Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cleaning supply list for the broke

As a first time home purchaser in her third year of ownership, I'm still pretty house poor. Recovering from an interstate move, fixing things the last owner didn't do correctly, general increase in expenses that I'm still getting used to. All have forced me to be as cheap as possible. One place I have been able to cut back on is in cleaning supplies for my house. During my uber-green period, I found a number of recipes to make cleaning products rather with just a few basic staples.

My list includes:

3 or 4 spray bottles.

Dish detergent (use your favorite but many people have found other uses for Dawn specifically. Particularly for pest removal)

Borax (get two boxes, one for under the kitchen sink, one for the laundry room)

White Vinegar (buy the cheapest brand you can find. It's all the same. buy 3 gallon bottles)

Baking soda (get the large box on the bottom shelf in the baking or laundry section of the store)

Tea Tree Oil (optional)

My "Guilty Pleasures" include: (I'll justify these later on)

Powdered laundry detergent (don't buy liquid, you're just paying for water no matter what brand you buy)

Bleach (not exactly green)

Window cleaner

Dishwasher Detergent

Bar Keeper's friend

Spic and Span (on the rare occasion)

Oven Cleaner

For general purpose cleaner. Or the spray bottle that I use in the kitchen to wipe off everything:

1 spray bottle

two teaspoons of borax

two teaspoons of dish detergent

8 oz of white vinegar

3-4 drops of tea tree oil (optional)

fill the rest of the bottle with warm water

Shake the bottle to dissolve the borax and mix the detergent. store under the sink for easy access.

I use this on pretty much all of my kitchen surfaces. I don't have stainless steel appliances. But if I did, I would probably spring for stainless steel cleaner or you can use WD-40 (just make sure to wipe it off really well). For a few cents, I can make this cleaner whenever I run low (don't have to run to the store for it). Between the tea tree oil and the vinegar, the cleaner is anti-bacterial.

Toilet Cleaner

1 cup of white vinegar

1/2 cup of baking soda

dump both into the toilet and watch it fizz. It's the same thing and the old school volcano bit you remember. Once the fizz settles, scrub with brush and let it sit until you "need" to flush. If you have extra stains or need some extra deodorizing, flush first and then add a slash of bleach in the bowl, swish it around with the brush and let sit again until you "need" to flush. I wouldn't add it with the vinegar in the bowl, I can't remember of high school Chem class when vinegar and bleach makes.

Carpet deodorizer

shake some baking soda of the carpet. If you don't have a shaker, wait until you've finished that can of fake Parmesan cheese in the fridge and use that. Leave on for 30 minute and then vacuum. If you want extra scent, put a couple of drops of vanilla or essential oil in your vacuum bag.

Weed Killer

1 spray bottle (I told you, you would need a few)

fill half with white vinegar

a good 4-5 ozs of dish detergent

fill the rest with water

Spray on the weed, and only the weed. This will kill everything! After a day in the sun, the weed will be brown and wilted (yes it works in the shade too). After a few days the weed will be dead. Some other recipes call for salt. You can add that too, if you like.


There are a ton of recipes out there on how to make your own laundry detergent. Honestly, I don't have the time nor the inclination to grate soap. But I have found that ditching the cup that comes with the box of detergent and opting for a 1/2 measurement, will clean most large loads. Add in a 1/2 of Borax to the load too. As always, put the powders in, start to fill the tub, swish with your hand to dissolve and THEN add the clothes.

With cutting back on the amount of detergent I use (which is half of the cup that is included in the box), I buy at most two boxes of detergent a year. Yes there is just a family of two. But I have a teenager don't forget!

Mold and Mildew:

1 spray bottle

1/4 bleach

3/4 water

I don't have a huge problem with this living in a particularly dry area. If I did or had a pretty touch mold job to conquer, would I go out and buy Mold and Mildew cleaner? You bet! (look, I'm just trying to get my house clean and get on with the next thing on the list). But you can tackle small jobs in the kitchen and bathroom with the spray above. Just spray on the area and let sit.

Dusting Spray (for wood):

Olive oil

Lemon juice

Ok, I'll admit that I've never done this. I'm still working on the can of Pledge that I bought a couple of years ago (I don't dust very often). But I have seen recipes for this. Directions include dabbing a small amount of EVOO on a clean cloth. Rub into the wood. Finish with a cloth slightly moistened with Lemon Juice.

My other Guilty Pleasures:

Bleach: Look, I know it's not "green" and it's a very caustic chemical. But I need my bleach. I need it for my dingy whites in the laundry. I need it for my brown and coated coffee maker and cups. I need it for the clothes I use to wash dishes and wipe up messes that I can never get clean. I NEED BLEACH.

Window Cleaner: People say that you can clean windows and glass with a combination of white vinegar or ammonia and water and use anything from newspapers or coffee filters for a sparkling result. I've tried it; it just doesn't work from me. It think it leaves streaks and smudges that are more effort to get out than the job it worth. Save yourself the time and frustration and just go out and buy a bottle of commercial window cleaner. Doesn't have to be name brand; the generics work just fine. But the homemade stuff just can't compare.

I have read that you can use windshield wiper fluid as well. I haven't tried it, but the theory is sound. Plus you can buy a gallon of this stuff for like a buck and a half. If you've tried it, let me know how it worked for you.

Dishwasher Detergent: If you love your dishwasher and want to keep using it, this is not a place to experiment which some homemade concoction. Price compare and use coupons to get the one you like and the works the best for you at the cheapest price.

Bar Keeper's Friend: Very rarely will I promote a specific brand of something. I rarely ever buy the name brand of anything. But I have a white porcelain sink in my kitchen and I drink a lot of coffee. The combination of the two can lead to some very nasty results. The only thing that I have found to really clean one of these types of sinks is Bar Keeper's Friend. It doesn't scratch as much as some of the other brands and it gets the stains out of the sink.

However, if you have an aluminium sink, by all means, have at it and use something else. In this case, I would recommend not buying another product and using either a good handful of Borax or Baking Soda sprinkled over the sink and some gentle scrubbing.

Spin and Span or some other liquid cleaner: When it comes to mopping my floors, I'm sorry but the only thing that works to get the dirt off is a commerical cleaner. I will usually buy a bottle of one of these all purpose cleaners and use it for the kitchen and bathroom floors and sometimes the toilet. Sure I could use the same stuff elsewhere in the house, but I'm trying to make it last so I don't have to buy more.

Oven Cleaner: Here's the deal. My oven gets used a lot. Stuff gets spilled inside and no, I don't wipe it up immediately. The stuff gets baked on (several times over). I just need something with some real muscle to get this stuff off. Yes, there are tons of people who swear by using some of the homemade cleaners I mentioned above. But I just don't have that much elbow grease in me to made that work. I buy the commerical oven cleaners (again not name brand). Also, because I have an electric stove, the drip pans and rings get a good spray with cleaner now and then. Yes, the fumes are terrible. Yes, its caustic and tough on the hands. But really, how often do you clean your oven? Once? Twice a year before holidays and before company comes? That's what I thought.

There are many more ways to save money on cleaning and household items. Most of them are more common sense than anything.

  • Use grocery bags for small trash bags
  • Made sure those trash bags are full before you take them out. Most of the time, when you remove the bag from the can, there's a lot more that can be put into the bag because of settling. Take advantage of it.
  • Use bread bags to wrap meats before freezing. It's always a good idea to double bag if you're going to do this to protect your meat from freezer burn.
  • Cut down or cut out the paper towel usage. After cleaning your windows or mirrors, take the same, now-damp, paper towel and use it to dust the stuff in the living room. The slight dampness in the towel will help to hold the dust much better.
  • Use the net bags that onions and other vegetables and fruits come in, and made a pot scrubber. There are several instructions on the net on how to do this. It is the exact same material that is in the scrubbers that you buy in the store.
  • Learn to love your local Dollar Store. Whether it's the Dollar Store, or Dollar Tree or whatever it's called, every town has one. You can get everything there for $1. This is a good place to stock up on cleaning supplies. Also, you might want to check out the health and beauty isle. Stocking up on shampoo and body wash for a dollar a pop can't be all bad.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Kinda-Sorta Tabbouleh and more

I think this recipe was born from half-watching an episode of Good Eats and forgetting the actual ingredients for a recipe. It's my own version of a salad that I call Tabbouleh. It's great for using up little bits of veggies that you have around or the tale-end of a party platter. I make a lot of it in a batch because my kid goes through it so fast.

3 cups (uncooked measurement) of couscous. Cooked according to the directions and let cool. Do yourself a favor and use reduced-sodium chicken stock instead of water. It will taste loads better. Also, stay away from the whole-wheat couscous. I've tried to like it and I don't. It also cooks up a little gummy and not great for this recipe. I also wouldn't add salt when cooking it, only because I like to be able to control the salt in my food. But honestly, if you salt the stock before adding the couscous, it will taste better.

In a large bowl, add

chopped tomatoes (you'll need about 3 large tomatoes chopped)
chopped cucumbers (about 2 large cucumbers)
chopped onions (you can use either green, while or purple. About 6 green onions, white and green parts. Or 1 white/yellow onion. If you use purple, use a little less than 1 whole onion as they are pungent. But the added color is beautiful )
2 jalapeno peppers, de-veined and seeded and finely chopped
about 3-4 shredded carrots
3-4 stalks of celery, chopped
I have also added chopped radishes, broccoli, and cauliflower because I had them left over from having company over and Parsnips because I had them on hand. You could add pretty much any veggie you like. I would stay away from cabbage though. You could add a little Jicima if you have it, but that will add a slightly sweet taste to the dish.

Toss all of the vegetables together in a large bowl. What you're aiming for is kind of an equal part of everything. If you see too much of one vegetable add more of the others. For the over all dish, you're aiming for a 2-1 ratio of veggies to couscous. After mixing the veggies together, add the dressing.

Red Wine vinegar
Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper
Red Pepper flakes

Like with most of my creations, I don't use exact measurements. The dressing is not different. I eyeball the ratio of Oil to Vinegar and add in the lemon juice for kick. I like a more tart dressing, so I add more vinegar and citrus then EVOO. But basically you're after a standard vinaigrette dressing. I would save the salt and pepper to latter after everything is mixed. But add the Red pepper flakes (just a pinch for heat) into the dressing. Make more dressing than you think you need. Definitely more than for a salad. You want the veggies almost swimming in the stuff because the couscous will soak up a lot of it.

Toss the veggies and the dressing together and then add in the cooled couscous. Mix to coat. You want the couscous to be separated and coated. The dressing will help separate the grains. In the end you want to see more veggies than couscous in any spoonful. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill for at least an hour. The longer it sits, the more flavor the couscous soaks up. Serve cold.

My kid eats the heck out of this salad. I've tried to use a different grain, like Bulgar (which is in real Tabbouleh) or Quinoa (which I've tried to sneak into our diet for health reasons) but she doesn't grove on either of those. There is also another recipe that I've found for Tabbouleh that calls for Green Brown lentils and Bulgar but she won't go for that either. For this, sadly, I'm stuck using the pasta. I also have to keep soy sauce on hand because she has to put than in hers. With that addition, I think we're as far from the Middle-Eastern original as we can get.

Also, the vegetable combination and rough quantities above, I use in a number of other salads.
I use it in my chicken salad and my pasta salad.

For the chicken salad:

Bake 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves. Let cool and shred into a bowl. I like to shred the chicken rather than chop because I prefer that texture more. To shred it, just pull it apart and mush it between your fingers into a bowl. Clean hands, of course.

Add in the veggies from above. I prefer a 2-1 ratio of veggies to chicken because I like veggies more than chicken. Toss to combine

For the dressing, you can do a number of things:

You can go with Ranch dressing out of the bottle.
Mayo. And look, I diet as much as then next person, but reduce-calorie, fat-free mayo is not the same. And Miracle Whip is just plain nasty. You might as well just go for it and put the full-fat version in.
Either way, I would add a little lemon juice and hot sauce in with it. Also, salt and pepper and a little garlic powder (I prefer real garlic in most dishes but unless you can mush the garlic up very fine, you don't want to use that here. Biting into a piece of garlic is not good eats. With the ranch dressing, adding the hot sauce is awesome and gives the salad a hot wing sort-of taste. You could also coat the chicken in hot sauce before you bake it. That's really good.
As for how much dressing, you have to eyeball it again. You don't want tons of dressing in it, but you need some to help it go down. Start with 2-3 large tablespoons (because of the amount of salad you are making) and add more, 1 tablespoon at a time, until everything is well coated. You also can add some Dijon mustard in place of some of the mayo; that's good.

For my Pasta salad, just replace the chicken with some kind of cooked pasta. You want a least 2 pounds of pasta, sometimes 3. For this you want a 1:1 ratio of pasta to veggie. I've used elbow, corkscrew, bow tie, ziti, or any combination of those. I think the more variety the better. You can also get read fancy and get that multi-colored pasta. For the dressing, I use Ranch. Only Ranch, right out of the bottle or use those packets of dry mix. I hate the taste of pasta salad with Italian dressing, but than I'm not found of Italian dressing to begin with. Again you want everything well coated with dressing. I would also add a little more to this on. As the salad chills, the pasta will soak up some of the dressing and it won't be quite so soupy.

Bloody Mary Tomato Salad

I found this recipe in the July '09 issue of Good Housekeeping. You know, the one with the Jonas Brothers on the cover. I adapted it to make it a panzanella salad, but I think I still need to work on it. The recipe looks better than it tastes.

The original recipe calls for:

2 Tbsp prepared horseradish
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Vodka (optional)
1 Tbsp fresh Lemon juice
1-1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
3 pts grape or cherry tomatoes cut in half
4 stalks celery cut into 1/4-in thick diagonal slices
Celery leaves for garnish

Mix the first 6 ingredients (if including the vodka) into a large mixing bowl. Add tomatoes and celery. Mix to coat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. toss again to coat just before serving.

Sounded simple enough. And quite a unique salad to bring to my family's July 4th party, where my uncle's famous Bloody Mary's were a-flowing. When I made it I was making a larger quantity and I ended up using 4 pints of tomatoes and whole head (?) of celery. I quadrupled the amounts for the dressing because I was adding the bread. For the bread, I used a baguette and a half of french bread, cut into medium-large sized croutons that I pan toasted in a small amount of olive oil. I added the bread in before the dressing, tossed everything together and then covered and chilled.

In theory it sounded good and I did get positive feedback from the family. But they're family; they're supposed to be positive. But in tasting the salad, I don't think it was Bloody Mary-ish enough. If you took a bite of tomatoes and bread together, you sorta good the impression of a Bloody Mary. But I think I need to add something tomatoe-y into the dressing. Tomato Paste might be an option or a 1/4 up of tomato juice or V8 ( I prefer V8). The bread will soak up the extra liquid without a problem. But I do need to toast the bread longer, regardless.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Corned Beef and Cabbage Recipe

You need

a brisket, if you get a whole one, cut it in half against the grain. The grain runs the length of the piece of meat.

two (if you are doing a whole brisket) gallon size freezer bags.

pickling salt

brown sugar

pickling spice (I could list off all of the spices you need but everything you need is in that one jar. You find it in the spice/baking isle around the canning supplies)

6 bay leaves

fresh marjoram and thyme (which I have left out when I didn't have it)


a pan or casserole dish

Clean off the brisket and trim the silver skin and some (not all) of the fat from the meat. Cut the piece in to two pieces against the grain. Set those aside.
In each of the freezer bags, put in 1 cup of salt, 1 cup of brown sugar, 3 tablespoons of the pickling spice, 3 bay leaves, and a few sprigs each of the marjoram and thyme. Mix the contents of the bags and then place one piece of meat in each of the bags. Seal the bag and rub the spice mixture into the meat. Reopen the bags and fill with enough water that the meat is covered when you lay the bag on its side (sealed).

Make sure that bags are very well sealed and lay them in your pan or casserole dish, on their sides, and place in the fridge for 7-10 days.

Once a day during that time, you will take the bags out, give them and toss and place them back in the fridge, flipped (so that the side of the meat that was up, is now down). You will notice that the meat will start to feel firmer than when you purchased it. Also, it will take on a slightly grayish color. Don't worry, no germs can grow in that brine.

When you're ready to cook them. Take them out of the bags and give the meat a very good rinsing. You could even soak them in fresh cold water for a few hours to get the salt out.

You will need something pretty big and with a lid to cook them. I have cooked mine in my turkey roasting pan. You know, the green one that you have that you one use once or twice a year. Place some coarsely chopped carrots, onions and celery (parsnips and turnips are also awesome for this) in the bottom of the pan and then place the meat on top of them. Put enough water in the pan to cover the meat. Cook at 350-375F for about 3-4 hours. After that, quarter a head of cabbage (leave the core intact), and whole small red skin potatoes. Cook for another 2 hours or until the cabbage and potatoes are done and the meat is very tender. I mean tender like it pretty much falls apart.

Slice very thin and serve in bowls with the veggies from the pan. I use all of them, even the carrots and other root veggies that I started with. That are so yummy. Ladle a bit of the pan juice over top and serve with a good loaf of crusty bread for dipping.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why I love my compost bin

I love my compost bin. Well, not the bin itself. That could have been designed better. But the concept of composting is awesome to me. Somewhere between Live Earth and buying my first home, I decided I was green. Not true Kelly green or Forest green or even an Ed Bagley green. More of...well...a teal. I'm green-ish. I'm selfishly green.

One of the first things I bought with one of the house-warming gift cards I received was a compost bin from Target. I bought it there because I could purchase it online and have it delivered. I was great. I snapped it together in two seconds and had all of these grandiose plans of having a garden from which I would can and preserve my little heart out. Well, the garden stuff has been shelved for the time being. But I still use my compost bin religiously.

In my house, we eat a lot of veggies. Cooked, raw, salads, whatever. No, we're not vegetarians. But I do stock up on the salad-in-a-bag when I go grocery shopping. I'm trying to loose weight, OK? (more on that later). So we produce a lot of kitchen waste between the salads and the coffee maker which seems to perk nonstop. And I can either lug that out to the curb every Tuesday night or toss that into my compost bin to turn it into something that I can use later. Which would you choose?

What I toss in my bin:

Leaves from the big-ass tree that dominates my back yard

Grass clippings (those are really great. More on those later)

Coffee grounds and filters

Veggie stuff from the kitchen. I toss the cooked ones out there too, even though you're not supposed to. Just as long as they don't have butter or dressing on them.

lint from the dryer

paper bags, paper towel and toilet paper rolls

Fruit peelings

Shrimp and crap shells


What I don't toss out in my bin:





things with butter or fatty dressings on them

After two years, I still have my Target compost bin. Although I think I need to upgrade to a different multi-bin style. But it dawned on me, that I have tossed hundreds of pounds of kitchen and yard waste out there for two years and then composted and compacted down into a fraction of its former selves. Cool.

In the winter, when the snow is two feet high between my back door and my compost bin, I started this year with a plastic container just outside my back door for all of my waste. I tossed it out there all winter and let it rot and mold when it warmed a bit. That proved to be the best thing I could have ever done. Once the thaw came and I could see grass in my back yard, I started adding in the moldy stuff from the plastic container to my bin. Not all of it, just a couple of shovel-fulls with about the same amount of leaves that I only managed to rake into a giant pile last winter.

After a couple of days, I went out to check on the bin and give it a turn with my pitch fork (another housewarming gift to myself). Boy, was it hot! Steam started rising up from the middle of the pile as I turned it and when I touched the tines of the fork, I almost burned myself. It was perfect. Things got such a good start with that pre-molded kitchen waste that I was able to harvest some finish compost from the bottom of the bin and use it as mulch. Good thing too; I really need the room in the bin.

Even living between two neighbors and in the city, I'm never had a problem with pets or smells. There was some smell when I was adding in the moldy stuff from over the winter. Becuase I didn't poke any holes in the container for it to get air. But the smell wasn't terrible or garbage-y and it subsided very quickly. I do get bugs in the bin over the summer. Sometimes I will go out there and lift the lid and it's crawling with all kinds of bugs. But those are a good thing and I don't have an issue with ants. Thank God for all of that!

The rest of my neighbors on the my street all bag up their garden waste every year and makes the city come and take it. Seems like a shame to me. If I had the room for it, I'd take it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

My "Clean out the Fridge" meatloaf

There's really nothing magical about making meatloaf. Certainly not mine. I've always looked at things like soup and meatloaf as an opportunity to clean out my refrigerator. You know that overloaded front door that contains the last drops of salad dressings and that bottle of hoisin sauce that you bought just to make the one stir fry. Here's where you clean it all out.

Oh and just so you know, I never measure, unless I have to.

  • A couple pounds of meat (beef if you're a hard-core carnivore, turkey if you want to maintain some semblance of healthiness)
  • A pint-size carton of Eggbeaters or a couple (2 or 3) of eggs (I haven't bought real eggs in a long time, so I'm more likely to have Eggbeaters or some egg substitute on hand)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • Chopped mushrooms, if you have them. If not, oh well.
  • a clove or two of garlic (none of that commie garlic powder crap)
  • a couple of slices of bread (NO bread crumbs!!). You might need as much as a half a loaf depending on how much meat you have.
  • Salt and Pepper (freshly ground, of course)
  • Catsup (yes, that is how I spell it)
  • Every single bottle from the front door of your fridge

Get your biggest bowl from the cupboard. You know the one that you use to make punch in or to make that army-feeding batch of cole slaw for your last cookout. Ground beef usually comes in packages of 3 lbs or so. So just dump that all in (you DO want left-overs, do you?). If your using ground turkey, that usually comes in packages of a pound or so. So, just buy a couple of packages. And if you insist that you need to cut either of those with ground pork, or sausage or lamb or whatever, then you need to move on. This is recipe is for those non-recipe following people.

So you dumped the meat in. Chop up your onions. Make sure they are small so your loaf with hold together. Same thing with the mushrooms, if you're adding them. Add in your garlic. Now look, if you're going to add in fresh garlic, make sure you've smushed and chopped it properly. No one wants to bite into a huge piece of garlic.

Now, I've skipped over a couple of ingredients on purpose. Go to all of those bottles that you've pulled out of the fridge. Mustard, barbecue sauce, Italian dressing, ranch dressing (everyone has that), hoisin sauce, hot sauce, that last bit of tomato paste. Whatever. Lets toss it in there. And look, I'm not saying that if you have half a bottle of something, that it should all go in there. This is for those tail ends that you don't know what to do with and can bearly get out of the bottle. Speaking of that, if you have a couple of drops in a bottle, lets crack (or pour) an egg into it and shake it up. That'll get it out. But don't be hung up on what goes with what. It's all flavor!

OK. About the eggs and the bread. Look, it's an by-eye thing. Sometimes I've added as much as 3-4 eggs (or the equivalent from the carton of Eggbeaters). Whatever you add, you need to add enough bread to counter that. Think of the bread like beans in chili. It's just another meal on the cheap. It extends the size of the loaf and you can feed that many more people. It's OK, I swear. Don't get snobbish on me now.

So take about 3-4 slices of bread and smush it between your fingers and break it up over the bowl. Then get your hands in there and start mixing. Does it feel too wet? Soupy? Add some more bread. Yes, bread crumbs would soak up the moisture your added from the condiments. But I've always found that it soaks up all of the moisture in the room. That's how you end up with dry meatloaf. Besides, I kinda like that mushy bread stuff. But then I like mushy stuffing for my turkey (but that's another show).

Once you've added enough bread that this mound of stuff is holding together in the bowl and you mix it, you're good. Get out your largest roasting pan or casserole dish or whatever will hold this mass and have enough room to hold all of the juices that will run from it as it cooks. But please! Whatever you do, do NOT put this in a bread loaf pan. I know it's meat LOAF. But doing that is just stupid.

Dump this all in your pan and form it into a loafy-ovally shape. Do pay attention the cracks. We want to minimize those. press and form it into a fairly tight shape and then get a small dish of water. Wet your hands and run them over the meatloaf a couple of times as you're forming it. The added water is a good thing. Squirt some catsup over the top of the loaf.

Then put this in a 350-375 degree oven until it's done. When is done? When your meat thermometer says so. And yes, if you don't have one, you are a loser.

When it's done, take it out and let it rest for about 30 minutes or so. Then slice and eat.

And if you don't like it, just didn't have the right stuff in your fridge.