Lifehacker Cookbook: Homemade Coffee Shop Addictions [Stay In, Geek Out]

It's hard to justify a trip to the coffee shop in cold weather just to grab fancy-pants caffeine or snacks. Take some time in your kitchen, though, and the bounty of your favorite caffeine dispensary can be had at home for cheap.

Consider this a shorter, winter-oriented cousin to our Lifehacker Cookbook, which was written in warmer times (at least for one editor in the northeast). As with that entry, the links here are curated from previous posts and trusted sources. But this selection is geared toward the type of stuff you'd find in the warmly-lit confines of a coffee-shop food counter.

No two tastes are the same, of course, and we're sure some of you have treats from your own shops well worth trying. Got a recipe like that to share? Throw it to us in the comments, and we'll add the best to the post. We would've gone for sandwiches, panninis, and wraps, for example, but that seemed like too vast a field to try cherry-picking.

Espresso drinks


Cakes and breads


Cookies, scones, and muffins


Breakfast fare





Top photo by avlxyz; lemon pound cake by Dozen Flours; scones by Chubby Hubby; granola by Amateur Gourmet.




Put Together a Winter Car Emergency Kit [Winter Upgrades]

Earlier this week we talked about an emergency kit for your home, now it's time to focus on your car and how to be prepared for the unpleasantness of being stranded in a winter wonderland.

Compared to creating a home winter emergency kit a car emergency kit has two principle differences. First, you're severely limited on space compared to home preparations—and you burn extra gas hauling your loot around. Second, when the power goes out and the party stops at your house, you're still at home safe and sound. When your car gets stuck in the middle of no where and it's 12F out, it's a radically worse situation that could end tragically.

Keep Your Car Topped Off and Well Serviced

You can't avoid every curve ball Old Man Winter will throw at you, but if you run out of gas on a lonely and frozen highway because you'd passed a half dozen gas stations while running on less than a quarter of a tank, you can't exactly point your finger at anyone. The same goes for having your tuned up and road-ready. We know it's not cheap and owning a vehicle can be quite a monkey sink, but nobody huddled in a broken down car on the side of a deserted road and slowly losing the feeling in their limbs has thought "Man I'm glad I skipped that $200 tune up." Photo by Tome Lemo.

Assess Your Driving Patterns and Plan for the Worst

The amount of inclement weather preparation you'll need to undertake is largely dependent on the kind of driving you do. Winters can be bitter in New York City, but you won't need the kind of gear in your trunk that someone who commutes on the rural highways of North Dakota would need.

When it comes to planning for the worst, you don't need to plan for the absolute worst mind you, nobody expects you to keep a surgical kit and a guide to field surgery in your car. Most emergency kits fall woefully short through. What if the accident/stranding/car breaking down leaves you stuck in the middle of nowhere in a blizzard for a day or more? It sounds preposterous to a city dweller, but the US is a very big place and in bad weather you'll find many a road goes untraveled for long stretches of time. Having an ice scraper, a half eaten bag of Combos, and some frozen gum isn't going to buy you a whole lot of time or comfort. At minimum you should plan to be stuck with your car for a day—it's a rarity to be in such a situation but the cost of being prepared versus the cost of being unprepared makes it a veritable bargain to make sure you have the right supplies.

Hydration and Heat are Critical


Staying warm and staying well hydrated are the most important things to consider when contemplating being stranded in your car. You can go a long, albeit uncomfortable time, without food. If you're an average American you can go a very long time without food. You won't last very long frozen solid and you won't last very long without water, and you'll hasten the former by getting the water you need from the icy snow around you.

The water situation can be a tricky one, after all if you've been driving for hours out in the cold the giant jug of water you've got in the trunk is likely as frozen as the snow on the back bumper. This is where having smaller water containers is much handier, smaller bottles are easier to thaw out in the heat of the car. Alternately you can keep your water in a small cooler. I have a $19 Coleman cooler that can keep drinks cold in my trunk for almost a week, it could certainly work in the opposite direction and keep things unfrozen longer. If you live in a particularly rough and isolated area, you might consider keeping an emergency stove and small camp pan in your kit for melting snow—the two will run you under $15.

Food is, as noted above, not as critical as water but you should include it anyway. You'll want to focus on packing calorie-dense, non-perishable foods. Energy bars, nuts, granola and dried fruit are all great choices. It is best to select food you actually normally enjoy eating and then rotate it out of the car every few weeks. That way you won't be stuck gnawing on a four year old protein bar when you eventually have to bust into your emergency kit.

Have a sleeping bag—winter weight!—in the truck, along with winter boots and additional winter clothing. The clothes don't need to be fancy they just need to keep you warm, so throw in some older winter gear that doesn't see much use. Don't overlook hats, scarves, and gloves here, they help keep heat in at high loss points like the neck and head. Photo by Muffet.

Be Able to Signal

You know what a light colored car, in a ditch, in a snow storm looks like? Nothing. You don't want to be looked over by other motorists and rescue workers as you sit in your car freezing. You need a way to signal. Plan on your car's electrical system being out of commission and have an LED emergency beacon or two in your car.

They aren't particularly expensive, you can pick them up at backpacking and outdoor stores and they even have ones designed for automotive emergency use at many auto supply stores. For the unfamiliar it's essentially a battery powered strobe, like the kind of little and intense strobes above emergency exits. It's highly visible for long distance, even in a snow storm, and it lets emergency workers know that you're in need of help. While you're shopping for a beacon, don't forget to get an LED flashlight or two. Aim for getting a lower power flashlight with a long battery life, some of the high-intensity models chew up batteries really fast. Photo by S. Diddy.

Dealing with the Little Things

Our list up to this point has leaned towards the extreme side of things like preparing to make sure you don't freeze to death on the side of the road, a rather important thing to be prepared to ward off. On the less-fatal side of things, and certainly the more common, you'll be dealing with things like getting stuck but having assistance nearby.

Here having things on hand like a bag of sand in your trunk for additional traction and a tow rope or chain if you've got a good Samaritan at hand but the tow truck is no where to be found are extremely helpful. In addition to a bag of sand, a shovel is always handy. Look for a sturdy one sized for a child, it'll fit in the trunk better and still have a fairly wide surface area compared to a tiny emergency shovel. Photo by Kennymatic.

Think of something we didn't include in our list? Have a story or two about being stuck in the snows of the great white north? Let's hear about it in the comments.




Warm Up in Style with Coffee Presses and Tea Infusers [Stuff We Like]

Nothing warms you up on a cold day like a cup of your favorite hot liquid. If you're keen on coffee or tea, ditch the instant grounds and tea bags for a coffee press and tea infuser; you won't regret it.

Earlier this year, Jason went into great detail on how to brew the best possible coffee without breaking the bank, and the Bodum Chambord French Press (pictured) was tops on that guide. A good coffee press won't cost you more than $30, but with the right fresh-ground beans, it can produce some of the best results you'll find.

If you're more of a tea person, the tea equivalent of coffee presses are infusers. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the basic principle is simple: You grab some high quality, loose-leaf tea leaves, load up your infuser, and drop it in some hot water. Infusers are sort of like re-usable metal tea bags, they're extremely cheap, and they open you up to a whole world of gourmet teas that don't stoop to tea-bag packaging.

Jason, our resident coffee and tea guru, also notes that your coffee press, properly cleaned, can also brew tea in much the same manner as it does coffee—and is often cheaper than a nice teapot with a built-in infuser.

Are you a die-hard coffee presser/tea infuser? Share your favorite methods, grounds, leaves, and other suggestions, in the comments.




Eat More Black Pepper to Increase Your Food’s Nutritional Value [Health]

Black pepper is often thought of as a last minute ditch to save a flavorless dish, but it really plays a powerful role in your bodies ability to absorb nutrients from the foods you eat—even the healthy ones.

Photo by Jon Campbell

The amount of nutrients your body consumes from a food is called bioavailability, which is always less than what your food truly contains. According to weblog Wise Bread, studies show that black pepper has the ability to increase the bioavailability in a good portion of the foods we eat, thus making our meal and snack choices have a better impact on our health. We wouldn't go as far as to suggest adding it to your morning cereal, but next time the waiter asks if you'd like some freshly ground pepper, you may do well to say yes.

Hit up Wise Bread for a more ways to increase the nutrients you receive from your daily meals. Is black pepper a staple in your cooking? Share your passion for pepper in the comments.




Use Your Dishwasher to Clean Potatoes for Holiday Meals [Clever Uses]

With the holidays quickly approaching, many of us find ourselves cooking for more people than usual. If you're looking to cut a few corners and save some time, try washing your potatoes in the dishwasher.

Photo by FotoosVanRobin

Obviously this isn't a trick you're going to use on a daily basis, as it doesn't take much effort to wash one or two potatoes in the kitchen sink. But for those of you with big families who've signed up for potato duties, try placing them on the top rack of your dishwasher (skip the soap) and giving them a bath on the rinse cycle. (Most dishwashers have a "Quick Rinse" setting of some sort.)

Hit up the organizational weblog Real Simple for more clever ways to put your dishwasher to use (poached salmon, anyone?).



Make Your Own Shake Shack Burgers [Recipes]

The cheeseburgers from New York City's Shake Shack are so beloved by burger aficianados that even 12-hour Manhattan visits demand a wait in the Shack's imposing line. One burger lover researched and reverse-engineered the burger's basics for making at home.

Photo by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

Serious Eats guest writer J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is an obvious fan of the Shack's signature creation. He took the time to actually examine his burger before devouring it, then ask foodie friends and even a Shake Shack manager about the components he was unsure of. He demonstrates the "smash and scrape technique" in a stove-stop skillet, and gets scientific about what kind of beef mixture goes into a Shack patty:

According to Adam's sources, the meat is a 50:25:25 blend of sirloin, chuck, and brisket. On the other hand, according to Ozersky, the mixture is actually mostly brisket, with chuck and short rib mixed in.

I did a side-by-side comparison of the two purported blends next to a Shack Burger, and found that Adam's mix is closer in flavor, offering the right level of tenderness from the sirloin, rich beef flavor from the chuck, and slight sour/metallic notes from the brisket.

If the higher potential for E. Coli contamination and single-source quality concerns aren't enough for you to take up grinding your own meat for hamburgers, this opportunity might just tip the scales.

Visit Serious Eats for the full debriefing on ingredients, bun sources, griddle instructions, and sauce recipe, and share your own Shack remembrances—or competitors for burgers worthy of imitation (In-N-Out, anyone?)—in the comments.



Build a Temporary Wood-Fired Pizza Oven On the Cheap [Weekend Project]

We detailed how to build a backyard wood-fired pizza oven earlier this year, but if you'd like to make your own but don't have the space for a permanent installment in your backyard, this low-cost temporary pizza oven might do the trick.

This temporary oven was built for a weekend pizza-making event. It was built, fired up, and torn down in one afternoon, and according to the author of the DIY, he "cooked the best pizza I've ever made, by far."

If you've been aching to try some home-made wood-fire fare, this temporary solution might do the trick.



Do You Take a Proper Lunch Break at Work? [Reader Poll]

Whether an out-of-control workload or the down economy is keeping you at your desk during your lunch hour, weblog Web Worker Daily points out that 45 percent of U.S. workers are taking fewer and shorter lunch breaks than last year.

Photo by chanchan222.

We've suggested a few tips for maximizing your lunch hour in the past, but the folks at Web Worker Daily emphasize that skipping your lunch break altogether is not something you should make a habit of. The post offers some suggestions for making sure you squeeze in time for a proper lunch break:

Ditch your desk: Wolfing down a cereal bar with one hand while emailing a colleague with the other does not qualify as a lunch break. Even if you only have a few minutes and can't leave the building or your home office, walk away from your work area or go into your kitchen to grab a bite.

We've suggested ways to make your brown bag lunch more appealing so you can save money at work, but it's just as important that you take time out to enjoy it. We know you're busy, but we're curious:

Let's hear more specifics of your lunchtime routine in the comments.



CleanScores Dishes the Dirt on Local Restaurants [Restaurants]

CleanScores catalogs restaurant inspections so you're not left guessing whether or not the place you're planning on eating is a rat-riddled dive.

You can search by restaurant name or by city/region to locate the restaurant you want to dig the dirt on. If the restaurant can be found you'll receive a report back that includes the date of last inspection, a star-based rank which is complied from the factors in the report, and then a breakdown of the major, moderate, and minor violations the restaurant has incurred.

In addition to the most current report you can also look at a graph of the previous reports, when available, to see if the establishment has an increasing or decreasing score over time. You can also leave comments if you've visited the restaurant—reading over various reviews in different cities it becomes apparent that poor health inspection scores and poor customer service seem to go hand in hand.

Have your own favorite tool for scoping our restaurants from afar? Share it in the comments below.



Michael Pollan’s 20 Food Rules to Live By [Friday Fun]

A lot of Lifehacker readers turn to In Defense of Food author Michael Pollan's practical, no-nonsense advice when they're looking to eat better and healthier. Over at the New York Times, Pollan has pulled together 20 solid—sometimes silly—eating rules of thumb.

Photo by Shahram Sharif.

Pollan asked his readers to submit the food rules they live by, and over 2,500 responses later, he culled together 20 favorites. Some of the rules are more folks-isms that rules to live by, but most are actually kind of useful as motivational tools to help you stick with healthy habits. For example:

  • Never eat something that is pretending to be something else.
  • If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you are not hungry.
  • The Chinese have a saying: "Eat until you are seven-tenths full and save the other three-tenths for hunger." That way, food always tastes good, and you don't eat too much.

Still, eating really doesn't have to be all that difficult, and shouldn't necessarily require so many rules—which is where the next-to-final rule on the list comes in:

After spending some time working with people with eating disorders, I came up with this rule: "Don't create arbitrary rules for eating if their only purpose is to help you feel in control." I try to eat healthfully, but if there's a choice between eating ice cream and spending all day obsessing about eating ice cream, I'm going to eat the ice cream!

Amen. Still, if you've got your own rules of thumb for making sure you're sticking to a healthy, balanced diet (maybe you subscribe to Pollan's simple "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." mantra), let's hear it in the comments.



Do You Count Calories? [Reader Poll]

If you're looking to lose a few pounds or concerned about your health in general, a new study has found that posted calorie counts don't promote healthier habits, and that counters who use them often consume more calories than those who don't.

Photo by lrargerich.

The NYU and Yale study tracked customers at four NYC fast food chains with high obesity rates. According to the New York Times:

It found that about half the customers noticed the calorie counts, which were prominently posted on menu boards. About 28 percent of those who noticed them said the information had influenced their ordering, and 9 out of 10 of those said they had made healthier choices as a result.

Unfortunately, calorie counters, on average, ended up consuming more calories than those who didn't (846 calories versus 825 calories).

The article said that price was a bigger concern for the control group than calories. That's no real surprise there given those studied lived in low-income neighborhoods, but then everyone's more concerned with price in this economy.

That doesn't mean that calorie counting can't work, of course; it just means that NYC's mandated calorie-posting laws for restaurant chains aren't necessarily the most effective. Still, we're curious:

If you're looking for tools to help you keep an eye on your waistline, check out this weekend's Hive Five Best Weight-Management Tools.



Grind Your Own Meat for Safe(r) Burgers [Food]

You might have seen, or heard about, a front-page New York Times story about ground beef, one that definitely raises a few health and safety questions about your standard burger. One solution, then, is to grind your own beef.

Photo by VirtualErn.

No meat is perfect, of course, and ground beef in particular has a lot of surface area, and needs to be closely looked after to hit the right internal temperature while cooking. But buying a whole cut of meat that you know the quality and source of eliminates a vast number of variables that commercial products leave you guessing at.

NY Times food writer Mark Bittman has suggested that if you don't have your own grinder, either stand-alone or attached to a KitchenAid-type mixer, a standard food processor can do a fine job of meat grinding, if you watch what's happening:

Next, don't overprocess. You want the equivalent of chopped meat, not a meat purée. The finer you grind the meat, the more likely you are to pack it together too tightly, which will make the burger tough.

If you want to delve a bit deeper into the specifics of ground beef issues, a Grocery Guy blog post will indulge your curiosity—just don't read it right before lunch. That said, he brings up a nice halfway compromise to making a mess of your kitchen counter: Get to know your butcher, and have him or her grind your meat to order. That post also contains a few more nitty-gritty tips on cuts, seasoning, and patty preparation.

Have you long been DIY-ing your burger patties? Got any tips for those of us looking to escape the shrink-wrapped section? Share the wisdom in the comments.



Steam Scrambled Eggs with an Espresso Machine [Food Hacks]

If your morning scrambled eggs are coming up short and you happen to have an espresso machine handy, the next time you decide to cook up a batch, steam scramble your eggs for a delightfully creamy concoction.

Photo by avlxyz.

Food weblog Food Mayhem says that if you steam scramble your eggs, they will come out "creamy, tasty, and melt-on-your-tonguey." After beating eggs, butter, and salt together in a porcelain jar, here's how it works:

Hold the jar underneath the steamer wand (milk steamer on an espresso machine) and let the wand dip into the egg mixture. Turn on the steamer and swirl about until the eggs are scrambled but soft and runny.

Hit up the Food Mayhem post for the full instructions, including a video of the egg-steaming in action. Don't have an espresso machine on-hand? Check out celebri-chef Gordon Ramsay's video guide to making the perfect scrambled egg breakfast. If you prefer your eggs hard-boiled, our previous post on how to bulk-cook hard-boiled eggs may be more your speed.



Sandwich Price Calculator Shows the Cost of Each Lunch [Saving Money]

Packing a lunch always seems like the smart, economical choice, but is your preferred sandwich actually cheaper than at the corner store? Sandwich fan Rob Cockerham provides a simple calculator to help you do the math.

Rob's calculator is somewhat specific to his own quest to control sandwich costs, so if you're a fan of spicy brown mustard, red onions, or a few other sandwich particulars, you won't be able to nail down your exact product cost. But he breaks down a lot of typical food components into their per-slice prices, and you can estimate quite a bit using his sandwich model.

As BoingBoing commenters note, his calculations also don't take into consideration the cost of food spoilage, such as buying a head of lettuce and not getting to all of it before it's brown and limp. That said, if you've got a plan to make the most of your lunch, or you just like to play around with virtual sandwiches, it's a neat little reminder of the joys of brown-bagging it.



Never Leave Things at a Friend’s House Again [Memory]

Chinese takeout, a pile of DVDs, your Xbox 360—whatever it is that you don't want to leave behind, make it impossible to forget with this simple memory trick.

Photo by Dan4th.

Over at the parenting blog Parent Hacks, they've shared an excellent reader tip to help you remember to always take leftovers, or anything else stashed away out of sight and mind, with you on your journey home:

When my sister and I were younger, sometimes my parents would have to store items in the fridge at someone's house when we went to visit (such as medicines or milk). To keep from forgetting these items when they left, my dad would leave his keys in the fridge next to the item. That way, he wouldn't forget the items in the fridge as he needed his keys to drive home. You probably could do the same at work or school to make sure you don't leave leftovers overnight in the fridge.

You won't get much farther than the driveway without returning to claim your rightful share of the Moo-Shu Pork. Have your own tricky memory hack? Let's hear it in the comments.



Best Weight-Management Tool? [Hive Five Call For Contenders]

Weight loss can be quite a challenge, and having the right tools at your disposal to help guide and track your efforts can be indispensable. This week we want to hear about your favorite weight-management tool.

Photo by Cliff1066.

Whether it's an application on your computer, a web site, or an app on your phone, what tool makes losing—or maintaining—weight, dare we say, fun?

Hive Five nominations take place in the comments, where you post your favorite tool for the job. We get hundreds of comments, so to make your nomination clear, please include it at the top of your comment like so: VOTE: Best Weight-Management Tool. Please don't include your vote in a reply to another commenter. Instead, make your vote and reply separate comments. If you don't follow this format, we may not count your vote. To prevent tampering with the results, votes from first-time commenters may not be counted. After you've made your nomination, let us know what makes it stand out from the competition.

About the Hive Five: The Hive Five feature series asks readers to answer the most frequently asked question we get: "Which tool is the best?" Once a week we'll put out a call for contenders looking for the best solution to a certain problem, then YOU tell us your favorite tools to get the job done. Every weekend, we'll report back with the top five recommendations and give you a chance to vote on which is best. For an example, check out last week's Five Best Twitter Clients.



Pack Smarter, Tastier Lunches for Kids (or Yourself) [Food]

School's back in session, and at the same time, walks to restaurants and outdoor lunches are becoming a summer memory. The Washington Post has some great ideas on making frugal, healthy, fun, and vegan lunches from what you've got handy.

Four themed infographics are laid out in a "one-week meal plan," the kind none of us can ever actually follow for five straight days. But the suggestions for reusing leftovers, making lunches a bit more interesting for kids, and even inspiring some remixes of adult brown bags seem pretty solid. There are a few recipes mixed in where they're needed, too.

Jason's done some thinking on this topic, and his tips on making packed lunches more appealing are worth digging into if you're looking to stop giving Subway so much foot traffic.



How to Choose the Fastest Line at the Market [Timesavers]

One of the more frustrating parts of grocery shopping is waiting in line, and determining which line will get you through the quickest somehow becomes a big deal. Blogger and math teacher Dan Meyer drops a little science on this common dilemma.

Photo by specialkrb.

When choosing which line will be the fastest, it might surprise you to learn that the "express" lane may not always be the best choice. Meyer took a scientific look at supermarket checkout times and came to the conclusion that the number of people in line adds more to the wait time than the number of items each person has in their cart.

[W]hen you add one person to the line, you're adding 48 extra seconds to the line length (that's "tender time" added to "other time") without even considering the items in her cart. Meanwhile, an extra item only costs you an extra 2.8 seconds. Therefore, you'd rather add 17 more items to the line than one extra person!

Of course, other variables, both known (dedicated bagger) and unknown (payment type, coupons, cigarettes) affect on the speed of the line, but this is a good rule of thumb to use as a baseline. To save time and money before you get to the checkstand, try shopping every other week and make an organized list before you go shopping.

If you've got your own tricks for getting through the checkout lane in a hurry, let us know in the comments.



Use Sequences and Smart Freezing Techniques When Cooking Solo [Cooking]

If you're on a budget and cooking solely for yourself, try extending the shelf life of your food by learning to cook in sequences and freezing the leftovers proportionally.

Photo by Joel Zimmer.

The key, according to tips compendium WikiHow, is to reuse as many common bases as possible. So "a roasted chicken can be eaten as straight chicken with side dishes (e.g., mashed potatoes and veggies) the first day, contribute to a chicken skillet, and wind up as the basis for soup." The corollary of the solo sequence technique is to properly freeze the remainders.

According to the post, if you're dining solo, you should ideally freeze food in one-person portions, meaning that while you're free to buy in bulk, you should divide the pre-cooked goodies into "half-pound or smaller pouches before you freeze it."

Browse the post for other tips on how to cook for one, and if you've got a lot of experience preparing solo meals, chime in with your own advice on how to best do so in the comments.



Use Apples to Extend the Shelf Life of Cakes [Food Hacks]

Office parties. Birthdays. Holidays. Attend most celebrations and, odds are, the festivities will include cake, and there will be leftovers. Keep those indulgent slices fresher for longer with apples.

Photo by kimberlykv.

Reader's Digest culled six culinary uses for apples, and one of them, according to their post, is extending the shelf-life of both homemade and store-bought cakes. Simply store them in the fridge or freezer with half an apple tilted or placed on top of slices laying on their side. The cut apples will help lock in the moisture longer than the cold temperatures of your fridge and freezer alone.

Check out the post for the other apple tips, then browse our top ten food and drink hacks for other ideas on how to make the most of your meals.