Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ode to a Fellow Female MacGyver (and to Honey!)

So this post is about another amazing Female MacGyver that lives and walks amongst us. It's also about one of my favorite things in the whole world: Honey.

Let's start by talking about that.

Honey is amazingly delicious and makes a great sweetener for tea, milkshakes, and...okay just about anything. I prefer to use honey to sweeten things over sugar whenever I can. I'm especially fond of trying different types of honeys...especially at farmer's markets.

Honey also brags of several health benefits. It's comprised of several different kinds of sugars (fructose and glucose mostly, but also maltose and sucrose). It also contains antioxidants, which clean up damaging free radicals. Honey is fairly acidic with a pH ranging between 3.2 and 4.5. This helps it to prevent the growth of bacteria (which is one reason it doesn't ever spoil). When mixed into a hot green tea or a hot toddy (honey, lemon juice, and whiskey), this powerful ingredient can do a number on the bacteria that cause sore throats. (I know this from personal experience!!)

These antibiotic properties aren't exclusively internal. In fact, there actually exists MEDICAL GRADE HONEY!!! This grade of honey has been used to treat burns and chronic wound infections. Three years ago, scientists discovered that honey's antibacterial properties derived from more than just its acidity. Apparently, a protein called "defensin-1" helps it to actually kill bacteria by destroying bacterial proteins. There are also many scientific papers describing the effectiveness of treating wounds with Manuka honey (the honey typically used for medical purposes). People have even begun to discover that honey can fight MRSA, prevent radiation-induced dermatitis in breast cancer patients undergoing treatment, and may even be able to reverse bacterial resistance to antibiotics!

Now as we talk of this honey, let me be very clear about two things. One, keep in mind that research into the pros and cons of honey are on-going and that what we know to be true now may not be true tomorrow. And two, we are talking about natural honey, not artificially honey. An article in Nature revealed that natural honey was three times better at killing bacteria than artificial honey is. This means that you want honey made by bees...not the busy kinds that wear lab coats, but the kind that buzz about collecting pollen and vomiting sweet, delicious, viscous-y goodness that is jam-packed with antiseptic and antibacterial properties.

Going way back, even the Greeks and the Romans praised the healing properties of honey. They claimed it made you live longer...and why shouldn't they? The Egyptians were believing the same thing long before that. Medical recipes containing honey date back 5 millennia. It has been used on the battle fields for thousands of years to treat wounded soldiers knowing it helped to prevent infections even before people understood what caused infections. The history of honey is fascinating and well-worth the read, but I'll spare you the stories for this particular blogpost.

Given all of this wonderfulness, you can imagine how proud I was when my roommate remembered our conversations about honey and applied them. As you may or may not know, she tragically cut her thumb badly a few days ago. She went to use our Neosporin only to find out it expired...let's just say...a long time ago. In true MacGyver fashion, she applied some raw honey to her wound and after only a day the wound had already begun to heal more rapidly than expected and the bruising/swelling had gone down a LOT.
I don't have a "before",
but here's the after and trust me,
it looked MUCH worse prior to the honey!

Earlier today, she again used honey to make these amazing impromptu candies with honey, roasted peanuts, butter, and brown sugar. That's right...she totally just made up a recipe for candy! (I've been trying to tell her that she needs to blog about them to share her creation with the world! They are delicious!)

The moral of the story is that honey is delicious, nutritious, medicinal, and good for fixing your thumb right up so you can get back to making amazing sweets for the holidays! :D

Happy Roommate = Candy --> More Happy Roommates!!!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Fond Farewell to my Dear, Sweet Basil

Terribly sad news: a fungus got into my tiny herb garden and killed what was left of my chives, mutilated my mint, and was about to decimate my sweet basil. The basil held out until the last moment, when I decided to cut my losses and harvest what was left of its sad, wilted leaves.

Here's a true statement: I don't really cook much with basil.

There, I said it!

So why did I have a basil plant to begin with? You ask.

Because: (1) I like growing things. (2) I like the smell of basil. (3) Basil is easy to grow. (4) My roommate does cook with basil. So there!

Anyway, I wanted the basil leaves to be useful, but I wasn't sure what was the best way to preserve them. Drying? Freezing? Just make a soup and use it all, already!?

Then I remembered a Pintrest pin from a long while back. A person chopped up herbs and then froze them in ice cubes. When they wanted to cook with them, they simply popped out a cube and added it to a soup or skillet to be sauteed along with veggies. BRILLIANT!

And I was off...

I started by harvesting the usable parts that were left and washing them in water.

I pulled out my trusty Magic Bullet and added just a little water to the leaves before pulsing it all.


Then I poured the liquid-suspended leaf bits into a fun little star-shaped mold and popped the mold into the freezer. There was some foamy stuff that I didn't like, so I scooped those bits out and plopped them into the sink...because I'm classy like that.... (Don't worry, I cleaned up my mess!)

Voila! My roomie now has basil ice to use in her...whatever! :) Hopefully I can get a new set of plants going again soon and I can use this same technique to make herb cubes that I'll use myself! :p

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A New (Healthier?) Spin on SOS

Some of my favorite nights growing up were the nights that Momma would make French Dip. She typically made fluffy, buttery homemade bread for our savory roast beef sandwiches that we dipped in that perfectly delectable au jus. This made each bite a scrumptious mouthful of heavenly splendor.

Another wonderful thing about Momma making that amazingly delicious dinner in our crockpot was that there were always lots of leftovers. Left over roast beef is great for lots of things, but one of the best meals to follow French Dip was surely S*O*S*. (This stands for eh-hemmm.... "stuff" on shingles.) This classic leftovers meal was comprised of toasted bread topped with homemade gravy full of bits of roast beef from last night's supper.

Which brings us to last night. I was trying to find something quick to throw together for dinner and for whatever reason wishing we had roast beef for SOS. I decided to try something a little different using what we had available.

First, I poured some olive oil in a bowl with a little garlic powder and a little less onion powder. After stirring these ingredients with my basting brush, I brushed the oil onto six pieced of honey wheat bread. I broiled the bread in the oven until they were lightly toasted.
While the bread was toasting, I shredded some honey-smoked turkey (sandwhich meat) into a pot and poured in the last of our shredded cabbage mix. I drizzled these with olive oil and seasoned with garlic powder and paprika. I simmered these for a bit, stirring occasionally, until the veggies were done, but still a had a good crunch to them. (I love for things to still be crunchy!)
When the meat and veggies seemed ready, I poured in a can of cream of mushroom soup and added a can's worth of milk. I mixed the ingredients well and heated through so that everything was hot and a little bubbly.  I think I ended up adding a little more paprika in this step as well.
I arranged three pieces of toast on each plate and topped them with the soup mixture. Voila! A new spin on the classic that is SOS! My husband was a pretty big fan of this one despite the fact that he was feeling a bit sick most of the day yesterday.

 Sure, turkey isn't roast beef and mushroom soup isn't gravy, but nevertheless, this was pretty tasty! (And I can't confirm this, but it might even be slightly healthier for you!) It was also good to have the veggies in that you wouldn't normally get with classic SOS. I thought about adding frozen peas to this, but I had already began cooking by the time the idea came to me. That didn't really give me time to get them cooked before the other bits were ready. Next time, I might try it with peas or possibly green beans...maybe even carrots?! Anyway, the veggies were pretty good mixed in, so that has to make it healthier than the classic one, right?!?!

Don't let this scare you! It was delicious! Hope you get the chance to give it a try! Happy eating! :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

DIY Dry Doggie Shampoo

Ninja questions why Mom
thinks he smells like corn chips.
So my roommates' dog, Ninja, a dog. (Or if you are Airicca, you swear he smells like corn chips.) With the cold weather bathing Ninja isn't fun for anyone...especially him! It's much too cold in this drafty house for that kind of nonsense!

I was browsing online the other day and ran across a recipe for a dry doggie shampoo. The site was talking about how excessive bathing can dry out skin and how this dry shampoo was one alternative to frequent bathing. This caught my attention for more than the fact that Ninja puts off a corn chip-like odor...the poor little guy has also been struggling with dry skin here in the midwest winter since he was born in and spent most of his life in Texas. His parents have been putting olive oil in his food to help, and it has helped tremendously, but he still has a bit of a dry coat some days. Can you see where this is going?

I thought about making this dry doggie shampoo for Ninja for Christmas, but this morning he was being particularly needy and pungent (not like wet-dog bad or anything, but certainly noticeable when he'd come up close to you in search of lovins). I asked Airicca if I could make some for him, and after getting her permission I set to work.

Three simple ingredients.
First, I put a cup of oats in my magic bullet and made them into a powder. I combined the powdered oats with one cup of baking soda as the recipe suggested. The recipe I found said one part oats and one part either baking soda or cornstarch was to be pulverized in a food processor. I decided that I would do 1/2 cup of corn starch in addition to the baking soda and oat powder.

Serendipitous Saving
Here's my reasoning: The oats will be good for the dry skin. The baking soda is the cleanser. That should be all you need. However, when I was in FFA back years and years ago (say elementary or junior high), cornstarch was used on show rabbits to improve the look of their coats. Now, I'm not sure if it ACTUALLY has any benefits for mammal coats, but it might do something. For that reason, I added in a little cornstarch to the mix.

Great doggie Christmas gift!
I even had the perfect container for dry doggie shampoo. Before money got quite so tight, I used to by these awesome fabric softener pellets from downy. (Thank you Linden Reid! Those things are awesome!) They make your clothes soft and they smell like heaven when they are finished.  I saved the last two containers from these pellets because they looked perfect for some sort of homemade beauty product. (I thought I might make more for Christmas this year.) They were perfect for this homemade product because they have a wide opening with a flip top and even a little measuring cup that clips on.

After getting the product into the reused containers, it was time for a test run. I took Ninja outside and sprinkled on the dry shampoo. I then rubbed it all over and into his coat adding a little more here and there until he was well covered. (He really hated me getting his face and at one point he tried to eat the shampoo, but other than that, he seemed to enjoy it!) We ran back inside and waited a few minutes before inspecting him for smell.

Success! No more doggie body odor for this pup! I hope that we will see an improvement in his dry skin as well, but we won't know for a bit whether or not the shampoo is holding to that part of its purpose. This is a great recipe either way! It is cheap, easy, and if you are anything like me, you already have all of the ingredients in your kitchen right now. Make some for your doggie or as a gift for friends' doggies this Christmas! Happy (dry) bathing! :p

A very happy just dry-bathed Ninja!

Hearty Vegetarian Mac and Cheese

I got this craving for mac and cheese last night that I couldn't shake. I put on the meal plan for this week to make cheeseburger mac last night, but as we put off grocery shopping for another week, I had no ground beef. So I started looking around for a way to make something that would satisfy my craving and would fill me up. This is what I came up with.

Looks pretty good, huh?! (It totally was!) To make this dish, I started by boiling some water in a pot for cooking my whole wheat elbow pasta. While that was going, I put frozen broccoli in a skillet with a lid, drizzled olive oil over the pieces, covered the skillet, and cooked the veggies for a few minutes while I pulled out the other ingredients. I would occasionally stir the broccoli and add more olive oil as it was needed.

Next, I added frozen corn kernels to the skillet and continued to cook the vegetables. At this point, I started adding spices. I put in a fair amount of garlic powder followed by a  little bit of onion powder. I didn't want too much onion powder as that can get overpowering quickly. Then I added some jalapeno seasoned salt, cumin, chili powder, and black pepper. I drizzled on a bit more olive oil and stirred the skillet to make sure all of the spices were getting distributed relatively evenly. While the veggies were cooking, I opened a can of kidney beans and a can of diced tomatoes and rinsed/drained the cans so that they would be ready to go when I needed them. When the broccoli and corn were cooked all the way through (check the big pieces of broccoli to be sure they are all done), I poured in the tomatoes and beans. I stirred the contents of the skillet and added a little more cumin and garlic powder, as one can never have enough of either of those ingredients! This is the time you want to play around with the seasonings to make sure you get the flavor that you want.

About that time, I strained the pasta as it had reached al dente and was what I deemed to be ready. I added the noodles back into the pot and stirred in the vegetable mixture from the skillet once everything had been heated through. I ended with a few large handfuls of shredded cheddar cheese and stirred until the cheese was melted throughout. Looking back, I probably could have added butter and milk or made a cheese sauce to go on top, but just adding in the cheese and letting it melt worked just fine. It saved me time and dishes while simultaneously tasting delicious, so I don't really regret doing it the way that I did it. Plus, my husband is lactose-intolerant so I try to keep the dairy to a minimum if I'm sharing whatever I'm making with him.

If you are vegetarian, this is very filling and tasty! (Even if you aren't it makes for a great meatless entree.) I suppose if you were vegan, you could use vegan cheese and this would be a dish for you! If you don't like the tex-mex flavors, this would be an easy meal to adapt to your own liking by switching up the spice combinations. Get in that kitchen and get creative! :D Hope you enjoy it!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Winter Wreath on a Snow-Filled Monday

Greetings all! My class was cancelled this morning due to the weather. My term paper is pretty much finished. (I have a few questions for my advisor before I can call it completely done.) I have done all that I can do on the grant proposal until I hear from our microscope guy and I have finished all of my work for my grant writing class. I find myself at a standstill and what do I do? I make a winter wreath for our door since we talked about how we didn't have one! (Don't worry, I watched a little TV while I worked on it so I did do something that wasn't entirely productive! :p)

So about this wreath...

Like one of my favorite professors used to always say, "You work with what you've got." He was referring to the anatomical structures of various vertebrates, but it is still true for this situation. Money, as usual, has been pretty tight and I've had to get creative with cooking. (Last year I got pretty creative with Christmas gifts, but this year we've bought most things because I found some great bargains.) Faced with the desire to have a wreath on our door but lacking the funds to go buy one or to purchase materials to make one, I started looking around at what I had to work with. 

I found yarn...lots of yarn. None of it red and only a small amount of green. Hummmm. I did have lots of white and lots of royal blue. Idea! I'll make it wintery rather than Christmas-y. (My sweet roommie pointed out that we could leave it up longer that way anyway.) So I set about the task of making a winter wreath for our front door.

I started by making pom-poms using the technique from this site. I made 8 relatively similar in size pom-poms using the blue and white yarn. These were so fun to play with!

Next, I needed something to actually make the wreath out of. I knew I didn't have any Styrofoam rings or wreath bases in my project box. I read somewhere that you could roll up newspaper, form it into a ring, and then cover it with ribbon, but I wanted something more sturdy to work with for this project. I started looking around, and found a white, wire hanger. I played around with it for a bit and realized I could shape it into a circle and the hook was already made for me! I used the blue and white yarn from making the pom-poms to wrap the rounded out hanger tightly.

After the base was ready, I used one of the pieces of yarn from each pom-pom to tie the pom-poms onto the hanger. I realized I should have made more pom-poms. I almost started to make more, but then I decided I kind of liked them having a little space in between left room for me to tie ribbons! I attached some shiny blue ribbon with silver polka dots into the blank spaces and made them curly using scissors. I also found a fluffy white bow that I thought would look nice on the top, so I affixed that as well.

Ta-da! Here is the wreath in all of its glory! Made from scratch with things I happened to have lying around the extraneous spending required! :D

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tasty Asian-Inspired Rice and Cabbage Soup

There's nothing quite like
hot soup on a cold day!
Just in time for the falling of the first snows of this winter comes a new soup recipe! This soup is hearty and delicious melding the sour and umami flavors characteristic of Asian soups. I came up with this gem trying to use up a package of shredded cabbage mix before it started to turn. It is a simple recipe that could easily be made vegan if one so desired. The best thing about this soup is that making it...making a LOT of super cheap. If you are anything like me, you probably have most of the ingredients in your house right now. Unfortunately, I didn't get any great photos of the process since I sort of made it up on the fly, but trust me, you'll love it! After all, it's cheap, quick, easy, healthy, hearty, and delicious, what's not to love?

Ingredients: white rice, shredded coleslaw mix or shredded cabbage if you don't want carrots in your soup, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger, black pepper, water, and beef bullion.

Methods: I began with a partial package of shredded coleslaw had both red and green cabbage along with carrots. I placed this into a large pot and drizzled on some olive oil to get it started cooking. Next, I added in soy sauce and a good amount of rice wine vinegar as well as some spices (garlic powder, onion powder, a little ginger, and black pepper). I let the veggies simmer stirring occasionally. We had some leftover boiled white rice that I used later, but if you don't already have cooked rice, now would be a good time to start.

The best bullion award goes to...
Once the cabbage became limp, I played around with the proportions of the seasonings, soy sauce, and vinegar a bit to make sure I liked the smell and taste of my soup base. I then dropped in two cubes of beef bullion (Knorr is my favorite brand...the blocks are a bit larger, tend to dissolve faster, and have a better flavor than other brands.) and added water to almost completely fill the pot. I let this cook for about 15-20 minutes stirring ever so often and adjusting the flavor until it had the right balance. The cabbage pieces were cooked well, but still retained a bit of a crunch, which made me especially happy. The last thing I did was break several eggs into a mug and scramble them with a fork. Then I slowly poured the egg into the boiling soup as I stirred the liquid constantly. This produced thin strips of cooked egg as the soup continued to cook. From time to time, I would switch directions as I stirred to further break up the egg bits as they cooked. I continued cooking for several minutes until the eggs were properly cooked in the hot liquid.

To serve, I filled a bowl halfway with rice and then poured the soup on top, taking care to get more than just the liquid from the pot. (I didn't even bother employ my immersion blender at all for this one, which might just destroy Airicca's perception of how I make soups.) The husband rated this one highly and we ended up pouring all of the soup over all of the rice to store in the refrigerator. This pseudorecipe makes a lot of soup, so there have been plenty of leftovers! (It reheats really well and the rice soaks in the flavors over time!)

Future Modifications: I plan on remaking this soup again and again, especially when money is particularly tight. If you are a vegan, you could easily forgo using the eggs, but they sure are tasty if your diet allows for them! If you have beef broth readily available, you could easily replace the bullion cubes. If I had the ingredients, I would have added mushrooms and possibly red bell peppers to this. You could also use onions and garlic as opposed to the powdered seasonings. You might even have green onions lying around, which would make additions! It would have also been nice to have more shredded carrots as I LOVE carrots, especially in soups. Alas, we work with what we have and we are glad when our experiments yield success!

If you are looking for something different and you love Asian soups, I would definitely give this bad boy a try! Happy eating! :)
This isn't the soup that I made, but it looks similar save for the green onions.
This could be a glimpse of what your soup will like! :p