Thursday, March 1, 2012

Perfection in recipes

I know it has been awhile since I've gotten any DIY and food recipes posted.  I've been working on the family and active portions of my "more" resolutions.  Gabe has started soccer (two nights a week) and I'm attending playgroups and other activities a couple times a week.  Making me a very busy (but very happy) mom.

I have made my laundry detergent, but have had a couple set backs in making it.  The recipe I used was very unspecific about the size of the bar of soap you use and unfortunately my bar of soap was twice the size of the bar called for in the recipe.  What this does is thicken the detergent from a gel to almost a solid.  However, after some research I found that I can still use it by diluting it in a smaller container.  I scooped out four cups of detergent into an old empty plastic juice container (filling it about halfway with detergent) and then filled the other half (leaving a little room for bubbles) with piping hot water.  Then I shook the mixture to help dissolve and dilute the soap.  I have used the mixture twice since diluting it and I am pleased with the results.  The clothes are getting clean and unstained.  I love that I don't have to worry about the dye in the detergent anymore.  From now on, I think I will use this recipe to make my detergent, but I definitely have awhile before I'll need anymore.

I also found that dishwasher detergent ingredients are very similar to laundry detergent and have made my first batch of that.  Here is the link I used to make mine.  I love the idea of adding vinegar to the bottom of the dishwasher, it has made my glasses sparkling clean.  From the same blogger, I found a homemade stain remover recipe.  I tried using a squirt bottle to spray this on our stained clothing, but the baking soda clogged the straw.  I found that just shaking the bottles contents and pouring a little onto the stained area works just as well.  I rub the stain a little and let it sit for a couple hours before I put it in the washing machine.  I'm really surprised how well it's worked on getting out baby diaper stains!  It's even worked better than bleach sometimes and much safer to use on my colored clothes.

The last homemade alternative item I have made recently was the liquid version of Zander's eczema soap.  We found this type of bar soap for Zander's skin at Target, but unfortunately he doesn't understand that he can't use the regular Johnson and Johnson soap like Gabe and Calla.  One thing the Doctor told us after diagnosing Zander's eczema was to make sure he didn't use regular soap or to sit in soapy bath water.  Ever since then I've been trying to find a way to make his bar soap more accessible.  I found this blog post that addressed the same issues.  Since making it, I have put mason jars of soap in the kitchen and bathroom to make sure that Zander washes with "his" soap.  I'm almost positive you could use this recipe to turn any bar of soap into a liquid.

A new website that I've found is called Very Jane.  It has daily deals (kind of like a Groupon or Living Social) but offers items that are homemade.  Have you ever seen Etsy?  That's a website where merchants can buy and sell things that are homemade.  Very Jane runs daily sales on items you can often find on Etsy.  Everyone still with me?  Okay.  On Very Jane, I've been finding all kinds of cool things and getting inspiration to make things. Recently, I've purchased homemade sewn booties for Calla (2 for $14), a couple different sets of hair bows (one was 4 for $4, one was 3 for $3) and lavender oil (one 9 oz vial with three vitamin E chapsticks for $10).

Why did I buy the bows when I could make them?  Good question.  First, at $1 a bow it can't get much cheaper.  It's pretty hard to buy the supplies for cheaper than that.  Mostly, that's because the supplies you have to buy come in packs that make multiple bows, not just one.  I don't mind buying big bags of alligator clips or ribbon because I can use them in multiple ways.  With fabric, you can only use it so many times until you have excess.  For example, I bought red and green felt for Christmas bows and rosettes when I made my Christmas wreath.  I still have a huge excess of red and green felt despite using the fabric in many different ways.  How many red and green bows and rosette hair clips can Calla have?  So in this case, buying individual bows at $1 each is much easier than purchasing multiple yards of different color fabric and having excess.

The lavender oil I bought to put in my homemade cleaning supplies and body scrubs.  It is always optional (as it's a scent) in adding to creams, but I didn't know it also has antibacterial properties.  So I have been adding it to my cleaning solution (1 1/2 cups hot water, 2 tbs soap and 1/4 cup white vinegar, 20 drops lavender oil) to help sanitize my counter tops.  Lavender is also a natural insect repellent, so I envision myself using it in the summer when the kids are outside.

I have started stock piling our freezer with pre-made meals.  Last Thursday, I bought lots of meat in bulk and spent all of nap time (a couple hours) cutting, pre-cooking and organizing meals out of that meat.  We now approximately 10 "meals" that just need to be cooked.  Chicken, steak and pork are all frozen in different marinades that need to be thawed.  Some of the steak and hamburger I left untouched so I could use it however I wanted to later, but it's reassuring to me that I have some things already planned out.  So much stress is derived from staring blankly into my refrigerator and freezer and trying to brainstorm a meal.  Now, all I have to do is grab a bag the night before, put it in the fridge and cook it the next day.  I really like this website:  Fearless Freezer Cooking.  There are tons of ideas and recipes for preparing freezer meals.  I am all about the "dump" recipes, where you just put all the ingredients together in the bag and freeze it.  My next household purchase will be a Food Saver, I think.  While I'm making all these meals to freeze, I'm terrified they will be ruined with freezer burn.  Does anyone have one they recommend?

Another thing I've been making in bulk and freezing is tomato sauce.  I really despise buying individual jars of spaghetti sauce (especially since my kids and husband will eat ANYTHING with red sauce on it) and I dislike how expensive it can get.  I got an awesome recipe from my friend Krystal and made a huge batch.  While I cooked it for a couple hours on the stove top, I bet you could cook it on low all day in a crock pot (and next time, I think that's what I'll do).  It's really just a baseline recipe, you can add or subtract seasonings to customize it to your own tastes.  Also I love that you can use it as a pizza sauce too.  I like a thinner sauce, but if you want you can always add some tomato paste until you reach your desired consistency.

Krystal's Tomato Sauce
(This is what I used and it made around 4 to 4 1/2 jars of tomato sauce)

2 big cans of whole peeled tomatoes
(Ideally you would use crushed tomatoes, but I couldn't find any in the brand I wanted, so I used whole and then mashed them up with a potato masher after the sauce had simmered for about an hour.)
4 cans tomato sauce
(You want to have a 1:1 ratio of crushed/whole tomatoes to sauce).
1/2 onion
(diced as small as you can get it)
1 clove of garlic
(peeling, smashed and minced)
Optional add in's - basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, olive oil

I put all the ingredients in a large pot and brought it to a simmer.  After simmering it for an hour, I mashed up the tomatoes.  Taste it as it simmers for seasoning.  If you feel like the sauce is too acidic, add one tablespoon of sugar.  Simmer for 15 minutes.  Taste the sauce again.  Add another tablespoon of sugar if necessary.

Another recipe that I got from Krystal is her famous (I say famous because she's well known for it, and it really is a genius idea) ravioli lasagna.  It is delicious and a fantastic and much easier spin on a regular lasagna.  I like it better, actually, because it's much less work and the noodles have a more definitive taste.  You can make it anyway you want.  Add spinach and mushrooms instead of meat for a vegetarian option.  Eat half and freeze the other half for later.  Love it.  Making it again soon.

Krystal's Famous Ravioli Lasagna
(This is how I made it in a 9x13 pan)

2 bags frozen cheese ravioli
(The pasta really needs to be frozen otherwise it's too soft to stand up to the baking)
1 lb ground mild ground Italian sausage
(Krystal uses hot, but I use mild for my small children)
1 lb ground hamburger
(I only used 1/2 pound because it was all I had)
1 lb shredded mozzarella cheese
2 jars spaghetti sauce

You prepare this similarly to a normal lasagna, except you use the ravioli instead of the lasagna noodles and you don't use any ricotta cheese.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and spray down your 9x13 pan with oil.  Brown the meats, drain and set aside.  Boil the ravioli half way, so they still can absorb the sauce while you cook the pan in the oven.  Drain the ravioli and set aside.  Once you have all the lasagna components, start assembling it.  Cover the bottom of the pan with a little sauce (so the noodles don't stick to the bottom), then a layer of meat, a layer of sauce and a layer of mozzarella cheese.  Repeat the layers until your ingredients are used.  Then cover your dish with aluminum foil (make sure to tent the foil so it doesn't touch the cheese on the top) and bake until the cheese is melted and the lasagna is bubbling.

Clean Eating Cranberry Muffins

As I said in earlier posts, I have been trying to choose healthy alternatives to using processed sugar and white flour.  One recipe I stumbled upon and have fallen in love with is the one linked above, clean eating cranberry muffins.  This recipe uses whole fresh cranberries, but I think you could substitute dried cranberries.  I love how moist these muffins stay, even days after baking.  I have never gotten the recipe to make 24 (like it says on the website).  Both times I've made them, I've filled the muffin tin half full and gotten 18 out of the dough.  They freeze really well and only take a couple hours to thaw on a counter top.  Recently we ate at a bagel place that boasted about a "power" bagel.  It was made of wheat flour and was chocked full of dried fruits and nuts.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I kept that bagel in mind while baking this last batch of cranberry muffins.  I added raisins, dates, chopped walnuts and sprinkled the tops of the muffins with sunflower seeds.  They are definitely delicious and I enjoy the healthy aspect too!

Clean Eating Soft Preztels

Another baked item from this website was the soft pretzel.  I wanted to make a fun snack for the kids and succeeded with this recipe.  They turned out delicious, we topped one batch with salt and another batch with a honey and cinnamon glaze.  These did not freeze as well as the muffins and ended up more dried out than I wanted.  Next time, I think I might make pretzel sticks so the kids can dip them in different sauces.  That might be a fun idea for when friends come over or for a birthday party.

Clean Eating Chocolate Cupcakes

This link is actually for a clean birthday cake, but in the comments, this blogger says you can add cocoa powder to the recipe for a chocolate version.  Also, I scooped the dough into muffin liners for cupcakes.  They were originally for Gabe's school Valentine's party, but they ended up staying at our house.  The recipe didn't make quite as many as I needed and I ended up with 18 cupcakes (not enough for the class of 22).  So I used a box cake mix for his class and we kept the chocolate "muffins" for ourselves.  Again, I was surprised at how moist and sweet the cupcakes are despite the lack of sugar.  I highly recommend this recipe for birthday cakes in the future.

Greek Yogurt brownies

I made this recipe a LONG time ago when it was first published in Shape magazine.  It was the first time I had heard of Greek yogurt and I remember trying it and wondering why in the world someone would use something so sour in a brownie recipe (I still think you have to add something sweet in Greek yogurt - honey, raspberry jam, something).  Since I have been on this health kick, I decided to look it up and try it again.  I will warn you it's not like your average brownie.  It makes a much more dense, almost cake, bar.  Also because of the dairy in it, I recommend that it's refrigerated.  While it will never win a brownie contest, it is perfect if you have a chocolate craving and don't want to feel too guilty about the calories.

Pizza roll ups

We have been eating SO much pizza lately.  Like once a week.  What can I say?  It's fast, easy and something the kids will eat. without complaint.  Now that I'm making our dough, I can whip out a pizza pretty fast and call dinner good within 20 minutes.  However, I've been getting bored with the regular cheese and pepperoni option.  So I found a way to change it up a little.  To make the pizza roll ups, you make a pizza like you normally would.  Roll out your dough (shaping it into a rectangle makes the rolling up part easiest), top with sauce and whatever toppings you want.  Then roll the dough, like you would a cinnamon roll.  Take it slow to ensure that the dough is being rolled tightly and evenly.  Once it's a log, cut it into 1 1/2 inch pieces and place (spaced out) on a greased pan.  I cooked my pizza spirals at 350 for 10 minutes.  It was a delicious change.  The boys liked how easy they could pick it up, compared to regular pizza.  And Zander (my crust fiend) loved that it had more dough than a regular piece.  This would also be a good freezer meal.  Once your dough is rolled into the log with sauce and toppings, put it in a freezer bag and save it until you need it.  Then thaw it out, cut it and bake.

Last recipe, I promise.  I stumbled on this recipe while I was nursing Calla one morning and decided instantly that I would try it.  Cinnamon rolls are one of those foods that make even the grumpiest mornings a little more tolerable.  No rise cinnamon rolls make Moms a little less grumpy.  I was a little worried about how many cinnamon rolls this recipe would yield, so I doubled the recipe.  While we had more than enough with one batch, I prepared the second batch and froze it to save for a later date.  Because you use all wheat flour, it's not the light and fluffy cinnamon roll dough, but you can't really go wrong with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar.  I ended up using a can of frosting I had in the cupboard instead of the included icing recipe, but you can definitely use whatever you want or nothing at all.

Upcoming - I have pictures of my successful attempts in bow making, Gabe's sight word game and my version of an art work board for the kids.  Also, there will be pictures from Gabe's soccer games.

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