Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Different Kind of Recipe- Stain-lifting spray

Last weekend I got to work researching and mixing up some more homemade cleaning products. The first one I started hunting for was a laundry stain-lifting spray. Mostly because Mr. Pears has a bad habit of getting oil stains on his T-shirts. For some reason he doesn't want to wear my frilly cooking apron...

I love our laundry detergent and it really works great but I usually spray some Dreft on any major spots before washing. But it doesnt seem to work on those oil stains and as part of my challenge I'd like to cut out the Dreft entirely. Everywhere I looked one particular recipe kept popping up. People are calling it the only stain spray you'll ever need and a miracle product. And With only two inexpensive ingredients I knew I'd have to try it.

It took just a minute to mix some Dawn with hydrgen peroxide in a clean spray bottle and after a lad of laundry it appears to be a great success! It removed (old) oil stains from my husbands' shirts! Very cool, and very easy AND very inexpensive.

Stain-Lifting Spray, found all over Pinterest, the internet, and originally here....I think.

1 cup Dawn (original Blue)
2 cups Hydrogen Peroxide

Pour ingredients in a clean spray bottle and shake to mix. Give it a little shake before each use as well. Don't forget to label your bottle for safety.  I really need to work on cuter labels....

Lots of people are saying this works great on carpet, upholstery, grout and etc. but I've only really tested it for laundry so who knows. I do need to find and upholstery/carpet spray so I'll definitely be trying this out the next chance (spill) I get. I can say this worked great on colored and white clothes though.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Going Green (cleaning) in 2012

I just counted my household cleaners and found 32 on the first floor of my house alone! Which means there have to be a few more hanging around upstairs for convenient cleaning up there too. 32 cleaners? That is crazy! But I dont think it is just me being a crazy compulsive cleaner buyer. Lest you think so, take a look at this list...I bet you have a bunch of these too.

glass cleaner
all-purpose cleaner - homemade!
dishwashing soap
soft scrub
dishwasher detergent
finishing liquid
disinfectant spray
carpet cleaner
upholstery cleaner
dust cleaner
fabric softener
laundry detergent - homemade!
fabric stain spay
toilet cleaning gel
bathroom cleaner

That's just 19...because I have more than one type of several of these things.  Ugh.  It is time for a change.  My own little Earth Day challenge.

Ever since I made the laundry detergent I have been thinking about what other cleaners I could make because the laundry detergent has been really successful.  We've been using it exclusively for almost 2 months now, and one batch lasted a little over 2 months as I had hoped.  In that time it hasn't missed one normal kid/Dad stain, besides an oil stain or two that regular detergent wouldn't have budged either.  In addition, I swear my white bathroom towels are whiter and fluffier than before.  I like this stuff better than Tide and it costs so so much less.  I made a second batch the other day because I was getting low and it took me 15 minutes.  This stuff is well worth 15 minutes of my time.

My reasons for wanting to cut out some of my other cleaners are both environmental and financial.  On one hand I would love to have less toxic chemicals floating around my house for my children to breath in and ingest.  On the other, I'd like to do that without spending an arm and a leg on expensive green cleaners.  Making my own cleaners just makes sense and if the others are nearly as successful as the laundry detergent I'll be in pretty great shape.

So here is the list I hope to get down to:

Made by Me
all-purpose (even glass) cleaner - done.
laundry detergent - done.
fabric stain spray
scrubbing paste (for showers, ovens, stoves, etc)
dishwasher detergent
carpet/upholstery cleaning spot spray
deodorizing spray
toilet cleaner

NOT made by me
dishwashing soap

That is 11, which still seems like a lot...but at least it is a third of what I own now.  I'm not even sure if this list is completely possible.  I have ideas and recipes for some items like the stain spray and dishwasher detergent, but others like a toilet cleaner or carpet cleaner I haven't researched yet...so we'll see.  And maybe we'll find a substitute for dryel?  Who knows.  The goal is there.  Cut down on household cleaning costs, cut down on chemicals.

I'll keep you posted with my successes and failures.  Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Braised Lamb Shanks

I mentioned that we made Braised Lamb Shanks for Easter, right?   They were so good I thought I'd share the recipe in more detail.  I think there are a lot of people out there who have either never tried lamb, tried it and thought it "gamey" or are afraid they can't cook it themselves.  If you fit into any of these categories, this one is for you.

First a tip.  Buy your lamb shanks from a butcher or Whole Foods.  This is not an expensive cut, I think we paid $7 a pound?  But you want the quality to be good and not "gamey".

This is seriously one of those fail-proof type of recipes.  Braising anything usually provides some pretty delicious results with very minimal effort.  So, try something new!  I have a feeling you'll love this.  This recipe made me a lamb convert....poor little lambies.  :)

Braised Lamb Shanks with Sweet Soy Sauce and Star Anise, adapted from Food and Wine
1/4 cup canola oil
4 lamb shanks
12 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
8 star anise pods
3 whole cloves
2 (4 inch) cinnamon sticks
10 cups water
1 cup low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons molasses
1 cup light brown sugar

In a large dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high.  Add the lamb shanks and brown them on all sides. Once they are brown drain out as much of the oil/fat as you can and return the dutch oven to the heat.  Turn the heat down to low and add in the garlic, star anise, cloves and cinnamon sticks and cook for about one minute or until they are fragrant.  Now add in the rest of the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Bring the pot to a boil and then lower the heat and lightly cover it so that the shanks cook at a simmer for about 2 hours.  By then the meat should be falling off the bone and very delicious.  Serve it over some rice and with a great Asian veggie like bok choy or edamame.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Wilted Spinach with Tomatoes and Basil

Last weekend my best friend came to visit for Easter and she brought us a pretty sweet gift.  A cookbook signed by Giada Delaurentiis!  My friend was able to attend a signing Giada did for her new cookbook, "Weeknights with Giada", and she was so thoughtful to get one signed for Alex and I as well.  Thanks again Tere!

We've tried a couple of the recipes out so far and everything has been really good.  Since this is a "weeknight" cookbook the recipes are mostly simple and quick to prepare along with being very family friendly.  Giada has an almost-four-year old so it is nice to see recipes that are child-tested too.  

This is a very quick (15 minutes including prep), very simple spinach saute that really packs in the flavor.  I am a huge fan spinach just sauteed with a bit of salt and lemon juice but this recipe really kicks it up a notch in a very easy way. The balsamic vinegar gives it bite and the basil really adds an unexpected flavor and freshness. We made this with a Roast Chicken and it was the perfect compliment.  I hope you try it out sometime soon.

Wilted Spinach with Tomatoes and Basil, adapted from Giada De Laurentiis's Weeknights with Giada
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large or 2 small shallots, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 pound fresh spinach leaves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the shallots and cook 2-3 minutes.  Next add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds until it becomes fragrant.  Now add in the chopped tomatoes and saute them for 2 minutes.  Add the spinach next, working in batches to wilt it and cook for about 5 minutes.  Stir in the salt and pepper and then the vinegar and basil.  Let it cook for just one minute longer before removing it to a serving bowl.    Enjoy!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Beef Kebabs

Have you fired up your grill yet?  If not, it is time!  Nothing says Spring like grilled food.  Here is another healthy and simple recipe for a nice Spring dinner.  Maybe out on the patio?  This one is so quick and easy you'll be relaxing with your margarita in no time.

Beef Kebabs, by 4 Pears
1 pound beef (tri tip, flank steak, etc... it could be anything really), cut into 2 inch pieces
3/4 cup olive oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 large tomatoes, cut into large wedges
2 medium yellow onions, cut into large wedges
wooden skewers, soaked in water

Whisk 1/2 cup olive oil, salt and pepper, lemon juice and garam masala together in a small bowl then pour it into a zip lock bag large enough to hold your beef.  Toss in the beef and squeeze everything around to coat.  Put the bag in the refrigerator for at least an hour to marinate.  

Turn on the grill and while it is heating put the onions and tomatoes in a large bowl with the rest of the olive oil, toss them to coat and season them with salt and pepper.  Put them on the skewers.  I like to keep like with like so they cook evenly.

Put the beef on skewers as well.

Put everything on the grill and cook for about 4 minutes a side.  Your kebabs may cook faster or slower depending on how big your pieces are so just keep an eye on them.  Remove to plates and serve with Israeli couscous or another favorite side.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spicy Shrimp Lettuce Cups

How was your Easter?  Mine didn't go quite as planned. I didn't make Easter bread or Madeleines. The lamb and strawberry muffins were definitely awesome but I forgot to buy most of the ingredients for the Spring Peas. But you know what?  That was ok.  It was actually more than ok because I let some of my plans fall by the wayside so I could better enjoy hanging out with my best friend and with my amazing nephews.  My little boys had a great Easter and loved meeting their cousins for the very first time.  The also loved eating their first jelly beans. :)  I'm so glad we had an Easter full of family and friends and those things are way more important than any of my best laid plans.

But on to new plans.  Plans to eat healthier to counter-balance some of the chocolate and jelly beans still hanging out in my cupboard.  I've got a couple of really great fresh and simple and healthy recipes  I want to share.  Easter candy aside, the warmer weather in Spring always makes me want to eat simpler and lighter.  More grilling and veggies, less pastas and hearty meals cooked in hot ovens.

I found this Cooking Light recipe two weeks ago and I've made it twice since.  The original recipe is titled Spicy Chipotle Shrimp Salad but I don't think that title does it justice.  Yeah there is an itty bitty amount of mayo in the "salad" but really it is more of a lettuce cup type-a-thing.   And while the first time I did make this with shrimp and loved it, the second time I used steak and thought that was delicious too.  I'm sure chicken would be great as well. This "salad" dressing is very versatile and I love how fresh and summery it is, especially the little kick you get from the adobo sauce.  It's also pretty nice that this recipe only takes about 10 minutes to make.  Can't beat that for fast.  I hope you like it!

Spicy Chipolte Shrimp Lettuce Cups, adapted from Cooking Light
serves 4  (approx. 235 calories per serving)
1 1/2 pounds peeled and deveined large shrimp
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup diced celery (1 rib)
2 tablespoons diced sweet onion or shallot
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped chipotle chile, canned in adobo sauce
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
8 Boston (or other large green leafy) lettuce leaves

Heat a large saute pan over medium high and spray with cooking spray.  Add the shrimp to the hot pan and season them with salt and pepper.  Cook the shrimp just until they turn pink, about 5 minutes at the most and then set them aside to cool for about 5 minutes.

While the shrimp are cooling, mix the rest of the ingredients (minus the lettuce) together in a small bowl.  The chile and adobo sauce is fairly spicy so feel free to add more or less of that to taste.  Once the shrimp have cooled toss them in and stir to coat them evenly.

Put the lettuce cups on plates and top each with some of the shrimp.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter Idea Roundup

I'm a pretty bad food blogger when it comes to the holidays. Instead of trying out recipes and sharing them with you before the actual day arrives, I just scope out ideas and whip them up day of. Making the winners a little late to share with you. Another negative side effect of this habit is that I may end up with a dud on my Easter/thanksgiving/etc table. They tell you never try anything new for a holiday meal but Mr. Pears and I have a very hard time restraining ourselves.

So I confess, I want Easter bread on Easter and turkey on Thanksgiving and so on. Maybe next year I'll do better. But this year, instead of giving you the tried and true I'm just going to throw out some of the things I'm making or thinking about making this weekend. Maybe you'll be inspired to try something new too.

I am definitely making this Easter Bread. It looks so pretty and delicious! And it will be a good use for some of those eggs I'm going to dye for with my little guys today.

photo from The Italian Dish

And I'm for sure going to make Julia Child's Madeleines. Those have to be tried and true right? Plus madeleines are very simple to make. Just don't put them in a closed container to store them, they'll get mushy.

We've decided to go with lamb as our main course for Easter dinner and I'm pretty sure we are going to use this recipe from Food and Wine...substituting the lamb shanks of course. We've actually made this one before (with lamb) and it was really good. It's an easy one too.

I'm thinking about going with these Spring Peas as a side...possibly with some fingerling potatoes.

Oh and lastly I'll probably be making these strawberry muffins to take to the breakfast potluck/egg hunt we are going to on Saturday.

Did I mention I also have dinner and dancing with my best friend who is visiting this weekend, an egg hunt, a chocolate factory tour, and attending Easter service with two rambunctious toddlers on my weekend to-do list? I am going to be busy. But I'm betting it is going to be a great weekend.

Happy Easter!  From me and my little bunnies

Obviously our first attempt at this year's bunny ears pictures didn't go well.  Don't worry, I will try again!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Easter Baskets

I just finished up the boys' Easter baskets and I think they are going to love them. Here is what I included for my little lovies.

Stuffed Bunnies (made by Mom!)
Homemade Cherry lollipops
Plastic eggs filled with fishies and animal crackers
The Gruffalo movie for Alex and Lady and the Tramp movie for Aaron (that kid loves dogs)
Melissa and Doug Pet Handle Stampers (the stamps fit in large plastic eggs)
Duplo building plates (no more battles over the one that came with their blocks...hopefully)
Coloring books

And so as not to deprive my poor children out of a little chocoate, I made some chocolate bunnies with a mold I found at Target. I just melted down some (amazingly delicious) 60% cocoa by Ghiradelli and poured them into the molds. The molds had space to add lolli sticks so I used the ones I had leftover in hopes that a handle will make the chocolates a bit less messy for the boys (a girl can wish right?).

So there you have it! A little home-made and a little store-bought...all in hopes of seeing two little boys smile on Easter morning. :)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Stuffed Bunnies, crocheted with love

I recently learned a new skill from my mother, she taught me to crochet!  I had been wanting to learn for a while now because I thought it might be a fun way to keep my hands busy and to relax at the same time.  So the last time she visited, my Mom brought a crochet hook and some yarn and we sat together as she showed me the basics.  It was fairly simple to pick up and I've really enjoyed doing it!  It is fun to see something new created from a little ball of yarn.

I decided my very first project would be these bunnies to put in the kids' Easter baskets.  Stuffed toy?  First project?  It sounds complicated but I swear it was really easy and though these little guys aren't perfect, I think they are super cute and I'm sure my boys are going to love them.  (For about 2 minutes before they move on to the lollipops.)

If you know how to crochet this project would literally just take an evening's time.  If not, I'm betting you could learn from an online tutorial and still have one of these done by Easter.  I never thought I could learn crochet from a book or video but it seriously is simple stuff so if your Mama's not close at hand and you've been wanting to learn, go for it!

Here's a link to the pattern.  And of course some photos..... Lots more Easter stuff to come this week!  I hope you are enjoying the holiday.