February 28, 2011

Fresh vs. Frozen - a Household Tip

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While I do buy fresh fruit and veggies there are some that I prefer to buy frozen. Many people think that frozen foods aren't as good as fresh but that's not always the case. If you live in a coldern climate, like I do, for half the year the majority of available produce has been flown in or travelled on a truck across a country or two. Produce begins to looses nutritional value after it is harvested so by the time it reaches the shelves it could have significantly less nutrients than the frozen counterparts. In addition to the nutrient loss during travel time, fresh produce is often picked before it is ripe (at it's peak for nutrients) since it will ripen during the trip. As for those bags of frozen produce, the fruits and vegetables are usually frozen immediately after being picked which is when it's nutrient content is at its peak.

The bags of frozen stuff also save time; you don't have to chop or wash these veggies. I love them for stire fry's since you can just throw everything directly into the wok; no chopping and no waste.

The frozen stuff can also be less expensive than the fresh stuff and sometimes the no name brand is just as good (I find this true for broccoli, cauliflower, peas and brussel sprouts). Plus if I bought too much it doesn't really matter since I just throw the rest of the bag back into the freezer for later (rather than into the compost after it's sat in my fridge for a couple of weeks).

February 27, 2011

Butterick 5059

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My red dress is complete! It felt like it took forever since there was quite a bit of handsewing for this pattern. I'm still not exactly sure as to the date of this pattern but I love it's mod stylings. It's designed by "Jean Muir" who was a "60's fashion icon," so my guess remains late 60's or early 70's. I picked this to go with the Sewing through the Decades Challenge. Here's my version:
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I really need to start ironing my finished products before I get my husband to take photos, look at all those wrinkles and creases

I ended up thinking that the skirt was too big and I took it in quite a bit, but that of course ended up being a bit of a mistake since the dress now looks really boxy on me. (or maybe it's just me?) I'm not really sure this style suits my body type very well, I end up looking very rectangular and flat chested. I do have broad sholders so maybe that's why.

I messed up a bit with the fake belt detail (it ended up centred rather than off centre) so I had to add a second button to balance it out. I hemmed it a bit on the long side since I'm not sure that I can still pull off something so short (check out the mile long legs on that red dressed model).

This shot is a bit better:
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Maybe I should just always stand with my hands at my waist. Overall though I think it's pretty cute. I love the curved seams that make up the bodice. I think this pattern could be modified into a really cute top.

February 22, 2011

Homemade Pizzas

Last weekend I made two very large pizzas and froze them so that on a busy night we could take one out and just pop it into the oven for dinner. I used large disposable aluminum cookie sheets (they didn’t have pizza ones) for baking and storage and wrapped the tops with one layer of plastic wrap and one layer of tin foil.

While this is by no means a healthy meals, I do consider this to be healthier than the alternatives (ordering it in or eating store bough frozen ones with their mysterious chemical additive ingredients). I know that the whole “eat this – not that” (also known as “eat sh*t – not cr*p”) philosophy is flawed but is you want to maintain a healthy diet you do need to eat some of your guilty favourites every once in awhile. I like a homemade pizza and the whole wheat crust used here add a bit of fibre and I personally couldn’t taste the ”whole-wheatyness” of it, so it doesn’t affect the flavour.

I don’t really have a true recipe for pizza, I just make the crust, throw on some homemade sauce and toppings. My sauce is made form 1 can of tomato paste (per pizza), mixed with garlic, pepper, basil, oregano and crushed chillies, use a lot of spices and garlic so that you can taste the sauce despite the toppings. I like to put half of my veggies and meat under the cheese and half on top. I use about 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese per pizza, but you can use more or less depending on how much cheese you like, and I often crumble some feta on the very top if I have it.

Whole Wheat Crust
Ingredients
1 ¼ cup all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour (possibly a bit more for kneeding)
1 package of active dry yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup of warm water (120F approx.)
2 tbsp olive oil

Steps
1.
Mix 1/ 1/4 cups of flour, yeast and salt, then add warm water and oil. Beat with an electric mixer on low until combined, then on high for about 3 min.
2. Stir in as much of the remaining flour as possible (I used my mixer with a dough hook, but the recipe originally suggested a wooden spoon).
3. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until dough is smooth and elasticy (to knead dough fold it in half then push the dough down and out with the palm of your hand, then repeat over and over).
4. Divide the dough in half and cover with a clean dish towel, let it rest for about 10 minutes.
5. For a thin crust pizza, roll the dough out and transfer to a greased pizza pan; prick the dough with a fork and bake at 350F for about 10 minutes, then add toppings and pop back into the oven.
6. For a thick/regular crust pizza, roll out dough and place on greased pans. Cover and let rise in a warm space until the dough has dobled in size (about 40 minutes). Again, prick the dough with a fork then bake for 10 minutes, then top the pizza and bake until cheese is golden.

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If you want to freeze your pizzas don't bake them the second time, freeze them just after you put on the toppings.

Making large batch meals like this seems like a lot of work, but it actually saves time in the long run. It took about an hour (including rise time) to make these two large pizzas since I chopped and shredded and mixed everything at once. I don’t have time to make something like this during the week (and often by the time Friday rolls around I don’t have the energy to make something like this), but once a month or so I can usually find an hour on the weekend to do a large batch of something. Right now I have these two pizzas in my freezer as well as two homemade lasagnes. This weekend I’m hoping to add a couple of pot pies to that stash.



February 21, 2011

My Latest Project

Things have been very hectic around here lately. I've been so busy and stressed that things haven't realy been getting done. I've skipped a could of gym sessions (for good reason), meals haven't been so good/healthy and I've pretty much just been veg-ing in my spare time. As mentioned before, my grandma is in the hospital (hip replacement surgery) and now my grandpa is in the hospital (pneumonia), so I've been visiting. Frankly it sucks (not the visiting, them being in the hospital).

I did manage to work on my latest project for a couple of hours though, so I thought that I would give a sneak peak. It's part of the Sewing Through the Decades Challenge. I picked out a pattern from my mothers stash, so I believe that this is a late 60s or early 70s pattern (I couldn't find a date anywhere, if you know please send me a link). It's a mod dress, Butterick 5059:

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I'm making the red one. This is a pattern that I wouldn't normally go for but in keeping with the challenge and trying new decades I figured, what the heck. It is pretty cute.

February 17, 2011

Mini Friday

Ahhh, it's almost the weekend and it's been one of those weeks again. Work is crazy and I leave a bit late, then I get to the gym late so I leave there late, then I come home and still have a few things to do around the house. Plus my grandma broke her hip and had surgery (she's old and frail so it was a bit stressful). Man am I glad that it's mini Friday. It's time for a drink and I'm all out of dark beer, I need something yummy and not too sweet. So, here it is, one of my favourite drinks Pimm's No.1 Cup.

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Pimm's No.1 Cup

1 part Pimm's No.1
2-3 parts English style lemondade (I use 7up or gingerale)
slices of cucumber, strawberry, lemon, orange, apple or whatever you have
plently of ice

I used cucumber, strawberry and lemon. I swear I only had two...

February 15, 2011

Household Tip - Pineapples

My husband offered to run to the store on his way home and happened to pick up a treat for himself (all dressed = gross) and one for me, a pineapple. An odd pick but I guess they were on sale and he seemed to remember that I "liked those thingys," which I do. I picked it up and smelt the bottom and told him "mmm, this is going to be a good one," he gave me an odd look and I had to explain that smelling the base was how one picked out a ripe pineapple. He had been using dumb luck.

As odd as it sounds, and looks at the grocery store, this is the best way to pick a pineapple (although it should look nice on the outside too). Just pick up that baby and smell it's bottom base; it should smell nice and pineapply, not fermented/alcoholy.

Sine my hubby doesn't eat pineapple and a whole one is a bit much for one person, I generally cut up the whole thing into nice chunks and eat it throughout the week as dessert or snacks. The first thing you want to do it\s chop of the top spikes and the bottom.
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Next you want to "peel" off the skin and little spikes by running your knife down the sides of the pineapple:
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I generally cut out the tough core and cut the rest of the pineapple up into large chunks or wedges.
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see the core (circle) in the middle?

I actually like to eat the core, but it is tough and chewy so I won't serve it to guests (pieces always seem to get stuck in your teeth too - you've been warned).

See, easy-peasy, I don't know why people buy that cut up stuff in juice.

February 14, 2011

Happy Valentines Day!

Happy Valentines day everyone! Hope you do something nice for someone you love (and they do something nice for you) and if you don't have someone special to spend the day with, wait until tomorrow and reap the benefits of discount candy.


and if you're still looking for that perfect card, check out this site (VintageHolidayCrafts). They have a bunch of really cute vintage cards that you can download for free, including the one above.

February 13, 2011

Back Button Blouse Complete!

I have finally finished my 1940's back button blouse, Simplicity 1906. It actually wasn't a difficult pattern, I've just been really busy with work, work outs, and those pesky everyday chores. I am so glad to be finished.

I ended up going to a friends to borrow their machine to do the button holes; my machines zig-zag is still out of alignment. I am seriously considering buying a new machine when my yearly bonus comes, we'll see.

Here's the pattern:
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and here is my version:
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I had a bit of difficulty with the sleeves lining up and I still don't think they look quite right. I just couldn't figure it out, I measured the sleeves and they were exactly the same size in all aspects, the arrows lined up perfectly on the bodice and yet they still look off. Erg, I'll have to tweek it a bit if I make this pattern again (and I think that I will). The neckline also ended up being very high, it doesn't look odd I'm just not used to wearing high necks like that, they usually make me feel like I'm choking (turtlenecks drive me nuts).

Here is a view of the back:
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I love that the buttons are on the back, you don't see that very often anymore. When my husband saw the buttons on the back (to take the picture) he couldn't stop saying "you're crazy, button on the back, crazy!" They're actually really easy to button up as well, I kind of thought it would be a challenge.

My next project is a red mod styled dress, so stay tuned.

I had planned on making a bathing suit (I did finished the bottoms) but, well, it turned out bad, really, really bad.

February 11, 2011

Amazing Almond Ricotta Cake

Last weekend my parents came over with their snow rake to knock down some of the snow from our roof (we really didn't want to have to climb up there and shovel), so for their help I made a nice big warm meal, finished with a yummy Almond Ricotta cake.
I had never made this cake before and I planned on modifying the original recipe a bit so I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out. It turned out very, very yummy and moist. Too yummy in fact, I ended up eating at least a quarter of the cake (yes I am ashamed), it took a lot of hard work at the gym last week but I still think it was worth it. My husband even liked it, and normally cake has to have a lot of icing for him to say that I should make something again.

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Amazing Almond Ricotta Cake

Ingredients
Cake:
4 eggs
1 1/3 cups of sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
2/3 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp rum
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp almond extract
1 cup + 2 tbsp ground almonds
1 1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Topping:
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/3 cup suagr
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp milk
1 cup sliced almonds

Steps:
1. Preheat oven to 350F and line a springform pan with parchment paper (I did bottom and sides).
2. Beat eggs, sugar and oil wih a mixer on high until the mix is thick and pale. Add ricotta, rum, vanilla and almond extract and mix until blended.
3. Add remaining dry ingredients and mix until evenly combined. Pour into pan and bake 40-45 min (until a toothpick comes out clean).
5. While baking, combine ricotta, egg, cocoa, vanilla and all but 2 tbsp of sugar, in a seperate bowl mix milk with 2 tbsp of sugar and toss almonds in mixture to coat.
6. Let cake cool for about 10 minutes then pour ricotta mixture on top and sprinkle with the almonds, put the cake back into the oven and bake at 370F for 15 minutes or until almonds have started to brown.
7. Cool cake, then serve.

This cake ended up tasting even better the next day straight from the fridge, it was still really moist and I think it tasted better cold (although it was still really, really good the day that I baked it).

I am a little ashamed to admit it but I ate a good 1/3rd of this cake, so good, so many miles at the gym and boring bean salads, uuugggggg.

February 7, 2011

DIY Vanilla Extract

I have been wanting to make my own vanila extract for quite a while; a couple of years ago I was watching Chef at Home and Michael Smith showed that he makes his own and this inspired me. It took awhile before I actually made my own because of well, time and the fact that the only vanilla beans that I ever saw in a local store were $20 for 2, which is pricy in my opinion. So, the other day when I saw some beans on sale for $10, I grabbed a vial and decided to finally make some extract.

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Homemade Vanilla Extract

Ingredients
2 plump vanilla beans
1 cup hard liquor (rum, vodka or bourbon are good choices but it must be at least 40% alcohol)

you will need 1 clean jar & lid (I sterilized mine in some boiling water)

Steps:
1. Split vanilla beans open by running a sharp knife lengthwise down the bean.
2. Spread the beans open and use the side of a knife to scape the "caviar" (or seeds) out, place the seeds in the jar.
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3. Cut the beans in half and place in the jar, add the alcohol to the jar and seal.
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4. The hard part - place the jar in a cool dark location for at least one month before using, you can top it up as you use it (best to add more beans as well since they loose their flavour over time).

I used some white rum that we picked up on our honeymoon, so the total cost for my extract was under $15, which is less than what a cup of artificial extract would have cost me (that bottle cost less than $5 - god bless Cuba).

Apparently "the USDA requires at least 35% vol. of alcohol and 13.35 ounces of pod per gallon which is roughly 8-11 pods per 250ml." Mine is nowhere near that as you can see but I think it will still turn out pretty well, I mean, if Chef at Home make his with only a few beans, then I'm sure that mine will taste just fine.

In a couple of months I'll pull this baby out and well see how it turned out.

February 5, 2011

My Latest Project

I've found my next project, a vintage inspired swimsuit. I know you may be thinking "what ever happened to that purple shirt?" but I am almost complete, I just need to make buttonholes and attach the buttons, unfortunately my sewing machine is old and the buttonhole setting doesn't really work, so I am going to have to borrow someone's machine to finish it off. I'll finish and post it soon, I swear.

Anyway, back to my latest project. While cleaning out my cold storage room I came across a tankini that I had bought a couple of years ago, why it was in the cold storage room I do not know. The suit is now too big, in fact all of my swimsuits are a bit too big, so I am going to try to make one myself (I'll probably end up buying one this summer too, hopefully an Ester Williams one). I want to make a skirted bikini type suit. I love them and they are suppose to be flathering. I've never actually tried one on so this may be a good test before I go out and buy one.

There are a ton of lovely photos online that one can use for inspiration, check out some of the ones that I found:

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image found on flickr
I love the wing busts on some of these, but I'm not going to try something that crazy (maybe one day, maybe one day). Here's what I have to work with:
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Wish me luck! ;)

February 3, 2011

Pull Ups or Chin Ups?

Apparently pull ups and chins ups are different things; I just thought you were pulling yourself up to your chin (I was doing chin ups). A pull up is with palms facing away, chin up palms facing your body; after trying both out, they do feel different and I personally found the chin ups easier. So now my goal is to be able to do one of each.

Many women don`t have the upper body strength to do a pull up/chin up (myself included – so don’t feel bad if you can’t), but with training they can. Another important thing to remember is that the heavier you are, the more weight you’re going to be pulling up (i.e. the harder it will be), the lighter you are the easier it will be.

I have seen some recommendations of training using a cable station or a lat pull down machine, although many others say not to use this to train for a pull/chin up, I do lat pull downs anyway, so I would say do this exercise but it may not help with the pull/chin up.

Basically you just grad a bar and pull yourself up. If you can’t do this, or you can only do a few you can do assisted pull ups until you are stronger. Some gyms have pull up machines (these use a counterweight so that you only pull up part of your body weight), this is what I’m currently using, the plan is to slowly decrease the amount on the counterweight until I can do them on my own. If you are working on these at home or your gym doesn’t have one of these machines, you have a couple of options. You can place a stool under the bar and use only one leg to get yourself up (no leg on the way down though). Another low-tech way to do this would be to place a barbell in squat cage/rack, then push a bench in front of the cage, grab the bar and then place your feet on the bench (butt hanging down off the edge), this way your feet are holding up part of your lower body weight. Finally, you could ask a friend to give you a little boost to get you going.

A couple things to remember: don't swing your body or "kick" yourself up with your hips or legs (this would be cheating), it’s best to use slow, controlled movements. There are many different ways to place your hands, wide apart, close together, palms facing away (pull up), palms facing body (chin up) or if you’re really good you can do a behind the neck. If all of these are too easy for you, you can add weight (via a belt or by holding a dumbbell between your feet).

I am assuming that most people know what a pull/chin up basically looks like, but if not, check it out here:
http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/LatissimusDorsi/BWChinup.html

February 2, 2011

Bananas

josephine baker

This post isn't actually about Josephine Baker but she does look pretty in her banana costume (side note, a couple of years ago I caught the movie "The Josephine Baker Story," it's actually pretty good, she was a very interesting woman), this is a tip about bananas.

We buy quite a few bananas in this household, unfortunately by the end of the week they were often way too ripe, so I test out some of the common tips for storing them and making them last longer. The verdict? The best way to store bananas is in the fridge on a shelf away from your other fruit (ie. not the fruit drawer). Although the fridge does make the peel brown quicker, the banana itself does not become over-ripe (no-one wants a mushy banana exploding all over their lunch).

Keeping the bananas away from the other fruit also helps since fruits naturally emit ethlyene gas which speeds up the ripening process. If you want your bananas to ripen faster, you can just do the oposite, place them in a paper bag on the counter with a couple of apples.

There's your household tip for the day :)

February 1, 2011

Cornmeal Breakfast

This is a good, filling, healthy breakfast and provides a bit of variety from the usual oatmeal (my husband prefers this to oatmeal, which is another reason that I make it).

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Cornmeal Breakfast
Serves at least 4
1 cup of cornmeal
4 cups of water

Or

Serves 2
½ cup cornmeal
2 cups of water

Steps:
1. Combine cornmeal and water in a pot and bring to a boil, stir often to avoid clumps.
2. Once it has reached the preferred consistency remove from stove and serve (I usually cook it about 10 minutes).

Warning: Hot cornmeal can burst out of the pot like lava, so maybe use a lid or watch the heat that you cook it at.

My hubby sees this as a savoury dish where as I like it sweet. He tops his bowl with a bit of margarine, salt, pepper and a sliced hardboiled egg.
I top mine with a bit of milk, chopped fruit (bananas are my fav but I used a peach this time), cinnamon and some raw almonds.

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I often make the larger serving and pour the leftovers into a casserole dish, then bake for 20 min at 350F, the result is homemade Polenta (which is good topped with some pasta/tomato sauce).