Monday, February 27, 2012

Plumbing: Both sides of kitchen sink aren't draining...

...what do I do?

I recommend doing searches on DIY fixes and watching videos to see what you can do to save yourself some money and the hassle of finding a plumber.

So, both sides of my kitchen sink weren't draining.  Actually they would drain but very very very slowly.  It occurred after I put some grapefruit down the garbage disposal.  I read articles and forums on fixing the garbage disposal.  Watched videos on how to unclog sinks and fix the disposal.

Pour a ton of baking soda and watched the fizzing effect of a chemistry experiment when I poured a half cup of vinegar down the drain.  Cool, but didn't work.

Put Drano down the sink.  Nothing happened.  Literally poured $5 down the drain.

Ready for the fix??

The good ole' plunger!!  Fill up your sink with a couple inches of water (3-4 inches).  What you do is have another person block the other side of the sink with a towel.  The plunge away!!  That's it.

If you come across the problem of both sides of the kitchen sink have ultra-slow, little to none, draining.  Don't call the plumber.  Grab a plunger, towel, and a friend.

Thank me later!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tips on Being Resourceful and Saving $$ on Groceries

If you've noticed, I save old plastic containers (see Mint Buttercream Frosting post) that were used for cupcakes transportation.  Other notable reusable items are glass jars after consuming the jams and sauces and bottles.  Of course, I don't save EVERY container that comes my way or else I would have a huge cabinet of them!!  I'm going to give you some of my top tips and ideas for reuse.  The possibilities are endless...

1) Plastic containers that produce comes in.  When you are washing your veggies/fruit, rinse the container as well especially when it is the size that fits cupcakes, cookies, etc.
2) Glass jars are highly useful for when you make your own viniagrettes/salad dressings.  You do not need to go to the store to buy a whole bunch for $2-10.
3) Glass bottles.  Repurposing drink bottles and wine bottles to use as vases adds the vintage look to your tables.  Paint them or tie simple bows.
4) Egg cartons.  While learning how to make pretty flowers for cake design with gum paste and fondant, I discovered that egg cartons were the perfect container for the flower creations.  Letting them dry while not touching each other was important.  Use them for art projects also.


Grocery Shopping Tips:
1) Look at the mailer ads.  When you want to be frugal, you will start to get a feel of the prices of meat, vegetables, cheeses, milk, etc.  Price vary from week to week.
2) Rain checks.  When an item is out of stock for the day, you can have the grocery store write you a rain check!  Most supermarkets give you 30 days to use them.  Von's rain checks are good for 90 days. Just imagine -- you can buy at that weekly steal price for three months.
3) Fish.  Usually fresh fish costs the most.  Go to the frozen section.  Some of the fresh fish that I have bought say, "Previously frozen" on them.  *I know I haven't had a fish recipe yet but it is what I consume weekly.*
4) Dried versus Canned (Beans).  Canned goods are fairly cheap but did you know that dried ones are even cheaper?
5) Buy in season.  Fresh produce in season is much cheaper than importing fruits from other countries.
6) Be aware of which items have the same everyday price.  We do not always have time to price compare.  Personally when I don't have time to be aware of the cheapest ad for each item, I go to the places that have a regular price that is reasonable.
7) Vegetables are usually cheaper at Chinese and Korean Supermarkets.
8) My personal fave: Trader Joe's.  I've shopped TJ's for over 20 years.  Not many people can say that since most people only discovered TJ's in the past 10.  Top3 picks for regular price?  Milk, eggs, and bananas.

WARNING: Buying in Bulk.
Buying in bulk is a good tip too; however, be aware of the price per can/bottle.  Take into account that if you don't end up using all of the product, that is money down the drain too.  Contrary to popular belief, Costco/Sam's Club is not cheaper than Asian Supermarkets and regular weekly mailers.  Paying for membership means that you have to save X amount of money first for you to get the real deal.  I've watched people spend more than they wanted and not been able to use it all.  If you have to toss it, that is like throwing away $$.

Definitely enough tips to get you thinking..  =)

Happy Shopping!!!

*Note: I have no idea how people shop when they don't know how to calculate things in their head.  When I shop, I am constantly dividing, multiplying, and adding.  These days some grocery stores have the price per ounce posted which is nice.  I suppose people get ripped off and leave happy?  Ignorance is bliss?  =p

Friday, February 17, 2012

Apple Squares

Last night, I was looking for something to eat but nothing really looked appetizing for a snack.  So I decided to bake Apple Squares.  Apple is one of my least favorite fruits *and I'm a teacher...go figure*; however, I love apples when they are baked!!

The most time-consuming part of baking apple squares has to be the peeling, coring, dicing of the apple. I am aware that the apple peeler exists but don't think I would actually use it since from time to time since I only need ONE apple.  Besides, I have seen the demos at the stores; seems to me that there is a lot of apple wasted when you use those gadgets!  Total time for me to prep/bake this from start to finish was about 40 minutes (bake time is 30 minutes).  The recipe says, "Ready in 55 minutes" but I guess I'm fast?  haha..

One of my favorite things about baking is the fragrant, sweet aroma in the kitchen.  Mmm..

Enjoy!!!  =)

p.s. I had apple squares for breakfast this morning.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Quinoa!! Try it tonight!

In the last post, I made a quinoa meatloaf.  I have a love affair with quinoa, my favorite grain!!  This protein rich grain is my substitute when I want to switch up my brown rice.  It's hearty with a fluffy texture similar to that of couscous.  The simplest way to make quinoa is to use a rice cooker (You may also cook on the stove top).

Simple Quinoa (Healthier at half the sodium; most recipes call for 2 cups of broth)
Prep Time: 2 min        Cook Time: 20 min
1 cup quinoa (1/2 cup of dry quinoa yields 2 cups cooked quinoa)
1 cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 cup water
*Note: Quinoa can also be cooked with 2 cups of water but I like to cut sodium.

Put all ingredients into the rice cooker.  Press start.  Then you have time to prep the rest of your meal.

When cooking brown rice, quinoa, or barley/bean grains, the ratio of water to grain is 2:1.  *Places like Whole Foods don't do justice for grains like brown rice.  If your only experience with brown rice is from Whole Foods (prepared foods section), you need to try it again when it is cooked correctly.  They don't add enough liquid which causes it to be dry.  I have written comments to them but I don't know if they took my advice.*  For example, if you wanted to make 2 cups of quinoa, you would need 4 cups of liquid.  The reason I mix water and chicken broth is because I am like to limit the sodium intake of my food.  Halt the salt is very important.  *Typically a can of chicken broth contains 40% of your daily value of sodium!!*

If you want to make your quinoa more interesting, you can chop 1/2 a cup of onions and 1/4 cup of pine nuts.  In a medium saucepan, heat some olive oil. add chopped onions(I used red onions) and carmelize by stirring (about 5 minutes).  Add the pine nuts to toast them.  After the pine nuts are slightly toasted, put the cooked quinoa in the pan.  Stir to mix.

Enjoy!!!  =)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What's for Dinner, vaLINtine??

For quite a while, I have wanted to make meatloaf and pecan pie from scratch for my hubby.  He has expressed love for the two food items.  So today, valentine's dinner consisted of quinoa meatloaf, sauteed arugula/spinach, soycutash (frozen corn, bell peppers, soy beans from TJ's), mini pecan pie tarts.

Traditional meatloaf is made with breadcrumbs.  Quinoa took the place of breadcrumbs in my meatloaf.  What I loved most about this meatloaf was the subtle Sriracha sauce.  Click for the recipe.  It says that it serves 5, but it's more like 3.  Or maybe we are pigs!  Lol..

My mini pecan pie tarts did not look like the picture in the recipe.  Perhaps I'll have better luck next time.  Think I changed the recipe so much by halving it so it didn't come out like that.  *When halving it, I was supposed to put 3 oz of cream cheese in; but since I didn't want to open a new package, I only put 2.  Haha.*  Nevertheless, they were delicious!!  Asked hubby if he wanted to share with others.  He replied, "That they were his."

Mine looked more like mini pecan pie muffins.  Oh, but they were sooo divine!  Next time, I will be making the full recipe.

Hope you had a great day with you and yours!! 

*Note: vaLINtine refers to Jeremy Lin on the NY Knicks.  For those of you living in a cave, he's come out of nowhere (Okay, really from Palo Alto...norcal baby!!).  The only reason he has had a chance to start as a point guard is because there was no one else.  He's led the team to six straight Knick wins.  Tonight, he made the 3-ptr with 0.5 sec left.  Read more here..

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ham Sun-dried Tomato Strata

My favorite meal besides dessert is brunch!!  When choosing recipes or tweaking them, I do much research before actually committing to one.  Sometimes, I even change my mind ten minutes before I begin.  My recipe winner this time was Martha Stewart's Strata with Sausage and Sun-dried Tomato.  My version since I'm into healthier options was Ham Sun-dried Tomato Strata.  By ham, in my world I am referring to heart healthy Canadian bacon.

Ham Sun-dried Tomato Strata
Prep Time: 40 min        Cook Time: 1 hr 20 min
6 oz Canadian bacon, diced
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
2 Tbsp butter
6 large eggs
1 cup milk
6 slices of bread, cubed (I used a 15 grain bread with the crust.)
6 oz shredded skim mozarella
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.  Throw in the diced onions to carmelize them by stirring them for about five minutes.  Add the Canadian bacon and sun-dried tomatoes to the onions.  Remove from heat after two minutes.  Be sure it's cool before you add it to the baking dish.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, salt, and freshly ground pepper.  Butter an 8x8 square baking dish.  Place about half of the cubed bread into the baking dish.  Next add half of the ham-onion-tomato mixture.  Add a layer of mozarella cheese.  Layer the rest of the ingredients in that order 1) bread  2) ham-onion-tomato  3) cheese.  *Similar to lasagna layering

Pour egg mixture over the layers.  Refrigerate for at least an hour (but it's better to do it overnight).

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F.  Bake about 50 minutes.

This is what the cross section looks like.

The first bite was truly heavenly!!  The one ingredient that made it so fragrant was the caramelized onions; however, the whole combo made the strata simply amazing.  I've baked other brunch casseroles and stratas but this one was by far my favorite to date.  Definitely going to keep this in mind whenever I make brunch.

Enjoy!!!  ;)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Love it or hate it since it's extremely commercialized these days, Valentine's Day is the perfect excuse for sweets.  The best thing is that strawberries are in season!!  They are currently 2 (1 lb) for $3.  

I am going to teach you how to make Chocolate Dipped Strawberries without a double boiler.  Sure, it's cool when you have fancy smancy kitchen appliances, but you can use what you already have with the basics.  All you need is a bowl and a little pot with a lid.

Double boiler:
Fill the little pot about 1/2 full of water.  Bring to a boil.  Then place the bowl on top of the pot.  Note that the bowl needs to be big enough so that it doesn't fall into the pot.  Ta-da!!  You have a double broiler!!

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries
Prep Time: 40 min        Cook Time: 10 min (Need two hours for the strawberries to completely harden)
1 lb of strawberries
6 oz of chocolate (These are approximate since it depends on how many strawberries you want.)
sprinkles/nuts are optional (for decorating)

Wash your strawberries.  I like to put it in a huge bowl with water for at least 10 minutes.  Then strain with a colander.  It is very important that you work with DRY strawberries.  To achieve this, grab a paper towel (on a flat surface) and start lining up the strawberries on top.

Usually, I wait for it to naturally dry for a bit.  Then I pat it dry with the paper towel.  (That is the reason I estimated prep time to be 40 minutes - for washing and drying.)

On to the double boiler that I created...  When the water begins to boil, put chocolate (chunks or chips) into the bowl.  For the chocolate to heat evenly, top the pot with the lid.  If you see the chocolate begin to melt but think it needs more "help", grab a small spoon to stir.

Before you start dipping, make sure you create a flat surface with parchment paper.  I used a 13x9 inch pan since you need the strawberries to sit flat to harden.

When the chocolate is melted, carefully dip each strawberry.  Don't worry if they aren't so pretty.  The trick to evening it out is to use your little spoon to smooth/spread the chocolate.  Once you have the strawberry looking as desirably chocolate as you wish, place it on the parchment paper.

Afterwards, you can decorate the dipped strawberries (or leave it as is).  The easiest way to decorate is to simply dip them into sprinkles/nuts or drizzle some melted chocolate (of another color, white) in a zigzag.  This time, I decided to make letters out of my sprinkles.  Did not even realize I was playing tic tac toe until the end.  Haha!!

Put the whole pan, plate (or I have even placed parchment paper on a cutting board since it was a flat surface) into the refrigerator to harden.

Happy Valentine's Day!!

Enjoy these with your sweetie!!!  ;)

*Note: Chocolate Dipped Strawberries are a make-the-day-before treat.  I keep them in the refrigerator to harden overnight, not just for two hours.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Basic White Pasta Sauce

An hour before dinner, I did not have white pasta sauce on hand.  This is when I turn to online searches.  I found a keeper!!  This is going to be my basic white pasta sauce for life.

Usually when I browse recipes, I like to stay away from the ones that have half and half, sour cream, and heavy cream because they aren't in my kitchen on a daily basis.

White Sauce for Pasta from
Prep Time: 1 min        Cook Time: 4 min
Serves: 2 (You can easily double or triple the recipe.)
Ingredients (for Medium Sauce thickness):
      2 Tbsp butter
      2 Tbsp flour
      1/2 tsp salt
      1 cup milk

Directions (copying and pasting from website): 

Basic white sauce:
In saucepan melt butter. Stir in flour, salt and dash pepper. Add milk all at once. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more.Make basic white sauce thin or medium. Add the other ingredients. Cook veggies like (mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, bell tomatoes, red peppers) etc. or cook seafood (in wok) works well.
Add to white sauce seafood or veggies and serve over pasta (linguini).

I also added 1/2 tsp of garlic powder, 1 tsp of italian seasoning, and a generous dash or two of fresh ground peppercorns.  It was much healthier than store bought pasta sauce!

Ridiculously easy!!  Saved myself a trip to the grocery store and about $2-3.  Pretty happy with the results.  Try it next time you need white pasta sauce.

If you are wondering what else is in the sauce, langostino tails from TJ's, of course.  Sooo delicious!!

Enjoy!!!  ;)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Leftover Curry Sauce

Ever wonder how you can make leftovers appetizing?  Don't just heat it and consume it as is.  Transform your leftovers into a brand new dish!!

Last weekend, at the end of our President Thai meal, the fish in the green curry was gone but there was still sauce.  Took the green curry sauce home because I had a plan. *Wink*

Leftovers: Transforming Curry Sauce
Prep Time: 15 min        Cook Time: 15 min
1 container of leftover curry sauce
1/2 cup of milk
veggies (I used shittake mushrooms and bamboo shoots)
fish pieces *optional* (I used wild alaskan cod)

Pour the leftover curry sauce into the pot.  *That is going to be a meal?*

Wash and cut vegetables of your choice.  I went with some bamboo shoots and shittake mushrooms(6).  Here's the trick to the sauce: pour in 1/2 cup of milk.  Add the veggies and some fish(cut up) into the pot.  Let it simmer on medium to high heat for 15 minutes.

Serve with rice.  

Enjoy!!!  ;)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Mint Buttercream Frosting #1 (Cream Cheese Frosting)

After a disappointing 49'ers loss to the Giants, the match up for Superbowl XLVI was set for the New York Giants versus the New England Patriots.  In a way, I was a wee bit glad that the 49'ers weren't in the Superbowl because it saved me from sitting on the edge of my seat for another big game.  Surprisingly enough, I watched the whole game.  Shocking.  Most of the time, I become bored with football as baseball has my heart.

In the spirit of watching the Superbowl with friends, I baked mint chocolate cupcakes.  My favorite ones are from Dots Cupcakes in Pasadena, CA.  Contemplated about whether or not to decorate my cupcakes blue with a red stripe...pipe NY or a big G or Giants...  In the end, the verdict was to make the frosting green since mint chocolate frosting is usually green.  That and the fact that making blue with red meant two different containers of frosting using different bags and tips for decorating.  Instead, my decor was on the container. (I made more than 6 cupcakes but this is for pictures. lol)

Mint Buttercream Frosting #1
Prep Time: 15 minutes        Cook Time: None
Serves: Frosts 18 cupcakes unless your cupcake is frosting:cake --> 50:50.  lol.
4 Tbsp butter
4 cups of Confectioner's Sugar (otherwise known as Powdered Sugar)
6 oz of cream cheese
2 tsp of mint extract (For different flavors, use vanilla, orange, coconut, etc extract, possibilities are endless!)

Put all ingredients into a big mixing bowl.  Use a mixer at a low speed to create frosting. Once the frosting is smooth, free of lumps, your frosting is done.

Adding color:
Stick a toothpick into the food coloring of your choice.  Dab it into the frosting.  *A little goes a long way.*  Mix until the frosting is of the desired color.  If it is not a dark enough color, use a clean toothpick to repeat process.

Frost cupcake using a butter knife or frosting tips.  (Note: I used Tip 1M to frost mine.  There may be a lesson on how to use tips in the future..)

Added the chocolate crunchies since that is what Dots Cupcakes puts on theirs too.  YUM!!
*Frosted 18 cupcakes with this recipe.  Approximate cost of 18 frosted cupcakes ~$6.  Another reason to bake instead of buy.  It would cost you $50...maybe more to buy at a cupcake store!!*

Simply delicious!!!


P.S. My favorite moment of Superbowl XLVI was when Ahmad Bradshaw stopped for about two seconds as he slowly sat down into the end zone.  That was the game winning touchdown for the NY Giants.

*Note: I used Peppermint Extract since that's what I had on-hand.  Next time, I will buy Mint Extract since Peppermint was a bit too minty.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Simmering Chicken in Soy Sauce

This is a simple recipe that produces moist, flavorful chicken.  Personally, I don't like my food too salty.  That is why I add so much water in my recipe.

Simmering Chicken in Soy Sauce:
Prep Time: 5 minutes        Cook Time: 45 minutes
8 Chicken Drumsticks (You can also use thigh, breast, etc.)
1 cup soy sauce
5 cups water
1/2 cup cooking wine
scallions (optional)
ginger (optional)

Grab a big pot with a lid.  Add the water, soy sauce, and cooking wine.  Place the chicken in the pot also.  (You can more than 8 drumsticks.  Chicken should be immersed in the liquid.  If it isn't, don't worry.  Halfway into cooking just flip the chicken so that the other side has its share of flavor.)   If desired, chop the scallions or slice ginger before adding it in the pot.  Heat on high with lid for about 45 minutes.

Transfer cooked chicken to a plate/bowl.  That's all there is to it.  Smells and tastes delicious!  I like to eat my chicken with brown rice.  Usually, I will cook a simple veggie dish to hit another food group.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Planting Herbs

I want to garden more to have some vitamin D in my system as well as exercise.  In the past couple months, I bought two herb growing kits.  Today was the day that I potted them.

This one is Parsley and Basil

The longer one is Parsley, Basil, and Chives.

Why the repeat of the herbs?  If one fails, maybe the other one will survive?  If they both flourish, then I will have many herbs for my recipes!  Exciting!!

My experiment.  

We'll see how it turns out.  Maybe I'll have fresh herbs from my garden for the summer.