Archive for May, 2013

American Flag Cake

  • For the Cake:
  • Image7 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup (about 7 ounces) sugar
  • 1 cup (about 5 ounces) flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Red and blue food coloring
  • For the Frosting:
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 6 to 8 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons cream or milk
  1. Put oven rack in center position and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour bottoms and sides of three 6-inch cake pans.
  2. Separate the eggs, and then putt the whites in one medium-sized bowl and the yolks in a separate one. Add half 1/2 cup of the sugar to each bowl. Beat the egg whites until they stiffen; beat the egg yolks until they are a thick, pale yellow. Carefully fold stiff egg whites into egg yolks.
  3. Whisk the flour into the egg, stirring in the butter, and then separate the batter into three bowls. Dye one red, one blue, and leave the third plain.
  4. Pour batter into the cake pans and bake 12 to 18 minutes.
  5. Let the cake cool in the pans for another 10-15 minutes, then remove to cool completely outside the oven. When room temperature, cool in refrigerator 20 minutes.
  6. Then make your frosting! Cream butter until smooth. Add 3 cups confectioner’s sugar and continue beating.
  7. Scrape sides of the bowl, and add vanilla. Add remaining sugar until it reaches desired consistency. If it gets too thick, add some milk.
  8. Slice the white and red cakes horizontally to form stripes for the flag.
  9. Frost the top of a red layer lightly, and place a white later atop it. LIghtly frost.
  10. Repeat the above step as necessary until complete.
  11. Cut a circle out of the center of the blue cake, and place circle layer on top of the rest of the cake.
  12. Frost entire cake as desired, and place in refrigerator.
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Let’s Get Ready to Summer

Summer Squad!

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The days are getting longer. The skies are looking bluer. The freshness of the spring bloom is starting to grow into that lush, confident green we look forward to every year. And whatever else you might want to call it, we all know what it is. You can feel it in the air. Summer. It’s a time for love, for recreation, for simply basking in the warmth. And if the heat doesn’t get too oppressive, summer really is a time for the flowering of human experience. You’ll never find a better season for more new activities, or a better excuse to take a break from work and go bungee jumping. Yes, it looks like the memes were all wrong, people. Summer is coming.

So you’ve got two choices. You can either enthusiastically drop everything and run off into the great wild unknown and enjoy the vast expanse of North America, hitching and train-hopping your way from town to town before you lose the chance to do it forever, or, for the more sober-minded among us, you can enjoy summer right in your own city. But that takes a little bit of planning.

So let’s get ready for summer with these helpful tips. Remember, we’re professionals.

Install your Air Conditioner!

I don’t know about you, but everywhere I’ve lived, summer can get pretty brutal. That’s a consequence of living on a giant mirror made of glass and asphalt, I suppose, but it does mean that summers are often scorching. And what’s worse, a lot of housing up here doesn’t have central air conditioning pre-installed. So you’re going to want to get your window unit installed as soon as possible. They’re pretty simple to get going; plug ’em in and stick them in the window frame, attaching any included fixtures and brackets to make sure it’s secure. That way you’re ready when the heat really kicks in, and won’t find yourself desperately installing it during a sudden heatwave. As they say, better an ounce of prevention than a pound of cure.

If you don’t already own an air conditioner, you’re going to want to get yourself covered as soon as you can with a good unit capable of providing you with a nice, cool refuge from those days when the sun just won’t stop beating you down. Knowing what kind of air conditioner to buy can be tough, and that’s why we’ve prepared and handy-dandy air conditioner buyer’s guide to help you find the best one. Whether it’s a window unit, a portable, or a full-scale PTAC, an AC is a vital part of any summer plan. Remember, in NYC at least, Summer 2012 was the third hottest summer on record, with temperatures in New York City in the triple digits for much of the season. I can’t imagine weathering that without an air conditioner.

You might want consider purchasing an efficient Energy Star-rated air conditioner, which meet or exceed the strictest EPA guidelines for energy efficiency. And always remember that air conditioners should be replaced every three years so you’re always up to date with current EPA Energy Star standards. They’ll save you money, and help save the planet, too!

Plan a Memorial Day Barbecue

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Memorial Day originated as a day to remember the sacrifice of those who died in the Civil War, and was first celebrated by freedmen in Charleston, South Carolina in May, 1865 in what is now Hampton Park. Today, it’s become a day for both national memorial for American servicemen and a national day of recreation, the symbolic start to the summer season, celebrated with fireworks, family gatherings, and the traditional barbecue.

Barbecuing is a great way to combine a meal for family and friends with an embrace for the outdoors. So if you want to throw a great BBQ party, do it right! Think bigger than burgers. A great grill can handle everything from hot dogs to ribs, and some grilled veggies would make a nice complement. Expand your palate. And think about other things you can serve around the picnic table — deviled eggs, potato salad, cole slaw, baked mac and cheese — to give your guests some options. So gather your family out on the patio with a selection of dishes. Kick off summer right, kemosabe.

Get Ready for Farmer’s Markets!

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Farmer’s markets may run year-round in much of the country, but summer is when they really shine. No more hothouse produce; this is the real stuff. Now’s the time to start getting excited about all the fresh summer produce you’ll finally be able to get at its absolute best, and to think about everything you can do with it. Everything from tomatoes to cherries to watermelons are going to be peaking in the summer, so get ready to dig in. Now’s the time to start planning all those pies you’ve been wanting to cook.

Stock up on allergy medication and sunblock

A lot of people find summer brings more woes than whoas (pun intended) in the form of month-long sneezing fits and deep, red, murderous sunburn. But we live in an age of marvels, and there’s no reason to let your body’s natural antipathy to the outdoors stand between you and summer fun. Now’s the time to make sure you’ve got a reliable supply of allergy meds and sunblock.

For allergy meds, personal preference is as good a guide as any as far as picking what you need, but an important thing to remember about sunblock is that the SPF number doesn’t tell you a whole lot. SPF 15 blocks 94% of the sun’s rays, SPF 30 blocks 97%, SPF 45 blocks 98%, and after that, the numbers become functionally meaningless. For most people, SPF 30 is sufficient, and a water-resistant sunblock should be applied every two hours or after swimming. Don’t worry about getting the SPF 10,000 sunblock you usually go for, and just make sure you’ve got enough of whatever it is you end up using.

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Relax!

Summer isn’t going anywhere. Sure, it’s not the endless island that it was when we were ten, but it’s still three solid months long, and you’ve got time. You don’t need to jam everything into every day, and sometimes it’s important to take some time, kick back by yourself with a good back or every single episode of House of Cards and take a load off. Better yet? String a hammock out back and take a load off. You can hit the beach next weekend. You can go to Six Flags later. Let your mind wander, and dream…

Window Air Conditioner Guide

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Mini Split Air Conditioners Save the Ductless Home

In the summer heat, trying to get comfortable in a home without air conditioning is next to impossible. There’s simply nothing better than walking into a home that’s thirty degrees cooler after being outdoors on a hot summer day. Due to cost or convenience, for many people, window units and central cooling systems aren’t an option, and some home or apartment owners think their only option is to suffer. Thanks to the new kid on the block, though – the mini split air conditioner – this is not the case.

The mini split stands apart from the window unit and a central cooling system for one major reason: it does not require air ducts! Homes and apartments that don’t have central A/C often face issues when people live in the basement or other rooms with small windows; it’s difficult to get these rooms cool.Plus, modifying a home without existing ducts is extremely difficult and often expensive. Mini splits are easy to install and can cool any kind of room.

Mini splits work byusing refrigerant lines that run from one unit outside to the unit or units inside, rather than relying on ducts to force air through the house. The refrigerant cools the air as it moves into the house. Smaller homes or areas can do well with one unit, while others may need up to three to cool the entire home. The benefit of this is that you can cut costs in terms of cooling your home fairly easily. Plus, the refrigerant lines are very efficient, so even with a few units, you won’t be breaking the bank each month.

Don’t think that you’re doomed to a home without a cooling system in the summer. Mini split systems make cooling possible for any sort of home – even if you’re on a budget! 

Celebrate Summer: Take your BBQ Recipes Up a Notch

Summer is a time for lots of barbecues – Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, and, hey, just because. Summer lovers will take any reason just to be outside with friends and family, enjoying the pool, maybe having a beer or two, and, of course, grilling. Even though you can’t quite complain about receiving free food, you have to admit that eating hot dogs and hamburgers gets a little trite when you’re invited to outdoor parties a few weekends in a row. If you’re one of those people who loves to host, you’ve got to have a menu that makes mouths water, so before heading to the food store this summer, try adding the ingredients for these treats onto your list.

Homemade Lemonade

The most refreshing thing on a hot summer day is fresh lemonade. Forgo the sugary, artificial, powdered version and make your own – it makes for some tasty cocktails as well. All you have to do is boil together a cup of water and a cup of sugar in a small saucepan to make simple syrup – be sure to keep stirring it until it’s dissolved. Let it cool, then juice about 5 lemons and stir the two liquids together. Add this solution to four cups of water and serve over ice. If you’re serving it in a clear container, put some lemon slices inside to make it look nice!

For fun alternatives, try soaking different fruits or flavorings in with the lemonade – raspberries, strawberries, oranges, and even mint work well. If you really want to go above and beyond, do a pitcher with a bit of vodka added for some adult lemonade.

Italian Turkey Burgers

By the time your barbecue rolls around, your guests will probably be burgered-out from grilling so much this summer, but everyone wants to fire up their grills. Try turkey burgers, the lean alternative – there’s so much you can do with them!

Make a topping by mixing together warmed sun-dried tomatoes (found in jars at any grocery store), plain nonfat yogurt, and 2 tablespoons of basil.

In a separate bowl, knead a pound of ground turkey with some breadcrumbs, half a diced onion, seasonings of your liking (try oregano, salt, pepper, and fennel), and a small bit of water. Make the turkey mixture into patties – this recipe makes about six. Sprinkle minced garlic over the patties and grill them on well-oiled grill racks. Serve them on whole-wheat buns for more flavor with the yogurt topping and some lettuce.

Fruit and Veggie Kebabs

Have you ever tried grilled fruit? It’s fantastic and flavorful. For a fun treat that’s easy to eat, get some skewers and pile them with combinations of shrimp, mango pieces, strawberry halves, and pineapple chunks. Do another set of chicken sausage, peppers, and onions. Grill them until the meat is cooked through and the fruits and veggies are slightly blackened – kids and adults will love the summery flavors!

Stocking your Wine Cooler for Summer Entertaining

Barbecues and wine – the two go hand-in-hand, especially after Memorial Day, which seemingly snuck up on us. All backyards fit for entertaining have wine coolers right next to their grills, and yours should too. But the real question is, what do people want to drink when they come over for a barbecue?

Consider, first, the fact that you’re going to be outdoors in the heat. No one wants anything that’s going to be too strong, and everyone wants to drink something that tastes good cold. For your lovers of deeper wine, sangria is always a good choice. It’s a red blended with some fruit and brandy to create a summer drink that’s sweet and refreshing, and it tastes great chilled.

For hanging out by the fire at night, though, you want to keep some chilled whites in stock. Chardonnays go great with a nice dinner, and sweeter wines, like Rieslings and moscatos, go great for afterward as a dessert wine. If you’re looking for a white that’s easy to sip whether it’s day or night, though, get yourself a larger bottle of sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio so you have enough to share.

 Of course, not everyone likes wine, and it’s fair to break the rules a little when it comes to what you want in your wine cooler. Be sure to keep a few bottles of summery beers, such as citrusy wheat beers or crisp pale ales, for the hop-heads of your event to sip on in the heat. Keeping a tall bottle of plain vodka will also mean that you’ve got martinis on-the-ready for a more sophisticated and low-key sort of night.

 The main point, though, is that when you’re entertaining, wine coolers should always be stocked with something that everyone will like. Don’t bend over backwards to adhere to everyone’s differing (and expensive) tastes – just stick with a few traditional favorites and enjoy the seasonal fun.

Summer Must-Haves for your Outdoor Living Area

Summer is right around the corner, and for many people, it’s the season for outdoor entertaining. Having friends and family in the backyard to grill, have a few drinks, and hang out around a fire is a favorite pastime for many, so you might as well put the effort into your outdoor living space if you’re going to be spending the majority of your nights there. If you want your backyard to be a magnet for guests, you’ve got to have the essentials, like seating and a Weber gas grill…and maybe a few “just-for-fun” accessories.

 

Lighting

Decide on some lighting that fits the “mood” of your outdoor living space, but no matter what you choose, it’s got to be durable and bright enough. For a beach-themed backyard, try hanging colorful paper lanterns around the yard to brighten it up even at night. It seems that a lot of backyard hosts are fond of tiki torches, too, and solar-powered lamps that go into the ground are popular for walkways.

 

Drink Chillers

Whether it’s a mini fridge, a wine cooler, or one of those really cool DIY picnic-table-trough-hybrids, you’re going to need a spot to put drinks. When guests come over, they’ll likely bring a two-liter or a twelve-pack, and – even better for the host – they’ll often leave what’s left. Eventually your leftovers will add up and you’ll always have something to offer guests aside from what you stock yourself. It’s a win-win.

 

Entertainment

Find some way to make sure that guests have something to do when they come over, or you’ve got something to do when you want to spend the night in the backyard decompressing. Some people opt to put a television on their closed-in porch or install a sound system with speakers all around the backyard. Other options, of course, are fire pits, volleyball nets, an outdoor ping pong table, or, if you’re feeling really swanky, a hot tub.

Tips for Being More Energy Efficient in the Summer

The summer simply gets too hot to survive without an air conditioning unit, but many people have concerns about the cost and environmental factors of running their A/C units all summer long. There are little changes you can make in your A/C using habits that can go a long way, though, in terms of both cost and energy usage. Before the season of heat rolls around, keep these tips in mind.

 

Less is More

If you’re buying a wall air conditioner, don’t think that buying a bigger unit will be your best bet. There are plenty of charts online that tell you how powerful of an A/C unit you need for the size room you wish to cool. If you’ve got a unit that’s too large and powerful for the room, it’s going to work harder for essentially no reason, costing you money and wasting energy.

 

See the SEER

If you’re in need of a new central HVAC unit, then check the seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or the SEER and look for one with a rating of 13 or higher – 14 if you live in a particularly hot area. The more efficient the system is, the lower your energy bills (and usage) will be. Don’t be put off by the fact that more efficient units come with bigger price tags; the savings on your energy bills will help the unit to pay for itself.

 

Maintenance is Key

HVAC technicians don’t provide preventative maintenance routines for nothing. If you are regularly replacing the filter and, on central units, having them professionally maintained, you’ll find that the unit will run more efficiently. It’ll also help prevent significant issues from occurring, therefore saving you from costly repairs.

 

Those are the big ones. These small adjustments will add up, too:

  • Don’t turn on your window unit until you get home / install a programmable thermostat for your central unit.
  • Have central units located in a shady spot.
  • Shade your home with trees, if possible, to prevent sun infiltration.
  • Use dark drapes to block out the sun and keep the house cooler so that your unit doesn’t have to work overtime.
  • Make sure your home is properly insulated and your attic properly ventilated so that cool air stays in and hot air leaves.
  • Use ceiling fans instead of A/C on cooler days.
  • Grill instead of using the stove or oven so your A/C doesn’t have to compensate.
  • Don’t leave the lights on when you’re not using them.
  • Turn off heat-generating electronics, like computers, when not in use.

DIY Grill Maintenance

Pineapples, tilapia, filet mignon, shrimp…some things just taste better on the grill. Having a grill also makes for some fun family get-togethers in the spring and summer – hotdogs and hamburgers, a few beers, and the outdoors just epitomizes the fourth of July. If you’ve got a grill in your backyard, you need to maintain it properly to make sure you get the most out of your investment. Luckily, maintaining them is pretty easy and you can do the majority of it yourself.

Make sure to always keep clean burners. Do a particularly good clean on the first and last cooking sessions of the season, but keep them as clean as possible all year round. This can be done with a wire brush for the exterior areas and use pieces of wire to clean up any clogged up gas holes.

 Clean the racks regularly, too, to keep your food tasting better and the grill running efficiently. Use the wire brush to get the majority of the residue off, then lay a piece of tinfoil over the grids and let the heat run for ten minutes. This will make the rest of the baked-on food easier to get off.

Swap out your lava rock on a yearly basis, otherwise the drippings could cause it to catch fire. Consider using ceramic briquettes as they don’t run this risk and can be cleaned and reused.

Use ammonia or any other cleaner to clean the gas supply hose and grill exterior so that squirrels, raccoons, and other critters don’t feel tempted to chew on it. Also, keep grills covered when they are not in use with a high-quality rain cover.

It doesn’t hurt to rub some cooking oil on the outer body to slick off rain and help avoid rust, too.

How to Install Window Air Conditioning Units

If you don’t have a central HVAC system, you obviously don’t have to resort to dealing with unbearable heat. Window units are always an option; some even think that they are a better option because they can be less expensive to maintain and some are more energy-efficient. They’re fairly easy to install, too, and can be taken out of the window in the winter months if you want to keep them in better condition.

 

How do I choose the right model?

When you start shopping for air conditioner units you’re going to notice that they come in many different sizes and power levels. To make sure you’re not buying a unit that’s too powerful or not powerful enough, measure the room in which you plan to use it. For an average 150-250 square foot room, a climate control unit with 6,000 BTUs will be sufficient. If you’re using the unit for rooms that open up into other rooms, the entirety of the space needs to be taken into consideration. There are climate control unit calculators as well as an Energy Star chart available online to help you take other factors into consideration, such as how many people are typically in the room, and whether or not it’s a kitchen.

 

How do I install my new unit?

Be aware that this probably isn’t a job for just one man – no one wants to accidentally drop the unit out the window! Install the mounting brackets that came with the unit on the windowsill and in the surrounding walls. Attach the extenders to the unit which help to fill the space between the outer walls and the unit itself. Open the window wide and lift the unit into position. Usually, when properly settled, the unit should tilt outward in order to drain condensation more efficiently and prevent freezing. Fasten the brackets, and close the window tightly onto the unit. Secure the window in that position with screws if you feel it is necessary, then sit back and enjoy your new cool room!


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