Saturday, August 17, 2013

Taco Seasoning Recipe

After posting my pumpkin pie spice recipe, it occurred to me that I should probably post my taco seasoning recipe, as well.
It is as good as (better, actually) than store-bought, and -- like the pumpkin spice blend -- utilizes spices you probably already have on hand.

My version is adjusted and tweaked from different recipes, but is largely based on (surprise!) Alton Brown's.

Taco Seasoning

2 Tbsp chili powder
2 Tbsp cornstarch (you can omit this, but the sauce may be a little thin/watery)
 1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp Kosher salt (or 1-2 tsp table salt)
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne (omit if you prefer it with little to no heat)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 - 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 - 1/2 tsp onion powder

Mix together all ingredients and store in airtight container.

Use 2-3 Tbsp per pound of meat/tofu/veg/whatever.
Add 1/4 cup of water while cooking, and let simmer for a few minutes until reduced/thickened.

And there you go - no more trips to the store for taco seasoning packets!

Added bonus: YOU control the amount of sodium content. Many of the store-bought packages are LOADED with sodium (some as high as 800+ mg!).

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pumpkin Pie Spice Recipe

Summer is coming to an end, and fall is nearly upon us already, and for me that means gearing up for my favorite time of year for scents. Damp fallen leaves, simmering stews, the dark, brooding amber/patchouli/spicy perfumes I don't dare wear in the heat... and of course, now that it's beginning to cool off in the Pacific Northwest, I can finally start baking again.

One of my favorite ingredients to bake with is pumpkin, but every year I find myself running to the grocery store to pick up the pumpkin spice blend I ran out of the year prior.  This year, I decided to make my own (I already make my own taco seasoning and garam masala), and am SO glad I did. It's super-easy, inexpensive, versatile, and if you have the most basic baking spices on hand, you can make this yourself.

Pumpkin Pie Spice

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon cardamom (if you don't have this on hand, it'll be just fine without. I just personally love any excuse to use cardamom)

Mix together all ingredients and store in airtight container.

...And that's IT.

Added bonus - adding this blend to your baked goods (banana bread, muffins, pancakes, apple pie, and of course pumpkin pie) will make your home smell SUPER-scrumptious and autumn-y. :)

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Crêpes

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

When Life Hands You Lemons... Make Lemon Infused Vinegar!

Now let me just start off by stating that I *know* vinegar is one of the best all-purpose natural cleaners there is... I know.
BUT it's the smell that has always deterred me from using it on a regular basis. Don't get me wrong, I loooooove the tart, mouth-smacky-ness of it in food, but I don't want my home to smell like it...
So when I came across some recipes for lemon infused vinegar, I was really skeptical.
I couldn't imagine that even a few weeks of steeping citrus peels in vinegar could not only make it even better as a cleaner, but smell GREAT.
Well, about a month ago, I had some leftover lemon peels after making some lemonade, and I figured I'd give it a go...

4 weeks later (I admit it, I tend to start projects, and then forget about them), I remembered I had my lemon peel / vinegar mix under my kitchen counter, and put it to test.
The harsh smell is GONE, and it cleans better than anything I have ever used before.

Wanna' try? Here's how you can make your own:
  • Citrus peels* (I used 2 lemons, but you can use lime, orange, grapefruit, or a combination -- whatever you prefer)
  • White vinegar
  • A lidded jar (make sure it has a tight seal, as you don't want the vinegar splooshing out when you give it the occasional shake).
...And that's it.

Add the peels to the jar, and pour over enough vinegar to cover the peels.
Put the lid on, and forget about it for awhile -- although it couldn't hurt to give it a good shake every day or so.
If you're like me, you'll forget about this for a month (no harm done -- I'll probably continue to infuse for 4 weeks, considering how incredibly lemony it has become), but it will be ready to use in as soon as two weeks.

Strain out lemon bits through a fine mesh strainer, add the pulp-free vinegar into an empty spray bottle, and prepare to have your mind (and grime) blown away.

* - If you can use organic lemons for this, please do -- otherwise you'll also be infusing your vinegar with whatever has been sprayed on the non-organic lemons (pesticides, chemicals... ew). No bueno.
If you can't (or don't want to) use organic lemons, scrubbing the lemon really well before use should suffice.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Black Bean & Brown Rice Veggie Burgers Recipe

I first tried this recipe out about a year ago, and wasn't expecting it to be all that great -- to be honest, I was just looking for a cheap, healthy alternative to burgers. Much to my surprise, these proved to be not only cheap and healthy, but delicious! Since then, I've made these more times than I can count -- even crumbling up the leftovers, reheating adding taco seasoning, and using in place of ground beef for "veggie tacos".

Black Bean & Brown Rice Veggie Burgers

1 can of drained black beans (or 1.5 cups of black beans, if you prefer to soak/cook dried black beans yourself, as I do)
1 cup of cooked brown rice (Alton Brown's recipe for baked brown rice is super-easy, and has never failed me)
3 cloves of crushed garlic
1 diced onion
1/4 cup of chopped, fresh cilantro
2 egg whites
1 tsp Chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Use a fork to mash half of the beans, leaving the other half unmashed. Stir in all remaining ingredients.
[Come to think of it -- I've even pureed ALL the ingredients together in a food processor, til smooth -- they lose the "burger-like" texture, but stay together much better during cooking/flipping.  Whichever way you prefer -- this is a relatively foolproof recipe.]

Form into four patties. Either bake them in the oven at 375 ° F for 25 minutes or place in a pan lightly coated with olive oil. Be careful when you are turning them, because vegetarian burgers do have a tendency to fall apart easily. Cook on each side 4-5 minutes on medium heat.

Confession: I would have posted a photo, but the last time I made these, I had already started snacking on them by the time I got my camera ready, so the only photo I have is one with  patties with the edges picked off.  Whoops.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Solid Lotion Bar Recipe

When I first started making my own bath/body/skincare items, solid lotion bars (a.k.a. massage bars, belly bars, etc.) were one of the first things I started making. I ended up loving them SO much that (after tweaking a few recipes) I started selling them on my etsy site. I use them daily -- they keep my skin moisturized much longer than standard lotions, are super-convenient, and easy to apply.

The following is a recipe for a simple, unscented solid lotion bar -- nothing particularly fancy (I can't give away ALL my secrets), but you can adjust it to suit your preference (lighter/heavier oils, additional butters, etc).

If you don't want to make your own, mine can be found here.

Basic Solid Lotion Bars

Recipe makes approximately three 3-oz. lotion bars
  • 6 Tbsp. beeswax (if you can get them, beeswax pellets/pastilles make measuring SO much easier, and melting SO much faster)
  • 3Tbsp cocoa butter
  • 3 Tbsp shea butter
  • 6 Tbsp coconut oil
In a double boiler (I use a Pyrex measuring cup in a pan of water), add beeswax, cocoa butter, and coconut oil, and stir until beeswax and cocoa butter are fully melted. Add shea butter, and stir over low-medium heat until completely melted (I add the shea butter after the beeswax and cocoa butter have melted, because if you heat shea butter for too long, it has a tendency to become grainy/mealy. No bueno.)
Remove from heat.

If you want to scent your lotion bars with fragrance oil or essential oil, let mixture cool for a few minutes (but before it starts to set), add FO/EO, and mix well.

Pour into molds -- anything you want, really: a butter dish, an empty yogurt container, soap molds, heck, even ice cube trays or candy molds work for smaller-sized "mini-bars".

Pop lotion bars out of their mold once fully cooled -- if you're as impatient as I am, you can hasten the process by popping the filled containers into your refrigerator/freezer for 15 minutes.

If you have a cute container to store yours in, great -- but to be honest, I just keep mine in a resealable plastic baggie, and apply post-shower, to towel-dried skin. Easy peasy.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Eating Well: French-Canadian Split Pea Soup

Last weekend, whilst at Trader Joe's, I saw that they had already begun to stock 1/4- and 1/2 hams, and right then and there, decided I couldn't wait for Easter.
But now, Easter's not even here yet, and we've already had leftover ham sandwiches, and breakfast with eggs and leftover ham, and STILL have ham remaining.
What to do with the leftover-leftovers? I made use of every last morsel (including the ham bone), by making pea soup!

This is a SUPER-THICK, hearty, "stick-to-your-ribs" soup -- which will become very evident during the last 30-60 minutes of cooking.
If you prefer your soup a little thinner, just add more stock/water in 1/2-cup increments until the consistency is to your liking.
This also makes a LOT of soup, but it freezes well -- perfect for reheating on a cooler night, or whenever you want some comfort food.

If you prefer a meatless/vegan/vegetarian version, by all means, omit the ham (and replace the chicken stock with water or vegetable stock). I've made it both ways, and either way, it's scrumptious.

French Canadian Split Pea Soup

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
3-5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (I prefer to have larger pieces of garlic)
1 ham bone, preferably with a good amount of meat still on it. (optional – omit for a meatless version)
2 cups dried split yellow (or green) peas
1/2 cup barley* (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
10 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or water)
3 carrots, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 potatoes, diced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 Tablespoon fresh basil, minced (or 1 tsp dried)
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a large pot over medium high heat, sauté the oil, onion, bay leaf, and garlic for 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. 
Add the ham bone (if using), peas, barley, salt, and chicken/vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. 
 Remove the ham bone from the soup, let cool, and remove meat from the bone. Dice ham, and stir into the soup. Add the carrots, celery, potatoes, parsley, basil, thyme, and pepper.
 Simmer for another hour, or until the peas and vegetables are tender.

*To my knowledge, barley isn't a traditional component of French-Canadian pea soup, but I looooooove it, especially in this soup.

Bon Appétit!


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Homemade Natural Laundry Soap

I've read about homemade laundry soap for a while now, but admittedly, I didn't think it would work very well. In an effort to be more environmentally conscious, I've tried several different environmentally friendly brands. They all failed miserably, and quickly ended up on the "free table" of our shared laundry room. So much for saving money or the environment. 
However, after trying (and loving) some other homemade household product recipes, I decided to at least give it a try.

Results: I was very pleasantly surprised (actually, thrilled), but the REAL test was with Mr. SugarBee. He can be quite discerning (persnickety, really - not a bad thing when it comes to DIY recipes, as I tend to be overly optimistic) when it comes to homemade substitutions, and I knew that if this recipe didn't pass muster, we'd go right back to store-bought laundry soap.

It passed with flying colors! Our laundry has NEVER been this clean before.

What a liberating feeling it is to not be dependent on mass-produced products, and this alternative in particular is a major deal to me.
Until I tried this recipe, I thought I was stuck shelling out mucho dinero for laundry detergent...

Well... not any more...

DIY Natural Laundry Soap
  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 (3 oz.) bar soap (I used Ivory), finely grated*
  • 1 cup Washing Soda** (I've had the hardest time finding this, but converted Baking Soda [NaHCO3] to Washing Soda [Na2CO3] by baking it at 400F for an hour)
  • 20-30 drops Essential Oils (I used Lemongrass, Lemon, & Lavender).
Mix until all ingredients are evenly incorporated.
Store in an airtight container.

Use 2 Tbsp per load (I've used up to 1/4 cup for heavily soiled loads)

*I've found that if I unwrap my bars of soap, and leave them out for a day or two, the bar hardens/dries out a bit, which makes for much more finely-grated soap.

**When I first started experimenting with this recipe, I could not find washing soda locally. It is readily available online (i.e., but the cost of shipping increased the overall cost. After a bit of research (here, for example), I found that I could easily convert baking soda [NaHCO3] to washing soda [Na2CO3] by baking it at 400F for about an hour). Eventually, a friend found a source for washing soda, and since it was only $2.50 for a 55 oz. box (FAR cheaper than baking soda), I eagerly accepted her offer to pick up a few boxes for me.
In a pinch, I'd use the DIY method again, as it really did work to my satisfaction.

FUN FACT: You know that distinctive "Ivory Soap scent"? Guess what it is? Ginger root! Go ahead, sniff for yourself. :)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Honey Bomb Lip Balm Recipe

If you've read some of my previous posts, you're probably aware that I've been an avid LUSH fan for years.

Among the many LUSH items that I considered to be "Holy Grail" items was their Lite Lip lip balm -- sadly, it seems this has been discontinued. Next, I tried the chocolatey Whipstick, but I found it to be a bit gritty. I moved onto LUSH Honey Trap, but was disappointed in how quickly it turned rancid.
In my frustration (and not wanting to continue paying over $7 for a 0.3 oz. container), I decided to come up with my own version of what I considered to be The Perfect Lip Balm.

After trial and error, I came up with a recipe for what I found to be a perfect culmination of all the things I liked best about all three of the aforementioned LUSH balms: hints of cocoa, the slight sweetness of honey (naturally antimicrobial, and a natural preservative), super-moisturizing, long-lasting, and neither greasy nor waxy. Here is the recipe for what I consider my *ideal* lip balm:

Honey Bomb Lip Balm

5 tsp Beeswax Pastilles
3 1/2 tsp Cocoa Butter
3 Tbsp Coconut Oil
2 Tbsp Oil (I use a combination of Sweet Almond Oil, Jojoba, Avocado Oil, Almond Kernel Oil)
1 Tbsp Honey
10 drops Sweet Orange EO (optional - I personally LOVE the honeyed-cocoa-orange flavor/scent)
1/8 tsp Vitamin E (optional - acts as a preservative)

In a double boiler (I use a Pyrex measuring cup in a pan of water), add beeswax, cocoa butter, and oils, and stir until beeswax and cocoa butter are fully melted. Remove from heat.

Add honey, and stir until honey dissolves (it may show as little "blobbies" within the mixture -- this is okay, and will be blended in further as it cools.

Remove from heat. Let cool for a few minutes, then add EO, and Vitamin E (if using), and stir until mixture is cool/thickened enough to emulsify honey into mixture.

Once thickened, scoop into containers.
[You can use whatever you happen to have on hand -- when I was just making lip balm for myself, I re-used clean, empty lip balm containers and even empty breath mint tins, but when I sold mine on Etsy, I bought lip balm containers with screw-on lids, like the ones shown here or here. They're readily available from several different suppliers.]

Mixture will continue to set until it has fully cooled -- if you're as impatient as I am, you can hasten the process by popping the filled containers into your refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.

Et voila!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Homemade Dish Soap

Over the past few years, I've been reading up on a LOT of articles/recipes about homemade cleaning products. When I first took an interest, it was primarily because I had small children, and wanted to lessen the amount of toxins in my household. But just 5 years ago, there was FAR less information or recipes available than there are now, and the few recipes I did try really weren't that great. I liked how I felt using vinegar and water on my windows, but I wasn't crazy about the smell. I make perfumes - I personally *need* things to smell pretty.  I'm embarrassed to admit that it wasn't long before I reverted back to the store-bought cleaners.

Lately though, I've noticed an upsurge (Pinterest, most likely) in DIY recipes, a lot of which seem to have more favorable reviews than the ones I tried years ago. So, my interest has been piqued once more. I've been testing a few out here and there, and have found a few duds, but many surprising "wins". Which leads me to this particular article: of all the household cleaning products in my home, the one we go through more quickly than any other is dish soap.
We live in an apartment built in 1927 -- electrical outlets are few (with plenty of extension cords), and we have NO dishwasher... which is fine -- I don't mind doing dishes, really. But since we wash all of our dishes exclusively by hand (and we like to do a LOT of cooking), we tend to go through a bottle of dish soap every 2 weeks. That's about $80 per year!

I haven't found a recipe I love quite as much as I loved my Palmolive, but the following recipe is a natural alternative, smells nice, costs pennies to make, is SO EASY to make, and does the job. Oh -- and after sitting for a few hours/overnight, isn't too thin/watery, which is a HUGE plus for me (personal preference). I honestly think I'll be able to stick with it, this time.

Homemade Dish Soap

  • 1 ¾ cups boiling water
  • 1 Tbsp Borax
  • 1 Tbsp grated bar soap (I used Ivory, because I had plenty left over from making DIY Laundry Detergent -- but that will be in a later post)
  •  1 Tbsp liquid castile soap, optional (I used Dr. Bronner's in Almond)
  • 15-20 drops essential oils, optional (I used 8 drops Lemon, 8 drops Lavender, and 4-5 drops Eucalyptus)
Heat water to boiling.
Combine borax and grated bar soap in a Pyrex measuring cup (2 cup + capacity).
Pour hot water over the mixture til water level reaches 1 ¾ cup mark.
Whisk until the grated soap is completely melted.
Pour into empty squirt bottle (a funnel would help to avoid spills/splashes, but I didn't have one, so I poured reeeeeeallllly carefully).
Allow mixture to cool for a few hours, shaking occasionally. Dish soap will gel upon standing.
Transfer to a squirt bottle, and add essential oils (if using). Shake well to combine.

Tip: The dish soap continues to re-gel between uses, but if you give it a good shake prior to use, it seems to make it easier to distribute. I don't mind this *too* much, because for me, having to shake before use is far preferable to having to use thin, watery dish soap.
Also - pleeeease make sure all of the little grated soap bits completely dissolve before transferring to a squirt bottle. If any little bits remain undissolved, they will make their way to the dispensing cap mid-squeeze, clog your squirt bottle, and drive you batty. I'm speaking from experience.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Lemon Lavender Bath Melt Recipe

As much as I love using my lotion bars, sometimes I get a little bit lazy, and want to get out of the tub already moisturized. I wanted to make bath melts that I could just throw in the tub and let them work their magic.
I tinkered with a few different recipes, but liked the outcome from the following one the best.
Added bonus:  it's really simple!

Oh! This is super-important --  If you've never tried bath melts, they make your tub slippery. Unless you actually want the person getting in the shower after you to suffer a concussion, one of the caveats of using oils/butters in the bath is that you have to clean the tub afterward. Not so relaxing, I know, but it's worth it.

Lemon Lavender Bath Melts

2 oz. cocoa butter
2 oz. shea butter
1/2 teaspoon beeswax or carnauba wax (vegan)
1 teaspoon dried lavender buds (optional)*
12 drops lavender essential oil
12 drops lemon essential oil
(I also added 1/2 tsp of Vaniglia de Madagascar fragrance oil, because it makes everything smell amazing.)

*In this particular recipe, I used dried lavender buds, but I think I'll leave the lavender buds out, from now on. I didn't care for them floating around the bathtub, and clinging to me when I got out.

First off, it really helps to have a digital scale for recipes like this. I picked mine up at the post office, for around $30.

Set a large Pyrex measuring cup on top of the scale, and hit "tare" (this sets the scale to zero). Add the cocoa and shea butters til the scale indicates 2 oz each, then the beeswax. Set inside a pan/pot with an inch or two of boiling water (don't let any water splash into the pyrex cup), and stir until everything is fully melted.

Remove from heat, let cool for a few minutes (but before it starts setting), and add the lavender buds, and essential oils.

Pour into molds - I used a flower-shaped ice cube mold from IKEA, but you can use whatever small mold you have on hand, including candy molds, or a regular ice cube tray.

Let set for an hour or so (or pop into the freezer for 15 minutes). Pop out of molds, and store in a cool location until ready for use.

Tip: I used 2 melts when I initially tried these out, thinking more was better, but honestly, one should suffice.
And... please be careful when getting out of the tub, as it can be quite slick.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Eating Well / Beauty From the Inside Out: Apple-Ginger Steel Cut Oatmeal Recipe

My children are SUPER-picky eaters, but one of the few items my son will eat is oatmeal, so when I spotted steel cut oats in the bulk bins at whole foods whilst on one of my lentil-restocking trips, I grabbed some.
I'm not crazy about how super-processed and sugar-laden the packaged quick oatmeal options are, so I figured I'd test-drive these instead, hoping (but doubting) they'd pass the super-picky-kid test.

Not having ever cooked (or eaten) steel cut oats before, I spent a fair amount of time (okay, *hours*) researching recipes and their reviews. I decided to start out with Alton Brown's recipe, since a) it had rave reviews, and b) his recipes have NEVER failed me.
I was okaaay with the results, but it didn't knock my socks off, or anything.
I wanted to build on it, and make it really interesting, and different. Which isn't easy for oatmeal.

After some trial and error, I came up with the recipe below. Since then, I have enjoyed it for breakfast every day for the past two weeks. It's healthy, has a ton of fiber, is the least refined of all the oat varieties, and I get to control the amount of sugar/additives. That's a big plus for a mom!
It does take longer to cook (45 minutes), but I just make it in advance, refrigerate, and re-heat a bowl-full every morning. Easy-peasy.

Incidentally, my son not only tried it, but LOVES it -- pretty impressive response from a kid who eschews just about everything.

Apple-Ginger Steel Cut Oatmeal

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 cup steel cut oats
1 apple, peeled and diced
1/8 cup crystallized ginger, minced (optional, OR substitute ¼ - ½ cup dried apricots, raisins, cherries, cranberries, etc.)
1 Tbsp ground flax seed
1 Tbsp chia seeds
1 Tbsp poppy seeds
½ - 1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups boiling water
1 cup vanilla almond milk (or rice milk, soy milk, hemp milk, etc.)
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp brown sugar (optional)*

In a large saucepot, melt the coconut oil and add the oats. Stir for 2 minutes to toast.
Add the boiling water, diced apple, ground flax seed, chia seeds, poppy seeds, and cinnamon. Reduce heat to a simmer. Keep at a low simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the almond milk and vanilla to the oatmeal. Stir gently to combine and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
Spoon into a serving bowl, and serve (I pour an additional smidge of almond milk on top of mine, to thin it out a little bit).
*I tend to omit the brown sugar, as I find the fruit sweetens it enough for my liking.