degrees F (95 degrees C) and high heat is about 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
•For every hour you'd cook something in the oven or on the stove, allow 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high. (When in doubt, turn it on low and leave it all day or overnight.)

Meat Matters
While you can cook just about any kind of meat in the slow cooker, some are better candidates than others. Chicken on the bone and cheaper, tougher cuts of beef, pork, and lamb turn succulent and fork-tender under the gentle, moist heat of the slow cooker.

Hint: for maximum flavor and a more appetizing color in the finished product, remove the skin from poultry and trim visible fat from meats, then coat the meat lightly in flour and brown it in a hot skillet before adding it to the slow cooker.

The Finishing Touches
As your dish nears the end of its cooking time, it's time to add the finishing touches. If there seems to be too much liquid, remove the lid and turn the pot up to high, allowing some of the water to cook out.
•If you'd like to thicken or enrich the sauce, now is the time to stir in cream, sour cream, shredded cheese, or a tablespoon of cornstarch mixed in a little cold water. The liquid needs to boil in order for the cornstarch to thicken it into a sauce.
•Brighten up the flavors with salt and pepper, lemon juice, or vinegar, and maybe a handful of fresh chopped parsley, basil, or cilantro.

Along with these hints from Allrecipes.com, be sure to read the tips on how to adapt recipes from Hamilton Beach®.



Hamilton Beach®: How to Adapt Recipes
You can convert your favorite recipes to slow cooker recipes if you learn these important differences first:
1.Liquids do not evaporate in a slow cooker. So unless you are cooking rice, pasta, or beans, reduce amount of liquid to 1/2 of the amount called for in your recipe.
2.Fresh vegetables produce the most desirable results. Potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic should be washed and cut in uniform pieces, then placed in the bottom of the crock. Canned and frozen vegetables produce overcooked dishes.
3.When cooking rice or pasta, make sure you have an adequate amount of liquid for proper cooking. Converted rice will hold its shape better.
4.Tender foods such as pasta, asparagus, and snow peas should be added in the last hour of cooking.
5.Dairy products such as cheese, milk, and sour cream should be added in the last half hour of cooking.
6.Seafood such as shrimp, scallops, and fish should be added in the last 15-30 minutes of cooking. Once the recipe has finished cooking, add seafood and cook just until done.
7.Ground beef should be browned and drained before slow cooking to remove grease.
8.Spices and seasoning: slow cooking does not intensify spices. In the test kitchen, we recommend adding spices in the last hour of cooking.
9.Use fresh ingredients for the best results. Canned foods take less time to cook.
10.Time conversion chart for a slow cooker filled at least 2/3 full:

Conventional Recipe Time  
 >>   
  Slow Cooker Time on High  
>> 
  Slow Cooker Time on Low  
30 min.
  >>  
1 1/2 - 2 hrs.
  >>  
3 to 4 hrs.
1 to 2 hours
  >>  
4-5 hrs.
  >>  
8-9 hrs.

What are some of your favorite stovetop recipes that you’ve recreated with your slow cooker?