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Thursday, July 17 , 2014

Homemade Sugar-Free Drinks

We love homemade lemonade. What we don’t love are all those lemons (buying, squeezing) and all that sugar it takes to make it! So we have moved on to a sweeter fruit and some ingenious help from a root to make delicious, no-sugar-added beverages—all without artificial sweeteners. These are quick, easy and super-refreshing drinks that you can make yourself. The following three recipes each make two to three generous servings.

Homemade Ginger Ale. As kids, we loved store-bought ginger ale. Then it got way too sweet. Then we looked at the ingredient labels on a few popular brands…ginger is not even listed! Ingredients include high fructose corn syrup and other euphemisms for sugar. Enough of that! Here are two ways to make your own…

In 12 ounces of plain seltzer water (original Perrier has the best flavor), add one teaspoon of pure ginger extract (available at specialty-food stores, such as Whole Foods or online at Amazon.com or iHerb.com). Make sure that it’s sugar-free ginger extract for consumption, not aromatherapy—alcohol-free extract has the best flavor. Pour over ice, and garnish with a lime wedge or a few sprigs of mint. This mix has a spicy zing with zero sweetness. If you’re tired of fake flavors from too much sugar, you’ll love this.

You can also peel and cut up two to three two-inch pieces of gingerroot (make sure the root is fresh with a strong ginger scent and bright yellow flesh), and use a garlic press to squeeze out fresh juice into your plain seltzer. Then add the pieces left in the press to your drinking glass. This also makes a great digestive!

Watermelon Raspberry “Ade.” Watermelon is everywhere in the summer! This lovely blend was inspired by the National Watermelon Promotion Board. Here’s a version without the sugar…

Mix three cups of seedless watermelon cubes, one-quarter cup of raspberries, one-eighth teaspoon of salt (optional) and one cup of filtered water. Put everything in a blender, and whirl until smooth. (We used an immersion blender, and it worked fine.) Pour over ice, and add a lime-wedge garnish. Refreshingly simple and delicious!

Delicious Sugar-Free Iced Tea. This is just a basic way to make deliciously brewed sugar-free iced tea. If you’re trying to remove sugar from your life, try this and soon you'll be hooked.

Steep four black tea bags (any brand is fine) in four cups of just-boiled water for at least 15 minutes, but no more than an hour. We like to do this in a four-cup Pyrex measuring cup. Slice one-quarter lemon into smaller slices. Squeeze the lemon slices into the tea, and put the slices (rinds and all) into the tea. Add two sprigs of fresh mint (this is optional...still delicious without). Remove tea bags, and chill in the refrigerator overnight. (You need to cover only if there are smells in your refrigerator that you think the tea will absorb.) The next day, pour over ice. Delicious!

More summer recipes...

 

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Monday, July 14 , 2014

Avoid Soggy Salads

Where we live, lunch out can run close to $20 just for one person! And that's for just the two martinis! No, seriously, we know you've probably heard it a million times, but here it is again—you save a lot of money when you brown bag it. And it does not have to be a huge bother. Here is a creative way to make brown bagging effortless (almost), appetizing...and definitely not boring.

Packing a lunch on a workday morning is easy when you plan ahead and overlap at the meals you make at home. Here's what you do...

Whenever you cook, make a few extra chicken cutlets or thighs (we love this marinade)...or an extra inch or two of flank steak at dinnertime...boil some extra eggs...or fry some extra bacon at breakfast. Also while preparing supper, chop up extra tomato, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, nuts, cheese, peppers, celery, cucumbers, olives or whatever it is you're chopping...and set aside some drained beans and/or artichoke hearts (or any other canned salad ingredient) and some washed and spun lettuce.

In the morning (or the night before), based on whatever you're feeling, pick and choose your lunch ingredients from all the great stuff that's now cut up and ready to go in your refrigerator (we like to call it Refrigerator Salad Bar), and make a terrific salad out of it to take with you. Here are some brown-bag salad recipes we enjoy. Remember that your salad container does not have to be fancy. Even those round plastic jobs left over from Chinese takeout work fine.

To avoid soggy salad greens at your lunch break: Pile your meats and cheeses on top of your leafy greens and vegetables, and pour your salad dressing on top of that protective layer. (Put the dressing on in the morning even if you make the salad the night before.) Just before eating, shake your container to toss and your dressing will cover those delicate greens.

Bonuses from homemade lunches: You don’t have to wait in line for overpriced food...and you know you're going to love what you eat for lunch that day.

More ways to save money...

 

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Tuesday, July 08 , 2014

No Eggs? Bake with This Instead

You crave a little cake, so you check your pantry and refrigerator for the needed ingredients. All's good, except no eggs! Here's what to do...*

If you have zero eggs and need only one: Add two tablespoons of liquid (milk or water...whatever's in the recipe), plus two tablespoons of flour, plus one-half tablespoon of shortening, plus one-half teaspoon of baking powder. This provides the leavening agent usually supplied by the egg. We tried this substitution in cornbread. It came out a little denser than usual, but it was delicious!

If you don't have enough eggs: If you’re baking a cake and you’re short one egg, add one teaspoon of baking powder or white vinegar to replace the missing egg. We do not suggest this if eggs are the main ingredient for the cake, like a chiffon or a custard.

For a recipe other than cake: Try this when you're minus one egg—use one teaspoon of cornstarch plus three extra tablespoons of liquid (whatever you're using in the recipe).

If you want to halve a recipe: Don’t bother splitting an egg in half. Just use a whole egg.

More tricks for delicious goodies...

*Thanks to Substituting Ingredients: An A to Z Kitchen Reference, Third Edition by Becky Sue Epstein and Hilary Dole Klein (Globe Pequot Press) for help with this tip.

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Friday, June 27 , 2014

Beans, Beans Without the Gas...The More You Eat, the Less You Pass

We love beans, but we hate the intestinal gas they create! There are numerous ways to cook dry beans to lessen the gaseous effect they can cause. Some methods work for some people, others work for others. Here's a way that works for us that you might not have heard of...

Soak dry beans overnight in water with one teaspoon of fennel seeds (tied up in a piece of cheesecloth). The next morning, take out the seeds, spill out the water and cook the beans as usual in fresh water. During the cooking process, toss in a few pieces of raw peeled potato. When the beans are done, remove the potato pieces. Remember to add salt when the beans are soft, at the end of the cooking—salting too soon will impede the cooking process, and the beans will take forever to get done.

The only way to know if this method works for you is to test it...when you're dining alone.

Do you have a favorite way to cook dry beans that makes them less gassy? Tell us in the comments section below. We'd love to know!

More ways to ease digestive discomfort...

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Thursday, June 12 , 2014

Keep Your Thermos Fresh

If you use your thermos or commuter mug only occasionally—say, when you oversleep and don't have time to drink your homemade coffee—you want to keep it fresh without a stale smell. Here's what to do...

Store your commuter mug (or thermos) with one white sugar cube or with one teaspoon of white sugar inside. Make sure the thermos is clean (see below) and dry, and the top is screwed on tight. The sugar will stop any stale odors before they start.

If your commuter mug is really dirty: Add equal parts of baking soda, cream of tartar and lemon juice—enough to fill about one-third of the container. Put the cover on and shake vigorously, or use a bottle brush to scrub with the mixture. Or use our favorite bottle-washing trick—put about two tablespoons of uncooked rice in the mug or thermos with the above cleaning mixture and about one-half cup of warm water, cover, shake vigorously, dump everything out, rinse and air dry. Your thermos/commuter mug has never been sweeter!

More household money savers and short cuts...

 

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Monday, June 02 , 2014

Lettuce-Growing Secrets

Want to grow a tasty, less bitter batch of lettuce? Here's how to do it...

Let your lettuce plants grow in a shady patch of your garden. The Farmers' Almanac suggests planning your garden so that lettuce will be sheltered by taller plants, such as tomatoes or sweet corn...and consider planting rows of chives or garlic between lettuce plants to control aphids. (The chives act as "barrier plants" for the lettuce.)

What, you've already planted your lettuce? Then go find a shady spot and plant some more. Lettuce plants mature quickly, so you can sow a new set of seeds every two to three weeks for a continuous harvest. If you keep the lettuce cool as a cucumber, it will mature without any bitterness...but then again, wouldn't we all?

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Tuesday, May 27 , 2014

Don't Throw Out That Tuna Can!

Save your tuna cans! OK, you don't have to save all of them...just a few will do. Once you wash all the fishiness out with repeated washings in hot, soapy water (followed by thorough rinsing), this is what you can do with them...

Substitute Egg Poacher: Remove both ends of the tuna can. Put some water into a deep skillet, and turn the heat to medium-high. When the water starts to simmer, place the can in the skillet and then crack an egg into the can. Within no time, you'll have a perfectly poached egg without the stray egg whites swimming around in the water.

Sandwich-Sized Biscuit: Did you run out of English muffins or bread? Don't bother running to the store. Make a batch of biscuits (we like this recipe). When you roll out the dough, cut out your bigger biscuits with a clean tuna can. Since they're bigger, you'll need to bake for a full 15 minutes (keep an eye on them for browning). Biscuits keep well for up to three days. You can't beat freshly baked!

Mini quiches or mac n' cheese for two. Butter the insides of your tuna can, and get ready to make cute little servings. For quiches, you can roll out your crust and use the tuna ring (without the bottom) to cut out your dough and fill with your favorite small-batch quiche recipe. Use tuna cans with the bottoms on for mac n' cheese—and keep an eye on them in the oven. It'll take less time to brown than a full-size recipe.

Perfect Potato Pancakes or Blinis. Place your tuna can rings on your griddle or skillet, and fill to the sides with your batter. Let the batter set for two or three minutes, remove the mold and flip the cake. Your perfect circles are caviar-ready!

Seed Starter. Don't bother buying a special planter for starting herbs or flowers. Carefully poke holes in the bottom of your tuna cans to allow for proper drainage. An easy way to do this is to lightly hammer a brad nail (the thin kind you use to hang frames) three or four times in the can bottom. Fill three-quarters with potting soil and plant your seeds. This is great for herbs or small crops for your outdoor planters. Label each can before you plant for easy identification.

More great ways to reuse and save money...

 

 

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Monday, May 26 , 2014

Don't Ever Do This at a Picnic

Hurrah, summer! Time for picnics and barbecues...and stomach distress from bacteria-laden food. Oops! Sorry to be a downer. Here's a rule (or two) to remember when putting out the party food—so no one gets walloped by your Waldorf...

Every year, an estimated 76 million Americans get sick because of foodborne illness, and more than 5,000 people die from it. But those numbers could be lowered if people heeded the "two-hour food rule."

Basically, perishable food that is exposed to the open air for longer than two hours will grow bacteria to harmful levels (yuk!). So at a party or a picnic—wherever you serve food—keep track of the amount of time the food has been out of the refrigerator or oven. And after two hours, wrap the food properly and put it in the refrigerator or freezer.

Also, when a platter is empty (or almost empty) and you want to refill it, do not just dump new food on top of the old food—in fact, don't even put new food on the empty-but-used platter. Each time you want to set out new food, wash the platter first, or serve the new food on another clean platter. Have a happy, healthful Memorial Day!

More about keeping germ-free...

 

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Friday, May 23 , 2014

Best Tool for Egg Salad and Guacamole

We love multitasking kitchen tools that don’t take up too much counter space and are easy to clean. What's not to love about something like that? One of our favorite kitchen helpers is the pastry blender, that multibladed hand tool that's usually reserved for cutting butter into flour in piecrust dough. Here's what else you can use it for...

The pastry blender has the perfect weight and sharpness for mashing up eggs for egg salad and avocados for a nice chunky guacamole...and for cutting up cooked potatoes for a homemade potato salad (that doesn't look store-bought). The best part is you can just stick it in your dishwasher for easy cleaning—supposedly you can do that with food processors and those fancy as-seen-on-TV choppers, but the pastry blender takes up way less space. Speaking of space...when clean, it easily tucks away in your kitchen drawer with your other hand tools.

Do you have any additional uses for common kitchen tools? We'd love to hear about them!

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Friday, May 16 , 2014

Get Rid of Fruit Flies and Gnats

Fruit flies and gnats are the ghosts of the pest world—they seem to appear out of nowhere! If you have fruit flies hovering around the trash can or your bunch of bananas...or gnats are haunting your potted plants...here's a way to get rid of them naturally...

Set out a small plastic container filled with a mixture of one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, six drops of liquid dish detergent and one-half cup of water. The bugs will fly in, but they won't fly out.

If you are serving up a big bowl of fruit for guests or family and you don't want a bowl of vinegar hanging around, disperse a bunch of mint leaves among the fruit in the bowl. Fruit flies hate mint and will depart early from your party.

More ways to get rid of pests...

 

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