I have the HARDEST time finding bouillon that doesn't contain MSG.  Here's a solution:  no MSG, no fillers, no preservatives.  Only what you choose to put in it.

This recipe was adapted from Traci's Transformational Health Principles by Traci J. Sellers

Vegetable Broth Powder     (makes about 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup Nutritional Yeast (to make your own, see here)
1/4 cup RealSalt (or Himalayan salt; something with those trace minerals)
1 Tbsp. onion powder (see how to make your own, here)
1 1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried dill weed
1 tsp. marjoram or oregano, optional
1 tsp. dried lemon peel, optional
1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. dry basil
1/2 tsp. ground thyme 

 Put everything except parsley in a blender or food processor, in the order given.  Blend until
 powdered.  Add parsley, pulse just enough to chop it a little bit (you're aiming for small bits).  Store in an airtight container indefinitely.  

To use, add a heaping 1/2 tsp. per cup of water, or 1 Tbsp. of powder  for every quart of water.

 
 
Curry is becoming known as a  bit of a superfood.  The spice blend's famous color is from one of its ingredients, turmeric.  Turmeric is now known to reduce inflammation- brain, systemic, and joints.  Here's a great way to use up some leftovers in a flavorful, healthy way!
Curry has an affinity for sweet, so it mixes perfectly with sweet potatoes or yams.

When I was in college, I lived in the cheapest off-campus apartment around.  There were several foreign students in the complex, and one day we had a potluck dinner together.  
One of the first foods on the table was an amazingly yellow... something.  So I asked what it was.  "Curry," she responded, "It's a food from Korea.". 
Further down the table was another bowl of yellow food.  I asked about it.  "Chicken Curry," she explained, "The Jamaicans invented it."  
Another friend walked up with a now-familiar color.  I asked. 
"Curry.  It's from Africa."

It was good.  All three were.  Good enough I could see why everybody claimed it was from their own native country.

Since my roommate was the Jamaican, that's whose recipe I got, though I had to watch her make it and estimate the amounts at the time.  This recipe is based on hers, though she used bone-in chicken thighs, less onion but added a couple green onions,  potatoes instead of sweet potatoes, and serve it not only over rice, but also with thick, chewy 'Jamaican Dumplings'.  The recipe is flexible.

Curry.  From America.

Sweet Potato Curry with Turkey- makes about 6 cups

2 Tbsp. oil
1-2 Tbsp. curry
2 medium onions, sliced into rings
1 c. cooked turkey, cubed (can use chicken instead)
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed*
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4- 1/2 tsp. pepper, to taste
water

*I used raw sweet potatoes, but feel free to use cooked ones- you can even get away with using leftover Thanksgiving baked sweet potatoes as long as they're not too saccharine; reduce cooking time accordingly.

Heat oil on medium-high heat until shimmering-hot.  Add the curry powder- amount depends on how strong you like it.  (I like it strong.)  Stir, and let it heat for about a minute to 'bloom' the flavor.  It's done when it starts to smell delicious and a little toasty. DON'T burn it.  (Nasty, bitter flavor!...)  Reduce heat to medium, add onion; cook until they are tender, stirring occasionally.  
Stir in turkey, then add sweet potatoes, salt, and pepper.  Add water until the food is nearly covered.  Put a lid on the pan and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes or until just tender.  Remove lid, increase heat and gently boil until liquid is reduced by about half.  

Serve hot by itself or over rice.

Optional:sprinkle with any of the following:
chopped peanuts
green peas
mandarin orange segments
shredded coconut
diced apple
dollop of sour cream or unsweetened yogurt
chopped hardboiled eggs
bits of dried fruit

 
 
Today I read a research article about how having breakfast as your biggest meal of the day  rather than dinner can lead to both better insulin sensitivity and increased fertility.  In the study, they had women consume about 980 calories at breakfast, which was just over half the amount for the whole day.  If you use two slices of homemade or other good-quality whole-wheat bread (about 120 calories apiece), one large egg  (80 cal), and a one-ounce slice of real cheese (about 100 cal), you're almost halfway there.  I love to eat this with a fresh apple (a medium-large apple is about 100 calories).  

OK, so that's still not up to the numbers in the study.  But it's a great breakfast anyway.  Maybe make two?  

In less time than it takes to go through the drive-through, you can have a breakfast sandwich you made yourself.  At the bargain-hunting prices I pay for food (including making the bread), a two-slice sandwich costs just under $ .30.  (The bread costs me about $ .50 for a 1 1/2 pound loaf.  See the recipe here.)  
Dress it up with anything you want on it, or leave it simple.  I don't add salt to the egg because the cheese and bread are salty enough for me. For more flavor, add a sprinkle of oregano or other seasoning.  You can make it as healthy as you like; I use homemade whole-wheat bread for a breakfast that sticks with me for more than an hour.

Here are the quick instructions:  microwave one beaten egg for about 45 seconds, top it with a slice of cheese, put this on top of a slice of toast.
If you want a sausage-and-egg sandwich, before cooking your egg, put one precooked sausage link into the cereal bowl, chop it up with the fork, then add the egg and beat it. 

The photos below have more detailed instructions.
 
 
The last time I cooked beet greens for my family was about three years ago.  I grew up eating them because I 'had to', and continued it because their nutrition content reads like a fantastic multi-vitamin:  protein, fiber, folic acid, phosphorus, zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, Vitamins A, C, E, K, and three different B vitamins.
But I'll tell you what- after that last time cooking and eating those soggy, bitter greens (I might have burnt them a bit too) all by myself-- sort of plugging my nose as I did-- cuz, dang it, they're good for me!  I thought that'd be the last time I cooked them.

When I pulled the first beets out of the soil this year, though, the old "you oughtta" came back.  This time I was prepared with The Best Vegetable Recipes cookbook from the America's Test Kitchen people.  They had a recipe that could be completed in under ten minutes and sounded like it might not be as terrible as my last attempt.

It was so good I ate seconds.  My husband ate seconds.  My kids at least ate firsts.  And I shared this and Pink Potato Salad with a couple 'foodie' neighbors, who also loved them.  

Not that anyone'd choose this over chocolate; maybe it was just that the greens were much better than anyone's latest memory of them, especially with the crunchy, fragrant nuts and the bit of sweet from the currants.

The amounts and technique will work on any moderately thick green like kale or chard.  (The chard's up next in my yard.)  The original recipe called for cutting out the stems, but they're also good, just take a bit of extra cooking to tenderize.  They can be a little bitter, but the currants countered any of that.

The quantities I used were approximately
1-2 lbs. beet greens
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic (or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder)
1/4 c. pine nuts, chopped  (or other nut you like)
2 Tbsp. currants (chopped raisins work too)

See the slide show for instructions.
 
 
Why is it almost Taco Salad?  Because there's no tostada or chips with it.  If you want full-blown Taco Salad, just add some.  Pretend they're corn-chip croutons.  I didn't use those because of a sudden urge to make roasted potatoes and didn't want a lot more carbohydrates in the meal.  Besides, if I opened a bag of chips, the whole thing would disappear, and that's anywhere from $1- 2.50, depending on if we're using cheap tortilla chips or Fritos.  The potatoes, as our carb, cost about $ .50 instead.  Yum.

Almost-Taco Salad

 ½ lb. ground beef
1 Tbsp. tomato powder
2 Tbsp. chili powder
Salt to taste
1 head of lettuce (or a half head each Iceburg and red leaf lettuce)
½ green bell pepper
½ red bell pepper
½ c. shredded cheese
1 tomato, cut in wedges
Optional: thin-sliced onion, sliced avocado, jicama cubes, cooked black beans, drained canned corn, canned green chilies....

Cook the beef until browned.  Meanwhile, wash and chop lettuce and veggies.  Put the lettuce in, then add the vegetables and most of the cheese; mix slightly.  When the burger is done, drain off grease, then add tomato powder and chili powder.  Stir to coat, taste and add salt if needed.  Spread out the meat on a plate to cool more quickly.    When it’s cool, top the salad with it and the remaining cheese.

My family thought it was good without salad dressing, but if you want something to drizzle on top, Ranch is a good choice- especially if you mix a little chili powder into it-, OR this:

Creamy Garlic Dressing:

¼ c. plain yogurt or sour cream
1 Tbsp. water or milk
½ tsp. garlic powder
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp. dried parsley, optional, if you want it to look prettier

Whisk until smooth.
Serve with oregano-roasted potato wedges and vegetable sticks.

 
 
Surely many of you are in the same boat.

Out of the eight of us in the house, we've learned that one child can't have wheat.  She's so sensitive that eating one 1/4" piece of bread caused her arms to turn hot pink and start to weep.  But the rest of us are fine.  We're still in the process of determining if she reacts to gluten, or to just the wheat itself, so for now everything must be wheat-free AND gluten-free.  And dairy-free, while we're figuring out if that's an issue too.  For some strange reason, I prefer to cook only one meal, per meal.  And special 'gluten-free' foods are pricey.  Really pricey.  So I'll let you know how I've adapted.  Hopefully it'll help you or someone else having to adapt to whatever allergy or special needs diet strikes just one or two in your family.  


Eight Tips for feeling (more) normal when someone has special dietary needs

1- Plan on preparing most of your family's foods.  
Unless you have nothing against quadrupling your family's food budget.  Not kidding.   If you didn't cook much before, brush up on the basics.  They'll do for now.  And for a while.

2- Eat naturally wheat-free foods
Keep a list around so you can focus on what CAN be eaten rather than all the CAN'Ts.  It's empowering and encouraging.  While you're still getting used to what's okay and not, go through your kitchen and pantry, and write down everything that is GF already, including all plain spices and herbs (blends might not be; check), canned/fresh/frozen fruits and vegetables, rice, plain beans, flax, buckwheat, meat in its natural state, eggs, peanut butter, olives, potato chips, popcorn, jam, ketchup...  See a bigger list here, halfway down the page.  There's a GF year-supply list here.  You know, I've been telling myself for years that we oughta eat more rice and beans.  They're cheap, store well, and are filling. 
Those have suddenly become more popular at my house.

3- Make a list of 10-15 meals your family likes that are gluten/wheat-free and can be made using what you typically have on hand.  Include both super-quick meals and more involved ones.  Be willing to spend about an hour doing this; it'll save you much more time than that in the long run.  Get input from your kids.  Tape the list someplace handy like the inside of your cooking supplies cupboard.  No more panic or feeling helpless at a change of dinner plans!

4- When you cook some specialty gluten-free food, go ahead and make a big batch.  Then freeze the rest in individual serving sizes.  For my 10-year-old, the ziptop "snack size" baggies are the perfect size.  There's a gallon-sized ziptop bag labeled for her in the freezer. What's in it changes often.  Right now it has GF waffles and breadsticks, spaghetti (made with specialty GF pasta) and sauce, seasoned rice, dairy-free homemade ice cream (made in my blender), and GF chocolate chip cookies.  Remember treats. They've saved my daughter from feeling deprived with all these new "don't"s.  Whenever my husband pulls out the ice cream, she pulls out her freezer bag and gets something sweet too.  I also keep one loaf of GF bread in the freezer, for sandwiches and toast.  She pulls out a couple slices whenever needed.

5- Keep a small plastic bin full of GF baking supplies, like the photo above. It's handy for all kinds of things. My 'essentials' include a bag of GF flour mix (homemade or storebought), xantham gum, some white flour like rice, tapioca, or potato starch, and a whole-grain GF flour like brown rice, lentil, oat, or sorghum.  Mine also has a bag of dairy-free chocolate chips in it, good for a lot more than just cookies.  I've found flours like tapioca, potato starch, and rice flour at the Asian market for a fraction of the price.

6- Try a new GF recipe at least once a week.  And maybe only once a week, depending on how overwhelming it is to you.  Have that other family member cook with you, so she'll learn to cook for herself later.  If you love bread, stick with the quickbreads for a while.  They're much simpler.  I think the easiest way to learn, other than just trying a new GF mix each week, is to buy a copy of of Living Without magazine.  Or sign up for their free weekly newsletter, which includes a recipe.   I love the magazine format because you can learn in 5-minute increments.

7- Remember to watch out for cross-contamination
I think this is actually the hardest one.  You might want to have TWO jars of mayonnaise and jam open, one of each labeled as GF.  Otherwise it's really easy for bread crumbs from one person to end up in the jar, where they'll cause the allergic person grief.  Remember that toasters carry crumbs.  Wipe the counters really well.  Consider having a second set of measuring cups, possibly mixing bowls and cooling racks too, depending on severity of reaction.  If you have a regular wheat grinder you can grind your own GF flours, using things like rice, beans, oats, lentils, quinoa, etc, BUT only use a mill that has not been used for wheat.  Unless you want to invite problems.  Some things can be ground in a blender, like oats, if those are OK for your family member.

And,
8- Read labels.  Always.  Always.
Learn which ingredients have hidden gluten.  You'll be surprised at what you find.  Sometimes good surprises.  Sometimes lame ones.  Realize too that sometimes companies change their ingredients, and something that didn't have gluten/wheat in it before, might the next time you buy it.  Knowing exactly what you're eating is a good idea anyway.


You can do this!  :D

Love, Rhonda
 
 
Swiss Steak was made, in the beginning, to be a budget-friendly main course.  You take a cheap steak, pound flour and seasonings into it, and braise with tomatoes and onions until the tougher cut becomes tender.


Cheap steak is still pretty expensive in my book.

Hamburger is cheaper, and results in something that tastes just as delicious, even if the texture is different than having a solid piece of meat.  That's OK with me.  I was a little doubtful about the 'tomato gravy' when I first saw the recipe, but it is superb!  
The original recipe came from America's Test Kitchen, but I've modified it a few ways...


Swiss Steak with Tomato Gravy
Serves 8

2 lbs. ground beef or 8 (4 oz) patties
salt and pepper
1 onion, sliced thin
1 Tbsp. cornstarch or flour
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes OR one quart home-canned tomatoes (OR one can diced tomatoes and one can of chicken broth)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme OR 1 1/2 tsp. fresh OR 1 tiny drop thyme essential oil
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh or dried parsley
Cooked rice or noodles

Set an oven rack to the highest position and turn on the broiler.  Shape burger into 8 patties (if they're not shaped already); set them on a rimmed baking sheet or in a 9x13 pan.  Set onions on the baking sheet too.  Sprinkle meat with salt and pepper.  Broil patties and onions for 2-4 minutes or until they have a good browned crust at least around the edges.  Turn off broiler and heat oven to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, put the cornstarch in a medium saucepan and stir in about 2 Tbsp of the juice from the canned tomatoes.  Stir until smooth, then gradually stir in the remaining tomatoes, plus broth if using it.  Add garlic and thyme.  Stir over high heat until it comes to a boil.  

After the meat has come out of the oven, add the parsley and pour the tomato gravy over top.  Return it all to the oven and bake 20 minutes or until done and tender. 
Serve over rice or noodles, spooning sauce over.
 
 
You know how they say "great minds think alike"?   Three neighbors gave me cheeseballs as a Christmas gift.  One of them (Juliette's) was so good I made a batch of Juliette's Green Chili Cheese Ball to give out (and eat too).  The result was that I had a tad too much cheeseball in the fridge.  Granted, it will last a couple weeks if wrapped well- 

but I also had some leftover smashed potatoes.

And the two leftovers turned out to make a beautiful couple.  What's a cheeseball?  Cream cheese, shredded cheese, seasonings... all stuff that goes well with potatoes.

Maybe you'll find a cheeseball on clearance at the grocery store, or maybe get handed the leftovers at a party, or maybe you'll make one...

At any rate, here's a new favorite side dish.  I cooked some leftover-from New-Year's-Eve sliced summer sausage to go along with it, and served with a salad and sliced apples.  I'd even eat it as a main dish; we often cook meatless meals.  (It's cheaper.  And probably healthier.)

Leftover Cheese Ball Potatoes
4-6 cups mashed potatoes
1/2 cup (4 oz) leftover cheese ball
2 eggs (these make the casserole puff as it cooks, plus adds protein)

Mash everything together and spread in an 8x8 pan.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
OR, to make it faster, reheat the mashed potatoes in the microwave before adding everything, bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, then move it to the top rack in the oven.  Broil for 2-4 minutes (check at two minutes!!), until browned on top.
 
 
There's just over a week left until Voting Day...

And people here in Utah have been asking what they need to know about the proposed Utah constitutional amendments.  There is a state voting website, vote.utah.gov , where you can read what the proposed change is along with a "for" essay and an "against" one, but I think some dialogue is missing.  This is what I'd like others to know about the proposals this year:


Constitutional Amendment A-  Joint Resolution on Severance Tax  

There are a few problems I see with this proposal.
1- the budget shortfall it creates until 2044 or whenever the interest generated catches up to the annual amount pulled out of use.

2- the inflexibility of the mandate.  Do we need RULES for everything?  They tend to discourage the use of reason and common sense in each year's budget.  How about understanding and living by principles instead? Yes, there are ways to access the severance tax fund in an emergency, but this seems too restrictive for the time we're in; see #3:

3- this appears to actually TAKE from future generations:  it takes away our ability to pay down our current debt. According to the Utah Debt Clock, our state has $19.5 billion in debt.  This is where we are truly stealing from future generations.  The greater favor we can do for them is to pay off our debt now, then have our state representatives learn to stay within a budget.   

If you made $40K each year but spent $46K annually, would you put money aside into a low-yield savings account while you were $39K in debt?  Those are the numbers that Utah Debt Clock translates to. 

This proposal would most likely be a great thing if we were debt-free. But we're not.
The smart thing would be to pay off debt as fast as you could with everything available, then live within (= BELOW) our means.  That's how we prepare for the needs of future generations.
My vote: No on Constitutional Amendment A


Constitutional Amendment B- Joint Resolution on Property Tax Exemption for Military Personnel

No 'against' statement was given at vote.utah.gov.  When I called the Lieutenant Governor's office to ask why, they said those 'for' or 'against' statements must be submitted, before a certain deadline, by the senators who voted for or against it.  Nobody submitted the 'against', though there were some who did not vote for it. You can go to le.utah.gov to see who voted for or against this resolution.

This is not a matter of if I/we appreciate military sacrifices or not, though it's painted as such.  It is a matter of if an additional expense is justified in our state budget.  See budget numbers above.

This amendment proposes something that equates to a pay increase.  If it is truly justified, let's have a straightforward pay raise, then, rather than adding further complication to our tax system.  

Are our military people going to be in favor of this amendment?  Most likely.  It would be very tempting to me to push for something that exempted me from paying property tax; the only ones who like the tax are the cities and departments being handed the money to spend.   In addition, this proposal will decrease revenue, leading to "the government taxing entity" increasing property taxes on the rest of us.  I'm tired of being slowly bled to death by 'minor' fees.  They add up.  Furthermore, I will never truly own my own land, as it can be confiscated if I fail to pay property taxes.  It is not fair to say that some of us are subject to that threat and others are not.

Sympathy and gratitude do not justify further mandatory redistribution, especially in a manner that is easier to hide.  

Daniel McCay, a state representative from Riverton, voted against this resolution.  When I spoke with him, he said he voted 'no' because there are better- more straightforward- ways to deal with this than waive tax requirements. He was also concerned that this opens a new door- if we exempt active military, then what about firemen?  Police?  Teachers?  Other public sector workers? 
My vote: No on Constitutional Amendment B


Proposal for Salt Lake County Bond- Open Space, Natural Habitat, Parks, and Community Trails

This is a vote to allow additional debt of $47 million on a 20 year loan, plus interest, plus additional annual expenditures of $581,000, all paid for by tax revenue. General Obligation bonds, like this, are paid for through raising property taxes.

As of June 30, 2012, Salt Lake County itself has nearly $254 million in 'general obligation' bond debt.  This one proposal would take us to $300 million in debt. In 2004 we had $106 million in debt.  Let's not make it worse. Last year SL County paid out $21 million in interest (see chart pg. 155).
My vote: No on County Bond

 
 
Have you noticed packages shrinking? 

One caught me by surprise the other day.  I had not noticed anything when buying some cake mixes, but once I was mixing one up, I happened to look at the net weight written on the front.  If you click on the picture above, you can see closer.  (The one on the right says 19.5 ounces.)  The mix shrunk by more than three ounces, or about 2/3 of a cup!  Same brand, same price, purchased about a year apart.  To make it even less noticeable, the instructions remain the same as before: you add the same amount of water, the same 3 eggs, and the same quantity of oil.  You end up with about 1/2 cup less cake batter, though, which means your cake will be a little less tall. 

I checked all the cake mix brands at the store after this, and found that nearly every one had shrunk the same amount.  The only exception there was the Western Family brand. 

The first shrinking package I remember seeing was for ice cream.  As early as I know, the regular carton size held 2 quarts, which is 64 ounces.  A few years ago they shrunk to 58 ounces, and now many of them are 48 ounces.  That's 3/4 of what it used to be.  That means IF the price per carton remained the same, prices actually increased 25%.  But prices have gone up, as well.

When expenses rise for the manufacterers, they have two choices:
*raise the price of what they're selling- which often discourages customers from buying as much- or
*reduce the amount of food in the package.  Most people don't notice.  To be fair, sometimes a smaller package is all the modern family wants.  However, when the price of a newly-smaller box is the same as the older bigger one was, you know something's happening.

Tuna fish cans used to hold 6 ounces, as recently as about 5 years ago.   Now they're 5 ounces, which is about 17% less food.

So when you're shopping, noticing the quantity in the package will help you understand the real inflation numbers!