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Middlest Does It Herself: Liquid Hand Soap

23 Jan

Hand Soap

I have a very short list of products I will never buy again: tampons (Hail the Diva Cup), Yogurtlaundry detergent, and now liquid hand soap. All of which have been praised highly on the glitznblitz906 blog!

Around this time last year, I dabbled with making my own cleaning products. I would love to tell you that I was becoming one with the earth, saving it one product at a time. I wish I could tell you that money was a huge factor, but it wasn’t. The truth is, I got royally pissed reading the labels of many household products. The first ingredient listed on many products was water. WATER. Why was I paying almost $3 for an 8 ounce bottle of soap that was mostly water? And then I got stubborn. I scoured the internet for recipes for dish detergent, dish soap, & liquid hand soap.

Dish soap and dish washer detergent were nightmares. I had foam coming out of my dishwasher and the soap scum made my dishes look dirtier. **This is when you comment on a recipe that works well for you**

My next product to attempt was liquid hand soap.

“But Meghan? Why don’t you use plain bar soap?” Well readers, I don’t like bar soap. Using bar soap makes me feel dirty, as I have no idea whose grubby little hands have been on it. And besides, I had some weird experiences in elementary school with the bar soaps in urinals. We’ll leave it at that.

I digress…
The recipe was so simple, I felt foolish for not coming up with the recipe myself. This recipe includes two ingredients. TWO. It’s awesome and effective. And 3 ½ quarts of liquid hand soap has lasted a household of two people for over a year now. It’s awesome. I have so much pride in this recipe that I made it again. And since I’ve been using it solely for a year, it means it’s time for me to share the recipe with you. Even better yet, the final cost for a year’s supply of hand soap is the whopping price of the bar soap you buy. Yes. So my year’s supply ended up costing me $2.99 plus the price of 3 quarts of tap water.

Liquid hand soap

Stupidly Simple Liquid Hand Soap

Ingredients.

  • 3 quarts water
  • 1 bar castille soap (or any soap you have on hand)
  • Essential oils of your choosing (optional)

Directions.

  1. Boil 3 quarts of water for 3-5 minutes
  2. Finely grate, chop, or slice one bar of soap. The finer you grate, the faster step 4 is.
  3. Once boiling, add soap to water.
  4. Stir frequently until all soap particles have melted.
  5. Pour into glass container that is at least 4 quarts. It will be very thin at this time. Breathe, it’s expected!
  6. Allow to sit overnight. It should completely cool and thicken in 12 hours.
  7. If you want your soap to smell, add your essential oils at this time. Stir.
  8. Use a funnel to pour into your hand soap dispensers. This stuff is slippery, so be prepared to use your favorite curse words as you struggle to pour these into containers. It’s well worth it, though!
  9. I store this stuff in my basement away from direct sunlight.

And now you are able to gloat every time you wash your hands! You may have to get a bigger bathroom & kitchen, for your ego is going to just be massive. You’re welcome.

.x.x.x.x.
Middlest

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Middlest Does It Herself: Yogurt!

14 Oct

I have been making my own yogurt for a luxurious 6 months. I feel like I have finally perfected the recipe, hence why I am sharing it all with you today.

milk
The end result is creamy & thick. The recipe is almost effortless. Please leave yourself enough time for the yogurt to sit for at least 8 hours.


Ingredient List.
1 gallon of 1 1/2% milk. Make sure it is not ultra-pasteurized
1/4 cup of yogurt containing bacteria
2-3 ice cubes
Cheesecloth or flour sack.
Large pot
Large bath towel
Colander
Large bowl or additional large pot


Before we delve into the recipe, I am going to tell you what I have changed from previous recipes that, I feel, have made a big difference in the end result. 

  • I went from skim milk to 1 1/2% milk. I also switched from store bought milk to milk that gets delivered to my door. Royal Crest (my farm-to-door milk) claims that they don’t use pesticides or hormones. Because of these switches, I taste a difference in the end result. Is it the fat or is it the type of milk I now buy? I love getting milk delivered to my door, so I may not know for a very long time. The cost difference is $3.39 a gallon vs $4.49 a gallon. That’s a decent increase, but I’ll spend a dollar to not go to the store whenever I want to make yogurt. And they reuse their milk containers, so my green(ish) heart is happy that one more plastic bottle isn’t in the landfills. 🙂 Buy whatever milk you want…just make sure it isn’t ultra-pasteurized!
  • I decreased the amount of yogurt needed to start a batch. Why? When I moved out to Colorado I had to use a store-bought yogurt starter. It just didn’t feel right to lug around a half cup of my homemade yogurt while moving 1,000 miles west. I went to the store and bought a yogurt that contained bacteria in it. It was so good that I ate all but 1/4 cup of it. Whoops. I tried it out and the milk still turned to yogurt! Yay! Anyway, THIS IS IMPORTANT for your first batch: The milk needs bacteria to feast on in order for the end result to be yogurt. So please, just buy a little container of plain yogurt that contains bacteria in it. Afterwards you will just reserve 1/4 cup of your homemade yogurt for your next batch. Easy-peasy.
  • I drain the yogurt with a flour sack. The flour sack is a smaller weave than many of the cheesecloths I was using in the past, which has made the yogurt a lot smoother than previous batches. It takes longer to strain, but the end result is worth it. When I want a thin yogurt, I don’t strain it at all. It’s totally a preference, so play around as you wish!

Directions.
1. Take your large pot and place 2-3 ice cubes at the bottom of it. At room temperature, let the ice cubes melt. This prevents scorching to the bottom of your pot, which results in less scrubbing later.
2. Pour the milk to the bottom of the pot. Turn to medium high, uncovered.
3. Allow the milk to heat to approximately 190ºF. Use a cooking thermometer or just use your eyes. The milk will start to foam at sea level. In Colorado (at 4,284 ft above sea level), the milk looks like it is just about to boil. Turn the heat off at this point.
foamy-milk
4. Cover and allow the milk to cool to 110ºF.
5. Add previous yogurt/store yogurt to batch milk and stir for about a minute, making sure the yogurt is fully incorporated.
6. Cover with lid and wrap pot with your large bath towel. Leave in a warm place where the milk will rest for 8-12 hours. This step is important. I have peeked at my milk at 6 and then again at 7 hours with no such luck. The milk truly needs to set for at least 8 hours. Plan accordingly.
7. Now lift up your cover. You will see a liquid separated to the top of the pot. This is called whey, which is great for baking & smoothies. It’s so awesome. I love this stuff!
8. Remove 1/4 cup of yogurt and store in an airtight container. Place in fridge. This is your starter for your next batch.
9. Place the cheesecloth over colander that is in or resting on top of a large pot. Now scoop half of your yogurt over the cheese cloth. Allow it to sit for a period of time and let the whey drain from the yogurt. Stir occasionally to let the yogurt on top seep into the bottom of the cheesecloth. The idea is to let the yogurt drain until it’s at the consistency you like. For a thinner yogurt, drain for a shorter period of time than you would if you wanted a thicker yogurt. I let my yogurt drain for up to an hour when I am making Greek yogurt. When you’ve determined the consistency you like, place in a container. Then repeat this process with the remaining yogurt.
10.Refrigerate whey and yogurt. It spoils in about a month.


Depending on how thick you like your yogurt, you will yield anywhere from 2-4 quarts of yogurt and 1-3 additional quarts of whey. Thin yogurt means more yogurt and less of whey. Thicker yogurt means more whey, but less yogurt. It’s a win-win regardless!


Making yogurt is extremely gratifying. The results are fantastic; I use homemade yogurt to marinate meat, use in place of sour cream, and eat it in its true state buddied up with honey, dried fruit, or nuts. The results are comparable to all of the plain yogurts I have tried in the store! You get more bang for your buck AND you reap the benefits of having whey leftover to use in many recipes. Perhaps that’s what my next blog posting will be about.
Enjoy.

.x.x.x.x.
Middlest

Middlest Does It Herself: Food in Jars

5 Mar

Dudes. There is something significantly gratifying when opening a jar of food that you made and preserved yourself. I bet it’s equivalent to cracking an egg from your own chicken; eating meat from something you caught/hunted; perhaps even the same feeling a mother has while holding her infant after delivery. Okay, the last statement may be a bit dramatic, but opening a jar of preserved food feels pretty damn good.

For many summers I have watched my mom sweat over a stove, turning bulk fruits & veggies into goods that my family enjoyed throughout the whole year. The first time I ate a store-bought pickle was in college when my home-supply ran dry. I have yet to this day have needed to purchase store jam. I told myself that when I “grow up” I’m going to start canning my own food. I dabbled some steps with my mother, mostly helping her make raspberry jam, but never tried doing it independently. The idea of giving botulism to a loved one was absolutely terrifying, so the hobby of preserving was put on my “tomorrow” list. That was until this summer when I decided to finally try out canning completely on my own. Luckily my mother had been anticipating the day when I would start my own preserving, so she saved most of the supplies I needed to start canning. What luck! I started to preserve in July and have been able to can throughout the long winter months thanks to [Pete’s Fruit Market] where I get BULK fruits/veggies ridiculously cheap. Such a good store. Anyway, behold my photos of canned goods thus far!

canning

My Canned Goods: Diced Tomatoes, Stewed Tomatoes, Tomato Juice, Salsa, Rosy Rhubarb Jam, Pumpkin Spiced Apple Sauce; Bay-leaf Strawberry Jam, Carrot Habanero Hot Sauce.

Let’s get to the good stuff, friends. Now, I am not a canning expert, but I have learned a few things in my experience so far.

  • Follow the recipe exactly, unless if you are tweaking a recipe safely. Recipes are written so that the jars will seal and preserve properly and safely. Having an appropriate acidity for processing is extremely important.
  • Make sure jars and lids are sterile. For extra precautions, I always store my goods without the rings, for my friend CoraL told me that if anything is wrong with the food (like botulism), the lids will pop off.
  • Hot food goes into hot jars. Always have a kennel of boiling water on the stove for a quick water top-off.

     Tweaking
  • Sugar — Add more or less. Sugar is added for flavor and for stabilization of shape, set, and color. *Not added as a preservative*
  • Insufficient amts of sugar may result in runny, dribbly spreads which can, but not always, be remedied by increasing cooking times and/or by adding more pectin.
  • Salt — Add more or less except for when making fermented canned goods (eg. sauerkraut). Salt is used as flavor only and doesn’t affect spoilage. Salt affects texture and crunch, as salt pulls moisture from food. Use only salts labeled as Kosher, Canning, or Pickling Salt since regular table salt will make brines cloudy.
  • Salsa — May substitute one type of pepper for another, as long as you don’t increase the total amount of peppers used in recipe.
  • Lemon/Lime Juice — May substitute bottled lemon or bottled lime for vinegar. Unless otherwise noted, always stick to bottled citrus juices, since fresh can vary in acidity.
  • Herbs and spices — Feel free to play with the amounts of herbs/spices in a recipe – it won’t adversely affect the recipe’s pH.
  • Vinegar. — OK to substitute one kind of vinegar for another as long as the vinegar chosen is at least 5% acid.
  • Honey — May be substituted for sugar, but it is not a cup-for-cup ratio since honey is more dense than granulated sugar. 

    NEVER TWEAK.

  • Never increase the amt of vegetables. Could push the pH into dangerously low-acid territory.
  • Never decrease the amt of acid, whether vinegar, lime juice, or lemon juice.
  • Never substitute vinegar for bottled lemon or lime juice in a recipe, since vinegar is slightly less acidic than the citruses.
  • Never add more water than a recipe calls for. Could dilute acidity to unsafe levels.
  • Never tweak the amount of salt in a fermented pickle recipe. Too little salt can cause undesirable organisms to grow; too much can kill the beneficial lactic acid bacteria, which is what preserves the food.

Below are the supplies needed for preserving your own food.

Basic canning supplies can be sold as kits at retail stores for approximately $60. 

Canning and Preserving For Dummies

My friend CoraL let me borrow this book, which is a comprehensive resource about canning & preserving. Very nice.

The process, I’ve learned, is quite simple. Take hot food & put it into hot, sterile jars. Wipe each jar clean with a warm cloth and secure the sterile lid with a ring. Each recipe tells you what the headspace (using the “bubble popper and measurer” shown above) should be and how long to put the jars in to boiling water. Take jars out and let them rest for 24 hours before storing. You’ll hear popping lids (the “button” in the middle of the lid will stay flat) as the lids seal. And that’s it! It’s so easy. Any jars that don’t “pop”/seal just needs to be refrigerated and eaten within a few weeks or you can attempt to reprocess the item. I have yet to have that problem, luckily.

I have a variety of recipes for my new-found hobby. My mother was so excited that I started jarring my own food that she gave me total access to recipes from her great grandmother. The recipes are so old that they tell you to “remove the pot from fire”. Yes. Fire, folks. I am just so happy I started canning; I do happy dances after each popping sound. Soups and stews taste better with my diced tomatoes. Oatmeal rocks with my jams and jellies. This summer I’m making everything one needs for a kickass bloody; Sundays will rock more than they do now. I love scouring the internet for quirky recipes like Carrot Habanero Hot Sauce and Bay Leaf Strawberry Jam. If it’s a little weird, I want to try it.

Canning takes a lot of preparation and work, but in the end it’s worth it. I have a new found appreciation for any canned good given to me.

Now all I need is to learn how to build a fire, coop my own chickens, and change my own oil so I can move to the mountains and become a self-sufficient diva. Hey, a girl always needs to dream.

Happy preservation, folks!

.x.x.x.x.
Middlest

Slow Cooker, Apple Cinnamon Steel-Cut Oatmeal

11 Jan

A new year brings on plenty of resolutions. This year I decided that instead of failing at new resolutions, I vowed to focus on maintaining the good habits I kept in 2012 (working out, eating well, letting myself sleep after work). And yes…I did keep the resolutions I always fail at such as cussing less and to stop biting my nails, but let’s face it…I’ve had these resolutions since I was 8 (nails) and my late teens (damn cursing). Those resolutions are inevitably too difficult, so I will just be proud of one good habit: eating well.

Ok. Focus, Meghan (which should be a resolution, but would land on the impossible resolution list). Anyway, I love oats. Love, love, love ’em. I once made a fancy posting about my Toatally Eggscellent Oats, which had held me off until now. Now I have another fancy oats recipe! I found this little gem from “The Yummy Life” (click on the picture above for the link)  and have customized it since then. I have made this recipe 4 times now (one batch is cooking right now) for 3 different people and we have yet to be disappointed.

Behold: Slow Cooker, Apple Cinnamon Steel-Cut Oatmeal

Ingredients.

  • Non-stick spray (oatmeal will stick otherwise!)
  • 2 apples (or pears): peeled (I leave skins on. Fiber, baby!), cored, cut into 1/2″ pieces [approximately 2.5-3 cups chopped]
  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free milk (soy or almond milk)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup uncooked steel-cut oats (old-fashion oats)
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar (maple syrup or other desired sweetener)
  • Optional: 1 1/2 tablespoons butter (I used canola oil twice and nothing the other 2 times. I don’t believe oil of any sorts is necessary)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (I never use this, but go ahead!)
  • Optional: Chopped nuts (I’ve used pecans, walnuts, and pistachios in my recipes so far. Pecans have been my favorite.)
  • Optional garnishes: raisins, maple syrup, additional milk or butter. I’ve stirred in blueberries and vanilla. Mmmm…

Directions.

  1. Coat inside of 3 1/2 quart slow cooker with cooking spray.
  2. Add all ingredients to slow cooker. Stir, cover, and cook on low for approximately 3-7 hours (times may vary. My slow cooker took 3-4 hrs).
  3. Spoon oatmeal into bowls; add additional toppings, if desired.

You may store in the refrigerator or the freezer. Excellent! To reheat single servings: 1 cup oatmeal, add 1/3 cup water/milk. Microwave for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave for another minute, if needed.

There you have it, friends! Enjoy your new oatmeal recipe!

And here’s a printable version (with my babbling, of course) Slow Cooker Apple Cinnamon Steel Cut Oatmeal

.x.x.x.x.
Middlest

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Quinoa Salsa

29 Nov

No Soup for You!

Just kidding, friends. I am no soup Nazi. I am a believer in sharing recipes that are souper. Soup for everyone!

Summer has ended and the best parts of Autumn are behind us. Now Wisconsin is in this weird purgatory season filled with cold days and freezing nights, and neither leaves nor snow are on the ground. To keep my blues in check until snow hits the ground, I like to dedicate many suppers to soup. I have been waiting months to finally try this soup and The Roasted Red Pepper Soup was well worth the wait. A few tricks I learned while tackling this recipe will make my next cooking session much more time friendly and hopefully a lot less messy. Here’s the recipe:

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Quinoa Salsa. Whole Living.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Quinoa Salsa. Courtesy of Whole Living

Serves 4-6

Ingredients.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

  • 2 tablespoons EVOO
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 4 red belled peppers; roasted, peeled and quartered. [I made this soup twice. Guilty. The first time with solely red peppers and the second with mixed peppers (green, red, yellow, and orange) and it was fuggin’ delicious. Yep. I’m bringing “fuggin'” back, ya’ll. This was a bit spicier than the red pepper soup. Mama likey.]
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • coarse salt

Quinoa Salsa

  • 1 cup cooked quinoa (Cooks just like rice: 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water. Boil water, add quinoa, turn heat to low ((or remove from heat)), keep covered until quinoa splits open and absorbs water)
  • 1/4 small red onion, diced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro
  • lime wedges, for serving

Directions.

Roasted red peppers. There are two ways to do this. I’ll list both ways!

Roasting a red pepper with gas stove

First way: Using a gas stove

  1. Char peppers over flame of a gas stove, turning until blackened and blistering.
  2. Transfer to bowl, cover with a plate and let stand until cool
  3. Scrape off skins with paring knife and clean with paper towel,
  4. Remove stems ribs and seeds.

I personally don’t like this. I bet it would be a convenient way if I were to use a gas grill. Roasting peppers individually on the stove was not appealing to my time crunch, therefore I scoured the internet for a more productive way to achieve roasted peppers. I came across a helpful video and the directions are below.

Roasted red peppers using the oven

Second way: Using the oven/broiler

  1. Preheat oven to 500º
  2. Cut red peppers into halves, discarding seeds and ribs
  3. Coat red peppers lightly with canola oil/cooking spray and place onto a cookie sheet
  4. When the oven is ready, place peppers into oven for 30-45 minutes. I blasted the broiler for the last 10 minutes to get the skins nice and bubbly.
  5. Remove from oven and cover the top of the cookie sheet with an additional cookie sheet. This allows steam to loosen the skins.
  6. Once peppers are at room temperature, remove skins with a paring knife.
  7. Cut skinless peppers into quarters or slices.

Sure, the oven way takes a bit more time, but I can do other things while those suckers are cooking. Productive time trumps wasted time, friends. And I count hovering over a stove turning peppers as wasted time. Ok. Next step!

Soup.

  1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat
  2. Add onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes; cook until tender, 6-8 minutes
  3. Add roasted red peppers and chicken stock
  4. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Let cool slightly, then pureé in a blender/processor until smooth
  6. Season with salt

Quinoa Salsa.

  1. In a small bowl, mix together cooked quinoa, red onion, avocado, and cilantro
  2. Season with salt

To serve, lade soup into bowls, top with quinoa salsa, and squeeze with lime.

Nutrition Facts.165 calories, 10 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 3 mg cholesterol. 17 g carbs. 78 mg sodium, 5 g protein. 5 g fiber

The local grocery store I go to had buckets of red peppers for $2, so I (of course) bought a bucket that contained 16 red bell peppers. ha. I tripled this batch of soup because 1. red peppers get pricey and 2. roasting and peeling takes a lot of time. I am glad I did because I have a large container of soup in the freezer just waiting to cure my pre-winter blues at my discretion. Roasted red pepper soup. So. Freaking. Good.

.x.x.x.x.
Middlest

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

1 Nov

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

“Oh my Catholic God. This is so good.” Nom, nom, nom. “I lurve leftovers…Hmmm…maybe I should blog about this.”

That was my conversation to myself about 10 minutes ago. I still have the savory taste of Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala in my mouth (and the warmth of the spices in my chest) so I deemed this to be the best time to write all about it. Yes, a recipe is involved. And no, I did not make the recipe up myself. Click on the above picture for a link to the blogger who was genius enough to concoct this recipe.

I found this gem on Pinterest, which ultimately led me to the aforementioned blogger. I had this recipe printed (click here for the recipe straight out of my cookbook! —> Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala) for almost 6 months before attempting it. It was partly because I found the recipe when it was nearing Spring, which is when my slow-cooker begins its hibernation. Another reason is because I wanted to wait to cook it for guests who loves Indian food. Hey, I’m all for the encouragement of people’s taste buds to explore new cuisines…I just don’t want them to explore when my ego is on the line. First-time recipes can be tricky. YaknowwhatImean? And then there’s time: the chicken needs to bathe in a marinade overnight. I rarely plan meals ahead of time to marinate something. Anyway, the stars lined up and I told myself, “Self…it’s time to attempt Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala.”

Time to shut up, Middlest, and get to the good stuff. Do not be discouraged by the ingredient list. A lot of spices are listed more than once because they’re used at different times during the cooking process. It’s super easy; pinky promise! The recipe below is what I did. My tweaks are highlighted in italics.

This is a 2 step process…just like a folk dance. Let’s dance!

STEP ONE:
Ingredients for Chicken Tikka.

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6-8 chicken thighs, skin on; bone-in. (I used a whole damn roasting chicken: thighs, wings, breasts & discarded the skin)

Directions.

  1. Stir all ingredients except chicken into the bottom of a large plastic container.
  2. Add the chicken and coat the chicken completely with the marinade, cover and place in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.

STEP TWO:
Ingredients for Masala.

Ingredients.

  • 1 can 28 oz. diced tomatoes. I used my own canned diced tomatoes. NBD.
  • 1 can 5.5 oz tomato paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp garam masala (Whole Foods has this for $2.99)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp dried coriander
  • 2 inches fresh ginger, grated (store your ginger in the freezer for easy grating)
  • 1 tbsp tikka paste…you could use mild curry paste instead, but then also add about a tbsp of lemon juice. <– I used red curry paste and forgot the lemon juice. Whoops!

    Plus:

    • 1/2 tsp cumin
    • 1/2 tsp chili powder
    • 1/2 tsp garam masala
    • Salt
    • 1 cup cream <—nope. I used yogurt.
    • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped. I used about 1-2 cups of this stuff. I love fresh cilantro!

    Directions.

    1. Turn oven to broil.
    2. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a rack over top.
    3. Take the chicken out of the marinade (discard the marinade – That’s wasteful…I poured the marinade all over the chicken) and place on the baking rack.
    4. Place under the broiler about 6-10 inches from the heating element and broil on each side about 10 minutes until browned. You do not need to cook the chicken all the way through, friends. That’s what the slow-cooker is for.
    5. Meanwhile, in a pan over medium high heat, add about a tsp or two of oil.
      1. Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes to soften.
      2. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for a few more minutes until the mixture is nice and fragrant.
      3. Place the mixture into your crockpot.
        1. To that, add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, garam masala, tikka paste, cumin, chili powder and coriander.
        2. Stir together.
        3. When the chicken is done broiling, add them straight to the slow cooker. (I de-boned the chicken at this time. I never feel like working for my food once it is on my plate)
        4. Stir chicken into the masala (sauce). Slow cook on high for 4-6 hours or on low 6-8 hours.
        5. Before serving stir in 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp garam masala and salt.
        6. Stir in the cream (yogurt) and fresh cilantro.

    6. Serve the chicken tikka masala sauce over rice.

    Meghan’s Rice.

    1. Using a rice maker (Godsent), add 1 cup of brown rice to 2 cups of water. Turn the rice cooker on. Wow. That was easy.
    2. Once rice cooker turns to “warm” mode, add a tablespoon of olive oil (or thyme-infused olive oil if you’re me) and a half cup of fresh cilantro.

    The only thing I regret is not picking up Naan for this meal. Pretzel bread was used for this recipe (thanks to Whole Foods), which was a nice substitute. The recipe could easily forgo the bread, but I think that scooping up the sauce with a piece of bread is a lot sexier than licking my bowl clean with my tongue.

    And that’s it. The recipe is delicious and a great way to curb your Indian Cuisine cravings until the next time you’re at your favorite Indian restaurant. My Milwaukee fave is: Maharaja on Farwell.

    Happy Eating! Nom, nom, nom…

    .x.x.x.x.
    Middlest.

Middlest Does It Herself: Herby Goodness!

5 Oct

Photo: Our new herb garden consists of: upright rosemary, thyme, curly parsley, chives, sweet basil, basil, dill, chocolate mint, and cilantro.

This summer was youngest’s and my first season for attempting to have a full-blown herb garden. We decided on three types of basil, parsley, thyme, chocolate mint, chives, rosemary, & dill. The satisfaction of having fresh herbs greatly outweighs the work that goes into it. The potted herbs has yielded moderate productivity overall so far.

In the beginning of summer I was super eager to harvest the herbs the “correct” way. I did a bunch of research on each type of herb regarding watering, temperatures, soil, sunshine, yadda yadda yadda. Our balcony is shaded with approximately 3 solid hours of direct sunlight each day, which is frustrating as most of our plants require full sunlight. This explains why some plants thrive while others do not. I had a difficult time keeping dill cool and moist during the summer months, which caused the dill to turn to coriander by mid-July. The coriander then turned to dead seed by the time August hit. I wasn’t able to recognize the coriander turning into seed in time to save the seeds, which was a goal for me this year. Sigh. Dear coriander seed: Imma gonna get you next year! Thyme thrives from dry, hot environments – so youngest and I have been swimming in thyme this year. The rest of the herbs would go through spurts of productivity to near death experiences throughout the months. The greatest tip I learned from keeping basil bushy and productive all year round is to cut stems, not individual leaves. Same goes for rosemary (which has been the most productive herb of all so far). Anyway, here is my research in word documents on each potted herb, organized by hard and soft herbs. Excellent! Hard Herbs – Rosemary, Thyme, Savory, SageSoft Herbs – Cilantro, Basil, Mint, and Parsley

Bullet Points that rock:

  • Pick sprigs instead of leaves to keep plants bushy and productive.
  • Cilantro needs moist, cooler environments.
  • Thyme thrives in dry, warm environments.
  • Cut chives 3/4 of the way down when harvesting.
  • When harvesting, cut chives and parsley from the outside in.
  • Mint loses most of its flavor when dried. Use fresh.
  • Soft herbs (Cilantro, Basil, Mint, Parsley) are best used in the final steps or after the cooking process [raw].
  • Hard herbs (Rosemary, Thyme, Sage) are best used in longer cooking times.
  • The flowers/buds in herbs are packed with flavor. Use as you would the leaves to flavor foods.
  • Try to harvest before buds appear. If they do appear, harvest/cut the herb.
  • Cilantro turns to coriander. Coriander goes to seed, which can be replanted for the next growing season.
  • Harvest about every 3 weeks to keep plants bushy and productive.

My first harvest of the herbs in July consisted of me freezing them into jars. It was very simple: cut, store in glass jars, and place in freezer. No difficulty there. The only “beef” I have with this is that the herbs tend to clump together, so I deem all frozen herbs to be used in soups, stocks, and stews. Wanting a more diverse use of my herbs, I had to figure out another way to preserve ’em. And then one day I was catching up on “Good Eats”, a show hosted by the great Alton Brown. The man is a genius…a GENIUS, I say. Anyway, the show I caught was all about herbs. What luck! The show explained an easy, fool-proof way to dry herbs by using air filters, bungee cords, and a box fan. “Say whaaaat?!”, exclaimed Middlest. “I cannot wait to try this!!” One trip to Blaine’s Farm & Fleet and I was ready to go. Here’s a video of how to dry herbs the Alton Brown way. http://www.foodnetwork.com/videos/drying-herbs/1278.html

Great video, yes?! The first batch of rosemary took almost two weeks of drying to complete…in the middle of August. I was frustrated at first and cursed at Alton for being “wrong”, but then I realized that the humidity determines how quickly these herbs dry. Sorry for my frustration, Mr. Brown. I will never doubt you again, my prince. My batches now only take approximately 2 days. I also take individual leaves off of the stems, which has cut drying time immensely. I don’t bother with drying thyme with a box fan, as the leaves are so small that they get stuck in the fibers of the air filter. Thyme, I believe, dries easily by tying them upside down and placing them in front of a window for about a week.

Ok. So we have frozen herbs and dried herbs. Let’s add one more thing: Herb Infused Olive Oil.

Herbs? Good. Olive Oil? Goooood. Herb infused olive oil? Freaking fantastic. Here’s what I did:

Ingredients.

  • Empty wine bottle
  • Cork
  • Olive oil (I bought a gallon of a non-fancy EVOO for $17)
  • Dried herb of choice

Directions.

  1. Sterilize empty wine bottle and cork with the use of a dishwasher or submerging in boiling water for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Stuff the bottom of the dry bottle with some dried herbs of your choosing. You can mix a variety together or just use one type of herb. I like simplicity and have stuck with one type of herb in each bottle. The herbs must be dried herbs. I read a lot of websites that claim that fresh herbs may cause botulism to occur. This is also why I choose to store them in bottles with corks. If botulism occurs, I’m hoping that the tops will fly off, just like in canning. Is this accurate? I am not sure, but it makes me sleep better at night.
  3. Fill bottle with EVOO. Leave some room for the next step.
  4. 2-3 times a week, invert the bottle, letting all the herbs sink to the top (now bottom) of the bottle. Repeat inverting 6-7 times each day. This will help getting the herbs to infuse into the olive oil. Do this for a month.
  5. One month later, taste the olive oil. You should taste a delicious balance of herbs and olive oil.

I am so proud of my olive oils so far. I have made thyme infused olive oil and rosemary infused olive oil. I have yet to make basil, as I use dried basil for almost all of my dishes. That shit is like gold – so I must be very selective in my use. Fear not, friends…it’s on my list after my next drying session! Anyway, I use  the oils in my salads in replacement for dressing. They’re so good that I do little dances with my fork as I’m eating my salads. Yes, swaying is also involved. I also have added olive oil to my tuna and tomato salads, any pasta, and made some kickass pesto with the rosemary EVOO. The thyme olive oil is superb with crusty french bread. The flavors are so strong that a little goes a long way, which is excellent for the waistline. I only have to use 1/2 of a tablespoon in each salad! Those herbs sure do  pack a flavorful punch.

And there you have it. I am hoping my herbs last throughout the winter months indoors so I have fresh herbs year round. I have learned a ton about herbs this summer and am looking forward to taking my trial-and-errors into the next growing season. Dill, you WILL be productive next year – you temperature sensitive twat.

Happy Herbing, folks. Yes, herbing is a verb in my vocabulary. Enjoy.

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Middlest

Middlest Does It Herself: Scented Plug-Ins

26 Aug

Yankee Candles; Bath & Body Works Wallflowers; Airwick Air Fresheners; Oh, my! Do you smell what I’m stepping in, readers? Okay, I’ll just tell you: Not much makes me more home-y happy than walking into a scented room.

Perusing through Pinterest has become a fun little hobby of mine. Once upon a time I would only pin and then neglect my findings. Sure, I would try some fun nail designs and a few recipes here and there, but actually doing my “DIY” pins was nearly non-existent. And then it hit me: doing nothing with these pins was a large waste of my time.

I have been waiting to do this easy project for quite some time. Why? Because on an impulse I purchased a large amount of Wallflower Plug-Ins from a Bath & Body Works Outlet Store nearly a year ago. Sassy Middlest. I have been saving these empty containers and wicks for a year. Youngest, without my knowledge, threw half of them out. Nothing grinds my gears more than a sister not into my projects. Sigh. Anyway, as penance for my sassy impulse purchases, I vowed to use all of my hoarded Wallflowers before trying this neat project. This penance made me feel like I was in Catholic school again.

I made these suckers several weeks ago. I love, love, love them. Because I am a frugal sonuvagun, I proceeded on the side of caution and only picked up two types of oils for this project. I’m not wasting money on something that may not work.

Here’s the process. It’s so simple I may cry.

1. Remove wick from Wallflower. Just as I was taught by my guy friends in high school, DO NOT USE YOUR TEETH. I chipped my bottom tooth doing this. Simply use a butter knife. It’s totally not worth a visit to the dentist, friends.

2. Swish containers in hot, soapy water and rinse clean. It is recommended to do the same with the wicks and allow them to dry overnight, but I didn’t because I’m too impatient. I just let everything dry for a solid 10 minutes. So impatient.

3. Fill containers; preferably oil specifically made for warmers. I filled them all the way to about ½” from the top, as I like scents to smack me in the face when I walk into a room. If you prefer a light scent, I would recommend a 1/3 oil to 2/3 water or a half-and-half ratio.

4. Put the wick back in the container.

5. Screw into plug-in.

6. Enjoy scented goodness.

Gosh, this is so easy I am embarrassed that I didn’t think of it myself.

Not convinced? Ok. Check out the costs.

Costs:
Reusable containers: FREE
Fragrance oil: $5 for 5 fluid ounces
Yields: 6 completely filled Wallflowers.
Wallflower Refills: 1 for $6.50; 4 for $20; 6 for $24. Guh-Ross.

Review: This does the trick. I walk into a room and smell Linen or Rosemary Mint, which is absolutely delightful. Even Youngest loves this. She is now saving her containers for future filling. Win-Win.

Pick your jaw up from the floor, folks. I love it, too. Now if only I could make my own candles that compare to Yankee Candle. Doubtful, that shit is like scented crack; nothing will ever beat a Yankee Candle.

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Middlest

Middlest Does It Herself: Laundry Detergent

21 Aug

Laundry. Good riddens I hate doing the laundry. I would much rather pluck my pubic hair than spend a day cleaning clothes. Yes, I know what plucking pubic hair feels like; I was in puberty-denial for a solid 2 months as an adolescent. Too much too soon? Ok, you win. I would much rather pluck knee hair than do laundry (which is more painful than pulling crotch hair, but I digress).

What is it about laundry that makes me so ticked? A few reasons. Please see list below:

  1. Gathering. Actually this is easy to do. I am very good at this. Throw clothing into cute laundry basket and let it pile up.
  2. Sorting. Alright, I can do this. My organizational skills thrive in this environment. Turning clothes inside out is a bit of a pain but manageable, nonetheless.
  3. Transfer to washer. Wow, I guess I don’t know what the fuss is all about? I don’t mind doing this. Cold water, soap, and swish-swish. Good stuff.
  4. Waiting for load to wash.  I am antsy by nature and quite forgetful. Finding something to do in the meantime is easy, but remembering to take laundry out of the machine is a hassle. Luckily this does not happen too often. I had one stinky load from forgetting, so my heightened senses are ultra alert during this step.
  5. Drying:
    5a. Transfer to dryer. Easy and doable (that’s what she said…or he). I love the smell of fresh laundry donned from the washer. Remembering a laundry sheet is quite the battle for me, so I get ultra peeved when I get static at the end of this process. Please see bullet 7.
    5b. Transfer to drying racks. This is my preferred method for scrubs and my “nice” clothing. I actually enjoy this because it gives me a good reason to not finish the laundry during laundry day. Procrastination at its finest!
  6. Waiting some more. Need I say more?!
  7. Remembering to empty dryer. I am awful at this step. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I have opened the dryer and cursed because I forgot to unload the dryer the week prior. “Must be nice to have enough clothes to last between washes.” Back off; I still have clothing from high school. And then there’s the moment when I’m getting zapped from static because I forgot to use a laundry sheet. Many bombs have been cursed at this point.
  8. Folding Laundry. Very relaxing, but it takes me back to my years working in retail. I worked a good portion of my high school years in the clothing departments at Kmart. Initially I loved sorting, folding, organizing, and putting clothing away because it was very productive and instantly gratifying. And then two hours later it looked like I sat on my ass the entire shift. About a year of constantly refolding clothing an hour before closing made me despise customers immensely.
  9. PUTTING LAUNDRY AWAY. And here’s the motherload, friends. Blech. I hate this part. I am also very slow in this process. My closet is sorted by color, sleeve lengths, and all clothing items must be “facing” the correct way. I have seriously caught Youngest messing with my closet. It’s quite thrilling to sense when something is out of place. Again, I blame Kmart for this. I have offended plenty of family members by “re-doing” their efforts in folding my laundry. My anal tendencies are what make laundry so awful. “So Meghan…what you’re saying is that it’s your fault you hate laundry?” Precisely. Good observation, readers.

So where am I going with this posting, you ask? A few weeks ago I went to go pick up some laundry detergent & softener at the store. I don’t know if I was financially blind before, but I looked at the pricing of laundry detergent and got instantly pissed. I distinctively remember saying, “are you fucking kidding me?!” in aisle 5 of the local Kmart [Blue Light for Life]. During my cursing tantrum I glanced at a box of Borax on the shelf and had a light-bulb moment: my friend CoraL makes her own detergent! A quick phone call was made and I retrieved the recipe linked below. Hey, if I am going to do something that I hate, I may as well do it as cheap and fun as possible. Making stuff from scratch is v. enjoyable and the satisfaction of saving my pretty pennies ought to make laundry much more tolerable.

CoraL’s Homemade Laundry Detergent [Word Document for easy printing!]

Basically you process bar soap, Borax, and Wash Soap. It’s so simple, it’s stupid. 

Prices
Borax: $4.45 for a 4lb box
Wash Soap: $3.29 for a 3.4 lb box
Bar Soap: $3.99 for 10 bars
Total: $11.73
Lasts: 6 months (with a remainder of 6 bar soaps and enough Borax/Wash Soap for about 1½ years of homemade detergent)

The Gain detergent that I usually buy is $15.99 and it definitely doesn’t last 6 months. I call this a win.

And of course before I blogged about this, I had to do a couple weeks worth of laundry to see how this stuff works. My review: It’s awesome. The ivory soap leaves a light, delightful scent. The detergent is potent enough to get out pesky stains (like blood, baby formula, spit, urine, sweat, etc.) from my scrubs and trustworthy enough for my dresses and delicates. Towels and sheets clean great. Note: I haven’t had to get out grease with this yet, an update is sure to follow.

So there ya have it. I made laundry detergent all by myself. My mother’s great grand-mother would be proud.

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Middlest

Middlest’s Dear Diary Moments: 1-3

1 Aug

Anyone who has spent a good amount of time with me knows that I like to coin fantastic events in one’s life as “Dear Diary Moments”. I have been asked, “Do you actually keep a diary?” The answer is no, my friends. As a fawn I remember sitting at my desk thinking to myself, “I know I am ‘supposed’ to do this. What girl doesn’t have a diary?” Reading my “diary” from my early years captures my recess fights [“Oh my gosh diary, Megan E and I got into a fight today. I HATE HER!”]. In my horrifying adolescent years I would write about fingering parties that occurred at boys’ homes — therefore my stubborn and very shy self willed to avoid middle school and high school relationships at all costs. And then one day I realized that I absolutely hated writing my feelings down and would much rather internalize any conflict that may arise in my life. I recognize that is not an appropriate coping skill, but that’s fine. Now “Dear Diary Moments” are always positive & never stressful because well, fuck it; I don’t like stress.

Middlest’s Dear Diary Moments
1. I was 16 and I finally attended my very first Jewel concert. Yes, I was a weird child/adolescent that willingly listened to a woman who wrote acoustic jams about relationships I could not possibly relate to. I went with a group of gals (bless their souls) and we were running late. I remember specifically not caring about missing the opener. Sigh, such “Foolish Games”. We eventually got to the concert and hit the last half of the opener who was Joe Firstman. This was the DDM, my friends. My life was forever changed from the barefoot singer-songwriter. He swooned my sexuality and tugged at my heartstrings with powerful lyrics and the energy he radiated from the piano. [[Edit: Please, PLEASE check out “War of Women” by Joe Firstman]] I fell in love with singer-songwriters and my musical preferences made an utter 180º turn. I went from adoring spoon-fed top 40 radio to actively scouring the World Wide Web for lyrics that brought (and still brings) shivers down my spine and tears to my dry eyes. I formed relationships with an entire music community. I have only met a handful of these men & women, but I value their friendships beyond justification. Searching and “reading” new music became a hobby that I still thoroughly enjoy today. And I get super pissy if I am late for an opener; you never know who you will discover! Sigh. Such a good “Dear Diary Moment”.

2. As a college student studying in a corn field that rests on the outskirts of one of the most dangerous cities in America, I had a “I give zero shits” attitude about what I wore to class or to the local Walmart. It was bad, folks. I was a caught violator of going out to Meijer in (hahaha) yoga pants, a nightie, and flips flops with a long cable-knit sweater in January. I wore sweatpants and hooded sweatshirts to class almost daily. “Dressing up” was considered wearing a tight-fit teeshirt and flared jeans. Over winter break my junior year I was speaking with my friend AllyB about how much more convenient this apparel was compared to “legit” dressing up. She simply, without judgment, compared cardigans to hooded sweatshirts: easy to throw on and presents oneself as much more “put together” than one who dons a hoodie. To this day I own about 20 cardigans that I can just “throw on”, feel comfortable, and not look like a complete schmuck.

3. “Meghan, you have to pay your dues. Your dream job isn’t going to just show up simply because you got a degree.” My mother is one remarkable woman. When I graduated college, I was a spazz. I applied to at least 300 jobs in women’s health during the span of my first year as an RN. I cursed at every automated rejection email that was sent to me within 15 minutes of applying to a job. Every time I vented to my mom acting like a frustrated, entitled brat she would simply say, “Keep going…you’re paying your dues.” And that was enough motivation to take any RN job that was thrown my way while continuously tweaking my “women’s health” resumes & cover letters and constantly applying to women’s health postings. Eventually I got to where I am now: in women’s health, specifically post-partum (50% of my ultimate dream job). Thinking back, I would love to tell newly graduated Meghan to calm the fuck down; you are going to learn more about nursing in your less than ideal jobs than you ever imagined. I may not be 100% in my dream job, but I know that I am “paying my dues” and by working hard I will get there one day. I am so much more calm now than then, which makes me a much more pleasing person to my family. Paying your dues – such good. fucking. advice.

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Middlest