Category: DIY

Green Tomatoes Not Just for the Frying Pan

Perhaps in part due to the popular 1991 film “Fried Green Tomatoes,” many people are familiar with the Southern United States side dish of the same name. But as proven by the following recipe for “Grilled Green Tomato ‘Sandwiches’ with Herbed Cream Cheese” from Karen Adler and Judith Fertig’s “The Gardener & The Grill” (Running Press), green tomatoes can be even more delicious when grilled than they are when fried.

Grilled Green Tomato “Sandwiches” with Herbed Cream Cheese (Serves 6)

Herbed Cream Cheese

1 8-ounce package cream cheese at room temperature
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives

Tomatoes

4 large green tomatoes (about 11/2 pounds), sliced 3/4-inch thick (to make 12 slices)

Olive oil, for brushing

2 teaspoons Seasoning Salt (see below) or kosher salt

Ground black pepper

Prepare a medium-hot fire in your grill. Place a well-oiled perforated grill rack over direct heat.

In a bowl, blend the cream cheese, garlic, basil, and chives together until smooth. Set aside.

Brush the tomato slices with olive oil on both sides and season with seasoning salt and pepper. Place the slices on a baking sheet and bring out to the grill with the bowl of Herbed Cream Cheese and a knife for spreading.

Grill all of the tomatoes on one side for about 3 minutes with the lid open, then flip and grill on the other side for 3 minutes more, or until the tomatoes have good grill marks.

Remove the tomato slices from the grill and allow to cool slightly on the baking sheet. Spread Herbed Cream Cheese on half of the slices, top with a second slice and set the sandwiches on a platter. Serve the sandwiches hot, with oozing cream cheese filling.

Variation: Grill all of the tomato slices as above and top each grilled tomato with a dollop of the cream cheese and serve open-faced.

Seasoning Salt (Makes 11/4 cups)

1 cup sea salt
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried chives
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon red pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a glass jar and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Shake to blend. This keeps for several months in the pantry.

Impress Guests With Homemade Salsa At Your Next Soirée

Gatherings of family and friends are better with food, and few foods are more universally beloved than salsa! Whether they’re hosting a gathering for the big game or a celebration of Hispanic culture and cuisine, hosts who want to go the extra mile can forgo store-bought salsa for the following homemade recipe for “Warm Black Bean Salsa” courtesy of Judith Finlayson’s “The Health Slow Cooker: 135 Gluten-Free Recipes for Health and Wellness” (Robert Rose).

Warm Black Bean Salsa (Makes about 3 cups)

2 cups cooked black beans, drained, rinsed and mashed (see tip 1 below)
1 cup diced tomatoes (see tip 2 below)
4 green onions, finely chopped
2 roasted peppers (poblano or sweet), peeled and diced
1 roasted jalapeño, seeded and diced, or 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon puréed garlic (see tip 3 below)
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 cups shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves

Finely chopped green onions

1. In slow cooker stoneware, combine beans, tomatoes, green onions, poblano, jalapeño peppers, garlic, lime zest and juice, and cheese. Stir well. Cover and cook on high for 11/2 hours, until mixture is hot and bubbly. Stir in cilantro, sprinkle with green onions, if using, and serve.

Tips

1. Use 14- to 19-ounce can of no-salt-added beans, drained. Or cook dried beans yourself (see below).
2. For convenience, substitute 1 cup drained no-salt-added diced canned tomatoes.
3. To purée garlic, use a sharp-toothed grater.

Basic Beans (Makes approximately 2 cups)

1 cup dried white beans (see tip below)
3 cups water

Garlic (optional)
Bay leaves (optional)
Bouquet garni (optional)

1. Long soak: In a bowl, combine beans and water. Soak for at least 6 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Beans are now ready for cooking.
2. Quick soak: In a pot, combine beans and water. Boil for 3 minutes. Turn off heat and soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse thoroughly under cold water. Beans are now ready to cook.
3. Cooking: In slow cooker stoneware, combine 1 cup presoaked beans and 3 cups fresh cold water. If desired, season with garlic, bay leaves or a bouquet garni made from your favorite herbs tied together in a cheesecloth. Cover and cook on low for 10 to 12 hours or overnight or on high for 5 to 6 hours, until beans are tender. Drain and rinse. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate. The beans are now ready for use.

Tip: If you have difficulty digesting legumes, add 2 teaspoons cider vinegar or lemon juice to the water when soaking dried beans.

Inexpensive Ways to Boost a Home’s Curb Appeal

Curb appeal can go a long way toward making a home more attractive to its inhabitants as well as prospective buyers once the house is put on the market. Improving curb appeal is a goal for many homeowners, and while many projects aimed at making homes more aesthetically appealing can be costly, there are ways for cost-conscious homeowners to improve their properties without breaking the bank.

· Put your green thumb to use. A well-maintained landscape can dramatically improve a home’s curb appeal. Pay attention to the plants, shrubs and trees throughout your property, watering them during periods of little rainfall and trimming them when necessary so your lawn does not look like an overgrown, neglected suburban jungle. Professional landscaping services can help you maintain your property, but even if your budget does not allow for such an expense, you can still make sure your landscape adds to your home’s appeal by keeping a watchful eye on the property and addressing any issues that arise. Maintain your lawn through the colder months of the year as well, making sure no one walks on the grass when frost has settled, as doing so can produce dead spots throughout the lawn.

· Redo your front door. While their eyes may initially be drawn to a well-manicured lawn, prospective buyers will eventually find their way to the front door. If your door is especially old, consider replacing it. If your budget does not allow for such an expense, you can still give your home’s front entrance an entirely new look by installing some inexpensive molding around the door before giving the door a fresh coat of paint. Molding around the front door can make an entrance more impressive, while a new coat of paint can make a home feel warmer and more vibrant.

· Plant flowers. Another inexpensive way to make a home more appealing is to plant some colorful flowers around the property. Line walkways with flowers native to your region, as such plants will last longer than exotic alternatives that may not be capable of adapting to the local climate. In addition to lining walkways, hang window boxes filled with colorful flowers or plants outside naked windows. Doing so can make windows seem larger and add some color to your home’s exterior.

Another creative way to make use of colorful flowers is to place a few planters at the foot of your driveway and painting the numbers of your address on the planters. This can be both effortless and inexpensive, but it can instantly make a home more inviting to prospective buyers.

· Spotlight certain parts of your property. Many homeowners focus on improving the curb appeal of their property during the daytime hours, but you can take steps to make a home more appealing at night as well. Solar spotlights placed around trees and other attractive features in your yard can shed light on those areas of your property you’re most proud of, even after the sun has gone down. Solar spotlights won’t add to your energy bill, as they are powered by the sun, and they can make certain accents on your property stand out at night.

Improving curb appeal may sound like a significant undertaking, but there are many ways budget-conscious homeowners can make their home’s exterior more appealing without going broke.

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Maple Pecan Scone Recipe

Scones make an ideal companion to a morning cup of coffee or tea. Simple and delicious, this recipe for “Maple Pecan Scones” from Linda Collister’s “Quick Breads” (Ryland, Peters & Small) is ideal for scone lovers who want something quick to make in the morning.

Maple Pecan Scones

Serves 6

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

A good pinch of salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes

1 cup pecan pieces

1 extra-large egg

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

About 3 tablespoons milk

1 greased baking sheet

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub it in with the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Mix in the pecans.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg with maple syrup and 1 tablespoon of the milk. Stir into the flour mixture with a round-bladed knife to make a soft, coarse-looking dough. If the dough is dry and crumbly and won’t stick together, stir in more milk 1 tablespoon at a time. If the dough is very wet and sticky, work in another tablespoon of flour.

Tip out the dough onto a work surface lightly dusted with flour and gently work it with your hands for a few seconds so it looks smoother. Put the dough ball onto the prepared baking sheet. Dip your fingers in flour and pat out the dough to a round about 11/4 inches thick and 7 inches across. Using a knife, cut the round into 6 wedges, but do not separate the dough before baking.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until light golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and leave until the wedges are cool enough to separate. Serve warm the same day. The cooled scones can be wrapped tightly and frozen for up to 1 month.

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A Family Meal that Packs a Light, Flavorful Punch

Many people aspire to eat light meals that satisfy hunger pangs without creating feelings of fullness. Some may assume light meals must be lacking flavor, but the following recipe for “Silken Chicken” from Madhur Jaffrey’s “Quick & Easy Indian Cooking” (Chronicle Books) is light and packs that familiar flavorful punch that endears Indian cuisine to millions of people across the globe.

Silken Chicken

Serves 2 to 4

For marinating the chicken:

4 boned, skinned chicken breast halves (about 11/4 pounds)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon homemade garam masala (see below)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds (see below)

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed to a pulp

1/2 teaspoon peeled, finely grated fresh ginger

For sprinkling over the chicken:

Salt as needed

Freshly ground black pepper

A little homemade garam masala

A little ground roasted cumin seed

A little cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon dried mint flakes

Generous squeezes of fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to its highest temperature and arrange a shelf in the top third of the oven.

Cut 3 diagonal slits across the top of each piece of chicken breast, being careful not to cut all the way through and also not to go to the edge. Prick the chicken pieces with the sharp point of a small knife. Put them in a single layer in a large baking dish and rub both sides with the salt and lemon juice. Leave for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the cream with the garam masala, cayenne, cumin seeds, paprika, garlic, and ginger in a bowl. Stir this mixture well and pour it over the chicken. Rub it into the meat and leave for 10 minutes.

Lift the chicken pieces up (most of the marinade will cling to them) and place them down in a single layer in a shallow baking pan lined with aluminum foil. On top of each, sprinkle a little salt, black pepper, garam masala, ground roasted cumin seed, cayenne, dried mint, and lemon juice. Put into the top third of the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until the chicken is just white all the way through. Serve immediately, minted side up.

Garam Masala

1 tablespoon cardamom seeds

1 2-inch cinnamon stick

1/3 of one nutmeg

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon black cumin seeds

1 teaspoon whole cloves

Place ingredients into a clean coffee or spice grinder and ground to a powder.

To make ground roasted cumin seeds:

Put 4 to 5 tablespoons of the whole seeds into a small cast-iron frying pan and set over medium heat. Stir the seeds and roast them over dry heat until they turn a few shades darker and emit a wonderful roasted aroma. Wait for them to cool slightly and then grind them in a clean coffee or spice grinder. Store in a tightly closed jar.

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Get The Facts On Life Insurance Policies

Few people want to face their own mortality when they are in the prime of their lives. However, thinking ahead and making advanced plans can save family members considerable heartache.

Life insurance policies can help men and women make things easier for their spouses, children or siblings. Life insurance provides financial security in the event of a person’s death. Such insurance is a key element of estate planning and something all adults must consider.

It’s smart to purchase life insurance at a relatively young age because the cost can be lower. Some people put off the process because it can be overwhelming. But Forbes magazine advises that once a person does a little research and learns the terminology associated with life insurance, choosing a policy is not so difficult.

Determine the amount of insurance you will need.

Make a list of expected expenses after you pass away. These may include any residual mortgage payments, school tuitions, automotive payments, or funeral expenses. In addition, approximate how much your family will need to live comfortably in your absence. Online calculators can help determine life insurance coverage needs. The New York Life Insurance Company says a quick way to figure out how much coverage you may need is to take your annual salary and multiply it by eight.

Decide on the type of policy.

Life insurance policies come in two broad categories: term and whole life. Term life insurance may be less expensive upfront, as it only provides coverage for a set number of years. It will only pay out if the policy holder dies during this “term.” Whole life insurance, also called “cash value,” usually costs more, but accumulates a cash value that can be borrowed against, and it pays out whenever a person passes away.

Choose among reputable companies.

You want to ensure the life insurance company you pick will be around for years and has a strong reputation, so give ample consideration to each company you explore before making a final decision.

Know the waiting period.

Many policies establish a period of time on policies wherein there is very little cash-out value and the company will not pay out the full death benefit. This may be a year or two after opening the policy. Discuss this information with the insurance agent.

Life insurance can be a smart financial choice, helping men and women rest easy that their families will want for nothing in the wake of their deaths.

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How Homeowners Can Pitch In And Save Money

Home improvement projects can be expensive. While the size and complexity of a project will affect how expensive the project is, homeowners can expect to shell out a pretty penny when they renovate or remodel areas of their home.

According to HomeAdvisor, an online resource for homeowners looking to connect with home improvement, maintenance and repair professionals, the average bathroom remodeling project costs $9,348, while the average home addition costs slightly less than $41,000. But renovation-minded homeowners need not reconsider their commitment to remodeling, as there are various ways to cut the costs associated with home improvement projects.

One such way is for homeowners to pitch in and do some of the work themselves. Calculating labor costs can be difficult, as such costs can vary greatly depending on the project, the contractor and the amount of hired help that contractor intends to employ. However, some estimates suggest labor will account for anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of the overall cost of the project. So it’s no surprise that homeowners can save themselves substantial amounts of money by doing some of the work themselves.

Homeowners who intend to do some of the labor themselves should discuss this plan with contractors during the vetting process. Before hiring a contractor, make sure homeowners’ expected labor contributions are clearly defined in the contract.

While it’s best to leave the most complicated parts of a project to the professionals, homeowners can pitch in during the following phases:

DEMOLITION

Demolition involves more than picking up a sledgehammer and swinging away. Some demolition projects are best left to the pros. For example, any projects that involve exposure to hazardous materials are risky and therefore best left to experienced laborers. However, many homeowners are capable of safely and effectively pulling cabinets from walls, removing flooring or knocking down drywall. Homeowners unsure of how to approach demolition tasks can ask their contractors to demonstrate the proper technique so the demolition is done right and on time.

SALVAGE

Removing debris and items that will no longer be needed once the renovation is complete is another way homeowners can pitch in. Homeowners remodeling their kitchens may be replacing their existing stoves and refrigerators and hoping to donate these items. In such instances, driving the items to the donation site or arranging for them to be picked up rather than taken off the premises by the contractor or his employees can cut labor costs, as it allows laborers to keep working toward the end goal rather than requiring them to leave the work site to drop unwanted items off.

CLEANUP

Homeowners also can save costs by cleaning up after the contractors at the end of each workday. Speak with the contractor about cleaning up the site each day, asking him or her what can be discarded and what must remain on-site.

Home improvements are costly. But homeowners who are capable of pitching in can greatly reduce the overall cost of their next renovation project.

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Give Boring Lunches a Big Boost

Lunch might not be the most exciting meal of the day, and conventional wisdom might not suggest it’s the most important meal. But that does not mean lunch has to be boring.

For those who tend to lean on sandwiches for their midday meals, straying from the sandwich norm can provide some variety and flavor. The following recipe for “Warm Tandoori Chicken Wraps” from Vicki Liley’s “Asian Wraps & Rolls” (Periplus) can make for a unique lunch for the whole family or even serve as an easily prepared dinner.

Warm Tandoori Chicken Wraps

Makes 6 wraps

1/3 cup plain tandoori paste

2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup plain yogurt

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

12 chicken tenderloin fillets or 3 skinless, boneless chicken breast fillets

2 carrots, peeled

1 English (hothouse) cucumber, halved and seeded

6 pieces naan

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

Leaves from 6 fresh mint sprigs, plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

In a small bowl, combine tandoori paste, 2 tablespoons yogurt, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Put chicken in a baking dish. Pour tandoori mixture over and stir until chicken is coated. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Light a fire in a charcoal grill or heat a grill pan. Brush grill or pan lightly with oil. Cook chicken for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until juices run clear when pierced with a skewer. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut each tenderloin into 2 long strips (if using chicken breast fillets, slice each fillet into 4 long strips).

Using a vegetable peeler, cut carrot and cucumber into thin ribbons. To heat naan, follow instructions on packet. In a small bowl, stir 1/2 cup yogurt, garlic and chopped mint together.

Place naan on a work surface. Divide chicken, cucumber, carrot, and mint leaves among naan. Drizzle with yogurt mixture. Wrap the naan around filling and serve immediately.

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Problems That Can Lead to Lawn Damage

A beautiful lawn is a goal for many homeowners. Some homeowners may find that lovely lawns may last momentarily, only to disappear when damage – be it pest-, weather- or child-related – sets in.

While well-established turf can be resilient, even the most well-maintained lawns can be vulnerable. Preventing lawn damage first involves getting to the root of the problem.

· Lack of sunlight: All plants need the proper ratio of sunlight to grow. Too much sunlight and plant blades can scorch. Too little sunlight and grass may turn brown and die. Although there are shade-tolerant varieties of grass, homeowners also can explore alternative landscapes. Work in a garden bed or create a design that utilizes gravel or mulch. Avoid aggressively pruning back trees to give the lawn more sunlight in that area, as this may just damage the trees.

· Chemical spills: Gasoline and fertilizer spills and pesticide applications in high concentrations can cause the lawn to yellow or brown in spots. Carefully refill lawn gas tanks and fertilizer spreaders on the sidewalk or driveway to avoid overflow onto the lawn. If spills occur, flood the area promptly with water to dilute.

· Foot traffic: Lawns can take a pounding from foot traffic, leading to compaction and spots of dead lawn. Try to redirect the traffic elsewhere to give worn down areas a break. Aeration can relieve soil compaction. If a certain area has become the de facto pathway, install a paver, gravel or concrete walkway in that spot.

· Debris: Leaving a tool, kids’ toys, piece of wood, or any debris on the lawn can quickly suffocate the grass beneath and cause the lawn to die quickly. Make sure that no items are left on the lawn for an extended period of time.

· Mowing patterns: Running the mower in the same pattern over and over can cause ruts in the grass that lead to damage, so avoid mowing in the same direction on consecutive cuts. Avoid mowing on very hot days or when the lawn is soggy. Both can cause tracks to form in the lawn.

· Mowers: Dull lawn mower blades can damage lawns, as can mowing too fast. Grass blades can be torn, snapped and more, resulting in brown spots.

· Wildlife: Animals and insects can destroy turf roots. Animals or insects may feed on the grass from underneath its surface, compromising the lawn’s ability to procure nutrients and water. Animals like moles or raccoons may feed on grubs in the lawn, and treating for grubs can alleviate torn-up turf.

Lawns can be hearty, but they’re also highly susceptible to damage. Even seemingly harmless things can compromise the integrity of a lawn. Understanding the causes of lawn damage can help homeowners protect their lawns.

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Stay Safe When Landscaping

Landscaping is typically viewed as a chore by homeowners, many of who enjoy doing some work on their lawns and gardens. But only few homeowners may recognize the potential dangers of lawn maintenance.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that more than 230,000 people per year are treated for various injuries resulting from lawn and garden tools. Common injuries include loss of fingers, lacerations, broken and dislocated bones, eye injuries, and burns. Many of these injuries are entirely preventable if homeowners prioritize safety when tending to their lawns and gardens.

Understand the equipment

Homeowners should not assume they know how to use all of the tools necessary to maintain lush lawns and bountiful gardens. Familiarize yourself with the proper operation of manual and motorized equipment by reading the owner’s manual thoroughly, making special note of recommended safety guidelines.

Take some time to locate the power buttons and other parts by comparing them to illustrations in the guide. Once you feel comfortable handling the equipment, then you can begin to use it.

Wear appropriate protective gear

Failure to wear protective gear can lead to injury. Personal protective equipment includes gloves, eye protection, ear protection, boots, and a hard hat if necessary. When working during visibility conditions or at night, wear a reflective vest.

Other protective items include a hat to shade your eyes from the sun’s rays. Sunscreen will protect the skin from UVA and UVB radiation. Long pants and sleeves can guard against flying debris.

Watch your surroundings

Thousands of injuries occur to children and pets who get hurt around mowers. It’s best if children and pets remain indoors when homeowners are mowing or using other power equipment that may kick up debris. Children under the age of 12 may not have the strength or ability to operate lawn tools. Also, never make a game of riding a child on a riding mower. Nobody under the age of 16 should operate riding lawn mowers.

Get approval before digging

It’s difficult to know what is beneath the ground without having a property surveyed and marked. Digging without approval can result in damage to gas lines or water/sewer pipes. Always check with the utility company before digging trenches or holes.

Unplug or turn off all equipment

When not in use, keep lawn equipment off. Do not try to repair or fix a snag or obstruction in equipment while it is on. Don’t modify the equipment in any way, such as removing protective guards.

Exercise caution with chemicals

Follow manufacturers’ safety instructions when using pesticides or fertilizers. Avoid application on windy days or right before a rainstorm, as this can spread the product and damage the ecosystem. Keep people and pets away from treated areas.

Maintaining the yard is both a necessity and a hobby. Homeowners who prioritize safety can greatly reduce their risk of injury.