Budget Epicurean

Budget Epicurean: March 2014

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Quick & Easy Blueberry-tini

This simple cocktail is super fast to whip up, for a house party or to relax in the evening after a long week. Sugary enough to mask the alcohol, be careful to count how many you make! Dangerously delicious.

1 oz vodka (can use flavored if you prefer)
1 oz blueberry martini mixer (can use juice & club soda instead)
Handful frozen berries
Rimming sugar (cute if it's colored but you can use plain)

Step 1: On a flat plate, squeeze a lemon or lime. Or drizzle a tbsp of juice. Rub the rim of a martini glass in the juice to get the rim wet.
Step 2: On a separate flat plate, spread a circle of sugar. Take the wet-rimmed glass and rub it in the sugar so that it sticks.
Step 3: If you have a mixer, add ice, 1 oz vodka and 1 oz mixer and shake well. If not, just mix in a normal cup. Pour into the rimmed glass, and add a few frozen berries. You can get fancy and put more berries on toothpicks as a garnish. 

Step 4: Relax & enjoy!

What is your favorite drink?

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Quick Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette on a Hawaiian Salad

Salad is ubiquitously known as a diet super-staple. One can NEVER have too many leafy greens. I'm pretty sure it's physically impossible to eat enough volume to overdose on any given nutrient in leafy greens (disclaimer: not fact-checked, just widely accepted opinion). But a bowl full of greens can get boring pretty fast. Even with the plethora of toppings and novel ingredients available, it's important to dress your salad well. Just like a new pair of shoes, a new dressing can perk up a ho-hum meal. Making your own vinaigrette is easy and healthier than bottled dressings, because you determine what goes into it and can choose the freshest ingredients. Get a re-useable bottle and try it yourself! You'll never go back once you realize how much fun you can have experimenting with different spices, flavors, vinegars, oils, and juices.

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup plain vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp diced garlic
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp ground ginger
Dash black pepper

Step 1: Assemble your dressing ingredients. You basically need a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio of sour to oils, and any spices you like. You can add sweetness like raspberry or sugar, or extra tang from citrus.
Step 2: Mix everything in a glass jar and shake it up well! You want to create an emulsion, where the droplets of non-oil are suspended inside the oil. Oil and hydrophobic things mix, while water-based things (like vinegar) won't mix with the oil. Make sure you shake well just before adding to your salad.
Step 3: Pour a few tbsp over your salad and enjoy! This dressing here was perfect on my Hawaiian Salad.

Ingredients in Hawaiian Salad:
1 cup spinach
2 slices ham, diced
1/4 cup pineapple
3 baby carrots, julienned
Sprinkle of mozzarella

So the next time your lettuce-tomato-cucumber combo gets a little bland, whip out a glass bottle and spice it up!

What's your favorite way to top a salad?

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Easy-peasy mini pizzas

These adorable appetizers are sure to be a big hit with a crowd! They are also easy & quick enough for any weeknight dinner, and kids are sure to love them too. You could even build a "top-it-your-way" bar with various (quick-cooking or pre-cooked) toppings, veggies, and cheeses.

Bagel thins, cut in half
Jar of pasta, pizza, or marinara sauce
Fresh grated parmesan
*Any other toppings you want!
Step 1: My mom insists everything is better with some fresh grated Parmesan. I'm beginning to believe her.
Step 2: Spread the sauce on the bagel thins. Top with cheese (and/or veggies, pepperoni, sausage, etc) and pop into a toaster oven. You can also use a baking sheet in a real oven, or a toaster on its side.
Step 3: Arrange prettily and serve! Told you they are easy-peasy!

What do you put on your pizza?

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ten minute chili mac

Who doesn't love a little comfort food now and then?I know I do! I believe in life with moderation in all things. Eat well most of the time, be active most of the time, indulge a little some of the time! Not only is this chili mac super easy and fast, it is also ridiculously cheap. To bare-bones it, just get the store brand mac n cheese and the frugal-est can of pre-made chili and mix the two. This recipe is just one step up from there by making your own quick chilli. You can use the chili alone, or top hot dogs or baked potatoes too.

1 box macaroni & cheese
1/2 cup shredded cheese (cheddar for extra oomph)
1 can kidney beans
1 can diced tomatoes
1 pound ground beef or turkey
1 small can tomato sauce (6 oz)
1/4 cup chili powder
Step 1: Prepare the macaroni by boiling and draining pasta. You can choose to make your own pasta and cheese sauce if you don't want the preservatives or seasonings from the packaged version.
Step 2: While noodles boil, brown the ground meat and drain fat. In a sauce pot, combine the meat, diced tomatoes with juice, chili powder, drained kidney beans, and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes to 2 hours.
Step 3: If you're using this just as chili for a meal or topper, longer simmering is better. But basically as soon as flavors combine and it is heated through you can add into the macaroni. Just pour it all in there, and give it a good stir.
You can add in any spices you want too, hot sauce if you like that kinda thing, garlic powder, black pepper, salt, etc...
There you have it, a thick, hearty comfort food that is sure to please your palate and fill your tummy. Depending on if you hit sales and buy store brand or not, you can easily feed six-eight for under $3!

What's your favorite comfort food?

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Password management & Online safety

Password Management

If you're reading this blog, then you know how to use the internet. At the very least you have figured out some sort of browser (Google, Firefox, Explorer...) and how to navigate to different web pages. Good for you! Now it is highly likely you also use the internet for other things, like email, entertainment, gaming, news, information gathering, and maybe banking/finances. And it is also likely that you are a member of at least one website that requires a password. Maybe your computer itself requires a password before you can unlock it to use it. As promised in "How to Set up an Online Bank Account", here is my limited knowledge and copious research on internet safety & password management.

The 'Do' List

It is highly recommended to use both upper and lower case letters, as well as sprinkling in some numbers and symbols. The more characters, generally the safer the password, because it will take even a computer program a longer time to figure out. Although, according to the comic by XKCD, this may be a flawed recommendation...
Image from the fantastic comic, XKCD

The 'Do-Not' List

Hopefully by now, all savvy internet users have hear that the most commonly used passwords are super easy for cyber-criminals to guess. Using something like "Password" "123456" or "ABCDEFG", even with some variations like Pa$sw0rd" or "AbC123" is a terrible idea. It is also not great to use names (of anyone, real or fictional), really any proper nouns, common numbers (like pi) or important dates. These types of things are easily guessed, especially if the person wanting your data is acquainted with you. You should also avoid common phrases like "a penny saved a penny earned", any keyboard patterns (like qwerty) or passwords someone could easily guess should they see you type it. The MIT computer science department has a great page all about the dos and don'ts of good password creation. And NetForBeginners has some good extra links to different sites that offer more tips and safety features.

Image from DoingFamilyRight
As Gina Trapani of Geek to Live said: "A secure, memorable password is easy for you to remember, and hard for others to guess." Ms. Trapani also wrote an article about how to "Secure Your Saved Passwords in Firefox" which allows folks with terrible memories (like yours truly) to save passwords to commonly visited sites so the site automatically fills them in for you. More helpful sites the Geek to Live article pointed to is the password generator bookmarklet which generates passwords for individual sites based on a 'master' password you give it, and a video from John Udell on how to use this application.   

Online Safety

Everyone locks their door when they get out of the car. Everyone locks their apartment or home when they are elsewhere. We all probably have a passcode on our smart phone, a lock on our bike, overdraft protection, life insurance, home-owners insurance, and on and on. It's a human instinct to want to feel safe, secure, protected. However, since the internet has become so ubiquitous, it is easy to be lulled into a sense of security. We use the internet every day, to check email, sports updates, weather, GPS, find a restaurant, connect with friends and family, and much more. It's easy to forget that these multiplicitous devices leave us vulnerable to internet security problems like phishing, malware, and identity theft. The National Cyber Security Alliance has a great website, StayingSafeOnline.org, you can check out for detailed information.


"Phishing" is the term for hackers trying to get your passwords directly from you by using deception. Internet criminals have become very knowledgeable about forging legitimate-looking emails. The email may look like it came from a financial institution, claiming something has gone wrong with your account, or a feature will expire if you don't act now. They get you to click on a link or go to a site and input your login information. You think this site is legitimate, not knowing that now your private information is in someone else's hands until it is too late. 
Image from Hoax-Slayer

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself from these types of scams. 
1. Do not open any email attachments from addresses you do not recognize
2. Enable filters and spam-detection in your email box
3. NEVER give passwords or login information over email to anyone
4. Report any spam or phishing to the site or email provider it happens on
5. Check the URL. If it's anything confidential or financial, it should be "HTTPS" for "secure"

If anything from a financial institution ever seems fishy, call up the bank or investment house directly and ask if it is legitimate. Far better to ask them and get confirmation that your account does in fact need attention than to lose control of your account.


Malware is a smash-up of "malicious" and "software" and is exactly what it sounds like. Malicious software gets onto your computer and goes about wrecking everything. Most often they are designed to give the creator some sort of access to your machine or its contents. A virus is simply a piece of code that you have to "catch" from an unsafe source or USB drive. It then spreads to any other internet devices your computer talks to. 
Image from Hyphenet

The next level above a virus is "spyware" or "adware". These programs can download themselves onto your computer, even without you being aware of it. All you have to do is visit an unsafe site without a spyware blocker program installed, and Ta-Da! Adware. These programs can be as harmless as forcing your computer to open ads you don't want, or as dangerous as stealing your passwords and compromising your accounts. 

The final level is "botnets". This is a network of computers infected by malware that are being controlled remotely by the creators of that malware. Sometimes called "zombies", these infected computers can be used to launch attacks on other computers or websites without the machine's owner knowing. The infected zombie computers receive commands from the cyber-criminals, and do whatever they are told. Most often this is for financial gain and/or to harvest information like credit cards, passwords, social security numbers, etc. This data is then used for further malware distribution, spamming, fraud, and identity theft. For more information on botnets, visit the STOP. THINK. CONNECT. Keep a Clean Machine Campaign.

ID Theft

Speaking of identity theft... it's an awful thing to happen, it can wreck your credit score, keep you from obtaining car or home loans, cause doubt from financial institutions, and in general is a big headache. Don't let it happen to you. 
Image from Dunwoody Police Department

1. Instal protective software like virus protection, malware detection, etc.
2. Collect any and all evidence, like receipts, checks, emails, etc.
3. If cybercrime happens to you, report it (see below)

Who to tell? 
First of all, the local police department is obligated to assist you, write up a report, and involve other agencies if appropriate. Many areas also have a local victim's service provider, which can provide information, advocacy, and even emotional support. You can check HERE to see if there is one near you. On a higher level, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) will review complaints of any degree and refer it to the appropriate level of law enforcement or regulatory agency that can help. IC3 is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center. Complaints may be filed online at http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

Finally, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) does not evaluate individual complains, but they operate the Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database used by law enforcement agencies worldwide. File your complaint at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/FTC_Wizard.aspx?Lang=en. Victims of identity crime may receive additional help through the FTC hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4388); or the FTC website.

For more information and specific advice for situations involving fraud and ID theft, go to StaySafeOnline. You can also check out this LinkedIN article from Microsoft's Chief Online Safety Officer.


This is not to discourage you from using the internet. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" sure rings true here. All it takes is some common 'net smarts and maybe an anti-virus software to ensure the basics of protection for your devices. Hope you learned a little something, now be safe and get out there surfin'!

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sneaky healthy food swaps

It's never a bad idea to do something healthy for yourself. You only get one body and one chance to enjoy it, so why not treat it well so you can enjoy it longer? There are infinite "diets" out there proposing to get you fitter, healthier, younger. Don't eat any carbs, only eat carbs, no meat, no dairy, grapefruit juice with every meal, cabbage soup as your only meal. These diets are usually all about limits. Limiting your calories, your carbohydrates, your fats. Why live a life with limits? It's more about changing the way you think, changing your normal. Far better to think of food as LIMITLESS and ABUNDANT and NOURISHING. 
Image from YouthCrash
Rather than saying "I can only eat 10 grams of carbs and 1200 calories per day" tell yourself "I will increase my daily intake of fruits and vegetables". It's far easier to add things to our routines than to take them away. Before you know it, broccoli will begin to taste good. You will reach for a peach after dinner instead of a cookie. A meal without meat doesn't seem strange. Your body tells you thank you for taking care of it by feelings of energy, happiness, balance. 

When you are beginning to make healthy changes, it is especially hard. You likely have years of habits built up. You probably have a daily routine that doesn't lend itself to healthy eating or nutrition. Your social behaviors are probably centered around food and drinks. Maybe your friends, family, kids, significant others, encourage unhealthy behaviors. Step one is to make a promise to yourself to get healthy. For yourself, of course, but also for those you love. They want you around as long as possible too, and to be able to enjoy life to the fullest with them. The second step is to ask them for help. Proclaim your new goals, adding veggies, drinking more water, moving more. Ask them to keep you accountable to your new habits. Even better, ask them to join you!
Image from StayHealthyLA
Now all you have to do is at least ONE thing per day that will take you closer to your goals! Drink one extra glass of water in the morning. Say no to the vending machine in the afternoon. Pack your own healthy, homemade lunch. Get only one drink at happy hour and then have water. Go for a walk after dinner. Cook more. COOK MORE. That is probably the single most important thing you can do for your health. When you go out to eat, you have little say over what ingredients go into the food, how much oil is used to cook it, where the food is sourced from, portion sizes... but when you cook it yourself, you don't use preservatives, you use fresher ingredients, you can choose your spices, etc.
Image from Huffington Post "7 Healthy Foods That Are Worth the Hype"

With that in mind, here are some sneaky healthy swaps from my own experience. Most of these you won't even notice a difference. For those that are different, it may be weird at first, but over time you will come to crave the healthier alternative to the original. Give one a try when you make dinner tomorrow!

Mashed potatoes

Substitute half of the potatoes for cauliflower. Boil the cauliflower in with the potato, it will mash right in. They are light and creamy, season as you would regular potatoes. You will add extra fiber and vitamins while cutting the total carbohydrates and calories. You may get to the point of enjoying mashed cauliflower alone.


Smoothies are so perfect for hiding healthy food! They are delicious, and basically already healthy if you make it yourself. Watch out for store-bought smoothies that use high-fat dairy and high-sugar additives. Just take some plain or flavored greek yogurt, juice (as close to 100% as you can get), and some fresh or frozen fruit and blend in a blender. Add ice if you like it cold. To give your smoothies a boost, toss in half an avocado, a handful of spinach, some cooked carrots, kale, flax powder, etc.

Sour cream

Instead of sour cream, try plain Greek yogurt on burritos, soups, and baked potatoes. It has the same consistency, but with fat less fat and more protein per serving. It may be a bit weird at first, but give it time and you will prefer it, I promise.

Wheat bread/flour (gluten)

If all you buy in your household is white, enriched flour products, start sneaking in some wheat products or flax. They even make "white" whole-wheat bread to fool picky kids and significant others. (Note: if you have a gluten allergy, obviously don't buy regular wheat bread. I'm sure you knew that.) But the more you can transition to whole-grain bread, rolls, pizza dough, brown rice, etc., the more fiber and beneficial vitamins you will pack into the same two slices of your turkey sandwich. Speaking of turkey...

Turkey instead of beef

As a veggie-lover who still cannot live without steak, I get it. Animals are delicious. All god's creatures have a place... right beside the mashed potatoes (and cauliflower)! But there's no denying that red meat isn't exactly your heart & arteries' bestie. So rather than swear off meat and go cold-turkey (see what I did there?!?) try subbing in ground turkey for half the ground beef in your next meatloaf or batch of lasagna. You may not even notice the difference, but your cholesterol sure will.


When whipping up a homemade batch of muffins or banana bread, try substituting applesauce (or pulp from juicing fruits) for part of the butter or egg. It can keep a baked good moist while making it vegan, or at least cutting down the amount of fat. Plus I think it counts as part of your daily servings of fruit.


I'm gonna be honest, this one I haven't tried, but I have seen more than once and am dying to do this. For lasagna or ravioli, use thin slices of zucchini or eggplant as the noodles. Layer very thin strips with ground turkey (see above) and homemade sauce for lighter lasagna, or interlace strips for a fiberful ravioli with half the calories and no carbs. You can also bake a spaghetti squash and shred to use instead of regular pasta noodles to add vitamins and fiber and subtract carbs/calories without losing that strand feel.

Just start small, with one swap at a time, and work your way into healthy eating. Try a new fruit or vegetable each time you go to the store. Maybe starfruit or jicama will be your new favorite snack! Before you know it, you will feel better, and look better too. Your skin and hair and nails will benefit from a varied diet of fresh, nutrition fruits and vegetables, your inner workings will love extra fiber and vitamins. Don't forget to hydrate! Drink water every 15-30 minutes throughout the day to look & feel your best.

What' your best sneaky healthy cooking tip?

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Crazy fast curried carrot soup

This dish happened because I had some squash that needed used up, and was in the mood for a thick winter vegetable stew. But I didn't want just acorn squash soup, so I added bunches of carrots for color and lots of spices for flavor.

1 acorn squash
1/2 cup milk
1 bag frozen carrots (or 1 bunch fresh)
Squirt of sriracha
2 tbsp garam masala
1 cup chicken broth

Step 1: Cut the squash in half and pull out seeds with a spoon. Put some water in the middle and microwave on high for five minutes. Flip upside-down and microwave another 5 minutes.
Step 2: The squash should be soft, remove the skin and smash in a bowl. It looks a bit like applesauce at this point.
Step 3: Put the squash in a blender with the milk, stock, spices, and carrots. If using fresh carrots, boil them or microwave for 10 minutes first so they are softened. Blend it all together.

There you have it, a simple thick stew with TONS of vitamins, fiber, and beta-carotene. Enjoy with a winter greens salad or some fresh bread.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Pi Day: Blackberry Pie

Happy Pi Day!

Since it is March 14 (or 3.14) it is international Pi Day, the day to celebrate the number pi. The Roman symbol above is how we write pi in math class. It is defined as the circumference of a perfect circle divided by its diameter, or the distance around the outside divided by the distance perfectly halfway across. Conveniently, Albert Einstein was also born on March 14th. But as for the number, possibly it's biggest (and only) claim to fame is that it is infinite. There is quite literally no end to the digits if you calculate it out exactly. 

The digits of pi have inspired people to memorize strings of thousands of numbers, competitions, "the million digits of pi", create poetry and music with these numbers. There is even a PiDay organization with a website that has all kinds of fun facts and stories about Pi. There is a video of a Pi Rap by Amy McConnell. Several businesses jump on any excuse for a holiday with special Pi Day Deals. There's even a trainer to help you memorize more digits of Pi! If you want to know more about how Pi Day began, and how Americans celebrate, check out CNN's article "How America celebrates Pi Day".

A clever t-shirt showing how "PIE" in a mirror is 3.14 Pi!
In honor of this unique number I'm posting a special recipe, for pie of course! Because blackberries were on sale this week, that is the fruit I chose. However, you can use any berry or fruit you like, including frozen.

2 pie crusts (I cheated and store-bought. If you're baking-savvy or brave, you can try making your own pie crust, like this one from Pioneer Woman)
4 cups blackberries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp milk
3 tbsp butter (Country Crock)
Step 1: Let the dough thaw for 10-20 minutes on the counter top, if it broke at all smush it back together with your fingers.
Step 2: Combine all ingredients but butter and milk in a large bowl to coat the berries with flour and sugar. Pour into your bottom crust. Place little chunks of butter around on the top.
Step  3: Place the other crust on top, and make sure to cut some hole to vent. I of course had to go full-nerd and cut "3.14" into the pie.
Step 4: Brush the top with milk (or egg) to make sure it gets nice a golden. Bake on a baking sheet in the middle of the oven at 400 for 12-15 minutes, until nice and bubbly and golden.

 Cut yourself a nice slice along the radius (math) and enjoy!

This is so amazing warm out of the oven, topped with vanilla ice cream or cool whip. It's warm and sweet and melty... MMMM! It is also amazing as breakfast with a cup of hot coffee. =)

And because you desperately need to know the millionth digit of Pi:


Just kidding. But if you really do want to know all one million go here

Are you doing anything to celebrate Pi Day?

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Fruit-filled Banana Bread

Sometimes in life, our good intentions drive us to over-buy on produce. Then we have cabbage rotting in the crisper, wilted kale and celery, oranges drying out on the counter, or brown-spotted bananas on the table. But this is not always a bad thing. Wilted veggies can be put in the freezer to become vegetable stock at a later date. Fruits that aren't moldy can be juiced or put into smoothies. And my favorite thing to do with mushy, old bananas is to make banana bread. This is why I never worry about buying too many bananas, because I know the ones that get old and turn brown are going to be made into a delicious breakfast or anytime treat! If I only have one, I put it in the freezer until I accumulate 3 or 4 bananas. Then it's game on. For this version I got the basic recipe from Simply Recipes and added some extras of my own.
  • 3 or 4 ripe bananas, smashed
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup sugar (can easily reduce to 3/4 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (or blackberries)
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries

Step 1: Mash the bananas in a bowl. Add the wet ingredients: egg, butter, vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, blueberries and cherries. Pour the wet into the dry and mix well.
Step 2: Spray an oven-safe bread pan with oil, and bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, until browned on the outside and a fork comes out clean in the middle.
This bread is soft on the inside with a perfectly crunchy top crust. The blueberries and cherries are chewy sweet surprises in every bite! I think this bread is perfect for adding all sorts of fruit goodies, you could use any berry you like. Healthify it with whole wheat flour, or add flax seeds. Use splenda or nutrisweet instead of regular sugar. Use applesauce instead of an egg to make it totally vegan. The possibilities are endless!

And for only 228 calories a slice, this is a great grab-and-go breakfast or evening snack to ward off a sweet tooth without breaking the calorie bank.


Nutrition Facts
  12 Servings

Amount Per Serving
  Calories 228.3
  Total Fat 5.8 g
      Saturated Fat 3.4 g
      Polyunsaturated Fat 0.4 g
      Monounsaturated Fat 1.5 g
  Cholesterol 29.1 mg
  Sodium 147.7 mg
  Potassium 167.5 mg
  Total Carbohydrate 42.1 g
      Dietary Fiber 1.7 g
      Sugars 22.2 g
  Protein 3.2 g

  Vitamin A 4.3 %
  Vitamin B-12 0.8 %
  Vitamin B-6 10.9 %
  Vitamin C 6.1 %
  Vitamin D 1.7 %
  Vitamin E 1.4 %
  Calcium 0.9 %
  Copper 3.6 %
  Folate 11.8 %
  Iron 6.5 %
  Magnesium 3.9 %
  Manganese 10.4 %
  Niacin 7.3 %
  Pantothenic Acid     2.1 %
  Phosphorus     4.1 %
  Riboflavin 9.3 %
  Selenium 10.7 %
  Thiamin 12.1 %
  Zinc 1.8 %

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.


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