Wild Card Wednesday: (How to) Sharpen your knives!

One of the first articles I posted was about one of THE most important kitchen tools…a good quality chef’s knife.  A brand new knife is amazing but, what happens when it starts to dull?  Not so amazing anymore.  Plus, a dull knife is actually more dangerous than a sharp knife because you end up having to use more pressure to cut through something, which inevitably sends food flying off the board and the knife chopping your fingers instead.

The good news is, quality knives are meant to be sharpened and it’s pretty easy to maintain a sharp edge.  And now-a-days, there are some very affordable products that do most of the work for you, quickly and painlessly.

Here’s what I recommend for your average home cook:

Manual (or hand-held) Sharpeners

There are 2 main types of manual sharpeners:

  • Those with slots containing various levels of (knife safe) abrasives inside.  The abrasive material removes small pieces of metal as you slide your knife through, reshaping the sharp edge.  The Chef’s Choice sharpener (seen below), uses diamond abrasives and is very versatile.  It can be used on European/American/Asian Style kitchen, sports or pocket knives.

Chef's Choice 4643 ProntoPro Angle Select Diamond Hone 3 Stage Manual Knife Sharpener

  • The second type of manual sharpener is like the MinoSharp version shown below.  It uses ceramic wheels and water to do the job.  It has 2 different levels of ceramic abrasives (in wheel form) to remove the excess metal. This goes one step further than your average manual sharpener and rinses the pieces of metal away with the water as you sharpen. I use one very similar to this one and love it.

MinoSharp 440/BR Ceramic Wheel Water Sharpener Plus, Black/Red

Electric Sharpeners

Electric sharpeners do the same thing as the manual ones. The difference is they are motorized so you hold the knife and let the abrasives do the work.  They work well, for the most part, but depending on the shape of your knife (namely, those with a large bolster), your knife may not fit properly and the knife can become unevenly sharpened.  Also, they cost quite a bit more than the manual versions.  If electric is what you want, Cooks Illustrated (the authority on all things tested and perfected) recommends the Chef’s Choice Trizor Edge shown below.

 

Sharpening Steel (a.k.a, the steel rod found in knife sets): This is actually NOT a sharpener. It’s purpose is to hone your knife.  WTF does that mean?  Think of if as a knife file.  It doesn’t remove metal from your knife (like a sharpener does).  It reshapes a dull edge, creating a smoother, straighter, sharper edge.  From my experience, this is mostly useful in a commercial kitchen or if you are using your knife to chop a lot, for a long period of time.  I personally don’t use mine.  I go straight to my sharpener when my knife dulls.

Side note: Some sharpeners are designed specifically for one type of knife over another (i.e. Asian vs. German vs. American) so just make sure you read the details before purchasing.

Lucky for me, the lovely folks at Cooks Illustrated, wrote THIS in-depth article about the different ways to sharpen and maintain your knives.  If you want to read more about it and see a video of how to hone your knife, check it out.

If properly maintained, good knives will last forever. “A sharp knife is a chef’s best friend”ancient proverb

Click HERE to buy the manual Chef’s Choice Pronto Pro Diamond Knife Sharpener

Click HERE to buy the manual MinoSharp Ceramic Wheel Water Sharpener Plus

Click HERE to buy the electric Chef’s Choice Trizor XV Edge Sharpener

 

Don’t-Get-Too-Wild Card Wednesday: Strawberry Vodka

When I imbibe, I prefer to keep it vodka.  I mean…simple.  Yes, I sound like a total boozer but I promise, I’m not.  Seen that one too many times.  I’m a vodka girl because sadly, most wine gives me a headache and while I really enjoy beer, I don’t enjoy beer bloat, burps and the overall heaviness I get from drinking multiple beers.  So, when only an adult beverage will do, I go for vodka with club soda and real fruit flavor like a lime or lemon wedge (I’m not a fan of the “naturally fruit flavored” varieties).

This particular experiment was inspired by an adventure with my besties.  One of my most favorite humans was visiting, we had a babysitter on duty, so out we headed to a local bar here in San Diego. Upon arrival, I ordered a fancy drink that featured vodka infused with fresh strawberries.  Oh yum.

I definitely enjoyed my fancy mixed drink, but after 1, I was done. I asked the bartender if I could just have the strawberry vodka mixed with soda water and he very graciously obliged. I immediately thought to myself, “Self, when you are sober, make this at home”.  And so, 6 months later, it’s berrypalooza and thus, Strawberry Vodka was born.

Please be forewarned.  You have to plan ahead and be patient.  Brewing time is at least 3 days.  My strawberries swam for 7 days.  But, it’s TOTALLY worth the wait.  See above pic.

Also, PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY.  It is vodka.

Wanna make some too?  Here’s how:

Step 1. Pour a 1 L bottle of vodka* into a 1 L glass jar or container that can be tightly sealed.

*Generally, lower quality vodka is recommended because you don’t need any special nuances (like floral notes, hints of fruit, etc.).  You want the strawberries to be the star of the show.  I opted for a slightly better than bottom of the barrel (no pun intended) because lets face it, low quality liquor=high quality headache.

2. Slice 1/2 a pound of strawberries, add them to the vodka and seal lid tightly.

3. Allow to infuse for 3-7 days.  The longer the better.  Give her a gentle shake once a day.

4. When ready to drink, strain over a fine mesh strainer.  Discard strawberries. Prepare glass (optional :))

img_6240

5. Pour your beautiful Strawberry Vodka back in the container (or another tightly seal-able glass container).

6. Enjoy over ice with club soda, add to your mimosa or try making a strawberry mule.  Oooo, you could even line the rim with sugar.  The possibilities are endless!

Wild Card Wednesday: 5 ways to improve your eating habits TODAY

Credit: @bexbex6


I am a firm believer in moderation.  Nothing is completely off-limits in my book.  BUT, if you are trying to maintain a healthy weight, lose weight and/or live an overall healthy lifestyle, there are some realistic steps you can take to help you get there and STAY there. And being healthy isn’t just about how much you weigh.  It’s about providing your body with the right fuel it needs to function and limiting the things that do the opposite.

These 5 tips will allow you to splurge more often, feel less guilt when you do and help you make more informed decisions when it comes to food, exercise and healthy living.

  1. Cook.  Yes, I know I sound like a broken record but seriously, it’s the best thing you can do for yourself.  It doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal.  It can be as simple as  throwing some chicken on the grill, roasting some veggies or scrambling some eggs (all of which require little more than oil, salt and pepper). If you eat at home, you are in control and portion sizes tend to be much more reasonable.  Conversely, if you eat out often, you are without-a-doubt getting far more calories, fat, and salt than you’d get in a homemade version of the same thing (even if you are cooking with butter, salt and/or sugar).  In particular, if you frequently go to chain restaurants (like Chili’s, Applebee’s, Cheesecake Factory, etc.) you can guarantee you’re getting 1,000+ calories and an entire day’s worth of sodium in just 1 entrée.
  2. Make small changes.  Think about your eating habits and where you could use improvement.  Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic expectations  like cutting entire food groups or swearing off sweets forever (unless you have a medical condition that requires such restrictions). Rather, limit your portions and choose healthier options.  For example, if you love cheese on your sandwich, slice it thin, opt for reduced-fat versions or if you are a frequent sandwich eater, like yours truly, add cheese every OTHER time.  Or, if you must have something sweet after dinner (again, yours truly), save premium ice cream for a special occasion and opt for a small piece of good quality dark chocolate or frozen yogurt. Baby steps people, baby steps.
  3. Read nutrition labels.  You don’t have to be calorie conscious to read labels.  And don’t assume because the front of the label makes health claims like “made with whole grain” or “reduced fat” it’s a slam dunk.  Food companies are smart.  They OFTEN sneak in extra sugar, salt, fillers and other not-so-great ingredients to compensate for the “healthy” upgrades.  And, there are often artificial sweeteners and dyes in products that you would never expect.  For example, did you know that many jarred pickles have artificial dye in them?  Same with Life cereal. Or that whole wheat versions of some English muffins have artificial sweeteners (probably to make it appear healthier)?  Again, these things won’t kill you in moderation but you would NEVER know it’s in there without reading the label.  And, especially now-a-days, when there are SO many food companies competing for your business, it’s so important to be pro-active and read the label before you decide what to purchase.
  4. Move.  You don’t have to kill yourself for hours at the gym, run a marathon or become the next beach body. Though, serious kudos to those who have the time and energy for that.  But, if you are like me, with little time for exercise (unless I wake up at 5 am or work out at 9 pm, both of which aren’t gonna happen) you have to  take any opportunity you’ve got to get up and move.  Aim for at least a 20-30 of moderate exercise, 5 days a week.  If you can do more, by all means, do it.  And if you are trying to loose weight, you will need to increase the intensity and time.  If you sit at a desk all day, set a timer and get up and walk around at least 1 time an hour.
  5. Don’t starve yourself.  Skipping meals can reek havoc on your metabolism.  If it’s not busy digesting food, it starts to slow down.  Which, if your trying to loose weight, is the exact opposite you want to happen.  Not to mention, you are way more likely to make poor decisions at the next meal time, your energy level is low, it’s harder to concentrate AND you’ll probably loose friends because you’re always hangry.  If you are constantly on the go, make sure you keep healthy snacks nearby.  HERE are some of my favorite snacks I like to grab on my way out.

Getting to a healthier you is not limited to these 5 things but you’ve got to start somewhere. Try skipping the quick fix fad diets and incorporate more realistic changes into your daily life.  Change takes time but if you stay patient, keep your eye on the prize and respect your body (after all, it’s the only one we’ve got), you’ll be one step closer to reaching your goals.

Go you! ♥

Wild Card Wednesday: HipS Sister

Because it’s Wild Card Wednesday, I decided to step out of food and into exercise. In order to live a healthy lifestyle, it’s just as important to remain active as it is to eat healthfully.  And being active is different for everyone.  Some bust their tush, workout everyday and rock a hard bod.  While some are lucky to get in a daily walk or their “10,000 steps” cleaning the house.  Whatever your form of activity is THIS HipsSister  belt is Generation X-tra Cool’s must-have hands free belt.

I love it because it’s super stretchy, comfortable and discreet. Plus, it’s fashionable enough to wear out on those occasions you don’t want to carry a purse or backpack.  It’s got 1 large pocket in the front and 1 in the back, which is perfect for keys, a cell phone, credit cards, other pocket size items.

Order your sweet belt HERE and “Keep your essentials safely by your side with fashion and flare.”  (Hint: Perfect Mother’s Day gift)

 

Wild Card Wednesday: Club soda. Seltzer. Mineral water. What in the world’s the difference?

15894335_1419857698027432_5076929991850871886_n

Ever wondered what the difference is between seltzer, club soda and sparkling mineral water?  I have so I thought, I bet you have too. So when the Tasting Table posted THIS article about it, I was all ears.  Or…eyes.

The good news is, they all pair well with vodka (my liquor of choice), though a good mineral water is best left alone or with a fresh squeeze of lemon or lime.

I love bubbly water because you get the bubbles without all the other junk that’s in soda.  (Though I do enjoy an occasional soda with spicy food).  It’s also a perfect base for creating your own “natural” sodas (stay tuned for this “Sundays with Samantha” post).

So, without further ado, HERE is the link.  Enjoy.  Learn something new.  It’s good for your brain.

 

Wild Card Wednesday: MUST WATCH Ted-Ed video on how what you eat affects your brain

THIS great Ted Ed video reminds you how much your diet affects mood, energy and brain health.  A very important reminder to eat a balanced diet and that (healthy) carbohydrates and fats are your friend.

 

Wild Card Wednesday: Instead of eating less, cook more–New York Times Food

fullsizerender16

I know, I know. I sound like a broken record but seriously, cooking at home is arguably the best thing you can do for you and your family’s health.  And, it doesn’t need to be fancy shmancy meals that take an hour to prepare.  It can be as simple as adding your own toppings to a pre-made pizza dough or flat bread, scrambling some eggs or building your own burritos. (Just don’t forget to serve some veggies or fruit on the side.)  If you choose to go out to eat more often than not, you are without-a-doubt getting far more calories, fat, and salt than you’d get in a homemade version of the same thing.  Not to mention, you are spending a lot more money.

Here are some easy, quick meal ideas, beyond pasta, to remind you that cooking at home doesn’t have to be complicated:

Burritos or burrito bowls: Canned beans, cheese, seasoned brown rice, salsa (or fresh tomatoes and onions), avocado or guacamole.  Feel free to add roasted veggies, chicken or steak. Or, go breakfast and make eggs, uncured bacon or sausage, potatoes, cheese, avocado and salsa.  Serve with fresh fruit or raw veggies.

Build your own pizzas: Top pre-made pizza dough, English muffins, bagels or baguettes with your favorite toppings.  I recommend upgrading your pizza base to a whole grain version.  Serve with a green salad or veggies and dip.

Burgers (turkey, veggie, chicken, or beef): Throw your patties (if you’re making beef, opt for 93% lean) on the grill or in a skillet.  Put them on a whole grain bun, top with red onion, lettuce, and tomatoes.  Serve a salad, corn on the cob, grilled veggies or baked sweet potato fries on the side.

Breakfast for dinner:  Scramble some eggs with veggies, mix up some whole grain pancake batter (I like this Kodiak Cakes variety), or make your own french toast with whole wheat bread.  Serve a bowl of fresh fruit alongside.

Soup and grilled cheese:  Make your own soup, get some fresh from your local grocery store, or check out the lower sodium varieties in a box.  Serve it alongside grilled cheese made with whole grain bread and raw veggies (with dip, if desired).

Chicken and veggies on the barbie: Before you head off for the day, put boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs in a large Ziploc bag and let ‘er marinade all day.  When you’re ready to cook, toss some chopped veggies with a little olive oil, salt and fresh pepper, put both the chicken and veggies on a BBQ-safe grill pan and dinner is ready in less than 20 minutes.  Not grill season?  Roast it in the oven or use an indoor grill pan.

Fish or shellfish (stove-top or oven): Fish and shellfish cook super fast and if you get a fresh piece of fish, it doesn’t need much in the way of seasoning.  And shrimp is awesome because you buy it frozen, it defrosts in about 10 minutes and cooks in less time than that (an average fish fillet cooks in about 6-10 minutes). This Teriyaki Salmon from the Skinnytaste blog is one of my favorite fish recipes.  And if you are craving sushi, you MUST try this Spicy California Shrimp Stack.

Don’t fret. I will continually post my recipes or recipes I love that fall into these “quick meal” categories.  So stay tuned and come back often!