Make It Yourself—Cheaper, Better and Faster!

Since the day I learned to make my own homemade laundry detergent (it did take a few attempts to reach perfection), I’ve become semi-obsessed with making my own household cleaners and some grocery items as well.

My benchmark is that what I make myself needs to be cheaper, better and faster than the store-bought version. Here are a few of my favorites and (I’m certain), soon to be yours, too!

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BROWN SUGAR. Add 1 tablespoon molasses to 1 cup granulated white sugar for light brown sugar; or 2 tablespoons molasses to 1 cup white sugar for dark brown sugar. Do this in a bowl that is an appropriate size for the amount of brown sugar you’ll make. Using a fork, a pastry cutter or electric mixer, mix well until the molasses is completely incorporated and the color and texture are even. Store the fluffy, soft brown sugar in an air-tight container. That’s it—the best brown sugar ever.

GRENADINE. Adults know Shirley Temple for her beloved, innocent roles in films. But, most kids know her for the non-alcoholic cocktail named after her. Grenadine is the red ingredient in a classic Shirley Temple, also other cocktails like the Jack Rose, tequila sunrise and scofflaw. To make grenadine, place equal parts white granulated sugar and pure, unsweetened pomegranate juice in a sauce pan. Bring it to a boil. Cook just until the sugar dissolves or about one minute. That’s it. Done. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator for up to a month. To make a classic Shirley Temple “mocktail,” mix together ginger ale and a splash of grenadine. Top it off with a maraschino cherry. 

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Fabulous Slow Cooker Summer…Salads! Plus My Salsa Recipe

I have to admit it. Just the idea of a slowly cooked salad makes me queazy. Thankfully, that’s not exactly it.

It’s a little-known secret that your slow cooker has a hidden talent for making incredible salads. Let it slow-cook the main ingredients for a creative salad while you’re away. Then toss in a few fresh additions just before it’s time to serve. I know! What a great idea.

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Orange Chicken Spinach Salad with Feta

  • 3 lbs. bone-in chicken breast halves
  • 6 cloves garlic minced,
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 10 oz. baby spinach (more or less)
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
  • 3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese (more or more)
  • 1/2 cup bottled vinaigrette salad dressing
  1. Remove and discard skin from chicken and sprinkle with garlic, thyme and salt. Place chicken in 3.5- or 4-quart slow cooker. Add juice and vinegar. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours, or on high for 3 to 3.5 hours.
  2. Remove chicken from cooker; cover and keep warm. Discard cooking juices.
  3. In a large bowl toss together the greens, tomatoes, olives and feta cheese. Slice chicken from bones; discard bones Arrange sliced chicken on salad. Drizzle with dressing. Servings: 6.
NOTE: Photo is only a representative stock photo and does not reflect this exact recipe. The recipe is correct, although you could add oranges as pictured.

Green Beans and Petite Reds with Albacore

  • 1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 1 lb. tiny new red-skin potatoes, quartered
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 5-oz. cans solid white albacore, drained and flaked
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  1. Lightly coat 3.5- or 4-quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Combine the beans, potatoes, onion, water, salt and pepper in cooker. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours or on high for 2 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, for sauce, in a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, milk mustard lemon juice tarragon and salt. Cover and chill until needed.
  3. To serve, using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetable mixture to a large bowl. Pour sauce over vegetables. Add albacore and spinach. Toss gently to mix. Sprinkle with additional black pepper and serve. Servings: 6

Quinoa Salad with Beets, Oranges and Fennel

  • 1 1/2 lb. medium-size beets
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1 15-oz. can bandar orange sections, rinsed and drained
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • Sliced green onions (optional)
  1. Place each beet on a piece of foil. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil over all of the beets. Wrap each beet tightly in the foil and place in a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 3 to 4 hours or until beets are fork-tender.
  2. Remove beets from cooker. When cool enough to handle, peel or slip the skin off each beet. Cut beets into thin wedges and place in a medium bowl.
  3. For dressing, remove 1 teaspoon zest and squeeze 2 tablespoons juice from orange. Whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, the orange zest, orange juice, honey salt and pepper. Remove 1 tablespoon of the dressing and drizzle over betts; toss gently to coat.
  4. In a bowl combine mandarin oranges and fennel, and drizzle with another 1 tablespoon of the dressing. Add quinoa to the remaining dressing; toss to coat.
  5. To serve, top quinoa mixture with beets and mandarin orange-fennel mixture. If desired, sprinkle with green onions. Servings: 6.

 

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And now in follow-up to an earlier post, Compulsive Chopper. Many of you request my recipe for salsa that you see in the photos, made using my lovely Chop Wizard. Here you go …

 

 

Pico de Gallo

  • 12 Roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 jalapeño pepper seeded, chopped (or to taste; go easy at first)
  • 1 pinch garlic powder (optional)
  • 1 pinch ground cumin (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon each salt and ground black pepper, or to taste

Put all of the ingredients in a bowl. Stir. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Serve. Repeat often. Enjoy!

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Stop the Carnage! No More Rotten Produce in the Garbage

I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around this documented fact: Half of all produce grown in the U.S. is thrown out, while at the same time there is growing hunger and poverty right here in America.

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As I read the first paragraph of the news story, I assumed naively that all U.S.-grown produce makes it to market then consumers like you and me get it home, let it go bad before we can consume it and into the garbage it goes. That is a factor, but not the whole story.

The truth is that vast quantities of fresh produce are left in the field to rot, become livestock feed or hauled directly to the landfill because of (get ready) cosmetic standards. Not every potato, watermelon, strawberry or grape cluster turns out photo-perfect. Some are ugly and these days, that means they do not meet retailer and consumer demands for blemish-free, perfect produce. Just imagine how the retail cost of produce might plummet if all that is produced—even the still-nutritious but ugly produce—were available for sale.

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Compulsive Chopper

I just did something I have not done in years. I took the weekend—plus the holiday—off. It was wonderful. Had friends over. Moved our backyard barbecue inside as it was terrifyingly hot and windy.

And I made salsa. From scratch.

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I used my absolutely favorite kitchen gadget, the Vidalia Chop Wizard to chop the stuff that needed chopping (tomatoes, onions, bell pepper, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro). This thing is amazing.

It chopped the tomatoes fast and uniformly—without launching seeds and pulp across the room or turning the whole thing into a squished mess.

Then the onions, peppers, jalapeno, cilantro, garlic all mixed together with lime juice, salt and pepper—done in about 5 minutes start to finish. Yum!

I love my Chop Wizard. I look for things to chop just because it’s so much fun. I’m a chopping fool! And the results are always so amazing. I even took Chop Wizard to the office a while back and held a demonstration for my tolerant staff.

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Best Time to Buy a Computer, Where to Buy a TracFone and How to De-Smoke a Microwave

There was a time when grabbing the best prices was all about where and when you shopped. Savvy shoppers would wait all year to buy sheets, towels and other household linens during January White Sales. After Christmas Sales were notorious and reliable. But things have changed with the advent of online shopping and red-hot competition between retailers.

So, is there a best time to buy specific consumer goods? That’s the question posed in today’s first question from one of your fellow EC readers.

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Dear Mary: I’m looking at new computers. When is the best time to buy one? Stella

Dear Stella: There is something to be said for seasonal pricing of some consumer goods. For example, you will probably get the best deals on outdoor grills and lawn mowers in July and August as retailers are gearing up for Christmas and they need to clear space.

Our friends at Consumer Reports tell us that April is the month to get the best buys on computers, but I’m not completely on board with that theory because it is way too general.

The best time to buy a new computer is when you really need one. If your current machine is broken, or you need greater performance or it’s a gift, etc.,—there’s really no reason to delay the purchase. Research your options, make a decision and then shop around.

If you’re planning to buy an Apple product, by all means wait for the next big product announcement, if you can hold out. You might be able to get a deal on the model that will be going out of production.

If you’re looking at a PC, you might see some discounts in late summer and into fall, but I wouldn’t expect any major improvements in that technology that would warrant a big price drop anytime soon. Hope that helps!

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Easy Ways to Plan for College, Save Money, Read Books and Carpool the Kids, Too!

BIG FUTURE. Planning for college? BigFuture.CollegeBoard.org is a website set up by the College Board to help students navigate the often confusing and overwhelming world of choosing, paying for and getting into college. It’s a college-planning headquarters of sorts.

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BigFuture not only helps you find a school that fits your aspirations and your bank account, but also helps with personal decisions such as whether living on campus is a good fit for you or not.

You will find it to be a very comprehensive site covering scholarships, loans, campus visits, interviewing techniques, and so on.

SAVE UP. The purpose of SaveUp.com is to get people saving money again and out-of-debt. We like that! The site helps by offering incentives. The more you save and pay off your debts, the more incentives you win (credits towards prizes and free plays). They even have a powerball-like drawing each month to win $2 million—not that anyone has ever won it, but still.…

Savers and debt-payers earn credits at SaveUp by linking financial accounts, watching informational videos, answering profile questions, paying off debt and saving money. Then they can spend their credits to play games and win prizes like iPads, cash, Kindles, etc.

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What To Do With Leftover Green Salad

If throwing out perfectly delicious green salad were a crime, I’d be serving a life sentence. 

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It kills me to do it, but until fairly recently, I had no idea there was a second life for fresh green salad, dressed or not. Once tossed, passed and partially consumed, that’s it, right? Wrong.

GAZPACHO SALSA. Blend it with V8 Juice to create a thick gazpacho (a cold Spanish/Portuguese tomato-based raw vegetable soup). Add a little hot sauce, and serve with chips for an appetizer. Extend it even further with the addition of red pepper and cucumber. Seriously tasty, however it will vary depending on the contents of the leftover salad you start with. 

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Surprising Ways to Use a Slow Cooker that Have Nothing To Do with Food

They’re bulky and take up precious cabinet space, but we’ll never get rid of our slow cookers. They can be such a lifesaver those days when time is scarce and we just want to make a big batch of something deliciously comforting to get us through.

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A slow cooker, aka Crock-Pot®, is one awesome household appliance for hands-off cooking. If you have one (a recent study says at least 80 percent of us do) you may know what a great time- and money-saver it is. Surprisingly, your slow cooker is good for other tasks that have nothing to do with eating. Everybody needs a slow cooker!

RE-MAKE CANDLES. We all have those old candles that are lopsided or have holes burned through one side. Rather than toss them in the trash, toss them in the slow cooker instead. Once melted, fish out the old wicks and gather your heatproof containers. Tie a weighted candle wick (you can find these at any craft store or online) on a pencil laid across the container’s rim and let the other end dangle into the empty container. Carefully ladle the melted wax into the container without disturbing the wick and let cool. There you go, new candles!

HOMEMADE SOAP. Looking for a great homemade gift idea? This could be it! Homemade soap is wonderful because you can customize your soap bars with the scents and ingredients you prefer. While there are many recipes and instructions available online, you can skip the tedium with a clear melt and pour soap base. It’s detergent free. An hour in the slow cooker plus essential oil (20 drops lavender essential oil would be an awesome choice) plus colorant and any variety of botanicals and you’ve made your own beautiful soap products.

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