Monday, January 28, 2013

Freshen Up

I love walking in the door to a fresh smelling home. There are lots of products on the market to give your home a signature scent, but not all of them are products you'd want to use once you do a little research and find out just how harmful they have the potential to be. For example, those scented oil warmers and air freshening sprays? No good, my friends. Based on the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) research and publications, these products contain harmful levels of phthalates, which have been known to cause a number of scary problems, including birth defects, other reproductive issues and hormonal abnormalities. No thanks. Whether it's to get rid of a definite odor, add some freshness to a house that's had the windows shut all winter, or fill the air with a pleasant scent before company comes over, sometimes you just want to smell something good.

While browsing Pinterest, I've come across three safe alternatives that I now use instead of the commercially produced products.

1. Real Scented Oil - If you have a scented oil plug-in with a glass bulb (like the Bath & Body Works type), you have an easy solution. Unscrew the bulb from the plug-in and pull out the rubber stopper containing the wick. Empty and rinse the bulb, then refill with a pure aromatherapy oil (I really like peppermint oil for the fresh, clean scent and I purchase the oil from my local co-op). You can fill the glass bulb completely with oil for a longer lasting scent, or dilute with water. Plug it in and enjoy the healthier, fresh scent. Traditionally, there are oil warmers which are small dishes that are mounted above tea light candles. You pour a little bit of essential oil in the dish, put a tea light candle in the tray below it and the heat from the candle warms the oil and allows it to diffuse throughout the air. Of course, this type of oil warmer can only be used when you are home to keep an eye on the flame.

2. The Williams-Sonoma Scent - I've seen this one a lot on Pinterest, claiming to be that signature scent that makes you swoon whenever you walk by a Williams-Sonoma store in the mall. And whether it is or it isn't, it sure smells good! I actually had a pot of this boiling on the stove this past weekend. I had a lemon in the fridge, a rosemary plant still going strong in the garden, and vanilla in my baking supplies - those three ingredients plus water is all this recipe takes. I sliced half the lemon, cut about 3 sprigs of rosemary and poured in about a tablespoon of vanilla, then filled a medium sauce pan halfway with water. Turn the burner to low and let the mixture simmer and enjoy the relaxing scent it produces. You can probably even do this in a crockpot, too. As the water boils out, add more. Another variation of this that I love is swapping ground cinnamon or a couple of cinnamon sticks for the rosemary. It's an equally pleasant, warm and room-freshening scent.

3. Scented Soy Candles - I found this recipe for soy candles and it is both incredibly easy and not very time consuming. I purchased the soy flakes and wicks from a craft supply store, heated the soy flakes in a ceramic dish in the microwave until melted, stirred in a few drops of pure aromatherapy oil (peppermint again) placed a wick in a mug I picked up from a thrift store, and poured in the melted soy wax. All that's left to do is let the wax harden and you can start burning your homemade scented candle. When you purchase soy candles at the store, you might notice that they're a little more expensive than regular wax candles. I think this is probably because they typically have a longer burn time compared to a similar sized regular wax candle. Soy is a renewable product and it washes right off a ceramic dish with a little hot water and wiping with a soapy sponge. Hint: These make great gifts, too!         

Not all products are created equally, and if you still prefer the ease of picking up a ready-to-use product at the store rather than making your own, there are a few good options listed in the above-linked NRDC publication.

This is not a sponsored  post. All products and brands mentioned were purchased by my choice with my money. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

"Egg Pie"

So far in 2013, I've been doing fairly well with my weekly meal planning and grocery shopping. Last week's meal plan took a detour though, because when Wednesday night rolled around and I informed Ash I was making frittatas for dinner, he suggested we go out on a date because he didn't want "egg pie" for dinner (you know, because it tastes like eggs). The plan wasn't a total loss, though, because we made frittatas for brunch on Sunday.

What I like most about frittatas are that they're like making a pizza or going through a salad bar: same base, but you can add just about whatever you want so that you never have eat the same combination twice. That's also what makes a frittata great as a last-minute meal idea. As long as you have eggs, I'd be willing to bet you have a few other things in your pantry or fridge that you can chop up and toss in to make your meal.

Here are some of the ingredients I like to add: cheese (any kind), asparagus, broccoli, black beans, potatoes, onions, peppers, scallions, sausage, bacon...the list goes on.

Ash and I, at times, have very different ideas about what "good" food is. He can go for basic meat and potatoes while I like loads of veggies. Sometimes that makes preparing one large dish difficult because it can leave one person unsatisfied with their meal or forceone to eat what they don't like. The solution? Two adorable Fiesta miniature pie plates. Their 6-3/8 inch diameter makes them perfect for individual servings. (We recently purchased really fun dishes from Terrain...they're blue, red and yellow with designs like dancing cows and roosters and pigs. Since then, I've been picking up pieces in coordinating solid colors to fill out the set.).

What You Need:
Olive oil or cooking spray
Other ingredients (cheese, potatoes, peppers, sausage, etc.)
Seasonings (salt, pepper, Old Bay, paprika, etc.)

What You Do:
1. Give each pie plate a light spray of olive oil or cooking spray.

2. Crack the desired number of eggs into each dish, and beat (3 for Ash, 2 for me).

3. Wash, chop, peel, etc. all of your extra ingredients and add desired amount to each dish with any seasonings, then mix it all up. When using potatoes, I chop into small pieces and cook in a frying pan with olive oil and Old Bay seasoning until soft before adding them to the beaten eggs.

4. Bake uncovered at 350º for about 25 minutes or until the egg is cooked all the way through (you'll notice the frittata will cook from the edges of the plate toward the middle, so when there is no longer a puddle of egg in the middle, it's done).

Over the years I've developed a sort of love-hate relationship with eggs. Some mornings I can't wait to dig into freshly scrambled eggs with cheese. Other mornings, well, the thought of eggs kind of makes me want to vom a little. I realized after making the frittatas that this was one of those no egg mornings for me...sigh. The dogs were pretty happy about that.

This is not a sponsored  post. All products and brands mentioned were purchased by my choice with my money. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Shepherd's Pie

In elementary school, my cousin and I were in a Girl Scout troop led by her mom. Every year we'd do a "practice" camping trip or two in their back yard and another one or two "real" camping trips at large Girl Scout camps a state away. One meal that always showed up on the menu was shepherd's pie. It's one of those easy to prepare, one-dish meals that packs in your meat, vegetables and carbs.

Those days being distant memories, I haven't had shepherd's pie in about as many years. It wasn't until I was browsing Pinterest one night and found this recipe that I thought about shepherd's pie as a viable, not-eating-dinner-in-the-woods dinner option. I remember our Girl Scout version having peas and corn in the "pie," so I adapted the recipe a bit for my own tastes, and scaled down the ingredients to make just two servings.

How great are these mini bags of frozen veggies?
What You Need:
-Ground meat (my choice: turkey)
-Olive oil
-Lipton Recipe Secrets - Onion
-Frozen peas
-Frozen corn
-Potatoes (my choice: russet baking potatoes)
-Shredded cheese (my choice: Mexican blend)
-Milk (my choice: skim)
-Butter (my choice: Land 'O Lakes spread with Canola Oil)

What You Do:
1. Begin by washing and then boiling the potatoes in water. I used two smallish (about 3 inch) Russet baking potatoes, since that's all that was available at my grocery store. I left the skin on while boiling.

2. Using my Misto oil mister, I sprayed a large frying pan with extra virgin olive oil and began browning the ground turkey. I used about 1/3 of a 1.3 lb package of turkey.

3. Wash, peel and chop the carrots and add them to the meat.

4. After the meat has browned, add the Lipton Recipe Secrets, frozen corn, frozen peas and water to the frying pan. I used half of one pouch of the Lipton Recipe Secrets and about 1/2 cup of water. Turn up the heat and continue to stir until the water has boiled out. Beware - this is when it starts smelling really good.

5. Once the potatoes are soft enough to pierce with a fork, remove them from the water and mash with milk, butter and cheese. My measurements here aren't exact. Just enough milk to get the consistency of somewhat thick mashed potatoes, less than 1 tbs of butter and about a handful of shredded cheese. Stir together until the cheese melts. I mashed the potatoes with the skin on them.

6. In your serving dish(es) - I opted for those great little 6-3/8 inch Fiesta pie plates again - layer the meat and vegetable mixture, then a layer of mashed potatoes on top.

7. Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. The potatoes should be a little golden around the edges.

And now the question - to eat it with a fork or a spoon?

Going, going, gone! This was so good, I wanted to eat both plates!
This is not a sponsored  post. All products and brands mentioned were purchased by my choice with my money. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Teriyaki salmon, basmati rice and Brussels sprouts

I haven't had salmon in the longest time. So long, in fact, that I almost forgot how much I love it when it's cooked just right. My favorite way to prepare a fresh piece of salmon is with a little Asian culinary inspiration.

What you need:
Teriyaki marinade
Soy sauce
Minced ginger*
Minced garlic*
*I like to cheat and use ginger paste and pre-minced garlic

What you do:
This meal needs adequate time for the salmon to marinate in the sauce mixture - at least two hours is recommended. It's quick enough to prepare though that you can put it together in the morning before work, store it in the fridge, and have a well marinated salmon steak ready to cook when you get home from work.

- In a ziplock bag or a food storage container, mix the soy sauce, teriyaki marinade, minced ginger and minced garlic (the measurements are never exact for me, and vary based on the size of the piece of salmon I have). If you are marinating the salmon in a food storage container, place the fish in the container with the skin side up. Cover the container or seal the bag, and place in the fridge until ready to cook.

- To cook the salmon, I came across a great method in a Pioneer Woman post. She references the cookbook Perfect One-Dish Dinners by Pam Anderson (no, not that Pam Anderson). Place the salmon on a baking sheet (I cover my baking sheet with foil to save the scrubbing later) and put it in the cold oven. Set the temperature to 400 degrees, and then set a timer for 25 minutes. After the timer goes off, you should have perfectly cooked salmon!

Brussels Sprouts: Wash, cut off the stem end and cut in half. Toss with olive oil, sea salt and garlic powder, then spread onto a baking sheet. Roast at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Put under the broiler for a minute or two to get extra crispy.

Basmati Rice: Toast dry rice in a pot for about four minutes, watching carefully that the rice doesn't burn (toasting opens the pores in the rice grains). Add water (2:1 water to rice) and boil uncovered for one to two minutes. Cover and lower the heat. Once all the water boils out, fluff with a fork and serve.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Weekend Adventures: The PA Farm Show

This past weekend, Ash and I made a trip out to Harrisburg to visit the Pennsylvania Farm Show. I've never attended until this year, I think partially because it's always baffled me that this event takes place in January. With a full week run of the show, each day has different judging events, demonstrations and activities, so it's hard to choose just one day to attend if you want to see it all.

We arrived just in time to see the judging of Black Angus cows. All of the animals were prepped beautifully for judging - they looked like they were covered in velvet rather than fur. Cows always amaze me. I'm used to working with horses, which can weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds, but some of these cows were approaching 1,500 pounds. Being so much shorter and compact than a horse, and not as well trained to be harnessed and led around, that is not an animal I'd want to hang out with if it was having a bad day. We actually saw two pissed off cows - one that was giving a grown man some trouble, and one that nearly dragging a little boy halfway across the judging ring. The kid had sense enough to let go of the lead rope, and after he did, the cow made a couple of leaps through the crowd of participants and cows waiting to be judged before it was caught by somebody. I think that cow was even the winner of the class - maybe it was just excited to celebrate.

After we had enough of the cows, we made our way to the arena where the horses were. Sadly, we'd just missed the Western riding competition, which I would have loved to see. Thanks to my years riding and training with Jill at Tory Hill Farm, I jump at the chance to watch others ride while I silently judge them (in a harsh British accent, no less "That horse is in no shape to be doing that work with that bloody foolish rider..."). We caught a couple of demonstrations during the last couple of minutes of judging, and I can say that their half passes could have used a little work. Those horses were not "straight." But anyway, what we did see was the feed scurry. Belgians and Percherons were attached to a sled and teams - two at a time - competed while driving the sled through a course of cones and loading/unloading bales of straw in a particular order. The fastest team to complete the course was the winner.

After our fill of events, we wandered around to look at all the different exhibition halls of fruits, veggies and animals that were judged at the show. I love that this is what some families do together - raise animals, grow crops, work hard and then show off what they've put their blood, sweat and tears into. I've always admired farm life. I love the smells, the sounds, the hard work. Given the choice, I'd rather come home covered in dirt and physically tired over clean and mentally tired any day. 

Here are some more fun sights from the show:

You'd think these two were best friends, right? A little horn huggin'.

With a name like "Awesome Whisky Girl" you're guaranteed to be the coolest cow around.

How cute is this little pig taking a drink of water? 

His and hers...what a perfect way to ride off into the sunset!
And finally, a fun fact: Did you know that Pennsylvania is the top state in the U.S. when it comes to the number of farms and acreage of land permanently preserved for farming? [1] Pretty cool!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Awesome Appetizers: Goat Cheese Wantons

Although the biggest party season of the year is now behind us, it's always a good idea to have a list of go-to appetizers that are easy to make. You never know when company might stop by, right? And a good host or hostess always has a treat to offer his or her guests.

I offer you: the goat cheese wantons. I've been making these delicious little bites of goodness since my roommates and I hosted a wine and cheese party during our college days. Warm cheese and a crunchy wanton wrapper in a two-bite snack - what more can you ask for?

What you Need:
Wanton wrappers
Goat cheese
Butter, melted (optional)
Balsamic vinegar (optional)

What you Do:
- Lay out 12 wanton wrappers on a baking sheet
- Spoon about half a teaspoon of goat cheese onto each flat wanton wraper
- Use melted butter (or warm water) and dab a drop onto each corner of the wanton wrapper, then fold the corners up and pinch together so the wrapper closes (see photo)
- Bake in the oven at 325º for 10-12 minutes, or until the wanton wrappers are golden brown. The cheese should be melted by this time.

A package each of wanton wrappers and goat cheese could easily yield 24-30 baked goat cheese wantons. I love using herb goat cheese for a little extra flavor. Since the cheese tends to be a bit dry, try dipping the baked wantons into balsamic vinegar before taking a bite - it's delicious!  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Love some seitan!

Seitan stir fry - on new dishes! 

Clean plate club!