Mrs. Sell's Blog of Household Management

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Make your own: cold-brew coffee

I am one of those people who has always liked the scent of coffee more than the flavor. Seriously, how can something that smells so good (especially when freshly ground) taste so much like burned dirt?

So for most of my life, I got my necessary caffeine from soda, with the occasional coffee (during Starbucks holiday season). Eventually, though, I got tired of buying heavy soda bottles and cans and lugging them from the grocery store, then having them take up tons of space on my countertop.

I still needed caffeine, though, so I had to find some way to make coffee work. The main problem was that if I made regular coffee in my little coffee pot, it took way more sugar than I really wanted to ingest every morning just to make it palatable, and even then the bitterness was very unpleasant.

I’d always liked iced coffee, though, and so set about finding out how to make it myself! It turns out that iced coffee is not quite as simple as making a pot of coffee and chilling it. You can certainly do that, but it doesn’t produce that smooth, mild flavor that iced coffee traditionally has, and it still has all the acid that a turns a lot of people away from hot coffee.

I finally found the best method of making iced coffee, using a cold-brew method that I got from several sources. There are many good things about this method: each batch you make will last at least several days, if not longer; the concentrate can be used for iced coffee OR for hot coffee; the result is much less acidic than hot coffee, so you can still drink it if you have a sensitive stomach; and the flavor is so much nicer; it tastes a lot more like coffee grounds smell!

I got my method from The Pioneer Woman, with additional information from Imbibe Magazine and Serious Eats. I use the proportion from Pioneer Woman, but as always with coffee, adjust the strength to your own taste.

What you need:

coffee stuff all

  • coffee (I love Millstone’s Chocolate Velvet and French Vanilla, and I also have a bag of Marshmallow from Target – so good!)
  • a container with a lid to brew and keep your coffee in (I use this wonderful canning bottle from The Container Store. It’s an Italian brand and a little expensive, but I have several of their bottles and jars and they are SO TOUGH: I have dropped these bottles on the floor multiple times and they do not break. But you can use any container you want: a pitcher, a large measuring cup, a bowl, almost anything will work in a pinch.)
  • a funnel (if your coffee container has a small mouth)
  • a kitchen scale (if you want to scale up or down the recipe, this is the easiest way to do it. But I’ll explain other ways in a minute.)
  • a sieve and a coffee filter (or cheesecloth) for straining the coffee
  • another bowl, pitcher, bottle, or other container for straining

What you do:

I use Pioneer Woman’s proportion of 1 pound of coffee (the easiest way to measure: just buy a 1 pound bag!) to 2 gallons of water, except I reduce it to 2 ounces of coffee to 1 quart of water. Normally I just set the bottle and funnel on the scale, zero it out, then pour the coffee straight from the bag until I hit 2 ounces. But this time, I used a little bowl so I could measure the volume of 2 ounces of coffee.

coffee scale bowl

It turns out that 2 ounces is 10 level tablespoons of medium-ground coffee, or 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons.

Once I had it measured, I went ahead and poured it into the bottle as I would normally:

coffee pouring

This is what I normally get: 2 ounces of coffee, straight in the bottle:

coffee scale bottle funnel

Then I just fill the bottle with water as high as it will go. I usually end up with something under a quart, just because of the size limitations of the bottle. If I really wanted a full quart of coffee concentrate, I’d have to use a bigger container.

coffee bottle separated

When you first add the water, all the coffee grounds will float, so you want to either put the lid on the bottle and shake it, or use a long spoon to carefully stir it if you’re using some other container. The coffee grounds should all be wet so you get the most flavor out of all of them. The bottle makes it easy:

coffee bottle combined

I lidded it, shook it up, then made a little hillbilly label with the flavor and the time I started it. The longer you let it sit, the stronger the concentrate will be, but it needs to sit for at least 8 hours. (A lot of people start it in the evening to be done the next morning.) I’m probably going to leave this sitting until tomorrow morning, shaking every now and then to make sure all the grounds stay wet.


The coffee has now been brewing at room temperature for about a day. I need coffee, so I’m going to strain it and drink it!

The first thing you do is take your strainer (all by itself, without the coffee filter), and pour the coffee through it into another container. I use my plastic batter bowl, because it is plenty big enough, and it has an easy pour spout.

coffee first pour

It’s nice to have a strainer with handles so it will rest on the sides of the bowl. The majority of the grounds will end up in the strainer, with some of the smaller bits passing through into the coffee.

grounds first pour2

Dump your grounds in the trash or compost, rinse and empty the bottle until there are no more grounds stuck to the inside, and rinse the strainer so grounds don’t go into the final straining of the coffee.

Now it’s time for the last straining!

If the mouth of your storage container is small, place a funnel in the opening, then put the coffee filter in the strainer and set it on top of the funnel. I have to hold mine so the whole thing doesn’t tip over, but occasionally when I don’t mind washing another bowl, I’ll strain it into something wider so the strainer stays up by itself, then just pour it into the bottle when it’s done.

final drain setup

Now slowly and carefully pour the coffee into the filter and strainer, being careful to stop before it overflows. It will take a lot longer than the first straining, so you just have to be patient and wait. Although if you use cheesecloth instead of a coffee filter, I hear it goes much more quickly.

final drain

The coffee trickles down through the filter, strainer, and funnel, and into the jar. Slowly. Once I get close to the end, I start helping it out with a spoon, gently scraping the bottom so the filter doesn’t get clogged.

final grounds

I keep going until it’s not soupy anymore, just wet grounds. The more you get out, the more coffee you end up with. See how much is left after the first strain? Trust me, you don’t want to skip the second step, no matter how long it takes. Unless you like crunchy coffee.

Then toss/compost the filter and remaining grounds, and your coffee is ready for use! I leave the label on so I know what flavor I have going.

final bottle

(The level here is lower than it originally was because I poured out some to drink before I took the picture.)

The great thing about this coffee concentrate is that you don’t have to drink it iced! Yes, you can pour it over ice with milk and sweetener, but you can also dilute it with some boiled water for hot coffee, or heat it with milk for a warm morning drink – my favorite! And it keeps in the fridge for quite a while; if I had room I’d probably make more than a quart at a time. But this way I get to switch up the flavor every ten days or so, so it works out.

Interesting things about the Northeast

We’ve been in the Northeast for about four months, and there has definitely been some adjusting to do. For example,


This did not happen in Southern California. Ever. I used to have a weekly schedule for doing things like grocery shopping. However, in the Northeast, schedules are redefined as “we go out on whatever day it’s NOT snowing and stock up for the next six days we’re going to be snowbound.”

Other interesting things about the Northeast:

Polish food!!!

pierogi varieties

We got these for the last snowstorm, figuring that if we have to be stuck eating only one things for days on end, pierogies are the way to go. Here we have Mrs. T’s, probably the most common commercial pierogi brand. Most grocery stores will carry at least one or two varieties throughout the country, but we clearly hit the jackpot here. Mrs. T’s are not quite as good as homemade, but if you top them with onions sautéed in butter and remember that you didn’t have to slave for four hours to make them, they are certainly acceptable. We also found a brand called Poppy’s, but we haven’t tried them yet. The plastic baggie in the foreground is some of my own pierogies, frozen, for comparison.

More Polish food!

paczki box top

These are traditional pre-Lent Polish pastries. Despite what is clearly written on the box, they are pronounced “paunch-key” or “punch-key.” (Can someone please teach me the rules of Slavic-to-English spelling conversion? Gaelic, too; I can never figure those out.)

Paczki are a filled pastry covered with powdered sugar that Polish people eat for Fat Thursday, which is basically the same thing as Fat Tuesday/Pancake Tuesday/Mardi Gras is in other places. What I found interesting about these is that I normally do not like donuts, but I liked these. I think it might be because paczki traditionally have a small amount of alcohol added to the dough which prevents deep absorption of oil while frying, which would account for the difference in flavor. We got them with raspberry and custard filling, but there were stacks of them with all different fruit fillings at the store.

And last but not least, the state drink of Rhode Island:

coffee syrup bottle


Yes, it says “coffee syrup,” like chocolate syrup, except with coffee flavor. Apparently this stuff is ubiquitous in Rhode Island, but virtually unknown outside of this region. It’s not bad; it kinda tastes like those coffee hard candies. It’s got a different viscosity than chocolate syrup, too; this one is practically liquid. Apparently there are other brands that each have their own unique flavor, so I plan to find them all and try them! I will update as events warrant.

Essential kitchen gear

We recently moved from southern California to south-eastern Connecticut (I think the military tried to see how far they could send us without actually leaving the country). It took us a couple of weeks to make the drive, and what with waiting for our household goods to be delivered, most of my kitchen was packed for about a month.

I have a LOT of kitchen gear, and it was a little disturbing to see how little I actually needed when I only had room for the essentials – almost everything fit into one small box! Here’s what I was able to cook with for a month:

a few knives: a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and an in-between for slicing

a medium-sized plastic cutting board

a smallish flat grater

a vegetable peeler

a can opener

a silicon-coated flat whisk (works on all pan surfaces)

a pair of silicon-coated locking tongs

a plastic bench scraper

a set of four Pyrex mixing bowls (Heavy, but microwave- and oven-proof, in a pinch. Plus they’re vintage and I didn’t want to risk them with the movers.)

wooden spoons: some round-headed for stirring, and some flat for scraping and sautéing

nylon utensils: a spatula, some serving spoons, a ladle, etc. (I have stainless steel, but like the whisk and tongs, I needed things that would work on every surface.)

measuring cups and spoons

a collapsible silicon colander

a large Dutch oven (My 6 3/4-quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven does everything from boil pasta to roast chickens.)

a large braiser (My 5-quart enameled cast iron braiser goes everywhere the Dutch oven does, but is shorter and flatter like a griddle for pancakes and stuff.)

a broiler pan (When you’re living in a house with no furniture, you end up eating a lot of frozen pizzas and things. A broiler pan give you a flat enough surface for heating frozen pizzas and breads, but have enough rim to catch juices from roasting meats.)

I think the only thing that I really wished I had brought was my knife sharpener, although if I had sharpened my knives right before the move it wouldn’t have been an issue.

Once we arrived in our new house, I was able to cook almost everything I would normally. I couldn’t bake cookies or make muffins, but I could fix dinner every night! And then I had to face unpacking dozens of boxes of kitchen gear that I had just proven that I don’t really need…

Libbey Vibe Jars: replacement parts

I recently had a commenter inquire about replacement gaskets for her Libbey Vibe glass jars. I contacted Libbey, and while they don’t sell the gaskets separately, they do sell replacement lids. Here’s the info!

Small: $0.99 each

Medium: $1.40 each

Large and Extra Large: $1.60 each

Order by calling 888-794-8469, Monday through Friday, 9:00-5:00 Eastern Time.

They accept credit cards and ship via UPS.

Stamp tribulation

When you plan to go to the Post Office and buy a big roll of Forever stamps so you never have to worry about stamps again, do not chicken out and let them sell you 100 regular stamps, because for the foreseeable future, all of your envelopes will look like this:


Note: I bought 100 first class stamps in 2008, at 41¢ apiece. The good news is that pretty soon I will just be able to use two of them to cover first-class postage, and they will get used up that much faster.

My favorite pan

measuring pan interior

… or is it? A pan, I mean. It’s still my favorite. It’s made out of 18/10 stainless steel, just like my pots and pans. I use it all the time…

measuring pan close up

… and it always works perfectly…

measuring pan full

… even if it is…

measuring pan bottom

… a measuring cup!

This is the Norpro 2-cup measuring cup. I love it because it is a measuring cup, a tiny saucepan, a ladle, a spoon rest, and virtually impervious to damage and destruction. (When I bought it, my daughter kept hitting it with my nice new gravy ladle. The ladle is scratched, but the measuring cup is fine.) And it was only $9!

I usually use it for melting butter or making hot chocolate on the stove. My old gas stove had a mini burner that fit this perfectly, but I can use the regular burners on my new stove as long as the gas is turned way down. You can use it on an electric stove top, too, just set it on the outside so the handle doesn’t get too hot. I find myself hardly ever using the microwave anymore; to melt butter you either have to set it for too long, then it explodes and you have to clean the microwave, or you  have to stand there heating it in 10-second increments and checking it after each one, and it will still probably explode on the last one. So I prefer to just throw the butter into this tiny pan, set it over a low heat, and carry on with my cooking, glancing at it every now and then.

I love the tiny pour spouts on both sides, so you can pour with either hand. And the measuring marks make it easy to pour in one cup of milk for hot chocolate. I use it as a ladle for things like hot soup, since all my other measuring cups and ladles are plastic.

For something that wasn’t designed for stove top use, this has stood up remarkably well. It’s made out of high-quality stainless steel, but it hasn’t discolored like my more expensive pots and pans made out of the same stuff.

My favorite thing about it is that it is so small and doesn’t take up any space in my overflowing cupboards. To wit:

measuring pan hanging

I used a tiny clear Command hook (lifesavers!) and just stuck it right next to my stove and over the overflow from my pantry cabinet so I can grab it whenever I need it.

In my someday big-kitchen future, I’ll get some real measuring pans like these. But I will always have this one near to hand as a first resort.

(You can get it on Amazon for about $8, at time of writing.)

My life as a schedule

A normal week in my house looks like this:

  • Monday: Run any errands that didn’t get done over the weekend. I keep this day open because my husband gets most government holidays off, and they happen often enough that I don’t want anything set in stone on Mondays.
  • Tuesday: Trip to the library and any quick errands near to or on the way to the library: post office, Goodwill, storage space, grocery store.
  • Wednesday: Grocery shopping at the big grocery store about twenty minutes away. Wednesday has proved to be a sweet spot for grocery shopping. The stores are usually busiest on the weekend, and if I go on Monday then they haven’t finished restocking and I can’t finish my list.
  • Thursday: Clean house and do laundry. I used to try to get this done on Monday so I’d have a clean house for the week, but I could never get motivated to clean first day of the week. I grew up cleaning on Saturday morning, but we usually spend our weekends getting out of the house, and I finally realized that that doesn’t work.
  • Friday: Run any errands that still need to be done, do any missed cleaning tasks, or rest up for the weekend. Like Monday, I don’t usually hard-schedule anything in case my husband is off work.

Being a housewife gives me a lot of flexibility that makes it much, much easier to do things like grocery shop, run errands, and keep appointments. Not having to worry about packages being delivered when I can’t be home and being able to shop when the stores are empty are great benefits to being at home.

Cooking successes, Thanksgiving 2013

Things I need to remember for next year:

  1. Always buy extra! Extra eggs, butter, milk, evaporated milk, stuffing, pumpkin, French fried onions, sweet potatoes, pecans, gravy packets, cinnamon, flour, sugar… Just make Thanksgiving a ‘stock-up’ shopping trip, especially for stuff that will keep or you will use anyway.
  2. Bake ahead of time: the green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, and baked mashed potatoes all need to cook for 30 minutes at 350º. So I can prepare them ahead of time, then put them all in the same oven as soon as the turkey comes out and they’ll all be done the same time. The pumpkin pies can be made ahead of time, then warmed in the oven after the meal.
  3. A few days before Thanksgiving: sharpen all knives.
  4. The day before Thanksgiving: trim fingernails so stuff doesn’t get stuck under there and I have to waste extra time scrubbing them clean every few minutes.
  5. Have something quick and easy for breakfast and pre-meal snacking. This year I had a loaf of banana bread in the freezer, so first thing in the morning I just threw it into the oven for 30 minutes. It warmed up nice and crusty, so we’ve all had something (somewhat) healthy to nibble on all day.

Cooking fail, Thanksgiving 2013

I started cooking for Thanksgiving on Wednesday morning. So far, I have made the following mistakes:

  1. Tuesday night I made baked spaghetti pie (it’s great! You should try it!) and set the leftovers in the closed oven to cool while we ran a quick errand after supper. Of course, I forgot that it was in there all night and the next morning I preheated the oven to 425º for pies. Because of the pie mistake (see below), I didn’t actually open the preheated oven for about an hour, thoroughly toasting the leftover spaghetti pie.
  2. I waited until late in the game to thaw the pumpkin puree for the pumpkin pies, so I was running a little behind. When it finally thawed, I went ahead and mixed up the sugar, spices, eggs and pumpkin, then quickly opened two cans of evaporated milk and started dumping them in. About half a can in I realized that the evaporated milk was sour and clumpy, and I ended up throwing out all the sugar and eggs and my precious homemade pumpkin puree. *Wah!* Then I was grateful that I had a lot more pumpkin, extra eggs, and two brand-new cans of evaporated milk and I started over.
  3. Mini-mistake: not using deep-dish pie shells for the pumpkin pie. Normally pumpkin pie isn’t done in deep-dish pie shells, but every single year the custard spills over the edge and burns all over the baking sheets the pies are on. So next year, I’m going to learn my lesson and just make them deep-dish to being with.
  4. Most tragic mistake: I bought stuff to make watergate salad for my husband’s work, and I only bought enough to make two batches, most of it for them and only a little reserved for us. Clearly, in the future, I should buy enough for AT LEAST three batches, since I always end up eating most of it while I’m making it anyway.

That’s all for now. But I will update as soon as I make my next flub!

UPDATE: 10:44 a.m. Thanksgiving Day

  1. I decided to make broccoli/cauliflower salad, and I bought the ranch dressing packet, but didn’t get any extra sour cream. So I had to use a few tablespoons of sour cream supplemented by a whole bunch of old plain Greek yogurt in my fridge. (That stuff stays good forever!)

UPDATE: 12:23 a.m. Thanksgiving Day

  1. I tried a new mashed potatoes recipe this year, Pioneer Woman’s Creamy Mashed Potatoes. They taste delicious, and are touted as being a wonderful make-ahead dish because they can be refrigerated then baked later. Unfortunately, I left them in the fridge until I baked them for 30 minutes at 350º, at which point everything else is piping hot and ready to go, and the potatoes are still cold. Next time, I’ll either leave them out to come to room temperature, or put them in the oven early and let them bake much, much longer.

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