Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Watermelon Salad

This recipe uses three great garden items in season right now: watermelon, basil, and onion. Just add feta, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Deliciously fresh. I adapted this recipe, substituting basil for mint and adding onion.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Raspberry Simple Syrup

I absolutely love the idea of creating new beverages as well as new food dishes. So many fresh, seasonal fruits and herbs can be easily processed into juices or syrups that can be added to cocktails, sodas, lemonades, and iced teas.

I was familiar with breaking down berries into a sauce/syrup from making my blackberry buttercream. Today, when I saw that the raspberries in our local community garden were ripe and going to waste, I spent an extra half hour picking as many as I could easily reach. I was going fast, therefore smooshing many of the berries, so I knew from the start that I would break down the berries into juice or syrup instead of trying to keep them perfectly whole for a dessert. Also, I prefer seedless raspberry anything--removing that annoyance lets you enjoy the berry flavor so much more.

Here's how it went.

1. Take a photo of whole raspberries.
2. Take another one.

3. I did a quick rinse and then put them in a saucepan with just a little water and a couple tablespoons of sugar. (If I were making a more concentrated reduction, I wouldn't add any water.)

4. I cooked them down until they were almost completely liquid, and reduced them for ten minutes or so.

5. I strained out the seeds and pulp. With raspberries, you really have to work the pulp with a spatula to get all possible juice out of them.

6. Look at that beautiful juice! This is just slightly thickened (reduced) juice with about two tablespoons of sugar. To make a thicker syrup, you can reduce for longer and add more sugar. I would use a thicker syrup to add to desserts like cheesecakes, but this time, I want a thin simple syrup that I can add to beverages.

7. Finally, I made a separate, plain simple syrup with equal parts sugar and water. You simply heat gently in a saucepan and stir or swirl occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Then, I added the raspberry juice to taste...you can make it as sweet or as tart as you want depending on how much you add. I finished it with a squeezed slice of lime for acidity and bottled it up and chilled it. I store my simple syrup in the fridge. Basic simple syrup can last up to a month in the fridge; I'll have to experiment with the fruit addition to see how long it keeps.

Ready to add to a cocktail, soda, lemonade, or iced tea!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bún thịt nướng: Rice Vermicelli Bowls

My first date with my husband was at a Vietnamese restaurant in the city. Ever since, I've loved Vietnamese food. Our favorite dish at this particular spot is still bún thịt nướng or rice vermicelli bowls.

This dish is composed of a base of half rice vermicelli noodles and half chopped lettuce (typically romaine). The bowl is topped with cucumber, picked carrot and daikon (white radish), shallots, chopped basil, mint, and cilantro, chopped peanuts, and a protein--often pork, but my two favorites are shrimp or Vietnamese egg roll, in which they simply chop two pork-stuffed egg rolls on top of your bowl. The whole bowl is dressed with a liquid composed of fish sauce, vinegar, lime juice, garlic, and red pepper flakes.

As Stefon would say, this dish has everything: savory, meaty, fresh, crunchy, soft, tangy, sweet. It satisfies on many levels. It's officially become one of my crave meals.

I followed this fantastic recipe posted on Allrecipes.com. Better than the restaurant's version, my husband said!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Homemade Oatmeal Cream Pies

It's been a relaxing weekend spent almost entirely at home, so I was inspired to try a recipe I've been eying up for a month or two now: homemade oatmeal cream pies.

There is a reason I don't buy Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies: my husband and I have a joint weakness for them. Anyone who's ever lived with anyone else should know that joint weaknesses, especially for junk food, are bad news. But! A homemade version would have significantly fewer questionable ingredients, so even if we did eat 2 or 12, I'd feel better about it. I didn't know if I could create anything as soft and luscious as those tender, nostalgic little cookie sandwiches, but I had to try.

Most people in the food blogiverse seem to roughly agree on the cookie recipe (except for this brave soul who developed a flawless-looking recipe from the original ingredient list, which includes dried apple and cocoa powder), but there's some disagreement on the cream filling. Many are making a homemade meringue/marshmallow filling, which is what I did according to this recipe, but others are mixing marshmallow fluff with shortening and powdered sugar, and still others are simply making buttercream. Although a buttercream might taste more like the original, I like the lighter alternative of homemade marshmallow, which is just sugar and egg whites. It lends a very satisfactory gooeyness to the final product.

I say: success. I'd make these again.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Short Doughnut Rant

I need to have a few words with the cooking community.

I'm all into eating healthy. I get it. I'm eating more vegetables and fewer carbs too, and I try not to have too much dessert.

But let's get something straight here.

You've all been posting recipes for... (pardon me, I need to psych myself up in order to type such a blatant oxymoron)...

baked doughnuts.

Ignoring the plain fact that a doughnut, by very definition, is a ring of dough fried in fat or oil.

I know, I hear you. You want a doughnut; you just don't want it deep-fried.


It's good I didn't see any recipes for baked fastnachts or beignets on Fat Tuesday, or I would have really lost my mind.

Now that I've officially established myself as a total snot, I'll just end with this, in all its rightful deep-fried glory.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Doable Healthy Eating

Typically, I don't fall in with the people who make health resolutions for the New Year. It all seems pretty farcical, to commit to making drastic life changes, only to go back to your Dorito-binging ways in two weeks.

But this year, the husband's been struggling with some back pain and would like to lose weight, and I wouldn't mind tightening up my diet either. So we're making small strides to incorporate sustainable changes in our eating. I believe that any steps you take toward adjusting your diet should be gradual in order to avoid the deprivation-binging cycle that defeats most of us.

Here are a few steps we've taken that have been easy to stick with so far.

1. Green smoothies every weekday morning.
When I realized that I could add handfuls of raw spinach or kale to a fruit smoothie and taste virtually no difference, I was completely sold. I like spinach salads and kale chips, but most savory methods for making greens take longer and are less palatable than a fruit smoothie. I love hiding my greens in something that tastes delicious. It's nutrition magic. Anyway, we have been making smoothies every weekday morning. They taste fresh, keep digestion moving smoothly, and pack a huge nutritional punch. The ingredients vary daily, but my staples are usually the following:
  • Frozen fruit: bananas, peaches, berries, pineapple/melon blend
  • Plain low-fat Greek yogurt (I love Cabot)
  • Juice: orange (usually Florida's Natural; I also occasionally buy something more exotic like organic mango juice for flavor)
  • Almond milk
  • Spinach or kale
  • Milled flaxseed (so many health benefits)
  • Honey
When I need a break from the tart fruits, I use bananas, peanut butter and/or Nutella, and coconut oil for a more desserty treat. I still add greens to this smoothie; I'm telling you, you cannot taste them.

* Image used from twopeasandtheirpod.com

2. Adding vegetables in unlikely ways.
We're trying to consume fewer grains, but I really, really wanted some pasta tonight. I got the plain, white-flour tortellini out of the freezer and decided to compensate by amping up my pasta sauce with nutritious ingredients. I grated a carrot and soaked it in very hot tap water for 5-10 minutes. I poured organic pasta sauce into my blender and added the drained, grated carrot and two handfuls of fresh spinach and pureed everything. I heated the sauce on the stove with some extra garlic, and then served it over the tortellini and homemade meatballs. Couldn't taste the carrots or spinach, but they were there all the same!

3. Apple cider vinegar.
This is the most controversial item on our list, as I assume many people would scoff at the idea of ACV being the magic tonic that some claim it to be. I do not happen to believe that it is a magic tonic, but I've read enough to persuade myself that it can only do good. It was also recommended by the holistic chiropractor that my husband has been seeing.

I also think it's worth mentioning that my husband had been taking eight Advil a day for his back pain. The chiropractor suggested a natural alternative called OsteoMove Joint Care, a formula that works to decrease inflammation and restore cartilage. He's only been taking it for three days, so I'll report back if/when we see results, but I'm in favor of anything that reduces the need to take potentially harmful drugs. I will say that since starting to see the chiropractor, who uses heat therapy as well as typical adjustments, and incorporating these healthy changes, my husband has been able to decrease the number of Advil he's been taking--in fact, he just told me that he didn't take any today. Small strides can lead to success!

Friday, January 4, 2013

All-Natural Cleaning Kit

I impressed myself again today.

I shouldn't be so pleased with myself, since I meant to get multiples of these things done before Christmas, but then an Amazon seller dropped the ball on my order for one of the components, and I didn't have the time to search for a replacement. C'est la vie, especially around the holidays. Fortunately, I feel like this gift is perfect for the New Year, as things settle down and routines become established again, and you feel like cleaning all the leftover holiday dust and wrapping paper and stray M&Ms out of your house.

Presenting the All-Natural Cleaning Kit: the perfect homemade Christmas, birthday, housewarming, or hostess gift.

I'm going to tell you what's in it, how to make or find what's in it, where I got my ideas, and what it costs.

This kit contains the ingredients for 3 different kinds of household cleaners.

All-Purpose Citrus Vinegar Cleaner
This has been floating around Pinterest forever, and I believe you can find the original source here. I am so happy I found this idea. Truly all-natural cleaning solutions are expensive and don't last long. I'll be buying citrus and vinegar from now on. There are numerous sources that claim the antibacterial properties of vinegar, and overall benefits of using it both in your cleaning routine and diet.

Carpet Spot Remover
A paste of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide can remove even stubborn stains from carpet. I used this solution on my nearly white bedroom carpet and it worked like magic. Two different sources explain this method.

Scrubbing Cleaner
I put off cleaning my oven for over a year, and it was pretty disgusting. I found this simple lemon juice and baking soda paste to be the best thing for cutting grease and scrubbing off caked-on oils and spills. You may have to let this one sit for a while, but it's worth it.

What's In It (complete supply list to recreate photo)
  • basket
  • shredded paper filler or tissue paper
  • silk flowers or other ornamentation (optional)
  • microfiber cloth
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • baking soda
  • lemons
  • citrus vinegar cleaner in a spray bottle
  • "laminated" instructional cards

How to Make or Find What's In It

Basket, filler, spray bottle, and flowers: Michael's
Microfiber cloth: Eurow Microfiber
Hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, lemons: grocery store

How to make citrus vinegar cleaner:
In a large (about 2-gallon) container such as a pickle jar or plastic pitcher, combine the peels of 6-8 citrus fruits (lemons, oranges, limes, and/or grapefruits) and plain white distilled vinegar. I don't worry too much about putting in clean peels--I just juice the fruits so I have fresh citrus juice to use for other purposes and throw the roughage into my vinegar container, seeds and all. Let container sit in a dark, cool place for 2 weeks, stirring or shaking every few days. Strain liquid through cheesecloth; discard any pulp/seeds. You now have a gorgeous, citrus-colored, naturally antiseptic, naturally grease-cutting cleaner concentrate. If you wish, you may add 10-20 drops of a citrus essential oil to boost the scent; this is completely optional, however. To prepare for this basket or to use for yourself, mix 1 part concentrate with 1 part filtered or distilled water in a spray bottle. Label if desired. Note: I use a 1-1 mixture of water and citrus vinegar for cleaning countertops and other non-wood surfaces. Some people do recommend a greater dilution if you're cleaning wood.

How to make "laminated" instructional cards:
This is pretty simple. I "laminated" some note paper with packing tape. Just stick it on both sides and then trim the edges. I made 3 cards, one for each cleaner. I recommend trying each of these cleaners for yourself before giving to someone else, and creating your own instructional cards based on how you used the products and what your results were. Basically, though, just write down how to mix the solution and what to use it on.

What It Costs
Basket: $5.00 (half off at Michael's)
Filler: $1.00 ($3.99 bag that will fill at least 4 baskets)
Silk flowers: $2.00 ($3.99 sprig that will fill 2 baskets)
Microfiber cloth: $1.33 ($16 pack of 12)
Hydrogen peroxide: $.85
Baking soda: $2.00
Lemons: $.67 (6 for $2 at my store)
Citrus vinegar cleaner: $.50 (very rough estimate, assuming it takes about $8 to make a large batch of concentrate split into 8 portions, and then each portion diluted to 16 bottles)
Spray bottle: $3.00 (cost varies widely depending on source)
Instructional cards: free, if you have paper, pen, and packing tape
= $16.35

You could put quite a dent in even that reasonable cost by finding a basket at Goodwill, foregoing silk flowers, and finding a cheap spray bottle (beware, though...if it costs cheap, it sprays cheap).

I'm so excited to give my first cleaning kit to my friend this evening. I hope you'll consider making a few of these cleaners to use for yourself, and perhaps sharing with a friend as well.