Showing posts with label Kitchens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kitchens. Show all posts

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Cookie Monster and FACS

FACS teacher friends, this commercial was made for us! I don't know about you, but I have seen my kids do everything in this video (well, I haven't seen anyone actually swallow a wooden spoon, but definitely some gnawing). Enjoy!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Lab Notes

After every cooking lab I have always thought to myself "Next time I need to remember/change/etc." Usually I even jotted reminders down. When next time came around, it was kind of a crapshoot whether I would remember those thoughts or come across those notes, which resulted in many a palm-forehead experience. Then I started keeping the notes with the recipes, but that meant that I only reviewed them as I was beginning to prepare for that lab, and some reminders I needed further in advance. Finally I got around to doing the obvious and keeping all of my lab notes in one place, which turned out to be immensely helpful. For each lab I jotted down what I wanted to remember for next time, such as

  • things that worked well that I want to remember to do again
  • changes I want to make next time
  • steps/procedures to review or emphasize the day of the lab, based on mistakes or misunderstandings that happened in the kitchens
  • other helpful reminders/hints to myself

Sidenote: It's funny now to see the recurring themes, such as "do not accidentally turn off oven." When the oven timers would go off students would hit the "Cancel" button thinking they were turning off the timer, when in fact they were turning off the oven. This was a big problem when that timer was just for the first check!

It's a simple thing, but very helpful. Having the notes for several recipes on the same page also helps because I wind up reviewing them more often, rather than just before using a specific one. And of course, it makes it easier to identify patterns over time.

What do you do to make sure you remember your wishes for "next time"?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Specific Wrong Assumption

A couple weeks ago I wrote about a few of my first year mistakes, #1 being that I assumed my students knew more than they did. Flipping through some photos in an old folder, I came across one that reminded me of a big example of this. I assumed that my students knew the difference between dish towels and dish cloths. One is obviously much bigger, right? And would be a real pain in the neck to wash with, right? And a dish cloth would be way too small to dry with, right? Sigh. Every grade level, every school, every year, somehow these seemingly obviously details escaped a significant number of students in my classes. After a while I even began to point out "Look, one of these is much bigger than the other"...... made no difference. They still somehow got them backwards and used the wrong ones. Here's what finally solved that problem:

I started skipping dish cloths altogether and just went to Handi Wipes. Problem solved. Crazy, I know, but you gotta do what you gotta do! Never had a problem after I started using these. If you've never used them, they work just as well as regular dish cloths, and yes they are washable. And cheap, too! The only issue I ever ran into with them is if kids threw them in the wash with little clumps of yeast dough stuck to them - then they'd have to be thrown away, because they'd get all gnarled up in the wash. But cheap to replace! By the way, I highly recommend using bar mop towels. They're wonderfully absorbent and students won't need to use as many for each lab.

Related: for you newbies out there, you can NEVER have too many dish towels and dish cloths! If you have parents* who want to make donations, a little extra money in your budget (hahahahaha), or you're given a small WalMart or Target gift card and aren't sure what the best investment is, go for towels!

*Or fellow teachers/staff members. I worked with a lady once who asked what kind of supplies we needed for the kitchens because she loves to shop over the summer and doesn't really have people to buy for anymore now that her grandchildren are grown. Don't ask questions - just ask for towels!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Protect Your Handiwork

Here's another tip from the department of the obvious, yet took me a while to figure out that I actually needed to implement this procedure. I have these beautiful stand mixer covers I made for my kitchens, which were constantly getting mucky because the kids would just toss them wherever. I tried to get them in the habit of placing them on top of the microwave and out of harm's way, but to no avail - and somehow even those that followed through still managed to muck them up. So I started requiring that at the beginning of any lab involving the stand mixers, the covers had to go into a box by the ingredient table as soon as they were taken off of the mixers.

Problem solved. After the first lab with this new procedure, I never had to tell them again, someone would always remind the rest of the class to do it. Including me when I forgot to set a box out. Such a simple thing, but it works!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Milk Cartons, Time, and Space

Piggy-backing on earlier posts about organizing your ingredients table and making egg cartons more manageable, here's a tip for milk: save a couple smaller containers. Having representatives from several kitchens waiting around for the gallon jug not only uses up precious time, it's a spill waiting to happen. I divide the milk up into the smaller sizes so that more people can use them AND spills are much less likely.

Note: make sure the kids know you are reusing older containers, so they don't squawk about the old dates.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

More Mixing Mayhem!

So if you'll remember all the way back to August, when I arrived to begin arranging my new classroom the stand mixers looked like this:

Ugh, I shudder just looking at it. So, tomorrow is the last day of school - for the kids, anyway - and the mixers currently look like this:

Ta-daaa! Now, was this really hard, getting the kids to keep the mixers clean all year long? No, no it was not, not at all. Not even a little bit. No clean, no cook. The end. They griped, they moaned, they whined... and they cleaned. Fight the good fight, people! Don't let bad things happen to good mixers!

And speaking of bad things happening to good mixers, make sure you pack 'em up right for the summer. Depending on your comfort level at your school, this may mean locking your mixers away in a hidden location to ensure their safety. Luckily, I feel pretty confident leaving mine on the countertops, and the covers will keep them from getting all dusty. I did, however, bag the bowls:

You'd hate to return to school to discover a little centipede family had made its home in your mixer bowls! This way they stay dust and critter free all summer, without having to take up extra space in your cabinets.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Generic Brands & Foods Labs

You know the kids who loudly declare "Ugh, nasty!" every time they see a generic-brand-whatever on the ingredient table? Yeah, that's not annoying. I've found my life is easier to just disguise the packaging, rather than attempting a logical conversation about frugality.

Generic Parmesan, before:

Parmesan cheese, after:

No one knew the difference, muahahahaaa.... Along with removing the labels, don't forget to ALWAYS open the packages yourself.

For some items, it's best just to move the food to a completely different container: bowls, canisters, etc. For our fettucine lab this week, not only did I hide the generic pasta by eliminating the boxes, but I saved on both food cost and food waste by not giving each group a full container of pasta. Instead of 5 lb for 5 kitchens I purchased three, then divvied it up between them. There's still plenty for all group members to get a decent helping, and there were minimal leftovers - ideal. Over the course of the years I've become more and more successful at whittling down recipes to "just enough" for groups to eat in class. 

I'm not the only one whose kids tend to freak out over generics, right?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Write and Wipe Pockets

Another colorful addition to the kitchens: transparent pockets for lab plans!

These are "Write and Wipe Pockets" from Learning Resources; they came in a set of five and just happened to be the same colors as my kitchens! They can be written on with dry erase marker (included with the set) and then wiped clean - perfect for keeping track of recipe progress! Additionally, with the use of command hooks (yup, I love 'em!) they keep the papers off of the counters where they typically do not escape unscathed. Also available on Amazon, the set is a very reasonable $12-$14. The pockets themselves only come with the upper left-hand corner hole-punched; I simply added another punch to the upper right and slapped on a couple of reinforcement labels:
Less clutter on the counters, easier for group members to see and keep track of what they've accomplished, and of course adds a little extra class with the color coordination. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ingredient Table

So we all know that a key component of a successful cooking lab is to get kids to and from the center ingredient table quickly - hence the egg carton trick, opening containers rule, etc, that I have posted about previously. Another organizational maneuver I utilize to make the ingredient table less chaotic is arranging the ingredients by lab plan "job." Here's a look at how I do it:


When we bake chocolate chip cookies, we divide the recipes into three main jobs: creaming the butter and sugars (note that the sugars and butter are at one end of the table), mixing the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and salt are at the opposite side of the table), and whisking an egg and vanilla in a prep cup (egg and vanilla are together). Chocolate chips are added last, and are measured out by whoever finishes their job first.


We have one person prepping the eggs (crack into a prep bowl one at a time, then place into the batter bowl), one person prepping the rest of the batter (milk, salt, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla are grouped together), and one person gathering the bread and a l'il chunk o' butter (in the prep cups) for greasing the pan. Note that in addition to the milk jug I also have a large cup of milk set out, so that more than one person can measure at a time; also more than one egg and vanilla container are available.


One person picks up the English muffins and the toaster, one person grabs the sausage and cheese, one person grabs the eggs. For this one I was easily able to create a mirror set up where I had a set of each ingredient on both sides of the table; easier to reach and to share. You'll also see my wonderful copy paper box lids being employed again - we very rarely use toasters, so I keep them together. That way they're not cluttering the kitchens, and I can do a quick inspection of them during clean-up to make sure they don't get shoved into a cabinet with random ingredients splattered on them.

*Click on the starred links to watch my cooking demonstrations on YouTube.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Nasco... Live and in Color!

I'm frequently asked where I find all of my color-coded kitchen equipment, and the simple answer is this: EVERYWHERE! WalMart, Target, Dollar Stores, random kitchen stores, Amazon (of course) and everywhere in between. Once you start looking for/noticing these things, you find them all over!

I've just discovered that companies are also beginning to wisen up and sell colored bundles of kitchen supplies - check out this page from Nasco's 2014 FACS catalog:

Sorry for the terrible lighting, but you get the idea. Whether you're looking for bundles or just individual pieces, this is a great place. And no, sadly Nasco has offered me nothing to tote their wares, I just thought that this might be helpful. At the very least, if you don't already receive this catalog follow the link above and getcha one, they have a lot to offer!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Copy Paper Box Lids

One common workplace item that I frequent scavenge are the box lids to the copy paper. They truly come in handy for SO many things! Here is one way I use them in foods:

When I refrigerate overnight ingredients (like sugar cookie dough/above left, or chocolate chip cookie dough/above right), I group the containers by class and nestle them in the box lids. That way when it's time to set up, I only have to pull out one box rather than four or five bowls. The dimensions of the lid fit the depth of a typical refrigerator perfectly, and the sides keep what I'm carrying from sliding off.

I have a kid in my third hour who writes about poop a lot. You've probably had a kid like this yourself, so don't judge : ).

The lids are also good for supplies that you only use on occasion. For example, this year I've decided to store the hand mixers together outside of the student kitchens. Outside of the baking unit they really don't get used much, they take up room, the cords get tangled, and so on. I also always do a quick check of all the mixers before a lab when we haven't used them in a while (make sure the beaters still fit well, the motors are running, etc). This is much easier and quicker to do when they are all together, rather than having to go kitchen to kitchen.

When we do need them, I just set the box lid out on the table with the ingredients and the kids grab one. It's also handy that it's easy to inspect the mixers for cleanliness when they turn them back in, rather than when they surreptitiously stuff them in a drawer.

More on copy paper box lids - and the boxes themselves! - later...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Egg Cartons & Table Space

I don't know about you, but I think this semester just flashed by! Finals are next week already!

 Egg cartons can take up a lot of space on an ingredient table, so I have two cartons that I've cut down to a smaller size:

If my kitchens need a total of six or less eggs, I use the little guy; seven to twelve, I use the bigger one. I just take eggs out of the newest carton, place them in the appropriately-sized one that has been trimmed down, and set out for the kids to use. Then I store it for the next time I'll need it.

Extra hint: I usually place one extra egg in the modified carton, so that the kids don't throw it away by mistake.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Job Wheel the Sequel

A year and a half ago or so I posted about a job wheel I created to assign miscellaneous tasks that need to be completed after each cooking lab. This year I've switched to displaying it on the projector during labs; it's easy to rotate the wheel in PowerPoint, and the different images accommodate classes with different numbers of cooking groups.

The morning Foods class only has four groups, so they are responsible for:

TABLE - clean off the ingredient table (close lids/boxes/containers, wipe off table)
FLOORS - sweep ALL of the kitchens and common area in between
TOWELS - make sure all towels are in the washing machine
POWER - check all kitchens to make sure all appliances are turned off

The afternoon Foods class has five groups, so one kitchen from that class is responsible for washing the ingredient containers. Meaning, if there was an ingredient I had poured out into a bowl or set out on a plate, I would take that item from the assigned kitchen and they would be in charge of washing and putting it away.

Below you can see a green bowl set out under the salt (the idea being that they lean over that bowl when measuring, rather than their mixing bowls or the table); on this day the "green" kitchen was assigned to Ingredient Containers, so it was their extra job to wash and put that bowl away.

I have to say, I'm impressed with how well this works. They always remember to check the board for their "extra" job, and I don't have to nag them to sweep or whatever. I'll also add that they're much more careful about brushing stuff onto the floor, knowing that someone else will have to sweep it - or that the other group may get revenge on them later on when it's their turn to do the sweeping :).

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pie Bags in Action!

Over the summer I posted about trying out pie bags, and today was my first opportunity to see them in action in the classroom. Epic success! They made rolling out the dough SOOOO much easier for the kids, and almost entirely eliminated the insane flour mess that usually accompanies such labs. Check 'em out!

Very little flour required! Nice clean rolling pin, too!

Check out the clean countertops!

The bag easily peels off after rolling.

See how little sticks to the bag, even with minimal flour usage.

There's still always one group that completely overdoes the flour, but look how contained it is!
(I concede it drives me crazy that they chose to line their cookie sheet AFTER getting a bunch of flour on it, but oh well...)

This simple, wonderful invention took an enormous amount of stress out of this lab, both for me and for my students. Highly, highly recommended!

Available at and miscellaneous kitchen stores (like Kitchen Collection at the mall), in two different sizes. Let me know what you think if you try one!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

OCD Much?

Okay, I get that this is becoming borderline psychotic, but here's my latest classroom kitchen upgrade:

And now for the close-ups:

Lest there be any confusion whatsoever as to where I want these items to be stored after they are washed, rinsed, and thoroughly dried, there is now a visual guide in each of the upper cabinets. Drawers are next. Watch out, world.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cleaning Baking Dishes

So I've been putting a lot of time into deep-cleaning my new kitchens (again), and I thought I'd share a few insights. Yesterday I posted about stand mixers, today it's glass bakeware and cookie sheets.

Since I've now been through the whole setting-up-the-kitchens things several times, I've come across some pretty nasty-baked-on-grease-and-other-unrecognizable-substances cookware. Apologies for forgetting to take before and after photos, but here's a good example I found online:

Mmmmm, appetizing! Luckily advice abounds on the Internet (Pinterest especially) on how to deal with these things. Since I've now had much experience in such matters, I'll share the method that I've found to work the best.

1. Don a pair of heavy-duty gloves. Possibly a face mask as well, if they're really gross.

2. Gather all cookie sheets, glass bakeware, etc into one central location.

3. Find a good-sized, sturdy box. The best ones are cookware boxes, because they're obviously designed to hold some heft.

4. Place ALL items into the box. Fold the top tightly closed - here's a demo video if you're not sure how.

5. Create a large, clearly written sign marked "TRASH," tape it well to the box, and set the box outside your classroom door.


I have wasted an insane amount of time cleaning up items that are relatively cheap to replace when my time would have been much better spent on other tasks that needed to be completed in preparation for a new school. Either sacrifice part of your budget or pay out of pocket, it is WORTH IT. Plus, you'll have shiny new stuff which the kids will take better care of anyway.

Actually, let me change one thing: leave the box top open. Chances are that someone will take a lot of the stuff out of the box - even once it hits the dumpster. Trust me. I just wanted to include the video, I thought it was hilarious.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Stand Mixer Fixer

The last time I worked at my new school, I used grant money to purchase brand new KitchenAid stand mixers for all of the kitchens (did the same thing at the next school I worked at - love these things!). They really class up the kitchens, and of course accentuate the color-coding scheme. Practical as well.

So, these mixers are now only about 5 1/2 years old. The photo below shows the general condition I found them in this week; I think that Dante needs to deal with people who would allow this to happen to a KitchenAid:

So, should you ever find yourself in a similar predicament, here's what you'll need: warm water, Dawn dish soap, a gentle rag, a toothbrush, a towel, and a magic eraser. 

Wash the unplugged machine as best you can with the water, dish soap, and rag, using the toothbrush for all the little nooks and crannies. Dry with towel. Repeat. Then use the magic eraser over the entire thing to pick up the well worn-in grime you can still feel with your hands. This should do the trick. For a little added shine, spritz with a little bit of glass cleaner. Bask in the glow of your beautifully transformed stand mixer : ).

Monday, July 22, 2013

Foods Lab Prep: Unopened Containers

A little advice for people teaching Foods for the first time. Whenever you have a new package, carton, box, bag, jar, etc that you will be using in a lab, always, always, always, ALWAYS open the container yourself before the lab. Always. Why? Because when you set out unopened containers for the first time, you're probably expecting a result something like this:

What you are actually going to get is something like this:

I am so not kidding. And this is the best case scenario, wherein the food inside the container didn't go flying all over the place (chocolate chips? bread crumbs? etc...)

p.s. These were demonstration items assembled in my home. And yes, it was painful to do this to the peanut butter. We all have to sacrifice for our art.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Product Testing for Pie Making

Pies. I love 'em. I love getting to teach pie-making in foods class - if there's anything 'retro' about Family & Consumer Science, it's that if you take a foods class you should be able to leave knowing how to make an apple pie from scratch. In my opinion, anyway.

There is of course the downside to the pie unit. Complaints of "The dough is too cold and hard to work with," "I can't roll it out evenly," "I can't make a circle." Then there's the MESS: the over-flouring, the flour all over the counters, all over the floors... the flour that's STILL all over the counter after it dries, because they didn't really wash the counters they just moved the flour around and it dried in hard, flat blotches all over the counters... you know what I'm talking about.

So about two years ago I found this handy little contraption, the Harold Pie Crust Maker, and I decided to try it out today (yes, it took two years for me to get around to it, but in all fairness I didn't teach pies this year!).

Essentially it is a zippered bag that you roll the pie crust out in.

It comes in two sizes - 14" and 11". I purchased the bigger one because I could adjust for smaller crusts if need be. Here's how it worked; stated directions are in standard type, my comments are in Italics.

The directions say to lightly flour both of the insides of the bag. I also added just a pinch to the dough itself. I used much less than a tablespoon altogether for the dough and both sides of the bag.

Zip the bag up all the way around, then roll. The dough was extremely easy to roll, and I think faster than standard methods. I didn't go all the way to the edges, because I didn't need a full 14 inches. I think it's probably best to try to avoid going all the way to the edge, because the dough can get caught in the zipper when you open the bag.

Unzip the bag, carefully peel the top side off of the crust. Then invert on the pie pan, and carefully peel back remaining side of bag. I couldn't believe how easy it was to cleanly peel both sides off, as well as invert it into the pan without disaster.

The crust turned out a great thickness, and there was almost no flour or sticky/crumby dough left over in the bag - and none on the counter!!!

Hand wash the bag with soap and warm water. The bag was extremely easy to clean. Drying was a little tricky just because of it's awkward shape, so I just hung it over the faucet to blot with a towel and then I let it air out there so that the zipper would fully dry. Julie, that's the Snoopy quilt you made for me years ago in the background on the couch! Kristine, that's the afghan that you made for us for our wedding years ago!

Kind of irrelevant, but here is the finished product I created with the crust - it is a "Sawdust Pie" from this pie cookbook. If you're into baking pies, I highly recommend the book!

My overall opinion: I am definitely going to try using these in class the next time we bake pies! They are not that expensive - the big one bounces between $6-$7 dollars on Amazon, the 11" is usually just under $5. They're also available at a lot of kitchenware stores for a similar if slightly higher price. You'd have to make sure the kids clean the bags well, but they are much more likely to do that successfully (and in a timely fashion) than clean up their flour messes. It also takes the stress out of trying to make a circle for a novice baker, as well as makes cold dough easier to work with. I imagine it would work well with pizza dough, another bonus - I'll have to try it out the next time I make pizza at home.

If you face any of the issues I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my suggestion is pick up one of these bad boys and try it at home for yourself - I think you'll be just as impressed as I was!

And seriously, check out the "Pie" cookbook!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Few More Kitchen Tips

One of my pet peeves is when measuring cups and spoons are thrown pell-mell into a drawer; it's messy and it takes the kids about ten times longer to find the tool they need. Because of this I have them put these items back on a ring after they clean up. I highly recommend to them that they take them off of the rings to begin with so that they don't have to wash all of them, but at the end they need to be hooked together again, in nested fashion.

The problem with this is that the rings that measuring cups and spoons come attached to are usually difficult to work with. You have to struggle to get them to open wide enough, and to keep them open as you add things on or take them off. Hence, I toss the plastic rings and replace them with book rings... much more user friendly!

I couldn't find any yellow ones, but they are available in colors, if you'd like them to match your kitchens. Check out the pretty green book rings:

I also have all measuring equipment kept together in one crate; that way again we're not searching for random tools. As long as they pull out the "measuring crate," they have everything they'll need to measure. A few years ago WalMart had these mini crates for sale in a myriad of colors, a perfect fit:

Finally, I just found these baskets in the $1 bins at Target about a week ago:

I load these with dish towels and dish cloths before the first lab of the day and place them in the kitchens; the students are then responsible for refilling them as part of their clean-up at the end of the lab, so that the next class will be set up. One less thing I have to do myself, and prevents later classes from running back and forth to the laundry baskets.

Simple little things like these can make all the difference, don't you think?