Roasted Tomato Sauce: the Easy Way

Roasted Tomato Sauce: the Easy Way

When I shop for groceries, I typically careen around the store, barely pausing to toss things in the cart (especially since I am usually running on borrowed time before the sacred nap). Here at the grocery stores in Nova Scotia, however, there is one thing that will always bring me to a screeching halt: that bright pink sticker screaming “50% off for quick sale”.

Because boy, am I a sucker for a sale.

When I first discovered this little phenomenon, I just bought things willy-nilly, believing that I was absolutely saving money in buying a carton of juice that had to be drank up that day, or a box of cookies that had to be eaten in one sitting, but then I realized all I was doing was bingeing. Sales will wash your brain out for you like that. But while there may not be value in buying half-price, nearly expired cookies and juice, there definitely are some savings to be made in the produce section. 

My biggest weakness on the produce sale rack is tomatoes. I cook with tomatoes a lot. A TON. I usually have a stockpile of canned tomatoes on hand, but there have been some rumblings about canned tomatoes containing a high concentration of BPA as it is leached from the can’s lining. Despite Health Canada’s conclusion that this exposure is not harmful, I’m a bit squeamish now, and I figure it’s always better to cook with the real deal instead of canned stuff anyway, if you can help it. Fresh tomatoes can be pricey, depending on the season and the type, so buying them half-price really tickles my thrifty bone (which is closely related to the funny bone, in case you were wondering). 

You can save tomatoes for later by either canning or freezing them, and since I haven’t delved very far into the potentially scary world of canning, I mainly stick to freezing. It’s pretty foolproof. You can blanch, peel, then freeze them whole or diced, or you can cook them into a sauce and freeze that. Either way, not a ton of work.

I bet I lost a few of you at the word “blanch”, though. And to be perfectly honest, if this was the only method of preparation available,  I’d have lost a whole lot of tomatoes to spoiling and sheer laziness by now. While my way does cook the tomatoes into a sauce, prep time takes about five minutes before and five minutes after, and you don’t have to fuss around with tomato skins — which, aside from being really annoying, irritate the heck out of my hands. I use the resulting sauce to make homemade pizza, but I think it would be equally delicious tossed with pasta. The other great thing about this “recipe” is that it doesn’t have set measurements, so it’s the easiest thing in the world to customize, and you can follow it with any amount of tomatoes at all. (In the interest of energy saving, you’ll probably want enough to fill a baking dish/cookie sheet at least, though. This is about four or five.)

So you have four or five tomatoes and you want to make sauce. Here is the complete list of things you’ll need to make…

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Roasted Tomato Sauce

  • Tomatoes – Any sort of tomatoes at all will work. Something a little more fleshy, like a beefeater or a roma tomato will work best, though, insofar as the sauce won’t be as watery in the end
  • Spices of your choice – I like to use dried thyme and oregano, salt and pepper, and fresh basil if I have it.
  • Sugar – Just enough to take down the acidity of your tomatoes.
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic 
  • Rimmed baking sheet or dish – If you are using a metallic baking sheet, make sure to line it with a silpat or parchment paper as the acidity of the tomato juice can react unfavorably with some materials, making for bitter flavor.
  • Immersion blender – A regular blender, like the kind you use for smoothies, or a food processor will work here too.

So what you wanna do is:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300° and line your baking sheet. If you’re using a glass casserole dish here, just get it out of the cupboard.
  2. Wash the tomatoes and cut them in half. Place them cut side up on the baking dish.
  3. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil. If you’re using tiny tomatoes, like grape ones, you can just add a drop to each half, but if you’re using bigger tomatoes, it might be easier to put about a tablespoon of oil in a cup and swipe some onto each half with a basting brush. Me? I’m lax and just dribble oil over them all.
  4. Season each tomato with a pinch of dried thyme and oregano, some salt and pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Alternatively, if your tomatoes aren’t overly acidic, you can leave the sugar out and add it at the end once you’ve tasted if you think you need it. I like pizza sauce to be a little bit sweet, so I do put about a pinch of sugar on the toms before they hit the oven. 
  5. Put them in the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, take a few cloves of garlic and throw them onto the baking dish with the tomatoes. Peel them if you want to, but you can also just squish the roasted garlic out of the peels at the end, which is what I do. How many you use is up to you: You love garlic and you’re making a whole tray of tomatoes? Add half a head. Roasted garlic is much more mild in flavor than raw garlic, remember, so you can be a little more generous here than you might normally be. Set the timer for 30 more minutes.
  6. When it’s all done roasting, throw the tomatoes and now-peeled garlic into the blender/food processor/bowl and blend them all up. If you have fresh basil, tear a few sprigs into the mix before you blend. Taste it to be sure it doesn’t need more salt or sugar and add some if it does. Try not to eat it all out of the blender. 
  7. Freeze it up! Because I use my sauce for pizza, I usually freeze the sauce into about 1/2 cup portions for convenience. You can also just pour it into a ziplock or a freezer-safe container big enough to hold it all, if you like. 

And that is all there is to it. 

Making your own tomato sauce is great because cooked tomatoes have a ton of health benefits which come from the phytochemical lycopene, the levels of which are boosted considerably the longer the tomato is cooked. Lycopene has the antioxidant properties that apparently reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer, as well as lower cholesterol levels. (Source: Livestrong.com – The Health Benefits of Eating Cooked Tomato Products) Cooking it yourself out of real live tomatoes means that you get to control the bad stuff, like salt and sugar, and you can make it taste exactly the way you want it to. Something that I very mindlessly poured out of a can for many, many years is really not that hard to make, when all is said and done.

And it means I get to buy sale stuff and gloat to myself over my savings. 

– Joc

 

 

Bookshelf From a Dresser

Bookshelf From a Dresser

How to Turn a Dresser Into a Bookshelf

Turn a dresser into a bookshelf

 

Do you have an old dresser with drawers that don’t really work or that’s just old and ugly? Do you need more bookshelves? Well I’ve got the solution for you! This project is quick, easy, and cheap. My favorite kind.

Turn a dresser into a bookshelf
I call this color uglyish brown

This dresser was left behind by the previous tenants in an old apartment I lived in about 10 years ago. I used it as it was for years and then about 5 years ago I painted it brown. I didn’t really know what I was doing then and it sure wasn’t the prettiest transformation you ever saw but it served its purpose.

Enter Pinterest.

I saw a photo on Pinterest of old drawers being used as wall shelves and thought it was really cute. I still plan to do that with the drawers left over from this project but a bookshelf for Charlotte’s books was priority. Her books are her favorite things to play with and she sits on her little rug and “reads” them for most of the day. That means, of course, that I pick them up a million times a day. The bookshelf I was using was open all around which made it really frustrating trying to stand up all the books. It drives me crazy. I plan to put it in her room eventually with the drawer wall shelves above but for now (she’s only one) I like her to play in the living room where I can see her.

The added bonus to this bookshelf is the drawer I left at the top. I use it for all the unsightly old books that she doesn’t use or are too grown-up for her.

Here’s how I did it.

Supplies:

  • paint (I used leftover wall paint but wood paint would be more durable)
  • primer
  • protective finish (I used Minwax Polycrylic in Clear Satin)
  • paint brush, foam roller, and foam brushes
  • MDF, wood or particle board for the shelves
  • 4 L-brackets per shelf plus screws (1 inch are fine)
  • level
  • more screws for bottom shelf

Method:

First you’ll want to take out the drawers and remove the tracks and anything else that may be attached to the inside of the dresser. You can leave a drawer at the top like I did or just take out all the drawers. It’s up to you! If the wood has a shiny finish or old chipped paint you’ll need to sand it a bit. Make sure the dresser is free of bumps or chips and rough up varnished surfaces with sand paper so the paint will adhere.

Measure the inside width and depth of your dresser and cut the shelves to fit. A good tip that I learned from my hubby is that you can usually have them cut your wood for you right at the hardware store which saves you a lot of trouble and mess and makes it way easier to transport home! Just be sure to measure two or three times to make sure you don’t arrive home with the wrong size and therefore wasted wood.

Attach the shelves to wherever you’d like them to go using the l-brackets, screws and a level. Make sure the shelves are level side-to-side AND back-to-front. This is important. I like to attach the brackets to inside of the dresser first, sit the shelf on them and then screw them to the shelf making sure the shelf front is flush with the front edge of the dresser.  On my dresser there was a bit of a ledge on the bottom that I was able to screw my bottom shelf to but you may need to either use some l-brackets for yours or you can just use small strips of wood as braces since they will be hidden by the apron of the dresser.

Fill in any holes leftover from the drawer slides with wood filler or drywall composite for a more polished look. (I’m not going to lie, I’m lazy and skipped this step.) If you’re using MDF or particle board you should probably fill in the front edges of your shelves before you paint them too. (I also lazily skipped this step.) Sand the edges if you used wood.

Turn a dresser into a bookshelf
Priming almost done!

Paint the whole thing (including your drawer) with one or two coats of primer then one to three coats of paint with the foam roller and/or paint brush. The inside will most likely be bare wood so you’ll especially need the primer here, otherwise the paint will soak right in and be wasted. Let dry between coats according to the instructions of your particular paint.

Using the foam brush (or the type of brush recommended for your protective finish) apply a few coats of protective finish, allowing it to dry for a couple hours between coats. You may want to change out your hardware on the top drawer too. When I refinished this dresser the first time, I spray painted some old brass kitchen cupboard knobs. They’re chipped a bit but I decided to just keep them. I think they go with the shabby chic sort of rustic look I have going on. (Some may also call that laziness.)

Once  it’s all completely dry put your drawer back in and you’re done! Happy re-purposing!

I hope this post helps you get some more attractive life out of a tired old piece of furniture. I get great amounts of satisfaction out of it myself. I’d love to see your before-and-afters too!

-Tracy

Homemade Natural Toothpaste

Homemade Natural Toothpaste

How to make your own natural toothpaste

 
Homemade Natural Toothpaste

Of all the things in my life that I have switched from commercial to natural, toothpaste has been the most challenging.

I really wanted to make the change because of all I’ve read about how bad commercial toothpaste is for you. It’s said that it also doesn’t allow your teeth to heal themselves, which they are apparently capable of doing, just like your bones. Commercial toothpastes often contain glycerin as a texturizer/sweetener/preservative that supposedly coats your teeth and therefore prevents them from remineralizing by way of your saliva. And then there’s the whole Fluoride debate. While Fluoride has been proven to help prevent tooth decay it is also toxic if ingested in large quantities and therefore, in my opinion, not something to mess around with. Another common ingredient in toothpaste is Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) which is a surfactant used in many detergents and soaps to make them foam. There’s so much badness connected to this chemical that I’m not going to get into them all here except to say that I avoid it wherever possible. This is a difficult task given the fact that it’s added to most soaps, cosmetics, shampoos, toothpastes, mouthwashes and thousands more products that come in contact with your skin. I’m continually trying to find ways to cut it out of my life.

My other big motivation is my 11.5 month old daughter who now has 5 teeth. I don’t know about you but I find it terrifying that the instructions on the tube warn heavily against letting your baby swallow the toothpaste and to use no more than a pea-sized amount. Why risk it??

Your toothbrush does most of the work in cleaning your teeth. Where your toothpaste comes in handy is in eliminating bacteria that causes gum issues and bad breath. The good news is that killing bacteria is easy and you don’t need an entire lab’s worth of chemicals to do it. My recipe uses coconut oil as the base. Not only does it give the toothpaste a great texture but it also naturally has anti-bacterial properties. Perfect! 

The second main ingredient is baking soda, which is not surprising since baking soda has 100 million uses and is made of magic. Baking soda is great for cleaning your teeth because it removes plaque, whitens, and deodorizes. I have heard multiple people make skeptical noises about baking soda, believing its abrasiveness will erode your enamel, but according to the RDA scale, baking soda is a low abrasive. It has a rating of 7 where most commercial toothpastes fall anywhere between 35 and 200, and apparently anywhere from 150 upwards is considered “harmful”, so it looks like you’re pretty safe in the erosion department when it comes to baking soda.

The rest of the ingredients are sort of optional but I really recommend them because, honestly, baking soda tastes pretty terrible. This is where the challenge with homemade toothpaste comes in. Because we’ve all grown up expecting toothpaste to taste overwhelmingly minty and sweet, the switch to the salty flavor of baking soda is a tough one. It takes a bit of brain-wrapping for sure. I definitely struggled with it in the beginning and my first few batches of toothpaste got a bit out of hand from all the things I added trying to “fix” the taste. Let me save you a lot trouble (and supplies) by saying it will never taste as minty fresh as a tube of Colgate but that’s OK. Stop trying to “bend the spoon”; bend yourself instead. (I’ve watched The Matrix too many times.) Once you train yourself to appreciate the science of cleaning your teeth and all the good that nature has to offer, you start to become accustomed to the taste and stop thinking you need crazy chemicals and artificial flavors to feel normal and clean.

Are you sufficiently motivated to toss your tube of “chemical paste” now? Not yet? Did I mention this homemade natural toothpaste is way cheaper too? An added bonus, I think. Now let’s get on with it!

Natural Toothpaste Recipe

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp Coconut Oil, in solid state (room temperature)
2 Tbsp Baking Soda
5-10 Drops Peppermint Essential Oil (Or more to taste) 
5-10 Drops Liquid Stevia (Or more to taste)

*You can make this recipe in any size. Just use equal parts of coconut oil and baking soda then add essential oil and Stevia to taste.

Directions:

Mash the coconut oil and baking soda together with a fork. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined.

Store at room temperature in a small jar or icing bag. 

 
Homemade natural toothpaste

And that’s it. Super easy, super affordable, super healthy.

Like many homemade healthcare products, the lowered level of convenience can be an adjustment but you do get used it. You may find it simplest to just keep it in a small jar and scoop it out with your clean toothbrush (or a popsicle stick if you think dipping straight into the paste with your brush is yucky). Or you can try keeping it in an icing bag which would work more like a conventional toothpaste tube.

Homemade natural toothpaste

I haven’t tried any flavors besides mint yet but I hear cinnamon essential oil is good in it too. I’m wondering what flavors would be good for kids. Maybe vanilla and/or orange? I’ll post an update when I try them out.

So what do you think? Do you like this recipe or is it too big of an adjustment for you and your family? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

-Tracy

 

 Sources:

http://artistta.blogspot.ca/2011/04/closer-look-at-glyerin-and-whether-its.html

http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/oral-care/products/fluoride-free-toothpaste.htm

http://docakilah.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/why-natural-toothpaste-is-better-than-your-regular-toothpaste/

http://www.md-health.com/Brushing-Teeth-With-Baking-Soda.html

http://www.levysmiles.com/faq/best-toothpaste

Sourdough Starter: Where to Start

Sourdough Starter: Where to Start

A Website for Demystifying Homemade Sourdough Starter

Sourdough Starter
Considering my love for all things cultured and fermented, I would be really surprised at myself for not attempting a homemade sourdough starter before now if it weren’t for my dismal failures at bread making in the past. After those catastrophes, I just couldn’t muster up the courage to try again for a long time. I finally did, though. I googled “No Fail Bread” and the recipe I found turned out a few excellent batches… until I went off it during my “morning” sickness phase. 

But now that I’m in my “eat everything” phase, I have been obsessing about a sandwich. The best sandwich in the whole world, in fact. It consists of tomatoes, avocado, brie, salt and pepper on lightly toasted and buttered sourdough. As I write this, I am full to bursting from the stir fry that I gorged on for supper, but I would murder this sandwich if someone put it in front of me right now. Maybe even two of them.

Frikkin’ pregnant cravings. 

The trouble with this sandwich (aside from the semi-costly ingredients) is that sourdough seems to be an extremely rare commodity here in my corner of rural Nova Scotia. I look for it hopefully every time I go to the grocery store and I think I’ve only come across it a time or two. I could probably get it at one of the local bakeries, but that would mean an extra stop in and out of the car with a toddler when I’m already budgeting seconds that count toward nap time.

I will either write off or figure out elaborate detours to get around anything that makes me get in and out of the car with Toby an extra time, and so this time I detoured by just making my own sourdough. Bread-making fears be damned.

What you need to know about sourdough starter:

When I started to do my research, I was super overwhelmed by the crazy amount of information available about making your own sourdough starter. There are a lot of  terms and details that I am still boggled by, and I know that it’s going to take a lot of years of practice before I fully understand it all.  That being said, however, there is absolutely no reason for a beginner to shy away from trying to make sourdough as it can be as simple as it can be complicated… if that makes any sense.

I cruised a lot of different blogs looking for recipes that appealed to my simplistic side, and in my hunt I discovered that good sourdough depends, largely, on patience. All you really need to get started is flour, water, and time.

As an interesting side note, I also discovered that because of the lactic acid that is formed in the fermentation process of sourdough starter (which I talked about in my homemade soda pop post), sourdough bread is potentially easier to digest and does not cause as much of a spike in blood sugar that other breads might cause, making it a better choice, health-wise. I can always get on board with that, especially when I’m eating something delicious.

So where do you start?

The website I settled on in the end is fantastic. Behold: the kitchn. It is easy to read and to follow, very straightforward, and gives you the basics without overwhelming you with too many details. Since I am still a beginner, I can’t improve on anything she posted and so I will just direct you right along to the site.

I made my starter with all-purpose white four and water from my tap (we have our own well and so our water is NOT chlorinated. This is important!), and when I began the process, I used a scale to weigh equal amounts of flour and water. I popped my loosely covered plastic container up on top of my kitchen cupboards where it would theoretically stay at a consistently warm temperature, and every day I added more flour and water. By about day 7, I had a starter that looked and smelled sufficiently fermented. It was ready to try. 

Nothing to it!

Tucked into the instructions for the sourdough starter on the post I’ve linked above is a recipe for a loaf of sourdough itself. This recipe calls for a small amount of commercial yeast to ease you into the leavening process while your starter is still young, and so it works out to be something of a no-fail recipe. There are five ingredients in this bread, and if you are ready to spend a day letting bread rise and do a bit of kneading, then you are ready to have a super yummy loaf of bread at the end of the day.

Homemade Sourdough HeavenThis recipe is the one I used for my starter’s maiden voyage and I can attest that… It. Is. Fantastic. I made my wonderful sandwich out of it. And I made grilled cheeses with fried eggs. And I made toast… a lot of toast with butter and jam, which has incidentally become my newest obsession along with the World’s Best Sandwich. 

Good thing this bread is healthy.

If you want to do some more in-depth reading for tips and tricks on making your own sourdough starter and bread, check out what Cultures for Health has to say. They even offer heirloom sourdough cultures for sale if you don’t feel like playing with the fermentation side of things. However, if you are anxious to try your own sourdough at home and want to keep it simple, I urge you to just have a read through the post at the kitchn to give it a go. It may take some time from flour to loaf, but I promise, it’s easy and entirely worth it.

So now, dear little boozy readers, have you ever made your own sourdough? What kinds of tips and tricks can you pass on to a newb like me?

 

 

 

Deceptively Sinless Chocolate Avocado Pudding

Deceptively Sinless Chocolate Avocado Pudding

Chocolate Avocado PuddingI’ve always liked sweets, but pregnancy really amplifies this wicked taste of mine and I have been shamefully shoving junk food into my face like it’s the only thing that will keep me alive.

My lack of willpower and the attitude of “you deserve it, you’re pregnant!” have been a horrible combination. It has totally enabled me to satisfy this craving with whatever crap is handy (including but not limited to lots of chocolate bars) but I’ve started feeling guilty. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with indulging in moderation, but I guess I should probably be making sure I’m getting the right nutrients and all that blah blah blah.

My flawless logic also tells me that if I eat sweets that are more wholesome and nutritious, I can eat MORE of them.

I’m sticking to that theory, so don’t even try to talk me out of it. 

The easiest way to be healthier when in the clutches of a sugar jones is to stay away from packaged, processed sweets and eat things like fruit and yogurt, of course. When that doesn’t do the trick (i.e. most of the time, in my case), I can move on to sweets that are cut with nutritious ingredients, like a honey sweetened apple crisp, say, or chocolate quinoa brownies. Controlling these kinds of ingredients means making my own treats as much as I can, and now that I don’t feel like a hangover on a roadtrip in a stuffy car, I’m much more likely to do this.

However, I could have all the extra energy I’m capable of possessing and still not feel like putting in the effort to bake, so my credo (as always) is that simple is best. I want as few ingredients as possible with as few dishes as possible with as few steps as possible. That’s really not so much to ask, is it?

My ultimate go-to simple and healthy dessert, then, is chocolate avocado pudding.  It’s a bit of a no-brainer, really: avocados are really good for everyone, but as it turns out, they are extra good for us pregnant lassies. Avocados are high in potassium (which helps keep all that extra fluid in your swollen self at the right chemical balance), high in fibre (lowers blood pressure thereby reducing the risk of preeclampsia and also keeps you… you know, moving), and they are also a good source of Vitamin B6 and Vitamin C. They are sometimes thought to be very fattening but the fat content we are looking at is unsaturated. The good kind. Unsaturated fat is crucial in brain and nervous system development, giving you another good reason to dig in while you’re growing a whole human (and also a good reason to feed avocados to your kids).

Chocolate, of course, has gotten a lot of positive attention in recent years as it is now thought to be a healthy choice when you are looking for something to file the edge off your sweet tooth. If you select a good quality dark chocolate (meaning at least 70% cocoa content, but the higher the better), you are enjoying a treat that is a source of antioxidant flavonoids which will not only help your body repair cell damage but can also help protect your cardiovascular system. It does have to be dark chocolate, though: milk chocolate and Dutch processed cocoa are both processed to remove some of the bitterness that raw cacao holds which strips them of much of their flavonoids. 

This being noted, I’m sure you’ve realized that this chocolate avocado pudding is on the dark side. If you’re not a huge dark chocolate fan, you can serve this dessert with whipped cream which cuts some of the bitterness. It may not keep the fat content down, but lemme tell ya, it definitely jacks up the delicious factor.

I have to give Tracy full credit for this chocolate avocado pudding recipe — she practically lived off the stuff when she was pregnant and introduced it to me then. I will give you two versions of this pudding: one uses mainly whole ingredients and is a little bit healthier than the second which uses chocolate chips. Both versions are smooth and silky beyond what you would have possibly imagined, and both are rich and chocolatey and decadent. The major difference between these two recipes is that the chocolate chip version sets into a ganache-like texture while the cocoa version stays a little softer and more like pudding. I usually make the chocolate chip version because it has less ingredients (see credo above) and because I like the firmer texture, but if you want to go guilt-free, you can make the cocoa version — which incidentally fits in with vegan and raw food diets, if that’s something you’re observing.

So now that I have you convinced that you should make it (and I do, don’t I??), here are the two recipes for…

Chocolate Avocado Pudding

 ~Angelic Version~

 Ingredients

  • 1 Medium to large avocado, ripe
  • 2 Tbsp unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup honey, agave syrup OR maple syrup (this depends entirely on your tastes. You can even go for raw sugar, if you want.)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • optional: 1-2 Tbsp milk (coconut, almond, cow… whatever you have. This is only used as needed to thin the pudding should it be too thick to blend nicely)  

 Directions

  1. Peel avocado and remove pit. Place in food processor and blend until smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides as needed. 
  2. Add remaining ingredients and blend until completely incorporated, again scraping sides as necessary. 
  3. Divide pudding into individual dishes and chill for at least an hour. 

 ~Slightly More Devilish Version~

Ingredients

  • 1 Medium to large avocado, ripe
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup milk (or cream if you want to amp up the indulgence)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch salt

Directions

  1. Combine chocolate chips and milk over medium heat and stir until chocolate begins to melt. Remove from heat and continue stir until smooth. Set aside. (Alternatively you can microwave the chocolate chips and milk together for 1 minute at a medium high power setting. I use 7 on my microwave if I’m using it for this purpose.)
  2. Peel avocado and remove pit. Place in food processor and blend until smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides as needed. 
  3. Add vanilla, salt and chocolate mixture to food processor and blend until fully incorporated. 
  4. Divide pudding into individual dishes and chill for at least an hour.

When chilling is complete, you can serve either version with fresh fruit and whipped cream or you can top it with a sprinkling of your favorite kind of nuts. I like it best with bananas or strawberries and whipped cream. 

This is an enormous hit at our house –to the point that if Toby sees the food processor and an avocado on the counter at the same time, he does a little dance — and it’s also a great way to use up that avocado you forgot about in the fridge which needs to get eaten NOW. All things considered, this is definitely a dish you can eat time and again and enjoy without tarnishing your conscience at all.

Have you tried this before? What is your favorite wholesome (or, as I like to call them, sneaky) dessert? As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts and field any questions! 

– Joc

Ottoman Makeover: A Weekend Project

Ottoman Makeover: A Weekend Project

How to Reupholster a Storage Ottoman

Reupholster an Ottoman
My parents in-law gave us this ottoman.

It came with their bedding set as packaging and I think they’ve discovered by now that I hate to throw things out so they figured I would want it. They were right, of course.

It was in our living room for a while as extra seating but then our little Bubbs started sleeping in her own room. This meant I would be spending a lot more time in the super comfy armchair (turned rocking chair, a DIY post for another day all on its own) and I needed a footrest. I used the chair solo while I searched on Kijiji for a cute little foot stool but when nothing turned up I decided the boxy brown thing would do. As it turns out it’s the perfect height to rest your legs on while rocking/nursing a baby to sleep and it’s also a great place to store all those baby blankets we rarely use.

The problem: the color is so dark that when you go in the room when the lights are out you are almost guaranteed to knock your shins on it. I’ve done it about a hundred times. 

The solution: recover the top in a light colored fabric!

I promise you, it’s very, very easy. I did this in about an hour and again it could’ve been done with a little more love but I’m happy enough with it. You could also cover the whole thing if you wanted to but I didn’t feel like I needed to. I guess I really just didn’t want to use all that much fabric.

Ok. Less talky talky, more do-y do-y.

What you will need to recover your ottoman:

  • Foam or cotton stuffing
  • Quilt batting
  • Fabric (home decor, preferably)
  • Staple gun and staples

What to do:

  1. Cut a piece of foam just the size of the top of your ottoman cover. Lay it on top. (I used some cotton stuffing I had and just laid out enough to cover the top.)
  2. Cut a piece of batting big enough to cover the whole top and wrap down around and underneath the edges. (If you want to cover a whole ottoman, just apply this step to the whole ottoman and wrap the batting under the edges of the bottom.)
  3. Fasten the batting to the bottom with a few staples starting with the center of the edges and working out to the corners.
  4.  photo 20140506_125248_zpssiqvc276.jpg

  5. Cut a piece of fabric big enough to cover the top (or whole ottoman) and wrap underneath the edges. This piece of fabric will be a bit bigger than the batting. You may want to play it on the safe side and cut more than you need. You can always trim the extra after.
  6. Reupholster an ottoman
    Yes, that is a baby foot at the bottom of the photo. She likes to “help”.
  7. Wrap the fabric around the lid, pulling taut but not so tight that it stretches or twists the pattern, and fasten to the underside at the center points of each edge.
  8. Now this is where it gets a bit tricky: play around with the fabric until you get a neat pleat at each corner. I find it helps to push down on the center of the corner then pull the flaps that are created in toward it, sort of like gift wrap. Make sense?
  9. Reupholster an Ottoman

  10. Staple the whole mess to the underside with as many staples as you need to keep it in place.

 photo 20140506_130802_zpsa0ajuxnc.jpg

If you want it to be fully finished you can cut a piece of fabric to staple to the underside of the lid with the edges folded under but I don’t think it’s necessary.

Optional: Add one centered or two evenly spaced staples to the top to give a tufted look. You could even do a fabric covered button and glue or sew it over the staple as well, if you’re feeling fancy.

And you’re done! Put it back together so your baby can use it to stand up.

Reupholster an ottoman
Reupholster an Ottoman
Did you find this tutorial helpful? We’d love to hear your thoughts and questions and to see your finished projects!

-Tracy

Quinoa Part II: Only the Good

Quinoa Part II: Only the Good

Three of My Favorite Quinoa Recipes

You know what’s really, really good for you? Quinoa. You know what I buy in bulk and add to just about everything? Quinoa!

I’m here to come to the defense of quinoa since poor Joc has had some bad luck with it. And that’s not to say that everything I’ve ever done with it has been great, because it hasn’t, but I have found a few recipes that I really like and I’d love to share them.

These three recipes are some that I make over and over and which have become “go-tos” in our house. The first of these recipes my husband frequently requests. This is a man they have nicknamed “Meat”, by the way. Just sayin’. The second one I love but Josh could take it or leave it. The third? We both love!

Before we get cooking with quinoa here are a few tips, tricks, and other uses for it:

  • Always rinse your quinoa under cool water before cooking.
  • Toss a small handful into soups and stews for added interest and a nutritional boost.
  • Toast quinoa in a dry pan over medium heat for a few minutes before cooking for extra flavor.
  • Grind toasted and cooled quinoa in a food processor or coffee grinder to make a gluten-free flour.
  • Use in place of oats with milk to make a delicious, protein-packed porridge for breakfast.
  • Top your salads with a 1/4 cup cooked quinoa and make them a little heartier.

Fun, right?

Now. On to the actual cooking.

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 Meat-Lover’s Quinoa Veggie Burgers

Adapted from Eating Well
Quinoa Burger

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup Quinoa (red or white)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cups finely chopped cremini, portobello or white button mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or thyme
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup whole pecans, toasted then finely chopped (See tip below)
  • 1/3 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 8 small whole-wheat burger buns or buns of your choice

Preparation

  1. Combine water and rinsed quinoa in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  3. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
  4. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, garlic, and spices; cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Let cool for about 5 minutes.
  5. Beat egg in a medium bowl. Add the quinoa, mushroom mixture, cheese, pecans, oats and soy sauce; stir to combine. Scoop scant 1/2-cup portions of the mixture onto the baking sheet and shape into 8 patties, about 3 inches wide, leaving about 1 inch of space between each patty. (The mixture will be crumbly; patting it into burgers on the baking sheet makes it easier to work with. The patties hold together very well once baked.)
  6. Bake the burgers until crispy, 28 to 30 minutes. Serve on buns with your favorite garnishes.

Notes

  • Make Ahead Tip: Individually wrap and freeze cooked burgers for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator. Reheat in a skillet with a little oil.
  • For the best flavor, toast nuts before adding to recipes. Spread whole nuts on a baking sheet and bake at 350°F, stirring once, until fragrant, 7 to 9 minutes. For chopped nuts, place in a small dry skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.

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Lasagna-Style Quinoa Casserole

Adapted from Eating Well
Quinoa Lasagna

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water, salted
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup diced portobello mushrooms (or any kind of fresh mushrooms you have on hand)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano, thyme or Italian seasoning
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 2 cups sliced zucchini (approximately one medium zucchini)
  • 2 handfuls fresh baby spinach
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Preparation

  1. Lightly grease a 9 x 13″ casserole dish with olive oil.
  2. Combine water and rinsed quinoa in a medium saucepan. (You can also add seasoning to the water or use chicken or vegetable broth instead for more flavor.) Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cook covered for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Evenly spread the quinoa in the prepared dish. You can also cook the quinoa before hand to cut down on prep time.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  4. Wipe out the saucepan, then add oil and heat over medium heat. Add onion; cook, stirring frequently, until transparent and starting to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Add mushrooms; cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are softened and very little moisture is left in the pan, 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and tomato sauce. Stir until hot. Remove from heat.
  5. Combine cottage cheese and egg in a medium bowl; mix well. Stir in Parmesan, basil and oregano.
  6. Spread one-third of the sauce over the quinoa. Make a layer of all the zucchini, then all the cottage cheese mixture, then half the remaining sauce, then all the spinach. Finish with the remaining sauce and spread mozzarella on top.
  7. Bake until hot and cheese is melted, bubbling and slightly browned around the edges, 35 to 40 minutes.
  8. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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Baked Turkey Quinoa Meatballs

Adapted from She Knows

Turkey Quinoa meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa, cooled
  • 1 handful baby spinach, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce (or less for a milder spice)
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning (or oregano, thyme, basil… whatever you have)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs (You can use regular breadcrumbs as well)
  • 1 egg

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and cover a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl add ground turkey, cooked quinoa, spinach, red onion, garlic, Sriracha, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, breadcrumbs and egg. Stir until combined. You can also mix these with an electric mixer to speed things up.
  3. Roll into 1 to 1-1/2 inch balls and add to prepared baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes until firm and cooked throughout.
  5. Serve with tomato sauce over pasta or on sub buns with cheese as a meatball sandwich.

I hope these recipes inspire you to  step outside your comfort zone a bit and do some experimenting with this funny, versatile, little seed that is all the craze right now. There are so many possibilities.

Now go make some quinoa!

Did you enjoy these recipes? Were they a flop for your family or did they gobble them right up? Let us know!

-Tracy