Category Archives: Dips and Sauces

How to: Make Homemade Yogurt in Mason Jars

 

Have you ever had the Greek yogurt flips? They are so delicious, and I’ve recently fallen in love with them, as a quick breakfast or anytime snack or treat. But…

  1. They can do some damage to your budget, at about $4 per 4-pack
  2. They cause a lot of plastic waste with their cute individual serving size square plastic covered to-go-ness
  3. They contain a pretty big dose of sugar

In my first Weekly Eating post, I promised that I would try to find a more frugal alternative. Turns out, making your own yogurt at home is quite easy, if tons of bloggers are to be believed! Special thanks to Mrs. Picky Pincher, whose blog finally convinced me to give it a go.

There are so many ways to do so, from fancy temperature-controlled and timer-activated yogurt making machines to crock pots to stovetop.

But who has time for that?

Not me! I’m all about the easiest, most frugal solution that satisfies a need. Therefore when I read that making yogurt in a mason jar was a thing, my eyes lit up! Conveniently, I read this on my go-to-the-store day, so I picked up a half gallon of milk to experiment with. Even if it went horribly wrong, I would only be out $1.18.

Turns out, it truly is SO SIMPLE!

I turned on a show on Netflix after dinner, and while hubby and I enjoyed bonding time the yogurt was doing its thing. We even left it overnight to do the incubation part, and I woke up to 2 fresh quarts of delicious, additive and sugar free homemade yogurt! Talk about feeling like a badass homesteader.

This recipe makes 2 quarts of yogurt from one half gallon of milk.

You can easily scale it up for a whole gallon and make 4 quarts, or even down to make as small as one pint of yogurt. Now that I know how well this works and how easy it is, I will probably make at least one gallon each week.

For starter culture, just pick a plain yogurt that you enjoy the taste of, and use about 2 tbsp per half gallon. It can be plain or Greek yogurt, organic or not, you decide. That’s the beauty of making your own homemade staples! You can also find freeze dried or powdered yogurt starter cultures online.

 

You will need:

  • 1/2 gallon whole or 2% milk
  • 2 large quart mason jars & lids
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt to start the culture
  • A big pot to boil water
  • Optional but helpful: A thermometer, a crock pot

Step 1: Make sure your jars are washed and clean. If you really are paranoid about germs (silly, since you’re about to purposefully grow jars of bacteria, but whatever…) you can boil them or run them through a dishwasher cycle first.

Fill the 2 jars with milk, leaving 1-2 inches of space at the top. Place them in a pot of water that covers them at least 2/3 of the way. I added extra jars around them so they do not tip over or rattle as the water boils. Bring the water to a gentle simmer.

Step 2: Go do something else while you wait for the milk to reach about 180 degrees. If you have a thermometer, great, you can check it every half hour or so. They took about an hour to reach 180 for me. If you don’t have a thermometer, the milk will be ready when a thick “skin” forms on top of the milk. Throw this skin away, and remove the jars from the water.

Step 3: Preheat a slow cooker on high, this will be your incubator later*. You can be lazy like me and just leave the hot jars on a surface to cool, this will take about an hour also. Or you can put them in a pot of lukewarm to cold water, to cool them faster. I didn’t want to chance breaking the jars, so I just put them on the stovetop and we went for a walk.

You want the jar to reach 110-120 degrees before adding the starter culture. If you don’t have a thermometer, just go by feel. When the jars are cool enough that you can wrap your hand around it and hold on for a minute or so, they are ready. You want it cool enough that the good bacteria you are about to add don’t get immediately scorched, but to grow they like a nice cozy temp.

Step 4: Take about 2 tbsp of plain yogurt, pour 1/2 cup of the warm milk into it, and mix well. Then pour half of this mix back into each jar. Give it a nice stir to distribute the good guys all around the milk, but not too violent. Unplug your slow cooker, put the jars in the warm crock, cover, and wrap in a few towels.

That’s it! Let your jars sit, undisturbed, for at least 8 hours up to overnight. You can start this in the morning and let it go all day, or start it at night and let it cook while you sleep. This is a great hands-off activity that leaves you feeling so accomplished!

*If you do not have a crock pot, you can also use a small cooler for the incubation period. Just take a small, waterproof container and fill it with warm to hot water. Put  your mason jars with starter culture in there, cover well, and wrap it in some towels. Let it sit for at least 8 hours up to overnight.

How to: Make Homemade Yogurt in Mason Jars

Yield: 2 quarts

How to: Make Homemade Yogurt in Mason Jars

Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon whole or 2% milk
  • 2 large quart mason jars
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt to start the culture
  • A big pot to boil water
  • Optional but helpful: A thermometer, a crock pot

Instructions

  1. Make sure your jars are washed and clean. Fill 2 jars with milk, leaving 1-2 inches of space at the top. Place them in a pot of water that covers them at least 2/3 of the way. Bring the water to a gentle simmer.
  2. Go do something else while you wait for the milk to reach about 180 degrees. If you have a thermometer, great, you can check it every half hour or so. They took about an hour to reach 180 for me. If you don't have a thermometer, the milk will be ready when a thick "skin" forms on top of the milk. Throw this skin away, and remove the jars from the water.
  3. Preheat a slow cooker on high, this will be your incubator later. You can be lazy like me and just leave the hot jars on a surface to cool, this will take about an hour also. Or you can put them in a pot of lukewarm to cold water, to cool them faster. You want the jar to reach 110-120 degrees before adding the starter culture.
  4. Take about 2 tbsp of plain yogurt, pour 1/2 cup of the warm milk into it, and mix well. Then pour half of this mix back into each jar. Give it a nice stir to distribute the good guys all around the milk, but not too violent. Unplug your slow cooker, put the jars in the warm crock, cover, and wrap in a few towels.
  5. That's it! Let your jars sit, undisturbed, for at least 8 hours up to overnight.
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
http://www.budgetepicurean.com/less-than-5/mason-jar-yogurt/

 

Disclaimer: I am not a health professional, no content on this blog is intended to diagnose, treat, or cure and ailment or condition. I am also a member of Amazon Affiliate program, some links will lead you to products which, if you choose to buy, will give the blog a portion of profits without affecting your experience. It helps keep this great content coming for you! 

Balsamic Berry Sauce

 

Fresh berries are nature’s candies. Bright and juicy, they are one of the most healthful natural foods. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, whatever the color they are super! If you want to use them for something other than snacking and parfaits, here is a great dessert sauce recipe!

This sauce is a perfect accompaniment to ice cream, or poured over angel food cake, or even by itself with some fresh cream. It would make a great sauce for chicken, duck, or pork as well. You may like it so much you just eat it from the pan with a spoon! Not that I would or did do that…

Frozen berries would work just as well, you would just have to cook it a little longer to evaporate the extra water. The longer you simmer, the thicker and more syrup-like this will become. You could even use it on top of pancakes! I used half blackberries and half raspberries, you could mix however you like.

20170113_185604

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh or frozen berries
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar

20170113_212955

Step 1: In a frying pan, mix berries with sugar, lemon juice and balsamic. Bring to barely a simmer, and cook on low heat for 20-25 minutes, until berries have liquefied and the mixture has become thick and syrupy.

20170113_213011

Step 2: Pour over some high quality vanilla or flavored ice cream, and enjoy warm!

This is delicious warm, and has a nice little tang from the vinegar. The lemon juice brightens it, but it is not absolutely required. You could try cherries too, I bet that would be the bomb diggity.

 

Last Minute Apps & Snacks

 

So, rumor has it tonight is some big sportsball thing…

Just kidding, of course as an American I’m aware of what is basically a national holiday, the Super Bowl! This year we even get back Roman Numerals (remember those things from history class? dare you to remember what more than 3 letters stand for…)

SuperBowlLILogoThis is a little ironic for me this year, as I just moved from CT (New England) to NC (the South, like Atlanta). While I could root for either, I think I like the Falcons’ colors better TBH.

0

Whether you’re hosting or attending a party, you may not have had time to fully prepare, or you may have realized you have way more guests than you have chicken wings. In that case, you could panic and spend this week’s paycheck at the deli or getting a pizza…

OR you could try any of these super-simple app and snack ideas, each guaranteed to cost <$10 and take minutes to put together! I know which one I’d go with.

*Twice baked potato skins: Rinse and poke holes in a dozen medium potatoes. Bake at 350 for 45 min – 1 hour, until soft. Cut in half, scoop out the insides into a bowl and mash with some cheese or milk. Load back into skins, top however you want, and bake open-faced for another 15- 20 minutes. You could even build a “pick-your-own-toppings” bar, or let them keep warm in the oven until needed.

*White bean dip: Open a can of white beans, drain. Puree in a blender, and add garlic salt and lemon juice to taste, slowly pour in olive oil until you get your desired consistency. Serve with pita chips and fresh veggies.

*Bruschetta: Slice Italian bread thinly, top with diced tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar. Bake at 350 for 15ish minutes, sprinkle with basil, parsley, and/or garlic salt.

*Mac-n-cheese bites: Make a box of mac n cheese, then scoop into a greased muffin tin. Sprinkle with bread crumbs or crushed crackers, bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Portion control!

20160920_183456

*Bacon-wrapped asparagus: Take slices of bacon and wrap around 2-3 bunched asparagus spears. Lay on a pan and bake in the oven at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until bacon is crispy but asparagus is soft.

*Football deviled eggs: Make deviled eggs as normal (hard-boil a dozen, cut in half, take out the yellows. Mash with some mayo and mustard, fill back into the white halves) but then make them cute with football “laces” made from chives, black olives, etc.

*Caprese salad: Super simple, just layer sliced fresh mozzarella and tomato with some basil leaves, drizzle with olive oil. Bonus points if you get baby mozarella and grape tomatoes and put them on a skewer!

20160724_074011

*Quesadillas! Who doesn’t love quesadillas, they are a perfect hand-held food. Just take 2 tortillas, fill as you like with beans, avocado, guac, hummus, any kind of cheese, and fry on both sides until golden. Slice into quarters and serve with dips and toppers.

*Crock Pot Meatballs! There are so many options, but the best ones are just toss-it-in-and-wait. Swedish Meatballs are a classic, of course you could do regular tomato sauce and serve with thick hoagie buns, or try sweet and sour for an Asian twist.

IMG_2601

*Loaded nacho bar: Open a bag of chips and dump into a big bowl. Line a table with smaller bowls of beans, salsa, guac, sour cream, sliced olives, shredded lettuce, cheese, etc and let your guests customize to their heart’s content.

*Black bean hummus: open and drain a can of black beans. In a blender, combine with a clove or 2 of garlic, 2 tbsp peanut butter (yup you read that right), and olive oil. Whir until smooth!

IMG_9481

*Spinach Artichoke Dip: there are so many variations, but I’d go for any crock pot version. This way you can toss all the ingredients in, turn it on high when you arrive, then by halftime that dip is ready to keep the party rockin when all the wings are gone

*Football pepperoni roll pinwheels: roll out a tortilla, cover with a thin layer of pizza sauce, mini pepperoni, and cheese. Roll tightly, press down to make an oval shape. Cut into slices, lay on the side, and draw football laces with mustard, sour cream or sliced pepperoni

*Football shaped fritter: these are the cutest darn things, and actually quite healthy! Don’t let the beer-chugging manic shushing everyone know there’s a serving of veggies in there

Vegetable-Pancake-Footballs-Super-Bowl-Recipes-Super-Bowl-Football-shaped-food-and-appetizers-

*Classic cheese or veggie tray: if you have some carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, or radishes, just serve with some ranch dressing or any dip. And if you’ve a brick or chunks of random cheeses, now is a perfect excuse to lay them all out artfully and clean your fridge at the same time

Whatever you make or eat, make sure you enjoy the company. That’s what any party is really all about!

Sweet & Spicy Asian Beef Bowl

Do you love Asian inspired foods, but think they are too difficult to make? Do you find yourself reaching for the take-out menu every time you crave something sweet, spicy, and salty?

No more!

This Asian inspired sweet and spicy rice bowl can be on your table before the delivery guy even shows up! And for barely the cost of a tip you can have dinner for the whole family.

With several pantry staples (nothing crazy, exotic, or over the top expensive here) you can create a complex sauce that would be great on beef, turkey, chicken, pork, or tofu.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground turkey, beef, or tofu
  • 2 tbsp mustard
  • 1/4 c soy sauce
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, grated
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • Optional: sprinkle of cayenne, fresh diced hot pepper

Step 1: In a frying pan, combine all ingredients and cook, covered, until fully browned. Break up the meat into small pieces.

Step 2: Take the lid off, and continue to simmer until the sauce cooks down and thickens a bit. You can also add 1/2 tbsp cornstarch or flour if you’d like it thicker.

Step 3: Serve over rice or noodles, optional garnishes include green onion, sesame seeds, fresh chopped lettuce, etc.

This makes a great meal prep meal too, as you can pack it up with a side of whatever veg you like, and it reheats like a dream. This goes great with peppers & onions, green beans, broccoli, or my personal favorite, edamame. You may think microwaved lettuce would be weird, but I promise, in this bowl it just works.

 

Sweet & Spicy Asian Beef Bowl

Yield: 4

Sweet & Spicy Asian Beef Bowl

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground turkey or beef
  • 2 tbsp mustard
  • 1/4 c soy sauce
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, grated
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • Optional: sprinkle of cayenne, fresh diced hot pepper

Instructions

  1. In a frying pan, combine all ingredients and cook, covered, until fully browned. Break up the meat into small chunks. 
  2. Take the lid off, and continue to simmer until the sauce cooks down and thickens a bit. You can also add 1/2 tbsp cornstarch or flour if you'd like it thicker.
  3. Serve over rice or noodles, optional garnishes include green onion, sesame seeds, fresh chopped lettuce, shredded cheese, etc.
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
http://www.budgetepicurean.com/finances/sweet-spicy-asian-beef-bowl/

Blender Pesto Sauce

 

One of my favorite things about summer is all the fresh delicious produce, including fresh herbs.  Basil in particular seems to grow really well near me in CT, last summer it turned into a huge bush of a plant, and this year’s crop looks promising for the same.  As you may or may not know, to keep basil producing you need to harvest regularly to encourage new growth and discourage the plant from going to seed.

That’s great news for those who love basil, like me!  Pesto is such a great, fresh, summer recipe that can be way easier than you may think. Many people are intimidated by pesto, thinking Pine nuts are way too expensive for me, or I don’t want to grate fresh hard cheeses just for a weeknight dinner.

Well, don’t worry this recipe is super low-stress! And super low cost too, if you have your own basil plant. During the summer, even if you don’t have basil of your own, it is super affordable at a farmer’s market as it peaks in production. This recipe uses fresh basil, but you can SO EASILY slip other greens in here!  Try adding fresh chives, green onion, swiss chard, spinach, collards, or arugula. Just keep it less than 1/3 the total volume and use mostly basil.

Basil in the blender

This recipe is made in the blender, which saves you the trouble of chopping or blending yourself. Just add you ingredients, adjust as needed, and whir away. Mix in the cheese just before serving, and you have a super quick, super healthy meal in minutes.

Blender Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups basil (optional extra greens)
  • 3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large cloves fresh garlic
  • 1/4 cup walnut pieces (or pine nuts)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I used the green can stuff, you can also buy fresh hard cheese and grate it yourself to be more authentic)
  • Dash of lime or lemon juice
  • Sea salt or garlic salt to taste
  • Dash of cooking water from pasta, or hot water

Blender pesto sauce in a bowl

Step 1: Add the basil and greens into your blender, and whir once or twice.  Toss in the garlic, walnuts, and olive oil. Blend for a minute.

Step 2: Using a spatula, push the pieces down the sides of the blender. Continue blending and pushing it back down to blend it all together. Meanwhile, boil your pasta and drain, reserving a bit of the cooking water.

Fresh pasta and pesto sauce

Step 3: Pour the pesto into a bowl, using a spatula to get it all out.  Mix in the lime or lemon juice and sea salt or garlic salt to taste.  Then mix in the cheese, and add the hot cooking water until it is the consistency you desire.

20160716_152313

Step 4: Mix the pesto into your fresh pasta, and enjoy! I served this with garlic bread and an extra sprinkle of Parmesan on top. Some swiss chard and arugula is hiding in there, and no one was the wiser, I got two males to eat this and praise how good it was! Give it a try and see if you don’t want this to become a staple of your summer meals.

 

(Oh, and if you still have more basil left over, pesto freezes well, or try making some blueberry basil iced tea to go with the pasta!)

 

Blender Pesto Sauce

Blender Pesto Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 cups basil (optional extra greens)
  • 3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large cloves fresh garlic
  • 1/4 cup walnut pieces (or pine nuts)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I used the green can stuff, you can also buy fresh hard cheese and grate it yourself to be more authentic)
  • Dash of lime or lemon juice
  • Sea salt or garlic salt to taste
  • Dash of cooking water from pasta, or hot water

Instructions

  1. Add the basil and greens into your blender, and whir once or twice. Toss in the garlic, walnuts, and olive oil. Blend for a minute.
  2. Using a spatula, push the pieces down the sides of the blender. Continue blending and pushing it back down to blend it all together. Meanwhile, boil your pasta and drain, reserving a bit of the cooking water.
  3. Pour the pesto into a bowl, using a spatula to get it all out. Mix in the lime or lemon juice and sea salt or garlic salt to taste. Then mix in the cheese, and add the hot cooking water until it is the consistency you desire.
  4. Mix the pesto into your fresh pasta, and enjoy!
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
http://www.budgetepicurean.com/vegetarian/blender-pesto-sauce/

Save

Pink Fluff

 

With summer in full swing, there are picnics to attend, pool parties to have, and barbecues and potlucks to create a dish for.  This is the time for quick and easy, no-bake, crowd pleasing recipes.  It is hot enough outside, you don’t want to turn on the oven. And you only have an hour until you need to show up at someone’s door, dish in hand to share.

I’ve got you covered.

My family has a recipe that’s been around as long as I can remember. It is a part of every summer picnic, get-together, birthday party. Everyone who tries it for the first time loves it, and wants to know the secret. The secret of Pink Fluff.

What is Pink Fluff?

Well, it’s pink, and it’s fluffy. (And ridiculously high in sugar, so use good judgment with portion sizes 😉 )  All you need is 4 ingredients, canned, no need to even drain.  Mix well, chill, and get ready for the compliments to roll in.

Pink fluff ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 1 can crushed pineapple
  • 1 can cherry pie filling
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tub cool whip

Pink fluff ingredients to be mixed

Step 1: In a large bowl, mix all four ingredients, and refrigerate. Don’t worry about draining the pineapple, just pour it all in. The cherry pie filling is what gives Pink Fluff its lovely color, or you could boost it with a few drops of food coloring or fruit juice.

Pink fluff ready to eat

This stuff is addictive, it is tasty on its own right out of the bowl with a spoon, or it is also a great fruit dip.  Mix in some bananas, chopped strawberries, fresh cherries, or grapes. Slice up some apples or oranges and use them to dip. Keep this recipe in your back pocket, and you will never be unprepared for a picnic again! Enjoy.

 

Balsamic Brown Butter and Collard Greens Sauce

 

This particular sauce is what I made to go along with my mouth-watering Butternut Squash Gnocchi.  Something about the combination of the autumn/wintry flavors and chewy texture of the gnocchi with the buttery but tangy sauce just makes fireworks happen.

And the gnocchi have hidden vegetables in it, plus this sauce packs in a serving of your daily greens!  So much health, in one deliciously sneaky meal!  No one will ever guess.  But they will ask for seconds.  Maybe thirds.

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 good-sized collard green leaves, torn
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar and/or lemon juice

Collard Greens Pasta Sauce Ingredients

Step 1: Place all ingredients but the butter & vinegar in a blender and pulse until chopped into small pieces.  Alternatively you can use a knife and chop them up yourself.  (But Ninja blender. So good.)

Balsamic Brown Butter and Collard Greens

Step 2: Melt the butter in a pan, and bring to just a simmer.  Once it starts to turn brown, add all the chopped vegetables, and add in the balsamic vinegar.  Bring back to a simmer, and cook for 10-15 minutes, serve hot over fresh pasta.  Maybe a little fresh shaved Parmesan on top, if you’re feeling festive.

 

PS: You can substitute other greens in here if you don’t have or like or feel brave enough yet to try collards.  Try a nice safe spinach, or something crazy like mustard greens or beet tops.  Let me know how it tastes too!

Spinach Stuffed Chicken Rolls

 

You know how sometimes you just want to make a meal that looks really nice and impressive, but you don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen?  No energy or time for that today.  Well, here’s a great recipe that can easily be customized, takes less than 5 ingredients, and in under 30 minutes you have a very nice dinner that other people will think took all day!

IMG_2984

For these rolls, you can use any thin cut of meat.  Try pork chops or a thin flank steak.  Even a firm white fish fillet would work.  You can then stuff it with any types of vegetables, kraut, stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc.  (See my stuffed pork chops for an example).

For this particular recipe, I thawed some boneless skinless chicken breasts, and then cut them in half down the center.  Then each half I put between two sheets of wax paper, and pounded them thin with a rolling pin.  You could use a meat cleaver or heavy glass as well.  The thinner they are, the faster they cook and the better able to roll them up they will be.

IMG_2966

Ingredients:

  • 2 thin slices chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup spinach leaves
  • 2 slices white American cheese
  • Optional: yogurt-dill sauce

Rolling up the chicken breast

Step 1: Pound the chicken thin, or use very thin cutlets.  Lay the chicken flat, and layer on the cheese and spinach.  Wrap the chicken around itself into a roll, secure with a toothpick if needed.

Insert toothpick to hold chicken roll together

Step 2: Set the oven to 350, and place the rolls in an oven-proof baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.  Optional: top with *yogurt-dill sauce.

Chicken rolls covered in yogurt-dill sauce

Step 3: Bake for 30-35 minutes, until chicken is fully cooked.

Chicken rolls and dill sauce baked

Serve your lovely rolls alone, or with whatever side dishes you like.  I made some rice and cranberry sauce, and let me tell you, chicken and cranberry sauce is an awesome combo!

IMG_2977

To make the dill sauce, the recipe is below.  This topping is great because it is so simple, and so versatile.  Spread it on sandwiches, add cucumbers to make tea sandwiches, use it on chicken, pork, or fish.  Try different herbs too, to change up the flavors.

*Yogurt-Dill Sauce:

  • 1/3 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Dill and yogurt sauce ingredients

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Enjoy!

Spinach Stuffed Chicken Rolls

Spinach Stuffed Chicken Rolls

Ingredients

  • 2 thin slices chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup spinach leaves
  • 2 slices white cheese

Instructions

  1. Pound the chicken thin, or use very thin cutlets. Lay the chicken flat, and layer on the cheese and spinach. Wrap the chicken around itself into a roll, secure with a toothpick if needed.
  2. Insert toothpick to hold chicken roll together
  3. Set the oven to 350, and place the rolls in an oven-proof baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Optional: top with *yogurt-dill sauce.
  4. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until chicken is fully cooked.
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
http://www.budgetepicurean.com/less-than-5/spinach-stuffed-chicken-rolls/

 

IMG_2981

Christmas Tree Appetizer Tray

 

With the holiday season come holiday parties. From friends to family reunions, cocktail hours and work gatherings, the holidays are rife with opportunity to eat things we normally wouldn’t, shouldn’t, and far more of them. You could choose to just eat yourself into a coma every week and deal with the consequences later. You could live a puritanical existence for the next few weeks, exercising iron will over all sweets and tasty delights. Or…

You could choose better options. You could nudge family, friends, and co-workers in a healthier direction. You could provide healthy yet delicious treats, so you know you will always have something healthful to enjoy at any get-together.

I know which option I choose each year.

Would you like to know the answer to one of life’s biggest questions? How can you be both happy and healthy all the time? The key to health and happiness, is moderation. Go ahead and indulge in the things that truly bring you joy, like the cookies you look forward to all year, spiral-sliced holiday ham, or your aunt’s amazing casserole. But know that means you must cut back in other areas. Don’t have every appetizer offered, three cups of eggnog, seconds and thirds at dinner, followed by an entire angel food cake roll.

And by bringing healthier options to any party or gathering, you virtually guarantee yourself at least one option that will be “safe” and you can indulge as much as you like. You are also giving everyone else at the party a healthy option they may not have considered previously.

Christmas tree healthy appetizer tray

This is an appetizer tray my mother had made for a party last year.  You will notice that it not only looks very appealing, with its holiday themed tree shape, but it also has a whole cornucopia of options from broccoli to cheeses, to olives and grape tomatoes. This would be awesome to serve with a healthful dip on the side such as Black Bean Hummus, Lean Green Guacamole, or Radish, Onion & Herb cream cheese dip.

How to create an appetizer tree:

  • 1 large head broccoli
  • 1 can black olives
  • 1 small jar green olives
  • Assorted cheese cubes
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • Handful of pretzel sticks
  • Any other dipping veggies, cut into cubes or sticks

Step 1: Dice all your veggies into bite size pieces, and cube the cheeses.  Drain the olives.

Step 2: In a large pan or on a serving platter, arrange the cheese and vegetables in layers, including at least 2 large layers of broccoli for the green color. Finish with a handful of pretzels on the bottom for the tree trunk.

You could get very creative with this, for example by including “ornaments” on the tree by using different colors of vegetables or fruits, or making different shapes.  You could use cauliflower, red bell peppers and tomatoes to create a santa hat shape, or other types of finger foods arranged to look like wrapped gifts.  Let your imagination run wild, and watch as the crowd gobbles up healthy nibbles happily!

Green Tomato Salsa

 

When you have lots of green tomatoes and are tired of fried green tomatoes, what else can you do besides wait for them to ripen?  You can turn a whole bunch of them into salsa!  Red tomatoes shouldn’t have all the fun.  Salsa is a classic condiment, and is great on tacos, eggs, in soups, or on chicken or pork.  Green tomato salsa has a unique vegetal taste that red tomato salsa can’t match.  And once you’ve made a big batch, you could can the rest and have it all year long!  Or give them as cute, thrifty, from-the-heart gifts.

This recipe includes no added sugar, you instead get some sweetness from baking apples.  If you require your salsa to be sweeter, you can add in a tablespoon or two.  I’d recommend apple cider vinegar over white, but you can also use white vinegar.  Add hot peppers to your own spice preference level too.  Same goes for sea salt, if you want some salt in your salsa.  I prefer my salsa as plain and clean as possible so I know what is in it and can adjust the meal as a whole later when I use it.

Green tomato salsa ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 10 pounds green tomatoes
  • 2-3 large green apples
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 head garlic
  • 2 green bell peppers
  • 1 hot pepper (serrano, jalapeno…)
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar

Green tomato salsa ingredients chopped

Step 1: This step definitely takes the longest, but is fun.  Rinse your tomatoes and other produce, and chop everything into small bite-size pieces.  I just did them in rotating batches of lots of tomatoes, then half the onion, then one pepper, etc. until everything was chopped up.  Put it all in a big stock pot.

Green tomato salsa cooking

Step 2: Put the heat on medium-high, and add the cider vinegar.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.  Cover, and cook for at least one hour.  You can go do something else while this is cooking down, and could probably do it in a slow cooker as well.

Filled green tomato salsa jars vertical

Step 3: If you want certain spices/flavorings (like bay leaves, cumin, sea salt, cilantro, etc) add them here.

Green tomato salsa jars no lids

Step 4: To use a pressure canner, consult the instructions for your machine.  To use water bath canning, same prep work.  Sterilize your empty jars by running through a dish washer cycle and/or boiling in plain water 20 minutes.

Green tomato salsa jars horizontal

Step 5: Fill each jar up to 1 – 1/2 inch from the rim.  Wipe the rim clean, and place a lid and ring on it, tightening it (but not too tight, you need air to escape).  Here I tried the Tattler re-useable jar lids for the first time!

Green tomato salsa jars in water bath canner

Step 6: Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and place the jars inside.  Process the jars for about an hour.  Adjust for your altitude if above sea level.

Green tomato salsa jars vertical

Step 7: Remove the jars to a towel, and let them sit, undisturbed, overnight or about 8 hours, to cool.  The lids should “pop” tight and will not give or bounce when pressed.  Put any unsealed jars in the refrigerator and use within 2 weeks.  Store sealed jars in a cool, dark place for up to a year.