Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Homemade vs. Pre-made: Basic Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is like whipped cream. Whenever I make whipped cream from scratch, I get all sorts of impressed expressions like, "Wow! Real whipped cream!" or "I wish I had the time to do stuff like that!".  I'm always torn between the prideful part of me that wants to look awesomely domestic and the side of me that is ever-eager to dispense any sort of knowledge (hence this blog). Usually I'll come clean and tell people how incredibly easy it was to make and how it only took a few minutes.

The same goes for cranberry sauce. People think it's fancy when you make your own, but, really, it's a cinch to make; it only takes around ten minutes hands-on time. I know that for some people (like my dad) Thanksgiving isn't quite Thanksgiving unless the cranberry sauce belches out of a can and has lines imprinted on it. To each his own. That said, the canned stuff does have high fructose corn syrup in it and I'm all for avoiding that stuff completely. And, as it is with most homemade foods, the from-scratch version tastes so much better than the canned kind.  There are a bunch of different recipes for homemade cranberry sauce (some use orange juice, some have sugar, some have maple syrup, some have oranges or pineapple added to it), but the recipe I'm sharing with you is a basic, whole-berry cranberry sauce.

So, do you want to impress your guests at Thanksgiving dinner? Here's how...

For this recipe (it yields around 2 cups of sauce), you'll need:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • One 12-oz. bag of cranberries

Rinse the cranberries in a colander. In a medium saucepan, combine the water and the sugar. Bring to a boil.

Once the sugar-water mixture is boiling, add the cranberries. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir occasionally.

This is my favorite part...

I can't quite explain why, but I like to watch the cranberries start to split (they get these fun lines and designs on them) and then pop. Yes, I am easily entertained.

Let the mixture boil gently for about ten minutes. By then, the cranberries have all burst and have broken down nicely.

Pour the cranberry sauce into a bowl, cover, and let it cool completely at room temperature. Don't worry if the sauce looks kind of soupy at this point -- as it cools, it will reduce and get firmer. It reminds me of jam -- as it cools it begins to set.

Once it has cooled, refrigerate the sauce until you're ready to serve it. Your family and friends will appreciate and admire your efforts. It's up to you whether or not you tell them how easy it was.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

{This post is linked up to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.}

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

18 Ways I Use Vinegar at My House

My husband teases me whenever we go grocery shopping because I usually buy more gallons of vinegar than gallons of milk.  I tell him that someday, when the zombie apocalypse finally happens, we will be the envy of the neighborhood because of our stockpile of vinegar. It'll be a hot commodity, I tell you (we'll have to guard our stash with a double-barrel shotgun), because it's useful in so many ways.

Here a few of the ways I use vinegar at my house...

1. All-purpose cleaner.  This is the #1 reason I think that vinegar is a great thing to have on hand (zombie apocalypse or no):  vinegar (straight 5% solution -- the kind sold at supermarkets) kills 99% percent of bacteria, 82% of mold, and 80% of viruses. Because of this, I use vinegar to clean just about everything in my house. To make an all-purpose cleaner,  mix equal parts white vinegar vinegar and water in a clean spray bottle. That's it (though sometimes I add a few drops of orange, lemon, or tea tree essential oil). I use this cleaner in my kitchen, bathrooms, everywhere. Best of all, this all-purpose cleaner is way cheaper than a store-bought all-purpose cleaner. I also love it because it's just vinegar -- no funky chemicals to worry about. (One word of warning -- don't use vinegar on marble or granite surfaces.) Your home won't smell like vinegar once it dries, I promise.

2. Dishwasher rinse aid. Fill up the rinse aid dispenser in your dishwasher with straight white vinegar instead. Totally works for me, even with my hard water.

3. Garbage disposal cleaner.  A great way to combat stinky kitchen drains is to freeze white vinegar in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, pop a few vinegar cubes into the disposal and turn it on. It not only gets rid of the stink but it also helps sharpen the blades of the garbage disposal, too.

4. Stain remover. I use vinegar in the laundry room a lot, especially since white vinegar works well for getting rid of stains.  I think it works particularly well with food stains. Here's a link to the stain fighting chart I have in my laundry room, courtesy of Martha Stewart.

5. Fabric softener.  Did you know that vinegar is a natural fabric softener? I pour around 1/4 - 1/2 cup of white vinegar into the middle of the agitator (that's where my machine's fabric softener dispenser is) and it gets released into the rinse cycle.   The vinegar keeps our clothes static free when I use the dryer - I haven't purchased dryer sheets in over two years. Vinegar is also helpful for the clothes that I dry outside on the clothesline -- it makes them less stiff.  And don't worry about your clothes smelling like vinegar -- once they're dry, the vinegar smell disappears.

6. Eliminating boy bathroom smell. I grew up with three younger brothers. I have a six-year-old boy now. I am well acquainted with "boy bathroom smell". (Is it really that hard to aim? Really?) What's the best way to clean the floor around the toilet? With vinegar! Not only does it neutralize the smell and kill germs, but it's also a safer way to clean. Mixing bleach with anything with ammonia in it (read: urine) can create a dangerous toxic gas. True story. Anyway, I splash vinegar around the base, let it soak for a while, then mop it up.

7. Toilet bowl cleaner. I've been cleaning the toilets in my house with only vinegar for years. When I clean a bathroom, the first thing I do is flush the toilet, add about a cup of vinegar while the bowl is refilling with water, and close the lid. I clean the rest of the bathroom (with spray bottle filled with vinegar) while I let the vinegar in the toilet do its work. Once I've finished cleaning everything in the bathroom, I'll scrub out the bowl with the toilet brush and all stains come right off. Flush and the dirty work is done.

8. Cleaning up vomit. I've mostly have experience with this from my (recently departed...sniff) cat. Let's just say he had a sensitive system and grazed on grass as if he were half-cow. Anyway, vinegar is good for cleaning up vomit because it has a more neutral acidity level than stomach acid, which helps neutralize that horrible vomit smell. I usually attack those stinky spots with a mixture of water and white vinegar (about a 2:1 ratio) and the smell goes away pretty quickly.

9. Glass cleaner. I'm a big fan of the "Alvin Corn" glass cleaner recipe I found on Pinterest. To make it, you only need vinegar, rubbing alcohol, cornstarch, and water. It's inexpensive and it works really well.

10. Pickling. I used so much vinegar canning this fall. Pickled peppers, dill pickles, sweet pickles -- delish.  You certainly can't pickle without vinegar.

11Salad dressing. Vinegar goes great with salad. I like splashing some red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar straight onto my salad and eating that way. You can also make your own Italian dressing with vinegar -- for the super-easy recipe, go here.

12. Coleslaw. My husband served an LDS mission in the southern United States. After spending two years in the South, he come home with a love for slaw (especially when it is piled up on a hot dog with some chili. I thought it was weird until I tried it. YUM.). Lucky for him, I've been making it pretty often since I discovered Paula Deen's recipe (so easy, so good!). Without vinegar, coleslaw is just cabbage and carrots; vinegar is what makes it work.

13. Turning milk to buttermilk. Real, cultured buttermilk is always best in recipes, but sometimes I don't have it on hand. In those instances, I make do by mixing a little bit of vinegar with milk. To make a subsitute for 1 cup of buttermilk, mix 1 Tbsp. of vinegar with a cup of milk. Let it stand for about 10 minutes -- this will give it time to curdle the milk and thicken. Only use this method if you'll be cooking or baking -- it's not meant for recipes where you would use buttermilk raw, like in a salad dressing.

14.  Health drink. Drinking a couple teaspoons of apple cider vinegar mixed with water a few times a day is supposed to be really good for you. My husband used to drink it every day when he was in high school and said it helped him with colds and such. I've been trying to drink it regularly, but the stuff is strong. I'm trying to get used to it. I'll let you know if any of those health benefits start kicking in. I've also mixed a little bit of ACV with my chickens' water because it's supposed to be beneficial for them, too.

15. Hair detangler. Believe it or not, you can actually use apple cider vinegar as you would conditioner. I used apple cider vinegar in place of conditioner for a while back in 2010. It totally softened and detangled my hair. I don't use ACV conditioner as often anymore, but I do use it whenever I'm in a pinch. To make vinegar conditioner, simply mix 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar to a quart of water (I just kept a quart-sized Mason jar in my bathroom); pour over your hair (I usually just focused on the ends). Let your hair absorb the vinegar-water mixture for a minute or so, then rinse. I promise your hair won't smell like a pickle.

16. Dyeing Easter eggs.  Never buy egg-dyeing kits again. Making your own Easter egg dye is ridiculously simple. For the how-to, go here.

17. Cleaning the chicken coop. I decided to give the ladies' housing a good scrub-down last month following the instructions from this helpful post about naturally disinfecting chicken coops with vinegar.

18.  Baking soda + vinegar = cheap entertainment.  Kids love seeing vinegar and baking soda combine. Who am I kidding? I still think it's fun to mix the two.  My husband helped Max build a little volcano out cardboard last year. Then, he put a shot glass in the middle (the souvenir one that he got as a joke for me after a business trip to Austin. It says, "Don't Mess with Texas" ). Add some vinegar, food coloring, and baking soda and Max thought it was the coolest thing ever. We've also done the fun activity with the pan of baking soda and the colored vinegar in a dropper (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, click here). Who knew a chemical reaction could be entertaining?

Oh, vinegar. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn HopSimple Lives Thursday, Your Green Resource, Farm Girl Blog Fest, Frugal Fridays, and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.}
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