June 26, 2012

Easy Make-It-Yourself Fajita Seasoning


My family loves fajita night, but I can't bring myself to spend two dollars on an envelope full of spices I already have available in my kitchen. Not when those two dollars could easily be spent on something more vital, like diapers or laundry detergent or strawberry and cream frappuccinos.

This recipe is simple, cheap and delicious.  The seasoning is slightly spicy and perfectly salty.  Great for a quick weeknight dinner.

 Homemade Fajita Seasoning

Combine: 1 TBSP flour
2 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp cumin

To use the seasoning, mix it with about 1/2 cup of water and a splash of lime juice.



In a frying pan, cook some peppers and onions.


Add the seasoning mix combined with the water and lemon juice.  Stir well until it coats the veggies and cook until the liquid thickens to a sauce.  If necessary, add a splash more water.


Stir in cooked meat (We like grilled chicken. We grill and slice it when we are barbecuing something else another night so that it is ready to go for a super easy fajita night!) and serve.


Enjoy!

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June 25, 2012

A First Birthday Picnic Party


This weekend my beautiful sweet twin girls turned one, and we celebrated with a picnic by the river at a local zoo!

I sent out handwritten invitations made from kraft coloured cardstock.



We brought our barbecue along and served up hotdogs, hamburgers, watermelon and typical picnic fare.




We bought 10 litre jugs of water and mixed up the iced tea and fresh squeezed lemonade directly in them to make for a simple bug free way to serve drinks.



For dessert we served a make-your-own strawberry shortcake buffet.


And instead of goodie bags we sent each family home with a basket of fresh local strawberries!



I'm pretty sure it's customary to end a post like this with an adorable, well staged photo of the twins wearing pristine birthday dresses and smashing their birthday cakes. Instead I ended up with a picture of one strawberry covered princess...


And one really really grumpy birthday girl!


Thanks so much for visiting The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking!

{p.s.  I am guest posting today over at Red and Honey about How to Clean your Whole House without Nasty Chemicals.  Swing on over there and check it out!}

June 20, 2012

My Clean, Natural and Green Laundry Routine


Until a few years ago, I just bought whatever laundry products were on sale.  I didn't know and didn't much care what was in them.  After all, most of our parents used those products, and we're alright, right?

And then my infant son started breaking out in rashes and we couldn't figure out why.  We spent some time trying different dietary changes to find out what the problem was.  And then I decided to try a natural laundry soap.  One by one, I threw out my stain remover, my fabric softener, and my dryer sheets.  His rashes stopped, completely.  I was skeptical.  Could it really be the laundry products? And then some friends came to visit and my baby boy sat on their lap.  Within hours, the rashes we hadn't seen in weeks had returned.

I began reading more and more about what is in our household products and much of what I found was disturbing. Like that many "gentle" baby products are actually more toxic that their grown-up counterparts!  And that fabric softener can be one of the most dangerous products in our homes!  Yikes!

So it took some trial and error, but I now have a laundry routine that I consider safe enough for my family, but also effective enough to clean our clothing!

Stain Remover.  A while back, for fun, I tried a bunch of different homemade stain remover recipes and compared them.  But to be honest, most of the time I just rub a little bit of baking soda into a small stain before throwing it in the laundry heap. 

Laundry Detergent:  I buy natureclean's 3X concentrated Laundry Liquid.   I normally buy the unscented, but my husband recently got the citrus blossom scent and it smells fabulous.  It is more expensive than ordinary detergents, but it's highly concentrated so a small bottle goes a long way.  And it gets our clothes clean without any chemicals that I am uncomfortable with.  Be aware that many products that are labelled "green", "natural" or "gentle" are as bad or even sometimes worse than ordinary products.  You can look up many of the ingredients in your household products, and even find a safety rating for them at the Skin Deep Database.


Why I don't just make my own laundry detergent:
I know that many of you make your own laundry detergent, and if that works for you then that is a great way to save some money.  I did look into making my own laundry detergent, but many recipes included Borax, which I personally don't consider safe enough for household use. (Here's the Skin Deep data sheet on Borax.  Notice it says "not safe for use on infant skin") 
I tried making laundry detergent without borax but found a) it didn't get our clothes very clean, b) The grated bar soap I used left a film on the clothing and c) it caused our clothing to show a noticeable amount of extra wear and tear.
Whiter Whites: I've shared before about how I use the juice of a fresh lemon and the whitening power of the sun to keep my whites bright.

 
Fluffier  Towels: A large splash of vinegar in the rinse cycle will help remove any leftover detergent from your towels, leaving them fluffier and more absorbent.  This is useful for cloth diapers as well. And no, your towels won't smell like vinegar. 

Disinfect Dishcloths: I add 4-5 drops of tea tree oil to hot wash water when washing dishcloths to help to disinfect them.  Tea tree oil (also called melaleuca oil) has anti-bacterial qualities and is probably available on the shelves of your local pharmacy. I could write a whole post on household uses for tea tree oil, and probably one day will.  I love the stuff!

For Particularly Dirty Clothes:  My husband's job has him coming home occasionally covered in things like drywall dust or pond water.  When his work clothes need an extra deep clean I add a scoop of washing soda to the load. I keep it in a pretty wide mouth cookie canister behind my washing machine.

Washing soda is different from baking soda and can be found in the laundry aisle of many grocery stores.

Dryer Balls:  Wool dryer balls are a great alternative to dryer sheets.  They help to reduce static in your dryer and also decrease drying times.  I have a tutorial on how to make your own wool dryer balls, or you can buy them from Etsy or Amazon.


Line Drying: I know that some of you live in communities where line drying is  frowned upon or even prohibited by a by-law (and I'll save you the big hippy rant that's going through my head right now). But if you can, hanging your clothing to dry is not only a free way to dry your clothing, it also makes your laundry smell fabulous and takes advantage of the sanitizing qualities of the sun.  I get all giddy in the spring time when it is finally warm enough to hang my clothes outside to dry! And my whole family loves fresh-smelling line dried sheets!


That is how we manage to have fresh, clean laundry using only ingredients we are comfortable with.  Even if it does spend half it's life waiting to get folded and put away....


Thanks so much for visiting The Complete  Guide to Imperfect Homemaking!

June 15, 2012

How to Make Mozzarella Cheese with Your Kids


Can I start by saying....I am not a cheese person.

I like cheese in things, like pizza or macaroni and cheese casserole. But I'm not the kind of person to just eat a slice of cheese.

In fact, you know how when you're grating cheese and you get down to that tiny piece that if you keep grating you'll grate your fingers? The piece that most people just pop in their mouth and eat?  If nobody is around to eat it for me, um, well...

.... I just throw it away.

I know, I know.  That's outrageous. Cheese lovers everywhere are unsubscribing from my blog right now.  I'm sorry, I'm just not a cheese person.

So for me, making cheese with the kids is more a food science experiment than it is a culinary adventure.  I've tasted the end product from our cheese making adventures, and it's good I suppose.  It's very mild and slightly salty. But it is fun to make, and that's the real reason we do it.

To begin you will need:


  •  A gallon of milk.  I'm Canadian, and we're weird here, so my milk is in bags.  The milk can be pasteurized but it can't be "ultra-pasteurized" because that process affects the milk's ability to coagulate.  
  • Citric acid (Available at any well stocked grocery store)
  • Rennet.  Rennet is an enzyme found in the stomachs of mammals.  (yuck, I know).  It's causes the milk to coagulate. You can buy it online here.  There are also vegetable rennets available for vegetarian cheese makers!
  •  Non-iodized salt (I used pickling salt)
  • A great big pot
  • A meat thermometer 
  • And some rubber gloves

Step One:
Fill two small bowls or cups with 1/4 cup of cool water.  To one bowl add 1 1/2 tsp citric acid and to the other add 1/4 tsp of liquid rennet.



Step Two:
Pour your milk into the giant pot and heat over medium heat until the milk measures 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  This won't take long.


Step Three:
Add your citric acid mixture and gently stir.  Continue to heat milk until it reaches 88 degrees.  It will begin to thicken and separate and it won't look very yummy. 




 Step Four:
Pour in your rennet mixture and stir gently for thirty seconds.  And then leave undisturbed until milk heats to about 100 to 105 degrees.  The curds will separate from the whey and pull away from the edge of the pot. The whey will be a non-cloudy yellow Mountain-Dew-looking liquid. When this happens, turn off the heat.


Step Five:
Scoop or pour the curds into a fine mesh sieve and drain as much whey as you can.  Reserve the whey in a large bowl or pot.



Step Six:
Return the whey to the pot and heat it over medium high heat to 175 degrees Fahrenheit.  While the whey is heating, shape your curds into 6 balls.


(As an aside, if you like to soak your grains, nourishing traditions style, ladle out a mason jar full of whey before heating it back up and save it in your fridge to use in your soaked oatmeal and other soaked grain yummies.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, read this post at Passionate Homemaking about soaking whole grains before cooking.) 

Step Seven:
Put on your rubber gloves. They will protect your hands from the hot cheese in the next step.


Step Eight:
One at a time, put the balls of cheese on a ladle and dip into the hot whey for a few seconds.  Pull the ball out and kneed it a bit in your hands. Dip it again and knead it some more. Work in 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of salt. Dip and knead some more. Keep dipping and kneading until the cheese is smooth and pliable and doesn't break when you stretch it.  My five year old wants me to tell you that it's ready when it stretches like silly putty.


With the first ball you will want to take a little taste and make sure it's salty enough.  And then repeat step Eight with all the other balls until you have six little balls of cheese.


Eat your homemade mozzarella warm and fresh, slice it and use it on sandwiches or grilled pizza, or get out some frilly tooth picks and make fancy little hors d'oeuvres for your fancy little helpers!



Thanks so much for visiting The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking! Happy Cheese Making!

June 12, 2012

How To Roast Garlic (and Make Garlic Butter!)


This pregnancy has caused me to have a wild food aversion to everything that doesn't contain roasted garlic.  I've actually proposed on one hot evening recently that we eat nothing but dill pickles and garlic butter for dinner.  Unfortunately, my family rejected that idea...

 Even for people who aren't crazy and pregnant, roasted garlic's sweet mild flavour can be a lovely addition to any simple dish. Here is the easiest way I have found to roast garlic:
 
Slice the top off the garlic head.


Place the garlic on tinfoil and drizzle with olive oil and kosher salt.


Close up the tinfoil and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. When you are done it will be slightly golden brown and will smell heavenly!


The best part (other than eating it, of course!) is that all you have to do to get the cloves out of the skin is to give the garlic a bit of a pinch.  The cloves will slip right out of their papery skins!



To make Garlic Butter:


In a stand mixer, if you have one, whip about 1 cup of butter with a whole head of roasted garlic and a pinch of salt. Add chopped parsley, if you would like.  Whip for 3-5 minutes until the garlic is incorporated and the butter is soft....if you can wait that long!

10 Great Ways to Enjoy Roasted Garlic
  1. In homemade hummus
  2. In homemade veggie or chip dip
  3. As a pizza topping
  4. In garlic butter on a bagel
  5. In garlic butter on steamed veggies
  6. Pureed in soups
  7. Added to melted butter and then brushed onto a chicken or turkey before roasting.
  8. Added while mashing potatoes to make THE BEST MASHED POTATOES EVER!
  9. Pasta (or spaghetti squash!) with butter, salt, roasted garlic and Parmesan cheese!
  10. Whole cloves of roasted garlic with crackers or pita chips
Thanks so much for visiting The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking!


June 11, 2012

How to make Cream of Anything Soup From Scratch!


I've mentioned before that we eat soup for lunch almost every day.  Sometimes slowing down in the middle of the day to savour a bowl of homemade soup is exactly what a big busy family needs.

We do opt for cold lunches more often during these warm summer months, but soup is still a favourite way to enjoy the great seasonal produce that is becoming available at the farmer's markets.  Your homemade cream of whatever soup can also be a healthier alternative to the canned ones in your favourite casserole recipes!

This recipe will work with so many different ingredients.  Make cream of broccoli, or cream of asparagus, or cream of mushroom, celery or spinach.  You can also do cream of chicken or turkey this way.   Or a combination of several of these!

Here's how:

Start by cooking your main ingredient in some butter or oil.   For veggies, you don't need to cook them completely just yet, they will get a chance to simmer and cook some more later. If you are making cream of chicken soup, you will want to cook the chicken thoroughly during this step.


Next, add garlic and/or onions if you want, and any herbs you may like to use.  Also, add a sprinkle of salt.


When the garlic and/or onions are browned just a little, add a large handful of flour. (or the thickener of your choice, if you are gluten/wheat free)


Stir the flour around for about a minute and then add 4 cups of  chicken broth.


Bring to a boil over high heat and then turn the heat down and simmer until your veggies of choice are soft.

Once the veggies are soft, use a stick blender to blend your soup and break up the chunks.  If you don't have a stick blender you can use regular blender, mash it with a potato masher, or just skip this step all together.

Take your soup off the heat and add enough milk to get the texture, colour and flavour you want.  Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.


That's it! Enjoy your simple, delicious, cream-of-anything soup!

Yummm....

Some extra tips:
  • For an extra awesome soup, consider swapping the butter or oil at the beginning with bacon fat.  Cook bacon in the pot, use the drippings to cook your main ingredient and then use the bacon as a garnish crumbled on top of your finished soup.
  • Some veggies will benefit from a quick roasting in the oven first.  Roasted cauliflower soup is especially good! Most veggies can be roasted by tossing them with olive oil and baking them in the oven at about 400 degrees until they start to turn golden brown and soft.
  • This time of year, my absolute favourite is cream of asparagus soup with lots of garlic and freshly ground black pepper.  Do try it!

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