Tag Archives: Vinegar

A Clean Sweep for the New Year

Spring is traditionally the time for deep cleaning, but with the start of a new year, I have been seized by a compulsion to get my house really clean. I say, if you’re in the mood and have the energy, then do it, regardless of the time of year. It may seem like a lot of work, but there is something so satisfying and relaxing about a freshly cleaned room. It makes my house so much more a joy to be in, and with the colder months still to come, I’m sure we’ll be stuck at home a lot.

Here are my tips for deep cleaning. I divide the job up into rooms and don’t try to accomplish it all in one day. That would be too exhausting. Usually, I start with the rooms that will be the biggest wins: the bathrooms and kitchen. Once those are done, move on to the living areas and bedrooms.

Start at the top and work your way downward. First, use a long dustmop or brush to knock down any cobwebs lurking in the corners of the ceiling. Use a microfiber duster or damp cloth to dust the tops of lights, ceiling fans and other fixtures, picture frames, and window sills.

Next, clear and clean every surface. Why not de-clutter as you go? Pack up for donation or storage anything that you no longer use or like. At the very least, make sure that everything has a place and that everything is in its place.

Here are the types of cleaners I use:

  • A solution of 2 parts white vinegar and 3 parts water in a spray bottle. This will clean almost anything. It is particularly useful for wiping down wood furniture and even cleaning wood floors, because it dries quickly, so the water is less likely to damage the wood.
  • A solution of orange oil and water. I found orange oil for cleaning at my local co-op or natural foods store. You just need a small amount mixed in a spray bottle with water. This solution is good for cleaning counters, sinks and appliances. It will cut grease, and it also smells very nice.
  • Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, for getting rid of stray marks.

If there is anything left after the surface clean, you probably have a tougher problem on your hands, most likely mildew or grease. I suggest a trip to the local hardware store for a targeted cleaner.

Next, remove all area rugs and portable things (trash cans, small pieces of furniture, etc.), and vacuum the floor to get up all the loose dirt. Then, get down on your hands and knees, and use a damp cloth to wipe down all baseboards, corners where dirt accumulates, and even walls if you spy spills or spatters on them. Once that is done, lightly spritz the floor with the vinegar and water solution, and run the mop over all.

If you have area rugs, consider having them cleaned or, if possible, wash in the washing machine. If you have wall-to-wall carpet, this may be a good time to call in the carpet cleaners.

That’s it! The pleasures of a freshly cleaned room can’t be overstated. I have found that since I have deep-cleaned my kitchen, it is much more pleasant to go in there to cook.

Happy new year, everyone!

Adding Flavor to Simple Recipes

Well, it’s clear that I haven’t had a chance to post much here recently, and I haven’t been doing many cooking challenges lately either. Sometimes life gets too hectic. With that in mind, I am returning my focus to simple recipes, and I will post a bunch of them here.

By simple recipes, I mean recipes that have only a handful of ingredients, no more than five total, including salt, pepper and oil. Or quick but complete dinners that you can put together in one pan. These are the kinds of recipes that you will memorize after making them two or three times, so that you can easily whip one up on a weeknight even if you’re dead tired, or you can pull out when you’re not sure what to make with that ingredient you picked up on sale.

These recipes are great to add to your repertoire, but the problem is that they can become boring after a while. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a ready-made arsenal to add pizzazz to any recipe. You can vary the flavors depending on your mood and what you have available.

Here is my list of sure-fire ways to quickly and easily boost the flavor quotient in a simple recipe:

  • Garnish it with fresh herbs after cooking.
  • Sprinkle in a little citrus juice or vinegar at the end of cooking.
  • Add minced chiles or red pepper flakes for heat.
  • Substitute heavy cream, sour cream, plain yogurt or melted butter for some of the oil.
  • Sprinkle with grated Parmesan or other cheese or with crumbled bacon (you can substitute bacon grease for some of the oil as well).
  • Mix in slow-roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers, pesto or other ready-made ingredients from the pantry.
  • Substitute or add similar vegetables.

As I post some of my favorite tried-and-true simple recipes, I’ll provide examples of these flavor boosters. But never be afraid to experiment. Cooking is more fun that way!

Chicken with Soy & Vinegar

I am not feeling too good today so let’s just get to it. I am calling the dish that I made yesterday, before the sleepless night whammy, “Chicken with Soy & Vinegar.” It is a way-simplified version of a chicken adobo, which I made into a meal by adding some vegetables and cashew nuts. Possibly not authentic, but certainly yummy. Here is my recipe.

Chicken with Soy & Vinegar

Yields: 2 servings
Time to make: ~20 minutes

  • 1 tbsp. peanut oil
  • ½ tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 boneless chicken breast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch strips
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • Pepper to taste
  • 8 oz. spinach
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • ½ cup cashew pieces
  • cooked rice, to serve

Heat the oils in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the chicken and brown, stirring occasionally, 4-6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes, stirring. Add the vinegar, soy sauce and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the liquid reduces by about one-quarter and the chicken is cooked through, 8 minutes. Add the spinach, scallions and cashews, and stir until the spinach wilts and everything is well-combined. Serve with rice on the side.

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More Uses for Vinegar

Besides salad dressing, vinegar has many uses around the house. I have taken to buying huge jugs of white and apple cider vinegar. It doesn’t go bad (it already has!) and I always find more ways to use it. Also, I know it’s non-toxic, and it’s cheap!

Here are some more uses for vinegar:

  • Hair rinse: Mix apple cider vinegar with warm water and pour over your head for a natural conditioner.
  • Shower spray: Mix 1 part white vinegar with 2 parts water and a few drops tea tree oil and spray in your shower to discourage mildew.
  • Kitchen counter cleaner: Mix ½ cup white vinegar, ¼ cup baking soda and a few drops of orange essential oil with water in a spray bottle.
  • Vegetable spray: Mix half and half white vinegar and water to spray produce before washing; this kills most of the bacteria.
  • Dishwasher rinse: Run the dishwasher empty with 1 cup of white vinegar.
  • Microwave cleaner: Heat a bowl of vinegar and water in the microwave, then sponge it out. This loosens any cooked-on messes.
  • Hardwood floor cleaner: Mix 1 part white vinegar with 1 part warm water and spray on the mop head until it’s lightly damp to safely clean hardwood floors.
  • Toilet bowl cleaner: I sprinkle in some baking soda, then splash in some vinegar; let it sit about 30 minutes, then scrub.

Even more:

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How to Make Your Own Toiletries

Tea Tree OilImage via Wikipedia

As the costs of everything go up, I have been looking for some ways to save money. Toiletries are a big expense. I won’t buy the cheap drugstore stuff because I am concerned about the chemicals they contain, as well as their impact on the environment. But the all-natural organic products are often three or four times’ as expensive. The definition of sticker shock is paying $20 for a bottle of shampoo.

It occurred to me that I might be able to save some money by making some of my own toiletries. I have been having a lot of success with making my own cleaning products. A little Internet research led me to the conclusion that some of the same ingredients I use for cleaning my house could be used on myself with good results.

I’ve been trying out these recipes for a few weeks now, with good results. The ingredients list is short and economical. Here’s what you’ll need to make your own shampoo, conditioner, hand soap and facial toner:

  • castile soap — I recommend Dr. Bronner’s Baby Mild formula in the large bottle, which you can now get at Target. Castile soap has dozens of uses around the house. Besides shampoo and soap, I also use it to clean my baby, my dishes, my floors and my tubs.
  • vinegar — I use apple cider vinegar, but white vinegar will also work.
  • essential oils — I use tea tree oil for the antibacterial properties and lavender oil for the scent. Although they are expensive, a small vial will last you a long time.
  • Vitamin E liquid capsules — For moisturizing, as well as to help heal damaged skin.
  • witch hazel — Astringent for the face; a big bottle will cost you $3, about one-third of the cost of Burt’s Bees or similar facial toner.

Here are the recipes.

Shampoo

Combine in a squeeze bottle:

  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup castile soap
  • 10 drops essential oil for scent (use tea tree oil as well if you have dandruff)

With this shampoo, you don’t need to wash your hair as often. I only wash my hair 2-3 times a week now.

Conditioner

You don’t need a conditioner if you’re washing your hair with castile soap, because it doesn’t strip out your hair’s natural oils like shampoo does, but the soap can leave your hair feeling a little greasy. The antidote is an acid, such as vinegar. Just mix ¼ cup vinegar with warm water in the shower and pour it slowly over your head. I do this pretty much every day, and it leaves my hair smooth, sleek and without tangles.

I use apple cider vinegar, which also has dandruff-fighting properties, but any vinegar or even lemon juice would work. Lemon juice will probably lighten your hair as well. However, it’s easier and more economical to keep a large bottle of vinegar in the bathroom rather than freshly squeezing lemons every morning.

Hand Soap

Combine in a pump bottle:

  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup castile soap
  • 10 drops tea tree oil for the antibacterial properties
  • the liquid from 4 vitamin E capsules for moisturizing and healing properties
  • 10 drops another essential oil for scent, if desired

Facial Toner

Combine:

  • 2/3 cup witch hazel
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 10 drops tea tree oil, if needed, to treat acne
  • 10 drops other essential oil for the scent, if desired

Here are some more recipes from Green Daily for other beauty products that I haven’t tried yet, including foot deodorizer, lip balm and facial scrub.

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Quick Tip: Keep a Vinegar Produce Wash by the Sink

The good folks down at Cook’s Illustrated have found that washing veggies and fruit with a diluted mix of 3 parts water to 1 part good, old-fashioned white vinegar and then rinsing with water is 98% effective in removing bacteria from foods. It is important to wash even organic produce that may be affected by salmonella.

Here is a handy tip to make this wash procedure routine: Fill a spray bottle with the vinegar-water solution and keep it by the sink. Before you eat an apple or scrub a potato, just spritz it with the vinegar solution. I have been doing this for a couple of weeks now, and it’s become almost second nature. The final rinse washes away any residual vinegar flavor while ensuring that you’re really washing your food.

Of course, when it comes to food that must be submerged in water to wash it, like broccoli and lettuce, the process is a bit more onerous. But everything can’t be easy, can it?

There are other things you can do with that handy vinegar-filled spritz bottle in your kitchen. Spray down countertops and the sink to clean and deoderize them in a food-safe way. Vinegar is great for getting grease and grime off refrigerators and stovetops. Get rid of germs on trashcans and compost bins. And the bonus is that you can avoid using caustic chemical-filled cleaners is the place where you prepare your food. (Here’s 1001 more tips for using white vinegar around the house.)

How to Make a Vinaigrette

Vinegar is sometimes infused with spices or he...
Image via Wikipedia

The vinaigrette is probably the most useful basic recipe in a cook’s repertoire. Once you learn how to make a tasty vinaigrette, you’ll never buy bottled salad dressing again. (If you have a bottle of salad dressing in your refrigerator, go read the ingredients list–I’ll bet it’s mostly sugar of some form or another!) But vinaigrettes go way beyond dressing salads. I use them as marinades, to dress simply cooked vegetables and as a sauce for fish as well.

At its simplest, a vinaigrette is nothing more than oil and vinegar (usually salt and pepper, too). First, the oil. I am nuts for olive oil (which is pretty ironic, since I loathe olives). I use it for almost everything. I’ve read in cookbooks that the strong taste can be too overpowering, but I never find that to be true. So my first choice is always going to be olive oil. I don’t like to use vegetable or canola oil for a vinaigrette, because I don’t think they contribute much in the way of flavor, and flavor is the whole point, as far as I’m concerned.

Other useful oils to have on hand are nut oils like walnut oil and almond oil, which have a sweeter, stronger flavor. They should be kept in the refrigerator or they will go rancid. Infused oils–oils infused with another flavor, such as basil, garlic or chiles–are a fun alternative. Sesame oil is also a good choice, but since it’s so strong, I usually mix it with a neutral oil like canola.

The other component is the vinegar. Stocking a variety of vinegars is the key to always having a lively salad. For a simple salad of mixed greens, I prefer balsamic vinegar, which packs the greatest flavor punch. I also keep on hand red and white wine vinegars, sherry vinegar and apple cider vinegar. There are many, many other flavors, so go crazy. For instance, I’ve had a bottle of raspberry vinegar for a while that comes in really handy for fruit salads. My father once gave me a bottle of lemon-thyme-infused vinegar that was heavenly on greens.

The alternative to vinegar is citrus. Lemon and lime juice contribute bright, sunny flavors to the vinaigrette. I particularly enjoy them on simply cooked vegetables and fish.

The basic formula to making vinaigrette is: 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. (I’ve seen cookbooks advocate 4 parts oil, but in my opinion, that just makes the salad taste oily.) So if you’re making a lot, use ¾ cup oil and ¼ cup vinegar. If you’re just making enough for two salads, use 3 tbsp. oil and 1 tbsp. vinegar.

You do have to make some adjustments to this formula depending on your ingredients. If you’re using a strongly flavored oil, such as a nut oil, use a ratio of 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. If you’re using lemon or lime juice, which is not as acidic as vinegar, also use a ratio of 2 parts oil to 1 part juice, and mix in some of the zest for extra flavor.

What else can you add to your vinaigrette to jazz it up? The standards are, in any combination (per 1 cup vinaigrette):

  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 1 tbsp. mustard
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. minced capers or pickles
  • 1 tbsp. seasoning mix
  • 2 tbsp. or more fresh herbs, minced

I hate to keep touting Penzey’s, but they sell a number of mixes that will add instant flavor to any vinaigrette. My husband particularly loves their Italian dressing mix, which is pretty zesty.

So, how to make it? If you’re getting ready to dress the salad, just whisk together all the ingredients until well combined and toss. If you want to really emulsify the vinaigrette–in other words, combine the oil and vinegar so thoroughly that they won’t readily separate–put all the ingredients but the oil in the blender. With the blender running, slowly pour the oil in and keep mixing until the vinaigrette is thick.

Chef’s tip: To make an easy creamy vinaigrette, substitute heavy cream, sour cream or plain yogurt for 1/3 of the oil, adding it after whisking in the oil.

Store extra in the refrigerator. The oil will probably solidify, and the vinaigrette will separate. Take it out for a while before dinner to let it come to room temperature, then re-whisk before serving.

Basic Vinaigrette for Two

Whisk together:

  • 1 tbsp. vinegar
  • 1 tsp. mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced, or ½ shallot, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
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