Budget Epicurean

Budget Epicurean: December 2013

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bacon-wrapped pork roast

Does that title say what I think it says? Firstly, BACON. So that's a magic word in its own right. Then, pork roast. Those are fantastic. Combined? *Cue fireworks*

This happened because bacon was on sale, and that's the kind of thing you just don't pass up, regardless if there's a plan for it yet, because there soon will be. So I had a pound of bacon in the refrigerator. After thinking a long time about the endless possibilities, I decided that bacon-wrapped other meats is always delicious. (I apologize, any vegetarian or vegan readers. I'll have a vegetarian lasagna post or something for you soon, I promise). If you're interested in knowing more about what you can do with a part of a pig, see my New Year's Eve post.

1 2-3 pound roast
1 head garlic
1 pound bacon

 Step 1: Brown the roast on all sides, just to char it. Slice slits in it and insert garlic cloves randomly. This will infuse the meat with garlic flavor, yum!
Step 2: Wrap the roast in bacon. I used four pieces width-wise then three pieces length-wise overtop. Oh yes. I took a piece of a pig, and wrapped it in another piece of pig. The rest of the pound of bacon became part of breakfast.
 It's like a little bacon-wrapped-pork football.
 Men of the world, behold its splendor.
Step 3: Place in a crock pot on low ~6 hours or high 4-5. Mine was still partly frozen so I left it in there on high for about 7 hours to make sure everything cooked fully.

Serve with whatever carb you like or just eat it alone with your hands, whatever suits you. No judgment.

What's your favorite way to use bacon?

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

New Years' Day Lucky Tradition: Kielbasa and Sauerkraut

It's almost 2014! 

I must admit I am a huge fan of almost all edible things pig. Bacon of course is in a league of its own. But ribs, chops and roasts are also all delicious and versatile to prepare. For New Year's Day, my family has always had kielbasa and sauerkraut for good luck. You could also make a pork roast and sauerkraut. According to a Nosh blog, the reason for this good luck is because pork from a "fat" pig represents an abundant year to come, and the sauerkraut from 'green' cabbage represents wealth. Thinking about this tradition made me wonder what was in sauerkraut and where it comes from. This lead to hours of research into the various parts and cuts of pork. Stay tuned after the recipe if you want to know more! =)

Kielbasa & Sauerkraut Recipe

1 small pork roast (2-4 lb) or 2-4 pounds kielbasa
1 bag of sauerkraut (or jar, or if you're ambitious you can ferment your own)
1 can/bottle of beer, 12 oz
1 cup brown sugar

Step 1: Place roast or kielbasa in a slow cooker. Mix the beer and brown sugar. Pour over the pork, then cover with kraut. Cook on high for ~4 hours or low 6-8 hours. Enjoy on NYD! May your 2014 be full of success and joy.

Photo from Pressure Cooking With Lorna Sass
Pork roast & sauerkraut on NYE

So what about the rest of the pig?

Generally speaking, pork tends to be less expensive than beef. For reasons I won't discuss in this post, it is always a good idea to look for humanely raised pork, or best case scenario to be part of a CSA (which stands for Community Supported Agriculture) and get part of a farm-raised pig. Find one near you here. They usually raise a set number of pigs based on how many shares are purchased, then will slaughter them and divide up the meat for you. However, I understand most people don't have the time, space, money, or energy to commit to a half or whole pig, wait half a year, then bring home a hundred pounds of meat in various cuts and store it. Therefore, this is more of a guide to what you'll find at a typical grocery store and what you can do with it.

This photo is from CloveGardens website and shows the various cuts of pig.

The CloveGardens site also has photos of every cut of meat, including less well-known cuts and parts you wouldn't normally think of using like the feet, snout, and organs. If you're feeling adventurous you can ask your butcher, or try an ethnic market. The most typical cuts you find at a North American grocery store are chops and roasts. 


This is the upper part of the thigh, and is what we think of when we think of a holiday ham. Often oven roasted and marinated or glazed. Holds up to slow cooking methods, and tastes great paired with sweet glazes like brown sugar, maple, honey and/or pineapple.

Pork Chops (aka pork loin end chops, center loin chops, rib chops, end cut chops, top loin chops, pork blade chops)

Many different cuts of meat can be called pork chops. They can be bone-in or boneless, in various sizes and thicknesses. Typically, thicker-cut chops with the bone still in tend to be the juiciest and most flavorful. These are great for pan-frying and grilling. Boneless chops are also great for frying or grilling, but can fall apart easier in longer methods like slow cookers or braising. Pork blade chops are from the blade roast, and tend to be fattier and tougher than chops from other cuts. They can be tenderized by marinating beforehand, and can be cooked with longer methods.

Pork Roast (aka pork tenderloins, rib roasts, pork legs, top loin roast, sirloin roast, hipbone roast, end roast, butt and shoulder-see below)

Like chops, there are many cuts that get sold as a roast. They are defined as cuts which stand up well to oven or slow cooker roasting. 

Pork Rib Roast (aka pork center loin roast, pork roast)

The ribs can still be inside or the ribs may have been removed. These cuts are extremely flavorful and juicy, but still pretty lean. If you want to cook it with the slab of attached fat for flavor, simply carve it off before serving. 

Pork Blade Roast (aka pork rib end roast, rib end pork loin, 7-rib or 5-rib roast)

The blade roast comes from the back/shoulder areas, and is fattier than most other cuts. This makes it less expensive but very flavorful. If the bone is still in, you can ask the butcher to crack it between the ribs to carve it easier.

Pork Loin (aka tenderloin, loin chop)

Cuts from the loin come from along the back and sides of the spine and are the leanest, most tender cuts. This makes them easy to overcook, so try to avoid long cooking times. There are three sections, the Blade end, Center portion and Sirloin end. The Blade end is closest to the shoulders and like the Blade Roast tends to be fatty. The Center portion is in the middle, it is the leanest and most tender, which makes it usually the most expensive. The Sirloin end is nearest the rump, and is typically bony and lean. All can be pan-fried, braised, or slow cooked.

Hocks and Shanks

This is the shin area of the pig's legs. A hock with skin removed is called a shank. They are often smoked, and make good additions to soups to add flavor. 

Pork Ribs 

The ribs are generally cut into three seperate sections, all of which are great for smoking, braising, oven roasting, or grilling. And all are great slathered in BBQ sauce. Country-style ribs or pork blade end ribs are the meatiest and fattiest of cuts, but they aren't as easy to eat with your fingers. They can be bone-in or boneless. Pork back, or baby back ribs are the middle ground of meatiness and easier to pick up. Pork spareribes are the least meaty, but have the most popular texture for finger foods. They are tender-chewy, and are the least fatty cut.

Pork Shoulders & Butts

Though named differently, both cuts are from the shoulder of the pig. Technically they are different cuts. The "butt" (aka Boston butt or shoulder) comes from a thicker section with more marbling. This makes it ideal for pulled pork or other barbecue styles. The "shoulder" is usually the triangular piece of meat attached to the butt. Both are great braised, slow roasted, BBQ-ed, slow cooker style, or in stew. They can essentially be used interchangeably.  

Bacon and Sausage

Ahhh the longtime favorite, bacon is unique in taste and is revered worldwide for it meaty, smoky deliciousness. Used to flavor all types of dishes and soups, as a centerpiece of breakfasts, and wrapped around just about anything, bacon is a versatile meat. It does not come off the hog looking like bacon. First the ribs and belly are removed from the loin. The belly here does not refer to the actual stomach but rather the fatty underside of the pig. The spare ribs are cut away, then the pork belly is sent through the long process of curing, smoking and eventual slicing up into bacon. Sausage on the other hand, can be made from just about any part of the pig that is not used elsewhere. Anything that was left from de-boning other cuts, high quality meat that can't be turned into a roast or chop, or pieces that didn't end up elsewhere all get mixed together. They are seasoned in various ways and ground, sometimes multiple times. This is then sold as bulk sausage, patties, or put into casing for links, most often the pig's own intestines. (Seriously).

For a great, thorough article on the various parts of the pig and how to use lesser known cuts see this website for Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont, which has its own USDA approved butcher site on the farm. They use as much of the whole pig, nose-to-tail, as they can, which I totally approve of!

For an article which sub-divides these types of cuts even further and includes photos, see here. They also have pages for cuts from beef, lamb, and veal if you're curious and I don't cover them soon enough. 

If you have a solid stomach and want to see photos and a description of each step in the pork processing process (redundancy, check), check out this blog post from Chico Locker & Sausage Co.

Nutrition information such as calories, protein and fat content will vary greatly depending on the type of cut and how it was prepared. According to Nutritioninfo.com the average nutrition data from one pound of raw meat cooked is:

Pork contains plenty of protein, iron and selenium and no gluten. However it is high in cholesterol, so you should try to control portion sizes to 3-6 oz per serving, and as in all things use moderation. Pork is safe to eat when cooked to an internal temperature of 160 F, so use a meat thermometer if you have one. Generally speaking, when oven roasting you should cook it at least a half hour per pound of meat. 

Do you have any New Year's Eve or Day traditions?

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Sneaky healthy lasagna

Lasagna, come delizioso!

Lasagna is a classic favorite recipe. It is also a recipe that is super simple to double or triple and freeze extras for later. Meat, cheese, and pasta, what's not to love. It takes a little bit of work, but is very worth it. I'm also always looking for ways to sneak a little extra nutrition into recipes in ways that aren't too noticeable. Lasagna presents a perfect triple opportunity.

1. When you make the sauce, combine a jar of traditional sauce and a jar of chickpeas (or other bean) in a blender and blend until smooth. This adds extra protein and fiber with nearly no change in taste.
2. Add a layer of spinach under the noodles. When baked it doesn't have a strong flavor of its own, and is barely noticeable.
3. Use cottage cheese instead of ricotta. It is lower in calories (100 vs. 175) as well as fat (4.3 vs 13 g), though it does have 3x the sodium.

1 package lasagna noodles
1 large package cottage cheese
1 bunch spinach
1 pound ground beef
1 jar pasta sauce
1 can chickpease
1 can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 cup shredded cheese (use mozzarella if you have it)

 Step 1: Make the sauce by blending beans and sauce. Add the diced tomatoes and mix well. 
 Step 2: Brown the ground beef and drain. Mix into the sauce mixture. Boil the noodles for about 7-9 minutes and drain.
 Step 3: In a large bowl, mix the cottage cheese and shredded cheese. I had mixed cheddar/mozz so that's what I used.
 Step 4: Spray an oven-safe pan. Layer the noodles, spinach, beef/sauce, and cheese. Follow with more noodles and so on. Make one with four layers or two separate with two layers.

 Step 5: Bake, covered with foil, at 350 for 1 hour.
The result is a perfect taste meld of cheesy, tomato-y, beef, and noodles. You can see the spinach but really can't taste it. And if you want a vegetarian version, just don't add the beef to the sauce mixture. The only change I'd make is double the amount of sauce and it would be tres magnifique!

Do you have a special family lasagna recipe?

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The meaning of Christmas

So here we are, on the eve of the year's biggest holiday, Christmas. For some people that means frantic last minute shopping, cooking, wrapping, and baking. For some it means attending mass of some sort. And for most, it means spending time with family and friends. 'Tis the season. Regardless of your religious beliefs, everyone can agree that Christmas tends to bring out the best in the world. From the many children's-toy-related charities to swelling food bank donations to a spike in blood donors, the holiday spirit causes an outpouring of generosity, joy, love, and peace.

Tonight and tomorrow, we gather around the living room and tables, to eat, drink, share, and enjoy family and friends. My family has many traditions, one of which is a meatless Christmas Even dinner. There are shrimp and cookies while we await the completion of dinner. We make mushroom soup, the recipe for which has been handed down from my grandmother's father from Slovakia, when he used to go out to the cow pastures and actually collect wild mushrooms. We have boatloads of pierogi, the potato-, onion-, or lekvar- filled doughy pillows of goodness.

After a leisurely dinner, which includes holiday 'poppers' with fun jokes, toys, and crowns to wear, we have an heirloom angel candle which gets passed around. Starting with the oldest person present, it is lit, and that person blows the candle out. If the smoke goes straight up, you will return next year. It's always fun to try to make someone's smoke go sideways, and we debate over the meaning when there is no smoke at all. Then we adjourn to the living room, where gifts are passed out, opened, exclaimed over, and photographed. Some years we open one at a time, some years everyone at once. But it is always boisterous and filled with love.

If you're worried about gifts, don't be. Once the shiny newness wears off, most are discarded or forgotten soon after. The things that stick are the memories, the times and the laughs we share. A heartfelt, handwritten card is more meaningful than a $3 Hallmark card. A homemade batch of cookies or fudge is like a hug for your tastebuds. The hours of care that go into knitting a handmade scarf or afghan are appreciated more than thirty minutes at the mall. This Christmas, focus on the people and the experiences, and creating memories that will last.

Family time ideas for Christmas day


Start a new tradition

Try something like the Right/Left gift game to make gift exchanges more fun.
Go around the table and say what you're most thankful for this year, or what next year's resolution will be.
Go caroling around your neighborhood.
Make up your own words to carols and perform for your family and friends.
Drive around looking at Christmas lights.

Create a decoration

Make a large batch of popcorn and make it into a garland for the tree, collect pine branches and cones to create a homemade wreath, or paint a blank ornament for a yearly memento.

Bake-able ornaments:
4 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 1/2 cup water
2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp vanilla

Mix all the ingredients, shape, and bake at 300 for 30 min. If you poke holes you can create hang-able ornaments for this year or next, or even gifts.


Nothing makes you feel more thankful for what you have than to serve those less fortunate. Volunteer at a local food bank, homeless shelter, battered women's shelter, children's school, animal shelter, bring cards/gifts/cookies to the elderly, police, or hospital, or whatever cause is near and dear to your heart. You will help make someone else's Christmas brighter, and likely increase your own sense of joy and gratitude.

Sign up for a fun run/5K

These are great fun, and great for your health! Get out there with family members or friends and race with all the Santas and Rudolphs in the snow. You can dress up or just bundle up, and just have fun. It will help offset the huge dinner and several dozen cookies later too.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Perfect pancakes

There is nothing quite as wonderful on a lazy Sunday as fresh, homemade pancakes. And they are actually quite easy to make. Just four dry ingredients plus four wet, and maybe some chocolate chips, fruit, or nuts. This would also be a great Christmas morning breakfast or brunch.  Total time required is roughly 20 minutes. This recipe makes about 10 hotcakes. 

1 1/2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1 whole egg
3 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp vanilla 
Optional: 1/2 cup chocolate chips, fruit, nuts, oats, etc.

Step 1: Mix the first four dry ingredients in a large bowl. (Add whatever extras you like).
Step 2: Mix the next four wet ingredients into the dry. If you want to, you can set this aside for 10-20 minutes to shower or watch the news or brew some coffee.
Step 3: Heat a frying pan over medium heat and spray with cooking oil. Pour in about 1/3 cup batter per cake. Cook until batter shows bubbles, about 4 minutes.
Step 4: Flip the cakes when golden brown and cook another 1-2 minutes.
Serve with syrup, preserves, whipped cream, honey, or whatever you like on your pancakes.

This recipe produced light and fluffy cakes with the perfect amount of sweetness. I'm pretty proud of this batch I must say. Try making your own Pineapple Pancake Syrup to go with them.

What is your favorite type of pancake?

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Super simple egg nog

History of eggnog: What's in a name?

Egg Nog is one of the most popular beverages around Christmastime. But where did this dairy delight come from? There is plenty of debate but most sites agree that it is a descendant of the European beverage of "posset", a popular beverage made with sweetened hot milk and wine. The original didn't contain eggs, as dairy products were expensive and a rare commodity. In the Americas this wasn't a problem, since most settlers kept their own cows and chickens, thus having plenty of access to both milk and eggs. Even today, the drink is far more popular in the US than the UK.

As for the "nog" part, CNN has an interesting article which puts forth three theories:
1. The word "noggin" describes the wooden mugs this beverage was often served in
2. The Norfolk slang word for strong ales served in these mugs was "nog"
3. In the early Americas, this drink was called "egg-and-grog", which after having a few glasses morphed into "eggnnogg..."

Other countries have similar varieties, Time cites the Mexican "rompope" as well as the Puerto Rican version which adds coconut milk called "coquito".

A perfectly valid excuse for consuming a carton by yourself is patriotism. Our forefather George Washington was quite fond of the drink, and the official White House recipe called for at least four types of liquor, a quart each cream and milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar and one dozen eggs. I can only imagine the holiday festivities after a few glasses of that...

Nutritional info

First of all, eggnog is traditionally made with whole, raw eggs. According to foodsafety.com, you can make a cooked egg base first then chill before mixing to be absolutely sure your nog is safe. According to popular belief, adding alcohol will kill any bacteria. But this is not true, so don't count on copious amounts of rum or sherry to keep your eggnog sterile. If you have an immune deficiency or are paranoid about salmonella, you can use pasteurized eggs.

If you're holding a frothy glass right now, you might want to skip over this part. But chances are even if you indulge, you do so with the awareness that eggnog is most certainly not a diet drink. Especially the sugar-stuffed, store-bought kind, which is only required to have 1% egg by the FDA to classify as eggnog. You can get up to 1/3 day's worth of fat and cholesterol per glass depending on the brand. It is far better for you (and tastier, in my opinion) to whip up your own fresh. 
This recipe has only 250 calories, 2.5 g fat, 95 mg cholesterol, and a bonus 7.5 g protein per serving.

For an aged recipe that sounds wonderful (which I will try soon) see Alton Brown's recipe on Mental Floss.

2 cups milk
4 tbsp creamer (flavored kinds will add that extra something)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp powdered sugar
2 whole large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla flavoring
Cinnamon & nutmeg to taste
*For an adult version, add 1 cup rum or liquor of choice

Step 1: Pour all the ingredients into a blender. Blend on high for a few seconds. Pour into a mug and dust with cinnamon. This makes enough for about 4 glasses.

Do you have any other favorite holiday drinks?

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mashed cauliflower & potatoes

One of my favorite healthy foods to hide is cauliflower. Because of its subtle taste and versatile texture, cauliflower can be hidden in many foods, the easiest of which is mashed potatoes. Most people cannot jump right into mashed cauliflower alone, so a 50:50 mixture is a good place to start.

From the family "Brasicaceae" (I don't know how to say that either), cauliflower is related to broccoli, kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts and collard greens. For the long history of cauliflower breeding, see Wikipedia. In one cup of raw cauliflower alone, there is only 25 calories, yet 10% of your daily recommended fiber and over 75% of your daily vitamin C! Bet you didn't think a boring white veggie could help fend off colds, but it's true. It has no fat of course, but also not much protein, which is acceptable. I don't recommend mashed cauliflower alone as a meal. The World'sHealthiestFoods website recommends cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower a minimum of 2-3 times per week. Cauliflower has nutrients that help support the immune system, anti-inflammatory system, and antioxidant systems. It has been linked to some amount of cancer protection, likely because of these protective effects.

1/2 head of cauliflower
4-5 potatoes
1 1/2 cups stock (chicken, beef, veggie, homemade)
Garlic salt

Step 1: Peel the potatoes, dice them, and cut the cauliflower head into florets.
This is veggie stock I made myself in a slow cooker earlier.
Step 2: Put the stock (or water) into the crock pot and then add in potato and cauliflower.
The cauliflower should break apart easily in your hands.
Leftover scraps of potato and cauliflower will go in the freezer until I have enough to make another batch of vegetable stock.
Step 3: Cook on low 2-3 hours or high 4-5 hours. Mash the potato and cauliflower together, adding any spices or more liquid if needed. You can now serve or doctor however you would normally use mashed potatoes. If you don't tell, no one will even know the difference! 

What's you favorite way to use cauliflower?

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Food allergies

Development of food allergies 

If you've been paying attention at all the past decade or so, you will have noticed an increase in food allergies. From peanuts to milk, it seems everything edible is able to kill someone somewhere. Or at least make them very unhappy. Allergies to anything is an immune response to a foreign thing your body wants to get rid of. In the case of food allergies, some chemical or ingredient in what you eat can cause anything from mild stomach upset to severe anaphalactic shock and airway closure. 

It is estimated by the NIH that 20% of children under the age of 5 suffer from food allergies, and 25% of adults have one or more. Sometimes you can 'grow out of' allergies, but you can also develop new allergies as an adult. There are also allergies which are exercise-induced, or cross-reacting allergies. Mayo Clinic's website has this handy table:

If you are allergic to:Birch pollenRagweed pollenGrassesMugwort pollen
You may also have a reaction to: Apples
Raw potatoes
(cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon) Tomatoes
Tomatoes Apples
Kiwi fruit
Some spices (
parsley, coriander, or caraway, anise, and fennel seeds)

Food allergies are also on the rise, making the public more aware. We probably all know at least one friend or family member who is lactose-intolerant, can't eat eggs, or will swell up like a balloon if you give them Pad Thai. (Because of the peanut sauce.)

This comic is from the talented Tyler at Forbidden Ferret, a daily educational webcomic.

How do you become allergic?

Allergy development is a two-step process. The first time you are exposed to an allergen, your immune system recognizes the invader and produces antibodies which specifically bind to that one molecule. These antibodies then circulate in your blood and body for a long time. If you are exposed to the same antigen (food) again, those antibodies recognize it, bind to it, and signal your body to attack by releasing things like histamines. Those cause swelling, inflammation, redness, itchiness, etc. 
Image from a document titled Specific Resistance Immunity.

Ironically, allergies tend to happen with a food that is eaten often. For example, Japan has a higher incidence of rice allergy than the US. If someone you are with eats a food and begins to have trouble breathing, breaks out in hives or a rash, faints, or begins vomiting, you should seek medical help immediately. For a full background of allergies, causes, symptoms, and how you should react to an allergy in someone, see the NIH booklet

In infants and children, the most common food allergies are:
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Soy
  • Peanuts or tree nuts
  • Wheat
While in adults, the most common food allergies are:
  • Shellfish (shrimp, crab, oyster, lobster, crayfish)
  • Peanuts and tree nuts
  • Fish, such as salmon
Children tend to outgrow egg, milk and wheat allergies. Peanut allergies tend to be for life, and allergies developed as an adult tend to stick around as well. Food allergies are also not the same as a food intolerance. As I mentioned lactose intolerance earlier, it is important to note that the immune system is not involved, there are no antibodies made to milk. You body simply cannot digest the lactose in milk, thus meaning you are intolerant, not allergic. Other common intolerances are MSG, gluten, and sulfates.


What can I do?

For pregnant women, it is recommended that you breast-feed newborns for at least the first four months. There are many, many health benefits to this practice, plus it is far more economical than formula. Not to mention the bonding time. There is no conclusive evidence yet that the mother avoiding common allergenic foods will prevent the child from developing allergies. So go ahead and have your cereal with milk, toast with peanut butter, and an omelet. 

One way to identify what you are allergic to is to keep a food diary of how you feel after eating different types of foods. This could identify triggers. Then you can try an elimination diet, where any foods which caused an allergic reaction are eliminated one by one so you can see if that causes your reactions to stop. You should always consult your healthcare provider before altering your diet significantly. To test reactions to specific foods, you can request a skin prick test. Your health care provider will prick your skin with a needle and place a small amount of food extract under your skin. If you have swelling and redness, this is a positive reaction, meaning your immune system responded. A blood test is a bit more extreme, where the actual levels of IgE antibodies to a specific food are measured in your bloodstream. 

The easiest way to avoid allergic reactions if you already know you're allergic is to keep your living area clean. If you are allergic to peanuts, even the dust, keep peanuts out of your kitchen, wash surfaces and vacuum regularly. You can also obtain a medical warning bracelet from your doctor, as well as an epinephrine pen. Commonly called "Eip Pens", using these is the best immediate way to counter-act anaphylaxis. It will flood your system with epinephrine, which calm down the histamines and hopefully allow you to continue breathing. 

Where can I learn more?

The next Food Allergy Awareness Week is May 11-17, 2014. The Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) group has all kinds of fun activities and information. They also have lots of great resources about how to deal with allergies in children, in public places like camp and restaurants, allergy statistics, how to read food labels, and more.

MedLinePlus has a link to the NIH overview PDF, as well as links to various clinical trials that have been done for different allergies, management help, and specific resources for each type of food allergy.

Of course we always have WebMD for various symptoms, treatment, and related diseases. 

Please feel free to share any allergy-related stories or advice you have!

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Featured cookie: Cranberry Nut Sugar Balls

As I was researching easy recipes for my earlier Tuesday's post, I came across several I wanted to try. However I don't have the time, money, or calorie allowance to try them all. So only 2 or 3 will get chosen and featured in December. This one came up repeatedly with variations, and I had most of the ingredients already so I decided to give it a try with my own version. 

1 cup powder sugar (+ extra)
2 sticks of butter, melted
2 egg yolks
1 cup nuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt

Step 1: In a large bowl, beat the powder sugar, butter, and cocoa powder until smooth and creamy.
Step 2: Use a spatula to scrape down the sides. Add the egg yolks and 1 tbsp vanilla and mix again. I saved the whites for the next day's breakfast.
Step 3: In a blender, combine the nuts and cranberry and pulse until you get a paste-like mixture. You can use whatever kinds of nut you like, I had cashews and almonds.
Step 4: Mix the nut/berry and flour into the chocolate/sugar/butter mixture. The dough will be sticky and very thick. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.
Step 5: Drop by teaspoons onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, or until solid.  
Step 6: Let cool completely, then roll in powdered sugar.
These light little sugar balls are mostly solid but a little crumbly. The cranberry's tartness is enhanced by the nuttiness, subtle cocoa flavor, and sweet, smooth powdered sugar. They are the perfect size to pop in your mouth, try to keep track of how many handfuls you've had!

Do you have any favorite cookie recipes to share?

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Easy Christmas Cookie Recipes


'Tis the season to bake cookies, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. Then we eat them by the dozen, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

As December marches by and we scramble for last-minute gift ideas, deck the halls, and trim the tree, we also spend more time in the kitchen whipping up seasonal sweets and indulging in others at the office, family parties and get-togethers. Some are ambitious and organized and already have seven dozen of seven different kinds stocked away in the freezer. Others whip out the plastic at the bakery to save themselves time and hassle. 
This tree gave its life to make our living room look awesome last year.
But if there's anything my family rocks at, it is Christmas baked goods! I was raised in a sugar-filled, flour-covered kitchen during the holidays and would have it no other way. We have plenty of unique cookies due to our Hunkie heritage (is that a real word? It means Slovak/Polish/Hungarian) like the finger-scalding Lily my aunt and brother sacrifice layers of skin for each year, the much-fought-over Clothespins using actual wooden clothespins which have the spring air of yesteryear soaked up inside them, the hours-long, love-filled process in which you can NEVER have too much apricot filling that creates epic Kolachi rolls,  and my personal favorite sugar-filled and sugar-coated diabetes-inducing dream, the simple, buttery, Cracker Cookie.
Christmas dessert spread, awwyeah.
I personally have assisted in the making of each of these treats in years past as well as several others, and as I'm sure you know there is quite a variety of difficulty levels in cookie-baking. But let me assure you that no matter how pressed for time, nor how tiny your kitchen, you can create some Santa-worthy treats in no time. 

Pre-mixed dough

Your first option is of course the pre-mixed dough you cut and stick in the oven. I am definitely not going to scoff at that, most are darn tasty, plus you can save some in the fridge to just nibble on. Chocolate chip is of course a favorite, but sugar and other types have a strong presence too. They have rolls of it, blocks, whole tubs if you have an appetite or lots of guests. You can get creative with cut-outs and shapes, add your own mix-ins like coconut, mint, or toffee, or just go old-school.

Brickles and Brittles

Brickles and brittles are typically any liquid syrupy mixture poured over a solid base. The syrup hardens, and you then break it apart into chunks. There are many variations, and most are quite simple and quick. Here are three favorites:

Saltine cracker simple brickle
This disappears faster at our house than the paper wrapping off of gifts. It is overwhelmingly rich and sugary. You might want to make two batches...

1 box of saltine crackers
1 cup sugar
1/2 pound butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups chocolate chips

1. Line a pan with heavy-duty foil and preheat oven to 350. Lay out the saltines in a single layer.
2. Melt the butter and sugar in a pan, stirring constantly. Once smooth and bubbling, remove from heat and stir in vanilla, quickly pour over the layer of crackers. 
3. Bake for 7 minutes, the sugar and butter will melt and bake into the crackers. Spread the chocolate chips evenly over the hot butter with a spatula and it will melt. Bake another 2 minutes, then let cool. Place in the freezer overnight, then break into pieces. Store refrigerated or frozen.

Peppermint Bark
For those who like white chocolate and enjoy the minty symbol of the season, the peppermint, this is a perfect present. With only five ingredients and two steps, you can have a batch of this made in about two hours. Just in time for guests to arrive, or to wrap up some in pretty packages for a party hostess gift.

2 tbsp oil, divided
8 oz semisweet or dark chocolate
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
8 oz white chocolate, divided
25 crushed peppermint candies or 10 canes

1.  Grease a 9x9 pan and line with wax paper. In a double boiler melt the dark chocolate and 1 tbsp oil until smooth. When completely liquid, add 1/4 tsp peppermint extract and pour evenly into the covered pan. Spread half the peppermint over the chocolate and refrigerate until hard. 
2. In a double boiler melt the white chocolate and other tbsp oil. When smooth, add the other 1/4 tsp peppermint extract. Pour over the dark chocolate layer, and add the rest of the peppermint and press in. Refrigerate until fully hardened, and break into small pieces.

Peanut Brittle
This one is a bit more time intensive, but still simple. It is also a great frugal gift, everyone loves homemade candy. Be sure to have all the ingredients ready and measured out, you have no time to waste once begun. From BettyCrocker recipes.

1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup water
3 tbsp butter
1 pound unroasted peanuts
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp water
1 tsp vanilla

1. Mix 1 tsp water, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 1/2 tsp baking soda and set aside. Heat oven to 200 and keep two cookies sheets warm inside the oven. 
2. Mix sugar, water and corn syrup in a pan. Stir over medium heat until 240 or a small amount dropped into cold water forms a ball. 
3. Stir in butter and peanuts, cook further until 300 degrees or a small amount dropped into cold water forms brittle threads. 
4. Remove from heat, and quickly stir in baking soda mixture. Pour half mixture onto each heated cookie sheet, and let cool completely. Break into pieces and store in air-tight container.

My favorite no-bake recipe:

This chocolate peanut butter no-bake cookies recipe from AllRecipes is one of my favorites.

1 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
4 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cups quick-cook oats
1 tsp vanilla

1. Combine sugar, milk, butter and cocoa in a pot and bring to a boil for 1 1/2 minutes. The recipe cautions against boiling too long, or not long enough.
2. Remove from heat, stir in the peanut butter, oats and vanilla. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto wax paper and let cool.

Simple chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip, the classic all-American cookie. Amazing any time of the year, they are a crucial part of any holiday dessert spread. You can use semi-sweet, sweet- or dark chocolate chips, or get real crazy and use butterscotch, white chocolate, or a mixture. This quick recipe from Cookie-Smart makes about 2 dozen.

2 cups flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup chips
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 egg
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Mix the flour, sugars, chips, salt and baking soda in one bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the egg, melted butter and vanilla.
2. Mix both bowls together well, use your hands if you don't mind. Dough should be slightly sticky yet firm. 
3. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a greased cookie sheet or wax paper. Bake at 375 for 8-9 minutes until golden brown.

Simple sugar cookies  

Endlessly versatile, sugar cookie dough can have any number of mix-ins added to it. But it is also a classic on its own. Adapting to cookie cutters as though made for each other, sugar cookies can become blank canvases for snowmen, Santas, wreaths, and tree creations. This recipe from RealSimple is real simple.

2 1/2 cups flour plus extra
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

1. In a bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, beat the butter and sugar until smooth, then whisk in the egg. 
2. If you have a stand mixer, lucky you! Use that and slowly add in flour while mixing. Otherwise, loosen up those biceps and slowly mix the flour into the sugar/egg/butter mixture. Dough should be stiff. Refrigerate about an hour before rolling out to 1/4 inch thick and cutting into shapes.
3. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes, until beginning to brown. Let cool and decorate.
Turn round sugar cookies into snowmen with big marshmallows and creative decorating!

What about vegetarian/vegan goodies?

In case you are vegetarian/vegan or someone in your family is, there is this vegan, gluten-free version from TwoPeasAndTheirPod. By using almond milk and coconut oil it eliminates the butter and dairy products. I think shredded coconut comes from the devil, but if that's your thing then enjoy!

The website OhSheGlows also has oodles of vegan, raw, lowfat, gluten-free, etc recipes so check it out!

Do you have any simple to make holiday treats you wait all year long to indulge in?

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