Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Homemade Thai Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Phak)

While it's not exactly authentic, I'm a big fan of Amy's Organic Thai Coconut (Tom Kha Phak) soup. At one time, I ordered a whole case of it from Amazon.com on sale, and had to stop myself from eating it all the time. It's great stuff, but rather pricey. Also, like most commercial, canned soups, there's much more broth than anything else, and the veggies (especially the sweet potato chunks) were quite overcooked.

Many thanks to Annie's Buying Club again. Annie decided to go with an Asian theme for our organic produce boxes this week. We had plenty of beautiful organic bok choy, ginger, garlic, and the most adorable little Brown Beech mushrooms! With bigger caps than Enokis, and shorter, but fuller; they're kind of packaged the same way, with the mushrooms attached at the base to some saw dust. Almost too cute to eat! Almost ;)

I long since ran out of my last can of Amy's, but I had plenty of fresh, organic ingredients on hand to make my own version. Another versatile dish, that you can customize to your own preferences, and use up what you have on hand. I threw in some frozen grilled chicken breast as protein, but I'll definitely try making this again with shrimp, and tofu. I liked mine a little chunkier (unlike the canned version), and used A LOT of vegetables. Feel free to make this vegetarian, using a vegetable broth, and opting out of the fish sauce and chicken. Sorry, no picture this time... hubby is DJing a private party tonight and has the camera. But just imagine a big pot full of these ingredients:
10 cups organic chicken broth
1 can coconut milk
4 small sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup green beans, cut in 1" pieces
1 small head bok choy, white stems diced small, and green leaves chiffonade
1 cup brown beech mushrooms (or shitake, or enoki)
1 cup frozen cooked diced chicken breast (and/or shrimp, and/or tofu)
1 small piece ginger, peeled
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 green onion, diced
1 0.5" piece jalapeno pepper, seeds removed
2 tbsp fresh parsley
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp Sriracha hot chili sauce
1 tsp lemongrass paste
juice of one lime
salt and fresh ground white pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, bring chicken broth to a low boil. Add the fish sauce, the whole piece of ginger, the whole garlic cloves, and the piece of jalapeno pepper. Add the sweet potatoes and simmer for about ten minutes.
Add the green beans and stems of the bok choy. Simmer for another five minutes.

Increase the temperature, bringing the pot to a low boil. Add the frozen chicken and stir to combine. When chicken is heated through, stir in the green leaves of the bok choy and the mushrooms, cooking for one minute.

Reduce the heat to low, and shake the can of coconut milk before opening. Add the contents of the can, the lemongrass, and Sriracha, stirring to combine.

Turn off the heat, and remove the ginger, garlic, and jalapeno. Stir in the parsley, green onion, and lime juice. Season with salt and white pepper to taste.
Enjoy! :)





Amy's Organic Thai Coconut Soup photo courtesy of Amazon.com
Brown and White Beech Mushroom photo courtesy of Shavedicesundays.blogspot.com

Monday, May 25, 2009

Product Review: Keurig B40 K-Cup Coffee Brewer

Last week, I was asked to help out at my old job, in the mortgage department of my old bank. Of course I would! I was glad to spend time with my old boss. I miss chatting with her everyday. She's an amazing lady; so dedicated to her job, a mortgage lending whiz, and always makes time for every customer. But she doesn't give herself enough credit.

Working for a small bank meant the two of us put on numerous hats each day. One of my best skills was developing custom SQL reports. It was time for a regularly scheduled fed audit once again, and the chiefs needed reports done. I was happy to help them out.

It had been six months since I looked at that financial system, but thank goodness for my old boss: she recently purchased a Keurig single-cup coffee brewer for the office. Caffeine helped fuel my brain ;) Due to some economic and other personnel changes, my old boss was pretty much left all by herself in that division. Nobody to share a big pot of coffee with. She already had a Keurig machine at home, which she and her husband just love. He likes his coffee strong; she likes hers weak. They also have lots of family visiting often, and this was a great solution. The early-risers, the late-sleepers, the tea-drinkers, and the java-addicts could all enjoy a steaming hot, fresh beverage within minutes! No more stale, wasted, cold coffee, or arguing over flavors and brews. Also, no carafes to break! Everybody's happy!

A similar situation arises in our home: hubby loves mixing strong Cuban espresso in with his already dark roast. I, the Canadian girl, lived off Tim Horton's and flavored blends from The Second Cup. It became a chore, deciding what coffee to brew, and to forego it altogether, on days when we were in a hurry to get to work. Not anymore! Just pick your favorite K-cup, from an assortment of over 200+ choices from Keurig's website, or any number of online retailers, place the K-cup in the brewer, place your favorite mug under the spout, and press the corresponding size button on the machine. Voila! Seconds later, a steaming cup of your favorite coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. No fuss, and no mess either!

While visiting the bank, I got to try several different varieties of gourmet coffee and teas, with major brands like Timothy's, Van Houtte, Caribou, and Celestial Seasonings. They were all amazing, but the tea especially was incredible. So full of flavor! I have a Zojirushi hot pot for hot water at home, which I keep at 195 degrees F, so it couldn't have been the temperature of the water that made the difference with the teas. I think it's the amount of pressure being used by the machine. The combination of the temperature and pressure is definitely what brings out the flavor in the coffees and teas. The heat, the aroma, the taste... It's almost like being in a coffee shop (if your coffee shop plays Raffi and have a preschooler, a cat, and a dog running around).

On the down side, the whole system is a bit on the pricey side. There is a basic model, the B30, which runs anywhere from $62.99 to $79.99, and does not have a water reservoir. Personally, I thought that kind of defeated the purpose of having a quick cup of coffee available at anytime. My old boss opted for the B40 model for home and for the office, shown above, which does have a 48-ounce water reservoir. I followed suit, and purchased a B40 for us as well, which was $99.99 at our local Sears store. The next model up, the B60, retailing for an average of $129.99, also has a reservoir, along with a digital display, timer functions, and three cup sizes. We've never used the timer functions on our previous coffee brewers, so that seemed like an unnecessary add-on. 9.25 ounces is also plenty large enough for us for a single serving, so that was another reason we opted for the B40.

As for the K-cup pods themselves, there are a few pluses and minuses. They certainly are convenient and offer a great way to have a variety of flavors on hand, keeping them all fresh until ready to use. The cups also do a fantastic job containing grounds, leaves, and used cocoa, making it a snap to brew a single serving, and toss the used cup. However, therein lies the problem: they do create a lot of waste. I'm hoping to be able to separate the used pod pieces, and recycle the outer plastic shell. The cups themselves also cost anywhere from $0.35 to $0.50 per K-cup. However, Keurig has developed a solution for that: the My Cup K-cup. It's a reusable pod, that you can custom fill with your own favorite blend. The filter itself is also washable and reusable. I plan to purchase one of those, so hubby can have his homemade Cuban blend, and I can continue to buy my favorite organic, bird-friendly, fair-trade beans. For our guests, it's nice to see that Keurig does offer several varieties of ready-made organic, fair-trade K-cup coffee.

Can't wait to be able to brew a cup first thing in the morning, before heading off to my new job :D




UPDATES: See comments #4 , #5 , and #8  for some of our favorite K-cup flavors.

Keurig B40 photo courtesy of Keurig.com




Friday, May 22, 2009

Heading back to work full time!

Hi everyone!

Just wanted to say hi, and thank you to everyone who has been stopping by, and following this blog. While it's not going anywhere, and I do plan to keep it going, I am very happy to report that I'm heading back into the work force full-time.

I had a very much needed mental break from my last position. It's amazing just how much crap a company can try to hide, and cover up, and just how long they can do it, before it all just blows up. The phrases "treading water", "putting out fires", and "the you-know-what hit the fan", don't even come close to covering it. Of course, every company has its issues, but when there's nobody left on staff with any working knowledge of the day-to-day operations, nobody to train your new staff, no procedures, and lack of direction, that ship is going down. But anyway, a job is just a job, and life goes on. I didn't go completely insane, and have to be dragged off to the nut house. A couple months of mommy-and-daughter bonding time, cooking, baking, and blogging cured me :)

So, while I do still have a mountain of topics to discuss, the posts may not come as frequently now. I just didn't want everyone to think I abandoned this project ;) Many thanks to the SITStas who have been dropping by! It's great getting to know all of you!

Have a great Memorial Day weekend, everyone! :D

The Simpsons image copyright by Fox and Matt Groening.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Our Newest Award!

Many thanks to Rachelle at "Mommy? I'm Hungry!"! Not only is she my favorite San Diego Mama, and a true kitchen genius when it comes to family-pleasing and healthy meals, I've been very blessed to have her as a friend for the past four years! She's held my hand through a mountain of ups and downs, tears and laughs. Love ya, Rachelle!

Now, this lovely lady has presented GreenOrganicMama.com with The "One Lovely Blog" Award. Thank you so much, Rachelle :)

Now here are the rules regarding this award:
The rules:
1) Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award, and his or her blog link.
2) Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sweet Potato Pancakes with Yogurt Sauce

We're really having fun, creating new ways to enjoy all this organic produce from Annie's Buying Club. Kaylee and I really liked the Zucchini Pancakes we made last weekend. Since then, we've modified the recipe and made Sweet Potato Pancakes with a Lime Cilantro Yogurt Sauce, based on this recipe from Allrecipes.com. A nice way to use our organic sweet potatoes, cilantro, parsley, onion, green onion, garlic, and lime!

Once I started following the directions of the original recipe, it became very clear that two eggs and a tablespoon of starch were not going to hold all of those grated sweet potatoes together. I ended up doing what I did for the Zucchini Pancakes - add some Japanese panko crumbs, milk, and flour. the next day I made them again, but incorporated some chopped green onions, which added a nice zing. I also went a little cilantro- and parsley-crazy with the yogurt sauce. A clove of garlic added a little punch to liven up the flavors of the sauce :)
For the pancakes:
2 cups grated sweet potatoes (grated in food processor)
1 small onion, chopped fine in food processor
1 green onion, diced fine
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup panko
2 eggs
2 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

For the sauce:
1 cup plain yogurt
4 sprigs fresh cilantro
4 springs fresh parsley
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Begin by mixing all the ingredients for the yogurt sauce in a blender. Blend until smooth, and keep chilled until ready to serve.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and milk. Add the rest of the ingredients, and mix thoroughly.

Add two tablespoons olive oil to the skillet. Form the sweet potato mixture into small balls, pressing the mixture tightly so it holds together and keeps its shape. Gently place them in the oil, evenly spaced apart. Press down on each ball to flatten. Cook until golden brown, about three minutes per side.

Serve warm with the chilled yogurt sauce.
Enjoy! :)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Produce Sticker Numbers: The Key to Organic or "Frankenfood"

Be sure to check out these great simple tips on quickly identifying types of produce (organic, conventional, and GMO) by the first number on the item's sticker: Insider Information for Organic Shoppers @ Healthy Child Healthy World.
1. Organic produce always starts with the number 9.
2. Conventionally Grown produce always starts with a 3 or a 4.
3. Genetically Modified produce always starts with the number 8.
Super easy to remember!

Posted using ShareThis

Child & kale photo courtesy of healthychild.org

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bamboo in the Kitchen

Many of you have probably already seen these cutting boards in your local department stores. Bamboo is gaining much popularity, for its durability, aesthetics, and low cost. But what a lot of people don't realize is that bamboo is a very eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to hardwood. Bamboo is actually a grass, and a very fast-growing one at that; requiring no fertilizers or pesticides to grow as much as four feet a day*. Bamboo products are lightweight, easy to care for, and look great in your kitchen.

When it was time to replace our worn, wooden cutting boards, we invested in a beautiful bamboo board much like the one shown in the picture. Over the years, it has maintained its smooth finish; requiring only a light wiping with a paper towel dampened with canola oil on occasion, to maintain its sheen. Just a few wipes with a soapy sponge and a quick rinse are all these boards need to stay clean.

Since we loved our bamboo board so much, it was an easy decision when we found some of these Oneida Bamboo cooking utensils at our local discount department store. We have the slotted spoon, as well as the regular pot spoon. Both are now heavily used each day, in conjunction with our cast-enamel cookware. The bamboo utensils are very lightweight, but extremely durable. The handles are just the right length for stirring most any size pot. The rounded, smooth finish is perfect for scraping up browned bits from the bottoms of pots and pans, but without the risk of scratching surfaces. It's also great that I don't have to worry about leaving one of these spoons resting on or inside a hot pot while I grab some more ingredients and seasonings.

Bamboo is turning up in all sorts of products, including flooring, counter tops, bedding, towels, and even clothing. One of my dear friends (who will remain nameless) proudly struts around town in bamboo briefs. He says they are the softest, most comfortable underwear he has ever put on. Bamboo adds a naturally antibacterial property to its fabric, and draws excess moisture from the skin*; making it perfect for our South Florida weather.

A few things to keep in mind when shopping for bamboo: like many green products, there are "greenwashed" alternatives waiting on the shelves, too. Choose those with labels that specify that the bamboo is "hand-harvested", made from formaldehyde-free glues, and is Giant Panda habitat-friendly.

Enjoy :)





Bamboo cutting board photo courtesy of Amazon.com
Bamboo 4-piece set utensils photo courtesy of Amazon.com
*More info on the eco-friendly qualities of bamboo at Gaiam.com

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Zucchini Pancakes

I love vegetable pancakes, and they are so easy to make! It was "Girls Nite" this past Saturday evening, as hubby was out partying (he's a tropical destination wedding DJ, complete with the best "green" LED lighting system in the Florida Keys. Check out his videos. He puts on a great show.).

Anyway, while hubby is also enjoying all this organic produce from our buying club, he is a carnivore at heart. The little princess and I love our vegetables. When Daddy is DJing, that's usually when I plan a more vegetarian dinner. Last Saturday's dinner was delicious Zucchini Pancakes :)

This one is a lighter version of one found on Allrecipes.com. I decided to cut out the mayonnaise binder, substituting for milk and some Japanese panko breadcrumbs instead. If you haven't tried panko, you're missing out! They are so light, and delicate. They're great for frying, as they don't absorb much oil at all. The breadcrumbs helped hold some of the moisture from the zucchini, while adding some texture, without making the pancake too dough-like. I also fried ours in olive oil, instead of butter. No sour cream needed - these pancakes were a stand-out all by themselves :)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup panko
1.5 cups grated zucchini
1 green onion, diced
1 egg
2 tbsp milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan/Romano cheese blend
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Heat a large non-stick skillet on medium heat.

Beat the egg and milk in a large bowl. Stir in the zucchini and green onion. Mix well and set aside.

In another bowl, blend together the flour, panko, grated cheese, herbs, and salt and pepper. Pour in the wet ingredients, and combine, careful not to over-mix.

Heat two tbsp olive oil in the skillet. Carefully ladle in the zucchini mixture and flatten to form individual pancakes. Do not overcrowd the skillet. Fry each pancake until golden brown; about three minutes on each side. Serve immediately.
Enjoy! :)

Photo courtesy of Allrecipes.com

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Southwestern Skillet a la "Mommy? I'm Hungry"

Be sure to visit "Mommy? I'm Hungry!": Southwestern Skillet for this amazing crowd-pleaser. This is now a staple menu item in our family. Another versatile recipe that lets you easily tweak the ingredients and use up what's in your pantry and in your fridge. We prepared ours using a giant organic Cubanelle pepper, a can of organic corn kernels, one very ripe organic tomato, a can of black beans in sauce, and a few slices of organic avocado. Delish :)

Happy Mother's Day!! Time for Cassoulet!!

Happy Mother's Day everyone! Hope it's a special day for all.

Mother's Day came a little early for me. Hubby and the little sweet pea gave mommy a beautiful Emeril Lagasse cast enamel Cassoulet pot! I should mention I'm now an enameled-cast-iron dutch oven fanatic. Those are the giant, glossy, brightly colored pots you see a lot of the Food Network hosts using. They use those for a reason (well, many good reasons): they heat up fast and hold onto the heat extremely well, they're great conductors, so you can cook on a lower temperature (green plus!), they're naturally nonstick, they sear, they stew, they can go in the oven, and best of all, as heavy as they are, they are a breeze to wash up, thanks to that slick enamel coating!

I've been using a 6-quart Mario Batali "Italian Kitchen Everyday Essentials Pot", as the name says, almost every day! There weren't too many dinners I didn't prepare in that pot. I even seared steaks in it. Alas, nothing is perfect, and there were many times when I wish I had a smaller version of that pot. Then along came Emeril :)

This cassoulet pot is just what I wanted. Unlike the heavier, larger Mario Batali pot, this particular Emeril one is 4.5 quarts. I do like that both brands have self-basting spikes/nubs under the lids. They're not exactly pointy... just little protrusions that let condensation drip back down onto the food. Those spikes, and a metal handle on the lid, were two must-haves for me, during my cast enamel research. I don't care what the manufacturer says; I DO NOT like cooking with plastic. Believe what you will, but in my kitchen, I don't even microwave in plastic. I certainly then do not want to put a lid with a plastic handle in the oven to slow roast for several hours. And if I'm going to pay $100+ for a pot, it had better not have any plastic parts. These two pots fit the bill.

Back to the comparison, I do also see much higher quality and better workmanship in the Emeril pot, compared to Mario's. The Emeril pot is at least twice as thick as the Mario pot, and made very smooth. The Mario pot has many little dimples on the outside surfaces, which gives it a more rustic, hand-made kind of look. However, it would appear that much more effort went into glazing the Emeril pot, as it seems to have a very dense enamel coating. My Mario pot stained with burn marks with the very first dish I made, and an accidental bump in the sink while washing has chipped off the paint on one of the handles. The Emeril pot, on the other hand, has maintained its creamy white gleam on the inside, with regular daily use. Did I mention also that the handles on the Emeril pot are much more ergonomic, larger, and easier to hold onto. The main sell for me on the Emeril pot is that this model, the Cassoulet, has a rounded bottom, instead of flat walls. Perfect for stews (hence the name of the classic French dish). What better first recipe to then, than cassoulet?

Wouldn't you know it... I was out of duck confit :P (Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever had duck confit.) But I had a mountain of dried beans in my pantry, and I really wanted a bean stew. Time to improvise! By now, you know that I really like Allrecipes.com, and they came through again with this great Vegetarian Cassoulet. This is a slow-cooker recipe, which I made on the stove top. Following the advice of a few reviewers, I made a few tweaks, like adding more vegetables, including some chopped kale, and also substituting chicken broth, in place of the vegetable broth. That's the great thing about cassoulet... it's very easy to substitute the ingredients with whatever you have on hand.
1 pound dried navy beans, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
1 small onion, diced
4 red skinned potatoes, cubed
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup cauliflower, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
4 young kale leaves, chopped
5 cups chicken broth
4 sprigs fresh parsley
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper to taste

In a dutch oven, sautee onion and carrots in olive oil. When onion begins to caramelize, deglaze the pot with white wine. Add the chicken broth. Tie the fresh herbs together with kitchen twine and add to the pot, along with the bay leaf. Cover the pot and simmer on low for three hours, stirring more frequently in the last hour of cooking, as stew will thicken. Remove the herbs and discard. Add the cauliflower and potatoes, and cook again for another 20 minutes, stirring intermittently. Add the chopped kale, cover, and allow to cook for five more minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle individual dishes with olive oil before serving.
Happy Mother's Day :)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Save Money & Save Your Clothes: Line Drying

For as long as I can remember, my mom always had clotheslines. Not that we didn't have a dryer; we moved a few times into newly constructed homes, with their own dedicated laundry rooms. Even so, as soon as we were settled into a new house, Dad would be downstairs in the basement, screwing in hooks, and stringing lines, per Mom's request. My parents worked very hard their whole lives, and they like to be frugal. Why pay to run the dryer, when you can dry for free? Even now that my parents have retired, and now living in a lovely new condo, complete with a "No-laundry-drying-on-your-balcony" HOA policy, my parents still devised a way to air dry their clothes "in compliance" ;)

It's funny how many of the things we do to save money, are also things we can do to be a little greener. Line drying does cut out the cost of running your dryer and using dryer sheets. But over the years, I've found line drying also gives your clothes much more life. The colors stay truer, silk screens don't crack and peel, and stretchy fabrics and elastics hold their shape. While we do dry some of our clothes in the dryer (sturdy cottons, towels, sheets), the rest of the clothes get dried indoors in our sun room, with the help of two powder-coated drying racks. The one above is my favorite, from IKEA. Powder-coated metal is really the only way to go, when it comes to racks. I've gone through cheap plastic and wooden racks before; getting maybe a year's worth out of each. Not exactly eco-friendly. One of the wood racks I had also leached yellowish stains on light fabrics. You get what you pay for.

Even with the shades drawn, our sun room gets incredibly hot. In the peak of a Floridian summer, I've had clothes dry in less than two hours... in the late evening. (That's HOT!) Usually though, half a day is plenty of time, as long as the items aren't over-crowded on the rack (that's why we have two). I also stagger my wash days, so I'm not washing everything that needs to be hung on the same day. The little one's cloth diapers and cloth training pants also dry on the racks, and they're ready within a day's time as well.

While drying on a rack can leave clothes a bit "crunchy", here's a great tip from Kate at Living The Frugal Life - she puts her line-dried clothes in the dryer on the "air fluff" cycle for five to ten minutes, to pull off pet hair, and to soften up the clothes. She also has a great tip: reuse the same dryer sheet a few extra times before throwing it out (I also use mine one more time to wipe up lint off the dryer and other surfaces before tossing). Have a look also at Kate's space-saving way of setting up her laundry room with clothes lines, and making the most of wire shelving. Smart lady! :)

Kate calculates that she saves $0.75 a load by line drying. For our family, we typically have 9 loads a week (training pants, princess' wardrobe, light clothes, dark clothes (X2), towels, sheets, blankets, mats & rugs). You can see how quickly that adds up for us, by hanging at least half of those nine loads. We've saved on using electricity, we're using less disposable dryer sheets, and our clothes will last us longer. It's a perfect marriage of being frugal and being green.

Happy laundering :)

Update 08/28/11:


We're now making our own homemade laundry soap, too!  Now that's extra frugal!  Click the picture to go to the recipe:




Drying rack photo courtesy of IKEA.com.

Product Reviews: Ziploc Produce Bags & OXO Salad Spinner

Thanks to our organic produce buying club, my fridges are packed, and we're eating better, and feeling healthier than we ever have before! However, dealing with the storage of 30+ pounds of fresh produce every Tuesday evening is a daunting task.

As our produce is distributed to us in the same boxes the farmers use to deliver their wholesale produce, we obviously don't have grocery store plastic bags to stash our fruits and veggies in. I decided then, to experiment with a few options.

First, I tried sewing my own bags from unbleached cotton muslin. The bags turned out great, but unfortunately, they're really only good for things with skins, like apples, oranges, potatoes, onions, etc. Leafy produce just wilts in those cloth bags in the fridge. Not to mention, it's a little hard to see through muslin. I needed a better solution for those leafy greens and fresh herbs. That's when I turned to Ziploc Fresh Produce Bags.

Now I know I'm trying to get our family to make more sustainable choices everyday, and plastic bags aren't exactly green. But I think these bags do serve a good purpose, as they truly do keep our produce fresher, longer. With that being the case, we're reducing the amount of potentially wasted, rotten food. I've invested in a couple boxes of these bags, and they are working out great! Each is gallon-sized, with a network of small vents dotted throughout. These bags really do keep just the right amount of moisture inside.

Now every Tuesday when we come home with our huge box, I set up an assembly line in my kitchen. The sink gets a thorough scrubbing, and I start washing and prepping as much as I can, to make cooking quicker and easier later in the week.

I invested in another tool to get this job done: the OXO Good Grips Salad Spinner. I was using a Cuisinart crank-handle style spinner before, and it was a real pain to hang onto and hold still, while trying to crank at the same time. Finally, the crank handle just broke off, and it was time for a replacement (definitely not up to the quality standards of other Cuisinart products). I remember a good friend of mine had one of these OXO Salad Spinners in her parents' home, and it was a breeze to use! Just press down on the top a couple times, and the pumping action gets the basket whirling! So easy, that the little kitchen helper took on the role of "Veggie Dryer". No worries about holes in the bottom, dripping water all over. The bowl itself is a real bowl, that doubles as a serving/mixing bowl.

So in between American Idol, during commercials, we washed, dried, and chopped an assortment of greens and herbs, and stored them in the Ziploc produce bags: collard greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, green onions, and cilantro. Some of the things I kept whole, and everything is equally fresh several days later. It's been great, having our own ready-to-eat bagged organic salads, and being able to reach in the fridge for handfuls of fresh ingredients and drop them straight in the pot.

Per Ziploc's website, these bags are great for berries, mushrooms, and a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables. While they are supposed to be disposable, we do try to wash and reuse cleaner (i.e. non-greasy) bags, whenever possible. (I also love Ziploc bags for packing and organizing things while traveling and I keep a reused set in my suitcases, but that's a topic for another story.) The writers over at The Simple Green Frugal Co-op have a great article about creating your own drying rack for those freshly washed Ziploc bags. Personally, I usually just hang them on the handle end of a ladle or spatula in the dish rack. We also have a laundry rack and plenty of clothes pins in our sun room.

All in all, a little prep work and the right set of tools can make healthier eating much more convenient and easier to incorporate for everyone :)



Ziploc Fresh Produce Bags package photo courtesy of Acehardwareoutlet.com.
OXO Salad Spinner photo courtesy of Amazon.com.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Garlicky Green Hummus

In honor of our new green organic mascot, I created this delicious green-tinged hummus; featuring garlic, cilantro, and of course, green onions. It's super easy, and so much cheaper and tastier than buying store-bought, ready-made hummus. While I do like sesame, I don't like its flavors overpowering everything else in the dish. This particular hummus is tahini-free, but that's a personal preference. Feel free to add two teaspoons to the mix, or a few drops of sesame oil. Here's what you'll need to make your own batch of this flavor-packed hummus:
1/2 pound dried garbanzo beans, soaked overnight
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic
2 green onions
3 sprigs fresh cilantro
2 sprigs fresh parsley
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
3 drops Tabasco sauce

Drain and rinse the soaked garbanzo beans. In a large pot, cover the beans in cold water. Cover the pot and simmer for 1.5 hours. Drain and rinse again, and allow to cool.

In a blender or food processor, add the remaining ingredients, putting the cooled beans in last. Blend together until smooth, and if needed, add additional water 1 tbsp at a time, continuing to blend until desired consistency is achieved. Serve chilled.
Enjoy as a dip for veggies, chips, or whole grain crackers, as a pita sandwich spread, or topped on cooked chicken or fish :)

P.S. My daughter has horrible garlic breath right now. The Hummus Princess approves of the recipe ;)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Our fresh new look!

Thank you to everyone who hung in with us today, during our transition to this new theme. Still working out a few bugs, and I really had to wrack my brain and try to remember that XML class in college. Eight years has been a long time. (Now I'm dating myself).

I hope everyone enjoys this lighter, brighter theme. I wanted to stick with the three-column format, but I do like the wider reading pane for posts. The pink quotes seem to work well for the recipes; helping them stand out better.

I've made tremendous efforts to try to de-clutter, and I hope that makes for a better reading experience.

Thank you to all of my friends (and soon-to-be-new-friends) for following along. This has been a really fun project, and I'm glad I took it on.

I'm also proud to introduce our new, very cute blog badge/button. There he/she is, smiling at you from the right of the screen. Many thanks to the people at ImageChef.com for creating an outstanding website with built-in software for creating a multitude of design elements. The tools were very easy to use, and I had hours and hours of fun, trying all sorts of designs, before falling in love with our smiling organic (well, I'd like to believe it's organic) green onion mascot ;)

On a side note, I'm very happy to report that the little one is well on her way to potty training now. I added a comment to update our status in Potty Training Part 2, as Kaylee finally made her first #2 on the potty chair! Woohoo! She's been consistently using the potty three or four times a day this past week. We are all so proud :)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bear with us!

Trying a new template... bear with us please :)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Welcome to our new URL :)

In keeping with our green family blogging theme, I'm pleased to announce our new URL, from http://healthyhappyfamily.blogspot.com to:


;D

Straightforward Organic Carrot Cake

Look very closely at the picture to the right, and you'll notice some little fingers at the top, moving in to steal another bite. That's what I was trying to achieve -- a delicious, no-nonsense carrot cake. Yes, a carrot cake. Not a carrot-and-nut cake; not a carrot-and-pineapple-and-coconut-and-everything-under-the-sun cake. I had quite the adventure navigating through numerous recipes, until I found this one from Allrecipes.com. Finally! Someone who appreciates carrot cake for the carrots!

Once again, the buying club came through with delectable delights. I opened up a bag of peeled organic baby carrots, and right away, it was the incredible smell that hit me. Pure, sweet carrots. Just amazing.

I divided the recipe in half, as we are merely a family of three. I made a couple substitutions - the first being pumpkin pie spice, instead of just cinnamon (ginger and carrots just go together so well). I also substituted the vegetable oil for coconut oil. Coconut oil, despite its bad rap, is really actually very healthy for you. When it cooks, it doesn't impart much of a coconut taste at all. I used it for the health benefits; not to impart any coconut flavor. I decided to also use an entire package of cream cheese, as I wanted that flavor to stand out in the frosting. Grating the carrots was very easy, using the special grating blade attachment in my food processor. Here is the halved recipe, with my modifications:
For the carrot cake:
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups grated organic carrots

For the frosting:
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 package cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a small loaf pan.

In a stand mixer, beat the eggs, coconut oil, white sugar, and vanilla. While that is mixing, in a separate bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients. Gradually spoon the dry ingredients in with those in the stand mixer. With the mixer still running, add the grated carrots. Stop mixing when just combined. Pour cake batter into the prepared loaf pan, and bake for approximately 50 minutes (do toothpick test). Cool the finished cake in the pan for ten minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack.

When the cake is completely cooled, prepare the frosting.

Cream the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla in a stand mixer, until light and fluffy. Gradually spoon in the confectioner's sugar. Mix until smooth and creamy.

Level off the cake using a serrated bread knife. Apply a thin layer of frosting all over the cake, and then apply the rest, to prevent crumbs from surfacing
Enjoy :)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Why Choose Organic?


There is a multitude of information out there on organic food. Really, there's nothing "new" about organic food itself... it's the way human beings have been growing for thousands of years, up until recent history.

For our family, it all started when we decided to have a baby. Like many techie moms, I spent hours researching online about the best things for baby's development. We decided I would try to breastfeed (which we successfully did for 17 months :) ). Reading about breastfeeding soon led to choosing the best foods for pregnant and nursing moms. The best foods led to topics about organic food; especially when it came to baby's transition to solids.

Organic food isn't just about not using pesticides. It's rooted in the farmers, and their appreciation of the land and soil. Healthy soil means healthy plants. Organic farmers nurture their soil, and instead of becoming depleted over time, it becomes even healthier; passing on the nutrients to the food we eventually eat. Supporting organic farmers means we're keeping harmful pesticides and fertilizer run-off from entering our environment.

Choosing organic food doesn't have to be expensive. For our family, living on a small island in the Florida Keys, our stores typically carry much less than the stores on the mainland, and that remains true for organic produce as well. The prices are sometimes very prohibitive, and the freshness and quality aren't always there. Thankfully, there are more and more options out there, other than the grocery store. If you're fortunate enough to live near a farmers' market, that is a fantastic way to get the freshest possible produce, and as you're buying direct from the farmers, the prices are more affordable. Other options for obtaining farm-fresh produce include joining CSAs (Community-Supported Agriculture), food co-ops, or buying clubs.

We're very happy that we have access to an organic buying club that comes down to our area. We participate in a full share with our buying club, which means we chip in $45 a week, along with hundreds of other members of the same club. This money is pooled together by the club coordinators, and used to buy organic produce direct from wholesalers in huge quantities. This produce is then distributed equally by volunteers to all of the club members. For us, this means that we pick up a 30+ pound box of a lovely variety of organic produce once a week. This is a great value; especially considering that we could never get this kind of freshness or variety with such a great price at our regular stores.

Like with all changes, they can start incrementally. If you're not ready to devote yourself to 30 pounds of organic produce every week, Earthbound Farm does have a great guide on how to selectively choose certain vegetables and fruits, which are typically very heavily sprayed when grown conventionally. A link to this guide is available in our "Green Living Links" section. Many experts out there recommend that you choose organic when it comes to things that you eat the most. For us, we began with things my daughter loved to eat: apples, grapes, carrots. We then switched to organic milk, and then organic eggs. I'm also a big fan of Stonyfield Farm organic yogurt, and as a Asian girl, I love organic soy milk. Pretty soon, we were choosing organic whenever the option was available (and affordable). It all begins, however, with that first step :)


Photo courtesy of Earthbound Farm.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bread Machine Focaccia Pizza

Shortly after I first moved to the Keys, one of our neighbors was having a yard sale. I lucked out as she was selling a brand new 10-gallon fish tank starter set for $10, and her no-longer-needed bread machine for $15!

Like most people, I played with the bread machine right away, and then it kind of sat unused for a while. I recently brought it back out again, and found some fantastic recipes that start out in the bread machine, but finish in the oven. Dinner tonight was based on one of our favorites, called Cheesy Onion Focaccia from Allrecipes.com. Think caramelized onions, covered in melted cheese, on fresh baked focaccia bread. Mmm....

When I make this, I add the Italian herbs in the bread machine, in order to flavor the focaccia (which in the original recipe, the herbs go in the onion topping). I also use Colby-Jack cheese, and brush the focaccia with olive oil before baking.

Tonight, I asked my daughter if she would prefer a more pizza-like topping instead. Ask a silly question... We had some lovely organic plum tomatoes and organic onions from our buying club. I did try to make my own sauce from the plum tomatoes, but it wasn't quite done cooking by the time the dough was ready. I used store-bought jarred sauce instead, but I did top the focaccia with thinly sliced onions and some of the plum tomatoes. It was delicious! Here's the recipe:
For the focaccia dough:
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for brushing on edges of focaccia before baking
1.5 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp Italian herb seasoning
2 cups bread flour
1 tsp bread machine yeast

For the topping:
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup shredded Italian blend cheese
1/4 cup thinly sliced onion
1 small plum tomato, sliced

In a bread machine, add the first list of ingredients in the order suggested by the manufacturer (in the order as shown for Welbilt machines). Set the machine on the "dough" setting and start. Check on the dough after the first five minutes, and add one or two tablespoons of flour or water, as needed.

When the cycle is complete (about 1 hour 28 minutes for our machine), turn the dough out on a floured surface. Pat the dough out in a 10" circle. Transfer dough to a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Cover the dough with a clean tea towel, and let it rise until doubled (about thirty minutes).

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

When dough has risen, dock the dough, using the handle of a wooden spoon, making deep indentations 1" apart. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce. Spread the cheese evenly, and top with the sliced onions and tomatoes. Sprinkle a little kosher salt on the tomatoes. Brush the edges of the focaccia with olive oil. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the onions and crust are golden brown.
Enjoy :)

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Hubby had a craving for cheesecake. Well, it wasn't so much a craving... he could eat cheesecake day and night. Did I mention while Kaylee and I were vacationing, he devoured an entire 16-slice multi-flavor tray himself? Needless to say, the man likes cheesecake. Hubby was once again eyeing those trays in the grocery store. I offered to bake one for him instead. He really enjoyed the pumpkin cheesecake I made a while ago, so I decided to go with pumpkin again.

This cheesecake is based on one from Allrecipes.com, combined with a recipe reviewer's suggestion of incorporating milk and flour to add more structure; in addition to using Paula Deen's graham cracker crust, along with my personal preferences of crushing the graham crackers (thank you, Alton Brown), pre-baking the crust, and to prevent cracking by lowering the oven temperature, and the addition of a baking pan of water (thank you, Rachelle @ "Mummy, I'm Hungry).

BTW, I caution anyone following Paula Deen's recipe directions, in which she allows the hot cheesecake to cool 15 minutes, before putting in the refrigerator. That is dangerous! You risk spoiling everything in your fridge by putting such a hot item in there and increasing the surrounding temperature. Wait until the cheesecake is at room temperature before covering and refrigerating.

This recipe will make one 9" cheesecake. We really like this one. It's not too sweet, has a medium density, and has a light pumpkin flavor.
For the filling:
2 eight-ounce packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 can pumpkin puree
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice mix
2 eggs, room temperature
4 tbsp all-purpose flour
4 tbsp milk
1/4 tsp salt

For the crust:
2 cups cinnamon graham crackers
3 tbsp light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

Place a metal baking pan on the lower rack of the oven. Fill halfway with cold water. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Prepare the crust by sealing the graham crackers in a gallon zip top bag. Crush the crackers by hand, or by using a mallet. Continue to break up the pieces until achieving your preferred texture. Pour the cracker crumbs in a large bowl. Combine with brown sugar. Pour in the melted butter, and combine. Empty this mixture into a 9" spring form pan, pressing down evenly and flat, using the bottom a clean drinking glass. Bake crust for 10 minutes, then set aside.

Prepare the filling by creaming the cream cheese and white sugar in a stand mixer. Spoon in the pumpkin, spices, and salt. Add the milk and eggs. When combined, add the all-purpose flour, and mix thoroughly. Pour the filling into the prepared spring form pan,

Bake at 325 degrees F for 45 minutes, until just set. Allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature. Chill in the refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap, for four hours. Serve chilled.
Enjoy :)

Cheesecake photo courtesy of Foodnetwork.com

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Strawberry Yogurt Muffins

Kaylee and I had a great time making these Strawberry Yogurt Muffins, based on a recipe from Stonyfield Farm, found printed on the foil lid of a yogurt container. We followed the recipe, except for the one cup of whole wheat flour. We didn't have any on hand, so I substituted with more all-purpose flour.

The strawberries we used were from our organic produce pickup. Apparently, others were raving about them, but the ones we had were not quite ripe enough. Next time that happens, I'm going to increase the sugar a little bit, or maybe add some mashed ripe banana to the batter. All in all, a very nice moist muffin. This recipe makes one dozen.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs, room temperature
1 cup plain Stonyfield Farm Yogurt
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup ripe organic strawberries, hulled and cut into very small pieces

Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a muffin tin with a bit of the melted butter. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, and baking soda. In another bowl, mix together the eggs, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla. Toss the strawberries with the flour mixture.

Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and stir until everything is just mixed. The batter will be very thick, and a bit lumpy. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Cool the muffins on a rack.

Enjoy :)

The Tao of Zombie Chicken Award

Tada! I am honored to be a recipient of the Zombie Chicken Award for this blog, from greenology101 at Green Adoptions. This is how the Zombie Chicken Award works:
The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all…"
Thanks again, greenology101!! Now I have to pass this on to five more worthy bloggers. I think there are too many wonderful bloggers out there, and I really dedicate this to all the moms out there, making healthier and greener choices for their families, and the world we all share.

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