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cleaning (5) craft (26) DIY food (7) niftyman (4) nondairy (18) vegan (11)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

DIY Granola

This time of year, we're scrambling for homemade gifts. Phoebe wants to bring her teachers something and now that she's in middle school, she has a lot of them, including dance teachers, who I assume are health-conscious. After perusing different recipes (some with shocking amounts of oil or butter) and making my own adjustments (not a coconut lover) I came up with a healthy granola. The best part? We had all these ingredients in our pantry.

Adapted from bonappetit.com

3 c oats
1-1/2 c unsalted nuts
1 t cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 egg white
2T maple syrup
2T honey
2T grapeseed oil

zest of 1 orange
1 c dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place nuts (I used the mix from Costco: almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans) in a plastic bag wrapped in a dishcloth and pound with a rolling pin. Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl and coat with egg white. Add wet ingredients. Spread onto parchment-lined sheet pan. The original recipe required stirring every 10 minutes for even browning. This produced nice crunchy granola bits, but I wanted some clusters. To encourage clusters, press the granola together and into the pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 275 degrees and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. You may want to check to make sure your granola does not brown too fast. Remove from oven and add orange zest and dried cranberries. Let cool in pan. Makes about 5 cups.

According to the bonappetit site, you can store in an airtight container for 2 weeks, but it probably won't last that long! The batch I made yesterday is almost gone, so I better double the recipe and pack it up if we really want to get these out. I think I'll try lemon zest and raisins next.

Whoops, this cluster is too small--CHOMP!

This granola makes Monday
mornings better.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Case for a Better Mobile and Data Plan

I am paying $19 a month for my mobile phone service that includes unlimited talk, text, and 3G data. How much do you pay every month to your mobile carrier? $50? $60? $80? More? How long are you locked into your phone contract? Two years? Three years? If you're sick of paying these exorbitant monthly fees and being shackled by a long-term contract, then you will want to try out Republic Wireless.

Republic Wireless (RW) was specifically created for value conscious consumers who want access to online services but don't want to pay high prices for the privilege. This new mobile service is revolutionizing the mobile industry by leveraging our existing Wi-Fi infrastructure. RW is able to offer significantly lower prices by relying on its members to take advantage of their surrounding Wi-Fi networks. When you have good Wi-Fi signals, your phone will draw on the Wi-Fi signals. All calls and data access will be routed through your Wi-Fi connection. When you stray out of Wi-Fi range, then your phone will fall back on Sprint's cellular and 3G/4G data network. There is no cap or limits on using Sprint's celluar and data network. RW only states that they do monitor member usage and will issue "warnings" to the members who abuse using the cellular services.

Personally this usage pattern is perfect for me. Most of the time, during the work week, I am in the office during business hours, where Wi-Fi signals are strong and plentiful. After work, I commute home, where I am able to take advantage of the Sprint network for cellular calls and data access. Back home at night, again, I am bathed in limitless Wi-Fi. The only extended time I am without Wi-Fi is when I go on longer walks with my dog during the weekends. But during these walks, I am again covered by Sprint's cellular network.

If you have a similar schedule, and if you live and work in an area where Sprint's network is good enough, then I encourage you to try out Republic Wireless. They even have a 30-day money back guarantee. Oh, did I mention there are NO CONTRACTS and NO activation fees? All you have to pay is for the upfront cost of a new phone at substantially lower prices. Currently there are two phones available: the Motorola Defy XT ($99), a mid-range ruggedized Android phone that I've been using and am very satisfied with for my needs (I take the phone along for my runs); and the new Motorola Moto X ($299), the latest and the greatest with Android 4.4 (Kit Kat).

Use this referral link and get $19 credit. Full disclosure: when you sign up with the below referral link, you get the credit and I also get the same credit.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Microwave Vegan Frosting

OK, this one's for Chloe, who spent nearly half an hour making vegan frosting for my birthday cake. Two ingredients, it's Phoebe friendly, and it takes five minutes. It doesn't get better than that. I made a test cake for her birthday in a 6"-round pan. I cut the cake into three layers and this was enough frosting for each layer--I didn't frost the sides though. If you need an easy cake to hold your easy frosting, I used our go-to vegan chocolate cake recipe:


1-1/3 c (8 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c almond milk (or soy milk)

Microwave milk on high for 1 minute. Pour over chocolate chips. Stir until chips are melted. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

We're animals! Managed to get
a shot of last piece.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Individual Berry Crisp

My go-to summer dessert is a berry crisp from Bon appetit Magazine. Here's the link:


The individual servings look special, help with portion control, bake up fast, and make it easy to customize for food allergies. I like it so much that I adapted it for a single serving. The topping ingredients are pretty forgiving so I left out the flour to accommodate gluten-free guests.

Keep a bag of frozen mixed berries in your freezer. If you have a container of the premixed topping in your pantry, all you have to do is scoop some out, add your fat, and you have dessert in no time.

1c frozen mixed berries
3/4t cornstarch
lemon zest (optional)

1/2 c nuts, ground
1/2 c oats, ground
1/4 c brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
1 pinch salt

1T butter, nondairy Earth Balance buttery spread, or almond butter

Preheat oven 400 degrees. Mix cornstarch and frozen berries in a small bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes. Add lemon zest if you so desire. Pour into 4" x 1" round ramekin.

Scoop out 1/4 c to 1/2 c of topping.

Mix in fat with your fingers until you get small clumps. Cover fruit with topping. Press topping into fruit.

Bake for 10 minutes. Lower temperature to 350. Bake for 30 minutes.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Nondairy Hash Brown Quiche

After a failed attempt at making a dairy-free quiche crust for Phoebe (I cut back too much of the fat content and ended up with a crumbly mess), I read a recipe that included frozen hash browns (plain shredded potatoes) in the filling. I thought, Hmmm, that sounds good, but what about using hash browns for the crust? A quick search revealed that others have tried this. I believe Paula Deen may have created the original. However, she uses half a stick of butter! Also most recipes called for 3 c of hash browns, but I found that this made a very skimpy crust. Here's my version:

4 c frozen hash browns (defrosted)
2 T olive oil
6 large eggs + 1/4 c chicken broth (or 6 large eggs + 3/4 c heavy cream*)
1 c chopped cooked broccolini
shredded Daiya cheddar cheese (or regular cheese)

*After reading many recipes, I liked Martha Stewart's version, because with so little liquid, it was easy for me to substitute with chicken broth. Incidentally, if you find your liquid does not come up as high as you'd like, go ahead and pour in another beaten egg.

Defrost hash browns overnight in your refrigerator. Drain hash browns on paper towels.

There were many cautionary notes in
recipes about draining the potatoes
well. I found just pressing with a
paper towel (2X) did the trick.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat bottom of 9-inch pie plate with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. (I just rub it all over with my fingers.) Spread hash browns evenly onto bottom of dish to form crust.

Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and salt onto potatoes. Bake for 30 minutes. Crust should be slightly brown. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Spread broccolini evenly over cooked crust. Pour eggs and chicken broth mixture into crust. Top with shredded cheese. Bake for 40 minutes or until eggs set.

Regular cheese on half, Daiya cheese on the other half
My family gobbled this quiche up so fast that I didn't get a picture of anyone eating it.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Coffee Can Organizer

This is a simple project you can knock out in a few hours. 
  • Collect a bunch of large-sized cans. Here I used 18 tomato cans. Similarly sized coffee cans will work just as well. 
  • Drill holes on all sides where each can will touch another, making sure the holes will allow a small zip tie to loop through and secure adjacent cans together. (Tip: Skip all the drilling and threading of zip ties and use hot glue instead.)
  • Stand up the organizer and fill it with the pile of shoes blocking your entry way. How about using it as a wine rack? Or maybe use it as a wall herb garden?

Oven-Fried Chicken Recipe

You've seen those oven-fried chicken recipes, right? Sometimes they use panko for the crust, but you have to toast the panko if you want that golden-brown crust. I've tried the Neely's corn flakes method, which worked really well. But alas, I don't always have corn flakes on hand. I ransacked the cabinets and found Rice Krispies. The result? So crispy! Or I should say Krispy, haha.

10 drumsticks (or thighs)
1 c flour, seasoned with salt (optional: garlic powder, dried herbs)
2 eggs, seasoned with salt
2-1/2 c Rice Krispies (crushed)
olive oil

Special equipment: Perforated pan (see photo above) or oven-safe wire rack placed over a baking sheet. This allows air flow under the chicken, creating crispy crust.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay out dredging station: 1 plate of flour, 1 plate of eggs, 1 plate of crushed Rice Krispies.

Remove the skin from the chicken. This is probably the worst part of this recipe, but if you're going through the trouble of a healthier alternative, you might as well get rid of the skin. If you are as worried about salmonella as me, you may want to use metal tongs and food-service gloves. Season "naked" (so forlorn) chicken with salt and pepper to taste.

Dust chicken piece in flour. Shake off excess. (Sorry I didn't take pictures because of the whole salmonella issue.)

Coat with egg.

Roll in Rice Krispies.

Place on slotted pan. Press down gently on the coating to ensure that it sticks. Repeat until all chicken has been coated. Sprinkle a few drops of olive oil on each piece of chicken.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

This was the best oven-fried chicken I've ever made. The crust really looks like the fried skin of real fried chicken. My husband didn't even know I removed the skin! I know skeptics will think no one will be fooled into thinking it's real fried chicken, but I have to say, something about the visual similarity to fried chicken and that Krispies crunch made this healthy version very satisfying. My daughter Phoebe brought a piece for lunch the next day and her friends thought she was eating fried chicken!

Friday, February 1, 2013

DIY Bar Cart

Allen Lau shares the how-to for a charming bar cart made of scrap wood. Not only does this new piece of furniture hold alcohol, it stores stemware, adds character to our dining room, and makes happy hour happen more!

What should one do with an old pile of  Ikea mattress support slats weathered by the elements, taking up space in the side yard collecting dirt and harboring critters? Turn it into a bar cart.

Start by detaching all the slats from the ribbon strips and remove any staples. Then create frames for three trays. The slats I had were 2½" x 38" x ¾". I roughly estimated the amount of material needed, keeping in mind to leave some for the vertical supports and some braces. Also, in order to minimize the number of cuts, I decided to keep the length of the slats intact and build the cart trays based on that. So I came up with the following requirements for building each tray:
  • 6 slats for the bottom of the tray--no cuts, yeah! Using six slats works out nicely so that standard wine bottles fit across the tray if you want to lay them flat.
  • 2 slats for the front and back of the tray with 45° cuts at the ends
  • 2 slats for the left and right sides of the tray; cut these to 15" length and then make 45° cuts at the ends
  • 2 slats for securing the bottom slats; also cut these to 15" length (no angled cuts for the ends)
I used only a miter box saw and some elbow grease to make all the cuts. So the alignment for the frames turned out slightly off in some cases, but weren't too bad. If you have a power saw, I highly recommend using that instead to make more precise cuts.

Make 45° angled cuts at the ends

Glue and nail angled ends together to form rectangular frame

With some wood glue and small finishing nails, assemble the frame of the tray into a rectangle, fitting together the 45° angled cuts. Once you have a rectangular frame, lay the 6 slats down on the frame from edge to edge. Secure the slats to the frame with some wood screws. (I recommend pre-drilling holes for the screws to prevent splintering. But if you don't mind some splintering and like a more rustic look, skip the pre-drilling, or use nails instead of screws.) Place the two 15" slats across the bottom slats, 10" from the edges. Secure to the bottom slats.

Now, repeat and make two more trays. With three trays done, take a break, go outside, get some fresh air, and spend some time with the family so your spouse doesn't complain that you are neglecting them.

Okay, let's wrap this up. For the vertical supports cut 4 slats to lengths of 36". I decided to lop off a couple inches from the 38" slats so that the cart wouldn't end up too high since the wheels add another couple inches to the height of the cart.

Lay the trays on their sides so that you can place two of the support slats across the three trays. Imagine placing the finished cart in the picture onto its back or front. Secure the slats to the trays using the bottom braces of the trays as guides for the supports. The ends of the braces should line up perpendicular to the vertical slats.

Position the middle tray such that you leave enough room for a standard wine bottle (about 12") to be placed standing up in the tray. In this case, the lower tray bottom to the underside of the tray above is 15¼".

Carefully, flip entire assembly over to the opposite side and repeat with the other two vertical slats. So the cart is basically done. Time to add some reinforcement so that it can hold up all your precious booze. Measure and cut braces to fit from the underside of an upper tray to the top of the tray lip. Place and secure this brace right behind the vertical support slat. Repeat adding this vertical bracing another seven times for a total of eight braces--four for between the top and second trays and four for between the second and bottom trays.

The cart should now be very secure and sturdy. Flip the cart over so that it is upside down with the top tray facing down. Measure and cut to length two slats to fit across the bottom of the cart so that they just cover the ends of the bottom of the vertical support slats. (See picture below with the wheel.) Secure the two final bottom slats. Screw in the 2" caster wheels onto the ends of the bottom securing slats.

Vertical brace between an upper and lower trayAnother view of the vertical brace, doubling up for the outer vertical support slat

Lockable 2" caster wheel. Notice the securing slat sitting just above the wheel, allowing the end of the vertical support to rest on top.Optional hanging rack for glasses

Congratulations! You now have a bar cart made by your very own hands and saved yourself several hundred dollars along the way.

Total cost of this project was about $30 for wood screws and four lockable caster wheels. (Ikea slats were $20 per bundle; I used two bundles here. I'm not counting the cost of these since they were "junk" sitting outside in the yard.) 

Total time invested was about one weekend.

I was inspired by this Collins bar cart from Crate and Barrel

You may want to add your own flourishes to the cart. How about adding a hanging rack for glasses or staining the cart your favorite color? Please share your creations.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

DIY Cookie Package

Today I made chocolate meringue cookies for Phoebe to bring to a friend's house. They were too delicate to put in a cellophane bag. I searched the Tupperware drawer and found boxes that were either too big or too small. And then I found a nearly empty box (cylinder?) of oatmeal. Aha! Sturdy, clean, recyclable. Best of all, it was just the right size for two dozen cookies. I dressed it up a bit with a brown paper lunch bag and some ribbon, but you can always proudly display the Quaker Oats label.