Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cleaning Tips

Cleaning Tips

Since we are officially in the beginning of Spring, I thought I’d pass along a couple of useful spring cleaning tips.

Cleaning Tip # 1

The other day, when I was making my St. Patrick’s Day lentil stuffed cabbage rolls, I accidentally boiled all the water out of my steamer. It made a big crusty, nasty black, burnt mess on the bottom of my pan. This is not my pan, but you get the idea:

(Chris said it was like Chernobyl with the smoke and stink- ha ha)

Well, I thought it was going to be a nightmare to clean up…and then I recalled a nifty trick to clean nasty burnt pans.

First, don’t let it soak too long…meaning don’t let it get cold. It will be immeasurably easier to clean while it is still warm. Do go ahead and get some hot water going in the pan with a bit of soap right away to help loosen things up.

Next, after soaking for just a bit, use a nylon scraper (I have tons from Pampered Chef) to scrape as much of the nasty off as you can.

THEN dump out the pan so it is mostly dry and add a couple of generous tablespoonfuls of baking soda. Using a scrubby pad, scrub the baking soda (it should be somewhat paste like) all around the pan. You will be amazed at how quickly and easily it cleans up the nastiest of burnt on crud!

Cleaning Tip # 2

Okay, admit it. Sometimes the inside of your microwave looks like this:

This is not a picture of my microwave. But, I will admit, the inside of my microwave has been known to be icky.

Not anymore! I have found the secret to an easy clean microwave. It is simple.
Take a glass, microwave proof, 2 cup measuring cup and fill it with water. Add either the juice of half a lemon or a tablespoon of bottled lemon juice.

Stick this in the microwave on high for 5-8 minutes, depending on how crusty the inside of your microwave is. The water will start to boil and steam. This is good!
When the timer goes off, *carefully* remove the very hot boiling water from the microwave and put it somewhere where you won’t accidentally knock it over and scald yourself. (I am clumsy; you may not need this advice.)

Next, simply take a hot wash cloth and wipe the gunk out. It will all be loosened up and the majority of it will wipe clean! All that steamy hot lemon water will have loosened up all the bits and the lemon does double duty: it is antibacterial and it also helps clean the nasty odor out. Couldn’t be simpler and only takes a few

You never need to have blackened pots or crusty microwave again!

Now, if someone can just tell me an easy way to keep the shower clean….

Day 14 - The Wrap Up

Well, today is day 14 of my spring detox/cleanse. Which seems kind of appropriate being that today is the FIRST day of SPRING! Happy Spring!

Every time I do this it gets easier and I get more creative in the kitchen with what I make. Because I eat no animal fats or animal proteins during the cleanse, except for fish, I pulled out some of my vegetarian and vegan cookbooks and made some delicious stuff! I don’t have pictures of everything, but I will tell you about some of the yummy yum stuff we had.

Of course I had lunches like this:

I actually really love this lunch. It is leftover quinoa with black beans added. I heat it up in the microwave with a little garlic and cumin; then I add some fresh chopped cilantro and tomatoes. Sometimes I throw in some onion, too. And this time, to get a little good fat, I added a bit of avocado. WOW…talk about good and the different textures really make this yummy.

For dinner one night we marinated, in a basic balsamic vinaigrette, onions (red and white), red pepper and zucchini;

cooked on the grill and then served alongside some seasoned grilled cod and couscous.

I needed some snacks, too. I found this quite yummy recipe on a food blog. You can find it here:

It is a cilantro, lime and white bean hummus. Wow…light, tasty and no guilt! The author served it with pita bread, but I used cut up veggies.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of acorn squash. I eat it periodically because Chris likes it, but it has never been my favorite. He wanted some and it is within the guidelines for my cleanse, so I made it. I served his with the traditional butter and brown sugar, but for me (no sugar or butter!) I added some raisins, cinnamon and a tiny drizzle of honey. It was good.

The weird part: I had some for breakfast the next morning. I really like it. Better than the night before when it was fresh out of the oven and MUCH better than I typically like acorn squash at all! Score! New breakfast food!

Chris said this picture looks gross, but it was a very delicious juice! Apple, carrot, lemon, celery, kale, and red pepper. It was sweet and frothy.

For St. Patrick’s Day, I couldn’t partake of the typical corned beef and cabbage (no animal products) so I made a marinated lentil “salad” and used it to stuff cabbage rolls with. VERY good. After steaming the cabbage rolls I drizzled them with just the tiniest bit of balsamic vinaigrette.

We have also used the lentils just to eat alone and Chris put some in a tortilla with cheese and heated it up like a burrito. I still have some left and think I might toss some on top of some mixed greens for lunch tomorrow. This recipe was from The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen.

Lest you think I never make anything that doesn’t taste good, I will share with you a recipe that I made which did NOT taste good. Let me start by saying that typically I am a fan of split peas and split pea soups. I am also a fan of parsnips. However, the recipe I found for split pea parsnip soup (made in the Crockpot) was not good. I think it was a matter of perhaps too much parsnip and the wrong seasoning. It was seasoned with dried thyme, which combined with the sweet of the parsnip just made the soup all wrong for me. I ate the one bowl I dished up and tried to have some leftovers, but it was yucky. :(

On a happier note, from the same vegetarian slow cooker cookbook I adapted a “minestrone” recipe. I didn’t want to add any pasta so I used two kinds of beans: cannelloni and red kidney, along with a yellow squash, zucchini, carrot, onion, celery, can of tomato, and broth, plus lots of seasonings that she didn’t call for. It was pretty good, but clearly needed a bit more “meat” to it. So I had some leftover red rice which I added. That was much better. It gave the soup some heft. Next time I would add some pearl barley or brown rice. It also needed more salt.

Of course we had grilled salmon and grilled cod several times, with various grains, red rice, black rice, quinoa or couscous.

I also made a few very delicious smoothies. One was pineapple, mango, and banana. Another was banana and blueberry (turned out very dark looking) and also a banana, orange and pineapple. All very tasty, and filling.

So, I’m wrapping it up today. I had oatmeal with dates and banana for breakfast; lunch was leftover minestrone with some celery and cilantro lime hummus. Dinner tonight is orange and fennel roasted cod with couscous.

I have my menu planned for the next week as well, and though it will definitely not be as strict, I still plan on keeping my overall eating pretty clean.

I have a couple of other posts coming up soon…in the meantime: HAPPY FIRST DAY OF SPRING!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spring is Sproinging!

Ah yes, SPRING is nearly upon us, officially starting the 20th of March! Only a few short days! And for those of us in parts of the world that feel the need to mess with the time on the clock, Daylight Savings Time begins Sunday March 13. Yes, it is early this year. However, that means we get an extra hour in our day (Spring Forward/Fall Back) starting in mid-March, rather than mid-April! Think of what you can do!

I’m hoping the extra hour will help me get out and start walking in the evenings after dinner. Do you have a plan for your extra hour?

**EDIT - I really mean the extra hour of daylight in the evening...not an extra hour, since we LOSE an hour. ***

With spring upon us, as evidenced by the crazy weather, you know: raining one second, blazing sun the next, intermixed with hail showers, I felt it was time to help my body once again de-gunk itself. In the winter I tend to be, as many are, less active, more hunkered down in my house and I eat more comfort (read: heavy) food. With spring creeping up, it’s time to rid the body of the toxins and sludge it has accumulated over the last year.

With that in mind, I started my spring cleanse yesterday. As a reminder, I use the Supreme Cleanse by Gaia, which can be purchased from any number of online retailers, nutrition or health food stores. It is about $25 for the two week cleanse. The lovely people at Gaia have updated the process so it is simply a “shake” mixture and two different capsules twice a day. It is now much simpler than the old plan which included multiple drops of various liquids throughout the day. This cleanse is 100% herbal, natural and recommended to me by a naturopath doctor. It is not a harsh cleanse. Many people associate cleansing with much time spent in the bathroom. This is not typically the case for me with this cleanse.

I do have side effects for the first couple of days. I usually have a headache and a general feeling of blah, which quickly dissipates and is replaced with a great feeling of energy and a “lightness” in my insides. I highly recommend this cleanse to anyone! Oh, the best part: real good food the whole time.

To get started I had to make a trip to the grocery store to stock up on fruits and vegetables.

The cleanse food is mostly vegetables, fruits, fresh (homemade) vegetable juices, miso, fish, legumes, onions, garlic etc. No sugar, flour, wheat, alcohol, caffeine, etc. Clean, real, good, wholesome, whole foods!

To kick things off I started with this:

And ended up with this:

Very tasty. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it! I know it looks funky, but it actually tastes quite good! Invigorating.

I have also had some oatmeal with banana and raisin, some black rice with kidney beans and cumin, salad, banana, homemade blueberry and banana smoothie, some grilled cod and asparagus.

Tonight though, I created a lovely dinner. My own creation with inspiration from several different sandwiches and recipes I have seen in my life. I am going to share it with you.

Portobello Mushroom & Red Pepper Quinoa Salad
(Serves 2 + enough for leftovers if one of the people doesn’t eat it all!)

2 Large Sliced Portobello Mushroom Cap, gills removed
1 Large Red Pepper, sliced
¼ Red Onion, sliced
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
¼ Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1-2 Teaspoons Minced Garlic
½ Teaspoon Dried Parsley
1 Cup Quinoa
2 Cups Broth or Water
1 Cup Arugula, divided
1 Teaspoon Fresh Parsley, chopped (optional)
Drizzle Fresh Lemon Juice (optional)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Heat the broth or water to a boil. While the liquid is coming to a boil clean the mushrooms and peppers. Remove the gills from the mushrooms with a spoon. Thickly slice the mushroom caps, approximately ½ - ¾ inch slices. Core and seed the red pepper. Slice into thick slices. Thickly slice the red onion. Add mushrooms, pepper and onion to a large bowl.
In a separate bowl whisk together the marinade; olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic and parsley. Pour marinade over the mushroom mixture; toss to coat. Let mixture set for 5-10 minutes, tossing again to coat.

Pour the quinoa into the now boiling liquid. Cover. Reduce heat and low simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork and it is ready to serve.
Place the mushroom mixture into the bottom half of a broiler pan or into a casserole style dish. Cook for 15-20 minutes at 375 degrees or until onions and peppers are soft and mushrooms have started to darken.

Place ½ cup of arugula onto each plate. Top arugula with ¾ - 1 cup of quinoa. Place approximately half the mushroom mixture over the top of the quinoa. Place a sprinkle of the fresh parsley and a drizzle of lemon juice over the top of the entire plate and serve.

It will look something like this and taste wonderful! You *could* have leftovers, but you probably won’t!

With food like this to eat…who even can tell that I’m cleansing!! My kind of “diet”!

I’ll keep you posted as the next couple of weeks progress!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dismal Dinner

Dismal Dinner

There may be something I am missing. Or, maybe it is the other people who are missing it, or them, rather.

What am I talking about?


Since Chris and I moved to Medford we have been searching for good restaurants. When we lived in Portland eating out was a common activity, a hobby you might say. And it was a delightful hobby to have… in Portland. There are thousands of restaurants, eateries, pubs, hole-in-the-wall places and food carts to choose from. Any kind of food you want, you can probably find a decent to absolutely delicious place to eat it. Not so much here in the bustling metropolis of Medford.

Yesterday was Chris’ birthday. Like many, we tend to celebrate by going out. We decided to try a local restaurant that has literally received rave reviews. They have received accolades from various local newspapers as “Best of Medford” for years! Best steaks, best wait staff, best bar, best restaurant and in 2010 best retailer. The most recent edition of the “Sneak Preview” a local paper that has an annual “best of” survey for all different local things including parks, businesses, hairdressers, doctors, restaurants and more, listed this restaurant as the “best place to take out of town guests”. Huh. I would only take out of town guests here if I wanted them to never come back!

We did not have a good experience.

The restaurant is called Porter’s. It is a renovated train depot. It has the idea of a great fine dining restaurant, that should have a fun atmosphere, but the idea is lost in the translation of implementation. Our reservation was for 6:30 pm, smack in the middle of the dinner hour. It was very loud. We were seated at a two-top table along the edge of one of the dining rooms. A long bench ran down the length of the room with tables situated about 12” apart from each other and chairs on the outer side. Literally, there was hardly room for a person between tables, which meant that most of our attempt at conversation with each other was drowned out by the conversation of the foursome at the table next to us.

Things we learned: She is Jewish. He is Irish. His father is Black Irish (black hair instead of red?). She has a whole lineage family-tree book. It was her birthday. They were going somewhere after dinner that had a time frame. They were drinking diet soda. They argued over who was paying the bill. They didn’t want dessert because they were too full. They decided on a lemon tart to share, but only a couple of bites were taken because it was at the same time too sweet, too tart and they were full. Mmmhmm…way too close together tables.

Our waitress, Carla, was inattentive to put it mildly. While she did ask if we had ever been there before, to which we replied no, she didn’t appear to go out of her way at all to make sure we had a successful dinner. In addition, during the reservation I had stated it was a birthday dinner. The table next to us received a free dessert due to one of their guests celebrating a birthday, but we were not even asked about the birthday, nor were we offered free dessert. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

I felt we were a little bit rushed to order our drinks. I had never been there before for dinner and wanted to look over their wine list. They also have several beers on tap and I had given the drink menu to Chris to peruse first, being it was his birthday. Our drinks ended up being ordered separately because the waitress took Chris’ beer order even though I had not decided upon a wine.

Both the beer and wine list, along with the spirits menu, offer a good selection of items. The downside is the pricing: $10 for a glass of wine, $8 for a Tricerahops, on tap. Porter’s is also known for their martinis. I did not order one, but they had several classics on the menu, but the average price was $9. I may be cheap (okay I am) but I feel that $8 or $9 for a beer or mixed drink is pushing the bounds of price range. $6 or $7 is more reasonable to me.

We ordered essentially the same dinner with a couple of minor differences. We started with the seafood chowder, which is an up-charge item. Dinner comes with soup or salad, but the chowder is not included as the soup option. When we received our small cup of chowder, it smelled quite good. It was a white, thick chowder style soup, served with oyster crackers. The downside: barely warm temperature. By that time of evening the soup should have been nice and hot; steaming. It was not. I would describe it as tepid or lukewarm. I will give props to the bread, though. It was warm and spongy sourdough and it was very tasty.

We both ordered the small cut of the Rosemary Roasted Prime Rib, which comes with choice of starch and vegetables for $19.95. A fairly reasonable price for a 6 oz cut of prime rib. The menu states that the meats are all custom cut from grain fed, specially aged beef. I don’t know where they are sourcing the meat from, but the menu does NOT say anything about USDA Prime or anything like that to signify the quality of cut. My cut was fatty and grisly. It was also cold. I ordered mine medium rare and it was reasonably accurate; Chris order medium and his looked to be about the same doneness as mine. The horseradish was more like some sour cream with a dab of horseradish for flavor. I actually salted my prime rib in the hopes to infuse SOME sort of flavor to it. Chris’ cut seemed better than mine, less fatty anyway.
We chose different sides, I ordered the garlic mashed potatoes and Chris ordered the baked potato with butter and sour cream (which was served on the side). The garlic mashed potatoes were disgusting. Truly, I didn’t know mashed potatoes could be messed up that badly. They were whipped and placed into a canister so they could be pressed out (like a cookie press) and served with the top decoratively swirled. I’m not even sure they were real potatoes. I took a couple of bites and left the rest. I also only took a few bites of the prime rib and left the rest.

The “vegetable” side was also a joke. Baby carrots (more like the remnants of baby carrots-tiny pieces, more like nubbins), some red onion, some red pepper slices (my serving had exactly one) and some zucchini. The carrots were tiny, and not cooked while the zucchini was cooked to mush. They also had no flavor.

A really dismal meal that felt like it came pre-packed to the restaurant and all they did was attempt to heat it up and put it on a plate. Add that to the fact that the waitress was inattentive, she let Chris’ beer run dry and had to be asked to bring another, never came to ask how our dinner was and upon taking my mostly uneaten dinner away did not ask how I liked it, and we had a pretty poor experience. We did not order dessert nor after dinner drinks, which we very likely would have had the experience been better.

Overall the meal was bland, cold and disappointing. The prices were too high, the wait staff uncaring, and the atmosphere loud and uninviting.

The positives were the bread and the liquor offerings, though pricing was high on those as well.

Upon leaving Chris made the following statements: “I have no desire to ever go there again.” “We could have had a better meal at Red Lobster.” “I would rather have eaten at McDonalds.” “Marie Callender's had better prime rib, and cheaper beer, too!”

I feel like I should make a prime rib dinner with mashed potatoes and vegetables and take it in to them so they can taste what a dinner like that SHOULD taste like. I would then charge them at least $19.95.

In addition to our meal being poorly crafted, the menu overall is a bit dated and lacking. The fish is mostly fried or crusted with something. When I asked the waitress what the house specialties were she told me the Parmesan Crusted Halibut had been on the menu since day one and was a very popular entrĂ©e. She also suggested the Hazelnut Encrusted Steelhead. She made no mention of the steaks, but did suggest the special sheet baby back ribs. There is no “grilled” fish on the menu. There are a handful of steaks, a couple of pasta dishes, served with heavy cream and cheese sauces, a couple of salads and a handful of starters. It seems that Porter’s menu would have been very comfortable in a fine dining establishment in 1985. They need to get with the current century and update their menu with fresher fare.

I will give them credit for claiming to use many local ingredients, including local wines, potatoes, fruits and cheeses.

Unfortunately, my taste buds are alive and well. They were assaulted by the meal I was served at Porter’s.

I’m sorry Porter’s, but you don’t rank “Best of Anything” in my book, and I certainly won’t be bringing out of town guests.

Unless they have no taste buds.