Saturday, April 30, 2011

Valuable lessons: Respect the Jell-o!

Ok, lemme start by saying... (parents, cover your children's eyes) this recipe was a pain in the ass.

For Easter, I wanted to make something colorful and fun. So when I came across a recipe for stained glass jell-o, that seemed to be the answer! What's more fun than jell-o?! Ramming bamboo skewers under my fingernails, perhaps?!?! Ok, I exaggerate slightly, but I did not enjoy making this recipe.

It is a finger jell-o dessert that gives the impression of broken or stained glass by having chunks of colored jell-o set in an opaque white jell-o... very striking visually and from the recipe it seemed pretty easy to do.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easier than you thought: The secret to crispy tofu

I enjoy doing stir fries. They're simple. They're quick. They make plenty for leftovers. And they're healthy, more or less ;) Right?

I used to automatically include meat in my stir fries because, well, aren't you supposed to have meat? C'mon, I live with a guy... if the plate doesn't have something on it that used to bleed, then it's not a complete meal. However, since stumbling upon the following technique, I haven't used meat in a stir fry in ages and neither of us miss it a bit.

I used to do tofu the same way each time... cut it up into strips or cubes and fry it quickly in some oil. It would come out that weird texture that cooked tofu has... at once rubbery, soggy, oily and bland. I seasoned the hell out of it, I even tried flavored ones with no real change in the end result. Then one day I was following a recipe for a new dish, which included cubes of fried tofu, though for the life of me I can't remember what it was. The instruction was quite simple, and I almost missed it... I reread it and for a second debated if I should follow it, or just continue cooking the tofu like I always do. Remembering how underwhelming the "usual" method's results were, I threw caution to the wind and, shock of shocks, followed the instructions.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Things I love: Recipes as art

Ok, this idea is so simple, it's brilliant.

The people over at Toast and Sip offer recipes as art, printed on canvas and ready to hang. You can choose from a few pre-designed ones (such as Chocolate Chip Cookies below) or you can send in your own recipe and they will create a custom designed one for you. (Could be a very cute gift idea for that aunt, grandmother or friend who is constantly misplacing her recipe book!)

Image source:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Review: Five Guys burgers

So, after months upon months of waiting, we finally have a Five Guys near by. They've been promising it for ages as part of the new Quartier Dix 30 complex where B works. The other day on our way to do something totally unrelated, we saw it was open, so stopped in for lunch.

Now, I'll start by saying... I've never been to one of these places before. So why the anticipation? Well, the only thing I've heard about it is that it's supposedly as-good-as-or-better than In N Out. Since moving here from California, there are two things I have sorely missed... one, good burritos and two, In N Out. Well, that and friends and relatives and such. ;) When I took B with me a few years ago for a friend's wedding, I almost cried upon discovering that there was one next to the hotel and promptly dragged him in. He still talks about it. The burger, that is, not my weird priorities.

So, how was Five Guys?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cooking without a net

I think there are two basic camps among cooks. Those who follow a recipe to the letter and those who consider a recipe more as a general guideline. I most definitely fall into the second camp.

I love collecting recipes, I have tons of them on my computer, stashed in a pile by the desk, and heaped with the cookbooks on the bookshelf. But I also have a short attention span for them... I tend to read through quickly, get the gist of it, and start cooking. If I don't have one of the ingredients or not quite the amount it calls for, eh, I'll improvise. One of my favorite things is to find an ingredient and build a recipe around it (much like the osso bucco experiment). If it's something I haven't cooked before, I'll do a little research on-line or in my cookbooks first and see how it is usually prepared, see what I have on hand or what sounds good, and get crackin'.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Homemade Granola Bars

So, now we take the homemade granola a step further. In bar form.

I don't usually crave granola bars, but I have to admit, they're awfully handy as a snack. Especially the peanut butter and/or chocolate ones ;) Yanno... extra protein! Antioxidants! Or.... something. :P

So in an effort to have better things on hand for lunches, I decided to try my hand at making granola bars this weekend.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Feed your face, literally

So last time we explored alternative household uses for pantry staples like baking soda and vinegar. Today we get pretty with homemade beauty products. (Don't worry guys, you can enjoy some of these, too ;) Again, I can't say enough about the Homemade book and for tips and ideas on how to make your own simple beauty products.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

You can do _what_ with food? Or: Lemme show you how much I love baking soda

Ok, get your mind out of the gutter :P We're talking about household uses for food today.

Last fall I found a book that made me happier than it probably should: Homemade: A Surprisingly Easy Guide to Making Hundreds of Everyday Products You Would Otherwise Buy. This book is incredible, at least for easily amused people who get a kick out of finding more natural and less expensive ways of doing things, like m'self! There's also the website, TipNut, that has tons of ideas as well. 

So, what sort of things can you do around the house with simple ingredients hanging out in the pantry? More than you'd think:
  • Unclog/treat a drain: I keep a bin of baking soda and a bottle of white vinegar specifically for cleaning purposes. The most common use for them is doing battle with out bathroom drains, who seem to enjoy clogging. I dump a good amount of baking soda down along with a good glug of vinegar and slap the stopper in quickly to keep the foam inside the drain. Let it sit for a bit then flush with a kettle of boiling water. Sometimes I have to repeat once or twice, but it does the trick every time. A weekly flush with a bit of baking soda and some boiling water will usually keep clogs from coming back. 
  • Multipurpose glass and surface cleaner: Plain old white vinegar does an amazing job. To clean mirrors and windows, just dilute some white vinegar in water (about 1 part vinegar to 7 parts water), spray on and wipe off. And for disinfecting surfaces in the bathroom or kitchen, put white vinegar in a glass jar, such as a canning jar, along with some citrus peel, seal tightly and let sit for a week or two, shaking occasionally. Strain and use slightly diluted with water on any surface to disinfect and leave a nice citrus-y scent!
  • Carpet freshener: Mix 2 parts baking soda with 1 part lavender flowers (you can use other flowers or essential oils as you wish). Give a quick whiz in a food processor or crush the flowers by hand to release more scent. Sprinkle on your carpet (an old cheese shaker or a jar with some cheesecloth over top work well) and let sit for 30 minutes then simply vacuum up. The carpet and the vacuum smell lovely!
  • Stove top potpourri: Make a quick and easy air freshener by putting a saucepan filled with water on to boil. Add whole spices such as cinnamon stick and cloves, and leftover citrus or apple peel. Turn down to simmer and enjoy. Keep an eye on the water levels, though; refill with water as needed. 
  • Brass and copper polish: I don't think many of us have as much brass or copper items as our parents used to (god I remember having to help polish as a kid, ugh!), but if you do, try this: warm up 1/2 cup of white vinegar and stir in 2 tablespoons of salt until dissolved. Dip half of a cut lemon in the solution and rub it directly onto your tarnished brass or copper objects. Rinse with warm water and buff dry with a soft cloth. Voila!
  • No-polish silver tarnish remover: This tip was given to me by my late grandmother... I still have the index card she wrote it on for me. She knew I wore only silver jewelry and what a pain it can be to keep clean. This works for silver flatware, as well. Fill a baking dish with 1 liter of extremely hot water. Mix in 1 tablespoon each of baking soda and salt, stirring to dissolve. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom of the dish and place your silver on it. Let it sit 15-30 seconds, then remove and dry with a soft flannel cloth. This removes tarnish even in the smallest nooks and crannies... it's great! 
  • Microwave cleaner: In a microwave-safe bowl (duh), mix 1 cup water with a few tablespoons of lemon juice and a few tablespoons of baking soda (you can sub a cup of white vinegar for the soda if you prefer, but I found the hot vinegar steam made me choke). Place in the microwave uncovered and zap it for 3-5 minutes. Leave the door closed for a few minutes, then carefully remove the bowl and wipe down the inside of the microwave with a towel. You can even dip it in the liquid for a bit of extra cleaning/deodorizing if needed. 
  • Fabric softener: Excellent for those with sensitivities to normal fabric softeners, though you will need to know when the rinse cycle starts on your machine. Allow the washer to fill with water first, then add 1/4 cup of baking soda and your clothes. During the final rinse cycle, add 1/2 cup of vinegar and allow the load to finish. Dry as you usually would. 
  • Soap scum remover: Mix 2 cups of baking soda with half a cup of your favorite liquid soap (I use Dr Bronners castille soap) in a bowl. Dilute with a few tablespoons of water and stir in 2 tablespoons of white vinegar. Stir until the soda is dissolved, then pour into a spray bottle. To use, simply spray on and give a good scrub with a brush or sponge and rinse with water. 
  • Toilet bowl cleaner: No one likes cleaning the toilet, but it becomes much easier by just throwing in a few tablespoons of baking soda and a dash of vinegar. The combination will foam up the sides of the bowl, breaking up stains and deodorizing at the same time (you can add a bit of lemon juice for a citrus scent and extra stain fighting). Repeat if necessary, give it a quick swish with the toilet brush and flush, and that's it!
As you can see, baking soda and/or vinegar is involved in a lot of these ;) I used to buy large boxes of Arm & Hammer at the grocery store when I could find them, but have since discovered the Bulk Barn where I can get as much as I like for much cheaper! If you don't have a bulk store that sells it, you can also check out places like Costco for larger amounts at a cheaper price; same for the vinegar. 

I love the fact that such simple items can replace so many expensive, harsh chemicals in our cleaning routines! Next up... beauty tips and tricks from the pantry!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Classics: Coq au Vin

For my birthday I got (finally!) an enameled cast iron Dutch oven. I have a number of pyrex and ceramic dishes like this, but have been wanting a cast iron one for ages. Le Creuset remains on my "someday list", so I got a KitchenAid one instead. And the first thing I made with it? Why, coq au vin, of course! Coq au vin is not a dish I think of making often... it's not a fussy dish by any means, but it is a very rich one and it's not really suited to warmer weather, in my opinion. The last bits of snow are melting on the ground and I can stand to open the windows a bit more without freezing my bits off, so to ward off that last bit of chill before warmer weather, coq au vin it is.