June 17, 2014

How to Freeze Grapes for Smoothies

Grapes are a staple in our morning smoothie because their sweetness neutralizes the “green” taste of the veggies. I chose to use frozen grapes to cool the smoothie just right. After a few trials and errors, I discovered the best way to freeze them.

The first thing I do is wash the bunch of grapes. Then I pick each grape from the vine so that I won’t have to deal with the stems later on. I roll them on a paper towel to dry them. Then I grab a colander and arrange them very nicely in one layer.

Freezing grapes in a colander.

Then I place the arrangement in the freezer. The colander helps freeze the grapes evenly and quickly. After a few hours, I transfer the grapes to a container that will reside in the freezer until all the fruits are consumed.

Frozen grapes for smoothies.

I don’t bother to put the frozen grapes in a zipper bag because they don’t last too long in the freezer anyway -- in about a couple of weeks, they’d have all been added to our smoothies. Every morning, I just quickly grab a handful to add to our drink.

Of course, I’ve tried freezing grapes in bunches – stems and vines together. But when I’m picking the fruits to put in my smoothie, I have to fumble with pulling out all the frozen little stems, and in the early hours of the morning, I don’t particularly appreciate cold fingertips.

I’ve also tried freezing individual grapes on a baking sheet and in a plastic container. They work fine but I find the colander trick the neatest yet. 

June 7, 2014

How to Slice Cantaloupe into Chunks

I remember growing up detesting one and only one dessert fruit – the cantaloupe.  In the Philippines, we call it melon (accent on the “lon”). Somehow I couldn’t tolerate the taste and texture, and I didn’t know why.

Then a friend convinced me to try the melon juice – sweetened cold water infused with melon flesh delicately grated from the fruit using a tool that creates long orange “worm” strips (I’ll write about that next time).  After I enjoyed that wonderfully refreshing and tasty drink, the cantaloupe and I became buddies.

Here in the US, cantaloupes are available in groceries as whole fruits, shrink-wrapped slices with the skin on, and chunks in clamshell containers. Naturally, they are most expensive when already prepared bite-size, ready to eat; the price of a small bowl of chunks is sometimes higher than that of a whole fresh harvest fruit.

So, whenever I feel prudent, I ignore the chunks, grab a whole fruit, and set my mind to slicing the cantaloupe myself. It’s really quite easy. Let me show you.

1. Get a whole cantaloupe. You will know it’s ripe and sweet when the skin is starting to get wrinkly and the fruit is giving off a sweet aroma. Grab a cutting board, kitchen knife, spoon, container for the seeds, and container for the chunks.  

Get a whole cantaloupe.

2. Slice the fruit in half. It doesn’t matter if it’s lengthwise or crosswise, because the fruit is generally round. I prefer to slice crosswise, but that’s just me.

Slice the cantaloupe in half.

3. Scoop out the seeds and fibrous material from the core of the fruit.

Scoop out the cantaloupe seeds.

4. Lay the half on the cutting board like an upside-down bowl. Slice off the skin by working from the top and down the sides.

Peel off the skin.

Peeled cantaloupe.

5. Make vertical cuts, about an inch wide, across the skinned half fruit.

Slice the cantaloupe.

6. Follow with 1-inch perpendicular cuts to create chunks. They won’t be the same sizes but you can follow-up with quick cuts to make the big chunks smaller.

Slice the cantaloupe into chunks.

Slice the cantaloupe into chunks.

Et voila! Bon appetit!

Cantaloupe chunks.

June 4, 2014

How to Slice Watermelon into Chunks

I grew up feasting on watermelon the old-fashioned way: sinking my teeth (and face!) into a freshly sliced wedge of that crunchy, cool, and juicy fruit (it’s also a vegetable) with its sugary-sweet nectar dripping down my chin, neck, and elbows! Slurp!

When I moved to the States, watermelon became a delicacy, presented as chunks sealed in clamshell packs at the supermarket. You need to use a fork (or tiny skewer) to eat it. Where’s the fun in that?

But yes, forking watermelon chunks makes sense these days because sticky hands don’t go well with our ubiquitous handheld devices. The downside of buying prepared watermelon is you pay a premium for the labor and packaging.

How about saving a bundle by buying a whole watermelon and spending a few minutes slicing it into chunks? I promise, it only takes a few minutes and you’ll have a big bowl of chunks you and your friends can conveniently fork into while you’re playing video or board games!

Let’s start.

1. Buy a whole watermelon – the cheapest option. It’s going to be heavy, so plan ahead. If you won’t cut the entire fruit into chunks, you will need space in the fridge to store the uncut portion.


2. Slice the watermelon into quarters (some places sell watermelon quarters – you see the flesh and you don’t have to deal with a huge fruit). Work with a quarter at a time, unless you’re ready to consume the prepared chunks within 3-5 days (they get soggy and taste weird after a week).

Slice watermelon into quarters

3. Lay the quarter with the skin on top, away from you – it makes for easier, more stable cutting rather than if the skin were underneath. Trust me I’ve tried it all sorts of ways.

Slice watermelons into chunks

4. Make vertical cuts about an inch thick. Use a large kitchen knife to help with cutting through the skin. When done, switch to a paring knife and ready the container for the chunks.

Slice watermelons into chunks

5. Pick up a slice and cut the flesh vertically about an inch thick, down to where the flesh meets the inside of the skin.       

Slice watermelons into chunks

6. Make perpendicular cuts, also an inch thick, letting the chunks drop into the container.

Slice watermelons into chunks

Slice watermelons into chunks

7. Cut off the remainder of the flesh by running the knife from the top to the bottom of the slice, along the edge of the skin. Be careful not to nick your fingers!

Slice watermelons into chunks

Slice watermelons into chunks

Do the same with the rest of the slices, and there you have it. Look at how much a quarter of a regular watermelon yields! And no sticky chin!

Watermelon chunks

May 31, 2014

Cardboard Shadow Box Project

My creativity is mostly prompted by necessity. With no spare finances to purchase shadow boxes to encase some dried herbs I wanted to display, I resorted to making my own. My medium of choice was what I had plenty of: cardboard and brown paper.

First, I cut and glued cardboard pieces together to form small rectangular box frames and wrapped them with brown paper to cover the seams. For the window panes of the boxes, I used clear hard plastic cut out from product packaging that I had stored, thanks to my packrat foresight.

Cardboard Shadow Box

Then I prepared the backing for the shadow boxes. I printed out the names of the herbs and mounted them on tiny pieces of cardboard to serve as nameplates. Then I punched two holes in the middle of the backing, strung twine through, and tied down (with a nice ribbon knot) a bunch of the dried herbs I wanted to showcase.

Cardboard Shadow Box

Cardboard Shadow Box

The final assembly was just a matter of gluing the backing to the shadow box frame, and gluing the finished box to the main frame that I prepared also with cardboard and brown paper. Add a twine hanger to the back, and there it is – all natural, very lightweight, and entirely handmade.

Cardboard Shadow Box - back

Cardboard Shadow Box for showcasing dried herbs

I took these pictures a few days ago, but I made the shadow box back in 2002 (which is why there are no step-by-step build photos). The herbs look old and droopy now but the presentation is still good.

May 26, 2014

How to Slice Pineapple Into Chunks

Pineapple season is here, and the “fruit,” which is actually a mass of berries growing along the bromeliad’s stalk, is once again popular in all grocery produce sections. It’s time to talk about how to slice them.

Born and raised in the Philippines (the top pineapple producing country in the world), I grew up with little appreciation for any kind of fruit juice other than pineapple. I also learned how to peel and cut pineapples without wasting any of the sweet and juicy flesh.

I’ve seen two convenient ways to prepare pineapples. One is to use a pineapple corer/slicer that cuts into the pineapple with a rotating blade and leaves the core and the skin behind. Another is to pare off the skin thick enough to include the “eyes” leaving a clean flesh for slicing. Both ways are quick and easy but wasteful because a lot of the delectable flesh is discarded in the process.

Here’s how I was taught to prepare a whole fresh pineapple into bite-size chunks without being wasteful [quick tip: wear plastic gloves to protect your hands from the acidic juices of the pineapple]:

Del Monte Pineapple

1. Slice the top off.  [Consider planting this top in your garden. It will take a couple of years before you can harvest your own one pineapple from it, which will most likely not be as big nor as sweet as what you could get from the grocery, but it’s always cool to say you grew your own!] Slice the bottom off too.

Pineapple - slice the top off.

2. Cut away the skin just thin enough to expose the flesh. Parts of the “eyes” should still be on the fruit. You can skin the pineapple in a spiral or horizontally – I prefer to skin vertically.

Pineapple - cut away the skin.

3. Following the spiral pattern of the eyes, cut along the sides of the eyes to take them out. You can run the knife with one long spiral cut on one side of the eyes, from the top of the pineapple to the bottom, then a matching spiral cut on the other side of the eyes to scoop out the whole length. I usually work with two to three eyes at a time.   

Pineapple - take the eyes out.

Pineapple - take the eyes out.

4. Quarter the pineapple lengthwise and cut out the tough core. [Some folks who are into juicing don’t discard the core.]

Pineapple - quarter.

Pineapple - slice off the core.

5. Halve each quarter lengthwise. Cut into bite-size pieces and enjoy!

Pineapple - slice lengthwise.

Pineapple - cut to bite-size pieces.

I enjoy my fresh pineapple chunks as is, with some salt or sugar, to flavor water, or as an ingredient of our breakfast smoothie. How do you enjoy yours?