Archive for August 30, 2014

Cooking 101: How to Brown Ground Beef

Today I’m continuing in my Cooking 101 series, aimed at novice cooks. This post may be a bit dull for old hands at cooking, as I really don’t have any new or exciting comments about cooking ground beef, I simply wanted to provide a basic tutorial for beginning cooks to have some confidence about how to to perform this foundational task in cooking a meal.

Once again, my nephew Toby guest starred on this video, lending his status as a bona fide beginner to make sure my instructions qualified as simple and comprehensive enough for anyone to follow.

When we went to film this video, I discovered that my ground beef had not defrosted as quickly as it should have, and so this video does provide some technique for cooking ground beef even from a partially frozen state. I include written instructions below for both the standard method of cooking completely thawed ground beef, and the jury rigged method of cooking partially frozen ground beef.  (I have recently learned that putting a bit of water in the skillet helps when cooking ground beef that’s still frozen, so I will be including that in the instructions below, though it was not included in the video.)

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

Not only is ground beef healthy, but learning to brown ground beef, if you don’t know how, opens up a lot of options for making your own meals that don’t include chemicals and processed foods.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

Adjust the salt to your own taste, and again ground beef a great tasting food just on it’s own, but it’s also the foundation of a lot of other even more amazing dishes.

How to Brown Ground Beef (The Basic Method)

1. Remove ground beef from packaging and place in a skillet. (I like to wash the raw meat juices off my hands at this point before I proceed.) Turn on burner to medium.

2. Use spatula or wooden spoon to break up the ground beef into small pieces.

3. Stir ground beef every minute or two (or more often if you like) as it begins to brown. You might also like to continue to break up the ground beef into smaller pieces as you stir.

4. Continue cooking the beef until all traces of pinkish hue are gone and the beef is completely brown all the way through.

5. If there’s an excessive amount of fat in the pan after brown the ground beef, you may want to remove the fat. You can do this by (a) scooping out the meat with a slotted spoon, leaving the grease behind, or (b) pouring the meat into a colander. If you choose option (b) remember that the grease has to go somewhere. You can put the colander in a bowl and empty the grease into the trash after it’s cooled, or put the colander in the sink, remove the colander after the meat has drained, and run lots of hot water and bit of dish soap down the drain to prevent the grease from clogging your drain.

How To Brown Ground Beef (From Frozen)

1. Remove ground beef from packaging and place in a skillet. (I like to wash the raw meat juices off my hands at this point before I proceed.) Turn on burner to medium low.

2. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to scrape any thawed meat off the sides and edges of the hunk of frozen meat.

3. Add a bit of water (maybe 1/4 of a cup) to the skillet. Put a lid on the skillet and let it simmer for about 3 minutes.

4. Repeat step 2, stir and break up any clumps of cooking meat that are separated from the main block of frozen meat, then put the lid back on the skillet for another 2-3 minutes.

5. Repeat step 4 until all the meat is thawed.

6. Increase heat to medium. Stir ground beef every minute or so (or more often if you like) as the ground beef continues to brown. You might also like to continue to break up the ground beef into smaller pieces as you stir.

7. Continue cooking the beef until all traces of pinkish hue are gone and the beef is completely brown all the way through.

8. If there’s an excessive amount of fat in the pan after brown the ground beef, you may want to remove the fat. You can do this by (a) scooping out the meat with a slotted spoon, leaving the grease behind, or (b) pouring the meat into a colander. If you choose option (b) remember that the grease has to go somewhere. You can put the colander in a bowl and empty the grease into the trash after it’s cooled, or put the colander in the sink, remove the colander after the meat has drained, and run lots of hot water and bit of dish soap down the drain to prevent the grease from clogging your drain.

Menu Plan and Shopping List 8/28/14-9/3/14

Now, before proceed to tell you about how my menu plan went for the week, I need to ask: are you sitting down? (Personally, I prefer sitting down for browsing blogs anyway, but for all I know you’re tethered to a phone charger or on a treadmill.)

I followed my menu plan this week. No, seriously, almost all of it, dead on the way I planned it. I’m not sure what this means, but I may now be living in an alternate universe or something.

We also had several meals that turned out really well, even dishes I’d never made before. The grilled cheese with caramelized onions were very good (though I did forget to make tomato soup to serve them with when we had them for lunch), as was the the ratatouille, which I somewhat based off Remy’s recipe in the movie Ratatouille (thinly sliced zucchini and eggplant covered in tomato sauce, and I also added ground beef to make it a complete meal).

For the kale and feta galette I used Nourishing Traditions yogurt dough, except with coconut oil because I’m low on butter this week. The dough was very soft, but I pressed it out flat on parchment paper and then used the parchment paper to flip the edges of the dough up over the edges of the filling, and it worked marvelously. (I left it on the parchment paper for baking as well, so mess in moving the galette onto the baking sheet. Be aware the you might be able to use waxed paper for rolling out the dough, but waxed paper is NOT the same as parchment paper for baking purposed and should NOT be used in the oven.)

The beef enchiladas turned out well, though the enchilada sauce recipe I used turned out surprisingly tomato heavy. I’d use the sauce again, as it had really good flavor otherwise, but it needs a pinch of sugar or perhaps a large splash of milk to cut back on the tomato acidity. Also, I’m going to try making beef enchiladas again but with a cheese sauce instead of a red sauce.

Also, on Saturday we went out on a date to start trying sushi places in the area. (Another date? Didn’t we just go on one last week? Weird…) I haven’t had much ‘real’ sushi so I got the ‘pick three rolls’ lunch to try out some different kinds and see what I liked. The sweet potato roll was not bad, but probably not something I’d order often. The salmon roll was a tad on the bland side for me, but I really enjoyed it with the pickled ginger and tiny dab each of wasabi and soy sauce. I think my favorite was the Boston roll, which had shrimp, lettuce, something else that was either celery or cucumber and a light mayo dressing. Also, the whole sushi experience really made me want even more sushi, so it needs to go on the menu for this week.

Oh, and one more cool thing: my husband said the sushi he got was really good, but he did miss the dipping sauce I make to serve with my homemade sushi. Win! (Now I just have to remember how I made the sushi dipping sauce last time…)


Social Event

Salmon Fillet Sandwiches with Tomato and Sauteed Mushrooms and Onions

Leftovers/Fridge Scrounging

Crockpot Lasagna

Mexican Casserole


New York Style Pizza


Leftovers. Lots and lots and lots of leftovers.


Pretty much just the usual: toast, eggs, yogurt, smoothie, though we also have some lemon muffins in the freezer now that I can use to break up any impending monotony.

Shopping List: I know I need to pick up some food this week (especially butter and eggs), but I’m not sure if I’ll be feeling well enough in the next couple of days to do the shopping, so I’m not making firm shopping plans. I haven’t seen the Kroger or HyVee ads, but nothing seemed like a spectacularly good deal in the Aldi ads.

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Cooking 101: Easy Berry Cobbler

Cooking 101: Easy Berry Cobbler

This cobbler is made with raspberries, while the cobbler in the video is  made with blackberries. Blueberries, strawberries, peaches and other fruits can also be used.


My nephew Toby guest starred in the video for this recipe. He’s sixteen years old, and recently learned how to make eggs and toast, so in the very strictest sense he’s not a complete beginner at cooking, but he is very close. (He’s a brilliant absent minded professor type who could solve for x in his sleep, but didn’t learn how to turn on the stove until he was ten. Also, as you will notice when you watch the video, he’s very funny and makes me laugh a lot.)

I’m going to be posting a few recipes that are very simple for new cooks to learn, and I wanted to have a true novice cook use the recipes to make sure that I didn’t skip over anything in the instructions because it seemed ‘obvious’ to me. If I did miss anything, or you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me at and I’ll do my best to answer any questions you have. (That goes for any of my recipes, in fact.)

This particular recipe is pretty adaptable to different types of flours and sugars (though I haven’t tried gluten free flours) so you can make it with healthy ingredients (whole wheat pastry flour aka white wheat flour and turbinado sugar) or ingredients found in typical kitchens (white flour and white sugar). I wouldn’t recommend using a hard red whole wheat flour, as it will have the typical whole wheat flavor and texture drawbacks, but it would probably do in a pinch if that’s all you have.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy to Kinda Healthy

This cobbler could qualify as completely healthy if you choose to use whole wheat flour and turbinado sugar. If you use white flour and white sugar it’s not going to have a whole lot going for it in terms of nutrition.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

It’s a really good basic cobbler. My version is heavy on the cobbler, but if you prefer it heavy on the fruit, just double the amount of fruit used.

Easy Berry Cobbler

based on this recipe

4 TBSP butter

3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (aka whole wheat pastry flour) OR unbleached all purpose flour

3/4 cup turbinado sugar OR white sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup milk

6 oz package berries of choice (or 1 cup of sliced fruit such as peaches)

Fresh or frozen fruit works fine in this recipe. If using fresh fruit, rinse the berries and leave to drain dry, or prepare the fruit (remove seeds or pits, slice, etc).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the butter in a 8×8 square baking dish and put it in oven to melt.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. (Note for beginners: This is an important step, so make sure the ingredients are thoroughly combined and you don’t see any patches or lumps of seperate ingredients.)

Add the milk. (Note for beginners: Stir briefly, then scrape along the bottom of the bowl to make sure you don’t have any pockets of flour mixture that haven’t been stirred in. Do NOT overmix. As soon as the batter is smooth and all the flour is incorporated, stop stirring.)

Remove pan with melted butter from the oven. Pour the batter into the pan.

Sprinkle the fruit across the top of the batter. Return the pan the oven and set a timer for 50 minutes.

After 50 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. If a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, the cobbler is done. (Note for beginners: ‘Clean’ in this case means that there’s no gummy or liquidy batter sticking to the toothpick. You may get fruit juices or even a dry crumb or two stuck to the toothpick, but if the toothpick is coated in crumbs or other signs of uncooked batter, the cobbler needs to back in the oven for five or ten more minutes.)

Menu Plan and Shopping List 8/21/14-8/27/14

Did we at anything I planned on eating this week?

Considering that my oldest sister was in town (as a birthday surprise for another sister of ours who lives in town, so we weren’t fully able to make plans ahead of time), another friend brought us a meal (with leftovers!), we spontaneously decided that it had been way too long since we’d been out on a real date AND my husband came down with food poisoning (completely unrelated to any of the previous events or to my cooking–it was likely something he ate at the office) I’m surprised we at even TWO meals the same as what I’d planned on cooking.

One meal was salmon fillets (though on a different night than I originally planned). The other meal was pork loin, carrots and mushrooms that I took to the church fellowship meal. I did leave out the onions because I had to massively clean out my veggie basket after a fruit fly infestation and threw out all but one of the onions I had. It’s been that kind of week in my kitchen…

The good news is that however chaotic, this week has been grand for things like sister lunches and reminders that I have good friends and spending time with my husband. The other good news is that I have now purged from my kitchen all moldy blueberries and last jars of refrigerator oatmeal that I thought I’d already eaten a couple weeks ago and single rotten potatoes that were hiding under onions.

I’m ready for a fresh start and one more try to run my kitchen with efficiency, buying only good food that we will use, and using up all the food I buy in a timely manner. Eventually there will be another chaotic week the busts my good intentions to smithereens, but for now, it feels good just have the refrigerator cleaned out.

I feel like my menu plans have been uncreative recently, so this week I’m wanting to focus my menu plans on food that we will really enjoy eating. I’m not talking about ditching vegetables to eat milkshakes for supper, just making some fun food that might in turn inspire me to have more ideas for healthy food that’s also fun to eat.


(I think we’re going to end up with a social event one night this week, but while we’re waiting on definite plans I’m going to go ahead and plan a meal for every night so I know we won’t run short.)

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Caramelized Onions (We’ll eat the leftovers with tomato soup, but this supper will probably be in the car, so tomato soup would not be a good plan.)

Beef Enchiladas (I thought I probably shouldn’t make my husband’s birthday meal while he had food poisoning, so these got put off again.) with Roasted Carrots

Leftovers/Fridge Scrounging

Ratatouille (for church fellowship meal)

Spicy Honey Chicken Thighs with Kale and Feta Galette (I’d never heard of Galette before seeing this recipe, but apparently it’s a type of rustic tart, and it looks marvelous. Oh, and I’ll use homemade vinegar cheese in place of the ricotta.)

Mexican Casserole

Homemade Ramen style Noodles with Roasted Broccoli and Ground Beef


If we run short on leftovers, perhaps more grilled cheese or tuna sandwiches or even a quick batch of homemade macaroni and cheese.


I made lemon muffins! I used whole wheat pastry flour (aka white whole wheat flour) and they turned out very well. I also have a new batch of yogurt going, so we should have some good breakfast options this week.

Baking and Extras:

I need to make bread and so some small projects like making enchilada sauce for meals this week. I also want to make kombucha, make homemade ginger ale and possibly make some banana bread or zucchini bread.

Shopping List:

There are no strikingly good sales this week, so I’m just going to Kroger and try to keep my grocery shopping trip quick. (Oh, I will probably also stop by the farmer’s market and get some zucchini, eggplant and whatever other produce is irresistible.)

Organic Kale, 1lb/$1

Onions (I normally get these at Aldi, so I have no idea how much they are at Kroger.)

Raspberries, $1.25 (I have to make a berry cobbler so I can get I picture of it, because I forgot to take a picture when I worked on the video for the recipe. Rough life, huh?)

Pinto Beans, around 4lb/$4

Chicken Thighs, 7lbish/$8ish

Feta Cheese

Salted Caramel Mocha Latte

Healthy Salted Caramel Latte


Depending on who you ask, coffee is either the elixer of life which contains antioxidants and minerals, prevents diabetes, Alzheimers and cirrhosis of the liver or it’s a horrible, nasty addictive chemical that causes adrenal fatigue, raises blood pressure and blocks mineral absorption.

As usual, in my opinion it’s all a matter of balance. Coffee is a natural substance, which doesn’t mean it’s always safe and good in any quantity, but it is useful for situations when you need an extra boost of energy. If you find that you need that boost of energy every single day that it’s likely that you’re either addicted to it or you’re using it to cover up an underlying health problem, or both.

And, as with most foods, personal metabolism makes a big difference. Some of us are especially sensitive to caffeine and have to be extra careful when and how often we use it, and others can have three cups of coffee a day with no apparent effect.

This particular coffee drink is a favorite of mine. Being one of those people on the ‘sensitive to caffeine’ side of the scale (I’ve had decaf coffee keep me awake for hours) I don’t drink it often, but it’s a very nice alternative to going out for expensive coffee drinks on a Saturday morning when I want to be geared up for a day of fun events, or to add extra oomph to those weekday mornings when I’m about to pull back my hair, crank up my energizing music and attack a extra large pile of dirty dishes or organize all the closets in the house.

I don’t always add the salt, but I do really enjoy the salt+caramel combination, and I do find that having plenty of (healthy, natural) salt in my diet helps keep my metabolism and energy up in general.

You can make this latte with any syrups you like, but I use my homemade chocolate and caramel syrups so I know my fancy coffee drink is made with healthy sweeteners and no chemicals.

Healthiness Rating: Kinda Healthy

Salted Caramel Lattes are not a good food to base your entire healthy diet on, but, made with healthy ingredients, they’re also not going to wreck your healthy real food plan.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

Do you really doubt me on this one?

Salted Caramel Mocha Latte

1/2 cup cold brew espresso or strong coffee

2 TBSP caramel syrup (or more to taste)

2 TBSP chocolate syrup (or more to taste)

1/8-1/4 tsp sea salt

1 1/4 cups raw milk

Mix all ingredients in a 16 oz glass. Add ice if desired. (If you have it, you can also top this with whipped cream, extra syrup and an extra pinch of salt and perhaps turbinado sugar, but I almost never have whipped cream around, so I don’t bother.)

Menu Plan and Shopping List 8/14/14-8/20/14

If you’re wondering why I missed posting a video last Friday and my menu plan post is late, let me just sum up by saying it started with technical difficulties with my computer on Friday and continued with me having a minor surgery on Monday. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back on track with my normal posting schedule now, though.

Because of the surgery I bought *gasp* store bought bread and lunch meat for simplicity on my last shopping trip. The store bought bread especially came in handy this week. We also ate a couple rounds of frozen pizza at various points, and a friend from church brought us a meal of burritos after I had surgery, so only about half our meals for the week happened as I planned them. I will say that having chicken noodle soup cooked ahead and ready to reheat after I got home from surgery worked very well, so planning ahead was still a win, even if not every meal happened as I planned it.


Social Event


Leftovers/Fridge Scrounging

Pork Roast with Onions, Carrots and Mushrooms

Indian Spiced Lentils with Roasted carrots

Salmon Fillet Sandwiches (If we’re not tired of carrots yet we’ll have baby carrots and dip on the side, otherwise I’ll cook up some frozen broccoli or green beans.)

Beef Enchiladas (With everything going on I STILL haven’t made this meal my husband requested for his birthday. Thankfully, he’s easygoing about that sort of thing, but I’d really like to get it made for him this week.)

If we run out of leftovers, we may still have sandwich material left. Otherwise, throwing together a stirfry of some kind may be a good option.


I made blueberry muffins over the weekend, and have more blueberries in the fridge that I hope to turn into muffins, and I also need to use up the yogurt that’s in the fridge and make a fresh batch, so that may be the focus of most of our breakfasts this week. Of course, there’s always the old eggs, fruit, toast routine to fall back on too.
Baking and Extras:

I made a batch of 40 minute rolls and blueberry muffins this past week. Also, I finally just threw away the cabbage because it was starting to get moldy (sigh). I doubt I’ll be doing a lot of extra projects this coming week, but I would like to use up or freeze that big zucchini, feed my ginger bug and make a new batch of homemade ginger ale, and make a batch of kombucha. Oh, and make more blueberry muffins. Hopefully that’s all doable…

Shopping List:

I’m not going shopping this week, nor did I notice any particularly thrilling sales. However, you  might want to take a look at Kroger’s digital coupons, as one of the coupons they currently have available is for $1 off Talenti Gelato. I also recently discovered that they offer ‘Best Customer Bonus’ digital coupons, which seem to based of off items you’ve previously bought, including one they gave me for $2 off any produce purchase of $10 or more. So, if you do much shopping at all at Kroger, you might want to check and see if they’re offering you any special digital coupons.

If you run across any good grocery deals this week, feel free to leave a comment and let us know about them!

Menu Plan and Shopping List 8/7/14-8/13/14

It was a slightly frustrating week for me, as I came down with some kind of flu bug, and stayed down for most of the week.

Thursday and Friday I took completely off as ‘sick days’, including grabbing supper at McDonald’s on our way to frisbee on Thursday. It was also one of those ‘I really should listen to my husband’ moments, as I knew I wasn’t up to playing frisbee, but insisted I was fine to go along and watch him play, despite his skepticism. I ended up feeling too awful to even get out of the car and go sit on the grass to watch the game…

Friday I did use my easy supper plan of chicken thighs, despite it not being an out of the house day after all.

Saturday I was feeling better and we went out to see Guardians of the Galaxy (fun!), went to a coffee shop with friends to discuss the movie afterwards, and then went to my nephews game day birthday party. (Needless to say, I still did not make my husband’s birthday meal of beef enchiladas that day.)

Unfortunately, I must have overdone it on Saturday, because Sunday I barely had energy to sit through church, and we weren’t able to stay for the fellowship meal. I had made a super easy crockpot dish using browned hamburger and a couple of bags of coleslaw mix that I found on manager’s special for a potatoless version of bubble and squeak, so we ate off the leftovers from that several times for the rest of the week. It was especially good when we mixed it with leftover brown rice and put a bit of homemade ketchup on top–like a cross between unstuffed cabbage and spanish rice.

Basically, for the rest of the week we ate either variations on those leftovers or taco salad (using extra ground beef I cooked up when I made the crockpot meal) so I didn’t have to do much cooking as I continued recovering from my flu.

I did get some energy back the last couple of days so I could do laundry and start to catch up on dishes, but I’m really hoping to feel even better soon. I do have some easy meals planned for this week as I have reason to think it might be a rough week for me even if I do finish recovering from this flu quickly.


Salmon fillets on homemade rolls with lemon yogurt sauce, baby carrots and dip


leftovers/fridge scrounging

Ground Beef and Carrots (for church fellowship meal)

Hamburger Veggie Noodle soup

Chicken Thighs, Garlic Broccoli and Seasoned Rice

Indian Spice Lentils with Roasted Carrots


Mostly leftovers, maybe filling in with some tuna sandwiches if needed.


Our whole breakfast schedule has been off while I haven’t been feeling well. My husband has mostly eaten eggs, and if I’ve eated breakfast at all, it’s often been just fruit. I doubt this week is going to get a lot more organized for breakfasts, but I am hoping to make another batch of rolls tomorrow, which will expand our options to include toast again.

Baking and Extras:

The only project I got done this past week was making a new batch of kombucha (first batch in a 3 gallon drink dispenser I got on clearance at Kroger!). Next week will probably be similar, though I am hoping to make a batch of rolls and some french onion dip, do a bit of pizza crust expirimentation and maybe even use up that cabbage and zucchini I wanted to use up last week. Oh, and I got mushrooms on manager’s special that need to be used up, but I can pretty much just add mushrooms to everything I make to use those up.

Shopping List:

Last week I went shopping a day early so I hit ground beef sales from the week before and also picked up some ground pork on manager’s special, so I’m fairly well stocked up on meat again.

I think it’s supposed to be my off week for shopping, but I seem to have lost track… Regardless, I’m going to pick up a few things at Aldi because I’ll likely be out on other errands in the next couple of days anyway. (My kroger ad didn’t come today, so I don’t know if they have good sales this week or not. HyVee does blueberries and canteloupe for a few cents cheaper than Aldi–the blueberries are a two day sale for Thursday and Friday though.)

I have really enjoyed having fresh fruit on hand for snacks recently, so I’m taking advantage of more produce sales at Aldi for that.

lemon juice, $1.89

bananas, about .45/lb

organic baby carrots, $1/lb

mango, .59

blueberries, $1/pint

canteloupe, $1 (probably not worth buying, but worth checking to see if it looks good or not)

salmon fillets, 2lb bag/$8

frozen pizza, $2


Caramel Syrup

Quick and Easy Mostly Healthy Caramel Syrup

Didn’t you know that ice cream always tastes better when it’s slightly blurry? Also when it’s doused in caramel syrup… Yum…

Caramel syrup is possibly the most addictive food I have ever made. Licking out the pot after making it is a must. There’s something about the balance of sweetness and creaminess and gooeyness that can only be improved on by turning it into salted caramel.

Now, I’m not going to try to claim that caramel syrup is a super food or anything like that. BUT if you like caramel, this homemade caramel syrup is the way to eat it. No chemicals, and some nutrients left in the unrefined sugar make this a ‘not bad’ splurge choice.

I like to keep it on hand for the occasional (usually decaf) salted caramel mocha, but it’s also good drizzled over vanilla ice cream or added to a mug of hot cocoa. I’m sure there are plenty of other uses, so if you have a favorite use for caramel syrup, comment below and let me know what it is.

Healthiness Rating: Kinda Healthy

I wouldn’t make this a cornerstone food in your diet or anything, but as sweet treats go, it’s a reasonable choice.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

Pretty much through the roof on this one. This stuff is amazing.

Caramel Syrup

1/2 cup butter

1 cup turbinado sugar

1/2 cup milk

optional: pinch of sea salt, dash of vanilla

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over a medium heat.

Add sugar and let cook, whisking occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and mixture is thick and bubbly. (Because the turbinado sugar doesn’t dissolve well the mixture may stay a little bit grainy until you put the milk in. Don’t worry if you can’t get it to dissolve completely, just give it a good two or three minutes to dissolve as much as it’s going to.)

Add milk. Whisk until thickened and completely smooth. (All the sugar needs to be dissolved at this point, or your syrup will be grainy.)

Use immediately, or refrigerate for a thicker caramel sauce. Store in the refrigerator.

Note: If you happen to be storing this in a plastic container, make the sure the syrup has completely cooled before  you pour into the container. The syrup retains heat well and might make your plastic container crumple into odd shapes if it hasn’t completely cooled. Don’t ask me now I know this…
The syrup thickens up so much, you’re probably better off storing it in a glass pint jar and spooning it out than trying to keep it in a squeeze bottle anyway.