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Thursday

30

July 2015

0

COMMENTS

How to Conserve Water in the Kitchen

Written by , Posted in How To, Thoughts

Here in California, we’re in our fourth year of a serious drought. We’re all doing our part to conserve water. Lawns are turning brown, washing machines are only being run when they’re full, and we’re turning off the tap when we brush our teeth.

But, what about in the kitchen? After Tim and I began making a conscious effort to conserve more water, I realized how much had been going down the drain.

My dad is a Senior Principal Technologist for Natural Treatment Systems (a fancy way to say that he designs wetlands). For over 30 years he has worked for a company that treats waste water, that helps companies clean up and naturally treat water (wetlands), and is a major force in providing the world with more clean water. When I was a kid, my brothers and I had t-shirts that read, “I NEED CLEAN WATER TO GROW”. I didn’t get it at the time. Water isn’t something a 6 year old usually contemplates. But now, as a grownup, paying our monthly water bill and trying to save as much as possible, I see so much more of the merit to what he is doing (way to go Dad!!).

So I asked him for a few tips, to add to my own, for conserving water in the kitchen. Here’s what we came up with.

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When you boil water for tea or coffee (hello pour over coffee, my current favorite!), let the excess water cool completely and use it to water plants (even fruits and veggies).

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Scrape dishes off rather than rinsing. If you need to soak an extra dirty dish, strain any food particles, dump the soaking water in the rinsing bowl, and use the water for the flowers or the grass.

Use biodegradable soaps and save the water from rinsing washed dishes in a large bowl. Use it to water plants and flowers. Some say to fill the sink with hot soapy water on one side and hot rinsing water on the other side (if you have a double sink). We don’t use this method because there often aren’t enough dishes to justify it, or, mainly, because it’s easier to collect the water in a bowl (I feel like less goes down the drain).

If you have to use a garbage disposal, use the already spent rinse water from doing the dishes, rather than fresh water from the tap.

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Wash fruits and veggies over the rinsing bowl, or use a small bowl with a bit of water in it, and dip, scrub, and dip to rinse (or use a trickle of water to rinse over the bowl). Then use that water for the garden (if it’s just veggie washing water, use it to water your fruits and veggies too). You can also dip your veggie scrubber in water, scrub the veggies, and rinse over a bowl. Even extra dirty potatoes don’t need to be under running water the whole time.

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Steam rather than boil. But, if you must boil, reuse the water. If you’re boiling veggies, the used water can be used for pasta, beans, rice, stocks, and soups. Then, whatever isn’t used or absorbed, can be cooled down and used on the grass or flowers (I do this, I don’t know if it’s best to use pasta water in the flowers, but I really don’t like to dump it down the drain if possible).

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One last thing, even though it’s not in the kitchen… A lot of water goes down the drain when the shower is turned on and we wait for the water to get hot (or cold, depending on the weather). We keep a bowl by the shower that’s used to collect it. Since it’s soap-free, it can be used on the veggie garden too.

Ok, for real last tip, turn off the water when brushing teeth, shaving, sudsing up (yep, even in the shower), washing dishes… just turn it off! It’s not that much more of a hassle to turn the tap back on (especially if you have one of those fancy faucets that just needs you to wave your hand by it).

Whether it’s a time of drought or not, it’s always a good thing to conserve water. This drought will end at some point, but there will be others. What if we kept to these water saving practices so that there’s always enough?!

Thursday

16

July 2015

0

COMMENTS

Using Herbs for Cleaning

Written by , Posted in Herbs, How To, Thoughts

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I had jury duty the other week, so I did a lot of my work ahead of time. I was selected to serve on a three week trial five or six years ago, so I was planning for the worst. Since my weekends are usually reserved for picnics, naps, binging on our favorite shows, book reading, laundry, and cleaning, I didn’t want to have to add work to that list. Plus, no matter how busy the work week is, I like to have two full days off. I’ve even been trying to take a day or two off from social media each week.

As much as I’d rather not include laundry and cleaning in my weekend’s plans, they need to be done. I have my chores and Tim has his, leaving the house reasonably tidy, but usually covered with dog fur no matter how often we vacuum (we have a dog who sheds year round). Over the past few months I’ve tried to avoid using the dryer. It’s been hot enough that the clothes usually dry faster outside anyways. I love the way they smell, plus it’s free. When I do dry clothes in the dryer I love to add a little sachet of lavender. I don’t use fabric softeners or dryer sheets, and if at all possible our detergent is unscented. This is my only trick for nice smelling clothes.

Another thing I’ve used lavender for is to sprinkle on the floor before vacuuming. This was especially helpful when we lived in a carpeted apartment with a dog. The smell of lavender refreshed the room. I’ve read that you can sprinkle it with a bit of baking soda and cornstarch and leave it overnight, then vacuum it up in the morning. (1) I’ve never tried this though. Our indoor dog would have just laid in it and made a mess.

Lavender is a soothing herb and is said to help with relaxation and anxiety. It’s supposed to help you sleep. So you can make another sachet to keep by the bedside to sniff before taking a snooze.

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If you’re looking to add a nice scent to your homemade cleaning products, there are many herbs that would be great, just for the smell of it. Mint, basil, thyme, and rosemary, for example. But, many herbs bring cleansing and disinfecting properties too, “like myrrh, peppermint, thyme, rosemary, lavender, mint, cloves, and eucalyptus.” (1) “Basil, bay, cardamom, clove, coriander, eucalyptus, ginger, hyssop, lavender, lemongrass, oregano, peppermint, rose geranium, rosemary, sage, spearmint, and thyme are cleaning powerhouses. All contain a multitude of plant chemicals that possess antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiseptic, and antiviral actions.” (2) And “chamomile, when made into a tea and cooled, works quite well as a fungicide.” (3)

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Another great way to use herbs is as an air freshener. Basil leaves and flowers can be crushed and left out (and the seeds from the flowers can be saved to plant in your garden the following year). Mint would freshen nicely too. Citrus peels (lemon, orange, grapefruit) can be grated or shredded and left out or added to a garbage disposal.

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Many years ago we had a problem with ants. I didn’t want to use chemicals, so I was thrilled to find a spray that was made mostly of mint. Yes, mint is said to be a pest deterrent. Ants don’t like it, and supposedly neither do mosquitos or rodents (I haven’t tested these last two, just read about it). (3)

In addition to these beneficial herbs, there are some other things that I like to make sure I have in the cleaning cabinet:

“Distilled white vinegar (which contains acetic acid) has antifungal and antimicrobial properties and can eliminate mineral deposits from sink and bathtub fixtures, as well as cookware.” (2)

Lemon juice “kills germs on countertops, cutting boards, and more.” (2) A halved lemon (that’s already been juiced) works great with some baking soda to scrub the sink. I like to pour a bit of baking soda and then some vinegar down the drain to clean it and kill any fruit flies that may be living there.

“Baking soda deodorizes and dissolves grease and dirt. Mixed with other ingredients, it makes a gentle but effective scrub.” (2)

I use tea tree oil (which has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties (2)) for cuts and blemishes, and I’ve got some in a spray bottle for cleaning.

You can also make your own essential oils (I found these two recipes) and teas, which can be added to water and used as cleaners or room fresheners. I might try making some Herbal Vinegar Cleanser (using lavender and thyme). There are many sites with tips and recipes for homemade cleaners (like this one), so I’m going to take some of the tricks that I’m learning and make some sprays with water, vinegar, and herbs.

It can be a little bit overwhelming, so starting with a couple things and expanding from there sounds like a good plan for me. Do you have any tips and tricks for natural cleaning around the home? Do share!

Happy Cleaning!

(1) http://www.frontiercoop.com/learn/hs_cleaningwithherbs.php#
(2) http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/wellbeing/herbs-cleaning
(3) http://www.organicauthority.com/organic-gardening/using-home-grown-plants-for-cleaning.html

Thursday

9

July 2015

0

COMMENTS

Turnips Five Ways

Written by , Posted in How To, Vegetables

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Turnips. They can be challenging for some. With their bitter-sweet flavor, they can add a lot to a dish, especially when paired well. So I have some ideas for how to prepare them. In some, the turnips are the star. In others, they lend a great background note. In all, they’re a great addition to any menu plan.

Turnip Hash – Where Turnips are the Star

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This was the first dish that I made with turnips where I really really liked them. Like I crave this dish, I make it as often as I can. I accept turnips from friends who don’t like them, so I can add this to my menu (although I should probably just encourage them to make this, or any of these dishes… selfish much?!). Turnips are totally the star here. Their sweet and bitter flavor is ever present. But, the bacon’s saltiness, the cheese’s creaminess, the runny egg yolk (at least that’s the way I prefer it), and the crunch from the other veggies, they all compliment the turnips so well that I almost can’t stand it.

Almost.

Grilled Cheese with Gruyère and Turnips

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Wait, don’t leave… I think this is gonna be good. I’ve made grilled cheese sandwiches with apples and ham. So let’s change this up a bit. The key here is that you’re gonna sauté the turnips first, so they won’t be raw. While you’re at it, throw some greens (turnip greens if you have ’em), some salt, and a splash of maple syrup into the pan. Spread some olive oil or butter on the bread, add a sprinkle of salt. Top the bread with gruyère, some dijon mustard, and the turnips and greens. Then grill it all up until the bread is crispy and browned and the cheese is melted.

Serve this with a Creamy Mushroom and Turnip Soup (totally acceptable to dip your grilled cheese in soup!). Sauté some mushrooms, turnips, potatoes, and onion (and ya know, salt and pepper). Add some garlic, thyme, and savory. Add some stock. Cook until everything is tender. Add some cream, and parsley. You could blend this up for a creamy soup, or leave it as is. But, for sure serve it with these sandwiches.

Mashed Turnips and Potatoes

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Mashed potatoes are great. Fabulous. Love them. So why not spice them up a bit. I’m thinking that adding turnips and carrots would be a fabulous idea. Maybe even some rutabagas too? And parsnips? Why not?! Here’s what I’d do: Steam the veggies (whatever you’ve got on hand of those listed). Mash to desired lumpiness. Add olive oil or butter, milk/cream/yogurt/sour cream/buttermilk/almond milk, chives, roasted garlic, salt, and pepper. Done. Let’s eat!

Turnip Fries with Homemade Ketchup

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The other week I wrote about Green Bean Fries with Ketchup. They were tasty. I’ve heard that they’re a hit with grownups and kids alike. So let’s try something else in this style: turnips! Slice like you would a potato that you were going to treat as a French fry. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 425F for 10 minutes, flip, and roast for about 7-15 minutes more (or until they’re crispy). Blend the “ketchup” ingredients from the Green Bean Fries recipe and dip away!

Stir Fry with Turnips Almonds and Tofu

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Turnips pair well with greens, carrots, tofu, and almonds. So I think they’d be great added to the Red Choi Stir Fry with Almonds and Tofu. Or, try this: stir fry some turnips, carrots, garlic, leeks or onions, mushrooms, peas, kohl rabi, turnip greens, and tofu. Add some soy sauce and sesame seeds. Serve with chopped almonds and parsley, over your favorite rice or rice noodles.

So, those are my suggestions. If you want to come up with your own dish, here are some things that turnips pair well with: Parsley, carrots, gruyère, lemon, parmesan, chives, garlic, thyme, leeks, butter, lentils, potatoes, cream, dill, winter squash, greens, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, bread, ginger, balsamic vinegar. (1) Be sure to let us know what you create!

Happy Eating!

(1) Paring ideas from The Vegetarian Flavor Bible.

Monday

22

June 2015

0

COMMENTS

How To Use Fennel – From Bulb to Fronds

Written by , Posted in Fennel Pollen, How To, Thoughts, Vegetables

Fennel

I’ve done a lot with fennel recently. It’s one of those veggies that I’ve had a difficult time with in the past. I’m not a huge fan of licorice, so it was tough to find a way to use it that I enjoyed.

It’s been a good challenge. I think I’m winning. Fennel is no longer on my dislike list.

The Fennel Fronds

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They’re great on most any fennel dish, but also in places where you’d like just a hint of fennel flavor. Add them to salad dressings (especially ones with lemon), top parmesan crostini with a few fronds, or serve a bean soup topped with a squeeze of lemon and some fennel fronds.

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I used them the other week on Fennel Pizza (along with the bulb). To me, they taste like mild fennel and the heat from the pizza subdued them even more.

The Fennel Stalk

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The stalk is a bit more like celery – kinda tough and fibrous. So I like it best in things like soups and stews where it will cook for a while.

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It was a fabulous addition to a Chicken Noodle Soup that I made a few months ago. I’ve also added it to things like Vegan Tofu Fried Quinoa and it would be great in stir fry, where things like celery would normally be added and the veggies are kept kinda crunchy.

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It also worked well in a Veggie and Garbonzo Bean Shakshuka that I made recently. Everyone simmers and stews for a while, so they’re not so tough. The bulb could be used in place of the stalks, if you’re in a bit of a rush and don’t have time to wait for them to soften.

If none of these options work for you, just save the stalks to add to your homemade vegetable stock.

The Fennel Bulb

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I’m not sure which is more favorite, the bulb, or the fronds. Both are versatile and taste great with so many things. I think the bulb might win because it can be roasted… but then the fronds can be chopped and used in a salad dressing… They both win.

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I was looking through The Vegetarian Flavor Bible the other week and noticed that fennel pairs well with stone fruit. Who would have thought?! Not me. So I used it in a dish that I call Roasted Stone Fruit with Bulgur and Fennel. And let me tell you, the sweet, subtle flavor of the fennel worked really well with the stone fruit.

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Since we’ve established that it goes well with bulgur wheat, I’ll also mention that I used it a few months ago with asparagus and mâche over some bulgur with a bright lemony dressing. It made for a fabulous spring lunch.

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A few years ago I roasted it and added it to a pear topped Mac and Cheese. What a hit! And again, fennel and fruit, who knew?! I did that one for my cooking show. Another fennel episode came from experimenting with not just the fennel bulb, but fennel pollen. I came up with Crispy Veggies with Fennel Pollen Dipping Sauce.

Fennel Pollen

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If you haven’t tried fennel pollen, it’s worth giving it a chance. It adds a certain “je ne sais quoi” to a dish. I’ve added it to Fennel Pollen Burgers (which, incidentally, would be great topped with some roasted fennel!), Salmon with a Garlic and Pistachio Cream Sauce, and Fennel Pollen Potatoes (the leftovers of which are perfect in Mahi Mahi, Fennel, and Potato Chowder).

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And last but not least, fennel pollen with eggs… for breakfast in a Savory Baked French Toast or a Bacon and Feta Frittata. Because why not really?

Or maybe you want to get creative and make up your own dish to suit your tastes. According to The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, some things that fennel pairs well with are: peaches, dill, summer and winter squash, risottos, almonds, beans, goat cheese, parmesan cheese, ricotta, chickpeas, garlic, citrus, mushrooms, salads, arugula, onions, tomatoes, walnuts, apples, and vinegar… just to get you started. Feel free to leave a comment and share what you come up with!

Happy Eating!

Thursday

4

June 2015

1

COMMENTS

How to Multitask in the Kitchen

Written by , Posted in How To, Thoughts

You’re working on dinner. You’ve got two pots on the stove and something in the oven. Never mind that someone probably needs your attention, the dog needs to be walked, and there are dishes in the sink. Sound familiar? All of those things might not apply to you, but maybe at least one does…

I have some tips.

First of all, those precious individuals that need your attention – send them out to walk the dog. All of them. Together. You’re welcome.

Second, your dinner. Let’s figure this out.

I’m a big fan of one dish dinners. But, they’re not always possible. So here’s what I like to do (or should do – ahem, see point #1 below) to avoid burned or mushy rice, stuck on polenta, and too crispy asparagus.

1. Read the Recipe from Start to Finish Before You Chop a Single Thing 

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This is essential no matter how many things you’re cooking. How many times have I found myself partway through a recipe wishing that I’d known then what I do now, so that I could re-create the recipe the way it was intended. Learn from my mistakes. Read the recipe. Since you’ve read it through, you’ll know if there are any ingredients that need to come to room temperature. Get those out.

2. Make a List

Since you’ve read the recipe, you know what needs to happen. I really love to make lists. They help me to not only feel like I’ve accomplished something, but to get things done in an orderly fashion. Take what you learned in each recipe and combine them into one list. Just bullet points, leave the descriptions in the recipe. Add the amount of time each will take, so you know how much time you will have if you’re planning to, for example, sauté some onions while the pasta cooks.

3. Do Your Mis En Place (a fancy way to say prep your ingredients)

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You’ve read the recipe. You have a list of what you’re doing and when. Now it’s time to get out your ingredients and prep them. That way you will have them at your fingertips and the times on your list will be accurate. For things like Stir Fry this is essential. It cooks so quickly that if everything isn’t chopped ahead of time you’ll end up with burned carrots and raw squash. And that rice that you were going to serve with it will be raw if you didn’t start it with plenty of time. Yuck. No good. Let’s avoid that.

4. Pay Attention/Go with the Flow

You’re cooking. Everything smells great. The garlic just hit the hot skillet and the aroma is tantalizing. But then you panic as you realize that the pasta is done. If you leave it, it will over cook. If you neglect the garlic it will burn.

Take a breath.

Working quickly (but not in a panic), turn off the heat to the garlic pan, move it to a cold burner, and scoop out the garlic (and whatever else is in the pot) and put it into a bowl. Leave it there and drain the pasta. Rinse the pasta with cold water and toss with a bit of oil. Lay it out on a baking sheet. Return the garlic ingredients to the pot and finish cooking. In this case, slightly undercook the pasta so that when you reheat it in the sauce it will finish cooking.

5. Ask for Help

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At any point along the way, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask for help, if there’s someone there to lend a hand. It can be as simple as having someone stir the polenta or keep an eye on the roasted veggies. But, if you know that someone’s got it covered, you can give the bolognese sauce your full attention.

6. Make Things Ahead of Time

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If you’re on your own for meal prep, try making some elements of your dish ahead of time. Things like beans, rice/quinoa/bulgur wheat, mashed potatoes, and polenta reheat well. Soups often taste better the next day (if it’s a creamy soup, don’t add the milk until the day you serve it so it doesn’t break). As long as things are cooled properly then reheated to a safe temperature, it could be a great time (and sanity) saving option.

I’ve learned a lot over the years, much by trial and error, and I have so much left to know. Do you have any tips/suggestions/tricks to successfully cooking multiple things at once? Do share!

Happy Eating!