Friday, December 9, 2011

Best Stain Remover. Ever.

Living in Austin, it is inevitable that you will slowly become more green - there's just an aura of environmental awareness that is hard to ignore. We've now been living here 10 years and I find myself using cloth diapers, hanging my laundry out to dry, and I don't even remember the last time I bought paper towels or paper napkins - we've slowly migrated to cloth over the last 8 years or so.

That being said, as I run out of cleaning supplies I find myself searching for alternatives to the chemical filled storebought options. There are a ton of homemade recipes to be found on the internet, some working better than others. So when I find one that works amazingly well I feel I should share! This stain remover is one of the best I have ever used. It even gets out grass and berry stains! When I have a straight oil stain, I use just the Dawn, but everything else gets this treatment:

1/3 cup Dawn dish soap (I use the DawnOxi)
1/3 cup ammonia
3 Tablespoon baking soda
1 cup water

Mix all ingredients together and store in an empty spray bottle. Spray onto stains and rub in with an old toothbrush. Throw in the laundry basket until you're ready to wash!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Panforte Bars

Since it's getting close to that festive time of the year when we give others yummy treats because we love them, I thought I'd post a few of my favorites. This recipe is one of the easiest things you'll ever make, but they get rave reviews from everyone who tries them. Enjoy and bask in the compliments!

18 ounces refrigerated sugar cookie dough
10-12 ounce can mixed nuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup baking chips in your preferred flavor (I've used butterscotch, chocolate, pb and a mix of whatever was left in the bags)
1/2 cup mixed dried fruit bits, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Lightly grease a 9x9 baking dish; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, stir cookie dough with a wooden spoon until soft. Add nuts, baking chips, and dried fruit. Stir until well mixed, using your hands if necessary. Pat dough evenly in baking dish. Sprinkle coconut over the top, pressing in lightly.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until it passes the toothpick test. Cool completely in the pan. Cut into bars. Store in a tightly covered container at room temperature for 3 days or in the freezer for 3 months. Makes about 32 bars.

Maraschino Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies

These were the tasty result of an RS cookie swap a few years ago - I've made them every year since. Thanks Tori!

2 10-oz jars of Maraschino cherries
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 Tablespoons milk

Drain cherries, reserving juice. Combine flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl. Mix well. Put butter and sugar in a medium bowl. Beat with an electric mixer for 3-4 minutes. Add egg and vanilla; mix well. Add flour mixture; mix well.

Put chocolate chips and milk in a small saucepan and heat, stirring constantly, on low heat until chocolate melts. Add reserved cherry juice to taste (I use 1-2 teaspoons). Let cool slightly.

Shape dough into 1" balls. Place on ungreased baking pan. Push in centers with thumb or bottom of a teaspoon, then spoon 1 teaspoon of the chocolate mixture into each thumbprint and top with a cherry. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. Don't overcook or they will become hard and not as tasty. Let cool on wire racks.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes

This has become our favorite pancake recipe... I probably make it at least once a week at the request of my kids. In fact, I've made it so often that it is one of the few recipes I know by heart so it comes together really quickly.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup water
1 egg
2 tablespoons oil

Whisk together all dry ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Add wet ingredients and mix well. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto hot greased griddle. Flip when bubbles pop on surface of pancake. Remove when edges look brown. Serve with your favorite pancake toppings. Makes about 10 6-inch pancakes. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Quick and Easy Salsa

This is a recipe I found at Central Market one day... it seriously tastes like restaurant salsa and is so incredibly easy! I've adjusted it a little to better suit my family's tastes and still play around with it each time I make it, but here is the basic recipe:

14 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic
2-4 tablespoons canned pickled jalapenos
1/2 - 3/4 cup (packed) fresh cilantro
1/4 sweet onion, rough chopped
2-3 green onions, rough chopped
salt & pepper

Put all ingredients in a blender and pulse until blended to desired consistency. Will keep in refrigerator up to 5 days.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Quick and Easy Spaghetti Sauce

I have a problem with jarred spaghetti sauce... too much sugar! Sometimes the sauce ends up tasting more like a dessert topping! I understand that the sugar cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, but I really think they are overdoing it. I have found that it is simply easier to make my own. This is a very flexible recipe - it can be easily changed to match your personal tastes or to use up whatever is languishing in the fridge. And best of all, you can easily make this in the time the pasta is cooking!

Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet.

Add crushed garlic to your liking (I love garlic so I usually use 4-5 cloves) along with chopped veggies such as sweet or green bell peppers, chopped celery, or shredded carrots. (Most veggies will work here, so be brave if you have something that needs to be used up - I've used zucchini and was tempted to add beets the last time I made it. If you don't think your kids will go for it, just shred it and it pretty much disappears into the sauce.) You can also add crushed red pepper flakes here if you like a little kick to your sauce. Saute for a few minutes until the veggies begin to soften.

Add one 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (I like the Great Value brand from Walmart - no skins and not too many big chunks) and ~one teaspoon each of basil and oregano (I don't usually measure these - just taste as you go along, but remember that dried herbs need to simmer for a few minutes to release their flavor), one teaspoon of sugar (if you added carrots with the veggies, you probably won't need to add any sugar - taste first!), and salt and pepper to taste.

Just before serving mix in 1-2 cups finely chopped spinach (I run it through the food processor) to give a great pop of color to the sauce - and extra nutrition too!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Watermelon Cake

My kids insist on testing my culinary art skills when they decide on their birthday cake... this year Lincoln decided he wanted a Watermelon Cake. I dug around online and finally combined three different recipes to get what I wanted. Here's the recipe I ended up using:

1 box white cake mix
1 box (3 oz) watermelon jello
2 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Combine cake mix, jello, eggs, oil, and water. Mix on low speed until moistened. Mix on high speed for 2 minutes. Gently fold in chocolate chips until well distributed. Pour into two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans (greased and floured) and bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes until it passes the toothpick test.

And here is how we constructed the cake:

Let the cake layers cool for about 10 minutes before removing from the pans. Place in the freezer for about 20 minutes. After freezing, sandwich the layers with 1/4 cup frosting between each and cut in half. Frost each half with a thin layer of white frosting and allow to dry.

Frost rounded edges of cake with dark green frosting. If you want, you can pipe light green frosting lines around curved edge and use a knife to smear them to create the mottled look of a watermelon rind. Use red-orange frosting to frost the top and straight sides of cakes, leaving about 1/2-inch border of white frosting between the green and red. Use raisins or chocolate chip as the seeds, placing them on the red frosting as desired.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Microwave Popcorn

I was just properly chastened by my sister for not sharing this trick sooner... so here it is for all the world to see - or at least for those who see this blog :)

And the trick is... to make microwave popcorn, you do not have to buy those expensive salt-laden packages from the grocery store! All you need is a paper lunch bag and popcorn kernels!

Measure out about 1/3 cup popcorn kernels and put them in a paper bag. Fold over the top of the paper bag two or three times (just about a 1/2 inch fold each time). Lay the bag on its side and shake a little so the kernels settle in one layer. Place in the microwave on high for 2-3 minutes (until the popping stops - just like with the store-bought stuff). When it's done popping, pour into a bowl and season to your liking. Here are some ideas:

We like to spray the popcorn with a butter spritzer first, but you can also use non-stick cooking spray. Then sprinkle and toss with one of the following:
  • Taco seasoning
  • Creole seasoning
  • Curry powder
  • BBQ rub - the kind they sell to put on chicken or steak before cooking
  • 2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese mixed with 1 tsp Italian seasoning (you'll want to run these through a food processor or somehow grind them up together - and store this one in the fridge)
  • 1/4 cup chocolate pudding mix mixed with 2 tsp cinnamon
  • Cinnamon sugar
  • Spritz with vinegar, sprinkle with salt
  • Spritz with lime juice, sprinkle with salt and pepper (or lemon pepper)
  • Spritz with sesame oil, sprinkle with wasabi salt

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fish Tacos

Lincoln declared these the best tacos ever! High praise coming from a 5 year old!

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 tablespoons lime juice
1 lb tilapia fillets

2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 tablespoons lime juice
tabasco sauce to taste

shredded lettuce or cabbage
shredded cheese
chopped tomatoes

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and saute for about 1 minute. Add the lime juice and heat through. Poach the tilapia fillets in the lime/garlic mixture, turning once, until cooked through. In a serving dish, break the tilapia into bite size pieces and pour remaining liquid over it.

In a small dish, combine the mayonnaise, yogurt, lime juice, and tabasco. Mix well. (I used Kraft Chipotle Mayo instead of the tabasco, but you could get the same result using Chipotle Tabasco.)

To serve, place fish in a tortilla with a little of the mayonnaise sauce. Garnish as desired with cilantro, cheese, tomatoes and cabbage. (Cabbage is more authentic, but my kids won't eat it so we use shredded lettuce.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Spaghetti w/ Smoked Sausage and Carrots

I know this sounds like a weird combination, but it really is super yummy. My kids always think it looks weird, but once they get the first taste, they pretty much inhale everything on their plates... that makes it a winner in my book!

olive oil
1/4 onion, finely diced
2-3 carrots, peeled and shredded
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 inch piece of smoked sausage, cut into strips
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lb spaghetti, cooked as directed

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion and cook until softened and slightly translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and cook for about 1 minute, just until fragrant, then add the carrots and sausage. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until the sausage is slightly browned and the carrots are softening. Add pepper to taste and toss with the cooked spaghetti. Serve at once.

This recipe makes enough for 4 adult servings or 2 adult and 4 child sized servings.