Kitchen Cleaning

One undesirable side effect of cooking often is the need to clean. I prefer to use all natural and animal safe cleaning products throughout the household. For cleaning in the kitchen, I have stumbled upon a few essential cleaning tools.

Hydrogen Peroxide (3%)

3% hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is a great all natural kitchen cleaner. Mix in a spray bottle with half water and hydrogen peroxide to spray on surfaces: counter tops, sink, the fridge. H2O2 must be given a few minutes to evaporate for the sanitizing effect to take place. When H2O2 breaks down, it becomes hydrogen and water, so very safe for the kitchen and entire household. Don’t spray on wood surfaces without wiping quickly, or the high water content may leave marks and cause warping.


5 Types of Vinegar

5 Types of Vinegar

Vinegar is a strong natural cleaner, also used in cooking. Coffee brewer manufacturers specify running a cycle of 10% vinegar and 90% water to clean the build up from the water supply. Vinegar can clean off the gunk around and behind the sink edges, when scouring with a pad. Vinegar can also clean up after pets, removing the smell of markings, preventing return engagements.

Many vinegars are a by product of the production of wine. Distilled white vinegar, the clearest and “cleanest”, is best for cleaning. It also tends to be cheaper and sold in larger quantities.

Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil is often the cause of messes. However, sticky kitchen messes that contain oil soluble particles instead of water can actually be loosened, absorbed or removed with cooking oil. Any remaining vegetable oil can be washed away with dish soap.

Steel Wool

Steel wool is necessary for those built up and burnt up chunks in skillets, baking pans and broiling pans. Sometimes the grocery stores will only stock the variety comes in a box and has soap mixed in with each little steel wool pad. If these sit next to the sink and stay wet, they will rust quickly.

Flour Sack Towels

Flour Sack Kitchen Towels

Flour Sack Kitchen Towels

Flour sack towels are (or at least were) a by product of flour production. The great feature of flour sack cloths is that they are lint free when you purchase them. These towels, among other things, are useful for wiping up spills, drying dishes and covering food items. When waiting on dough to rise, the flour sack cloths are perfect to dampen and cover the dough, allowing enough air through, yet holding in warmth and keeping out dust and dirt. If placing freshly baked rolls or biscuits in a bowl or basket, the flour sack cloth can help hold in some warmth until serving. Additionally, if you are mixing large quantities of flour or other dusty ingredients, the flour sack towel will serve as dust guard to cover your mouth and nose, when folded in a triangle and tied around your head like a bandana.

Honey Glazed French Bread Rising

Honey Glazed French Bread rising under a Flour Sack Towel

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Mayonnaise Substitues

Mayonnaise is a great binder and flavor enhancer for salads, sauces and sandwiches. However, it is nice to have a substitute for mayonnaise at times. It can be high in cholesterol and sometimes just seems gross.

Mayonnaise Substitues

    • Mashed avocado
    • Tzatziki (or garlic & yogurt sauce)
    • Vegetable oil
    • Roasted garlic
    • Mashed potato

Here are some mini-sandwiches of fresh baked Honey Glazed French bread, with an exotic chicken salad made from leftover chicken shawarma and fresh tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki Chicken Shawarma Salad on French Bread

Tzatziki Chicken Shawarma Salad on fresh French Bread

Tzatziki Chicken Salad

Tzatziki Chicken Salad made from Chicken Shawarma

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Blue Cornmeal

One day while shopping at Natural Grocer’s, I discovered organic blue cornmeal at a decent price. I grabbed the bag planning on making corn tortillas, but unexpectedly found some great recipes for baking with the blue cornmeal. One of my favorites was the Blue Cornmeal Pancakes recipe.

Blue Cornmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Blue Cornmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

When baking with blue cornmeal and combining the cornmeal with liquid, the dough or batter will mix more evenly with warmer ingredients.

Blue Cornmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Blue Cornmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (not as blue after baking)

Blue cornmeal is made from blue corn, a variety that was a staple to the Hopi tribe, Native Americans inhabiting modern day Northern Mexico and the Southern United States. The blue cornmeal was used to make piki, the Hopi’s tortilla covered with squash and sunflower seeds.

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Caramel Sauce vs Caramel Syrup

Caramel syrup is thin and runny (like maple syrup), translucent and contains little to no cream. Caramel sauce is usually thick and gooey, opaque and contains cream and butter. I took a caramel sauce recipe, and instead of adding cream at the required stage, I substituted water. The result was a more pourable and more easily mixable in liquids not piping hot. While the flavor of the syrup is still quite strong and heavy on the stomach, the caramel sauce can be eaten by the spoonful on it’s own.

Caramel Sauce

Caramel sauce: water, sugar, heavy cream, butter and vanilla extract

Caramel Syrup

Caramel Syrup: water, sugar and more water

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Baking with Honey

Honey is a somewhat magical natural substance, produced by the ever more scarce honey bee. Honey can often be substituted for sugar in baking, presenting a healthier alternative to satisfy those post dinner cravings for sweets. Honey is also used in skin products, known for, among other things, antibacterial qualities.

Keep the old small bottle and refill with the larger containers. 3-5 seconds in the microwave will loosen the honey on the bottom.

When baking with honey, it’s best to keep the temperature lower, around 325-335 degrees Farenheit. In my opinion, burnt honey is a rather unpleasant smell, and could taint the flavor of a great batch of cookies. Honey also tends to aid in the rising or leavening of baked goods. Cookies puff the most noticeably, but cakes and breads may also require you to reduce other leavening agents or eggs in the recipe.

Honey is also sweeter than sugar, so when replacing sugar in a recipe reduce the amount. You can sometimes get away with half the amount of honey as sugar, but I generally prefer 60-80%, depending on the recipe. Honey complements some flavors, but can clash with others, so testing before the big part may be best.

Here are some dessert recipes leaning on the sweetness of honey:

Dark Chocolate PB Cup with Natural Peanut Butter and Honey

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Less One Bite

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Less One Bite

And some main course recipes containing honey:

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High Butter or Oil (Fat) Content Recipes

Sometimes it is desirable to add a high amount of fat to your diet. Here are a few recipes that have high amounts of either vegetable oil or butter.

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Experimenting with Barbecue Sauces

Barbecue sauces tend to vary by region in the United States, though most Americans are likely familiar with the Kentucky style barbecue sauce. Most barbecue sauces contain some vinegar and some form of pepper. The Carolina style usually includes yellow mustard, a habit lent from German heritage.

In my first barbecue sauce experiment, I decided to try 4 flavors:

  • a soy-based, Asian-esque barbecue sauce
  • a hot wings style sauce
  • a mostly vinegar sauce
  • fire or extra hot sauce

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Cooking with a Cast Iron Skillet

About a year or more ago, I began researching how to cook with a cast iron skillet. The charm of cast iron was presented while I was shopping for a solid but affordable wok. Cooks constantly touted cast iron as the material of choice for a skillet or wok. What I wanted to know was why? Why are cast iron skillets better for cooking than the moderately priced Calphalon stainless steel skillets in my 3 year old set? For Christmas 2011, I received 2 cast iron skillets, and in the past month, have seen the flavor enhancing and even cooking abilities of an American household staple.

My initial searches for “best cast iron skillet” and the like directed me towards 2 varieties of skillets (both no longer manufactured): a Griswold stamped with Erie on the bottom and a Wagner. And in the luckiest of circumstances, I received one of each for Christmas!

The important features I read to look for in a cast iron skillet:

  • sits flat
  • does not have hot spots
  • thick enough sides and bottom (to assist with the above)

The great features I’ve noticed when cooking with the cast iron skillets:

  • eggs come out tasting better and rarely make a sticky mess in the pan, scrambled, fried or otherwise
  • steak, chicken and fish can form a tasty crust without going to a full on sear
  • the heat doesn’t drop way off as soon as you pick the skillet up to turn or toss

A few things to watch out for when using a cast iron skillet:

  • it’s OK to rinse and clean out the cast iron skillet with warm water, just don’t leave it in the drying rack to dry (towel dry or dry on the burner)
  • cast iron skillets are heavy, so excessive lifting and shaking may wear on your joints
  • don’t pour cold water on a hot skillet (it may crack)
  • washing under hot water will heat the skillet enough to burn any hand holding it
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