One Simple Trick For Quick Kitchen Clean Up

I love to cook.  But hate the clean up afterwards… Sound familiar? I know I’m not alone in this.

In the frenzy of preparation, it isn’t uncommon to find that I’ve used nearly every dish and utensil in the kitchen. By the time the dust settles, and I’m weary from all the chopping, peeling, sauteing and stirring, the sight of piles of dirty dishes all over the counter can really take some of the satisfaction from my culinary efforts… It’s enough to make me seriously consider Chinese take-out and frozen pizza as viable menu options.

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Just say no…

Using one simple trick, however, can help make clean up easier and speedier than ever. I like to refer to it as “the dishes that clean themselves”.

Well, almost

Whenever I am about to begin a whirlwind round of cooking, I fill the sink with hot soapy water. That’s it!

As I  measure and mix, pour and puree with wild abandon, I drop the dishes immediately into the water–sometimes with a little rinse beforehand if they’re especially messy. When I’m finished, if I’ve been putting away my ingredients as I  go, the counter tops are free of clutter and wipe down quickly.

And all those dishes? They are ready and waiting.  Remaining bits of food matter slip off with a swish of a sponge and without requiring the muscles of a lumberjack. Super fast and extremely easy.

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It’s a little “smoke and mirrors” to be honest. I still have to do the work but changing how I do it does seem to make a difference.  And while a sink full of hot soapy water may seem a poor substitute for maid service, it definitely fits the budget.

What kitchen clean up strategies work for you?

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The Candy Bar Alternative

The more I learn about sugar and how my body processes the stuff, the less I worry about the particular source–be it low glycemic coconut sugar or the demonized high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

I definitely don’t go out of my way to eat products containing HFCS. I don’t keep it in my kitchen or cook with it, but I agree with the Nutrition Diva on this one.

We should be less concerned with the form sugar takes and more concerned about the quantity. Excessive consumption seems to be the American Way. I wrote about recommended levels of sugar intake in a previous postAll sweeteners should be consumed in moderation.

That said, there’s a ginormous difference between a homemade treat and a Snicker’s Bar.

SNICKERS® Bar

This candy bar contains almost three-quarters of the recommended maximum amount of sugar for a teenage boy!

Check out the ingredient list: MILK CHOCOLATE (SUGAR, COCOA BUTTER, CHOCOLATE, SKIM MILK, LACTOSE, MILKFAT, SOY LECITHIN, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR), PEANUTS, CORN SYRUP, SUGAR, MILKFAT, SKIM MILK, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, LACTOSE, SALT, EGG WHITES, CHOCOLATE, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR. MAY CONTAIN ALMONDS

Definitely not real. Highly processed and not something I could make in my own kitchen. Not to mention a rather alarming amount of sugar.  I definitely wouldn’t send one with my teenager for quick energy before after school sports.

No calorie counting here!

No calorie counting here!

The question then is what can be sent that is easily portable, real and sweet enough to appeal to a teenage boy more concerned with taste than nutrition.

The inspiration for one of the sweet treats that can be commonly found in my son’s backpack came from a vegan cookbook I found at Costco. The Forks Over Knives Cookbook has an awesome dessert section and, with a couple of improvisations, the following recipe was born…

A Better Granola Bar

  • 1/2 cup peanut or almond butter
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup brown rice syrup (or honey)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (can use all vanilla)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8-1/4 cup uncooked millet
  • 2 cups whole rolled oats (not the quick kind)

Line the bottom of an 8×8″ pan with foil that extends up the sides. Lightly grease with cooking spray.

Heat nut butter and sweeteners together in a bowl in the microwave–just enough to mix easily, then stir together until smooth.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and almond extract, cinnamon and salt.

In a large bowl mix oats and millet with the syrup mixture. Stir well until oats are evenly coated. Use wet hands or the back of a wet spatula (water will keep it from sticking) to very firmly and evenly press the mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 for approximately 15 minutes–or until the edges look a bit browned. Cool to room temperature, remove from pan, remove foil and place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before cutting with large kitchen knife (pressing straight down for a clean cut) into 8 equal rectangles.

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To make it even more decadent, add 1/3 cup chocolate chips to the oat mixture before pressing into pan. Try chopped, dried apricots, toasted and roughly chopped almonds or whatever else appeals to you.

Perfect for packing! Only 3 teaspoons of sugar per bar.

Family Project: Yogurt Cream Cheese

In If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Numeroff, you learn that if you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want some milk.  And when he gets the milk, he’s going to ask for a straw.  And when he’s done, he’ll need a napkin. I’m sure you see where this is going.  And if you have children, you’ve lived it! One thing leads to another until you’re right back  to cookies.

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Well, in my case it started with a realization that we were spending quite a bit of money on organic yogurt.  Sam was going through record amounts and I was *cough* indulging a bit as well.  So I met the challenge head on and made it myself!

Once I made the yogurt though, I discovered that I could make cream cheese out of it.  Imagine that.

Using The Encyclopedia of Country Living as my guide, I followed a few very simple steps:

Step 1:  Pour one quart of freshly made yogurt into the center of a length of cheesecloth spread over a bowl.  (Optional: Mix in 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt to yogurt beforehand.)

001Step 2:  Pull the ends together to create a “ball” of yogurt.  I used rubber bands, of which we have plenty, to close off the cloth.  I used the remaining ends to create a loop (again with rubber bands) which I could hang from a yardstick.  Use whatever materials you have on hand to hang the yogurt.

As you can see, the liquid will drain into the bowl.  I had to dump mine periodically so the yogurt wasn’t sitting in it, but you could hang yours differently so that it isn’t quite so low.

006Step 3:  Hang for 6 to 48 hours in a cool airy place (sooner is safer). This ball of yogurt cream cheese was hanging for at least 17 hours in my cold, unheated kitchen—from the afternoon of the previous day and through the night.  Peel off cheesecloth.

It’s ready to eat!  And honestly, it’s tastes better than store bought cream cheese made from cream and just slightly (and deliciously) tangier.  No complaints from the head taster, my 13 year old son.

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And, naturally, if you make some yogurt cream cheese, you’ll have to make some bagels to go with it. 🙂  It’s as simple as that.

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The Science of Addictive Junk Food

What if I told you that overeating had a lot less to do with lack of willpower and self-control than you thought?  That weight gain and the subsequent diet related diseases of the day are partly out of our control?  Just who’s responsible, anyway?

There was a very interesting article in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago by Michael Moss, the author of the newly released book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.

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There’s lots of money at stake, and the snack food industry is heavily invested in keeping us eating more and more junk food–through the use of economics, chemistry and psychology.

So if you’re wondering why that Coke you’re drinking tastes so delicious, why we have skyrocketing rates of obesity and how on earth we became one of the fattest nations in the world, you need to understand the level of manipulation of our taste preferences.

If you’re interested in reading the whole New York Times article, know that it’s long.  Make a bowl of popcorn (the real stuff, not the microwaveable kind–unless you DIY) and get comfortable.  It’s a fascinating read in a cloak and dagger kind of way…  Here’s the story.

I don’t want to be manipulated.  I’m pretty sure that a choice between soda and a diet soda isn’t much of a choice.  And I don’t want to spend more to eat more, compromising the health of my family.

Here are 3 ways you can take control:

1.  Buy real food.  It’s the most important thing you can do. Choosing food that is as close to its natural state as possible means you can avoid all the “science” that creates frankenfood that doesn’t nourish us.

2.  Be a smart shopper.  Cruise the outer aisle of your grocery store. That’s where most of the real and minimally processed foods can be found. Steer clear of the displays at the aisle ends. They’re for high profit, heavily advertised items likely to be bought on impulse. Make a list and stick to it!

3.  Cook at home.  Using real food to cook meals at home allows you to control the flavor, freshness and nutritional content of the food your family eats.  You’ll enjoy your food more and save money to boot.

We already know we need to eat better, but even knowing that doesn’t mean it will be easy.  But it’s not hopeless either.  What do you think?

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Rice: Proceed With Caution

Due to the tremendous interest in Monday’s post on arsenic in rice, I felt it needed a follow-up.  There’s a rumor going around that organic rice has no arsenic.

I wondered about this too–but thought it odd that Consumer Reports wouldn’t have noted that in their findings. That would have been a simple way to deal with the problem, right?Just eat organic.  The truth of the matter is somewhat different.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration weighs in on this issue in an FAQ section about arsenic in rice on their website:

Do organic foods have less arsenic than non-organic foods? 

The FDA is unaware of any data that shows a difference in the amount of arsenic found in organic rice vs. non-organic rice. Because arsenic is naturally found in the soil and water, it is absorbed by plants regardless of whether they are grown under conventional or organic farming practices.

Currently, there is no federal maximum on arsenic in food. The FDA said it hopes to complete its assessment by the end of the year to set science-based limits.

That said, based on the current data, the FDA is not recommending changes by consumers regarding their consumption of rice and rice products.  They encourage consumers to eat a varied diet that includes other types of grains for the best possible nutrition.

From what I have read, however, there are no long term studies of low doses of arsenic. That would be something well worth knowing.

And because young children and infants are quite vulnerable the American Academy of Pediatrics has this to say:

While additional research, including the results of the ongoing FDA study, will be needed to provide detailed recommendations, the American Academy of Pediatrics believes that at the individual level, offering children a variety of foods, including products made from oats and wheat, will decrease children’s exposure to arsenic derived from rice. In addition, if parents raise questions about arsenic in juice products, they can be reminded that it is not necessary to offer children any juice in a well-balanced, healthy diet; and that for years the AAP has recommended limited intake of all sweet beverages, including juice.

Another finding is that rice grown in California has lower levels of arsenic overall than rice grown in south-central states where arsenic was used as a pesticide in the cotton fields.

Personally, when I buy rice in the future, I’ll purchase it from an environmentally conscious California based company from the San Joaquin Valley–Lundberg Family Farms.  They’ll be implementing a 3 year arsenic testing plan to not only measure levels of arsenic in their rice but also to determine what that means for the health of the consumer.  That’s means something to me.

There are no absolutes at this point.  I’d like to hear what other families plan on doing.  What do you think?

Thank Goodness for Gout

“What’s vegan?” Sam asked after he found out he had just devoured a large helping of vegan lasagna.  Lasagna consisting of whole wheat noodles, pasta sauce, cashews, tofu, and a ton of vegetables.

It’s a plant-based diet.  No meat.  No dairy.  No eggs.  A strict vegetarian if you will.

Seriously?  Why the sudden interest in preparing vegan food you ask.

Well, Jim discovered he had a (non-life threatening) diet related disease.  And he was fed up.  He decided to make a change, and this was it.  A vegan diet.

We know it’s serious because he’s the original “it’s not a meal unless there’s meat” man.  He bought a juicer.  He’s making green drinks.  He’s shaking ground flax-seed on just about everything he eats.

So, as the primary architect of dinner (and loving, supportive spouse), I’m pulling out all the stops to prepare surprisingly delicious plant-based meals–like that lasagna among other things.

Polenta pie with cashew cheese and maple glazed brussel sprouts.

Polenta pie with cashew cheese and maple glazed brussel sprouts.

Honestly, Jim is looking good. While he’s rid himself of the instigating medical issue, he’s still determined to lose those last ten pounds.  The troublesome ones that cling on for dear life. But it’s more than his weight.

His eyes and skin look fresher and brighter.  With his doctor’s supervision, he’s hoping to get his blood pressure under control without medication when he reaches his desired weight.

But let’s be perfectly frank here.  Sam and I are not vegans.  Jim is only adopting this as a temporary measure.  Disclaimer: I am not promoting veganism.  It’s been a useful tool for him to learn to live without all that meat he used to consume.  In the process we’re learning about other healthy food choices and exploring a myriad of new vegetable dishes and other protein sources.

It’s not a forever change–completely.  But we believe food is medicine.  The best kind. And the side effects are all good ones.  It’s a wake up call.  A little less meat and dairy and a lot fewer processed foods.  And (tah dah….) a lot more fruits and vegetables.

Good-bye gout.

For a more comprehensive look at all the many types of vegetarian and vegan diets, check out this noteworthy article at MedicineNet.com.

And here’s to Jim!

Ole Sparkle Eyes

Dinner Improv

And now, for the main eventpresenting the star of the show….

the tomatoes were from our garden, now frozen

Old vegetables?

Well, yes.  It was dinnertime–again.  It rears its ugly head, well, every night.  Once again, I was caught with my  apron off.  What to cook for dinner?

It was a dark and stormy night.  Why not soup?  Split pea soup to be exact.  We had some of those. There were even the remains of a hunk of ham from one of last week’s meals.

We’d had that ham as the featured entrée.  We had it the next day in ham sandwiches. One night we even snacked on it as an appetizer with good, homemade mustard.  Soup was its final incarnation.

Honestly, soup doesn’t have to be the end of the line, but it often is.  That’s why it’s a good improvisational, or throw together meal.

Tonight’s Split Pea Soup

  • carrots, diced
  • celery, diced
  • onion, diced
  • olive oil
  • vegetable or chicken broth, 4 cups or more if you like thinner soup
  • tomatoes, chopped
  • beet greens (or some other type of leafy green), chopped
  • ham, diced
  • salt to taste
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1 cup split peas

I realize there are no measurements for anything except the split peas and broth. That’s why it’s improvisational.  I used everything on the plate above with the exception of the biggest tomato.  Use what you have.  You won’t need a lot.

Saute the first three ingredients in oil for about 10 minutes.

Add split peas and water or broth, tomatoes and ham.

Bring to boil.  Then cover and simmer on low for the first half hour.

Uncover and cook until the peas are creamy.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss in chopped greens in the last half hour of cooking.  If you think you might get resistance to greens in the soup, chop it smaller so it’s less noticeable.  It works at my house…

Serve with crusty bread or grilled cheese sandwiches and sliced fruit.  Feel the love. You’re eating healthy, it tastes divine, and you’ve earned a merit badge for kitchen economy.  Bon appetite!

What will you improvise tonight?

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