Friday, August 9, 2013

My Oil Collection, and how I use it.

I love oil.

For cooking, for making salves and lip balms, and for plenty of other uses. I've gathered a pretty nice collection for my apartment, and I thought it would be fun to share it!
 Have you heard of those Misto sprayers? Well, I have one. I got it at World Market several months ago, and I personally really enjoy using it. I don't use spray oil often, but when I do, I sure don't want to use Pam. Have you heard what's in that stuff? So, I followed the directions that came with my Misto, and I've never had a problem with it!

 You can fill it with whatever you'd like. I typically fill mine with grapeseed oil. You'll learn more about grapeseed oil below!

 So, grapeseed oil. Probably the most versatile oil you can own. It has a high smoke point, so I'm comfortable doing most stovetop cooking with it. It has a very light/neutral flavor. Generally, I can't taste it at all in my food. Because it emulsifies well, it is also great for making homemade mayonnaise! The two bottles below were purchased at Trader Joe's and a co-op near my town.

 Extra virgin olive oil is a classic, so I'm sure you already have 100 uses for it. I mostly use it in pasta and to make dressings. You can buy it at almost any supermarket or grocery store.

Sunflower seed oil is light, and a good substitute for vegetable oil (for baking oil-based cakes and such). I often use it in baking, when a recipe calls for "vegetable oil." I also used it for some time when I was trying the oil-cleansing method for my face. I bought this particular bottle at Trader Joe's.

 Dark sesame oil is good for stir frying, if you like its flavor. It has a strong and very present flavor, which also makes it good for stir-fry sauces. I don't use it very often, though. Mostly for special occasion stir fry's. You can buy it in the asian section of most supermarkets.

 Mustard oil is pretty new to me! My dad bought it for me at an asian store, and I haven't found a use for it yet. The bottle reads, "For external use only," so naturally I had to research it. It's a pretty controversial oil! If I ever find a good external use, I'll be sure to let you know.

 Peanut oil is great for stir frying. It is my go-to oil (unless I'm making the stir fry for someone who is allergic to peanuts!). I bought this particular oil at a Korean food store.

 Coconut oil. This stuff is wonderful, and it has gained a lot of popularity recently. I use it sometimes for stir-frying, for asian noodle dishes, and as a moisturizer. My newest use involves adding a tablespoon or so to my morning cup of coffee. The one on the left was purchased at an amish bulk food store, and I got the one on the right at a natural food store.

I also own a small container of palm oil (sorry for not having a picture--it's packed away for my new apartment) which I bought at an amish bulk foods store. I plan to use it as a substitute for Crisco in certain recipes.

My oil collection is growing all the time, and I love finding new uses for each of these oils! Let me know if you have any interesting uses for these oils!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

How to eat well when you are making minimum wage.

Quinoa Salad. Click here for the recipe.

I get excited when I see stuff on Pinterest about "Eating Whole Foods on a Budget" or similar promotions. However, I get frustrated when these things only give options that don't seem to apply to me! I'm a "poor college student" in a town where the nearest Whole Foods or Trader Joe's is over two hours away, where the farmer's market only runs from June to August, and where a package of organic tofu generally runs about five dollars.

Still, I've found myself recently getting questions from friends about how I can afford to eat well and still pay my rent. I have always been a pretty frugal gal, so here are my tips on eating well when you are making minimum wage. I know, I know, you've heard it all--"shop at the farmer's market," "pay attention to the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen." I hear these tips over and over it. So I tried to come up with some different ideas.

1. Know where to buy certain foods that you frequently use, and unless there is an especially good sale elsewhere, stick to it. For example, I know that at a Korean food store about 50 minutes away, I can buy organic tofu, noodles, and even oils for half the price (or better!) than I'll ever find these things in my town. The catch may be that this place is nearly an hour away, but typically, it isn't too hard to find people heading that direction. I stock up (paying attention to expiration dates, and planning to use or freeze all of it), and I am usually set for a couple months.

2. Know your priorities when it comes to food, and save money elsewhere to make them happen. Yes, I buy organic milk and free-range eggs. How can I afford it? By saving money on other foods. For instance, I do a lot of my grocery shopping here in town at a new experimental store called Ruler Foods (if there is one near you, check it out!). It even has some really nice organic stuff. Stuff here is super cheap (Think Aldi, but in general, better quality foods), and it allows me to spend a little extra on items I really care about.

3. Buy in bulk from trusted sources. There is an Amish community half an hour away, and my family regularly makes trips to Beachy's Bulk Foods, an awesome store owned and operated by the Amish people of that area. This is where I buy spices, dried herbs, honey, and a lot of hard-to-find (in my town, anyway) pantry staples, like spelt flour, sprouted whole wheat flour, oat flour, etc. Prices here are incredibly reasonable. If you can find an organic bulk supplier or similar store nearby, or even an online supplier, take advantage of it.

4. Keep a well-stocked pantry. Keep plenty of healthy grains, beans, frozen vegetables, etc. on hand. This way, when you get the urge to eat out or order pizza, it will be easier to convince yourself otherwise. When you've got tasty and healthy food on hand, you will use it. This may be hard to get used to, but just like exercise, diet, or whatever, it takes diligence.

5. Don't buy pre-packaged/processed meals if you can avoid it. They are overpriced, full of things you don't need in your body, and you can make meals yourself. Get a cookbook, or search Pinterest. I'm a busy college student who works and is very involved on campus, and even I can commit to cooking most meals for myself. I promise, it's doable!

6. When veggies are in season, buy them, use them, and freeze them. This will save you a lot of money. Try to eat seasonally as much as possible, too. Seasonal produce is cheaper and better!

7. Cook big meals and eat leftovers. I don't know why leftovers gross so many people out. I think they make a great lunch for the next day! I'm learning to cook huge meals, then eat the leftovers for a couple meals later. It not only saves time, but also money.

8. Speaking of lunch, pack yourself a lunch. Get yourself a nice looking lunchbox and pack yourself a healthy lunch! Don't go to Subway and think that six dollar meal is saving you money. Every time you pack a meal instead of eating out, you are saving yourself at least some money. It adds up!

9. This is only somewhat related to food, but it will save you money for food. Use Reusable items whenever possible. Ditch paper towels and napkins if you can, use jars to store things--whatever you can think of. Just try to find a second use for things, and it will save you money over time.

10. Plan your meals, and use everything you buy. I don't always shop with a week's worth of meal plans, but I have a select group of groceries that I know I'll use. Buy food with a purpose. Have some sort of plan for it, whether that's using this week, or preserving it for later use.

I hope that you found these tips to be useful and feasible. These rules for food shopping have really helped me, and I hope they can do the same for you!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Wedding and a Funeral.

Have you seen the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral? I didn't go to four weddings recently. However, today I went to both a wedding and a funeral. Actually, I participated in both a wedding and a funeral. The wedding was for two friends of mine, Gabe and Katie. I wasn't a bridesmaid. I was a flower girl.

Yes, I know, I'm 20 years old. It's okay to have a flower girl of any age. It's okay to have a flower boy, too. It's your wedding. It's really okay to do what you want!

Anyway, the wedding was a really cute DIY-esque evening event. They sang their vows to each other, which was absolutely precious. And then, they decided to lock their bikes together, as a symbol of their unity. Adorable.

Now, about that funeral.

Mr. Daum passed away a week ago. He was a great person who inspired me when I was younger and definitely assisted in my path to music education. You can read his full obituary here. I performed with a group from the Charleston Community Band at his funeral this morning. It was such an interesting and emotional funeral. There was great involvement of music in the service, which was so nice. It honored him well. Especially when we played A Dixieland Jazz Funeral to close. Everyone was singing along, and seeing his family smiling but in tears was so touching. What an amazing person Mr. Daum was, and I am so happy to have known him.

And just for one finale update, I have hit the 60 day point with my no shampoo challenge. Speaking of which, it's really not a challenge anymore. The amount of time I can go between my baking soda/vinegar rinses is increasing all the time, and I am loving my hair these days.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Oriental Vegetables and Tofu.

A post from me regarding tofu is long-overdue.

Seriously, I can't believe I've not posted about tofu yet on this blog.

I eat tofu at least a couple times a week. I would more often if it didn't involve thinking at least a couple hours in advance before meal time. The way I do tofu, I press it for about an hour (sometimes longer, because I'm at work or in class or something), then marinate it for an hour or so (again, sometimes longer), then fry it over medium heat. And yes, that's a long process, I know, but it just turns out so incredibly delicious. It's nearly perfect. There's only one thing more perfect.

There's this dish at my favorite restaurant. T. Garden Thai Restaurant. And to me, it's just called "Number 34," because that's the easiest way to order it. It's also known as "Oriental Vegetables and Tofu." Once I tried this dish, I never went back. I will always order this dish for two reasons. One, because it's the most perfect thing I've ever tasted. And two, because every time I taste it, I get a little closer to figuring out what makes it so perfect.

There are a few things to know about this dish:
1. It contains stir-fried bits of broccolini, eggplant, red and yellow bell peppers, bamboo shoots, green beans, onions, and bean sprouts.
2. I don't think it's necessarily a Thai dish. I get the feeling it's more Cantonese.
3. The sauce does not specifically taste like anything. It's not overly garlicky, not too soy saucey, not especially hot. Not too anything.
4. The tofu's texture is perfect. Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside.
5. It costs a dollar less at lunch time. Had to include that info.

I will tell you right now that my version does not do this dish even the tiniest bit of justice, but mine is still really good. I tend to use whatever appropriate veggies I happen to have on hand. Since I try to eat seasonally, this dish has a lot of summer veggies.

Oriental Vegetables and Tofu

Stir Fry:
1 tbs coconut oil
1 baby bok choy, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, shredded
1/4 purple cabbage, chopped
(plus whatever else you've got)
2 blocks of tofu
fresh ground black pepper
1 tbs sesame oil
1/2 cup soy or tamari sauce
1/4 cup sugar
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp basil
1 tbs vegetarian worcestershire sauce (optional)
1 tbs rice vinegar (optional, but nice to have)
1/2 cup water combined with 1 tbs corn starch
crushed red pepper to taste

Begin by making the sauce. In a small sauce pan, add the sesame oil and garlic. Saute for a moment, then add liquids aside from corn starch and water. If you are adding crushed red pepper, now is the time to add that. Stir and simmer for a few minutes, then add the water and corn starch mixture. Continue to simmer. Let cool and set aside. I often make mine a day or two in advance.

Prep the tofu. Cut the block into bite-sized pieces. I like to make thin triangular pieces. It's fun and they cook well. Using a (clean!) kitchen towel and a thin cloth (or paper towel), press the tofu between several layers of cloth. Add a nice library book or two on top, to help press it nicely. Wait an hour or so. For a visual step-by-step of this, see below.

The mighty and powerful tofu block, untouched by my hands.

Cut into triangles. Below is a kitchen towel and a cloth napkin.

Next, I place another cloth napkin as well as another towel on top, followed by a few books to help press it well.

When you come back, your tofu should be well-pressed. In a bowl or sealable container, marinate your tofu. I like to use some sriracha, soy sauce, and black pepper. Make sure all pieces are coated, and set in the fridge for a bit. At least half an hour.

Make the stir-fry. Use a good frying pan (well-seasoned cast iron, stainless steel, even a good non-stick pan is fine) and coat it with coconut oil (sesame oil can be nice, too!). Let it heat up to medium heat, and add the tofu. Be patient. The heat isn't super high, so this isn't going to happen in five minutes. After several minutes, flip all the tofu. It should be nicely browned. Continue watching and flipping every three minutes or so, until it reaches a nice "caramelized" appearance. Add vegetables to this pan, adding a little more oil if necessary, and fry lightly for a few minutes. Season with ground pepper, and continue to cook. Turn heat down to medium-low, and add sauce. Cook an additional minute or so. Serve with a pot of jasmine tea.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Earl Grey Shortbread Bites.

Just a warning. These aren't healthy...

I am fascinated by using earl grey tea to bake tasty treats. These shortbread bites are not only simple to make, but wonderfully yummy. Like, melt in your mouth yummy. I got the idea from a book I found in mom's collection, "Simply Homemade Food Gifts." In the book, these little cuties are made with colorful sprinkles folded in. I thought it would be fun to try to make them with tea instead (since, you know, I adore tea). They turned out wonderfully, and I'd definitely suggest you give them a try if you are in need of a very quick treat!

1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbs sugar (I used raw sugar and it worked fine)
1/2 cup butter
2 bags earl grey tea (I used Twinings)

Mix flour, sugar, and butter together until it becomes crumbly. You will probably want to use some type of mixer for this. Add the earl grey tea (make sure it isn't a "full leaf" variety--you want something with very small bits of tea), stir, and form the mixture into a ball. Knead it well, then roll or flatten it onto a cookie sheet. This is tricky... or at least, it was for me. I ended up doing this in small chunks, as I had a really difficult time getting the dough to stick together and not crumble. Cut this into squares (approximately 1/2 inch to an inch), and separate squares onto the cookie sheet. Bake at 325 for 12 to 14 minutes. Mine baked closer to 12 minutes.

Let cool. These will keep for several days in an airtight container, or you could freeze them for later!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

One-Pot Pasta and Baked Summer Veggies.

I haven't posted a recipe in some time, so this is long-overdue. I'm sorry.

However, I saw this "one-pot pasta" all over Pinterest, and had to check it out. Originally, the recipe comes from Martha Stewart, but I ended up looking at this recipe for inspiration, and loosely adapted it.

For a side, I did a sort of baked vegetable dish, using zucchini, summer squash, onion, and roma tomatoes. You may notice that it is pretty similar to this dish. I chose not to use potatoes, though.

The flavors of these two dishes paired well together, and the meal was nice enough for a Father's Day dinner for my family.

Here are the recipes:

One-Pot Pasta


12 ounces linguine (or similar pasta)
3.5 to 4 cups of vegetable broth 
1 15oz can petite diced tomatoes
1/2 large yellow onion, julienned
2 cloves garlic, sliced (I would have used more, but my mom isn't a huge fan)
dash of red pepper flakes (again, I would have used more if not for my mother)
3 fresh oregano leaves, chopped
4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 tbs olive oil

Begin by chopping the veggies/herbs. Put half of the chopped herbs in a very small dish with the olive oil. Set aside (or refrigerate). Now, bring broth to a boil (I used one of those little Knorr tubs that makes 3.5 cups) in a large pot. Once the pot is boiling, add everything except the olive oil/herb mixture. Keep an eye on it and stir occasionally. After about ten minutes, add the oil/herb mixture, and stir well. I opted not to cook this dish until all liquid had evaporated, because I didn't want the pasta to be too soft. I estimate that I let it cook about 13 to 15 minutes, then strained out some of the liquid, leaving a little at the bottom. That's it. Pretty easy, huh?

Baked Summer Veggies


1 zucchini, sliced
1 yellow squash, sliced
3 roma tomatoes, sliced
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced into large pieces
1 tbs olive oil
Parmesan cheese (optional)
black pepper to taste
basil, garlic, thyme, etc to taste
sea salt to taste

Spread olive oil over the bottom of a casserole dish. Chop all veggies, and arrange in the dish (see my picture for inspiration. Ha.)... This can be tricky with the oil, but have patience--it will be okay. Season to taste with herbs mentioned above, or your own herbs.

Onions chopped in fairly large slices.

Put in the oven on 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, covered with foil or a similar covering. After this amount of time, take out, remove foil (carefully--it might be steaming a lot). Sprinkle parmesan cheese on, and return to the oven, without the foil. Let it bake another 25 minutes or so. Yum.

Finished product. Delicious.

Oh, and the pasta, just so you can get an idea of the consistency.

These were both delicious, and my parents gave this meal a high rating. Happy Father's Day!

Shopping, a lemonade recipe, and the purge.

 Yesterday, I went on a shopping trip with my father and Mark (happy Father's Day, by the way!). It wasn't the type of shopping trip I'd go on with my mom. Instead, we went to Strawberry Fields (a natural food store with great selection and not-so-great prices), Am-Ko (an Asian food store--highly authentic and awesome prices), and World Harvest (a store with tons of food from around the world, as well as gourmet and unusual foods). If you are ever in the Champaign, IL area, all of these stores are located very close to the U of I campus, and are definitely worth checking out.

At World Harvest, I got these "If You Care" gloves--just to check them out. I love wearing gloves while cleaning and washing dishes, and these gloves seemed like a pretty awesome investment. They are fair trade, ethically-sourced, and biodegradable. All of that sounded pretty great to me. They seem to be of very good quality, which is great, because they were five dollars. I like to spend my money well.

Unfortunately, they are bright green, which doesn't exactly match my kitchen!
Also purchased yesterday:
- Peanut oil
- Textured vegetable protein
- Arrowroot powder
- seaweed sheets (for making sushi!)
- washcloths
- rice noodles
- soba noodles
- and more!

Overall, it was a great shopping trip, and a wonderful way to spend a Saturday. And did I mention that we went to the Golden Wok Thai/Chinese Restaurant, too? We got vegetables and tofu. Yum.

Let's see. I've been doing some other interesting stuff lately, right? Oh, right, I made some delicious lemonade the other day. The old fashioned way, of course. Here's the recipe I used from the book, Back to Basics:

1 quart water
4 lemons
1 cup raw sugar (I used a little less)

First, juice the lemons. Then, put the peels on a bowl, and cover with the raw sugar. I only did these with half of the peels, because I used to other half to infuse vinegar. Let sit for 30 minutes, then pour one quart of boiling water over the sugar and peels. Let cool. Combine with lemon juice. Taste, and water down as necessary. I probably added at least a cup and a half of water, because it was so sweet. But either way, it is absolutely delicious.

Now, for the purge.

I really don't wear makeup often. Mostly because it's expensive (I won't buy products that have been tested on animals, which is difficult and guilt-inducing, because many of the products within these products have been tested), and adds a lot of time to my morning routine. Still, I own a lot of makeup that has been gathered through the years (pretty gross, now that I think about it). Same with hair supplies. Having been no-'poo for almost seven weeks now, I have not been using any products (hairspray, mousse, etc.) whatsoever. And lotions, creams, powders, etc. with gross ingredients just freak me out. It's time to purge. In favor of more natural alternatives (I've been looking up homemade versions of these things!), I am attempting to rid myself of most of these products. The problem I'm facing is, what on earth do I do with all these stuff? I'll let you know how it turns out...