Tip of the Week

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Oven-Baked Crispy Breaded Chicken

There are those days when you crave certain foods, so I decided to try a make-over of breaded chicken.  Instead of frying the chicken I bake it and you still get crispy chicken.  Again this recipe is adaptable and measurements are not exact.  If you use more chicken you need more flour, etc.  You can pick your own spices or add Italian seasonings and Parmesan cheese.

2 whole chicken breasts (skinless, boneless)
about 1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 eggs
about 1 1/2 to 2 cups bread crumbs (I used whole wheat)
salt and pepper
Spices of your choice (I used a dash of cayenne and paprika)

1. Set up your breading station.  One contain with flour seasoned with salt and pepper, one station with the eggs (whisked with a little water) and a three dish with the bread crumbs and spices.
2. Butterfly chicken breasts and using a meat tenderizer pound the chicken to flatten it a bit.  Then slice into strips or cubes.
3. Dip each piece into the flour, then the egg and then into the bread crumbs.
4.  Oil a sheet tray lined with aluminum foil and place each piece on the tray.  Once you have arranged all the pieces, drizzle with a little olive oil.
5.  Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes until cooked completely and to desired crispness.

Before baking

After baking,  Crispy Chicken

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hiking and Wine Tasting at Heritage Oak Winery

Recently I made a trip to the Lodi and Woodbridge area to check out a few wineries.  This is a growing wine region with several award winning wines and many wine events throughout the year.  On this particular trip I visited Heritage Oak Winery (which was suggested to me) and I took my dogs along.  Most wineries do not allow dogs on the property at all or if they do, dogs are not allowed in the tasting room.  In this case you can leave your dogs in the car to taste a few wines or purchase a bottle before going on your hike.  Bring a picnic or pick one up to pair with a bottle (or two) of wine.

Maps of the vineyard and trails are available online (click here) or at the winery.  If you want a leisurely stroll walk down to the river where picnic tables await you and there's beach access.  This is particularly great for any warm or hot days.

I picked up a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to take on my picnic and it's a very light and crisp white wine with citrus tones.  This is a great wine for pairing with different foods (if you are into that) and I liked that it was light and refreshing on a warm day.  There are many reds if you prefer red wine, though.

My dogs were excited to go for a ride as we followed the signs to the winery and were raring to go once we arrived.  Everyone strapped on their backpacks, including the dogs and we were off.  The trail leaves directly from the winery and parking lot.  Be sure to have some sunscreen since there are areas without tree cover or shade.  We first headed to the river and beach access, but the dogs were not tired and were enjoying all the new scents, so we continued on.  The beach access trail is just a little off-shoot from the main trail.  The rest of the trail wanders around the river and vineyard area making a loop.  It's a very easy trail to hike, only one area with a slight ascend/descend, but don't think you are going to hike this in any sort of heel or non-walking shoe.

Finally the dogs were ready for a break so we decided to enjoy lunch and our wine on the outdoor patio at winery.  The patio has plenty of tables and chairs (if you forgot your glasses you can borrow some from the winery) and it is very peaceful.  There are wonderful flower gardens around the house and winery and plenty of bird feeders.  I saw many hummingbirds and finches while sipping wine.

Next time I might taste some of their reds and check out a few other wineries in the area.  So if you are looking for a short walk or want to take your dog check this winery out!

Monday, April 23, 2012

My garden is growing

With the storms past, Northern California was hit with a bit of a heat wave, with temperatures hitting the 90's in some places.  Personally I wasn't ready for such hot temperatures so early, but it does wonders for my garden. Now the temperatures are cooling and the spring breezes are back.  Whew . . . summer can wait a little bit longer.  My irises are in full bloom with only two of them not blooming; my azaleas are also in full bloom, and the rest of my garden is growing.  Take a peak at my garden (a work in progress at the moment).
Green bean 2 weeks after starting from seeds

Left to Right: Green bean 3 weeks, rosemary, cucumber

Tomatillo (a new addition) already in bloom

Lemon Balm - Will be great to add to my drinks this summer

Black Beauty Eggplant


First harvest of Swiss chard

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Celebrate Earth Day and other links

Wow, it's been a busy week and with the warm (and sometimes rather unseasonably hot) weather, I have been working in my garden. Which is a great way to celebrate Earth Day.  Some other tips I found are also very easy things we can each do, like stop buying bottled water and line dry our clothes.  Check out my list of links to find out your carbon footprint, join Earthbound Farms' "Take an Organic Step Forward", and other Earth Day tips.

Earthbound Farm here
Earth Day  here
15 Earth Day Tips here
Great list of other links (and source for my image) here

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fried Rice and Dan Dan Noodles

This Easter I didn't feel like going out to eat or ordering take-out, so I decided to create my own version of some of my favorite Chinese/Japanese take-out items.  Both of these recipes are great for vegetarians and can be adapted for vegans as well.  If you prefer meat in your rice, you can easily add in your choice of protein.  Enjoy!

My first recipe is for Vegetable Fried Rice:

2 Tbsp Canola or Safflower Oil
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 Tbsp ginger, finely chopped or grated
2-4 carrots, diced (you can use less if you do not want as many carrots)
2 cups uncooked short-grain brown rice
1-2 Tbsp Tamari soy sauce, low-sodium, gluten free
1 tsp toasted sesame seed oil
1 onion, diced
2-3 celery stalks, chopped
1-1 1/2 cups blanched broccoli

1. Heat wok, add a little of the oil and cook eggs (you're making wok-style scrambled eggs).  Set aside.
2. Meanwhile cook 2 cups rice (follow package instructions).
3. Add 1 Tbsp of oil and ginger, stir fry for about 1 minute.
4. Add carrot, celery and onion, stir fry for about 2 minutes; then add broccoli.
5.  Add cooked rice and toss.
6.  Add eggs, salt, pepper, soy sauce and sesame seed oil.

My second recipe is for Dan Dan Noodles.

1/3 cup tahini (or substitute your favorite nut butter)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp ginger, grated or chopped
3 Tbsp tamari soy sauce, low-sodium, gluten-free
1 Tbsp dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seed oil
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp chili oil
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth (I make my own)
1 package Hakubaku organic ramen noodles
3 scallions (for garnish)
1/2 cup of nuts (optional)

1. Combine first 8 ingredients in a mini-food processor and process.  Then add broth and process until creamy (it may not be perfectly smooth).  Pour into serving dish.  Set aside.
2.  Bring water to boil, lightly salt (if desired) and boil noodles until al dente.
3.  Add (drained) noodles to sauce and combine.  Garnish with scallions and nuts.

This time of year asparagus is in season and I try to find new ways to cook it.  So I made a batch of fried asparagus to go with the following two dishes, using Giada's recipe

Tip of the Month: Cleaning Supplies - Are they toxic??

In my effort to change my own environment and go "green", I have been converting my cleaning supplies to healthier alternatives. I have been using Ecos laundry detergent for several years and love how my clothes, sheets, towels and even my dog's beds come out fresh and clean.  You can use Ecos for HE machines and I find that I am saving money, plus I know that I am not adding more chemicals to our water supply.  My other major change was hand soap.  If you look at your hand soap you will probably find the ingredient Triclosan, which seems to be controversial whether it has major effects on our health.  You can read the research yourself and decide, but I switched to a basic Castile soap.  All we really need is soap and water to clean our hands.  Vinegar is my basic cleaning product and weed killer, you can read my previous post here.

Other than laundry detergent and hand soap, many of us have a whole cabinet of various cleaning products for different purposes.  Do we really need all these products?  And how much do we really spend on those items? In a recent study I read, many of these cleaning products contain carcinogenics, which are released into the air.  Think about it. . .  if you are breathing in these chemicals there are likely to be health effects.  The study was completed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and you can read it here.  The focus was on the effects on indoor air quality in classrooms, but it would also apply to individual homes.

I also found that I was not alone in thinking that cleaning products should list all of the ingredients, not just some of them.  What shocked me most, but makes sense why Febreze smells funny to me, is how many airborne contaminants are released when using this product.

If any of this concerns you, as it does me, then take a look and decide if you want to err on the side of caution when cleaning your home.  For myself, I have a few of these cleaning products left and will replace these products with healthier (and also cheaper) cleaning alternatives.  Give vinegar and baking soda a try.  Or try castile soap next time.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Collection of Easter Crafts

I just had to share three of my favorites Easter crafts that I came across on other blogs.   There are plenty more patterns and projects than what I am sharing.  So have fun and get creative this weekend!

Recycled Easter Egg Garland - Such a cute idea with left over paint chips or other paper scraps (maybe try vintage wrapping paper). Click here to visit Recycled Sewing.

Crochet Easter Egg ornament and basket; a DROPS Design by Garnstudio.These are so cute!   Click here for the pattern.

My final favorite is at Tangled Happy's blog.  There are Easter eggs, bunny hats and other little Easter projects to crochet.  I think the egg cozy is cute!  Click here to check out her blog.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Eco-Friendly Easter Baskets and Gifts

Weren't opening Easter baskets fun as a kid?  All wrapped in cellophane with plastic Easter grass.  Okay, the treats were the best part, but most Easter baskets are wrapped in all of that plastic.  I remember my Mom reused the baskets and wrappings each year, and since I am going "green", I figure I might as well reuse Easter grass too.  So I don't recommend going out and buying new plastic Easter grass, but if you are going to buy some for the bottom of your Easter basket try the paper version.

For my dog's Easter basket, I used the paper Easter grass I found in my gift-wrapping storage box, which you can't see in the photo.  Then added a few stuffed rabbits, squeaky balls and a few other chew toys.  If you have little dogs, choose a smaller basket to put their toys or treats in.  My dogs seem to know these are meant for them and I have to keep it out of their reach, otherwise they just take the toys out of the basket.

Since I don't have kids, I'm not worried about making fun Easter baskets for little ones to enjoy.  Though I think the baskets from Pottery Barn Kids are adorable.  Click here and here for the photos I posted on Pinterest.  I also like regular baskets with basket liners for Easter.  If you don't have Easter basket supplies, I recommend getting a good quality basket or fabric/felt basket that can be reused.  You could knit or crochet one as well.  Then the fun part is picking out (or making) the gifts to include in the basket.  Chocolate is always a good choice, at least I think so. Stickers, coloring books, craft supplies and stuffed toys are always great choices too.  For other eco-friendly choices, I found a great post on Eco Child's Play, click here.  Whatever you choose for you Easter basket, have fun!  Easter is about sharing love and joy.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Let's Start Knitting . . . my first completed project

A few months back I took on the challenge of learning to knit.  Mistakes were inevitable, but I did manage, after starting the whole project over twice, to finally complete a pattern.  I tried the Russian Hat pattern from Red Heart.  The yarn for the project has been discontinued, so I substituted another bulky yarn.  My end result was a nice knit hat, lacking the uniqueness of the pictured Russian Hat in the pattern.  Take a look at the above link and you will see what I mean.  After looking at it and before cutting the yarn, I decided that I did not like the way it turned out.  I really liked the pictured hat and will have to find a similar pattern or a better substitute yarn.  So, it was good practice on my knit and purl rows, though very frustrating having to rip out all the rows. 

If it was easy to learn then we would all be knitting (or crocheting).

On to the next project . . .

Devil's Dark Chocolate Cake

I was ambitious this weekend and decided to tempt to make a 4 layer chocolate cake, but not any chocolate cake, a devil's food cake with dark chocolate.  If you do not want a 4 layer cake, half all ingredients (frosting too) and if you prefer a sweeter chocolate, substitute milk chocolate for the semi-sweet and 87% chocolate in the frosting.

8 oz 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate (I like Ghirardelli)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted organic butter
1 cup sugar or packed brown sugar
2 tbsp light corn syrup or agave
2 cups sifted cake flour or all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 large organic eggs
1 (or 1 1/2) tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole organic milk

8 oz Semi-sweet chocolate
8 oz 60% Cacao Bittersweet chocolate
optional 84%
2 cups organic sour cream

1.Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Butter 4 cake pans and line with parchment paper.

2. In a double-boiler over barely simmering water, melt chocolate, butter, sugar, and corn syrup (agave).  Stir occasionally until smooth.  Remove from heat.

3. Sift flour, baking soda and cocoa powder.  Gently fold in melted chocolate mixture.

4.  Whisk egg, vanilla and milk.  Add to flour/chocolate mixture and mix until well blended.

5.  Divide evenly in 4 cake pans.  Bake for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Remove from oven and cool.  When cool, turn out of pans.

6.  Make frosting.  In a double-boiler, melt all chocolate until smooth, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly.  Beat in sour cream.

7.  Spread some of the frosting on the first layer, and repeat for all layers.  Then spread the remaining frosting around the edges of the cake.  Let sit in a cool spot. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Out-of-Control Yarn

At the moment, I have been taking a break from my crochet and knit projects so I can complete a few sewing projects (as well as living life to it's fullest).  My knitting needle and crochet hook cases are almost complete and I have a bag that I am starting.  I will post those soon. 

In my absence from my yarn projects, I did discover an interesting blog post that I thought I should share.  Especially for those (like me) who have a yarn stash.  Maybe you don't know how to organize it or store it.  Check out Hugs for Your Head .  I really found her post about controlling your yarn stash to be very useful and insightful.

For my yarn stash I have an idea on how I am going to sort and organize it.  My yarn has outgrown the basket I was using, so I am creating some fabric bins and using a bookcase to store it.  Once I have finished this project I will share, but at this point it is an idea.