The Great Big Microwave Challenge

The microwave. Fast, efficient…healthy?
This month, I am challenging all of you, along with the other Eco Housewives, to ditch your microwave for one month! It may seem like a major challenge, but really think about how often you use the microwave, and what simple changes you could make to cut it out. I bet you use it, and need it, less than you think!
I have been kicking around the idea of ditching our microwave for some time now, but have hesitated actually taking the plunge. I don’t have any extreme evidence against microwaves, but my biggest issues with them are:

• They ruin the taste and texture of food
• They don’t cook evenly
• People often microwave using plastic, which can leach chemicals into your food
• Microwaving can kill many of the vital nutrients found in food

For more information on some of my reasons for “quitting the microwave,” have a look here. Keep in mind that this is not our article and it might have a few extreme claims.

When it comes down to it, I don’t use my microwave much anymore. We reheat leftovers, thaw meat in a hurry, and pop the occasional bag of popcorn. Even after his initial shock when I told him about our month without a microwave, The Husband shrugged it off and said “we don’t use it much anyway.” Either that or he knows that I might give in to a toaster oven if we clear off counter space.
So the changes are simple enough – heat leftovers on the stovetop, plan supper and thaw the meat early, and make air-popped popcorn. Problem solved, right? For you, it might mean steaming vegetables on the stove, or heating milk in a hot water bath. Perhaps it even means bringing more raw food into your diet. I bet these changes aren’t as bad as you think!

So this is where the one month challenge comes in. Before we kick the microwave to the curb, I want to be sure we can 100% be without it, without MAJOR inconvenience. And I think you should give it a try too! It is just one month!
Here is the challenge, a month without the microwave, to see if this plan is going to work.

The Ditch Your Microwave rules:
1. Let us know, in the com
ments section, if you are in for the challenge
2. Put a “DO NOT USE” sign on the front of the microwave
3. Avoid the microwave whenever possible
4. Keep a list on the fridge for the times you give in and use it (this is not an easy out option!)
5. ABSOLUTELY NO PLASTIC in the microwave
6. Decide, after one month, if you can give the microwave the boot
7. Let us know how it goes! Are we crazy? Do you have a love/ hate relationship with your microwave too?
8. I will check back in at the end of May and let you know the outcome!

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Fresh Meat – Making Your Own Sausage

I may be an Eco-housewife, but I am no vegetarian. My husband once packed a lunch made up of chicken breast and farmer’s sausage. And some almonds. So suffice it to say he is a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy.
Last winter Colin made a small batch of sausage on his own, and loved the result. So this year I wanted to get my hands dirty and help with the process. Ok, Colin got his hands dirty and I cranked the sausage press. But he was the expert, so that only makes sense, right?!
In all honesty, making your own homemade sausage isn’t very complicated, it just takes some patience and the right tools. As in any “making it from scratch” venture, I love being able to control what goes in the food we eat, as well as the flavour.
I apologize in advance for some of the in-progress photos – raw meat just isn’t pretty!

We got started by cleaning up the kitchen so everything was sanitary and ready to go. Set yourself up with as much counter space as you can, it will just make life easier.
We got our spice and bread crumb mix from a local meat processing shop that carries great product and is very helpful, CTR Refrigeration. Their spice packets are also nice and clear on the ratios of meat and water so that you aren’t guesstimating. Who wants soggy sausage? They also carry natural and synthetic sausage casings. We got our casings soaking while we prepped everything else for the sausage. Keep in mind a little goes a long way with casing and you don’t want to be wasting it because you soaked the whole bag.

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This time around we used 60/40 mixture of beef and pork, to help increase the fat content and provide a nice texture. As gross as it may seem, the best way is to just get your hands (or your husband’s hands) in there and mix it all up. Colin mixed while I added the spice mix and water a little at a time.

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Then we packed the sausage stuffer with the mix. Our sausage stuffer holds five pounds of sausage; you can buy various different sizes depending on the volume of sausage you want to make. Then Colin threaded the casing onto the stuffing tube. I cranked the stuffer handle to remove any excess air, and then Colin tied a knot on the end of the casing.

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From here it is all pretty simple. I cranked the stuffer, Colin made sure the sausage didn’t fall off the counter, and told me when to slow down. And I kept expecting the casing to explode. Which it never did.
At this point you can do a large batch, or just crank out enough for a small batch of 4-6 sausage links.

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Once you have the length you need, cut off the casing a few inches past the end of the meat. Then decide the length you want each sausage link to be, and gently twist the casing about twice around. Start at one end, and always twist in the same direction. Try and twist twice to keep it from untwisting as you go along.

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This part can be tricky, but just keep at it. If you really hate twisting, the farmer sausage coil is an easy way out, and we chose it for one of our longer sections. These coils are great for throwing on the BBQ and slicing however you want once it is cooked.

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Just to shake things up and keep life interesting, we decided to smoke some of the sausage to give it a different flavour. We threw a few coils and links into the smoker with applewood chips (they aren’t as strong as some wood chips) and kept an eye on it for the next couple of hours. We wanted the smoky flavour but didn’t want to cook it through.
You can see the colour change the sausage goes through even with a short length of time in the smoker.

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From here, seal it up, throw it in the freezer, and enjoy! Who needs Oscar Meyer when you can make your own?

Nothing goes better with homemade farmer sausage than homemade perogies!

Nothing goes better with homemade farmer sausage than homemade perogies!

-This post was written by Aubrey

50 Shades of Grey Poupon OR Simple Homemade Mustard You Can Customize

Mustard is one of the easiest things you can make in your kitchen. I highly recommend it, as it is much tastier than anything you get at the grocery store and it’s so easy to play around with the ingredients.

There are a two different ways to make mustard (that I use) – you can use just the whole mustards seeds alone, or a combination of the seeds and powder. I prefer to use whole seeds but when I’m in a rush, I use the combo method. Using the whole seeds is the most “complicated” and my preferred method, so that will be the one we go through in detail but once you’ve got that down using the other method is easy and simple (and I will talk a bit about it).

So, there are only two basic ingredients needed to make mustard – Apple cider vinegar and mustard seeds. You could simply use just these two ingredients and make a beautiful, simple, slightly sweet mustard. But, it’s oh so easy to kick it up a bit. There are three types of mustard seeds as well, yellow, brown and black. Yellow being the mildest and black the spiciest. If you were using the black seeds (and maybe with the brown as well) I would soak the seeds overnight in water and then drain before starting your mustard just to cut down on some of the bitterness. So, here we go.
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Step 1
Mix your seeds and apple cider vinegar in equal quantities by volume (I used 1/2 cup of each) in a bowl. You can use a combination of different seeds or just one kind. I used yellow seeds as I’m just making a basic mustard here. You could substitute for a different type of vinegar but if it’s less than 5% acid I would use a bit more.
We also need to add a bit more liquid, about half of what you already added (so 1/4 cup for me). I used plain water, but the sky is kind of the limit here. Beer for a malty taste, white wine for a more dijon like mustard, red wine for a fruity taste, more apple cider vinegar for a sweeter mustard, the list goes on. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
Cover this up with plastic wrap and let it sit for 8-12 hours.
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Step 2
Once your mustard has finished sitting, it needs to be processed a little bit. You can use a food processor, blender, whatever you have on hand (or whatever works for the finished product your going for). I used my Magic Bullet. You can grind as little or as much as you want here. This would also be a great time to add any herbs, spices, sugar, honey, etc you want. I added just a pinch or two of kosher salt.
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Step 3
Once the desired consistency is reached, grab a clean jar (glass is best as mustard can sometimes take on a plastic like taste) and spoon it it. Mine made about 1 cup.
Now comes the hardest part. You have to let your mustard sit in the fridge for at least another 24 hours before you can eat it! I know! Well, you could eat it right away, but it will still be quite bitter. But you’re done. That’s it. Mustard made. Enjoy.
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Now, if you’re in a bit of a rush to get the mustard in the fridge or you’re just a bit lazy, you can use the other method which is even easier.
For the combo method you use a combination of seeds and powder. You usually want to use more powder than seeds (so for the previous recipe it would be about 1/4 cups seeds and 1/2 cup powder). Because you aren’t using as many whole seeds you can also use less vinegar, but you still need the same amount of liquid. For example, you could use only 1/4 vinegar and 1/2 cup water. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment!
Grind up the seeds just slightly. Mix all the ingredients together (liquid, seeds, powder, and any additions), put in a jar and pop in the fridge. You still have to wait the 24 hours to eat it though, sorry!
Mustard made at home can last up to a few months in the fridge, but if your house is anything like ours, it won’t need it!
– Written by Nicole

Sugar Alternatives: Stevia

Overall, I am not a fan of fake sugars (aspartame, sucralose, you name it). They are chemically produced or altered, and they give me migraines (never a good sign).
But I have a huge sweet tooth, accompanied by a desire to lose weight. And so begins my love affair with Stevia.
Stevia is a South American herb that has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years. The leaves of this small, green Stevia rebaudiana plant can be 30 times sweeter than sugar. It used to be found mostly in health food stores, but can now be found in packets at my local grocery store. If you want more options, head to your local health sotre – they will have stevia in many forms (powder, granule, tincture/liquid) and many more brands to choose from. I have been told the liquid form can have a slight licorice flavour, but I use the powdered form. It dissolves easily and can be mixed into almost anything for added sweetness.
Stevia has many excellent properties. The body does not metabolize the sweet glycosides from the stevia leaf or any of its processed forms – so there is no caloric intake. Stevia doesn’t adversely affect blood glucose levels and can therefore be used safely by diabetics.
Photo by Ethel Aardvark
I use stevia in my homemade frozen yogurt-and it works great! A few little packets sweetened as much as a cup of sugar!
It can’t be substituted in everything, as its texture is different from sugar. So meringues, icings, most cookies; anytime when sugar’s ability to stiffen and cream with butter is required-then I recommend using the real deal-sugar (unrefined when possible). Try it out in your coffee, on your (homemade) yogurt, anywhere you might be using aspartame or Splenda…
As the Canadian and USA governments slowly approve Stevia, you can now find it in place of artificial sweeteners in some mainstream brands. SoBe has a few of their drinks made with stevia, and the new 10Cal Vitamin water by Aquafina as has it. You’ll often see the brand Purevia or Truvia on the bottle as the stevia brand.
Of course, with any new item your are introducing into your diet, do your research on stevia. The Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans have used stevia in foods and soft drinks for many years as an alternative to the artificial sweeteners. The wide use of stevia has been without any apparent harmful effects.
In 2006, the World Health Organization evaluated stevia and found no evidence that its sweet compounds, stevioside and rebaudioside A, have any carcinogenic activity.  The most recent studies seem to suggest stevia is safe, but there is a lack of human research to determine long-term risks.
In my opinion, anything natural must be a better and healthier option than artificial, chemical sweeteners!
Thanks to http://www.stevia.com/http://www.vegetarian-nutrition.info/herbs/stevia.php and Wikipedia for some of the background info! Go to http://www.stevia.com/ for recipes, and to order some it if you find (GASP!) that your local grocery store doesn’t have it.
This article was written by Aubrey

Making Your Own Yogurt and Greek Yogurt

Many people are surprised when I tell them that I make my own yogurt. But in reality it is cheaper than you think, and much easier than you think!
What I love about making my own yogurt is that I can control what goes into it. I can sweeten it with sugar, honey or stevia. I can use fresh, organic fruit to flavour it.
To top it off, homemade yogurt is full of healthy bacteria!
Rather than using a thickener, I use a higher fat yogurt. Another option is to strain the yogurt (more on that below) to make a thicker, creamier Greek-style yogurt.
Some people use electric yogurt machines, but I choose to use the (much cheaper) Yogotherm yogurt maker. Really, all it does it insulate the yogurt as it ferments.
To make your first batch, you can use a yogurt starter, such as Yogourmet, shown below. After that, you can use your existing yogurt to start your next batch (much cheaper)!
The basics are as follows*:
1. Bring 1 litre of milk to it’s boiling point.
2. Allow to cool to 25 Celsius
3. Mix starter with a small amount of cooled milk until starter dissolves.
4. Mix that small amount of milk into the rest.
5. Pour into Yogotherm and leave at room temp for 12-18 hours.
6. Put finished yogurt in the fridge.
*Just in case, always follow the recipe on your starter, in case it differs from mine.
But see? It is so simple! And from this you can have your morning yogurt, yogurt smoothies, frozen yogurt…and the possibilities go on!
Greek Yogurt:
So, by now you might have tried making your own homemade yogurt. I hope you and your family have enjoyed it!
You probably noticed that your yogurt can have a tendency to separate, and the whey will float on top. That’s because your yogurt doesn’t have any additives to keep this from happening. Just stir it back into the yogurt – OR – strain it off and make some deliciously thick and creamy Greek yogurt!
I know this looks nasty-but it is perfectly normal!
Greek yogurt also takes some of that “sour” flavour out of your homemade yogurt. It is also better for cooking (tzatziki, yogurt-based curries, etc.), as it won’t “separate out” the way regular yogurt will. It also makes a much creamier frozen yogurt.
To make your Greek yogurt, place a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl. Line that sieve with coffee filters. Pour regular yogurt into the sieve.
All set up to strain the yogurt!
Pop the bowl in the yogurt for 3 hours or overnight, and the next day, the whey will have drained through to the bowl, and you will be left with Greek yogurt.
If you are in a rush, pour your yogurt into a clean, white tea towel, and squeeze out the excess whey before placing the tea towel into the sieve for an hour or two. Keep in mind-this is messier than the coffee filters!
Now for all you calorie counters out there, remember that your Greek yogurt is a concentrated version of your regular yogurt! But I find find Greek yogurt to be more filling, so it’s a decent trade-off.
Enjoy your homemade Greek yogurt!
*The Eco Housewives have not received any compensation or benefits from the companies mentioned in this article. Not that we would mind if we did…
Post written by Aubrey