Monday, December 17, 2012

Guest Post: Reusable Bamboo Utensils Review

I'm really excited to share this next guest post with you! Thank you to Sonja who reviewed the ToGo Ware bamboo utensils and Bambu sporks for us!  Her review along with some great photos is below. Have you used reusable bamboo utensils before? If not, I think Sonja will convert you!

Bamboo Utensils Review from Sonja

            Like many people, I’ve used plastic utensils for years at fast food restaurants and never thought much about it. However, the more I learn about plastic and its detrimental effects on human health and on the health of the planet, I am hit with a twinge of guilt each time I use plastic ware. I am very much a creature of convenience, but because I also value using products that won’t harm me, my family, or the environment, I was thrilled to be asked to review two kinds of bamboo cutlery that were designed to be used by people on the go. 





The To-Go Ware RePEat Bamboo Utensils fit nicely into an attractive carrying case with a small carabiner that easily attaches to the handle of my purse to make taking the utensils everywhere with me a no-brainer.  My carrying case is agave, but the cases, made with recycled PET, also come in a variety of other understated colors.  While the Bambu Sporks did not come with their own holder, I kept them in a LunchSkins bag and was able to pack them in my preschooler’s lunch box.  We have each used the utensils almost daily for three weeks in a variety of foods, including green chili burritos, sushi with soy sauce and wasabi, and numerous tomato-based dishes, and the bamboo did not stain nor did it absorb the strong flavors of the foods.  The To-Go Ware RePEat Bamboo Utensil Set and Bambu Sporks are easy to clean with warm water and dish soap and have held up beautifully after repeated washings. 


At first, I thought I would use the utensils only for lunches while at work, but having them in them in my purse made it convenient to use them in a variety of other circumstances, as well.  For example, when my family was on the road to visit family for Thanksgiving, we didn’t have time to stop so that I could nurse our infant daughter, so I had to make a bottle of formula in the car to calm her cries. I give her formula so infrequently that although I remembered the bottle, the formula, and the water, I completely forgot about bringing something to stir the formula. Shaking it would cause too many air bubbles, so I was in bind until I remembered the To-Go Ware RePEat Bamboo chopsticks.  Perfect!  I pulled one out, stirred the formula, wiped the chopstick with a baby wipe, and put it back in the carrying case to be fully washed later.  Additionally, I found myself using them at the Costco food court, at restaurants when I forgot a spoon for the baby’s food, at work when we had special treats, and in the car after grocery shopping when my daughter just had to have her yogurt. I felt comfortable using both the To-Go Ware RePEat Bamboo Utensils and the Bambu Sporks with my young children because the bamboo comes from safe sources and is finished with natural, vegan, food-grade oils.

The To-Go Ware RePEat Bamboo Utensils and Bambu Sporks were a hit with me and with my preschooler, but I was curious to see what my pre-teen students thought of them.  Reviewing the utensils came at a perfect time in my 6th grade lesson planning as we were in the middle of a unit on writing about natural resources and how people use them. My students were impressed with the strength of both the Bambu Sporks and the To-Go Ware RePEat Bamboo Utensils.  Although bamboo is technically a grass, products made from it are incredibly durable, which makes bamboo products a great alternative to easily-broken plastic ware.  One 12-year-old boy even tested the strength of the Bambu Spork by attempting (unsuccessfully) to snap it in half.  Additionally, the To-Go Ware RePEat Bamboo Utensils and Bambu Sporks have an even, smooth texture. We’ve become a culture that is so accustomed to plastic ware on the go that using any other material seemed strange to my students when I first told them about bamboo.  They were concerned that bamboo would cause splinters, making it an unreasonable choice as an eating utensil, but they were shocked to feel just how smooth each piece was.    Given the choice between the two different sets, however, most of my students said they liked how “cute” the Bambu Sporks were.

While I prefered the To-Go Ware RePEat Bamboo Utensil set for myself, the Bambu Sporks were definitely the more popular choice for the children.  With the holidays upon us, I can’t help but think that these useful, environmentally friendly utensils would make a great stocking stuffer for just about anyone.  

~ Sonja

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cranberries ~ Holiday Eco-Sips & Granola Tarts

How many of you have leftover cranberries from Thanksgiving taking up room in your freezer? I know we did! We 1-1/2 cups of frozen organic cranberries (I know that doesn't seem like a lot but, every square inch in our freezer counts, and it IS FULL haha) leftover from making cranberry sauce and a cranberry-apple pie from Thanksgiving to be exact, and I was determined to incorporate them into December recipes because:

(A) December and cranberries just make sense to me,
(B) I needed to make room in our freezer...and I just wanted to make something fun with cranberries,
(C) I love the color of cranberries and they make any dish/drink look gorgeous (see below), and
(D) I really wanted to make festive eco-sips for a potential Christmas Cocktail hour!

So for those of you also looking for a way to use your leftover cranberries, I think you'll like what this post has in store, especially because I made sure not to waste any of the cranberries. You'll see what I mean below.

Part 1 ~ Making Cranberry Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is a common ingredient in a lot of cocktails, but make a cranberry simple syrup and you have a glorified simple syrup that adds a little bit of sweetness and tart and a lot a bit of color!  As I mentioned above, I have 1-1/2 cups of frozen organic cranberries, perfect for making a decent amount of simple syrup for holiday cocktails.  Here is what I did:

Ingredients:
  • 1-1/2 cup organic cranberries
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
Directions:
  1. Combine ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to a low simmer until the cranberries start to fall apart (about 15 minutes).
  3. Strain cranberry mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Once you've strained the cranberry mixture, let the strainer sit over the bowl and cool for about an hour to make sure you get all the delicious juice!
  4. After the cranberry syrup has cooled, store it in a mason jar.
What about the leftover cranberry skins and solids? Keep them! I put mine in a glass food storage container and used them in a granola tart recipe at the end of this post.

Part 2 ~ Holiday Eco-Sips with Cranberry Simple Syrup

"Scrooge"-Driver



No, I didn't make a spelling mistake! This is a cranberry twist to the classic Screw Driver, and because it's the holidays, I thought the name Scrooge-Driver fit :).  The recipe below makes one beverage.

Ingredients:
  • 1 ounce organic vodka
  • 1 ounce cranberry simple syrup (or more to taste)
  • Fresh squeezed orange juice
  • Fresh cranberries for garnish.
Directions:
  1. Fill a glass with ice. Add vodka and cranberry simple syrup.
  2. Top with orange juice. (About 6 ounces or more depending on your tastes)
  3. Garnish with fresh cranberries.
Cran-"Merry" Mojito



Of course, another set of play-on-words I couldn't help but use!  When I think of winter, Mojitos are not the first thing that comes to mind, but when you add cranberries, I think it changes everything.  From a cool summer cocktail to a refreshing winter drink!  The recipe below makes one Mojito.

Ingredients:

  • 10 fresh mint leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice (from an organic lime)
  • 2 ounces white rum
  • 2 ounces cranberry simple syrup
  • soda water
  • fresh cranberries for garnish
Directions:
  1. Put mint leaves and lime juice into a glass. Mash the mint leaves with a wooden spoon.
  2. Fill each glass with ice and add rum and syrup.
  3. Top glass with soda water and add fresh cranberries for garnish.

Part 3 ~ Granola Tarts with Cranberry Centers

Not sure what to call the cranberry leftover filling, so if you have a good name, let me know!  The recipe below is amazing (just the right amount of sweet and tart) and perfect for breakfast or dessert!


Ingredients:
  • leftover cranberry solids from simple syrup
  • 2 cups old-fashioned organic rolled oats
  • 6 Tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • dash of cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons Kelapo organic coconut oil (or whatever brand you like to use)
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 325.
  2. Combine everything but the cranberry solids in a large bowl.  Spread the mixture evenly on a baking dish (or tart pan, whatever you like to use to make granola).
  3. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.
  4. Allow granola to cool.  Here I tried lifting the granola in even squares but it broke...which is fine! Because I was able to mold the granola and make my cranberry tarts.
  5. Place one layer (or spoonful as shown in the picture) of granola in a glass storage container. Spread a cranberry solids over granola. Top with a second layer of granola and store in the fridge.
  6. Top with organic greek yogurt and enjoy!
Happy Holidays!

~ Hannah


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Jar of Smiles ~ Simple New Year's Craft!

I'm not the craftiest person out there, so when I do a craft, I like it simple. And this Jar of Smiles IS SIMPLE...if I can do it, I promise anyone can!

This past year, my husband and I have been writing little notes of things that make us smile and placing the notes in a 2012 mason jar.  On New Year's day 2013 we are going to open the jar and reading all of those little things that have made us smile throughout the past year! I can't wait to read everything and re-live each happy moment.  Definitely going to do this again in 2013.


If you decide to make a jar for next year, send me a picture! I'd love to see how you decorate it.  For our 2012 jar, I decorated the mason jar with a ribbon of lace and chalkboard stickers that I got from Williams-Sonoma for $10 (come in a pack of 12 and they are reusable).

~ Hannah



Monday, December 3, 2012

Guest Post: Totally Bamboo Cutting Board Review + Loaded Vegetable Soup Recipe


When Hannah asked me to review a cutting board from Totally Bamboo, I was super excited to use the cutting board in my Loaded Vegetable Soup recipe that requires quite a bit of chopping! First, I will tell you about my experience with the cutting board, and then I will share the recipe with you.


Bamboo is a great choice for cutting boards, for a number of reasons. Bamboo is a 100% renewable (and abundant!) resource that is naturally grown.  It is a naturally hard and dense wood, making it a perfect choice for cutting boards and other utensils.

Totally Bamboo decided to capitalize on bamboo as the new “green” choice for cutting boards, utensils, and a variety of kitchen supplies.  After harvest, bamboo does not need to be replanted due to its extensive root system. Instead, it multiplies “as is,” which is one of the reasons it qualifies as a superior “green” product!

In addition to harvesting the bamboo, Totally Bamboo developed a top notch, non-toxic glue to be used on the cutting boards. They also do not use any artificial dyes or stains to color their boards, so what you see is an all-natural bamboo cutting board! With all the precautions I take in sourcing my food (local, organic, sustainable), it is a relief to know that the board that I prepare my food on is also toxin free!

Caring for Totally Bamboo products is simple. Hand wash only to preserve the natural wood (although some Totally Bamboo products are dishwasher safe, I always hand wash my cutting boards).  No oiling or other special chemicals required!

Using the Cutting Board

I have to confess that I have actually been using a Totally Bamboo brand cutting board for almost two years! I received one as a wedding shower gift and have been using it daily (sometimes multiple times per day) ever since. I love its thin size, easy care, and stability.



In the recipe below, I chopped many, many vegetables. I never had a problem with my knife slipping or the board moving (something I used to experience with plastic cutting boards), and the vegetables were easily pushed into the stockpot for soup. I really can’t say enough good things about this cutting board - it is truly a staple in my real food kitchen!



Loaded Vegetable Soup

I am always looking for new ways to incorporate more vegetables into my family’s diet. This Loaded Vegetable Soup does just that! Be warned: this makes a lot of soup. About 8-10 servings (at least)! It would be perfect for a potluck, family dinner, or to take to a new mom who just had a baby. It freezes beautifully and is perfect for a chilly winter day.

1 T. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 leek, white and light green parts only, sliced thin
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 pints of beef or chicken stock
1 medium head broccoli
24 oz. strained tomatoes
2 medium zucchinis, sliced
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
½ c. frozen corn
1 c. cooked brown rice (or barley or quinoa)
1-2 tsp. salt
1 T. Italian seasoning
¼ tsp. cumin
1 tsp. smoked paprika
Raw Parmesan cheese, optional

In a large stockpot, add olive oil, onion, garlic, leeks, and carrots over medium heat.  Sauté for approximately 4-5 minutes, until onions are translucent. Add stock and broccoli. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes more. Serve warm, garnish with Parmesan cheese.

Jill Marks is the editor of Modern Alternative Kitchen.  Jill has been on a real food journey for the last year and am passionate about food.  She is a Jesus-loving, Bible-reading, kombucha-brewing, raw milk–drinking, real food–eating gal.  For more information about a real food diet and way of life, head over to the website, or find us on Facebook and Twitter.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

Top on my husband's list of comfort foods is chicken noodle soup! (Accompanied with a grilled cheese sandwich haha).  A few years ago, we used to always buy the canned "home style" version of chicken noodle soup from Progresso (they often had BOGO deals), but as I have mentioned in previous posts, we've changed our habits and stopped buying canned soups.  So as you would expect, this year I've made chicken noodle soup from scratch a lot, and it is so easy to make and tastes much better than the canned version!  Below is my basic recipe for classic chicken noodle soup.  The thing I love about this recipe is that you can really add any type of veggies you want to the soup or substitute the noodles for rice. Peas and corn have been a great addition in the past!


Makes about 4 servings.

Ingredients:

Choose organic ingredients where possible, and if you have fresh herbs, use those! I just use what I have on hand, which is usually dried.

  • 8-1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 pound chicken breast (if you have one with skin and bones, it gives the broth the most flavor!)
  • 2 whole carrots, peeled
  • 3 celery stalks (if you have the little leaves on top, they add good flavor to the broth so keep them!)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled
  • 1 clove garlic, mashed (or use minced if you don't have fresh garlic on hand)
  • 1 cup uncooked whole wheat penne pasta
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 3/4 tsp dried thyme (separate into 1/2 and 1/4 tsp)
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt + more to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
Directions:

Broth
  1. Slice 1/2 of a carrot stick, 1/2 of a celery stalk, and 1/2 medium onion.
  2. Place 8-1/2 cups of fresh water in a large pot. Add the chicken breast, and the veggies you sliced in step 1. Add garlic, bay leaf, basil, 1/2 tsp thyme, parsley, and 1/2 tsp sea salt to the large pot of water.
  3. Bring large pot of water to a boil then simmer for about 40 minutes (making sure the chicken cooks fully!). 
  4. When broth is ready, carefully remove the chicken breast and place it in a bowl to cool.
  5. Strain the broth into a large bowl and discard the veggies and bay leaf.
  6. Return the broth to the large pot and skim off any fat on top.
Soup
  1. While chicken is cooling, cook the noodles.
  2. While pasta is cooking, dice remaining carrots, celery and onion and place in a medium sized pot.  Cover with some of the broth you made and simmer veggies until they are tender (about 15 minutes or so). 
  3. When noodles are ready, drain water and place noodles in large pot of chicken broth.
  4. When veggies are ready, pour cooked veggies and broth they were cooking in into the large pot of broth.
  5. When the chicken is cool, shred the meat and add to the large pot.
  6. Stir ingredients in large pot and add 1/4 tsp thyme, 1/2 tsp oregano and sea salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Heat up soup and serve!
~ Hannah

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tuna Salad from Scratch

I hate to admit it but after making our New Year's Resolution of no-canned foods, our one fault was canned tuna.  When I decided to start the No-can-ber challenge this November, I knew I had to stop our canned tuna habit.  Below is a picture of a fresh tuna salad I made. It was so easy! I couldn't believe how I had never thought to make it from scratch. The salad was so fresh. I don't have a specific recipe for tuna salad becuase I always make it different, but I welcome all recipes! Below, however, I do give instruction on how to make the main ingredient ...TUNA! 



I took a 10 ounce fresh, organic tuna steak, brushed it with olive oil, and seasoned it with salt and pepper.  I placed the seasoned tuna steak on a lightly oiled stainless steel pan and put it in a preheated over at 375F.  The 10 ounce tuna took about 20 minutes to cook.  Check on the tuna while it's cooking to make sure it doesn't overcook (not a fan of dry tuna!).  Once the tuna is fully cooked, remove it from the oven. While it is still hot, break it with a fork into small tuna flakes. Let the tuna cool completely before adding your tuna salad ingredients!

~ Hannah


Monday, November 19, 2012

Roasted Tomato and Red Bell Pepper Soup

Tomatoes are interesting. They are one of those "acquired taste" type of foods, but isn't it funny how even if someone doesn't like tomatoes, they may like ketchup, tomato soup, or salsa? That was me!

It took me 21 years before I started liking tomatoes.  I grew my liking for vine ripe tomatoes eventually, thanks to my husband's parents introducing me to tomatoes from their garden with a bit of cottage cheese and black pepper (yum yum!). 

Because it is No-can-ber month, I wanted to share a no-can recipe for tomato soup. Not just any tomato soup though. This will probably be your new favorite! Below is my recipe for Roasted Tomato and Bell Pepper Soup. You will love it, I promise! I even used some of the soup as a salad dressing :). 



Ingredients
  • 2-1/4 pound ripe organic tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 2 large organic red bell peppers, quartered and seeded (or a variety of green, red, and yellow which is what I do)
  • 1 shallot, chopped (I like using shallots, but a yellow or sweet onion will work perfectly)
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tbs chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 450F.
  2. Place tomatoes, cut side up, bell peppers, onion, and garlic cloves on a large baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper.  Roast veggies until brown and tender (about 40 minutes).  Turn peppers and onion occasionally. Remove from oven and let cool.
  3. Once veggies are cool, place them and their juices into a food processor (used our Vitamix!). Add basil and thyme.  Puree the soup while gradually adding enough stock to thin the soup to your desired consistency.  The 2 cups is just an estimate...you may want more!
  4. Once pureed, put the soup into a pan, heat through, and serve hot.
~ Hannah

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cinnamon Kissed Cranberry Sauce - Homemade and Can-Free!

Cranberry sauce is on the list of my dad's must-haves at Thanksgiving table.  When I was younger, the only "cranberry sauce" I ever had was the kind in a can, which I now realize is why I never used to like it.  A few years ago, I started making it from scratch for Thanksgiving, and that's when I joined my dad on team cranberry sauce.  Using fresh whole cranberries gives cranberry sauce such a great texture (unlike the jellied roll) and strong, sweet flavor with just the right amount of tart.  Below is my cranberry sauce recipe with a slight twist...adding cinnamon and a dash of cloves!  What do you add to your homemade cranberry sauce?


Makes about 2 cups of cranberry sauce.

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces fresh organic cranberries (can use frozen too)
  • 1 cup organic orange juice
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of ground cloves

Directions:
  1. Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring them to a boil, stirring often.
  2. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until many of the cranberries have burst.  Stir every once in a while...this should take between 12 and 15 minutes.
  3. Remove saucepan from stove and allow cranberry sauce to cool in the pan. Once cool, transfer to another container, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve!
*While the sauce may be soupy in texture at first, it will thicken while it's in the fridge.

~ Hannah

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fresh Pumpkin Puree

Canned pumpkin is an unnecessary Fall staple since making fresh pumpkin is easy, BPA free, preservative free, fun, and you get to roast the seeds!  (Unlike my husband, I love love love scooping out the seeds from a pumpkin haha!).  Especially in November, pumpkin is used in so many recipes from pumpkin pies to bread and pasta dishes, which is why this no-can pumpkin puree recipe is perfect for our No-Can-Ber month!  Do you have any recipes for using your pumpkin puree? Please share!

Choose your organic pumpkin:

For a pie, look for sweet pumpkin varieties like Sugar Pie, Long Pie, or Cinderella pumpkins.  Or, your local grocery store may have pumpkins labeled "Pie Pumpkins."  If you use a regular carving pumpkin, the flesh will be too watery and flavorless.  As for size, choose a pumpkin no more than 3-4 pounds. Smaller pumpkins tend to be a little sweeter.



Roast your pumpkin:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Cut pumpkin in half vertically.
  3. Scoop out the seeds (save them for roasting!).
  4. Place pumpkin halves cut side down on an oiled or parchment paper lined baking sheet.
  5. Bake pumpkin in the oven until it is tender throughout.  This may take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.  I had a 7" diameter pumpkin which took exactly 45 minutes.
  6. Remove pumpkin from oven and let cool so you can easily scoop out the flesh from the peel.
  7. If you want to make pumpkin puree (which I did below), simply puree the flesh in a blender or food processor or mash it with a spoon or potato masher.  If you want chunks of pumpkin, you can cut it instead of blending.
  8. Store pumpkin puree (or pieces) in glass mason jars. My pumpkin made about 3 cups of pumpkin puree. I divided them into two mason jars and froze one.  The other I put in the fridge (going to make a pie soon!), where it will keep for 5 days.



Roasting pumpkin seeds:
  1. Preheat oven to 325F.
  2. Rinse seeds in water and remove any of the flesh sticking to the seeds.
  3. Toss seeds with a little salt if you wish.
  4. Lay seeds in a single layer on a lightly greased baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes in the oven.  After 15 minutes, stir seeds.


~ Hannah

Monday, November 5, 2012

How to Cook Dried Beans from Scratch

Canned beans line our grocery store isles.  Refried, black, pinto, red, kidney, and the list goes on.  Beans are a great addition to so many dishes, and taste amazing plain too!  When we made our New Year's Resolution to give up canned goods, beans was one of the first things I wanted to tackle. I was always intimidated by the thought of cooking dried beans from scratch for one main reason: TIME. I always find that to be the reason why people go for the canned version, and for good reason, it does take time! But if you plan ahead, it really doesn't take that much involvement..and in the end, too much of your time.  Making beans ahead is great because you can make a bunch and freeze!  Also, once you eat homemade beans, you'll see how much better and fresher (obviously haha) they taste than the canned version.  And, of course, you'll avoid BPA in the canned versions.  Below is a recipe I used to make kidney beans, and aside from the time of cooking, you can apply this recipe to most varieties of dried beans.  The most important thing is to make sure you cook the beans thoroughly. Undercooked beans can cause discomfort in your stomach!



Thanks to Alice Waters, I've found this rule of thumb to be useful:

1 pound dried beans = 2 cups dried beans = 6 cups cooked beans

Steps to cook dried beans from scratch (looks like a lot, but I put a bunch of tips throughout here!):
  1. Dried beans should be soaked for several of hours. The easy part about this step is that you can simply soak them over night!  Just place the dried beans in a pot with plenty of water and leave them on a counter. Because the because absorb the water and swell, you want to make sure you have enough water to keep them from poking up above the surface.  If some poke up above the water over night, the beans will cook at a different rate.  A good tip to follow is to cover the beans up with at least three times as much water as beans.  If you don't want to soak the beans over night, 6 hours is a good amount of time to soak the beans (they can be soaked up to 24 hours).
  2. Drain beans after soaking and rinse with water. 
  3. Place the beans in a large pot and cover with fresh water.  The wider the pot the better because the layer of beans shouldn't be too deep.  If the beans are too deep, it will be hard to stir and the beans at the bottom may get mashed.  The water level for cooking the beans should always been an inch or two above the level of beans.
  4. Bring the beans to a boil.  Once boiling, lower heat to a simmer. Skim off any foam that accumulates at the top of the pot.  If you noticed you need more water, you can add more. Simmer gently for about 2 hours (this is what I did for the kidney beans).
  5. You can start testing the beans after an hour. Depending on the type of bean it can take anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours. The nice part about cooking the beans is you really don't have to do much except wait for the water to boil, put it to a simmer, and check on them after an hour!  The beans will be done when they are tender but do not fall apart.  It is better, however, to overcook the beans than to under cookthem!
  6. When the beans are fully cooked, let them cool in their liquid before you drain.  Draining the beans right away will cause the skins to crack and look rugged.  I actually save a good amount of the cooking liquid, because there is lots of flavor here!
  7. Add your cooked beans to your favorite recipe and season them the way you like!
~ Hannah

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Making a Simple Tomato Sauce from Scratch

Canned tomato sauce or canned tomatoes for a quick and easy weeknight pasta dish is something we are all familiar with.  Whether we use canned tomatoes or not, we know someone who does or we once did (I'm a culprit of both!). In addition to being a simple way to spice up noodles, canned tomatoes or sauce often pops up in a lot of recipes. But what about the BPA liner in the canned tomatoes or canned sauce?  Because tomatoes are acidic, the BPA in cans is more likely to leach into the contents of the can, which is why I think this post is so important.  Making tomato sauce for pasta is really so easy!  Whether you like it chunky or smooth, all you need is about 20 minutes and a few easy to find ingredients.  Below is a recipe I make for chunky tomato sauce that tastes SO MUCH BETTER than the canned or jarred version.  The best part about this recipe is you really can add whatever spices you love, and just taste as you go (reminds me of those Rom Com movie scenes with the wooden spoon, pasta sauce, and the nice touch spooning feeding a taste haha).  Enjoy!



Recipe makes about one cup of tomato sauce.

Ingredients:
  • 1 pound vine ripe organic tomatoes (peeled, seeded, and diced...see instructions #1)
  • 1 TBS of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium sized organic yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, mashed and chopped (I had minced on hand so used that)
  • Fresh basil
  • Salt to taste
  • Pinch of chile flakes if you like spicey (we do!)
Directions:
  1. Peel, seed, and dice tomatoes (saving juices).  To peel the tomatoes, simply core the tomatoes and plunge them into boiling water until their skins loosen (usually about 15 seconds in water till they are peelable).  Remove tomatoes from water and put them in a bowl of ice cold water to keep them from cooking.  Drain the water and peel. Cut tomatoes in half horizontaly and remove the seeds into a bowl.  Strain the seeds and save the juice!  The juice is important here for a great sauce in my opinion.
  2. Heat up a pot on medium heat.  Once heated, add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Then add onion and saute until cooked thoroughly (onions should be translucent looking).
  3. Add garlic and cook for another minute or two.
  4. Add tomatoes and juices to pot with a pinch of salt.  Stir and reduce heat to a simmer.
  5. Cook at a simmer for 15 minutes.  When you have 5 minutes left, add fresh basil (or any other spice you love! Oregano is good too.)

~ Hannah

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween Inspired Eco-Sips & Bites ~ Now that's the Spirit (pun intended)!

I have a love/hate relationship with Halloween. I definitely do not like getting scared and I REALLY don't like scary masks! Although the scare aspect of Halloween makes me nervous, the theme part of it I love! I love to think about creative names for drinks and food for a themed party.  This year, I've made a bunch of things in advance to test out what I would be doing if I was in town this coming Halloween weekend!  Lucky for him, my husband gets to enjoy my Trrr-eco Treats :).

There are two things (besides the eco and organic side!) I like to make sure happen when making themed food and drinks:

  1. It has to have simple, easy to find ingredients.
  2. It has to be on-theme with a fun name!
The first point is always difficult. You don't know how many times I've tried looking up recipes that call for crazy ingredients. I say crazy because our local grocery stores don't have very many unique options. That's why I like to make things simple and good so everyone can make the things I make.  Then, when you mix up recipes with organic ingredients, you know you're helping make an eco-footprint and avoiding harmful pesticides!

Alright, here we go! I hope you like the recipes and names I've made.  I had a lot of fun working on this post!  

Part 1: ECO-Sips!


Bottles of "Boos"


Want your guests to make their own spirits? Fill a bucket with your favorite organic wines, beer, or champagne. Make a sign that says Bottles of Boos...I think your guests will get the picture!  For my sign, I took a compostable bamboo plate and decorated it with some old arts and crafts I had on hand (I believe since my Freshman year in college...good thing I saved them!)


"Berry"-ed Alive Martini


I'm really proud of this recipe. I made an organic and natural twist to the classic Blackberry Gimlet drink and called this one "Berry"-ed Alive to give it a Halloween theme. Be careful, they are good! Let me know what you think :)

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces of organic Vodka (I used Kanon)
  • 3/4 ounce organic Agave Nectar
  • 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed organic lime juice
  • 3 organic blackberries
Directions:
  1. Pour Vodka, Agave Nectar, lime juice into a shaker (I add ice to the shaker too because we like our cocktails extra cold!). Muddle two of the blackberries in the shaker.  Leave third blackberry out for step 3.
  2. Shake and pour into a martini glass.
  3. Add whole blackberry (the third one) to martini glass.
  4. Garnish with a lime if you choose and drink responsibly! These are dangerously good.


Cham-"pain"

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Ingredients:

  • Bottle of organic champagne or sparkling white wine
  • Your favorite organic red and/or orange juice
Directions:

No need to number this because it's so easy! Just fill up champagne flutes and add as much juice as you want. Guests will love the colors...and the name! You can make a little sign near the champagne flutes that says "Cham-Pain". I think they'll get it ;)

Part 2: ECO-Eats!

Now that you have the Halloween "Spirits" together (Halloween Spirits would make a great bar sign!), it's time to make some Halloween inspired bites.  Like the cocktail recipes I listed above, these treats are super easy to make. I'm all about making the organic foodie life simple...because there are simple recipes that taste like you've spent hours in the kitchen.

"Devil"ed Eggs



Classic twist on traditional deviled eggs! There are plenty of simple recipes for deviled eggs online. You can make them as unique as you want or as simple. I usually make my deviled eggs based on what I have on hand.  This last time, I used a little mayo, a dash of pickle juice, and salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste.  And as I always do, I topped each egg with paprika.  For the Devilish get-up, use organic red peppers for the devil ears and green onion for the whiskers and pointy chin. I made two versions in the picture above: one with the facial additions and one without. 


Rest in "Peas"


How cute and slightly chilling is this? The name just makes the dish all in itself.  This is great as an appetizer or side.  I made a pea salad and put crackers (homemade croutons work well too) in the salad to replicate tombstones.  Here is my pea salad recipe which makes about 3 cups (again, super easy):

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups frozen organic peas, thawed
  • 2 TBS organic mayo (or any equivalent you like to use)
  • 1/4 cup diced organic red pepper
  • 2/3 cup diced organic celery
  • 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, diced or crumbled
  • 3 slices organic bacon, crumbled (optional)
  • 1 TBS organic green onion, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
Directions:

Mix all ingredients together and keep in the fridge!

Here are some other simple ideas for a Halloween themed get together:
  • "Boo"-Ritos ~ have a make your own burrito bar! Beans, rice, chicken, veggies, the works
  • Sinister Salsa and Chips ~ just hot salsa and chips
  • Guaca-"Moldy" and Brains ~ simple guacamole and cauliflower for dipping (bet you never thought about how much cauliflower really looks like a brain, right?!)

Do you have any treats or eco-sips you'd like to share? I am always looking for creative recipes with an eco-twist!

Have a Happy Halloween!

~ Hannah

Friday, October 19, 2012

You call it November, we call it No-can-ber!

Challenge: Kick the can and make food from scratch this November!



On New Year's Day, my husband and I made our new year's resolution: avoid canned foods. Why? We thought this would be a fun challenge to start making more items from scratch (especially intimidating beans!) and a great way to help us avoid our exposure to BPA.  11 months later, and we've  done a great job sticking to our resolution.  It really has ended up being much easier than we ever anticipated.  The only slip ups we had was the occasional canned tuna. But, last month, I made tuna salad from scratch (pretty proud of myself!) so we are completely canned good free now!

Over the past year, we realized how easy it really is to avoid canned foods when you're determined. Once you make beans, pasta sauce, and tuna from scratch, you'll never want to go back to the canned version.  Fresh really does taste better. That's why we thought it would be a fun challenge to open up to our fans!  I feel like November is often associated with canned foods because of Thanksgiving dinner, so this was the perfect month to get going on the challenge.  Plus, I thought No-can-ber was just too catchy not to use haha.

Throughout the month I will be posting recipes I have used that don't require canned food (and yes, these recipes have their easier canned good version, but the no-can way is better!).  Do you have any no-can recipes you'd like to share with everyone?  Email me your recipe at hello@liveESP.com and I'll try to test it out and post it for others to enjoy as well.

Come take the No-Can-Ber challenge with us! Share this post with your friends so they can join in too :).

What is BPA? Find out more here!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Chicken, Broccoli, & Cheese Casserole

No need for canned soup in this recipe for homemade Chicken, Broccoli, & Cheese Casserole! This is a BPA free and easy one-dish meal your whole family will love ~ even picky green veggie eaters...



Ingredients:
  • 1 lb cooked organic chicken, shredded
  • 1 cup cooked organic brown rice
  • 1 lb fresh organic broccoli, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons of butter
  • 2 Tablespoons of rice flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried mustard
  • 1 1/2 cups of organic milk
  • 1 1/2 cups of organic cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs or slivered almonds for topping

Directions:
  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees F.
  2. Melt the butter in a medium stainless steel saucepan.  Add the flour, salt, pepper, and mustard, and cook 2-3 minutes until bubbly and foamy.
  3. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook until thickened.
  4. Stir in the shredded cheese.
  5. Place the brown rice, chicken, and broccoli in a casserole dish and pour the white sauce over the top.
  6. Spread the breadcrumbs and slivered almonds over the top.
  7. Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
~ Hannah

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Stonyfield Organic Giveaway!

My husband and I often say how unlucky we are when it comes to winning giveaways and contests (we've had a bad streak in those $1 scratch offs, hah!), but a couple weeks ago, I think our luck changed! I entered into the Healthy Child Healthy World giveaway for Stonyfield Organic where I created a superhero profile at www.iwillknowmyfood.com, where for every profile created, Stonyfield Farm donates $1 to Foodcorps to help provide children with access to healthy foods. So far, over $1,500 has been raised!  Creating a profile is very easy...just click the link I provided above and click "Start Here" to create your food superhero profile.  In case you're wondering, my food superhero name was Go Benannahs (a combination of my name and my husband's--Ben + Hannah--and our love for, you guessed it, bananas!).


Despite my predetermined acceptance that I wouldn't win a $50 gift card to Whole Foods, a festive Stonyfield Farm's superhero cape, and a 6-ounce cup of Stonyfield product, I won!  Not only did I win the superhero pack from Stonyfield, but Healthy Child Healthy World is also giving one of ESP's fans a chance to win the same prize!


Contest ends August 6! For US residents only.

To enter into the Giveaway:
  • Tweet about this Giveaway ~ I just entered to win a Stonyfield Super Hero Prize Pack from @Live_ESP! http://acupofesp.blogspot.com/2012/07/stonyfield-organic-giveaway.html
  • Leave a comment on this post letting us know you have liked ESP, Tweeted, and why you choose to go chemical-free and organic!


Extra entries (double or triple your chances to win!):

Superhero Prize Pack Includes:
  • $50 Gift Card to Whole Foods (can't go wrong here!)
  • Stonyfield Farms Superhero Cape (or as my husband referred to it as a large bib)
  • a 6-ounce cup Stonyfield product (great yogurt!)



Good luck...and go benannahs! The more entries the better your chance of winning!





~ Hannah

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Natural Acne Treatment that Really Worked for Me!

Since middle school, I have been struggling with trying to maintain my acne.  I had always hoped it would disappear by my mid-twenties (especially since I would be well passed my puberty stage and awkward phase)…but turned out that was just a hope. I’m 25, almost 26 and still get acne, and based on family history, I know I will be plagued with acne (cystic acne to be exact!) my whole life. 
I’ve tried everything. ProActive, prescriptions from the doctor, over-the-counter washes, creams, gels, spot treatment, you name it!  Nothing seems to work—or at least work well. The acne never completely goes away. In particular, during that “time of the month” a few pinkish bumps usually appear around my cheeks. Acne is annoying, we all know it! And for years I have been determined to find a treatment that can control my acne the way I’d like it—I know I’m not the only one.

Then, a couple months ago my mom’s friend introduced us to the best acne treatment I have ever used—an all NATURAL recipe I could make at home! I know I should have guessed that it would be a natural, organic, pure, easy to make recipe that would cure my acne, but I went with TV ads and my dermatologists orders like many of us do.  Within days of me using this natural acne treatment, my face cleared up. My face is still clear...even through “that time of the month”!  And my face feels smoother and looks brighter. So of course, I have to share this recipe to help all the others out there struggling with their acne.  My mom’s friend helped me, and now it’s my turn.  If you have any question, just email me (Hannah) at hello@liveESP.com and I can try to help!  Also, email me and let me know how it works for you!

Orange Peel Mask and Jojoba Oil – All Natural Acne Treatment

Ingredients:                                                                                                            

-          Organic clementines or oranges
-          Organic lemon
-          Non-fat, plain organic yogurt
-          Pure Jojoba oil (often found at your local natural foods store...found it at Whole Foods)

Directions:

1.      Peel clementines or oranges and allow the peels to dry out until they are brownish in color.  It may take anywhere from 5-10 days for the peels to turn brownish, depending on how thick the skins are.  If you are unsure of the brownish color, feel free to take a picture and send it to me. I’ll try to see if it looks good! 

2.      Once the skin has dried out and is brownish in color, finely grind peels in a food processor (I used our Vitamix).

3.       Mix equal parts of ground peel with plain yogurt—just enough to create a face mask.

4.       Add fresh-squeezed lemon juice into the peel/yogurt mixture.

5.       Apply mixture onto your face and allow it to dry for 15 to 20 minutes.

6.       Wash face with warm water.

7.       Place a drop or two of pure Jojoba oil on a cotton ball and apply it to your face.
Apply this natural treatment twice a day!

~ Hannah

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Blueberry Avocado Salsa

I have to be honest, I'm one of those few who cannot stand the taste of having avocado plain! BUT (and a serious but!) I do love avocado when it's used in salsas, guacamole, soups, you name it!

Recently, my husband and I joined an organic buying club, and since we've been getting plenty of avocados in each pick up, I've been trying out some new recipes.  This Blueberry Avocado Salsa has to be one of our favorites. I saved two bites (literally two) for my parents to try, and they raved about it too. The salsa tastes delicious plain, on tortilla chips, with veggies (I used a lot of celery and carrots to dip into it), and on a salad.  It's easy to make and a great way to mix up your use of this summer's abundant avocados!

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Ingredients (try to use organic if you can):
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice + extra for drizzling
  • 1/4 cup green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno pepper
  • 1 ripe avocado, cut into small chunks
Directions:
  1. Pulse all ingredients (except for the avocado) in a food processor. (I used my Vitamix and it worked out perfect!)
  2. Drizzle the cut up avocado chunks with lime juice.
  3. Stir in chopped avocado into the rest of your salsa ingredients.
  4. Serve immediately for freshness!  (And, yes, it was still good the next day).


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Father's Day Gift Ideas...and beyond!

Buying gifts is always so hard…especially when you want to show the person you love how much you love and appreciate them in your life!  Well, how about gifts that shower them with good health?  We like the idea of course!  This Father’s Day (or belated!) we are helping you give Dad gifts free from harmful chemicals.  Here are just a few ideas to help you find gifts for this Father’s Day and many more to come:

The Outdoor Grill Dad
StainlessSteel Cooking Tools ~ Any dad who loves to grill will love some of these! Stainless steel is a much safer option than plastic since it is free from BPA and other harmful chemicals. 

HIC Essentials ~ 13-3/4" Turner in Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel Pints ~ While relaxing outside by the grill, be sure to bring your stainless steel 16 ounces pint cup. They are chemical free, keep drinks cold, and durable!

Klean Kanteen ~ 16 ounce Stainless Steel Pint Cup
 

The Camping Dad
StainlessSteel Tableware ~ For those dads who love to camp, how about some stainless steel tableware?  All of these products are lead free, BPA free, and durable for the outdoors.

Sanctus Mundo ~ Stainless Steel Plate

BambooEating Utensils ~ These bamboo utensils an eco-friendly option to bring on any camping trip!

To-Go Ware ~ RePEat Bamboo Utensil Set with Agave Holder

The Office Dad
ReusableLunch Bag ~ Help Dad avoid costly and unhealthy trips to get takeout food by giving him his own personal cooler/lunch bag to pack a healthy lunch!

 PackIt ~ Insulated Personal Cooler/Lunch Bag in Black

Thursday, May 31, 2012

BPA and Its Effects on In Vitro Fertilization

Because of its flexible but strong properties, Bisphenol A (or BPA) is a chemical commonly used in a huge array of plastic products. Just how common is it? According to one study, as of 2009, 3.6 million tons of BPA are used by manufacturers yearly. You will find BPA in everything from plastic food containers and baby bottles, to household electronics. This wouldn’t be so bad if BPA didn’t have the nasty habit of leaching into things it comes in contact with. For example, food kept in plastic containers with BPA will absorb the BPA and it doesn’t stop there.  When we consume the food, BPA enters into our bodies and can act as an endocrine disruptor, which behaves like or even blocks hormones. These actions mess with our normal body functions and can result in several different health issues, including (but not limited to) various cancers, thyroid issues, and difficulty conceiving.

Recent research has shed more light on the effects of BPA on one specific health concern: women’s reproductive health. In particular, this new research suggests that higher levels of BPA can reduce women’s chances of conceiving while undergoing in vitro fertilization treatments.  The study followed 137 women seeking fertility treatment at the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center.   BPA concentration levels were measured in each woman’s urine sample.  Background information was collected on each participant, such as race, age, medical history and lifestyle factors.

The researchers followed each woman’s progress as she underwent fertility treatment, recording successful embryo implantations and failures.  After analyzing all of the data they had collected, the researchers saw a clear correlation between increased BPA levels and decreased rates of pregnancy.  Women with the higher levels of BPA in their urine were less likely to be able to conceive, and this trend persisted when the researchers controlled for the background factors, such as age, that they had collected.

This is the first study to look at the role BPA plays in women seeking fertility treatment, and furthermore, it supports the finding of past studies that have looked at the effects of BPA in animals.  For more information on this study and the effects of BPA explore the links below.

~ Jessica

Resource:


Friday, May 18, 2012

Tips for a Chemical Free Summer!

Summer is just around the corner, and in some parts of the country it’s already here (especially due to the abnormal heat index)!  And to help keep you safe and smiling this summer, we’ve put together 7 of our favorite tips:
1.      All up in your grill.  While barbequing on a grill this summer, be sure to use propane rather than wood or charcoal since propane burns cleaner.  When it’s time to clean the grill use an organic cleaning product and avoid the chemical residue other products leave behind.

2.      Picking picnic plates. Use reusable dishes rather than plastic or Styrofoam when eating outside.  This will cut down on the waste and save you money in the long run!

3.      Lawn days. Do not spray your lawn!  Such sprays are unnecessary and contain chemicals that are bad for our health.  Check out this article for tips on maintaining a healthy lawn without the spray.

4.      Bugs, bite! To keep the mosquitoes at bay this summer, reach for a natural repellent.  A variety of herbal and essential oils, such as citronella oil, are highly effective.  Check out this article for a recipe!

5.      Local motion. Buy your summer veggies locally.  Visiting your local farmers’ markets is a great way not only to get active, but also to avoid foods grown with pesticides.

6.      Garden greens. Better yet, start your own garden!  This is a fun outdoor activity for the whole family, and it will supply you with those fresh greens you are after.

7.      Screen the sun. And before running outside, remember to grab that organic sunscreen!
With these tips in mind, you will be ready to start your summer of the healthy way!

~ Jessica
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