2.22.2011

you should try this. it's great.

Just wanted to re-share one of my favorite homemade cleaning recipes: laundry soap.

I've got a few loads going right now and all I can say is "pennies per load, people, pennies per load."

Try it. Seriously.

2.21.2011

never too busy for vinaigrette

Life out here is b-u-s-y. Really, busy. And when I get busy the first thing to go is food. I forget to make grocery lists, I never cook dinners. I'm busy...hadn't you heard? Joe is a hero and always jumps right in to pick up my slack (I think he's done the cooking two out of the last three weeks), and while he takes over on food, I sit in the living room researching all of our big decisions: "Joe, Google says that this is a very bad idea!". So, that's Joe and I in the midst of busyness and change. He cooks and plays along with my mania (since he's misguided enough to think that Google searches shouldn't factor into major life changes). I research...and forget to grocery shop.

This busyness cycle usually leads to being inventive in the kitchen. Which sometimes leads to us making better choices. As in, who knew that you could do without salad dressing for weeks? Not me. Today I finally realized we were out and whipped up this little delight. Chalk another one up to the usefulness of canning jars.


Making this vinaigrette was so easy, I had to roll my eyes when I started to consider how much money I've spent on store-bought (and factory-packaged) salad dressings. It took about five minutes to dump all the ingredients together and I only got one dish dirty. Not to mention that I no longer have the moral dilemma of what to do with perfectly good glass salad dressing bottles on the days I don't feel like driving fifteen miles to the recycling plant. Double win!

Here's what my vinaigrette is made of:
1 part balsamic vinager
3 parts olive oil
3 garlic cloves
Italian spices to taste
dash of salt and freshly ground pepper

Next time, I think I'll use our pomegranate vinegar and grapeseed oil to mix things up. Delicious and absolutely free since I always have these ingredients on hand.

P.S. That little greenery peeking in the right corner is George. He's a spider plant. He's so huge that he's taken over the dining table and I'm pretty sure we're going to have to get a bigger house just to keep him around.

2.17.2011

We interrupt your current programming for...

...LIFE.

I'll be back soon. With more fun stuff :)

2.09.2011

composting...OR... I did this in 15 minutes last sunday and you can too!

I have this thing about trash. It grosses me out....on a deeply disturbing level. This is a pretty recent development. I mean, I never enjoyed trash and it was always clear from long before I said "I do" that Joe would be solely responsible for handling all garbage situations (and I would be solely responsible for cleaning toilets, just so you don't think our marriage is unfair ;). But in the last year, trash has topped my list of most disgusting things out there.

I remember the first time I realized that it took centuries for a disposable diaper to decompose. I was appalled. I know it sounds dramatic, but we're talking more than 100 years (450 years according to the EPA, and this estimate is for marine decomposition, not decomposition in a landfill). It took me all of five minutes to realize that the diapers I used as a baby are still out there, filling a land fill, and will be long after I die. G-ross. I don't even have kids and I spent weeks doing cloth diaper research (I personally, love these little lovelies). Put me on the waiting list.

After being inspired by this zero-waste family in California, I've been looking for ways to reduce our everyday trash, especially how to make recycling and composting a possibility in our limited-space apartment life. Is composting even possible in a little apartment? After reading an article on small space composting over at Planet Green, I started to think it was.

See, I had this old white plastic trash can for which I had no use, but I refused to throw it in the dumpster since it was still very funtional (even if a little grungy from it's former occupation). It just sat in our backyard 8x10 rectangle behind our house with nothing to do. So, after reading the Planet Green article, I decided it was just right for a tiny composter.

I grabbed the grungy white trash can, flipped it over, and started drilling (I used a bit that's meant to drill bolt holes, nice and big).


Once all the drainage was put in, all that was left to do was flip the trash can back over and fill it with composting ingredients.

Pre-made compost, to get things started.


Dry matter (dead leaves, paper, etc) and organic waste (potato peels, fruit rinds, weeds, etc)


Now I just have to sit back and watch it grow decompose.



My favorite part of the project was when I discovered that my new composting bin fit perfectly under our diy-ed gardening/grilling table. Delightful.

P.S. Yes, that is our Christmas tree stand on top of the table. Joe is notorious for "leaving things out to dry" and forgetting that he did. I'm notorious for sitting back and letting it happen (and photographing it to share with everybody).

2.08.2011

You want how much for that?!

So, I was browsing through the sales over at West Elm and I had to laugh when I came across this little beauty. West Elm is asking $229.99 for their cutout headboard and that's the SALE price. Usually, they want you to pay $349 for it.

I had to laugh. Why you ask? Because up in my bedroom I have that exact headboard. I built it for about $20. It's my cheapy placeholder until the hubs and I buy a house and do it up right with a Farmhouse bed.

Here's mine. Pardon the white paint. That's a placeholder too. I have paint swatches taped up on my wall this very moment vying for the honor of being our headboad color.


Here are the plans if you're interested in saving about $200. Thank you, Ana White.

2.07.2011

flour grinding 101: using a kitchenaid grain mill

I fell in love with white whole wheat flour after using it to make a roux for homemade macaroni and cheese (I didn't have any all-purpose in the house). The flavor was so amazing, so perfectly light and nutty, that I stopped buying all-purpose flour altogether and just stuck with white whole wheat for everyday use. The only drawback was the cost: five pounds of white whole wheat flour cost the same amount as twenty-five pounds of all-purpose. Ick.

Enter this little Kitchenaid grain mill.


See that big, shiny silver thing on the front of my Kitchenaid mixer? That is a grain mill, a gift from my MIL for my birthday. And it is, hopefully, going to make the cost of always using white whole wheat flour about equal too, if not less than, using all-purpose.

Sitting in front of it are the first two grain blends I tried. My MIL and I picked them up at a local mill famous for it's delicious mixes (I especially love their buckwheat pancake mix). Now, this grain is probably not as economical as I could find with a little leg work, but it was part of my gift and the perfect thing to use for a test run of my grain mill.

Here's how it went:

First, measure your grain (1 cup of grain yields about 1 1/2 cups of flour)


Grind it on a fairly coarse setting the first time through, just to break everything up.


Next, put it back through the mill using the finest setting. Your flour should end up looking a lot more like storebought flour now.


I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so I put my flour through a third time using the finest setting again. But I think in the future I would sift it at this point and only put anything left in the sifter back through the mill a final time.

I know I sound crazy grinding flour three times when I could just go out and buy it, for a similar cost and much less time. But, I'm going to be honest, there isn't much that makes me happier than taking "made from scratch" to a whole new level. Give me time and I'll probably add a little wheat section to my garden. ;)

P.S. I made these zucchini muffins using the flour I milled. So delicious! I've been making them for months now and it is my favorite zucchini muffin recipe.


2.03.2011

bright spot: the muffin cups have arrived!

They're here. And hilarious. And I'm keeping them all because they were my birthday splurge.


The square ones are my favorite and I'm planning on mixing up something tasty in them this weekend.  The tiny ones are completely impractical, but I couldn't bear to send them back. Every time I look at their bright colors and teeny-tiny size I can't help but smile. Who would want to get rid of that?

2.01.2011

meatless mondays: homemade veggie lasagna

Lasagna is an art form. At least, when I make it then it is. I have been a little wary about posting a lasagna "recipe" because recipes require measurements and methods that can be duplicated and I don't have those. I've only been really cooking for about three years, but the more food I make the more I realize that I'm a mix-together-whatever-is-in-the-fridge-and-bake-it-for-an-hour type of cook.

I get away with this mostly because I spend a lot of time educating myself on the chemistry of cooking. Pam Anderson's How to Cook without a Book got me started thinking this way, although I should warn you that I basically read the book, thought "this is pretty much common sense," and left it on the shelf after that. I like to know why every ingredient is in my recipe, what purpose it plays. And if you know the why, it becomes very easy to strip a recipe down to it's bare components (the things it MUST have to work) and build your own recipe up from that base. So that's why today I'm going to post the basic lasagna method I use.


Making a Lasagna
There are three main components to any lasagna I make: 1) Flat noodles to separate layers, 2) some sort of sauce, cream or tomato-based, and 3) a cheese/egg/herb mixture.

Step 1: Getting your noodles ready
If you can boil water, you can make lasagna noodles. Cook the boodles until tender and then lay them out on a clean kitchen towel to dry (flour sack towels work great).


Step 2: Making a sauce
Pick you favorite sauce recipe and whip it up or grab your favorite jarred sauce. I'm a personal fan of this recipe:

1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 tbs grapeseed oil
1 14oz can organic tomato sauce

1 tsp Italian herbs blend
1 tbs basil, fresh or dried (use less dried)
1-2 tbs balsamic vinegar (the good stuff)
2 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped

Saute onions and garlic in grapeseed oil for 3-5 mintues, until soft and fragrant. Add tomato sauce, Italian herbs, and basil. Let the sauce simmer for 5-10 minutes and then add the balsamic vinegar. Let the sauce simmer again for about 15 minutes, or until all of the flavors are incorporated. Turn off the heat and stir in the chopped spinach.


Step 3: Cheese mixture
The cheese/egg mixture is the binding agent of a lasagna. It keeps the whole thing together. Some people like using a ricotta-base, but I'm a huge fan of using cottage cheese. I usually make a medium lasagna (not quite a 9x13) and I mix together 1 cup cottage cheese, 1 cup shredded mozzerella, 1 egg, 2-3 cloves of garlic, 1-2 tsp of Italian herbs.

The egg is the important part of this mixture since it will thicken and hold everything together as it cooks, so if I'm in the mood for a bigger lasagna (9x13) I throw an extra one in there. There's really no science to my madness, I just figure two is better than one...Aren't you all ashamed of how willy-nilly my cooking is? Don't worry, I've never made anyone sick :)


Step 4: Make it your own
Other than the three steps above, I never make the same lasagna twice. The one in the picture is a mixture of shredded chicken, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, and extra spinach. A great addition to our meatless Monday routine.