Thursday, December 30, 2010

Good News...

... I got a sewing machine for Christmas/Birthday! Not only a sewing machine, but the Rolls Royce of sewing machines, a Bernina. So far the only thing I am sure it cannot do is time travel. Everything else, I believe, is possible.

So I have many, many projects in the works. Here's a taste: a tiny doll pajama shirt for my classroom.

 Pattern available for free here under "Molly."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Balsamic Honey Chicken

This one is tasty, with a hint of sweet. Try for yourself and see!

Balsamic Honey Chicken 

Adapted from Honoring Health

3 chicken breasts
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup honey
2 cloves garlic, smashed and finely minced
1 tbsp minced onion
1/4 tsp salt
dash of ground ginger
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp olive oil

  1. Defrost the chicken breasts (if necessary) by placing in a zip-lock bag and soaking the bag in warm water. This takes at least 45 minutes.
  2. Combine the vinegar, honey, garlic, onion, salt, ginger, and a dash of pepper in a large zip-lock bag. Marinate for up to 8 hours, a minimum of 1 hour. 
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Remove the chicken from the bag and throw away the leftover marinade. Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper and add the oil to the hot pan. 
  4. When the oil shimmers, add the chicken and cook on each side for about 5 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. The outside will become a little black and charred. 
  5. Remove the chicken from the pan and allow it to rest for a few minutes before serving.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Homemade Natural Cleaning Products

It's been awhile since a non-food post. What can I say, I feel helpless without my sewing machine.

I've always loved using essential oils in my home. A few drops in my bath, a few drops instead of perfume, and a few drops in my favorite cleaning solutions. I'm sensitive to many synthetic fragrances, so essential oils are a great substitute. I love supporting EO Products, because they're local and family owned. They've also been very generous to the school I work at.

Two recent concoctions I started using in my home:

All Natural Floor and Surface Cleaner

Combine in a spray bottle:
One cup water
One tablespoon white vinegar
5 drops tea tree oil
15 drops peppermint oil

Use to clean and disinfect floors, counters, tables and what-have-you. It's great for wiping down glass shower doors, too. The disinfecting powers of vinegar are common knowledge, but did you know tea tree oil also has these qualities? And did you know peppermint oil is a natural ant repellent? Next time you have an infestation, try wiping down the area where the ants are swarming with water and peppermint oil.

All Natural Linen and Ironing Spray

Combine in a spray bottle:
One cup water
One tablespoon rose water
5 drops lavender oil

It smells so good to iron now!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Marbled Royal Icing

This beautiful icing technique looks difficult, but was easy enough for my Girl Scout Troop when I was nine. I know you can do it too!

The most important thing is to get your frosting the right consistency. Once you have that down, the creative part begins (also known as the part you can't mess up.)
Use any Royal Icing recipe. Here's the one I used:

2 lbs (1 large bag) powdered sugar
3 T meringue powder
7 T cold water
food coloring as desired

You will need:

a standing or handheld mixer
icing bags or ziplock bags
a butterknife

1) Combine frosting ingredients together and mix for about 5 minutes on medium. At this point, when you lift the beater up, a string of frosting will fall on top of the rest of the icing, remain at the surface momentarily, and then be reabsorbed.

2) Place 2/3 of white frosting in a decorating bag or ziplock.
3) Color remaining icing as desired. As you can see from the pictures below, you need more red food coloring than I had to make red. But pink is pretty too!

4) Prepare your decorating area.
5) Outline each shape with a line of white frosting. Fill it in.
6) Draw thin lines of colored frosting across the cookie.

7) Using a toothpick or something similar, drag lightly perpendicular to the colored frosting lines.
8) Repeat dragging toothpick alternating "up" and "down" strokes. You look like a frosting genius!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Peppermint Playdough

I love making this with my students -- they get very excited and have lengthy conversations about what color we should make the play dough this time. In the holiday spirit, we all agreed on green, with peppermint oil to scent it.
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 cups salt
  • 8 teaspoons cream of tarter
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • food coloring
  • 15 drops essential oil -- peppermint or tea tree work best -- lavender and more gentle smells are overpowered by the natural salty scent of the play dough
1) Place all the ingredients in the pot. The order is not important, and kids get excited about helping pour each ingredient in. I would add food coloring and essential oil last, by an adult. Stir well.

2) Stir over medium heat. Mixture will begin to thicken on bottom of the pot. Scrape off thickened dough with a sturdy spoon. This takes some elbow grease!

3) The thickened dough will be darkened slightly. When no more "liquid" dough remains, cook for one minute longer, turning constantly, and then remove from heat. Continue stirring for a few minutes, scraping dough off bottom of pot.

4) Place balls of dough on a counter and let cool at least 5 minutes before allowing little hands to touch.

5) Play!

6) Dough can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for many months to come.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Applesauce

I was given a wonderful gift by one of my students recently: a bag of freshly-picked, home-grown organic apples! These little yellow apples we so tiny and sweet, I wanted to make a special winter treat. What a great gift, especially in light of the No-Shop Challenge!

Applesauce is delicious all year round, but the holiday twist in this recipe is the cinnamon and cranberry flavors. You could also try adding a few tablespoons of leftover cranberry sauce - yum!

This recipe's a Twenty-Something Home original - enjoy!
  • 3 - 4 pounds of apples. Type generally doesn't matter.
  • 1/4 cup sugar (less if your apples are sweet, more if your apples are tart or you like a very sweet applesauce)
  • 1 T lemon or orange juice
  • 2 T butter
  • 2 cups cranberry juice (pre-sweetened, from concentrate -- or 1 cup pure juice with 1 cup water, plus more sugar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg and ground cloves
  • optional - several tablespoons of leftover cranberry sauce 

    1) Wash your apples. There's no need to peel them - many of the nutrients apples provide are stored in the peel!
    2) Cut your apples into medium slices.
    3) Put all ingredients in a pot and cook over medium heat. Stir every five minutes for 30 minutes or until apples are very soft and mushy.

    4) Use an immersion blender (if you have one) to chop up peels. If you don't have an immersion blender, use a regular blender. 


      Wednesday, December 15, 2010

      The Greatest Gift of All

      During this festive time of year, I am humbly reminded that often the best gifts are not expensive, fancy, delicious, useful or beautiful. I was reminded of the true spirit of Christmas today by none other than my cat, who dragged my favorite gift into the living room.

      Last year one of my students gave me a small package that appeared to be nothing more than a wad of crumpled gift wrap covered in tape. Upon unwrapping it, I revealed a single, rainbow shoelace. The gift was so simple, so silly, and so obviously from the heart that I laughed out loud and showed it to all my colleagues. Little Myles, you truly understand the meaning of Christmas; showing those around you how much you care.

      Monday, December 13, 2010

      Caramelized Pear Tart

      My friend and coworker has a prolific pear tree. I am reaping the benefits. Although the pears took almost a week to ripen after being picked, some great projects have resulted.

      From Epicurious. I made the crust the night before and let it refrigerate overnight.

      4 large firm-ripe pears (2 pounds total)
      1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
      1/2 cup sugar
      1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
      dash of nutmeg
      pastry dough
      1. Make your pastry dough
      2. Peel and halve pears, then core.
      3. Heat butter in a 9- to 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until the butter is no longer foaming, then stir in sugar. 
      4. Arrange pears, cut sides UP, in skillet with wide parts at rim of skillet.
      5. Sprinkle pears with cinnamon and nutmeg and cook, until sugar turns a deep golden caramel, flipping carefully over for optimal caramelization once, and then back again. (This can take as little as 10 minutes or as much as 25.)
      6. Cool pears completely in skillet.
      7. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F.
      8. Roll out your pastry dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch round and trim to a 9 1/2- to 10 1/2-inch round. 
      9. Arrange pastry over caramelized pears, tucking edge around pears inside rim of skillet.
      10. Bake tart until pastry is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Cook on rack 5 minutes.
      11. Place a rimmed serving plate (slightly larger than skillet) over skillet and, using pot holders to hold skillet and plate tightly together, flip tart onto plate. Serve tart warm or at room temperature.

      How pretty! I wasn't expecting it to look as nice as it did. Yum! The crust was really delicious too.

      Saturday, December 11, 2010

      Pomegranate Tart

      This was my favorite Christmas dessert as a child, and I would ask for it on my birthday. Now that I cook for myself, I can have it whenever I want!

      It looks complicated, but after you get into it, it really isn't. Enjoy!

      Make the crust and white layer a day ahead - it needs plenty of time to chill.

      One package graham crackers or gluten-free cookies (or pie crust)
      3 T melted butter
      2 cups nonfat yogurt (plain or vanilla - if using vanilla, use slightly less sugar and omit vanilla extract)
      1/2 c sour cream
      1 t grated orange peel
      1/2 t grated lemon peel (if you have it - don't worry if you don't)
      3 T lemon or lime juice, divided
      1 t vanilla (if using plain yogurt)
      1/2 c water
      3 envelopes unflavored gelatin, divided
      3/4 c sugar, divided
      2 medium pomegranates or about a cup of pomegranate seeds
      3 oz raspberry flavored gelatin (usually Jell-O packages are 6 oz)
      2 cups raspberry-cranberry juice

      1) Make your crust:
      I just mashed up graham crackers and some melted butter, but you can use whatever you like. I once used gluten-free ginger cookies and it was delicious!
      For graham-cracker version, use one package of graham crackers, minus a few crackers. For other versions, use whatever cookies desired. A basic pie crust should work too. Put in a plastic bag and mash with hands (this was always my job as a kid). Add 3 T melted butter and mix well. Press into the bottom of a spring-form cheesecake pan*. Bake at 300 for 20 - 25 minutes. 
      * It is important to use a spring-form cheesecake pan, otherwise you will not be able to get the tart out of the pan without ruining it.

      2) Mix the white layer. Combine yogurt, sour cream, orange peel, lemon peel and lemon/lime juice in a metal or glass bowl.

      3) When the crust is done and cooled, prepare a large bowl of ice water in the sink.
      4) Mix in a small saucepan: 1/2 cup sugar, 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin, and 2/3 cup water. Bring to boil on high, remove from heat.
      5) Working quickly, add to yogurt mixture, whisking thoroughly.
      6) Put yogurt bowl in bowl of ice water, stirring continuously. Stir until the mixture thickens slightly and is cool to the touch.

      7) Pour into pie crust. Chill for at least 4 hours.
      8) While it is chilling, break apart pomegranates in a bowl of water and extract seeds. This is way less messy than harvesting the seeds on the counter, and doesn't stain your hands. Refrigerate until ready to use.
       9) When white layer is done setting, prepare another large bowl of ice water.
      10) Combine remaining packet of unflavored gelatin, raspberry gelatin, remaining tablespoon of lemon/lime juice and cran-raz juice in a small saucepan. Heat until just boiling.
      11) Just as with white layer, place saucepan in the ice water and stir frequently until the mixture is cool but still liquid.
      12) Add pomegranate seeds to cool liquid.
      13) Pour pomegranate mixture onto white layer. Pomegranate seeds will naturally float to the top.
      14) Chill for at least 4 hours.
      15) Cut with a sharp, warm knife.

      Wednesday, December 8, 2010

      "Hand" Made Gifts: Moisturizing Bee Balm

      Winter time gives you dry hands. Working in a preschool gives you dry hands because you wash them every 30 seconds. I saw this recipe on This Chick Cooks, gave it my own twist, and violá! Gifts for my coworkers: Done.

      I got the cute little jars at JoAnn Fabrics, on sale for 2 dollars each. I had all the ingredients (odd, I know... who has a big chunk of beeswax sitting in their craft basket? Me, apparently).

      Here's a how-to:
      • 2 cups light olive oil (I used regular olive oil, and it made the balm green-ish yellow. I'm fine with that, but white would have been prettier.)
      • 1.5 cups chopped or grated beeswax (available from Amazon too, but I like to support independent companies). Use white for white balm, and yellow for a golden balm.
      • 15 - 20 drops essential oil (I used lavender and orange, but there are so many options)
      • Optional: If you want a nice rosy tint, you could add a drop or two of pink or peach gel food coloring. Only do this if you use light olive oil and white beeswax.
      • Optional: a cup of herbs like rosemary, mint, lavender or chamomile.
      1) Put a pot of water on the stove to boil, with just enough water to come up half way on a small pot when placed inside. This smaller pot should be big enough to easily hold about 4 cups of liquid.

      2) Start to chop or grate your beeswax. Don't worry about ruining your grater, with a little work the wax will melt off with boiling water. I recommend grating it into a metal or glass bowl, as plastic reacts strangely and static-y with the grated wax.

      3) When your water is boiling, add your olive oil to the small pot. If you are using herbs, add them now. Let heat for 15 minutes. Be sure the water isn't boiling over the edges of the oil pot. After 15 minutes, strain out herbs.

      4) After 15 minutes (or when you've grated enough beeswax), add the beeswax to the small pot. It will melt very quickly. Stir.

      5) Add essential oils and coloring as desired.

      6) Test the thickness of the balm by dipping a spoon into the pot and scooping up a little of the mixture. Quickly remove and set on a paper towel. It should solidify in a few minutes. If it's too liquid for your taste, add more wax. If it's too solid, add more olive oil. 

      7) Remove from heat and pour into containers. I recommend using a funnel for this.

      8) Pour the pot of boiling water over your grater, spoons, and other utensils that are now caked in the balm. You might consider doing this outside over pavement or grass, as to prevent sink clogging.

      9) Allow the containers to sit out for several hours, or until the balm is solid. 

      Tip: If you make more than your containers will fit, you can pour it into a small jar. This jar can later be reheated using the same double-boiler method, and the melted balm can be poured into new or empty containers.

      Sunday, December 5, 2010

      Pumpkin Cream Cheese

      I used to make a special, inconvenient trip to a bagel store to get pumpkin cream cheese. No more, no more!

      8 oz cream cheese
      1/2 c canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
      1 tsp cinnamon
      1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
      1 tsp vanilla
      4 TBSP brown sugar

      Beat all ingredients together until smooth. Refrigerate.

      Friday, December 3, 2010

      Creative Gift for a 5 Year Old

      I was "Jake's" first babysitter when he was an infant. Even though we don't see each other very often anymore, I have yet to miss one of his birthday parties, and this year is no exception. Sticking with my theme of "on a budget," I wanted to give him a gift that let him know how special he is to me, without breaking the bank. He has plenty of toys, books, and stuffed animals. So I opted to wrap up a little something to remind him of one of our favorite things to do on a rainy day: make cookies.

      The box contains all the ingredients, plus instructions, to make chocolate chip cookies, our favorite. Of course he'll need mom's help, but I feel good about giving a meaningful gift that won't just pile up in a toy basket, be outgrown, or end up in a landfill.

      Wednesday, December 1, 2010

      The To-Do List: December

      During the first week of December:
      • Do any online shopping. Order gifts now so you have lots of time to wrap them once they arrive.
      • Wrap gifts as you buy them. It will save you time the night before.
      • Write your holiday cards. It can take a while, depending on how long your list is. 
      • Buy tickets to seasonal events. Create a master schedule for the season and place it on the fridge or another communal area where everyone can view. Save money by checking your local listings for free community events.
      • Buy a small, live tree if you celebrate Christmas. It will stay fresh and retain its needles through Christmas. A Christmas-tree shaped rosemary plant is pretty, fragrant, and won't grow into a giant redwood over the course of the next few years. 

      Daily To-Do's:
      • 1 Deep clean in preparation for decorating. Today is the first day of Channukah (2010). Even if you don't celebrate this holiday, latkes are delicious.
      • 2 Edit and update the budget you created last month (remember?) for the festive season. Keep an envelope in your bag or purse to store all your holiday receipts in one place. This will help you keep track of your actual spending.
      • 3  Decorate! Unpack decorations and ornaments. See if anything is broken and needs to be replaced. Make sure you take the proper safety precautions when putting up lights.
      • 4 Make sure out-of-town presents are mailed. If you don’t get to it today, make sure they’re in the mail by December 10.
      • 5 Clean and spruce up your bathroom with seasonal hand towels & soaps. 
      • 6 Order a turkey or ham if you'll be cooking one this season. Check and make a note of local store opening and closing hours for the holiday season 
      • 7 Make a holiday recipe binder. It will make grocery shopping and drawing up a cooking timeline much easier.
      • 8 Shop for nonperishable items. That is, unless you are doing the No-Shop Challenge! Buy alcohol, canned goods and pantry staples you’ll need. Pick up a few extra bottles of wine as hostess gifts.
      • 9 Are you driving anywhere this holiday season? Have your car serviced before your trip.
      • 10 Send any out of town gifts that haven’t been sent yet. The last posting date for parcels depends on weight.
      • 11 Make sure you have enough note cards to write your thank-you notes. 
      • 12 Poinsettia Day – Pick one up as a handy last-minute hostess gift. Note: they are poisonous to cats. 
      • 13 Do you have enough dishes to last you through the festive season?
      • 14 Have plans for New Years? 
      • 15 Finalize menus if you’ll be serving the holiday meal. Make sure you know what you’ll be cooking and what other people will be bringing. Start a master grocery list.
      • 16 De-clutter and clear all tabletop surfaces in the dining room, entrance, kitchen and living rooms. Clear spaces make rooms look calmer, more spacious and inviting. 
      • 17 Winter officially begins next week. Make a date with your sweetie to enjoy some time outdoors with each other.
      • 18 Rent, borrow, or record one your favorite holiday movies to enjoy with your sweetie.
      • 19 Get out the vacuum and put on the attachment for vacuuming corners and crevices. Go along all the walls in your house. 
      • 20 Shop for fresh ingredients. 
      • 21 Wash your serving trays and platters. Put a sticky note on each platter that states what dish you plan to serve on it so it doesn't get used until then.
      • 22 Buy fresh flowers. Whether they are for a party or an intimate meal, fresh flowers should be purchased two or three days in advance. Blooms have time to open up, and they’ll still be lush and fragrant. 
      • 23 Start cooking. Maybe you've put some things in the freezer already, but now’s the time to prep main courses and make anything that can sit for a couple of days. Don’t forget to start defrosting your turkey in advance (allow 24 hours per 5 pounds). 
      • 24 Finish last-minute wrapping, then bundle up and take a drive with your sweetie to enjoy the holiday lights in your area. 
      • 25 Sit back and relax. Enjoy your sweetheart and friends and relish the traditions you share.
      • 26 Kwanzaa begins today - a celebration of pride and heritage. Try a new cultural dish. Bonus points if you include leftovers from yesterday! 
      • Write your thank-you notes now before work starts up again.
      • 27 Today is Visit a Zoo Day. This is a great activity for couples. 
      • 28 Write down ideas and things you would do differently next holiday season while the experience is still current. 
      • 29 Did you receive unwanted or duplicate gifts? Decide which you will be donating or exchanging with friends or credit at the store of purchase.  
      • 30 Put your New Year’s champagne in the fridge. 
      • 31 Today is New Years Eve. Bust out the noisemakers and party hats to celebrate the New Year. Take a few moments to pamper yourself by having satiny smooth and kissable lips for the midnight kiss: mix a little olive oil and sugar and gently rub against your lips.

      Sunday, November 28, 2010

      The No-Shop Challenge

      I noticed something the other day. I noticed that my kitchen is overflowing. I only cook for two people, but I'm pretty sure I have enough food to feed a family of eight at any given time. This is most likely due to the following:
      • I over-shopped for Thanksgiving
      • Thanksgiving yielded lots of leftovers
      • I like to have lots of options when I start getting creative in the kitchen
      • I go grocery shopping every week
      • I shop at Costco for many things, thus creating stock-piles of certain foods like canned beans, pasta, chocolate chips, flour, onions, peanut butter, sugar and frozen chicken
      In an effort to make up for going over-budget on groceries the past few... months, I am challenging myself to use what I have.

      That's right. For the next month, I will not go grocery shopping. Wait, I take that back. For the next month, I will only allow myself to purchase:
      • eggs and dairy (but no specialty cheeses and such)
      • fresh fruit and veggies (AFTER I use the fresh and frozen we have)
      • brown sugar (it's Christmas...)
      • wine (for entertaining and gifts only)
      • cat food
      By doing this, I will be saving:
      • Money
      • Gas
      • Time
      • Food
      • Myself from the evils of over-consumerism
      So here are my official no-shop challenge rules:
      1. No grocery shopping until January 1 except for above-mentioned items
      2. I cannot cheat by buying groceries at the drug store or mega-stores like Target.
      3. Gift certificates and store-credit cannot be used until January unless it's about to expire
      4. Accepting leftovers, gifts and home-grown produce from friends and family is OK. (Thanks for those beautiful pomegranates, Grandma!)
      5. I can't ask JT to buy groceries for me.
      6. I will still cook the same number of meals per week, but I will only use ingredients I have.
      7. If I don't have the ingredients I need, I will use a substitution or create something new and different.
      I'll let you know what I create!

      And what about YOU? Do you think you could take on the no-shop challenge? What will you make?

      Saturday, November 27, 2010

      Thanksgiving Leftover Cooking: Curried-Turkey Wrap

      Thanksgiving is over. What to do?

      Recipe adapted from this Real Simple recipe. Makes three servings:

      • About a cup and a half of leftover Thanksgiving turkey, give or take
      • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
      • 2 celery stalks
      • one teaspoon curry powder, or more if you like -- see this recipe* for a home-made version!
      • a handful of raisins, dried cranberries, cut-up grapes or small pieces of apple
      • pita bread or tortillas

      1) Pull turkey meat into small pieces or use a Cuisinart to chop.
      2) Chop two sprigs of celery (in a Cuisinart if you have one).
      3) Combine everything in medium bowl. Taste-test to see if you want to add more curry powder.
      4) Put a spoonful or two into your pita or tortilla.
      5) Yum!

      Make-Your-Own Curry Powder

      This is kind of a recipe, kind of guidelines, but mostly a post encouraging you to be creative.

      I wanted to try a recipe using my Thanksgiving leftovers. I had everything except curry powder. I always try to not make special trips to the store when I can use a viable substitution. So here's my curry powder substitution.

      I used this recipe from eHow. But I didn't have everything it called for, and I didn't want to make a huge amount. So I used what I had, threw in a few other things, and here's what my final product contained (approximately):

      2 t turmeric
      1 t cumin
      1 t garlic salt
      1/2 t ground ginger
      1/2 t dry mustard
      1/2 t chili powder
      1/4 t allspice
      1/8 t cinnamon
      1/8 t nutmeg
      1/8 t cayenne pepper
      dash of ground pepper

      Combine in a clean recycled spice jar. Seal and shake. Go ahead and cook with it!

      Wednesday, November 24, 2010

      Holiday French Toast

      If you get e-mail, most likely in the last few years you've been sent the "Recipe Exchange" e-mail, where you send a few strangers one of your favorite recipes and get a few new ones back. I'm always hesitant to participate in chain letters, even if it includes tastiness. But I did get a few gems from participating, and this is my adapted version of one:

      Holiday French Toast

      6 pieces bread
      4 eggs
      1/2 cup milk, cream, half and half, rice milk, soy milk or almond milk
      1/2 t vanilla
      1 t pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
      dash of nutmeg
      1/4 cup orange juice
      1 oz brandy
      2 T butter

      1) Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat.
      2) Combine eggs, milk, vanilla, spices, orange juice and brandy in a pie pan, casserole dish, or other piece of bakeware convenient for soaking the bread.
      3) Soak 2 pieces of bread at a time in the liquid.
      4) Run your hand under water. Shake onto skillet. If it sizzles, your pan is ready.
      5) Cook 2 pieces of toast at a time, flipping after a minute or two.
      6) Serve with plenty of syrup. This toast goes well with Good Earth herbal tea.

      Extra French toast can be frozen and reheated for a quick weekday breakfast.