Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday's Recipes: Healthier Mexican Food

The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together. ~Erma Bombeck

Mexican style recipes can be loaded with fat and sodium. Beans can be good for you, but when they are canned the sodium is high. It helps to rinse the beans before using. Flour tortillas are high in calories and sodium, but corn tortillas have no sodium and very little fat, if any. My husband used to love white corn tortillas fried crisp in oil. Now I bake them for a much healthier alternative. Salsa is the best part of Mexican cuisine. It's fat free and low in sodium if you make it yourself or watch the brands that you buy. Try using lowfat cheese with your burritos or tacos, or leave it out and use more salsa, lettuce, tomato and green onion. I have also had really good luck using the boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs for taco filling. I put 3-4 pounds in the crockpot and add a packet or the equivalent of taco seasoning (low sodium). Cook on low or high until it starts to fall apart, or you can remove and cut it up once it's cooked through. IF you use ground beef, then use ground chuck or round and drain as much of the fat as possible. I even pat it with paper towel to remove more of the fat. Try the recipes below with the chicken tacos next time you get the urge for spicy food!

Baked Tortilla Chips

corn tortillas (6-inch size), cut into wedges
seasonings: chili powder, garlic powder or any Mexican spice
cooking spray

Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Place the cut tortillas on the cookie sheet in a single layer. Spray them lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle with seasonings. Bake in a 400 F oven for 3 to 4 minutes. Every oven is different so watch them carefully. Bake them until crisp and VERY lightly browned.

Slow Cooked Spicy Black Beans


1 pound dried black beans, soaked overnight
4 slices turkey bacon
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
2 tablespoons dark molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, minced

Drain the black beans the water ( rinse too) and place in a crock pot, Fill with new water to cover the beans. Start heating the slow cooker on high. Brown the bacon in a skillet over medium heat with the onions. Cook until the bacon is cooked and onions are softened. Stir into the beans along with the brown sugar, molasses, spices and the jalapeno. Stir to blend, then cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or until beans are tender. Serve as a side dish, or as a filling for tacos with or without meat.

"Refried" Beans

1 cup dried pinto beans
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 tsp. chili powder

Place the dry beans in a pan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Boil hard for 3-5 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the beans to stand for 45 minutes to an hour. Drain the beans, return to the pan, and add more water to cover. Boil 30 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the onions and garlic, then sauté till softened in a small skillet. After the 30 minutes, add to the beans with the chili powder. Cook until tender enough to smash the beans with a potato masher. They don't need to be smooth-- leave some texture. Serve as you would refried beans.

Learn to make Spotted Dog for St. Pat's Day!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Home & Hearth: Mattresses and More

Let us not look not back in anger, or forward with fear, but around in awareness. ~James Thurber

I found the following tips in a booklet from 1948. It appears to have been a give-away from First Federal Bank of Detroit. Wonderful tips! The first few are about mattress care, which I found fascinating because quality mattresses today are SO expensive, yet we don't think of doing this much to extend their life.

-Prevent tears in your mattress by dressing your mattress in a muslin cover. Place a mattress pad between the mattress and spring and the between the mattress and sheet.

-Reverse the position of an innerspring at least once a week, turning top to bottom one week, end to end the next week. Air and sun mattresses at least once a week. Every few weeks, clean it on both sides with the brush attachment of vacuum cleaner.

-Don't sit on the edge of the mattress. Never bend or roll an innerspring mattress. Never beat it or stand it on end.

-Check floors for protruding nails, rough boards and kindred saboteurs of rug and carpet life. Remove any protrusions which can wear into your floor coverings.

-Avoid running wires or lamp cords under your rugs. They wear ridges into the fabric and constitute a fire hazard that, in some states, may void fire insurance policies.

-Broken casters on furniture legs are also ruinous to rugs. If these are hard to replace, use caster cups.

-NEVER pull out tufts or knots in your rugs. If there are any that make rugs look shaggy, clip off the long ends with a pair of scissors.

-Reverse the position of your floor coverings, every couple of months, to distribute the wear evenly.

-Take the "throw" out of throw rugs by winding three "preserving jar" rubber rings together with thread and sewing them to the corners of the rug. They form a wonderful suction cup that will prevent many accidents.

Renovate that faded fiber rug: don't delegate it to the junk heap! Give it a coat of your favorite color house paint thinned with turpentine (1 part turpentine to 3 parts paint). Work the paint thoroughly into the fiber with the brush to obtain the best results. (Note: Only do this outside, where you aren't closed in with the fumes, and be sure to wear gloves. I would only try this with a rug on it's last legs!)

Tame your closet clutter this spring with these tips:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Reader's Question: Cleaning Off Rust

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together. ~Vincent Van Gogh

Today I wanted to share this question and answer from last year because I had such good reader's tips sent in afterwards. I thought it was a great topic.

Hello, I have a question about restoring old metal cooking utensils. I have a double bladed hand chopper in particular that has spots of rust on the blades. Do you have any idea how I can safely clean the rust off and use the chopper for daily kitchen work? I also have several old metal cake pans. Is it safe to use these old pans? One is a covered pudding pan. The bottom is rusted but the top "shell" is rust free.

You really shouldn't use pans or kitchen knives with rust, but you can try to remove it with steel wool. Don't use one of the pieces with a cleanser on it, but just plain steel wool or a small wire brush. Rub until the rust is completely removed, then wash it in soapy water and dry it. Then you should coat the item with vegetable oil and rub it in with a rag. If the rust is really bad you can try soaking the item in white vinegar, then use a paste of baking soda and water after soaking to scrub the area. If you can remove the rust completely you should be okay.

A few years ago we forgot about our cast iron Dutch oven after a camping trip and when we got back to it had rusted all over the inside. At someone else's suggestion I filled it up with Coca Cola. We were told that only Coca Cola will work, but haven't tried other sodas ourselves. I let it soak for a few hours and the rust was very nearly gone. Only a very thin layer remained in some places that was easy to scour off with steel wool. It definitely worked better than soaking the cast iron in vinegar.

My father has told me that when he was at sea they used Kool Aid to clean the air craft carrier decks, so I've thought that might work too, but I haven't tried it. I haven't tried either of these on rusty steel pans, but I'd think they'd work on that, too. ~V. West

I have another way to rid utensils of rust for Susann. It's called Instant Rust Out. I bought it at Menards(WI) and have used it on my can opener which I could never get rust free. It works great. You can use it in the bath, kitchen, clothing, carpet, exterior surfaces and more. The one I have came in a 16 oz. spray bottle and cost a few dollars. Nothing I've tried has ever worked as good as this. There is a website on the back and phone number 1-800-654-0791. This is my new miracle cleaner! ~Kim

Rust is a common problem, for cooks, as well as in the surgical field. Surgical instruments are exposed to extremes, that no kitchen item is ever exposed to. Yes, surgical instruments can get rusted and that is a definite NO-NO! I learned when I worked in surgery, the best way to save an expensive surgical instrument, when it got rusted, was to use the old-fashioned Bar Keeper's Friend cleanser! It works, almost 95% of the time. There are those times, when the rust is simply to invasive too save anything, OK? It is the mildest of the cleanser, meaning it is non-abrasive and is highly recommended by many manufacturers for their products. I am thinking of brass, copper, bathroom and kitchen sinks, tile, counter tops, china, ceramic, drinking glasses, so on and so forth. It is simply a GREAT product! Here is the website: ~Mickey

I do know that Coke, Straight, will eat rust off metal. You'll have to submerge the entire item in Coke. It may take a day are two maybe even three days. I'd advise using it one day, then see how it has done. I do know leaving a small bolt in Coke for three days will eat the bolt up completely. And we wonder what it does to our insides. LOL Fortunately our insides are of different elements. ~Dan

We have tips on OFL about caring for and using a Dutch oven:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hodge Podge Day: Woodpecker Tips

We are told to let our light shine, and if it does,we won't need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don't fire cannons to call attention to their shining-they just shine. ~Dwight L. Moody

Today I have some great tips from readers who had woodpecker problems!

I had a friend who was having a terrible time with a woodpecker that would continue to bore holes no matter how it was filled. An aviarian vet told them to put up some of the bat wings you find at Halloween to deter the bird. If the large plastic bat wings were not available then to take a pair of black stockings and stretch them over a pair of wire coat hangers to make them look like large wings. This will resembles a hawk or predatory bird to the woodpecker and they will leave the area for a safer site. It worked like a charm for them. ~Patty

Woodpeckers will peck for a number of reasons: to get bugs out of the wood (not a good sign if the wood is on your house!), to make noise to attract a mate, to make a home (not good if this is already your home - once they are nested it is quite difficult to convince them to leave). Just make noise of your own when they come around - yelling or banging pots will drive them right away. Do this each time they show up and they'll get the idea very quickly that this isn't a nice place to be for them! ~Nadine

One of my neighbors had a woodpecker that would come every morning about 5 AM and sit on the corner of their bedroom where there was a drain pipe. You can imagine the noise it made. That corner was also right across from our bedroom. We joked about it a lot. For his birthday I bought a plastic woodpecker and had my son go up and install the fake bird to the drain pipe when my neighbor was gone. The real woodpecker never returned. We had many laughs about that with the neighbor and it was a solution to the noise that woke us all up every morning. ~epearson

We have woodpeckers in our backyard that LOVE our trees (thankfully not our house) but here is what I know about why they peck on the wood of any house - The birds peck where there are bugs to eat! It is a great way to forage for food. Soooo... removing the food supply will help get the birds to a tree faster!

The person with the woodpecker problem may have termites, boring carpenter ants or some such critter that lives in soggy, rotting wood areas under eaves, around windows, etc. Time to get the ladder out - inspect the area where the birds are pecking and remove and replace any damaged areas with new wood. Treat for the bugs that are in the old wood by spraying an environmentally friendly bug solution to the surrounding area. If you have a termite infestation in the walls of the house -better get a professional in.) Cover the new wood with a couple of coats of good house paint and voila! You will be on the road to send those peckers packin'! ~Susan

In regard to keeping woodpeckers from pecking on your house, try putting a fake rubber snake on the roof near where the woodpeckers go. This seems to work really well for our neighbor, whose house has cedar siding. Or, if there's a tree nearby try hanging an old CD from a limb. The birds don't like the moving reflections as the CD turns in the breeze. ~Susan in Arkansas

On OFL we also have tips on spring cleaning:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Garden Tips: Starting Seeds Indoors

A garden is evidence of faith. It links us with all the misty figures of the past who also planted and were nourished by the fruits of their planting. ~Gladys Taber

Starting seeds is not difficult if you follow a few tips. First, don't use leftover potting soil or dirt from the garden. Regular soil is much too heavy and it may carry disease. I use a sterile seed starting mix with good success. The mixes are sterile and don't contain soil. I have used peat pellets, and peat pots too. The mixes are sterile and don't contain soil. All of the supplies you use during the sowing process should be cleaned beforehand. I know this seems a bit much for starting simple garden seeds, but it pays off in the long run.

I use a seed starting mix with no fertilizer added, and later when the seeds have sprouted I use an organic fertilizer. To start things out, I dump the mix into a bowl and add water until it's moistened, but not soaked. I use an old spoon to fill my pots. I follow the directions for sowing each seed, grouping them together by the needs. (some need darkness, or extra warmth etc.) I also mark the pot with wooden sticks and place them in a sunny window or warm location, depending on what they need. I cover the pots with plastic or place them in containers with a plastic lid. Check daily to make sure they are still moist. If they do get dry you can spritz with water, but never soak the soil. When the seeds germinate I remove the plastic and place in a sunny window. (The picture above were nasturtium seedlings I started indoors.)

Eggshells are always shown for seed starting but they are really too small to work well. Growing grass for an Easter or Spring project is neat thing to do with kids in egg shells, but for starting your garden seeds you need something that is at least 3 inches deep. I like using the peat pots for seeds that are finicky and plants that don't like to be transplanted. If you do use these, be sure to plant the entire pot in the soil with NONE of it sticking out. It will act like a wick of sorts and just keep drying out. You can even rip part of the top of the peat pot off and throw it in the compost pile, then cover the plant when transplanting.

Next week we'll discuss damping off, a disease that can kill your new seedlings and tips to help avoid disaster.

Tips from OFL on Spring cleaning in your garden: