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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Addressing Holiday Cards Made Easy

Every year, I look forward to the holidays.  I enjoy the baking, food, decorations, music and getting together with friends and family.  However, I hate addressing Christmas cards.  It take hours upon hours.  And if you mess up, you have to either use white-out (which looks horrible) or throw out the envelope, which means you're short one.  Honestly, I have better things to do with my time than spend an entire weekend dealing with filling out envelopes.

About 8 years ago, I decided I was going to get smart about my Christmas cards, and let technology save me hours of my precious time.  I was already saving my addresses in my address book on my computer, so the most time consuming part of this process was already done.  If you're not saving your addresses on your computer, do it!  You only have to do this once, and then update as people move, get married, etc.

Here are my steps for addressing hundreds of cards in less than a half hour.  I promise!  All you need is your computer, a printer and adhesive mailing labels of your choice (You can find them at Wal-Mart, Staples, etc. in a nice holiday pattern - you can get them in packs of about 150 or more) in a size of 2 5/8" x 1" (or 66 mm x 25 mm).

**Disclosure, I did all of this on a Mac using Office 2008.  If you have a PC or a different version of Office, your steps and how things look might be a little different than mine.  But, this should give you general guidelines of how to get this done.
  • If you haven't already done so, enter your addresses into the mail program on your computer (Entourage for Mac, Outlook for PC).  This is the most time consuming step of this entire process (and not included in my half hour time estimate).
  • Go through all of your addresses, and make sure that anyone you want to send a card to has "Holiday" selected in the far right hand column under "Categories":
    • If an address not in your "Holiday" category, click where it says "None" for their listing under the "Categories" column and choose "Holiday" - this step is extremely important to make this process work.
  • The hard part is done!  Now, open Word on your computer.
  • Go to Tools > Labels > Options
  • Scroll through the list of label options to find the size of the labels you'll be using.  In my case, I have an 8.5 x 11 sheet of labels with 2 5/8" (aka 2.63") x 1" labels on it.
  • Highlight the appropriate label size and click OK.
  • You're back to the Labels screen.  Click Mail Merge in the bottom right hand corner.
  • Word will create a new document that looks like this, but don't panic:
  • You'll also see a little Mail Merge Manager box pop up in the right hand corner of your screen:
  • Expand option 2 (Select Recipients List) and click "Get List"
  • Choose "Office Address Book"
  • Once the Edit Labels box pops up, click Insert Merge Field.  Choose Full Name.  You will see it populate in the Sample label box.  Hit Return/Enter after <<Full_Name>> and then click Insert Merge Field again.  Chose Home Address this time.  Then click OK.
  • Back to the Mail Merge Manager box - expand 4 to Filter Recipients and click Options:
  • From the Query Options box that pops up, choose "Holiday" (this is why it was important when you were entering addresses earlier to designate addresses in the Holiday category) and then click OK.
  • Back to the Mail Merge Manager box, expand option 6 to Complete Merge
  • Select the middle icon (with two pieces of stacked paper), which is "Merge to New Document"
  • Like magic, a new document will open in Word, with all of your addresses for your holiday cards laid out in the format of your labels!
  • Now, I like to do a test run to make sure I know which side is right up on my labels in my printer.  Make a copy or two of your label sheet and do a test run (or two) of the first page to make sure everything is laid out the way you want.  I normally format my labels so that all the addresses are centered in the label (by default, they'll be left justified).  To do this, just select all the labels (Ctrl A on a PC or Command A on Mac and then choose the center justification from your formatting menu). Once you're happy with how they look, stick your label sheets in your paper tray and print!
  • Once your labels are all printed, it will take mere minutes to put all the labels on your cards.  Not only does it look neat and professional, but the colorful holiday labels add a little extra something to your cards.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Power of Vinegar

You may have noticed by now that I'm a big fan of the cleaning power of vinegar.  It's cheap and safe, and it can be used in countless ways to replace commercial cleaners.  In past posts, I've talked about using vinegar for cleaning floors, keeping drains clear and disinfecting counters.

Lately, I've been using apple cider vinegar to deal with an ongoing fruit fly problem in our house.  All I do is set a small cup out with a few tablespoons of vinegar and a squirt of dish soap, and it's an instant fruit fly trap!

I came across this article with 20 more ways to use vinegar (  I had heard of or currently use vinegar for about half of these, but there were a lot of new tips as well.  All I can say is go to Costco or Sam's Club and buy yourself a huge bottle of white vinegar!

1. Condition hair
Silky, shiny, buildup-free hair using a single cheap, natural product? Sign me up! It may sound odd, but using apple cider vinegar as a rinse after shampooing really does work like a dream. It removes residue from the hair shaft and closes the cuticles. Just add half a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of water, plus a few drops of essential oil if you like. Pour it on in the shower and then rinse it out. Sure, your hair will smell like salad dressing for a while, but once it’s dry, the smell dissipates.

2. Kill weeds
A few rogue weeds can wreak havoc in an otherwise flawless lawn, vegetable garden, or flowerbed and are especially annoying when popping up in the cracks of a sidewalk or driveway. Forget pricey weed killers full of toxic ingredients -- household vinegar really does kill unwanted plants; stronger vinegar made for horticultural use, which is 25% acetic acid, works even better.

3. Remove underarm stains
Unsightly sweat stains can really ruin an otherwise beautiful blouse. Ironically, if you use aluminum-based antiperspirants, they’re even more likely to appear, thanks to a reaction between aluminum compounds in these products and salts in your sweat. Spray full-strength white vinegar on the stain before washing, and it will disappear.

4. Soften fabrics
Add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle, and not only will it prevent lint from clinging to your clothes and keep colors bright, it’ll also remove soap scum from both the clothes you’re washing and the washing machine itself. Vinegar is also recommended in place of dryer sheets -- simply add 3/4 cup to your washer during the final rinse cycle.

5. Remedy sore throats
Many people recommend sipping or gargling with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a cup of warm water to soothe a sore throat. Add a few tablespoons of honey to this mixture in order to make it even more effective and far more palatable.

6. Deter ants
Got trails of tiny ants weaving their way around your home? These annoying insects aren’t big fans of vinegar, so spraying a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water anywhere you have seen them can help encourage them to move out. The vinegar also erases the scent trails that they use to indicate sources of food to their brethren.

7. Soak sore muscles
Apple cider vinegar helps draw out lactic acid, which accumulates in muscles after exercise, causing that sore feeling. Mix a few tablespoons of vinegar into a cup of water, dip a cloth in the mixture, and apply it to sore areas for 20 minutes.

8. Freshen air
Whether it’s smoke, mildew, pet odor, or lingering whiffs of burnt casserole, bad smells can make a home less than welcoming. Store-bought air fresheners just cover up the smell with strong, clearly artificial scents, creating disturbing hybrid smells that only serve to worsen the situation. Acetic acid in vinegar absorbs odors, so spritzing it around the room will neutralize the smells. You can also use it to wipe down surfaces in the room that needs freshening.

9. Remove stickers
If you’re just getting around to removing that Kerry/Edwards decal from your bumper, or trying to peel a price tag off a new purchase, you’ll never guess what magic ingredient is about to make your life a lot easier. Warm a little bit of white vinegar on the stovetop or in the microwave and then dip a rag into it. Hold the rag over the sticker until it’s thoroughly saturated, and it will peel right off without leaving sticky residue behind. This trick also loosens wallpaper adhesive.

10. Cure hiccups
Most doctors claim that hiccup cures don’t actually work, but tell that to the thousands of people who swear by vinegar as a way to ease these involuntary spasms. It’s not clear how a shot of vinegar would actually help -- other than to distract you with its acidic flavor -- but next time you’ve got a bout of the hiccups, give it a try.

11. Clean crusty paintbrushes
So you forgot to clean your paintbrushes last time you used them, and now they’re so stiff and crusty, it seems that you’ll have to throw them away. Not so fast! Fill a saucepan with undiluted white vinegar and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Dip the paintbrushes into the boiling vinegar, one at a time, dragging the bristles along the bottom of the pan. Continue this process until the paint is dissolved.

12. Dissolve rust
The acetic acid in vinegar reacts with iron oxide to remove rust from small metal items like hinges, nuts and bolts. Simmer them in a saucepan full of vinegar, then rinse well with water to prevent the vinegar from further affecting the metal.

13. Eliminate stale odors
You know how lunchboxes and other food containers can take on a funny smell after a while? Vinegar can take care of that, too. Either wipe down the surface well with white vinegar or, in severe cases, leave a cloth soaked in vinegar in the container for a few hours to absorb the odors.

14. Remove mineral deposits
Calcium and lime deposits from hard water don’t just stain coffeemakers and bath tubs, they can actually clog showerheads and reduce dishwasher function. Run a mixture of half water, half white vinegar through your coffee machine to remove them. Use straight vinegar as a rinsing agent in your dishwasher to prevent buildup, and wrap a vinegar-soaked cloth around stained faucets until the deposits can be easily scrubbed away. To clean a clogged showerhead, remove it from the pipe and place it in a saucepan full of white vinegar. Simmer for just a few minutes, being careful not to allow it to boil, and then wash off the stains.

15. Neutralize spice in foods
You’ve got a dinner disaster on your hands: One too many shakes of cayenne powder has turned your award-winning chili into an inedible five-alarm blaze, and your guests are waiting at the table. Vinegar to the rescue! Add white or apple cider vinegar to your food, one teaspoon at a time, to neutralize the spice.

16. Prolong the life of cut flowers
Bouquets of cut flowers brighten a room all too briefly, often wilting after just a few days. Squeeze a little extra enjoyment out of your arrangements by adding two tablespoons of white vinegar per quart of water in the vase, which will keep them perky just a little bit longer.

17. Clean glass, plastic, chrome, and floors
A half-and-half solution of water and white vinegar will cut the grime on the shelves and walls of the refrigerator and eliminate spoiled-food smells too. Full-strength vinegar will remove tough smudges on glass and make porcelain sinks shine. Make it into a paste with a little baking soda to scrub chrome, or mix 1/3 white vinegar with 1/3 rubbing alcohol, 1/3 water, and 3 drops of dishwashing liquid for an economical floor cleaner. Just be sure not to get vinegar on marble, granite, or slate surfaces.

18. Treat fungal infections
Fungal infections like athlete’s foot, toe nail fungus, and dandruff are definitely no fun. White vinegar and apple cider vinegar can both be applied topically to affected areas of the body to kill fungus. For foot-related ailments, soak in a solution of one part vinegar to five parts water for about 30 minutes a day.

19. Tenderize and kill bacteria in meat
Marinate meat overnight in apple cider vinegar, and it will be delectably tender. This can reportedly also kill the bacteria that causes food-borne illnesses, including e. coli.

20. Open drains and freshen garbage disposals
Clear a clogged drain without the nasty, headache-inducing chemicals. Dump about 3/4 cup of baking soda down the drain and chase it with 1/2 cup white vinegar, then plug the drain. Leave it for about 30 minutes before rinsing with a kettle full of boiling water. You can use the same trick to clean and deodorize garbage disposals, or freeze vinegar in an ice cube tray and grind them up in the disposal to clean and sharpen the blades at the same time.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dairy-Free Pumpkin Pie

I've been trying to stay away from dairy over the last year.  Some of my family has a dairy sensitivity, and sometimes I wonder if I do as well.

I had enough Pecan Coconut Pie Crust mix leftover from when I made it two weeks ago to make another pie, so I decided to experiment by making a non-dairy pumpkin pie.  I've seen a lot of pumpkin pie recipes that use tofu in place of eggs and milk.  There's no way I'm adding anything with soy to a recipe, so I decided to try using coconut milk in place of condensed or evaporated milk, as you would normally see in a pumpkin pie.

2 large eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 can pumpkin
1 cup coconut milk (you could also use almond milk)

Beat together eggs, pumpkin and milk until frothy.  Add in brown sugar, spices and salt and beat until well combined.  Pour mixture into prepared pie crust, but make sure not to overfill.  I also had enough of the pie mixture left over to fill two greased ramekins.

Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, and then reduce heat to 350 and bake for 30 to 35 more minutes.  The ramekins only need to bake for about 30 minutes total, so you can take those out of the oven before the pie.

Let cool and either serve or refrigerate.

Grain-Free Pumpkin Bread

After having success with the grain-free muffins, I decided to try making some grain-free bread.  I was making some vegetable stew today out of many of the items from our CSA share, and I really wanted some bread to go with it.

Not only is this a grain-free, gluten-free bread.  It's also dairy-free and high in protein.  It's easy to slice and tastes great when it's hot out of the oven.  I didn't add in any chocolate chips, nuts or dried fruits, but I would imagine it would be good with 1/2 cup of your favorite add-ins.

3/4 cup almond butter (another nut butter can be substituted, if desired)
4 tablespoons coconut flour
3 large eggs
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
4 tablespoons coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Using a stand mixer or with a handheld electric mixer, combine all ingredients except for lemon juice.  Add lemon juice last and don’t overmix at that point.

*Optional – at this point, fold in any dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, or other add-ins you would like.

Grease a medium loaf pan with coconut oil and pour the batter in.  Bake about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Let it cool for a few minutes, then slice and eat.

Fall Harvest Decorating

As sad as I am about the end of summer, I look forward to the bounty of the autumn harvest.  What I particularly like about fall vegetables is how functional they are.  Not only can you store them for months without them rotting, they also make beautiful, colorful decorations for your home.

I somehow ended up growing a large amount of Jack-be-Little gourds in my garden this year.  This was completely by accident, as I've never purchased seeds for them before!  I'm not sure how it happened, but they took over a large portion of my garden!

By the end of the season, I must have had 30 gourds to harvest.  I gave some to my mom, and I used the rest for decorations around my house.  These free decorations will be in use until I put up all of my Christmas stuff!

In addition to my gourds, I also have a lot of nice winter squash.  I grew some, my mom grew some, and I get some each week from our CSA share.  These squash also make nice center pieces, along with other functional harvest items, such as garlic, apples and the like.

If you're lucky enough to have some squash or other fall harvest items in your house, show them off!  Don't hide them from view.  Enjoy the interesting shapes and colors all season by placing them in bowls or baskets and have them handy and nearby as you cook.

Cider Apple Chicken Stew

As our fall party approached a few weeks ago, I wanted a new fall-themed recipe for the main dish.  Something that used seasonal foods such as apples, squash and fall spices.  I found a recipe online, and modified it with my own ingredients.  I also changed it into a crock pot recipe, so I could throw everything together and let it cook throughout the afternoon.  My husband was a bit suspicious about the ingredients ("Are people going to like this?!"), but it was well liked by everyone who tried it.  It is definitely something I'd make again.

2 tablespoons cooking oil
3 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into cubes
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup chopped onion (or use 1 cup of pearl onions)
1 cup chopped turnips
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, sliced
4 potatoes, cut into cubes
4 carrots, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 cup of cooked, mashed winter squash or pumpkin
3 apples - peeled, cored and chopped
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock, or more if needed
2 cups apple cider
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 tablespoons dried parsley

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat; cook the chicken in the hot oil until it has begun to brown.  Transfer to a large crock pot.

Add the bay leaves, salt, thyme, cinnamon, black pepper, onion, turnip, garlic, celery, potatoes, carrots, squash, apples, chicken stock, apple cider, cider vinegar and parsley to the pot. There should be enough liquid to just cover the vegetables. If not, add more stock to cover the vegetables.

Stir everything together, cover and cook on high heat for about 4 hours, or low heat for up to 8 hours. Remove the bay leaves and serve.

*Note: I've also done this as a vegan version, by adding in a can of chickpeas instead of the chicken and using vegetable stock, and it was just as good.

Grain-Free Waffles

My poor waffle maker.  It had been sitting in my pantry, collecting dust for the last year and a half.  Between not being able to eat gluten, to trying to stay away from a grain-heavy diet, it had no use in my life.  I missed waffles.  They used to be one of my favorite things to make on weekends for special breakfasts.

Recently, I came across a great recipe for waffles.  It's grain-free, gluten-free, and high in protein.  It's very tasty and you would have no idea it's mainly made out of eggs and coconut flour.  It's delicious with maple syrup on top, and I would imagine it would be good with any sort of fruit topping as well.  I made a quadruple batch of the recipe below, so it made 4 large Belgian waffles.

2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
3 eggs, room temperature if possible
3 tablespoons milk (I used almond milk)
splash vanilla extract
Optional – 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons coconut flour

Mix everything together, and let the ingredients sit for about 5 minutes while your waffle iron gets warm.

You won't need any oil sprayed on the waffle iron with these.  Pour batter into your waffle iron and barely cover the “hole” lumps of the waffle iron, as this batter expands a lot.

Close the iron and wait several minutes, until the steam stops coming out quite as much. When the steam starts to subside and the waffles are starting to brown, remove them to a plate.

Repeat until all of your batter is used up.

Pecan Coconut Pie Crust

Pumpkin pie is one of my favorite things to make in the fall.  I love the smell of it while it's baking, and I love the taste of it when it's done!  I always look forward to the arrival of autumn, so I can start baking pumpkin pies again.

A few years ago, I started to modify my pumpkin pie recipe to make it with a graham cracker crust.  If you've never tried it, I think it's much better than a traditional pastry crust.  Now that I'm gluten free, I either need to buy GF graham crackers to make a crust (which can sometimes be difficult to find) or come up with another solution.

I've had good luck with a lot of nut-based baked recipes, so I decided to go in that direction for the pumpkin pie crust:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

1/2 cup flaked unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup all purpose gluten-free flour (I used Bob's Red Mill)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter

Put all the dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse sand. Add in butter and pulse several times in short bursts until the crumbs are moist and begin to fall away from the sides of the bowl.

Pour the crumbs into a 9-inch pie dish and spread them evenly. Using your fingers, gently press the crumbs across the bottom and up the sides, about 2/3 of the way up.
Bake in the center of the oven for about 7 minutes to set.

Add pie filling and bake as directed.

Mexican Layer Dip

While preparing food for a party a few weeks ago, my husband suggested I make something other than the normal cheese and crackers or chips and salsa as snacks for when guests arrive.  I looked around in the refrigerator, and realized I had a lot of the fixings to make some sort of mexican layer dip.  I didn't really follow any recipe in particular, but it came out well and everyone really liked it!

2 cans black beans
1/4 chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons lime juice
1 cup salsa verde
1 cup plain yogurt (to use in place of sour cream)
1 cup guacamole (I used one container of Wholly Guacamole)
1 cup salsa
1 bag of shredded cheese of your choice (I used a mix of cheddar and mozzarella)
1 small can of sliced black olives
More chopped cilantro for garnish

Drain beans and combined with chopped cilantro and lime juice in a 9x13 pan.  Layer on salsa verde, yogurt, guac, salsa, cheese, olives and chopped cilantro.  The measurements of each ingredient can be changed based on your preference or what you have available.  This can be eaten immediately, or chilled and served later.
This is great to dip with corn chips, or you can make yourself a nice mexican wrap with some of this on a soft corn tortilla.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tomato Basil Spaghetti Squash

Everyone loves spaghetti and meatballs.  It's a comforting, filling meal.  But, what if you can't eat pasta? Or what if you're vegan or vegetarian?  You can feel good about eating spaghetti with this twist on a traditional "spaghetti and meatballs" meal.

1 large spaghetti squash
1/2 to 1 jar of spaghetti sauce
8-10 large basil leaves
Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast
Pre-cooked falafel

Place the squash cut side down in a baking dish and fill the dish with water.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes, until just tender.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Scrape out squash, and add to a 9x9 baking dish, along with 1 to 1/2 jar of pasta sauce, depending on how "saucy" you want it, or how large your squash is.  

Using kitchen scissors, snip basil leaves onto squash, and then mix to combine.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Serve out spaghetti squash.  Top with 1-3 pieces of falafel, parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast.

Sesame Spaghetti Squash

Since I've become gluten-free, spaghetti squash has become a staple around our house.  Not only is it healthier for you than pasta, but it's also delicious!

Most people generally think of using spaghetti squash in a traditional way, by adding in spaghetti sauce.  This is a new spin on how to use this versatile vegetable, and it might have you thinking about spaghetti squash in a whole new light!

1 large spaghetti squash, cut in half, seeds and pulp removed
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove minced garlic (1/2 tsp)
1/2 tsp dried ginger
1 medium carrot, shredded
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Place the squash cut side down in a baking dish and fill the dish with water.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes, until just tender.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Lower oven temperature to 350.  Oil a 9x13 baking dish and set aside.

When squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out the spaghetti strands and set aside in a bowl or dish.

In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of canola, coconut or grapeseed oil over medium heat.  Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic.  Cook for 5 minutes.  Add in ginger, peas and carrot and cook for 1 more minute. Stir in squash pulp and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine tahini, soy sauce, sesame oil and water, stirring until well blended into a creamy sauce.  Stir into the spaghetti squash mixture and toss to combine.

Add the entire mixture into the greased dish.  Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 20 minutes. Top with sesame seeds.

Potato Cheddar Soup

We had a lot of baby potatoes in our CSA share over the last month.  I decided to try making a potato soup, and was very pleased with the results.  It was was very easy to make and quite tasty!

1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onions
2 cups small, thin-skinned potatoes, washed and quartered
4 cups vegetable broth
1 can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
Salt to taste
1/4 cup Cabot cheddar cheese powder

Combine the onions, celery and carrots in a large soup pot, along with a tablespoon of oil or butter. Cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat, until softened.

Add in potatoes, beans, broth and spices, and simmer for approximately 20 minutes, until potatoes are soft and easily pierced with a fork.

Add cheddar powder and cook for 5 more minutes.  If you don't have cheddar powder, you could add 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese.

If you wanted to keep this dairy-free, you could add 1/4 cup almond milk for creaminess and 1-2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast to give it a cheesy flavor.

Makes 4-5 servings

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

What do you do when you have a ton of very ripe tomatoes?  Make sauce, of course!

There are so many variations on how to make sauce.  The possibilities are endless.  Here's what I normally do when I make sauce:
  • Wash tomatoes and cut into halves or quarters, removing the hard stem connection part from the top.  Use enough tomatoes to fill a large saucepan, as they will cook down by a lot.
  • Put into a pot with some olive oil, and cook on medium heat, until they have cooked down.  This will take about 15-20 minutes.  Stir and mash the tomatoes occasionally while cooking.
  • Puree the cooked tomatoes with a hand blender until the desired consistency is reached.  Add in a teaspoon of baking soda to reduce the acidity, if desired.
  • Add in a few teaspoons of minced garlic, a few teaspoons of capers, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/4 cup red wine and hand full of fresh basil.  
  • Using the immersion blender again, pulse a few times to chop up the basil into smaller pieces. 
  • Continue cooking until the desired thickness is achieved.
This will store in your refrigerator for at least a week.

Coconut Flour - A Gluten-Free Alternative

In the expansion of the gluten-free ingredients in my pantry, I've recently added coconut flour.  I've read a lot about it, and you can do much more than you would think with this versatile ingredient!  I found a great Web site with all kinds of gluten-free recipes that use coconut flour.  I was worried about what I was going to do for holiday baking this year, but I think this is my answer!

I purchased my coconut flour from an online company, called Tropical Traditions.  They have a huge library of gluten-free recipes, so I highly recommend checking them out!

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Balls

Bringing desserts to a party is my normal procedure.  That's usually what people ask me to bring when I ask what they need.  In the past year, that's been a bit more challenging, since I can't eat anything with gluten.  I made the mistake earlier this year of making "normal" brownies to bring to a party. They looked so good that I had to try one to see how they came out, and ended up feeling horrible for three days afterwards.  Definitely not worth the pain!

What does one do when they can't eat gluten, but want something that everyone will like?  My answer was something with nut butters.  Usually everyone loves peanut butter.  You can't go wrong.  And peanut butter and chocolate are a winning combination.  What makes this even better is that no baking is involved, so it's great when you're in a rush, or it's hot out and you don't want to heat up your kitchen.

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup chocolate chips
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons coconut flour

Thoroughly mix all ingredients together in a bowl. If the mixture is too sticky, add more coconut flour; if it's too dry, add more peanut butter.

Roll into peanut butter mixture into small balls using your hands or a cookie scoop.  Store in the refrigerator.

This makes about 16 peanut butter balls.  I tripled the recipe, since I wanted to make sure I had enough for everyone at the party.   They were a hit, so I'm glad I made more than one batch!

Bourbon Maple Roasted Squash

Fall is one of my favorite times of year.  I love the cooler weather, the crispness in the air, and all the colors and scents of the season.  I also love all the seasonal fall foods, particularly squashes.

Baked squash is a favorite side dish of mine, especially bourbon maple roasted squash.  It just doesn't get any better than this.  It smells amazing while cooking, too!

2 small squash cut in half with seeds and pulp removed (I like to use delicata squash)
4 tsp Butter or margarine
4 tsp Maple syrup
4 tsp bourbon

Place squash cut side up in the baking dish.  Fill the center of each squash with 1 teaspoon each of butter, maple syrup and bourbon. Sprinkle the tops of each filled squash with allspice.  Cover baking dish with foil and bake at 375 for 40-45 minutes.

Egg Poacher Alternative

We get a dozen fresh eggs in our CSA share every week, so we've been eating a lot of eggs.  We like to hard boil them to put on salads, make egg salad, or eat as a snack, but we have an impossible time peeling the cooked eggs.  I have tried every tip I can find online to make peeling easier, but nothing is working.  I started to think about poaching the eggs as a way to get around the peeling issue.

Ever since I was very little, I've loved poached eggs.  I'm not sure why I like them so much, but they were always my favorite.  My parents used to have an egg poacher machine, and the eggs would come out perfectly every time.

For years, I've looked in kitchen stores for an egg poacher to add to my kitchen.  Any that I've found are non-stick, and I don't do non-stick stuff - it's bad news!  I also looked at those "Eggies" things they've been advertising like crazy on TV, but after reading the reviews, I wouldn't go near those with a 50-foot pole!

I decided to improvise and make my own egg poacher.  I tried a few different variations of egg poaching vessels, and they all worked well.  Here's what I did:
  • Using small custard cups or small ceramic cups, oil the inside of each cup and place into a large soup pot.  
  • Fill the pot with water, so the water level is about 1/2 inch from the top of each custard cup.  
  • Cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil.  
  • Once boiling, crack an egg into each cup and cover the pot again.  
  • Depending upon how you want your yolk, cook about 4 minutes for a runnier yolk and about 7-8 minutes for more of a hard-boiled yolk consistency.
  • Using tongs, remove each cup from the pot.  Using a butter knife, go around the inside of each cup to release the egg.  
I put into a sealed storage container and they lasted me all week.  These eggs can be used in the same way as a hard-boiled egg, without spending forever peeling.

Roasted Turnip and Pumpkin Soup

One of Lee's favorite soups is pumpkin soup.  Last week, we got some more Japanese turnips in our CSA share, so I decided to do a new spin on my traditional pumpkin soup recipe.  I was very pleased with the results and will definitely make this again!

2 cups turnips, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 cup chopped onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups of canned pumpkin (1 can) or 2 cups of cubed pumpkin or butternut squash
4 cups vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp black pepper
Sea salt to taste

Combine the turnips, garlic, onions and olive oil in a baking dish.  If you are using a whole squash or pumpkin, you can also add the peeled, cubed squash or pumpkin to the baking dish.  Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, until the squash and turnip are soft.

Transfer baked mixture to a large soup pot.  Add in vegetable broth, canned pumpkin (if not using fresh in the step above), bay leaves, honey or maple syrup, nutmeg, black pepper and salt.  Cover and heat to boiling.

Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for about 20 minutes.

Remove bay leaves.  Puree soup using a hand blender.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Gluten-Free Pizza Goes Mainstream!

I had given up on the prospect of ever being able to eat pizza at a restaurant ever again. My husband went to Peace A Pizza last weekend to get some lunch for himself and a friend, and he told me they had gluten-free pizza now! I was beyond thrilled. I thought about it for days. I really wanted some. One night when I got home from work last week, I decided we were having pizza for dinner. I couldn't wait any longer!

I ordered the Mediterranean Salad pizza from Peace A Pizza. It has spinach, olives, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, onions, roasted red peppers and feta on it. The crust wasn't as thick as their regular pizza, but it was delicious.  

I would definitely get this again.  I am so happy to have an option for pizza now.  If you're on a gluten-free diet and have a Peace A Pizza near you, I highly recommend trying this!

Roasted Baby Potatoes

I love roasted potatoes, especially the baby, fingerling potatoes.  They have the nice, thin skin and are so tasty.  They also don't take hours to bake like a regular potato.  For a normal serving, I usually cook 6-8 small potatoes per person.

My favorite way to cook them is very simple:

  • Wash potatoes with a scrub brush to clean off any dirt
  • For two people, combine 12-16 baby potatoes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a baking dish (I love to use St. Helena Garlic Olive Oil for this).  Toss to coat.
  • Sprinkle potatoes with my Savory Seasoning spice.  Mix well to coat all sides of the potatoes.
  • Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.
  • Potatoes are done when they feel soft when pierced with a fork.

Savory Seasoning Recipe

This is sort of like giving away my secret sauce, but I've had a few requests for this particular recipe.  For Christmas 2009 and 2010, I made huge batches of this spice mix and gave it away as gifts to at least a dozen people each year.  It's very versatile, and can be used on beef, chicken, fish, vegetables or potatoes.  Since it can be used on so many different things, it can get used up very quickly! 

As you can see from my army of bottles below, I make huge batches of this stuff.  Costco is a great place to go and buy the ingredients for this recipe.  The only ingredient that I have a harder time finding is the celery seed.

To make 1 cup of seasoning, mix together:

  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons celery seeds
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon nutmeg
Once mixed well, put into a spice jar.

Friday, August 12, 2011

What Not to Compost

We compost in our house.  Not only does it cut down on the amount of garbage you throw away, it makes for some wonderful soil nutrients to add to your garden.  If you've ever had to buy compost at a garden center, you know how expensive it can be.  If you compost, it's free!

We've been composting for about 4 years now.  I am so in the habit of composting, I feel strange if I'm not at home and have to throw out a fruit peel!  I recently read an article about what not to compost, and a few things really surprised me.  We knew not to compost things with oil or butter in them, no meats or dairy items, and no human or animal waste (duh!).  Here are the things that surprised me:

Bread Products
All bread products, including cakes, pasta, and baked goods, shouldn’t go into the pile because they can attract pests.

Cooked rice can breed dangerous bacteria, and raw rice can attract rodents and insects.

Most nuts are okay, but walnuts contain a compound called juglone which is toxic to some plants.

Acidic Items
A few things that fall into this category are citrus fruits, tomato products, and pickles. The acid can actually kill the good bacteria that your compost grows.

If you want to read the full article on what not to compost, it can be found here:;_ylt=Ams5tdi0tpckhyoUsFf183yAV8cX

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Homemade Floor Cleaner

There are so many disposable cleaning products on the market today.  It's kind of depressing.  Disposable dusters, mops, toilet bowl brushes, you name it.  Not only are these products wasteful, but they're expensive and filled with chemicals.  I used to buy Swiffer Wet Jet mops back when they first came out about 9 years ago.  Then I realized, how wasteful they were.  You can't refill the cleaner bottle, and the Swiffer pads can only be used a few times, and then have to be thrown out.  Not a good idea.

From there, I switched over to a reusable microfiber mop.  This is a much better concept, with reusable microfiber pads that can be washed in the washing machine.  Right now, I'm using the Scotch Brite microfiber mop.

I also use the Method oMop, but it's a bit smaller and the head tends to flip over a lot while mopping.  Rather than slopping around with a bucket, I was using oMop floor cleaner, and then just spraying it on the floor as I went.  I ran out of oMop cleaner one day, so I decided to make my own.  Since the oMop bottle can be refilled, I made my own recipe and saved some money!  If you don't feel like making your own floor cleaner, Method's product is a good eco-friendly alternative, and it works well and smells very nice.

Here's my recipe:

1 cup water
1 cup vinegar
15-20 drops of lavender or pure peppermint oil

Combine all ingredients in a squirt bottle and shake to mix.  The bottle below is great for mixing up my own floor cleaner, but any squirt bottle will do.

You probably already have these ingredients in your house.  If not, run over to your neighborhood Costco or Sam's Club and buy a huge bottle of white vinegar.  I promise, if you want to make your own cleaners, you'll make good use out of a large bottle of vinegar.  Check out my drain cleaning tips and homemade kitchen disinfectant for other great uses for white vinegar.  If you don't have any essential oils, it's not necessary for the recipe.  The vinegar smell will dissipate after 10 minutes or so after mopping.

If you don't want to invest in a reusable microfiber mop, just use rags to wipe the floor.  I bought a huge bag of plain white rags about 8 years ago, and I use them now for everything.  I rarely use paper towels for anything.  I just keep rags in drawers around the house, and then just wash them in the washing machine with hot water and hydrogen peroxide bleach.  The rags will pay for themselves in about a month!

Put On Your Gloves, Organize Your Freezer

My freezer is a disaster.  I usually try to keep similar things together on each shelf - one shelf for veggies, one for fruits, one for proteins, etc.  When I get to the point where I have no idea what's in my freezer, I know it's time to reorganize.  I think things started to go downhill when my husband left a bottle of champagne in the freezer to chill, which then exploded.  The freezer was torn apart to clean up glass shards, and hasn't been the same since.

One of my favorite tips for organizing the freezer is this - wear winter gloves!  It becomes painful to handle frozen items with bare hands after about the first minute.  I accidentally came across this idea one winter, when I came in from grocery shopping, and kept my gloves on while unpacking my groceries.  I thought to myself...why don't I keep my gloves on every time I'm moving things around in the freezer?

Give it a try.  You might find yourself organizing your freezer more than once every 5 years.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dye to the Rescue

My sister-in-law had a nice pair of white Ralph Lauren shorts that got discolored.  She tried washing them a few times, but they remained yellowed.  I tried using Oxy Clean, Laundress Stain Remover, and even a bleach pen, but nothing worked.  I thought it was a shame to throw them out, so I decided to try dying them.  The shorts had navy blue anchors on them, so we thought a light orange color would look nice.  We used Rit powder in Tangerine for this project.  For a little over $2, I saved the shorts and they look like new.

If you have anything was was "formerly" white and made of cotton, I highly suggest trying to dye it, rather than throw it out.  It will almost be like getting a new piece of clothing!  You can get a box of Rit dye at any Michael's craft store.  It's easy to dye anything in your washing machine.  Just make sure to follow your dye cycle with a cycle of hot water and a cup of bleach to prevent dying anything else you put in your washing machine!

Raw Zucchini Lasagna

When it was 90+ degrees outside for days on end, I really didn't feel like turning on the oven or stove.  I surveyed what I had in our CSA box, and we had a few zucchini, and some fresh basil.  I had a bit of leftover fresh mozzarella, a jar of spaghetti sauce and some black olives, so I decided to make some raw lasagna.  It's nice and refreshing on a hot day.  This is a recipe I created last summer when Lee and I were on an extremely restricted diet per our doctor.  It was so tasty, I've been making it ever since!  When I originally made it, we couldn't have dairy, so I pureed some lentils to make a sort of "lentil cream" in place of cheese.  You could probably also just put a layer of cooked lentils in place of the mozzarella.  Either way, it's a nice alternative to lasagna made with pasta noodles.

2 zucchini, ends cut off
1 jar tomato sauce
8-10 leaves fresh basil
1 small can of sliced black olives
1/2 ball fresh mozzarella

Using a mandoline, slice zucchini into thin circles.  You will have a huge pile of slices from one zucchini.  You'll end up using these slices to make your layers of "noodles."  I make each serving separately on a plate, rather than one large serving.  It makes for a nicer presentation.

Once you're done slicing the zucchini, start to create a layer of slices as a base.  Add a few tablespoons of sauce on top of the zucchini slices.  Add some bits of mozzarella, a few snips of basil leaves and few slices of black olives.

Repeat this 3-4 times, depending on how large you want your piece of lasagna to be.  I had about 4 layers in the photo below.  I laid out the zucchini slices in a nice pattern in this one, but you can also just throw down a bunch of slices and then put on the toppings, and it tastes just as good!

Raw Pickles

In general, Americans don't eat enough fermented foods.  In other countries, fermented foods are consumed daily.  Aside from yogurt, we really don't have anything in our diets that contain helpful probiotics, which improve our digestion and overall health.  I came across a recipe for raw pickles that contain probiotics.  This recipe is easy to make and doesn't require much hands-on time.

2 cups peeled sliced cucumbers (sliced into 1/4 inch slices)
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp pickling spice
1 cup filtered water

I didn't have pickling spice, so I ended up putting the following in each jar:  a bay leaf, a few peppercorns, a few cloves, a sprinkle of allspice, a sprinkle of cinnamon, a few pieces of fresh dill.

Combine all ingredients into one large canning jar or 2 smaller jars.  Close the lid tightly and shake well to mix.  Leave out on the counter for 3-4 hours.  Place in refrigerator overnight.  These will keep for a week or more in the refrigerator.

Cashew Creme - Whipped Cream Substitute

I haven't had any sort of spray cream or whipped cream in the house for a while now.  We've cut out most dairy products from our diets (aside from some occasional cheese), so I haven't bought any of my favorite Cabot Whipped Cream (which is the best spray cream out there, if you haven't tried it!) in a long time.  I bought at pint of blueberries at the Central Market in Lancaster on Friday, and I wanted to have them for dessert.  Just plain blueberries was kind of boring.  I decided to make some Cashew Creme to put on top of them.  It's really delicious, and doesn't have any added sugar.  It also has coconut oil in it, which also has lots of health benefits as well.  You can make this up and it lasts in the fridge for about a week.

1 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon water

Put all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.

Use it as a topping or dip for fruit, ice cream, cake, brownies, etc.

Lentil Fritters

I found a recipe for Lentil Fritters in Real Simple Magazine, which is one of my favorite magazines (if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it!).  Lentils are a great source of protein, so if you're trying to find a replacement for animal proteins, this recipe is a real winner.  The orginal recipe used the fritters in a wrap with some shredded cabbage, but you can use these in many applications - as a topper for salads, as a burger replacement, or even on top of pasta as a meatball replacement.  They're very tasty, and you can make a bunch at one time and then just reheat or even eat cold.

2 15-ounce cans lentils, rinsed
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (I used dried parsley, as I didn't have any fresh)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (I didn't use the cumin, and they still tasted good)
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I used rice bread crumbs to keep them gluten-free)
kosher salt and black pepper

In a food processor, puree 1 can of the lentils with the cilantro, parsley, garlic, and cumin until nearly smooth. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the bread crumbs, the remaining can of lentils, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Form into 16 ½-inch-thick patties.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, cook the patties until browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side, adding the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet for the second batch.

Makes 4 servings.