The Vinegar Trick and Some Magic

Hi, folks. Been a while!

I decided to update this thing because I have discovered a really cool trick to help keep dishwashers (and your dishes) from smelling funky, and it’s too good not to share with the tens of readers who follow this blog. (And just a quick note, everything here is solely my personal opinion and I was not asked to plug any specific product.)

You know how your dishes can be “clean” right from the dishwasher but they smell disgusting? Like someone blow-dried on some nasty invisible funk smell? Well, that wet dog, “earthworm” smell indicates that your dishwasher itself needs a really thorough cleansing in the crevices you can’t reach. Think about if you dipped your toothbrush in the toilet–you wouldn’t want to put it back in your mouth, right? Well, that odor tells you that your dishes have gone in the toilet.

Okay, now that we’re all grossed out, I’m going to recommend a product called Dishwasher Magic.

dishwasher-magic

That stuff is the bees’ knees. We use it every 3-6 months in our household to clean the mechanisms in the dishwasher which do the actual cleaning of the dishes. It not only gets rid of calcium buildup but it disinfects; it claims to get rid of both salmonella and e.coli. That’s a winner right there.

But the second thing you can do, and the trick that inspired this post, is to use good old-fashioned white distilled vinegar as an in-between rinse. I do two things with this: I fill the rinse-aid container with vinegar instead of Jet Dry, which helps with spots and overall cleanliness; I also use a “vinegar rinse” every few cycles (or when I start to smell funk) and pair it with the light or delicate cycle. What that means is, I take a tall glass and fill it halfway with white distilled vinegar, place it securely on the bottom rack where it sits flat, and turn the dishwasher on the delicate cycle.

That’s it!

Seriously, that’s all it takes. I’ve even tested it by putting some “clean” dishes that smell like wet dog in the upper rack of the dishwasher with the cup of vinegar sitting on the bottom, and they come out smelling fresh (read: like clean glass and nothing else).

It saves your sanity, a little money, and you don’t have to actually scrub out the dishwasher itself.

It seriously works and, if you’re like me who has strong smell aversions, you will want to start doing this right away.

Hope this helps anyone out there who is washing everything by hand because the inside of the dishwasher smells like a garbage heap. Let me know if you try the Dishwasher Magic or the vinegar trick and what you think!

 

Lit’rally the Best Brownies Ever

Brownies_zoesays

Hello, lovely readers!

We’ve been having gorgeous weather lately and last weekend, it was wonderful to throw open all the windows and let in fresh air, sunshine, and the sounds of birds chirping. For some reason, the pacifying gorgeous weather struck a baking chord within me. (I bet you were wondering how I would segue into brownies from pretty weather, huh?)

So, let’s get to the meat of things–or the chocolate of things, as the case may be.

I know there are a gazillion recipes out there for brownies. I mean, if you type in “brownies” on Pinterest, your Pinterest will hang for five minutes while it tries to deliver the search results.

A good friend of mine and I had a discussion about this treat not too long ago, which ended up being the catalyst for my search. I have yet to find a brownie at any bakery in my town that is what I dub a “Zoe brownie.” Frankly, it’s been a long while since I’ve consumed a brownie in a commercial or retail setting that was memorable.

Probably not a shock to those who know me but I am very picky about how brownies should look and taste.

My opinion is that they should be rich, not too sweet, very chocolatey, dense, chewy on the edges, and have nothing to distract from these qualities, e.g. nuts, peanut butter, chips, icing, etc.

When I conducted my aforementioned Pinterest search, the results returned were all brownie recipes that had a whole bunch of stuff on or in them. So I scrapped that, went back to good old Google, and narrowed my findings down to four solid looking recipes. After reading through them, I was able to narrow down the possible winners to two, both of which claimed to be the BEST brownies.

It then came down to ingredients and preparation. Based on that, I decided to go with one posted on Cravings of a Lunatic, entitled, “The Best Brownies in the WORLD!!!” I was ready and willing to prove whether this claim was, in fact, true.

Well.

There’s only one thing I have to say about that. Using the inflection of Chris Traeger’s character from Parks and Rec, I can say with no exaggeration that they were LIT’RALLY? the best brownies I’ve ever had. I have no idea how the original author came up with this outstanding recipe, but it is nothing short of divine.

Here is the ingredients list and also my very minor tweaks in parentheses. (Please note that these amounts will yield a double batch, which fits into one 9×13 pan of brownies. A single batch is meant to go in an 8×8 pan but honestly, do yourself a favor and make the double batch.)

  • Two sticks of butter (I did one stick of unsalted and one stick of salted)
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (We happened to have Scharffen Berger 99% unsweetened dark chocolate on hand.)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten (Really beat the eggs with a fork–get the stress out!)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla salt (you can use regular salt for this–I used fine sea salt)

Here are the easy peasy lemon squeezy preparation instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Line your pan with parchment paper. (I used Kim’s tip to wet the parchment paper to get it to stick to the pan.)
  • Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate together over medium heat in a medium saucepan; I strongly suggest using a double boiler. (Kim suggests a wooden spoon–I recommend a rubber spatula for most of this process.)
  • Remove from heat and add the sugar. Stir well.
  • Now add your eggs and vanilla, stirring until it’s smooth. (Here is where you may want to switch out your rubber spatula for a minute and use a whisk.)
  • Add chocolate chips, flour, and salt. Stir until well blended. (Back to the rubber spatula we go.)
  • Pour into pan and place in oven. (Tapping the pan on the counter to settle the batter works and pops any lingering bubbles.)
  • Bake for 35-45 minutes, toothpick inserted should come out clean (or mostly clean) when done.
  • Remove and cool on a rack.
  • Serve and consume!

These brownies taste unbelievable after cooling a bit but are still warm, with or without a scoop of ice cream. They definitely require milk or coffee to accompany them.

They also keep! Boxed brownies, while they can bake up decently, usually just taste like hardened chemicals the next day, which makes me gag.

Not these babies. Granted, they don’t last very long because you can’t believe how good they smell and taste, and so you and your family eat them pretty quickly, but they DO keep. Breakfast, snacks, dessert, just because, whatever. If you’re a gym goer or don’t indulge often, I promise it’s worth the extra gym session or having a cheat.

These brownies are super rich and chocolatey, moist, fudgey, smell like a chocolate shop and everything good in the world, and come out of the oven with a delicious glossy crust. The edges are perfectly chewy and add a lovely bit of texture.

Make some for your office mates and share if you don’t want to end up eating half a pan of these sinful things.

What’s a blog post about brownies without photos? Here are a handful. I honestly didn’t get a lot because we pounced on them like rabid hyenas.

It goes without saying but here it is anyway: this is totally a Zoe Recommends!

 

Dark ChocolateChopped Chocolate Brownie pan

 

Brownies 2_zoesays

 

Year One of Not Owning a Microwave

retro microwave-1

I am not a “hipster.” I am not “retro.” And I’m not one of those people who can make doing things that aren’t mainstream look cool.

That said, I would like to tell you the story of how we came to get rid of our microwave and the ensuing results.

A year ago, we moved. We downsized from a very nicely sized kitchen to a small apartment kitchen, where it took real creative genius to figure out how to fit everything into the cupboards.

One of the most arduous challenges we had on our hands was prioritizing which appliances would sit out on the very limited real estate of counter top. Anything heavy or bulky wasn’t going to be able to go anywhere, and unfortunately, that pretty much meant all of the appliances needed to stay out by default.

Our microwave was one of them.

No matter where we plugged it in around our little U-shaped kitchen, it was butt ugly and/or forced out other appliances we used much more often. The situation became so dire, that I looked at Kevin and said, “What if….we got rid of the microwave?” Kevin didn’t hesitate for a second. He promptly unplugged it and put it on the dining room table right before he put it up for sale on Craigslist.

In my twenties, this decision would have been unfathomable. College alone is four years of living out of the microwave. Two previous boyfriends I have lived with heavily relied on the microwave for sustenance. I think my brother would actually starve if he didn’t own one.

In spite of my dependence on my microwave lessening as I got older (though I went through a fairly serious Hot Pocket phase between 2008 and 2010), I still liked having one around with which to zap too cold ice cream and the occasional butter or cream cheese when I was baking. (Not a frequent occasion.) Note: some people are avid beverage makers in the microwave. Not I. Microwaved coffee has an abhorrent “flat” taste, and anything else I would make, e.g. hot cocoa, I make from scratch.

Popcorn addicts, I haven’t forgotten about your sputtering objection to getting rid of a microwave. There are probably people who subsist solely on the varieties of microwavable popcorn out there. I, too, love a good bucket of buttery popcorn. Once upon a time, I used to consume the stuff like it was Twinkies being taken off the shelves.

When we traded in our microwave, we bought an air popper that we were able to put away, so we can still make popcorn whenever we want. It’s probably been a good year since we’ve made any, however. The best way I enjoy it is overpriced and “buttery” at the movie theater, with getting freshly made kettle corn at a fair being a close second. I think most people forget that you can still make Jiffy Pop on the stove, too.

So here are the ten pros, as I see them, to ditching the microwave oven:

  • Gaining back primo counter space.
  • Becoming closer with my stove and oven. While softening butter in ten seconds is certainly faster and easier in a microwave, the two times a year I would need to do so don’t merit owning one.
  • I can stop worrying that what I’m reheating is putting cancerous toxins in my body (word to the wise: microwaving anything plastic is BAD).
  • I don’t have to clean up splattered food that has gone everywhere inside the damn thing. Huge pro.
  • I don’t have to be afraid that heating up a cup of soup or anything else mostly liquid is going to explode in my face.

    microwave explosion

    Seriously. Gross.

  • I don’t have to eat rubbery, microwaved food. Anything worth reheating is worth taking an extra ten minutes in the actual oven to warm up.
  • Funky smells will no longer assail my nose in my own home.
  • I don’t have to hear that infernal beeping noise when it’s done heating.
  • I don’t have to walk into the kitchen and obsessively/compulsively click “Stop/Clear” to get it to go back to the clock, since I’ve found that most of the population opens the door before the beep but doesn’t bother to clear the timer.
  • No more wondering whether I’m standing too close to the door and making myself sterile while it’s on.

I’m not on a crusade to get others to join me but I will laud the ditching of the microwave. In a year of not having one, neither of us have said we miss it or even thought about getting another one. It really is a beautiful thing.

**Update:** It’s been 2.5 years since we’ve lived without a microwave; life is still good and we have never wavered with our decision. We do get a kick from weirding people out when they realize there is no microwave to be had in our wee kitchen.

**Update to the update:** We went four years without a microwave, and when we moved into our new house last year, it came with a built-in microwave over the stove. So that ended our sojourn into microwave-less living. But I hope that my tale is proof that one can make it without, if need be.

The Lustre of Mid-Day (to Objects Below)

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas! I don’t know about you but before researching this a little bit, I had never seen a photo of St. Nick before. So here you go.

Bam!

The lean and holy Saint Nicholas (pre fat and jolly Santa).

If you want to read a very in-depth back story, click here where this other blogger has laid it out so nicely for us.

The real question is…did anyone receive any coins or chocolates in their shoes this morning?

I don’t know about you guys, but when I was a kid, December 6 helped to build up our anticipation of Christmas Day even more because my mom liked to have us participate in the ritual of putting a shoe out by the front door. In the morning, we’d run to check it and we’d usually have “gold” (chocolate) coins and a few other candies stuffed inside our shoes.

In our chocolate induced haze, we came to associate St. Nick with Santa Claus, though I never really understood the motivation behind having the mini Christmas (or “feast”) versus everything we did on Christmas Day. Wikipedia does a nice job of filling in some holes, though.

Now that I’m all grown up, I’m not currently celebrating the chocolate-in-the-shoe thing but I definitely reflected briefly with a hint of excitement that Christmas is getting closer and closer (and if I were a kid, I’d have enjoyed some chocolate with breakfast…or for breakfast).

Instead, I’m using the Feast of St. Nicholas to do a quick Zoe Recommends. I thought the St. Nick’s day thing would be a fun segue. Today’s Zoe Recommends is…a sunrise clock! It helps to make your room glow with “the lustre of mid-day to objects below,” a line I snagged from the classic poem Twas the Night Before Christmas, which features our boy St. Nick, just in case anyone hadn’t clued in on that.

What’s a sunrise clock, you say? It’s a lamp which you set to go off at a certain time in the morning and for about a half hour, the light goes from very dim to very bright (you set the highest bright setting) and the natural “rising” of the “sun” helps to wake you up more naturally than traditional alarm clocks that we all want to throw through a wall every morning.

Some sunrise clocks look like this:

And others look like this (including mine):

I don’t know if all sunrise lamps come with sounds but mine will not just use the light, it forces you to choose an ambient noise, such as birds chirping or meditation sounds or the radio. I choose the meditation sounds because they’re repetitive but not awful and between them and the light, I much more easily awaken in the morning, especially in the winter when the sun doesn’t come out until after 7 o’clock.

Both Kevin and I have found it sooo much easier to wake up in the mornings with this little baby. We’re in better moods upon getting out of bed (most of the time) and we’re not as aware of the pitch blackness going on outside.

Our sunrise clock is the gift that keeps on giving, year after year, day after day, Feast of St. Nicholas to Feast of St. Nicholas. It’s the new chocolate/gold coins in my shoe.